We catch the bus from Harlem to Central Park, passing through the affluent Upper West Side. As we reach the fringes of the Upper West, a gang of schoolkids crashes noisily onto the bus. They are about ten years old, maybe twelve at the most. They carry stainless steel mobile phones; one waves an iPod. The girls are in jeans and fleecy jackets bearing the North Face logo (currently seen on every second New Yorker), their hair tied back in flyaway ponytails. The boys are similarly dressed. The loudest kid, the one with the jauntiest strut, wears a short-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt with his jeans. He stands in the aisle, legs wide apart, balancing precariously as if surfing the wave of the lurching bus. He holds forth about having been pick-pocketed for his iPod.
‘I can’t believe that you won’t all LEARN from my mistake’ he says, in a voice that fills the bus. ‘You’re stupid if you bring your iPod to school.’
Another kid addresses the boy with the iPod.
‘What are you doing flashing your iPod?’
‘Okay then, I’ll put it away.’
‘Well, people could still take it from you.’
‘How, if it’s in my pocket?’
‘They’ll hurt you.’
‘Well, if that happens a crowd will appear, won’t they?’
At this, Polo pipes up again.
‘That won’t matter! No one will help you! No one will care! Remember when [someone] got mugged? There were loads of people there – adults – and no one did anything. THE WORLD IS NOT A GREAT PLACE, LARRY!’
Meanwhile, one of the girls is sending text messages. Polo wrestles the mobile from her to see who she’s calling; obviously a noughties version of pigtail-pulling, because a lot of tugging back and forth, giggling and preening follows.
Soon enough, attention turns to iPod boy again, and what he is listening to. Eminem. They all talk about how much they love Eminem.
‘He’s SO good live’ enthuses Polo. ‘I went to a concert and he was great.’
To my amusement, the five boys burst into a macho rendition of an Eminem hit (the song from the movie 8 Mile). Not only do they rap in unison, but they spontaneously break out their rapper moves, bobbing up and down and chopping at the air with their hands.
‘That’s why [someone] could NEVER be a rapper’ says Polo. ‘He can’t dance. Have you SEEN him? He does THIS.’
‘Look at ME!’ says iPod Larry.
‘Ohhhh, you look like you’re pointing at your dick. Haha!’
We are halfway to Midtown when the boys gather at the door to leave. One of the girls holds out her arms to hug them goodbye. Polo, of course, is first in line for a squeeze.