At the east 55th station, an older white man with a ponytail boarded the train, walked toward the front to pay the fare. As he passed where I was sitting, a man behind me said, "Hey Jared, how you doing?"
The man with ponytail turned and said, "Marcus, all right man, how you living?"
"You know," said the man, Marcus, seated behind me.
Jared went to the front and paid. Then he sat down two seats in front of me. He stood up again, walked back to Marcus. "Hey," he said, "look what I got."
He presented an old, old camera, one with a bellows and long handles on either side. It was sheathed in a large freezer bag. "Wow," Marcus said, "that's nice."
"Yeah," Jared said, "I found it at my granddaddy's house. This was one of the first cameras you could buy, way back in the early 1900s."
"What're you doing with it?"
"They gotta lot of antique shops over on Lorain. I figure I take it there, see what they'll give me for it. Might be able to fetch a pretty penny."
"Yeah, you see, well, you -- you know my boss right?"
"I think so, yes."
"Well he give me this phone." Jared reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and presented an ordinary cell phone. "I been wanting a phone, so he give me this one. Thing is, I need to put minutes on it, he told me, so I need money first."
"So you're selling this camera?"
"Yeah, so I can get this phone working."
"Aw. I don't know about all that. That's a nice camera. Ain't going to find many of those around."
"I know. That's why I'll get good money for it."
"Come on man," Marcus said. He was speaking loudly, almost forceful.
"I ain't getting paid til the fifth, see? I need some money for my phone."
"But, you know, it's just a phone. Everybody got a phone. Nobody got a camera like that."
"But thing is, I need a phone."
"But that's a nice camera, though."
Jared sat back down in his seat. He sat there for a few minutes and kept to himself. The train neared Tower City, my destination. "Okay," Jared said, turning back to face Marcus, "maybe I should think about."
"All I'm saying is, if it was me, I'd keep it."
"But it's just, you know, a memento. I need a phone and I don't get paid til the fifth."
"You lived all this time without a phone. Now that you got one you gonna go out and sell that thing? Might as well wait. The fifth ain't all that far off. What, five days?" It was actually ten days away but I kept out of it. "All I'm saying is, it was me, I'd keep it."
"Maybe I should think about it," Jared said.
They did not speak for the rest of the trip, though both stood up as we reached Tower City. We filed into a line to exit the train. I was between them.
"Look," Jared said, "I need the money."
We had stepped off the train and I was walking in front of them.
"I understand," Marcus said.
"I need a phone a whole lot more than this camera."
"All I'm saying is that's a nice camera. I would hold onto it."
"But I ain't never gonna use this thing. . ."
I moved away from them, toward the escalator, and their conversation slowly blended with the din of the rest of my day.