Perhaps I can begin the story of my night in New York as the owner of an iPhone with the woman in the plunging red silk top and the jeans so tight they were yelping - just one of the herd of stunning creatures who roam the city as if they were gazelles in a park, quick and nervous.
It's Saturday night, 24 hours after the launch of the much longed-for iPhone; a concert tent in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn. I take the slim silver rectangle out of my pocket quietly, as if I am checking messages. You don't need to overdo it.
It's as if she's been recharged with a fresh battery herself.
"Can I see it?" she says, and I of course wonder if she's speaking in metaphors.
"What do I get?" I ask.
"What do you want?" she says, without missing a beat.
A silver status symbol
To have an iPhone in New York City at the moment is to be a status god.
That was crystal clear the moment the first buyers emerged from the bowels of Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue on Friday, their matte black iPhone bags held high in the air. Even the spectators burst into applause. Something sub-rational was going on.
A few blocks east and south, on Park Avenue, a hedge fund analyst named Jose Torres emerged with his own. He'd been planning to stay in that evening, to fiddle with his gizmo.
"But now that I have this, I probably will go out. I think it'll be interesting to be a single guy in Manhattan with an iPhone for a couple of days at least. Or if they sell out, for a week."
A cellphone? In Manhattan, the city that prides itself on being hard to impress?
"Anyone who says they're not excited about the iPhone as a status symbol," Mr. Torres said, "is lying."
"The buzz is that it's the It accessory this weekend." This from Chip Brian, the president and CEO of Comdex, an online news aggregator. Mr. Brian was wearing shorts and walking his dog; a resident of Manhattan, he was well-acquainted with the ziggurat of New York City status. For instance, he didn't stand in line all night for his phone. He sent a couple of interns to do it for him. The iPhone was a birthday present for his daughter.
This is the strange, almost touching thing about New York City: Here, in what's arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world, nearly a quarter of a century after the first cellphone appeared on the streets of Chicago (on Oct. 13, 1983), in a country where there are now 239 million of the damn things (there were only 340,000 in 1985) - the cellphone is still a Manhattan status symbol.
New Yorkers wear their cellphones the way they wear eyeglasses or hats or shoes, as fashion. At any given intersection you can see a dozen people talking on mobiles - one armed, handless, holding it in front of their faces - but always talking. There are so many people on cellphones so much of the time, often so rudely, July has been deemed Cellphone Courtesy Month.
In China, where life forces most people to be conformists, cellphones are a route to privacy, a handful of individuality. In New York, where everyone is an individual, the cellphone is a way to belong to the collective character of the city. In New York time is money; the money wasted walking can be made up by talking.
This operates on the level of the groin and the level of the brain. Claude Gill is from Queen's, and not a Manhattanite, but he has still just spent 600 beans on an iPhone for his girlfriend. He knows it's a status symbol. "Definitely will be," he says. "Be up there with Cristal champagne. It means you have some money to spend, number one. Number two, you have a job that pays well. And three, it's the latest thing out. The human being wants that. It shouldn't be that way, but it is." New York is the City of Desire because it never apologizes for what it desires.Report Typo/Error