9. You're in Midtown Manhattan, it's July and impossibly humid, the trucks are belching exhaust in your face, you are playing slalom with the tourists on the sidewalk, and if all this weren't enough, the clouds suddenly knit up and send down a rager of a rainstorm. And of course you forgot to bring an umbrella, and those Chinese ladies that sell them for $5 are nowhere to be found. But in New York, the rainstorms last only 15 minutes (the Chinese-lady umbrellas are neatly timed to this fact, as they stop functioning after roughly around the same amount of time), and for no good reason at all, the sky is filled with a gold, scudding light that looks like grace itself. And something like a hush falls over the people, and the steaming sidewalks, and the trucks. Ten minutes ago, those two people would be yelling at each other, but now they are feeling the same thing. For an equally brief 15 minutes, this irreconcilable city is united in the same thought. (Hey, the proof is on Instagram.) And then it all ends and the hive starts again. But it happened. It happened. And you walk home with a new kind of pride and relief. Perhaps because of what came before it - and after.
8. That moment when, crossing the light, you and the man next to you both register the same thing - a woman, a homicidal cabbie, an end-is-nigh shouter - and spend the next street block discussing it like old familiars through the wall of people walking between you. And then the block ends, and you have a last laugh, and wish each other be-well, and never see each other again.
7. Because La Colombe Torrefaction serves its iced coffees with a shot of espresso inside, forestalling the weakness and wateriness that inflicts just about every other iced cup in the city.
6. Because this city is a monster. Because all you have to do is want something, and work like hell at it. And the city says: "All right - you fling yourself at the door, and I'll build you a house to walk into."
5. There's no one more evil than pedestrians when you are driving a car in New York. And no one more evil than drivers when you're the pedestrian. But the deliciousness of our rage, in either direction - think Wayne Rooney clutching his shins in the most thespian agony - is universal and binds us like the fresh cement we are constantly walking into. (Because this town, God bless, can't stop building.)
4. The femina newyorkicus. A mystery wrapped inside a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, wrapped inside some very expensive dinners. But there's nobody else I'd rather be sitting across.
3. Fort Tilden beach on a weekday.
2. The jury selection room at the New York State Supreme Court. Perhaps only a masochist could celebrate the dreary New York pastime of jury duty, but in this room, you will see seated together - and in discussion! - people you will never find at the same social engagement outside the walls of the courthouse. And they are being earnest at the task set before them in a way that might as well be outlawed on the jaded streets of New York. And there are men in suits sincerely soliciting the philosophical views - on law vs. justice, on impartiality, on liability - of men and women who don't look as if anyone asks their opinions too often. And you feel something like patriotism stirring inside your own wilted heart.
1. Soviet Brooklyn, as I call it; there are tens of thousands of Russian speakers living in the southern parts of the borough, close to the ocean and away from expensive real estate. It took me 20 years in America to long to return here; it was our first home in the country after emigrating from the former Soviet Union in 1988. Years during which I tried to pass myself off as a Bobby; during which I finally re-admitted parts of my culture, but only the high ones (literature, culture, language), and held my nose at the rest; during which I kept quite a few psychologists afloat. But it wasn't for naught. Driving through Midwood, and Bensonhurst, and Sheepshead Bay, past the ladies in bouffants and parti-colored tights, and the gentlemen in sandals and white socks, their chest hair tumble-weeding out of their A-shirts; past the store aisles groaning with yazyk, and glazirovannye syrki, and okroshka; past the sheer physicality of it all, I feel myself travel from my head down into my body. There's no irony here, only dark joy.
A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman is published by ONE