BEST CHEAP BACKRUB Part One Best Cheap Backrub Christine at ...

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Best Little Italy Boutique
252 Elizabeth St. (betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
Please Jane, Forgive Us. For years we avoided this narrow storefront shop at all costs?mainly because its proprietress was, in our estimation, a little too thin, a little too great-looking, a little too connected to Peter "A Year in Provence" Mayle (she's his daughter). We were tired of reading, in dozens of fashion magazines, about Jane Mayle's travels; about her exotic collectibles; about her casual bohemian bonhomie. What could some trustfund hippie know about designing clothes? But when we'd ask our adorably turned-out girlfriends where they'd picked up that ruched velvet top/that lace-trimmed slip-dress/that ultrasuede swing skirt, the answer was too often Mayle.

We visited the store on the sly this past summer, and since then have joined the Mayle cult. The dresses are gorgeous?slim silk bias-cut sundresses with asymmetrical necklines and daring slits, or else 40s-style "sexy secretary" prints with darts and low-skimming waists. There are also simple sheaths in white or black lace, delicate crochet sweaters and eyelet-cut ultrasuede dresses that are velvety-soft to the touch. Gorgeous doesn't come cheap; most dresses are in the $300-$500 range. But semiannual sample sales take the sting out of that.

As for the bohemian bonhomie? It's actually quite charming. There's none of the snottiness so common among the neighborhood's salesbitches. We even like the eclectic collection of Oriental flipflops that decorates the room (and that, unfortunately, are not for sale).

Best Limo Driver
Spectacular Limousine Service
Everything But an Egg Cream. Not long ago, with a slew of relatives in town, we made a snap decision to spend the afternoon at Coney Island. Trouble was, we had a limited window in which to make the trip and didn't want to kill two hours on the subway. A quick phone call to our anonymous source and 30 minutes later, Gentle Bear Vinny appeared at the doorstep in a block-long limo, ready to serve. It was a speedy 20-minute ride to Coney, but with the nonstop patter of Vinny giving a blow-by-blow historical account of the architecture, bridges and landmarks we passed, the Californians were dizzy with information. On the way home, however, Vinny was experienced enough to let his passengers recount the sleazy wonders of Coney Island, the arcade victories and such, and didn't say a word. That he resembles the guy in that old commercial "I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing" is a remarkable bonus. As are the reasonable rates.

Best Camera Boutique
Tamarkin New York
670 Broadway, #501 (betw. Great Jones & Bond Sts.)
We Leica This Place. There's an old saying among photographers: beginners think about equipment, journeymen think about composition and experts think about light. Every photographer, however, thinks about Leicas.

Leicas are the crown jewels of the cameramaker's craft. Each camera and each lens is a gem: small, quiet, elegant and dreadfully expensive. They're as close to perfect as mechanical things get. But they're not prissy or delicate. Leicas are sturdy tools for great photojournalists like Cartier-Bresson and Sebastiao Salgado and are the cameras of choice for the Magnum photographers who shoot in the middle of wars, famines and other catastrophes. Quite simply, they're the best cameras in the world.

If you happen to be a shutterbug who just hit the lottery, you will want to take that cashed-in ticket directly to Tamarkin New York, the city's best dealer in Leica goods. We saved up our nickels over the years to get ourselves Leica-equipped and these are the people we like to do business with. Long-time Tamarkin employees Al Jean and Craig Williams know their way around the intricate lenses and the different series of Leicas. Given the near mystical relationship Leica owners have with their cameras, the Tamarkin staff needs to know all the subtle differences between, say, the Canadian-made M4-P and the German-made version, and they do. The fifth-floor shop is small but well-stocked with everything Leica. They buy and sell used equipment as well as new, at prices other camera stores can't approach. (Tamarkin also handles secondhand Nikons and Hasselblads, but the emphasis is strictly Leica.) In addition to the store, Tamarkin hosts a Leica-operated exhibition space and bookstore adjacent to the retail space, dedicated solely to photo exhibits and the books that describe them.

If you can afford to drop almost two grand on a camera and an equal amount on a lens, there's no better place to take your business than Tamarkin. We've been dealing with them for years and they are pleasant and prompt. We've always been happy with the service on the cameras and lenses as well as with the relaxed atmosphere. When your ship comes in, get a Leica. And start thinking about light.

Best Hotel Restroom Attendants
301 Park Ave. (betw. 49th & 50th Sts.)
Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another? Late for dinner, and caught in one of those wind-driven light rains that manages to soak you stupid, even if you're protected by an umbrella. We enter the Waldorf dripping wet, in a jacket and tie. Make a beeline for the restrooms.

And there he is, largely unconcerned with our plight. He seems bemused and bored at the same time. He hands over a towel. We use it up fast. He has more at the ready. We go through a pound or so before we're finished. He keeps 'em coming. In then end, we're passably dry. We give him a five, and it's obvious that he couldn't care less.

Best Source for Nazi Literature & Judy Garland Trivia
See Hear
59 E. 7th St. (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.)
Kitsch und Kultur. See Hear is one of those classic New York fixtures, part of the landscape that makes this town what it is. From the murky depths of his subterranean lair, proprietor Ted Gottfried rules over a universe of very high weirdness. Periodicals ranging from the inimitable Murder Can Be Fun and the cryptic Dagobert's Revenge to more specialized fetish-oriented publications and travel guides like Weird NJ all assembled under one roof, along with hard-to-find books like George Lincoln Rockwell's classic White Power, the infamous Turner Diaries and the neo-Nazi underground hit Hunter, make for stimulating browsing and great gift ideas.

Ted says he's been in business "for too long," but there's no end to the wonders and delights of his eclectic and adventurous tastes in literature. Recently we dipped in and picked up a copy of Hunter and a fantastic magazine dedicated to Judy Garland. See Hear also occasionally hosts authentically bizarre live performances by fringe characters only Ted would know. The entire range of Jack Chick Christian pamphlets is available here, and he stocks a wide variety of outre comic books.

"Andrew Macdonald," the nom de plume of neo-Nazi leader William Pierce, is very likely the Iceberg Slim of the Angry White Male crowd. His Turner Diaries and Hunter are at once frightening and mordantly funny as expressions of the failure of legislation to solve race problems in America. These books are not available through any other outlet here in town, and if you order them from the publisher, National Vanguard Books, you are bound to wind up on any of a number of federal hit lists. It takes a lot of chutzpah to stock these books, and chutzpah is something that See Hear has in abundance.

Best Outdoorsy WASP Geezerwear
522 5th Ave. (44th St.)
Elbow Patches and the Reassuring Funk of an Old Labrador. Much as we loved the old Orvis, hidden away in its narrow environs around the corner from Grand Central, we must admit that the new Orvis on 5th Ave. is easier to deal with. Sure, the emphasis in the new place is on the threads, the duds?the kind of stuff you buy when walking down 5th Ave. if you're an Italian tourist and you're abruptly seized by the urge to emulate an aspect of American Field & Stream chic?and less on the gear that has made Orvis the fly-fishing outfitter justifiably famous. Still, in the back, the rods and reels and fly-patterns and assorted other odd essentials of this oddest of pastimes (like, dig those vests) are stocked in vastly better and more organized ways than they were at the old place. For example, one can actually test out the action on a rod without fear of whacking the ceiling. The staff is as folksy as ever. And who knows? Maybe everything will work out in this glitzier setting.

In the meantime, the front is jammed with clothes that no self-respecting WASP geezer should be without. We're talking here about blazers rife with hidden "travel" pockets. Husky shirtings. Corduroy. Barbour storm coats. If you're old, or even if you just relish that oldster style, Orvis is your safe port in the current hurricane of stretch synthetics and big dumb shoes that last six months, maybe. The famous evergreen canvas-and-brown leather Battenkill luggage alone will keep you packing nicely for the rest of your life.

Best Rental Car Value in NYC
U-Haul Minivan
Plus, It's Orange. It was a gorgeous day, the sun and sand beckoned, and we were ready to heed the call. A long weekend was ahead of us, and all we wanted was to get the hell out of town and into a bathing suit. But we left it too long. We called around everywhere?all the rental cars in NYC were spoken for, including the low-end tuna cans on wheels we usually rented. We were just about to give up when we had a brainstorm.

"What about a U-Haul?"

"A goddamn truck to go to the shore?"

"No, no. They've got these minivans, see..." and half an hour later we were sitting in the Holland Tunnel in air conditioned comfort, our AM/FM radio cranked, and our cooler filled to the brim rattling around in the back. For just $19.95 a day plus mileage, you, too, can ride in style. Imagine how many friends you can stuff in the back. Hell, you can sleep back there. In fact, just hook it up with an old mattress and one of those mini-fridges you plug into the cigarette lighter and you can live in it. And you know what the best part was? We didn't have to spend hours looking for the damn thing in the parking lot when it was time to head home. She was the only U-Haul in the lot, couldn't miss her. Screw Avis and Budget. Go U-Haul. It's the coolest ride in town.

Best Sofas
Classic Sofa
5 W. 22nd St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.)
Sit on It. When our IPO comes through, we're going to buy a huge old 12-room apartment on Riverside Dr. and we're going to get our seatware at Classic Sofa. Their striking, giant sectional with lush rounded arms and back?the one that's up near the front of the showroom and is covered in deep green with royal-purple wide velvet stripes?will set us back $4000-$8000 and'll look perfect in the parlor. For his study, we'll choose the classically designed "Frank" three-cushion sofa covered in either unbelievably soft, olive green synthetic "Nova" suede or soft, hairy, deep-chocolate mohair (each about $4000); for hers, it'll be the whimsical mohair again, this time in deep red "candy magenta" on the cushier "Gotham" sofa with splayed arms (about four grand as well).

Until then, we'll stay seated on the lovely 7-foot long, three-cushion muted-teal beauty we picked up last year from the sample row off to the side ($2000, as-was?perfect?including taxes, delivery and setup). Occasionally throughout the year, floor samples are set aside for us pre-IPOers, and can be delivered immediately (takes about two weeks for non-sale pieces). A few weeks ago, they had a striking Gotham cordovan leather sofa bed, queen-size, reduced from $6500 to $3900. A deep, comfy pink/salmon weave "Nantucket" armchair?great for the sunroom?was $1330, down from $1900.

Classic's designs are timeless, elegant?no couches shaped like lips here. The furniture is so well-constructed that the frames are guaranteed for life, and can be specially built to break down to fit through narrow apartment entrances, to be reassembled within. Find a style you like, keep it forever and re-cover it from time to time, as redecorating needs or cat shredding dictates.

Best Emergency Mac Repair
Tekserve Corp.
155 W. 23rd St., 4th fl. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.)
The Mac Knife. Tekserve still remains one of the best-kept secrets among diehard Mac users. The turnaround time may be par for the course, but your G4 or iMac will be handled by skilled technicians who know what they're doing?a dying breed in this increasingly PC world. Tekserve accepts carry-ins (you have to take a number, just like in the deli) and they offer free estimates. Plus, the waiting area even has some nice diversions: from current industry mags and demo workstations to some beautiful antique pre-computer-age devices, including an original Burroughs adding machine.

Best Obscure Musical Supplies
A-1 Music Co.
186 1st Ave. (betw. 11th & 12th Sts.),
They Got the Music in Them. To be honest, from the outside it doesn't look like much?just another aging 1st Ave. storefront. But inside, A-1 stretches back quite a ways, filled from floor to ceiling with most anything you could want, instrument- and accessory-wise. Sheet music, instruction books, strings, reeds, guitars, keyboards, stands, violins...

More importantly, though, they also feature a remarkable selection of more obscure instruments?things those other places won't touch?ukuleles, bongos, tambourines, those other little percussive instruments whose names you've never known, a few instruments the likes of which you've never seen before. And all the doodads you need to make them go.

Better still, the staff at A-1 clearly know what they have. Plus they have an awful lot of it and sell it at reasonable prices.

So if you're looking for something other than another electric guitar or drum kit, and don't feel like dealing with the crowds at Sam Ash or making the trek to 30th Street Guitars, or if East Village Music simply doesn't have what you're looking for, then A-1 Music Co. is the place to go. Heck, A-1 may well be the place to go even before you think of trying all those other places.

Best Reason to Break Out the Polyester
Disco Yoga
Crunch Fitness
404 Lafayette St. (betw. Astor Pl. & E. 4th St.)
Burn, Muscles, Burn. The 70s are back. Not only does Fox have that show with eight-track players, a dad in plaid pants and that ultra-hot redhead, but Charlie's Angels is now a movie and people are starting to talk about Transcendental Meditation again.


But all is not lost. Crunch Fitness, those loony exercise freaks who brought us such crazy classes as "Yoga for Jocks," "Cycle Karaoke," "Circus Training," "The Matrix" (why anyone would want to look or act like that pussy Keanu Reeves is beyond us), "Abs, Thighs and Gossip," "Firefighter Training Workout" and "Yoga Mamas" now bring us our favorite, "Disco Yoga." That's right. Break out the polyester, the Peter Max leisure suits and the mirror-ball earrings. Disco is back. And instructor Trixie takes it to the max with her unique blend of bending to the "boom-da-da-boom-da-da-boom!"

While we found this class to be somewhat retarded at first, the more we understood it, the better we liked it. Sure, disco and yoga go together about as well as Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, but when you figure this stuff out, it makes more sense. Moving a body part to a steady beat for us has always been limited to our right wrist, but now, well, we feel liberated.

Ring My Bell! Celebrate, Come On! Burn Baby Burn! Do the Hustle! Okay? How you doin'?

Best Barber
Chelsea Barbers
465 W. 23rd St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.)
Popped in the Dome. We weren't sure about this award category when it was proposed to our Solonic judgment, because, truthfully, we've never noticed a significant difference between one maniacal Greatest Generation sociopath (kneesocks, the stench of stale Barbicide, Reagan-era Hustlers, etc.) with a pair of electric shears and a striped pole to sit on the end of and the next one. Patronizing the honest-to-God barbershop usually reduces to a queasy series of maneuverings: strap yourself into the vinyl seat and close your eyes as the old guy takes off after you in a vicious shower of electric sparks and geriatric aggression. With two hands he grips the sputtering old buzzer, his nasty old foot braced up against your thigh as he attempts to gain purchase; his tongue hangs with exertion from the same dry lips that drooled during the storming of Omaha Beach; under his breath, he directs mysterious octogenarian imprecations in the direction of your head. Finally you pay him his five dollars, or whatever he asks?consider it ransom?and stagger out, nauseous and wearing the generic buzz-job associated in the popular consciousness with middle-aged single women who lace their Chuck Taylors all the way to the top and bake organic bread in Northampton. Best Barber? No. It wasn't likely. They all suck. Besides, next we'd be debating who served the city's Best Haggis, or indulging in some other exercise at the margins of the impossible.

So it's a nice thing for us to be able to announce the supremacy of Chelsea Barbers, where we've been getting cut for a year now. These people know what they're doing. For one thing, the several barbers here are young. For another?and it's a sad commentary on the tonsorial estate in this city that this is worth mentioning, but it is?they use scissors, much of the time, and not only those power-shears, from which no good can come.

We suspect that the quality of this establishment has to do with its location?cutting guys' hair badly can't be a good business strategy in Chelsea?but whatever. We've gotten maybe 15 haircuts here since last fall, and never have they marred our delicate beauty, or given us anything other than that cool choppy haircut that we like to think endears us to Barnard chicks.

Wait for the barber with the bald head who maintains the chair in the back, since he's the best of the three. And bring a book, because the place tends to be crammed with gentlemen of fashion.

Best Newsstand That Has Everything Before Hudson News and All Other Competitors
Nikos Magazine & Smoke Shop
462 6th Ave. (11th St.)
Nikos Has Issues. On lazy Friday afternoons, we often find ourselves pining for the following week's edition of The New Republic, or perhaps that hard-to-find copy of O, or the latest issue of Out. We rely on Nikos' friendly service and unprecedented selection of magazines and newspapers to fulfill our yearning. Whether it's an obscure, obnoxious glossy like Flaunt or an issue of The Nation (for research only, really)?Nikos will gladly search for, find, and then hold a copy of whatever publication we've got a hankering to read. Unlike the Hudson News shops in Penn Station and elsewhere?where we've found the service to be poor and bordering on rude?the woman who works the Nikos counter is always more than happy to help us locate The Weekly Standard or whatever. (Maybe Hudson News carries what we need. Who knows? They don't, and don't care.)

Nikos' small, narrow space has a creaky floor, but it's tightly packed with dozens of American and foreign titles, lifestyle rags, newsweeklies, and even carries some literary journals, like McSweeney's. And a nice assortment of gum, candy and other sweets.

Best Bedside Manner at a Nail Salon
40 E. 22nd St. (betw. Park Ave. S. & B'way)
No Beef on the Hoof. There are no vibrating chairs or fancy scrubs at the Russian-owned Dyanna, nothing like the whistles and bells that so many Chelsea salons substitute for a quality pedicure. At Dyanna you may even occasionally get a slap on the ankle for trying to do it yourself. "Now doesn't it look much better when I do it?" they lecture sternly. But mostly it's lots of pampering and good conversation. We can testify that Anna's pedicures last for almost a month, by which point you'll find yourself rubbing your arches and daydreaming about climbing up into that soft leather chair again. The clientele here is refreshingly low on Conde Nast bimbos (who wouldn't have dreamed of wearing a mohawk in high school, but are fresh from their monthly vaginal shearing), and high on the Jersey wives hoping for a fresh coat of orange on the fake tips before that garage down the street closes at 7. Prices are competitive and appointments are required, but whether you're unhappy with your regular shop or looking to treat yourself, Dyanna does not disappoint.

Best Home Furnishings to Keep Away From
Martha Stewart
Bed, Bath & Beyond Discomfort. It's the most natural thing in the world. You're setting up house, moving into new digs. Maybe you got evicted or, God help you, you just moved here. Or maybe you had to give up that great rent-overcharge complaint you had pending with the DHCR because the law changed and it suddenly wasn't such a good case anymore. In any event, you're moving and will need sheets and towels, a bathmat, maybe a lampshade and a pillow or two. Being a person of good sense, you want to avoid the whole Bed, Bath & Beyond nightmare. You think of the Kmart at Astor Pl., trundle over there, take the escalator down to the home furnishings department in the basement, where you find a line of what appears to be decently priced stuff made by America's sweetheart, the queen of the shelter magazines, Martha Stewart herself.

If you're thinking about subverting your loathing of all things Martha?don't. The towels are thinner than they look, the bathmat will begin to unravel the first time your wash it, and the pillows?ah, the pillows. How can we describe them? Let's just say that their salient characteristic is literally the stuffing, which seems to consist mostly of big hefty bristles that leap out and attack you while you sleep and sit quietly sticking their little tongues out the rest of the time. The effect they produce is something akin to what we imagine it would be like to be sleeping regularly with a hog. Buy Martha's pillows and you'll find yourself sitting up nights plucking out feathers, like poor deranged Catherine in Wuthering Heights in that scene where she's dying and thinking back to her wild youth with Heathcliff on the moors, pulling her bed linen apart and feverishly telling what feathers came from what birds. Our guess about where Martha got these feathers? The wings of fallen angels.

Best Discount Drugstore
Robin Raj Discount Health and Beauty Aids
150 E. 14th St. (3rd Ave.)
Pharmaceutical Adventures. Robin Raj is one of those drugstores that has every little thing. The place overflows with unpredictable goodies, and unpredictable is nice if you're sick of the dull giant Duane Reade, where all the stores carry the same products and the depressing presence of a grocery aisle stocked with ramen noodles and reduced-fat Oreos ruins the whole drugstore vibe.

Robin Raj, on the other hand, is a teeming bazaar compared to DR. We love the plentiful aisles, the promising bright orange price tags and the boxes of silk flowers on the floor. On one recent shopping trip we found John Frieda hair products discounted to as low as $4.99, two-packs of Euro-ish FA soap for $1.69, two-for-one Tom's toothpaste for $4.99 and plenty of off-the-radar nail polish brands, too. There's Corn Huskers Lotion and vitamins, Dr. Bronner's soap in three sizes of squeezable bottles, an unusual selection of travel-size products and those cute little kerchiefs everyone's wearing. There are also special sales for special shoppers?one week featured a deep discount on the power combination of Rogaine, Nicorette and Nicoderm, for all you balding smokers. Never a dull drugstore moment.

Best Cheap Rehearsal Studios
37 W. 26th St. (betw. 6th Ave. & B'way)
Grooving with a Pick. Having played in our share of rock bands for many years around the New York City area, we have seen rehearsal studios come and go faster than the traffic lights on the West Side Hwy. But there's just one we really miss: Giant, which used to be on 14th St. The place was like seven floors up with hotter than hell. But the cool thing was it was cheap. Real cheap. It had an elevator that never worked, looked dirtier than a crack house, and we remember rehearsing there for five to 10 bucks an hour. Sure, we sweated while we played our oldies, and, sure, we really didn't consider Peavey a real brand of amp, but still, we were able to knock out our tunes while not having to worry about knocking the money out of our wallets.

Fast-forward a few years. We lost Giant, but we found Funkadelic. There we have actually played through such brand amps as Crate, Ampeg, Marshall and our favorite, Roland, which has a wonderful Jazz Chorus model. The drumsets are usually whole, and actually sound good. Each room has its own p.a., and we can record our rehearsals on a provided boom box, and it sounds okay.

Other features of Funkadelic include the soda, juice and snack machines in the hallway; you can even buy guitar strings, picks, earplugs and batteries through the vending machines as well. The air conditioning in the place is so-so, but at least it works. They also have a real recording studio on the premises.

Oh, and the most important thing: the price. On weekends, we go in there to rehearse for only $16 an hour. Cheaper than anyplace else we've found so far. And the people who work there are really cool.

And you can't beat that. Even if you're a drummer.

Best Dog Walker
Rick Perner
Dogstar. "I'm just a doofus who loves dogs."

That's how Rick describes himself and we agree. We'd add, though, that he's a dependable, responsible, on-time doofus. He also has a special way with our hyper little pit bull mix, and can get her to behave like the young lady she was always meant to be?no small task, we assure you. Rick's never missed an appointment, his fees are fair and he'll board pets for long weekends and on short notice. He's not a clockwatcher either. No guarantees here, but in our experience his walks rarely clock in under an hour. We trust Rick with our pooch and we trust him with the house key. What more can you ask for in a dogwalker?

Best Place to Get Your Computer Fixed
J&R Computer World
19 Park Row, downstairs (betw. Ann & Beekman Sts.)
Can They Fix Coffee in the Keyboard? You knew when you bought your precious e-mail machine that it was a money pit. And like a pricey dame, what do you do when that ungrateful witch turns her 128-meg back on you and refuses to boot up no matter how hard you stroke the mouse? Cursor?

Walkmen come and go, disc players and boomboxes get flushed faster than a Woolworth's goldfish, but if you break out a grand or more for a computer, when it breaks, you fix it. But where?

In a town where getting anything repaired?be it hernia or hard drive?is a nightmare, the repair desk at J&R Computer is an exception to the usual frustrating rule. Instead of being greeted by some smug, greasy hump of a Star Trek fan with attitude, the computer staff at J&R is actually helpful, competent and fast. They'll probably get drummed out of the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Geeks for making nice with civilians, but they did a good job with our ailing ThinkPad. J&R provided an estimate (fried modem, funky hard drive, beat battery: $175) and got it back up and running in three working days. Miraculous. We expected three hundred bucks and a minimum of a month for a call back (like those hateful cellphone Nazis at Verizon who still haven't given us an estimate on the phone we dinged in a bike accident). It's never going to be cheap to keep your computer running, but considering how much a new laptop and software would jack you up, J&R's repair bench is one of the best bargains, and most pleasant surprises, in the high-tech world.

Best Homoerotic Burly-Construction-Worker Gear
Duluth Trading Co.
5200 Quincy St.
St. Paul, MN 55112-1426
Essential Toys for the Real Man. We receive whole sawed-down frontier forests of mail-order catalogs each week, but every once in a while something attention-getting?unique?gets flung into our mailbox. The Duluth Trading Co. is an outfit that we initially assumed to be on the same footing as a lot of those other direct-mail outfits with words like "trading" and "territory" in their names, but the actuality of the operation revealed how meager our judgment really is. For all practical purposes, this is a catalog entirely organized around the 5-gallon white plastic bucket. That's right, a humble bucket. Evidently, though, there are something on the order of a million of these buckets on job sites around the world (this according to the Duluth copy). And they're not being used to lug water or cream cheese or sperm samples; they're being use to lug tools. Hard, heavy tools. "Own a piece of the legend," says the voice of Duluth (from what we can tell, a middle-aged Minnesotan with definite ideas about what does and doesn't belong in a man's garage) of "The Original Bucket Boss" ($19.99). This is a sort of sheath, covered with pockets, that both lines and fits over the 5-gallon bucket, creating a tool-caddy that acts as cousin to, or sidekick to, or substitute for, the tool belt. The Bucket Boss is made of red "Ansotex" nylon ("nearly bulletproof") that is "individually sewn in St. Paul, Minnesota" (nothing like local loyalty).

"Tradesman designed and field tested," goes the description, "bar-tacked at every seam to prevent blow-outs." There are variations on the Bucket Boss. The huskier Bucket Boss 44, for example. The Brobdingnagian Bucket Boss 56 ("If it doesn't fit here, maybe you don't need to bring it along"). The illustration shows a bucket veritably bristling with tools?hammers and screwdrivers and pliers, plus a "built in" power drill holster. Uh-huh: a power drill holster. (Elsewhere in the catalog, one can find the shoulder-holster version, in case the hip-riding gunfighter model isn't FBI enough.) Bucket Boss spinoffs: the Garden Boss (Calling Mom!); the Auto Boss; the Home Boss. There's even a clever little "Mug Boss"?to coffee mugs what the Bucket Boss is to buckets.

On to the "GateMouth" soft-sided tool satchels, essentially Bucket Bosses translated into the form of the Gladstone bag ("These bags last! They're constructed of rugged BossTex ripstop nylon with SuperBossTex ballistic reinforcement"). The Pro GateMouth ($35.99). The Pro Super GateMouth ($49.99). The GateMouth Longboy. And so on. (There's even a GateMouth narrative, surrounding the basic GateMouth, in which the voice of Duluth informs us that his father was an airplane mechanic who carried a "stout leather bag...filled with photographs of French girls in bathing suits" that held a "certain mystique throughout my childhood.")

After a few dozen pages of this, the dizzy homoeroticism of it begins to supply us with a head rush (we mean, really?the GateMouth Longboy?). Not to mention the flagrant, countervailing butchness, the nestled denial that all this geartalk wasn't really about buff young construction-site bucks in ball-crushing Levi's, shirtless and bulging, their glorious Bucket Bosses dangling just so in the sultry St. Paul summer. Whoever's responsible for this dazzling document must either be absurdly conflicted or so absolutely reconciled to his sexuality that the issue of his dangle has either never crossed his mind or never been brought up with him. "When you're a college boy working with ironworkers and Vietnam vets, you need to fit in, " he writes, of his trusty Aladdin Thermos, while sounding like he's setting up a butt-pumping escapade straight out of Honcho. There's more: "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of little, whimpy lunchboxes. They don't hold enough for those of us who sometimes eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the job." The Duluth Trading Co. catalog is a Tom of Finland stroke book for the radial-arm saw set.

Best Place to Buy An Outfit for a Mötley Crüe Concert
Betsey Johnson
138 Wooster St. (betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
Shop 'Til You Rock. It's rare that we brave the tourists to shop in Soho, but it was a nice day and we needed to pick up a few unmentionables and possibly a skirt before heading to England on vacation. We stopped into a larger, fancier Betsey Johnson store than we remembered from when it was a couple blocks over on Thompson St. The place screams coolness, an atmosphere conducive to both novice and professional shoppers, especially if you're looking for the perfect outfit to wear to a rock concert. The pleather pants come complete with an extra-large zip-crotch, the Daisy Duke-style shorts are embroidered with flames and there's an awesome maroon fake-snakeskin dress. Figure your outfit will cost you four times the price of your concert ticket, but that's never too much if you're hoping for some backstage action. Top off your butt-rock outfit with some leopard mules. And if you want to test out your new outfit's durability, no problem?the dressing rooms are spacious enough for the implementation of most rock moves. Although Betsey Johnson usually caters to slender women, the larger-boned woman need only ask the friendly sales staff for help.

Best Store in Soho
Kirna Zabete
96 Greene St. (betw. Prince & Spring Sts.)
The Cool Chicks and Us. We'd sell ourselves in a minute for one of the season's Madison Ave. must-haves?Prada's mink tie-collars or sheer, printed frocks, for example. Or Gucci's tiger-head stilettos, or even the new Marc Jacobs handbag. But we know it won't be too long before clueless starlets and the usual Upper East Side airheads start sporting our heart's desires. Which annoys. Nothing kills our joy in fashion faster than ugly post-debs leering in clothes we admire. The point is to look expensive, but without resembling a Miller sister.

Fortunately, there's Kirna Zabete, down in Soho. This shiny new candy-colored duplex is where you'll find those obscure, hard-to-find, hard-to-pronounce designers whose clothes whisper of excess and exclusivity instead of broadcasting it. Matthew Williamson's rich hippie-beaded sheer slip dresses; Rubin Chapelle's inventive knits; Bruce's exquisitely tailored jeans, ruched leather tops and draped blouses. You'll also find Alice Roi's punk-and-preppie studded plaid jeans and Hussein Chalayan's monastic jackets.

In other words, clothes by designers whose work only the fashion-addicted recognize and respond to. How many times have we worn the distressed Susan Cianciolo skirt we bought at Kirna only to have the coolest girl in the room come up to us and ask, in a reverent whisper: "That's a Susan, isn't it? Wow, where'd you find it?" Damn right?lots of times.

Kirna Zabete's two pixieish owners are always on hand to offer practical advice and coo at you. "I'm so happy this has found a home," Beth Shepherd confided one day, as she handed us a bag with our fur-trimmed Bruce top. "Not many people can wear this, you know."

We love the store's "boyfriend bench" full of iMacs, where we've parked our sweetie on many a Saturday afternoon. And we love its Shih Tzu, that white floorbound furball. But most of all, we love the rigorous selection of beautiful, heartbreakingly expensive clothing that fills its two floors. As God is our witness, we'll never wear Prada again. Maybe.

Best Selection of Putters
NY Golf Center
131 W. 35th St. (betw. B'way & 7th Ave.)
You Name It, They Got It. Golfers and putters?its an inexhaustible marketing dance. We don't know a single linkster who has been using the same putter for more than, oh, a year or two. Now, most of our white-ball cronies are a few tap-ins shy of becoming the next Ben Crenshaw (who used the same old-school Wilson model, nicknamed "Little Ben," for most of his illustrious moss-bossing career), so their compulsion to seek out the latest and greatest in flatstick technology and craftsmanship is understandable. The ones who are genuinely obsessed make NY Golf?recently renovated to resemble a passing imitation of one of those humongous golf-merchandise palaces in Florida or Arizona?a regular stop. And NY Golf does not disappoint. On the second floor, up where the irons and woods are sleekly shelved and the tv's tuned to the Golf Channel, there sits a small, rectangular, raised putting surface, green astroturf punctuated by cups at the four corners, surrounded by what must be 200 different putters. It's a feast. You can sample everything from a $35 Ray Cook to a $325 Bettinardi, and a host of others in between. They got the Never Compromise that Jean Van de Velde used to get himself in an unlikely playoff for the '99 British Open (after blowing an apparently insurmountable lead on 18). They got Tiger Woods' Titleist Scotty Cameron Pro Platinum Newport. They got Ping Ansers, they got Bulls Eyes, the got Odyssey, they got TearDrop (our personal favorite?love that smooth roll it puts on the dimpled balata sphere). If you're so inclined and have a hour or two to kill, you can practice 10-footers endlessly, and never use the same stick twice.

Best Techno Gadgets for Kids
Software, Etc.
743 Broadway (8th St.)
Better Than the Zoo. Okay, the word "gadgets" betrays this parent's age, but what else can you call the array of video games, CD-ROMs, PlayStation and Nintendo 64 guides and Digimon paraphernalia? We take our boys to Software, Etc. maybe once a month, and let them stock up on merchandise: CD-ROMS like "Pajama Sam," "Math Blaster," "Freddi Fish" and a variety of Dr. Seuss games. The latest PlayStation number we bought was Syphon Filter; and word has it among the cognoscenti of such ephemera (at least to Old Man Grumpus here) that the sequel to N64's masterful The Legend of Zelda will be available in early October. We don't suppose there will be lines outside Software equaling a Stones concert back in the Stone Age, but neither rain, snow nor sleet will keep our kids from arriving there the moment the store opens.

Best Downtown Postal/ Stationery/ Action-Figure/ Everything Store
My Little Village Postal Shop
151 1st Ave. (betw. 9th & 10th Sts.)
If They Ain't Got It, It Don't Exist. We've been coming here for about three years now and have found the three siblings who run the place to be a happy, helpful and curious bunch. Youngest sister is a shy little sprite. Silent, but ever-smiling. Middle brother?a broad mannish-boy with a Star Wars pathology. And older sister has the most fascinating, description-defying accent, one not shared by the other two. (Not an accent in the foreign-accent sense, but more an eccentric way of stressing consonants. Go talk to her, you'll see what we mean.) Their postal fees are a bit higher than the post office?but then, we get considerate, personal service, longer hours and little to no wait. They're also happy to let our dog roam and explore while we address our envelopes and lick our stamps. Try doing that on government property.

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