Part Three Best Banking Service Change ...

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Part Three
Best Banking Service
Who's That Guy in the White Wig? Every other day, it seems we're all making a quick trip to the ATM to grab $300 to get us through the night. Then we head out like a bunch of suckers with a wallet or purse full of $20s. Even worse?for some reason known only to the banks?we're increasingly heading out with wallets or purses full of $50s. Well, the banks are keeping a little secret from you. Every one of those banks has tellers that sit inside those walls during the daylight hours. And every one of those tellers is obligated to take a bank customer's $300 and break it down into smaller bills. If that doesn't seem like a big deal, then you're one of the many Manhattanites who long ago began taking their rights for granted.

Rights, however, come with responsibility. Keep in mind your own obligation as a good bank customer. Flimflam men still walk our streets, and some banks have a policy to limit change-making transactions. Your teller will be a lot more receptive if you show up with a small note detailing how you want that $300 to be divided. Keep a token $100 in twenties. Go with another $100 in tens. This will keep the $5s flowing in change from purchases. The $50 in fives from the bank will spend quicker than you expect. Then indulge yourself with $50 in ones, and keep the unused ones in your bedside bureau next to your gun. Grab a handful as you head out for the day, and replenish when necessary.

The personal benefits will be immediate. Aren't you sick of that bodega clerk staring at your $20 and trying to figure how much he owes you for a purchase of $12.75 in magazines? Give him $13, and watch the transaction get narrowed down to a mere five minutes. Your bartering clout will become vastly improved with the ability to peel off a precise $17 at the vintage clothing store. Lend your friend $5 you'll never see again instead of that $20 you'll never see again.

Oh, and fuck the waiters of this fine city. How long have they kept you waiting for change while your date is giving you a smoldering stare that offers your sex life a precious 10-minute window of opportunity? Now leave the exact amount, while enjoying the freedom to be very precise with your tip. Or, if you've already had sex with your date, pay the bill in $20s and see if the bastard brings you back the proper change for leaving a fair 20 percent tip. If he tries to get cute, use your secret stash of cash to carefully count out an exact 10 percent. What can he do about it? You're the one with the money.

Best Used Records
Housing Works Used Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St. (betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
Scratched & Scored. Housing Works Used Bookstore Cafe is one of our favorite used book haunts. On rainy days, sit on the mezzanine level staring out the windows at the rain falling on Crosby's cobblestones and it's easy to think you're in your own private library. We'd gotten so used to escaping into dusty volumes that we nearly missed the record bins. But once we saw them, we obsessively combed through each disc until we ended up with a heavy, cumbersome load of used vinyl: The Rolling Stones' Rolled Gold double-pack vinyl, $5; J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit, including a 12-page storybook, $5; Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, $3; Earl Klugh albums up the wazoo; Blondie's Parallel Lines, one measly dollar; Klaatu, Earth Wind & Fire, more Talking Heads, Nina Simone's Baltimore, the soundtrack to Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Nothing we bought cost more than $5. We were sorry to be so greedy, when we had to carry that beast of burden load uptown, but we got more records for our money than we ever have. Most of the vinyl's in good condition, although some of the jackets are a little roughed up. But that's not the point?we're not talking fancy collectibles in polymer bags here, we're talking sheer weight. For that, no place we've ever been to can possibly beat Housing Works. You can almost feel good about being neurotically packratish when it comes to vinyl: Housing Works donates all of its proceeds to programs for homeless people with AIDS.

Best Girls' Surfer T-Shirts
Roxy Quicksilver
109 Spring St. (Mercer St.)
Tubular. You're damn right we've got fat arms. And as much as we lift and curl and flap our arms up and down in obsessive counterclockwise rotations, our fat arms persist.

We dreaded summer; dreaded the arrival of the shoulder-baring chick fashions we longed to wear. So what a relief it was to find really cool, very comfortable t-shirts that hide our faults and that happen to be cut in such a way as to flatter our good parts (like, if we may say so ourselves, our shoulders). Roxy t-shirts for girls are boxy. The hem falls right above the hip and the sleeves are cut at an angle, shorter than regular t-shirts, so that your arms stay hidden. But?and this is the best part?it won't look like you're hiding them. Plus, they're designed to look a bit retro, with a little of that 60s-in-Huntington-Beach groove. The best one's hot pink, with neon lettering.

We wore our Roxy t-shirts everywhere this summer. Over swimwear at the beach; under Helmut Lang pantsuits to boites; everywhere. Buy the whole lot and resist that unfortunate tube-top-and-shrug combination, which looks like hell and is way over, anyway.

Best Flowers
Pascal at Anne Bruno
115 W. Broadway
(betw. Duane & Reade Sts.)
A Bouquet in Every Bathroom? Live a Little. With a Tintin haircut and sexy accent, Pascal always produces the best floral arrangements downtown. Tell him French-style or open and he'll provide. Needless to say, the flowers are always fresh, and maybe because it's a new business the service is top-notch. Nothing carnation or cheesy, everything in the finest of taste. And who wouldn't like a guy named Pascal?

Best Camera Supply Store
B&H Photo
420 9th Ave. (betw. 33rd & 34th Sts.)
Shooting Gallery. Back when we were still overexposing Tri-X and making a mess in the bathroom darkroom, it was more fun to shop for camera stuff than to suffer the out-of-focus gray blobs that were the result of our early photography. And for camera addicts here in the world's center of photo retailers you could spend a whole day bouncing from little shops like Adorama to B&H to Cambridge to Olden. While most of those camera stores are still crammed into overflowing storefronts that can barely contain the stock, let alone the customers, B&H has hugeified and moved into immense digs on the west side.

From the new block-long store B&H peddles everything a shutterbug can use. It's the likeliest place in the world to find the perfect tripod, weird infrared films, funky large-format equipment and even old cut-film holders. B&H isn't stuck in the dark ages, though: They've aggressively expanded their selections of electronic imaging gear, and are an excellent source for video cameras, electronic editing consoles and all the other space-age gadgets you'll need to record all the oh-so-precious minutiae of your life. (We love our Epson Stylus photo printer that B&H's resident digital image guru Phil Mistry sold us.)

An hospitable warehouse is over there on 9th Ave., overflowing with stuff for both the finger-over-the-lens amateur and the highest-end professional. Even if you don't own a camera, go to the new store just to check out the Metropolis-like conveyor system that delivers your purchases from sales counter to pickup area via overhead buckets.

Best Department in Macy's
151 W. 34th St. (B'way)
Carry On. Oh, we hate Macy's most days. The crowds blow, the staff varies from indifferent to incompetent and is often both. There was the time recently a lady was standing behind a locked appliances counter. We asked if we could see one of the appliances. No, she said. She was just standing there watching the counter, she explained, and didn't have the key. Ooookaaaay, we said, who does have the key? The woman who really works this counter, she said. And she is...? we ventured. At lunch, she replied, quite calmly. Is there anybody else who can help us? we asked. I really don't know, she admitted. We said, Can we ask you something? If you don't have a key and you don't know who does and there's nothing you can do for customers, why are you standing here? She shrugged. Because they told me to, she said.

That's Macy's. Except, for some reason, the luggage department. Not like we've bought tons of luggage, but when we have, over the years, we've kept coming back to Macy's. The selection is very broad. There almost always seems to be a damn good sale going. And the staff actually knows the products and can help you comparison-shop and decide. Then they hustle into a back room and hustle right back with the just-unpacked version of the piece you picked out. They're somehow neater, more presentable and much more polite than most Macy's drones.

What can we say? Much as so many businesses in Manhattan try to beat this out of us, we still like it when the salesperson is a clean, neat, courteous and informed salesperson, not some ignorant dick who makes us want to shove the goods up his or her ass. We're funny that way, you know?

Best East Village CD Store
Mondo Kim's
6 St. Marks Pl. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)
St. Marks Still Rocks. Admit it?Other Music was cool at first, but now it's just a pain in the ass. We, too, were impressed when the place opened across from Tower, but now, squeezing into that cramped, always-crowded space, where elitist atmosphere forever effuses from the store's tippy-top-high-end speakers, we figure we'd just as soon support downtown's other independent. The prices are mostly the same, the clerks are no less helpful, the selection is wider (yeah, it's not quite as deep in German soundtrack music or Japanese noise, but how many times do you need to flip through Other's musical stamp collection until you're over it?), the elbow room is refreshing and the "Used" sections are far more likely to house something worthwhile. Kim's is the See Hear, the Porto Rico Importing, the Yaffa Cafe of music retail. Other Music is the Bowery Bar.

Best Fly-Fishing Flies
355 Madison Ave. (45th St.)
Good Bastards and Fly Bitches. Is there an outdoorsman's indulgence known to man that involves more screwy crap than fly fishing? We're stumped. Hunting? Rifle, shells, maybe some camo, maybe not. Dog. There you go: Hit the duckblind, beat the brush, flush the quarry, don't shoot anybody. Skiing? Close, but not quite: skis, poles, boots, duds?done. Okay, lift tickets. Attitude. Grog for the lodge bimmies. But now we're pushing it, grasping. Golf? Sorry. It's a game, not a sport.

Fly-fishing, on the other hand, compels its enthusiasts to participate in an orgy of gadget-buying matched only by devotees of...hell, we don't know. Cakewriting? Spelunking? Microsurgery? There are days when, trapped up by Grand Central and loath to paw shirts at Paul Stuart or slip into Nat Sherman for an illicit cigarette of exotic provenance, we choose to kill our time in idle fashion at Orvis. We enter. The humid musk of waxed-cotton Barbour stormcoats accosts our decidedly non-Anglophilic nostrils. To our left: a dishabille heap of corduroy and tattersalls. To our right: a flight of stairs, bedecked with Labrador plush toys and WASPy whatnots, ascending to the more serious sanction, the realm of variable-flex rods, high-speed-retrieve reels, breathable waders, vests composed almost entirely of velcro and pouches. Directly ahead: a strip of chalkboards reporting the angling conditions on a variety of local rivers. We give the forest-green "Battenkill" luggage a jiggle. We ponder the schlubby tweed jackets, which appear to function less as garments and more as tasteful frameworks for a dizzying array of concealed pockets. We tug on a Barbour, judge its damp heft?because we've always wanted one and because CNN's Christiane Amanpour wore one to assay the most recent cruise-missile fusillades in Baghdad, and she looked gallant, Euro, prepared (Barbour should sign her to an endorsement contract).

But enough dawdling. Time to gird ourselves for the business of scrutinizing the store's upstairs merchandise, its raison d'etre. Orvis is a rinky-dink shop, wedged here in the shadow of the monolithic former Pan Am Bldg., but Lord God! What a bevy of wares they've crammed into this meager square footage! At this juncture in our fly-casting self-education, the essentials are a tad off-putting?the $600 rods and $400 reels?but we're game to study the relatively inexpensive flies themselves, of which Orvis has thoughtfully provided hundreds, neatly categorized in display cases accompanied by a dry-erase "What's Workin'" white board that, we guess, is constantly updated according to local word of mouth. The flies are an education in fanciful Yankee nomenclature, a poetic taxonomy, a diverse catalog of etymological whimsy. Check it out. Among dry flies there are the workaday "Mosquito" and "Black Gnat," but also the "Light Cahill Parachute," the "Blue Winged Olive Thorax" and the regal-sounding "Comparadun Mahogany" (all $1.95). Want a fish story? How about "Herter's Bastard Midge" for narrative allure? Who was "Herter's Bastard"? Or was the midge itself a "bastard," and if so, a bastard because the fish couldn't resist a gulp? A good bastard, a bad bastard? There's a "Crippled Midge," too. Descriptive of an insect's plight? Or...possibly...something...else? We're partial to the "Nymphs" category, primarily because it contains this incongruous customer: the "Disco Midge."

Also in there is the injuriously tagged "Bitch Creek," as well as the "Flashback Scud," which puts us back in the mind of Christiane Amanpour. You want drama? Dig the "Meg-A-Egg Sucking Leach," a $2.50 steelhead fly. Furthermore, if you're inspired to try your own hand at this perverse escapade and hope someday to name your own clever little windings of feather and thread, Orvis has you covered. The "Premium Fly-Tying Kit" retails for $235 and allegedly contains a least a few of the niftier tricks.

Best Street Vendor
Next Stop, Astor Place. We only saw him once, sitting on the corner of 7th and 32nd, but we haven't forgotten him.

It was lunchtime, so 7th was packed?yet there he sat, oblivious to the crowds: a distinguished, gray-haired Australian in a sharp gray suit, sitting on a cardboard box, another cardboard box full of children's books open in front of him. There were four other large boxes beside and behind him.

"Look at these fabulous books, ladies and gentleman!" he shouted with an enthusiastic authority. "This book here! Desmond the Dusty Dinosaur! As beautiful a book as you've ever seen! Look on the back, and you'll see that the original price is $14.95. Now that's very expensive, isn't it? But we're not going to ask you to pay that!"

Then he opened the book, and didn't start reading the book aloud so much as he simply described the pictures on each page, while making up his own story.

"Look at these beautiful pictures, ladies and gentlemen! Here's one of a dinosaur! And he looks like he's having fun, I'll say! You don't find artwork like that just anywhere?and we all know that the kids love the dinosaurs! Go on to the next page and what happens? Well, our dinosaur friend looks like he's about to get into trouble! There's a big spider there! It's quite horrid?but I'm sure everything will turn out, don't you? And your kids will love it!"

He went through book after book like this, never once looking at the crowd, opening each book as if he had never seen such a thing before, describing each one with almost childlike amazement. We stood against the wall and watched him, waiting for some kind of punch line.

After 20 minutes, we got it. He'd describe each book?nice $15 and $20 children's books these were, before putting it back in the box and grabbing another. When he'd described every book in the box, he finally looked up and proclaimed, "And this entire box, ladies and gentlemen?all these books?are yours for a mere five dollars!"

Best Flyswatter
Philippe Starck's Karikter
19 Prince St. (betw. Elizabeth & Mott Sts.)
Bug Spray. Philippe Starck's $13 flyswatter is a deliciously perverse object. Both a practical household tool?you could definitely slaughter flies with it?as well as a cheeky esthetic treasure, with silly tripod legs and a cleverly etched visage on the swatter's "face" (made visible by turning the flyswatter at the correct angle), it possesses the necessary qualities?it's both incongruous and inexpensive?that we demand in our tchotchkes. Buy one of each color, arrange them prominently in your apartment and you've got an "installation" worthy of P.S. 1 in Queens, where the things are displayed in exactly this manner.

Karikter, a newish decorative store in Little Italy, is one of the few locations that sells high-end but low-priced goods from Alessi, that Italian manufacturer of architect-designed toothbrushes and cheese graters. And Karikter also sells Little Prince watches, Babar salt-and-pepper shakers and Tin Tin backpacks.

But stick with the Flyswatter. For a mere $13, it brings a touch of postmodern whimsy to your home. And God knows you could use it.

Best Tattoo
Josh at Rising Dragon
230 23rd St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
Ink-Stained Wretches. We aren't sure how we chose Rising Dragon for our third, but first large, full-color tattoo. The day we visited, a blond almost-hayseed type asked us what we were looking for. Though first impressions are usually right, ours wasn't with Josh, and within minutes of discussing placement and design, we were getting pulled deeper into his diabolical plans. Our idea was relatively complex, but we were too chickenshit to ask for the full forearm inkjob. Shit, we didn't even know you had to tattoo at a certain size to get the right detail.

In hindsight it seems obvious, but now Josh might half-smile and nod, barely acknowledging our understanding. Holding our pale, uncolored arm, he traced imaginary borders and talked color schemes and symmetry. His shading and special outlining technique (the yellow line) are trademark Joshisms, as is his ability to spin brown, yellow and orange pigments into gold. After 12 hours of pain, we've never looked back. Every day at least one person comments on the excellent quality of our tattoo and wants to know who did it. Josh is already bugging us about our next piece, which we'll get soon. From Josh.

Best-Designed Cell Phone
Motorola StarTAC
Gimme Your Cell, I Gotta Call Carmela. If you have to have a cell phone (were they really invented for prisoners to use to call home?), why not have one that looks and feels 21st century and not, like so many of the models, like a buttony Kirby cucumber? The Motorola StarTAC is now digital and analog, and has that nice flip mouthpiece so you're speaking at a real point, not just the ozone. It just feels good, and unless you own a varied fleet of such phones and can compare them and thus know better, it seems to work at least as well as others that are uglier.

Best Good Idea Manhattan Travelers Take for Granted
Boston & DC Shuttles
Shuttle, Not Bugged. Only when you consider their absence can you appreciate the cordiality of the existence of the shuttles between New York and Washington, and New York and Boston. Even the most disorganized or procrastinating individual is never more than a half hour from a flight to either place, or back home. One good result is that it has made going to DC from NY a small deal?always a good political stance. Amtrak promises to deliver even faster service soon on its moderne train, and the agreeable ease of flowing from center city to center city will enhance still more the psychic pleasure of that mode of transport. However, because it is often necessary to reserve on the Metroliner, its superior comfort will have often to yield to the desperation of the dunce who's disorganized and late.

And while we're at it, another good idea Manhattan drivers take for granted: only paying tolls one way on river crossings. A stroke of humane genius.

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