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Best Brooklyn Vet when Hope is Slim
Animal Kind
365 7th Ave. (betw. 11th & 12th Sts.), 718-832-3899

Knockin' on doggie heaven's door. Since our first visit, we'd been telling people to take their pets to Animal Kind if at all possible. For, all the times we'd been there, we never found the staff, from top to bottom, to be anything less than kind, helpful and straightforward. They clearly loved what they were doing, and did their damnedest to help these animals. We received regular updates on our pet's condition, and were allowed to visit every day (a rarity, we've found). We even saw the vets pull off a miracle or two, saving animals who didn't have a chance.

That's why early this year, when there simply were no miracles left for one of our cats, we were relieved to have a place like Animal Kind around. They did what they could to keep him going, but when it was clear his time was nearly up, they called us and, instead of talking about putting him to sleep in a cold and sterile room, told us to bring him home, keep him comfortable and give him whatever he wanted to eat.

He died later that night. We were there, and he was in his favorite spot. If he had to go, there was no better way for it to happen. The following morning when we carried his body back to Animal Kind to arrange for the cremation, the doctors came out to express their condolences, as did the vet techs who'd taken care of him in the past-even the receptionists helped us-and we knew they were all sincere.

Not only did they handle the arrangements with the care normally afforded a family member, the doctor who'd cared for him even sent along a personal sympathy card a few days later. They went way above and beyond, and made everything so much easier than it would normally have been. We've heard countless horror stories about local animal hospitals over the years, but Animal Kind was a godsend.

Best Side Effects
Effexor XR

Happy happy, joy?oh crap. We were half-awake when the radio announcer enumerated our worst fears: anorexia, constipation, dizziness, ejaculation problems, impotence, insomnia, nausea, nervousness, sleepiness, sweating, weakness?

We turned down the volume, thought happy thoughts and went back to sleep.

The next morning, there it was again on 1010WINS: an advertisement for Effexor XR, the latest miracle drug that "may help get you back to feeling the way you used to-before the symptoms of depression started to interfere with your life."

Here's an incomplete list of possible Effexor XR side effects, according to the manufacturer's website:

"Agitation, anxiety, confusion, diarrhea, dizziness or vertigo, dry mouth, fasciculation (muscle twitching), headaches, hypomania, impaired coordination, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, sensory disturbances (including electric shock sensations), somnolence (sleepiness), tiredness, tremor, unpleasant mood, vomiting."

Thanks anyway, but we'll stick with the depression.

Best Place to Get Cool Old Videos
(at a Personal Price)
The Playpen
693 8th Ave. (betw. 43rd & 44th Sts.), 212-582-8275

Bring the kids! We're at the back of the Playpen porn shop, avoiding the eyes of the live girls while checking out the mainstream VHS tapes stocked to meet the city's obscenity laws. We're happy to find a copy of Absolute Beginners, but there's no price tag. Considering that everything else on the shelves is $8.99, we've got a bad feeling. We walk up to the clerk, he confirms that our planned purchase is also $8.99, and we show our usual pained expression when something we want is slightly overpriced.

"Videos upstairs," the clerk helpfully notes, "are only $4 and $5."

"Great," we say, and head up the stairs to the side-before noticing the big pink neon lettering that proudly announces we're approaching "The Male Box."

We lean back down the stairs, catch the clerk's attention, wave our copy of Absolute Beginners: "Um, these kinds of videos?"

And, yes, it's a wonderful cache of these kinds of videos-by which we mean cool films on VHS that you haven't seen available in years. It's certainly true that those stairs lead up to a bank of peep-show booths where a bunch of guys are nervously milling about. First, however, you reach a mezzanine full of great finds like Brewster McCloud, The House that Dripped Blood, the complete Vice Academy line of sexploitation comedies and other films that you've completely forgotten that you're waiting to get on DVD.

There's also a bizarre mix of rarities that you haven't seen since that Mom & Pop chain went out of business back in 1989. Thrill to Rachel Hunter's exercise video from 1989. Marvel at the entire infamous Genesis video line of lame exploitation schlock-including the impossibly cheap Invasion from the Inner Earth. Many of them are factory-sealed.

And, no, the film geeks haven't yet scooped up all the good stuff. They're too insecure about their sexuality to dare risk being caught on the steps leading up to the Male Box. We, of course, have no such qualms. Just as we're not afraid to hold the clerk to his word when he tries to charge us $9 for a copy of Wonderland Cove we find up there.

Best Garden Supply
Saifee Hardware & Garden
114 1st Ave. (7th St.), 212-979-6396

Back to Eden. The one thing we miss about our suburban childhood is the backyard. Nothing fancy. Just some open air, a little Weber grill, maybe a patch of garden. But at the price of such things in these five boroughs, we may as well have held our breath for Katharine Hepburn to name us in her will. One more summer of vacuuming the petrochemical soot off our barren windowsills would have been too depressing for words, so we took it upon ourselves to go out and get that little plot of earth, even if meant buying it by the bag.

It turned out that Saifee, a corner store in the East Village, would have everything we needed: containers, potting mixes, seeds, bulbs, growlights, windowbox brackets, hanging baskets, even non-toxic pesticide soaps (those tiny spidermites are the bane of indoor gardeners, we've since learned). We stuck to reasonable crops, like basil, mint and chilli peppers, and we invested some time. And holy crap-all of it grew, and it's stuff we can actually eat.

Now as we tend our garden, we can't help but glance smugly over the foliage at the mean little cactus perched on the office windowsill across the way. This will easily hold us for now, and one day, we'll be queen of the barbecue pit.

Best Use of War to Sell Beauty Products
Marcia Kilgore in Blissout (June 2003)

Kilgore Lout. The June catalog produced by those cosmetically superior folks at Bliss started out harmlessly enough. On page two, Marcia Kilgore, aka "Miss Bliss," tossed off this friendly heads-up:

"Summer is-at last-around the corner, and with it, those long stretched hours of sun signal an end to 'fat-forgiving' full-length trousers, dry-elbow concealing cardigans and the emergence of all wardrobe things sleeveless, shifty, and sheer."

But there was, you know, a war going on. We felt kinda bad about wanting to spend $70 for a one-ounce dose of Oxygenating Active Amplifier. Miss Bliss put our mind at ease:

"[W]ith the ongoing global conflicts creating continuously high levels of stress, a girl sometimes needs to focus on the superficial just to keep her sanity."

But, but, what if things don't get better? With all those people dying and stuff, we felt kinda bad about wanting to spend $135 on a six-ounce tube of strivectin-sd stretchmark repair formula.

Again, Miss Bliss:

"[W]hile we all look for peace (at home and in the 'East'), we can simultaneously harbor a hope that another kind of tension-that which measures the skin on the backs of our thigh-is mounting."

As a typical Bliss patron might say: Oh. My. God.

Best Plastic Surgery

Fake: the new real. Morning, high above the Aventura Mall in North Dade. We're sunk deep in a brocade couch with a back issue of Redbook in our lap. No sound except for an imitation Italianate fountain of youth burbling in the corner.

On the other side of the waiting room, Dora, the receptionist, is quietly talking to a swarthy deliveryman at the gilt front desk. He disappears, and she trills our name.

"Are you ready?" No answer. She leads us into a smaller room with an examination table. She closes the door, and the swarthy deliveryman enters. He has startling blue eyes, a perfect tan and a black brush cut.

"I'm your anesthesiologist," he says, sitting down on a low metal stool. Suddenly we notice the platinum Cartier tank on his wrist.

He gives us a once-over. "Are you nervous?"

We nod briskly.

"I'll buzz for a Valium. We'll be ready for you shortly."

Fifteen minutes later, back in the waiting room, we feel ourselves downshift as the pill kicks in. We're led into another examining room; pile our clothes in the corner, try to stand still and refrain from stoned cocktail- party chatter while Dr. H draws his incision points on our tits with a magic marker. Dr. H is young, early 30s maybe, and he has a slight accent and the softest camellia-white hands. The most boob jobs he has done in one day? Fifteen.

Dr. H wears a white coat with his name embroidered in blue on the breast pocket, which reminds us that surgeons, especially plastic surgeons, are elite auto mechanics, and they know it. This pleases us. Order the part, put it in and be assured that insurance won't cover it. Simple. We're not going to die on the table today.

His touch is beautiful, and he holds the marker like a sable brush. We tell him so, and he smiles benignly. "Don't you think the term 'plastic surgeon' is tacky?" we ask. "You're so much more than that."

"No, I'm not. 'Plastic' derives from the Greek plastikos, which means to shape. To change."

Through another door, into the operating room, which is small and decorated in more gold and red velvet, like a sadistic whore's boudoir. Now we're lying down, naked save for a shower cap. A nurse in a very short white dress holds up two miniature pizza boxes. "These are your implants," she says behind her mask.

We want to see them.

"No," she replies. "Sterile."

She is Cuban, and, like all plastic surgery fans, somewhere between the ages of 19 and 70.

The anesthesiologist's meaty tan hands are on our left wrist, tying us off. A needle in the back of our hand. "You might feel a burning sensation," he says. "I'm here. I'll be here with you the whole time." Goodbye, God. There's coldness, we flinch and whimper like an old Collie bitch, and then nothing. The real little death.

We come up under a blanket and keep our eyes closed, shivering cold and fumbling at the IV in our hand. When we open our eyes, the nurse in the short dress is there, putting a straw to our lips. Gatorade. The door opens and our boyfriend comes in, looking frightened and excited. The blanket is pulled away and we look down at our chest, expecting to see a mound of gore and sutures. Instead, we see two perfect, gravity defiant 34Ds. She puts fresh gauze over our new, huge nipples, and thick white strips of tape around our ribcage.

"We asked for a Traci Lords," we say.

"I noticed," she says. To boyfriend: "Now this is how you help her sit up. Hold her under her shoulder blades. Like a baby. Right."

The IV is removed and we slide into a wheelchair. Back through the waiting room, where we spy a thin Polish girl curled up on the couch with an Elle in her lap, miserably holding an ice pack to her Botox injections. On the way out, another plastic surgeon in a white coat gently touches our cheek and wishes us well. "Okay honey? Of course you are. Enjoy."

Hours later, we've got our head in the freezer, and there's a hot jet of vomit lurching at the base of our throat. It will only get worse, as Dr. H warned us. Two weeks of wriggling like a shrimp to the edge of the bed and bawling for boyfriend to help us every time we have to pee. When we bend forward, our tits surge with pain and slosh like twin stomachs bloated with soda.

Bad idea. Two weeks of hating our grandparents' dark, ugly and disused apartment in what was now the outskirts of cracktown, lying half-dead, zebra-striped by the hot sun through the Venetian blinds. Two weeks of being propped up by the edge of the pool, itchy from the Percocet, not listening to the old peoples' whispers and tut-tuts.

"Isn't that Bunny's granddaughter?" one of them asks as we limp past their canasta game. Sigh. "She's always falling out of her bathing suit."

"Shoosh. Those aren't real."

But that was months ago. Now we love our fake tits, and everyone-the cringing mother-in-law, the dour exes, the shrieking friends-are entreated, nay, ordered to squeeze them. Feel how real? Once we had shriveled dugs, beaten south by the caprices of weight loss, weight gain and sorry genetics. Now we have way more than a handful, and not since ninth grade have we been able to make this boast: We fail the pencil test.

Best Japanese Hair Stylist
Kino
Kino International, 214 E. 10th St. (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.), 212-475-6826

No photos allowed. Best thing about going to a foreign hairdresser is the lack of chitchat. No small talk, no how ya doin' can ya believe this weather? Just us, our hair and whatever newspaper is stuffed in our bag. With Kino, we get all of this-plus a mirrored studio that from the street looks more like the hallway of a spaceship than anything in the same genus as barbershop. The place is miraculously dirt-free, like an operating room from a 50s sci-fi movie.

Kino happens to be a superb hairstylist. Here's his secret: Once you've you finally gotten over your fear of being the dirty Westerner who has ketchup somewhere (you just know it) on your outfit, Kino asks what kind of music you listen to. And that's it. There's no more talking, no labored conversations, and you get exactly the type of haircut you want.

Though we suspect that Kino is a mostly-dude dude, we wouldn't discourage women from checking him out. Helpful tip: There's no exterior sign, just a teensy little card in the mirror inside that says "KINO." Just because Kino's place looks too cold for Kraftwerk does not mean you and your copy of the Post can't go there.

Best Boxing and Yoga Class
BoKu
The Stable, 281 N. 7th St. (betw. Havemeyer & Meeker), Williamsburg, 718-387-3962

Left hook to downward dog. "Harder! Faster!" How often does a girl get to hear a big cute mook from Belfast scream these words as she pounds the crap outta him? Twice a week since we started taking BoKu. It isn't some foul-smelling, hippy-dippy dietary supplement, rather a class that combines boxing and Kundalini yoga.

Taught by Irish imports Colum Meehan (the "Bo") and Ailish Keating (the "Ku"), the 90-minute, the class is split into two parts. First Meehan takes you on a hellish ride through boxing basics-jumping rope, endless ab exercises, loads of punching and a form of torture I hadn't been put through since high school gym class: the squat thrust. Then, once you're shaking from exertion, doused in sweat and ready to aim for his face rather than the pads he's holding up in front of him, Keating steps in and takes over to stretch your ass. Keating is beautiful to begin with, but some days she actually looks like an angel sent down to save us from collapsing at the feet of the Belfast Bruiser.

We'd taken her yoga classes before, but was in the market for something a bit more strenuous. Boxing and yoga might sound like a weird combination (and maybe it is), but sweating your ass off for the better part of an hour and then going directly into 45 minutes of yoga feels pretty fucking amazing.

Best Fencing School
Salle Gitane
747 Amsterdam Ave., 2nd fl. (96th St.), 917-570-0078

On guard! Owned and run by young husband and wife competitive fencers John and Larissa Gonzalez, Salle Gitane is the fastest-growing fencing school in the city. And fencing is the fastest growing sport in the country.

"It's not wussy," says John. "It comes from mortal combat. But it also combines grace and athleticism, and even ethics."

The honor codes of Renaissance Europe are reflected in the newly revived sport, which flowered in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, especially Poland, where the founding coach of Salle Gitane is from. New York is the center of the fencing universe in the United States, and Salle Gitane has become the breeding ground for the next generation of stars.

Best Ceramics Studio
The Mudpit
228 Manhattan Ave. (betw. Grand & Maujer Sts.), Williamsburg, 718-218-9424

Remember that pottery sex scene in Ghost? There's a lot to take in when you walk into the Mudpit. Shelves near the door are stacked with an array of co-owner Cindy Gatto's reasonably priced handmade bowls, mugs and other work. Lovely and lovingly made, each piece is proof of her considerable skill. Other shelves hold student work in various stages of completion (along with the occasional lazybones cat). Ceramics aren't the only handmade creations here: Mark Petrin, the other owner, built a large motorcycle from the ground up that, more often than not, is parked in the studio.

Downstairs are the wheels-14 of them. After years of collecting our friends' pottery, we decided last winter to take a whirl at throwing. It's no exaggeration to say it changed our life. Cindy is a brilliant teacher. Her knowledge and patience are extensive, and her explanations and careful demonstrations usher tricky concepts into the realm of the possible.

We shopped around, and the classes are a bargain. Moreover, this may be the only ceramics studio in NYC that includes open-studio time with its courses. That means you can come in and work whenever the hell you want. Most places send you packing after class, and if they let you come in other times at all, you have to pay extra. The Mudpit offers wheel-throwing, hand-building and mosaics classes, and individualized attention is matter-of-course. (Don't be surprised when Cindy gives you an unsolicited, detailed analysis of your trimming skills.) At Mudpit, clay and glazes come with your class (which is pretty standard). You pay about $15 for your tools and nominal firing fees.

Best Rape Crisis Program
Saint Vincent's Hospital
41-51 E. 11th St., 9th fl. (betw. 10th & 11th Sts.), 212-604-8068

Important work well done. When a rape survivor comes into the emergency room at St. Vincent's, the front desk immediately pages the volunteer rape-crisis counselor on-call. That woman will head directly to the hospital, usually arriving within the half-hour, and she'll stay with the client throughout the waiting, the rape exam and rape kit, and more likely than not she'll help get the client home.

Volunteering in this program is a pretty serious undertaking. There are 40 hours of training: 10 classes over the course of a month, and if you miss one, you're out of the program. The training covers a lot of ground. Women acquire basic counseling skills, learn about the rape exam in the ER, rape trauma syndrome and PTSD, the legal system and issues surrounding adolescents, substance abusers and domestic violence.

St. Vincent's asks volunteers to commit to one year of being on-call once or twice a month. The pager may or may not go off, and the stress of waiting is almost worse than getting called in. Not everyone wants you once you're there, but in general, people are glad for the company. Rape-crisis counselors offer assistance that's at once basic and profound. They explain procedures-in English, Spanish and Chinese-that can seem overwhelming when you're not tired and traumatized, and they are there to advocate for the survivor-i.e., that counselor is one person attending to the survivor without an agenda (unlike the cops or family members).

The counselors encourage clients to make follow-up appointments with the trained social workers who head the program, Christine Fowley and Edwina Key, so the service extends beyond that first, fucked-up day in the ER.

Best Free Kayaking
New York City Downtown Boathouse
Pier 26 on the Hudson River (betw. Chambers & Canal Sts.), Pier 66A on the Hudson River (27th St.), 72nd St. at the Hudson River, 646-613-0740

No tipping allowed. We visited one Sunday afternoon to find 15 kayaks skimming along the sun-glittered Hudson while 24 people waited their turn to march down the footbridge to the dock. The rules are simple: know how to swim, wear a lifejacket, sign a waiver, stay between the piers, return in 20 minutes (or come back if called), keep away from the sides and wall and-duh-don't go swimming.

Staffed by volunteers who claim 12,000 visitors in 2002, the boathouse offers programs besides the kayak jaunts, such as training and summertime trips to Lady Liberty each week. This season, all three locations opened May 15 and will close October 15. With a fleet of more than 40 kayaks, waits are minimal, and they supply the equipment, instruction and lockers.

They didn't even goad us into dropping something in the tip jar. Instead, reads a sign at the Tribeca location, "The only donation that we ask for is that you kayak safely."

Best Used Camera Equipment
Adorama
42 W. 18th St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.), 800-223-2500

Say "old cheese." We remain unconvinced when it comes to digital photography. We've always clung stubbornly to the notion that when something is done instantly and easily, it looks it. One upshot of the digital boom, however, is that pixelheads are more than eager to unload their older cameras and accessories. Apparently, quite a few of them do so at Adorama.

We were hunting for a lens for our old Canon SLR, visited Adorama's website and were blown away by their selection of used equipment. They stock used lenses, motors, cases, flashes, cameras of all makes and varieties (yes, even digital), and more. All of it is graded-accurately, we thought-on an excellent-to-fair scale and cataloged meticulously. We jotted down some numbers, visited the shop on W. 18th St. and returned home with the lens of our dreams at a mere fraction of the new list price.

Of course, you don't have to do the online research first, but we highly recommend it. The crowd at Adorama can get pretty hairy at any hour of the day, and the service, unfortunately, is sometimes less than friendly. But don't let that stop you. This sort of quality has to come at some price.

Best Gentleman's Shop
Linus
160 Spring St. (W. B'way), 917-237-0222

Or, who knew Germans could make a suit? Suit shopping should be an experience that affirms a man's masculinity, not threatens it with misplaced pins or a price tag that would make John Wayne shrink back up his pant leg. We were surprised to find that the most affordable option, as well as the most pleasant, could be found on a Sunday afternoon in crowded Soho. Suits range in price from $299-$898, and many are three-piece. (A classic look that, we were informed by a salesman at Bloomingdale's, we could best locate in our grandfather's closet-and why not "borrow his wing tips" while we were at it?) Besides a sympathetic and accommodating staff, there's also a tailor and a decanter of more-than-decent cognac to help ease the process.

Best One-Stop Gift Shopping
Kate's Paperie in Soho
561 Broadway (betw. Prince & Spring Sts.), 212-941-9816

Epistolic and bucolic. Is there truly a one-stop shopping source for everyone on your Christmas list, from the Junior League aunt in Dallas who thinks you're "just trash" to that high-school friend who's writing poetry about Thor and picking up 13-year-old wiccans? Impress them both with a trip to Kate's, where every imaginable color, size, shape and texture of paper resides in one manageable store.

Just like the bibliophile, the epistle-head cares as much about the actual writing as its look and feel. So why not throw in an ink well, or a wax seal while you're at it? Now, if only they sold monocles?

Best Japanese Technology Store
TKNY
21 Ave. B (betw. 2nd & 3rd Sts.), 212-677-0500

One set of x-ray glasses, please. We've acquired the following things from TKNY since we discovered it a little more than a year ago:

One set of inflatable speakers. Yeah, like you blow them up, plug them in to your minidisc player or iPod. When you're done, simply deflate and tuck them back into your messenger bag.

One SideWinder emergency cellphone charger. The blackout made us suckers for this sort of shit.

Two camouflage duct-tape wallets (for our teenaged siblings, we swear).

This list does not, of course, include the stuff we have yet to buy. Like, for example, projection keyboards that allow you to type from anywhere, an inflatable bong, a mopping robot and a portable, three-inch flatscreen that plays and records movies of DVD quality.

TKNY is always stocked to the teeth with random objects of questionable technological importance, and we dare even the most gadget-averse person to step inside and remain sober with Luddition.

Best Country-life Décor
April Cornell
487 Columbus Ave. (betw. 83rd & 84th Sts.), 212-799-4342

Fresh air-in stitches. This charming designer boutique represents an appealingly easy and elegant country lifestyle that-while we might not necessarily choose it as our mainstay-promises some relief from the harsher realities of New York life. Entering April Cornell's domain is to walk into a flowery bower of bedclothes and dining accessories in the front of the shop, clothing for women and children toward the rear. Almost everything in the shop is fashioned from Cornell's own silk-screened fabrics, a profusion of variously colored and patterned floral prints that are unfailingly pretty.

We find her blousy, loose-fitting women's styles very comfortable, and we love her hand-knit and crocheted sweaters, some with touches of floral embroidery. The velvety sherpa and reversible hats are irresistible, and the children's clothes, adorable.

Browsing through April Cornell at Home makes us imagine how it would be to live as she does-in a big house in rural Vermont. We learn that she's French Canadian, originally from Montreal, and loves to paint. Flowers, of course. Some of those flowers actually adorn the hand-painted pitchers, plates and serving platters displayed in attractive settings in the book and boutique.

So, is April Cornell a French Canadian Martha Stewart? We don't think so. She's definite, but not domineering; comprehensive but not know-it-all. And we can't imagine a Cornell product line at Kmart.

Best Bus Line
B61

Kiss me, on the bus. The B61 is our savior. Late at night, it winds its way through invisible streets-from Red Hook to Cobble Hill and Smith St., past the Navy Yard, along the BQE, through the projects, into the wilds of lower Williamsburg, up Bedford Ave., terminating in Long Island City. This bus reaches everywhere we want to go.

We'd never ridden buses much in the outer boroughs. There's usually so much distance to cover that it doesn't make sense. Even in Manhattan, the only bus we like is the M15, simply because there isn't (yet?) a subway east of Lexington Ave., and the "Limited" feature makes it a little swifter. But on a whim one night we got on the B61 and have been converts ever since.

You see, we hate the G train. Some people who live on the G line get defensive about it. They're always quick to say how often it comes, how it's not so inconvenient, etc., but we know better. Waiting for the G is like waiting to get our weekly ration of toilet paper in Communist Russia. We feel, in some subtle way, like we're demeaning ourselves by waiting for a train that's just the first leg of a transfer trip anyway.

The G sure doesn't care about our plight.

Conversely, when the B61 appears, randomly, on a small street in Hasidic Williamsburg or Red Hook, we feel as though it's been sent just for us. Like some kind of mystical raft, guided out of nowhere just when we needed it that's going exactly where we want to go. We know it's stupid to take these things personally-the good and the bad, that is-but still, there's something about that B61. It's our kind of bus.

Best Gotham Writers' Workshop Teacher
Deborah Emin

Tickle me Emin. The last stop for a blocked writer and the first one for a fully employed novice: the Gotham Writers' Workshop, as seen on many a street corner in the little yellow box. It's almost impossible to tell if a teacher's any good by the information printed in the back, which is not to put down the numerous reviews and journals that have boasted their bylines. We took a class with Deborah Emin, and her effort, insight and guarded encouragement were the surprise of the season. (And this, coming from writerly types known to dismiss all writing classes as snake-oil-level scams.)

When asked about her teaching philosophy, Emin says simply: "If you really listen to what people are saying, what my students say, I can tickle out the story they want to tell."

Best Fruit of a Highly Coveted Engineering Education
The Cooper Cooler?
www.coopercooler.com

Way cool. In effect, the Cooper Cooler? is to a fridge what a microwave is to a conventional oven, but it's just for beverages. Using patented Chill-On-Demand? technology, its sole function is to cool drinks very quickly. By drinks, we mean the kind that would suffer sorely from the direct addition of ice: anything from a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio to that one last can of MGD that wouldn't fit in the vegetable crisper.

You fill the Cooler with ice, plug it in, insert the can (or bottle), give it a few minutes to spin and voilà!-you've got a frosty-cold beverage without the painful wait or the accidental freezer-related explosion. And despite the mysterious forces of carbonation that are, frankly, beyond our ken, Cooper-Cooled beer or soda will not erupt from its container when opened.

The kicker is, this little piece of gimmickry, now commercially available at an average retail price of $89.99, was conceived and realized by a team of engineering and design students and faculty working at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art. That's right. The prestigious, ultra-competitive Manhattan institution of higher learning founded by Peter Cooper is now endowing humanity with the resources it needs to party heartier. (Or is it hardier? They probably know the answer to that, too.)

We're not trying to put it down. We're sure that the Cooper Cooler could actually be put to some other practical applications. Not that we could think of any. Instead, we raise a can to our ingenious brothers and sisters of C.U. and look forward to their future endeavors: perhaps the supercharged chug funnel, or the anti-matter bong.

Best Meditation Teacher
Peter Doobinin, DNYMC

Om. Peter Doobinin might be taken aback at being named "best" at what he does. To hear him tell it, he's just a conduit of some trusted, ancient teachings-but this is typical of the wisdom and humility that makes him so good.

His approach, based soundly in the school of insight meditation (this is vipassana-or clear-seeing-for hapless Westerners), is practical and down-to-earth. He will not attempt to transform you into some robe-flapping, sanctimonious pseudomonk. What he will do is guide you-gently, progressively and with an excellent sense of humor-through the different facets of meditation. He'll also introduce you to some basic tools for real, everyday living (and for coexisting with others), which, when used properly, can bestow a sense of awareness, focus and tranquility. Most importantly, he'll remind you that the main thing is just to begin again.

Peter offers several classes for beginners and enlightened alike, and you can read about them through his recently launched Downtown NY Meditation Community website (dnymc.org). If you've ever had the slightest interest in learning to meditate, we urge you to do something nice for yourself, and others, and give it a try. But please be warned-these offerings are not magical one-way tickets to instant, unending bliss. There's just no such thing.

Best Kicks
Training Camp
1079 6th Ave. (41st St.), 212-921-4430

Keds R Us. When buying a new pair of sneakers, most people flock to 8th St. and suffer masses of NYU freshmen, punk punks and tourists for what they think will be a comprehensive overview of the trendiest colors and styles. It's an unlikely store in Midtown that should be their destination.

At Training Camp, a narrow storefront hidden opposite Bryant Park, shoppers are few and they don't linger. Almost every pair of kicks has character all its own-with special tread designs, non-Nike swooshes and loud colors. Brand names are only present when the style is too desirable to ignore. Most New Yorkers, partial to shades of black, white, gray and the occasional navy when outfitting their feet, will feel emasculated adopting the European practice of dressing seemingly heterosexual men in fluorescent oranges, yellows and pinks. But the gender-sensitive should rejoice in the fact that American women can find brown and tan throwback Converse or Swedish flag-colored Golas, while men aren't afraid to try on lilac Nikes or red Keds.

The stock moves quickly and new styles are always arriving. It may take the clueless staff a while to check you out, but the experienced shoe whore will have no problem sending them off to retrieve a pair of peds or a different size and color. Cheap is not an overstatement: super shoes can be had for $20, while the occasional big brand can run you $50 or higher (but there's always a sale going on that's sure to slash that price in half).

The best thing about Camp is that, due to the small space, what you see is what you get; you'll know within five minutes whether style and color have aligned to your benefit. When they haven't, you can always join the local hoodies in the back of the store to stock up on cheap all-white high tops and basketball jerseys.

Best EscapeS from New York
Out of State
SeaStreak Ferry to the Jersey Shore

Jersey, sure. SeaStreak is the American sister of Italian line SNAV-Hoverspeed, which can ferry you from Naples to Capri. These people know what they're doing. In starting a commuter ferry between the town of Highlands and





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