Part One Best Lumber Home Depot …

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Part One

Best Lumber
Home Depot
550 Hamilton Ave.,
16th & 17th Sts.),
Brooklyn, 718-832-8553

If We
Were a Carpenter. It sure isn’t Best Home Depot, however. “What do
they think?” we wonder, as we stroll–or rather, dodge our way–through
the disorderly mega-aisles of this warehouse retailer. “What must the Home
Depot execs think when they trip out Brooklyn way?” Maybe they’ve
just inspected one of the chain’s superlatively organized and hyper-tidy
locations in Edge City country, near San Diego or Phoenix or one of those other
fastidious civic enclaves that routinely absorb abuse for sterility and dearth
of soul, yet somehow manage to keep their superstores from resembling street
bazaars in Calcutta
. Okay, no soul, but at least they can hire somebody
who recognizes a mop to swab down the garden section from time to time.

The Home Depot
in Brooklyn–in Red Hook, tucked in by the BQE–is surely the most incompetently
managed of these “Big Box” establishments we’ve run across, and
it kindles our assumption that everything plopped down in Brooklyn, regardless
of pedigree, eventually begins to take on the downtrodden borough’s broad
shabbiness, its Tobacco Road quality: part decomposing infrastructure, part
residential population apparently content to let it decompose, part prideful
resignation that it’s nobler to allow matters to slide than to point fingers
(the Brooklynite’s salute: a pair of shrugged shoulders). Goddamn shame,
we argue, because Brooklyn’s essential dignity is nothing if not under
constant assault, and it doesn’t need another slapdash thoroughfare to
invite mockery (weed-chocked Prospect Park and the open sewer atop the Atlantic
Ave. subway/LIRR station ought to be enough). A Home Depot should be a good
thing, a boon to locals hungry for domestic imponderables long ago routinized
elsewhere (garbage disposals, friends, and dishwashers, and barbecue
stacked to the heavens) but even a quick visit reveals this particular
Home Depot’s ugly truth: It is a vast magnet for every shady contractor
and fly-by-night handyman and superintendent on the hustle in a 20-mile radius.
They must indeed belong to a conspiratorial syndicate that shucks and jives
the pasty professional classes of the city’s gentrifying quarters, then
divides its plunder, its appalling markups and dubious “extras,” in
some greasy back room where the thick cackles never stop echoing. They’re
drawn to the Home Depot in Brooklyn, like blue flies to steaming shit. It’s
simply too bodaciously inexpensive, to enticingly stocked, for them to resist.

That said,
Home Depot is definitely the place to go for all your lumber needs. Processed
timber–we don’t expect it to be pretty. We anticipate chaos, relish
a borderline disaster area. Thrill to the whine of circular saws. Enthuse over
the mild danger of it all. And Brooklyn…well, just the name of the borough
sounds nice next to the word “lumber.” Besides, the prices rock, as
do the services. Plywood, two-by-fours, four-by-fours, timbers, pressure-treated,
sawhorses–they have what you want, for that lofted bed frame, extra wall
or roof deck. They’ll make straight cuts to order (but not on pressure-treated
lumber) for 50 cents per cut after the first two, which are free. Delivery in
Brooklyn is $46 curbside, $100 to Manhattan.

Best Reason
to Get Hitched Now

Avis Spouse Discount
68 E. 11th St.
(betw. University Pl. & B’way)
But Not Hertz. Renting a car in this city is always a royal assache. But, sick
of no-name car-rental-outlet shenanigans, as we were recently when planning
a weekend trip up to New England, we went with Avis–not least because we
were informed that the outfit doesn’t charge for an additional driver as
long as that person’s your “significant other.”

Well, forgive
us, but five solid years makes our boyfriend about as “significant”
as he’s ever going to get in our mind. Which is why it was a little weird
to show up to claim our shiny red Grand Am and find Avis’ counter bureaucrat
getting all gloomy and technical on us.

No, sorry–our
surnames don’t match.

need to see your marriage license,” the woman said in response to that
information. Yeah, right. How about a blood sample while we’re at it?

Nothing too
important lost, really, except a little extra cash. And within 45 minutes we
were styling, eased back in our cool rental, roaring up the West Side Hwy. at
75 per. Still, since it irks us to have to pass up discounts of that caliber,
we’re investigating what other freebies we’ll be eligible for if we
do indeed decide to plunge together into the deep end of the pool.

Best Hidden
Record Store

Jazz Record Center
236 W. 26th
St., 8th fl.
(betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)


Cache. From the outside, it looks like any other office building, but inside
is a large and comprehensive selection of jazz vinyl and CDs, ranging from Bennie
Moten to what workers here call the “progressive” stuff. Last time
we stopped in, we scored Amina Claudine Myers Salutes Bessie Smith, a
Jimmy Giuffre/Paul Bley European tour bootleg and Tim Berne’s first record,
all on vinyl. We had to tear ourselves away from the excellent bookshelf with
titles like Lush Life and Outcats–in other words, everything
we’d been meaning to read but hadn’t got around to.

Prices are
a little high, but still better than average. Be warned: Fellow patrons tend
to be serious collector types in search of their personal holy grails. We were
asked if we’d seen an obscure import-only Roscoe Mitchell record we’ve
never even heard of. A pickup? Not likely. Everything takes second place to
the records here.

Best Wildly
Expensive French Modernist Antiques

359 Lafayette St.
(betw. Bond & Bleecker Sts.)


Chères. The unending quest for a chair. Just to disperse the suspense,
we found not one but two–at the Salvation Army up the street from our apartment
in Brooklyn, 50 bucks for the pair. We’ll be investigating slipcovers imminently.
Prior to finding our chairs, however, we hit every antiques store below 14th
St., over the course of perhaps a year. We didn’t really undertake this
quest with the aim of buying anything, because even the rock-bottom cheapest
piece in stock–a serving platter or desk lamp–is almost always beyond
our budget. No, we were more in the market for shapes, proportions, styles.
We required a template for the thrift models on which we eventually settled.

That said,
if we were a late-century Warbucks awash in some of that IPO funny money, we’d
most assuredly beat a path to Gueridon, which has evinced sufficient foresight
to decorate, in advance, our Murray Hill two-bedroom of the mind’s eye.
To enter this marvelous, crazy-expensive store is to cross a threshold into
a realm of perfectly applied good taste. The austerity–wood on white, granite
against poured concrete, gleaming Sub-Zero refrigerators and Viking stoves–that
has recently captivated Manhattan’s style warriors is nowhere in evidence
here. Instead, a luxe but shabbified 1950s and 60s vibe holds court.

Best of all,
the beautiful merchandise gathered here is all French. What with Louis Treize
and Second Empire and the assorted other deep-dish antiquities that has come
to occupy the Francophile category in the catalog of interior design, it’s
easy to neglect France’s significant contribution to modern furniture (which
for most, including ourselves, consists of Prouve and no one else). Overlooked
is the French twist on the Eames-Bertoia-Bauhaus mode of unadorned functionality.
Too bad, because French modernist furniture is distinguished in its combination
of great lines with idiosyncratic shapes and irresistible tactility. Gueridon
is rife with wonderful examples: long, low-slung sofas in beckoning colors;
warm-wood credenzas; textured upholstery; and the best chairs in the city. If
you’re like us, you’ll dress up a bit to visit, then convince the
genial proprietors, Alfonso Munoz and Jean-Philippe Mathieu, that you mean business,
in order to get a peek at the prices. When we last pulled this stunt, there
was a display of outdoor and patio furniture upstairs, so we were escorted to
the basement to forage for a chair. We found two styles we would have written
a check for then and there–if our checking account hadn’t been in
negative numbers. The first was medium-backed and grayish with sloping wedges
for arms, and possessed of that most vital chair feature: the seat was tilted
so that our knees would ride higher than our ass. $2800. The other came as a
pair, both in patterned orange and brown (sounds awful, but looked fab),
also low-slung, but with a less geometrically exacting overall form. $2100–the
seats sagged a little. We still have the color xeroxes. Which came in handy
at the Salvation Army–no, honestly–when we finally located what our
true means permitted us to acquire.

Best Brooklyn
Bedding Store

Brownstone Home Products
211 7th Ave.
(betw. 3rd & 4th Sts.), Brooklyn


Four Sheets
to the Wind. The wealthy stretch of 7th Ave. that slices through Brooklyn’s
Park Slope section has most everything the locals might want in order to live
comfortably. Restaurants of every stripe. Dentists. Crafts stores. Stationers.
Bookstores. Gourmet food shops. Children’s clothing. Toys. Fancy housewares.
Real estate offices. Hairdressers. Wine and liquor stores.

A few things
have always been lacking, though. There’s no place to purchase electronic
equipment (the addition of a Radio Shack at the corner of 5th St. doesn’t
count). There’s no place to buy something as simple as a decent lamp, neither
desk nor standing nor swing. And, until recently, there hasn’t been any
place to buy sheets and towels and blankets.

why Brownstone Home Products, tiny and cramped as it may be, is such a godsend.
The storefront operation is crammed, floor to ceiling, wall to wall almost,
with everything you’d need to cover a bed, or part of a floor or to dry
yourself with after a shower–and at surprisingly reasonable prices for
a neighborhood like Park Slope.

We went in
recently to find a futon cover. We didn’t know whether or not they carried
such things, but since a handmade sign in the window announced a sale on mattress
pads, we thought it was well worth a try.

We sidled up
and down the two narrow aisles, past the sheets and the shower curtains and
the bath mats and the rugs, but didn’t see anything. Just as we were about
to give up hope, the kindly woman behind the counter asked what we were looking
for. When we told her, she just nodded and walked past us to the back of the
store, where she moved a few rolled-up quilts out of the way to reveal an entire
wall full of futon covers that we’d somehow missed, priced about $30 and
up. When we told her we needed a queen-size one, she got a little concerned,
and started flipping through the selection.

“Oh, I’m
sorry…” she said, finally. We were sure she was out of stock, and wouldn’t
be getting any more in for at least a month. Then she finished her sentence,
“…it’s green.”

Green was just
fine with us. It was a bit more expensive than the others ($70), but it was
a high-quality cover, and when we got it home, it fit like a dream. Now we no
longer have to even consider the horror of stepping foot into a Bed Bath &
Beyond, and that makes us very happy.

Best Decorator
Michael Formica
Fax: 691-3346

Got the Eye; You Don’t. How about this: Do you want a splendidly decorated
house or apartment, with little effort and tremendous satisfaction when the
project is finished? We don’t know a damn thing about design, furniture,
steel, woodworking or handmade rugs, but Michael Formica does. True, he’s
in high demand, but once you get together with Michael he’ll give you a
fair estimate of what the job will cost, will work within your budget, listen
to your needs and desires, and then get cracking. His enthusiasm for his craft
is contagious; when Michael showed us blueprints and cloth samples, all of a
sudden an abstract concept became fascinating. Remember one thing: Michael’s
taste is better than yours.

Best Bottled
Water Home Delivery

Dream Beverages

You Listen to Him, Dan. Sure, we’re paranoid: We don’t drink the water
in this city anymore. Even if we did trust the official line that the New York
state aquifer hasn’t been permanently compromised by spilled biological
agents and furtively dumped nuclear waste, the water has run brown and chemical-smelling
once too often in our building. If we could afford it, we’d shower and
shave and do the dishes with bottled water, too. You can keep your New York
Has The Best Water nostalgia, and your third eye and second head and crushing
intestinal cramps. We only drink from the bottle. We’re not big on breathing
the air, either, but so far there’s nothing we can do about that.

Dream Beverages
is the of bottled water delivery services: polite, efficient, always
there when they say they’ll be with exactly what we ordered. We get them
to drop off a month’s supply: liter bottles of Poland Spring, maybe a case
of a fancier Italian label like Lurisia, and a couple dozen of the half-liter
bottles to carry to work and the gym. (You don’t seriously expect us to
drink from water fountains, do you?) Delivered, the unit price is less than
if you buy by the bottle at the grocery or deli.

Best Ties
Under Five Dollars

Irvington Institute Thrift Shop
1534 2nd Ave. (80th St.)

Five in Hand. Too bad our current straits prevent us from ever needing to wear
one of our choice finds, our scores, our happy discoveries. Try this on for
size: not one but two Hermes, the first at Goodwill, the second out of
a bucket in which had also been wadded a number of moldy Pierre Cardins, circa
1982. That’s right–we like to root around for our neckwear. It’s
like snorting for truffles.

And every once
in a while we truly strike gold. The Irvington Thrift Shop is a regular stop
on our compulsive tours of the Upper East Side’s inimitable resale rows.
They have better volume than some of the others, dandier windows and, often
enough, some rockin’ deals. Like all Upper East Side thrifters’ delights,
the goods are of only moderately worn quality, perhaps with a blemish here and
there. The ties are a mixed bag, but the key is, of course, timing. Visit enough
times, and you’ll bag three or four from a recently deaccessed collection–all
of the same make, model and style. We recently picked up a copacetic pair of
hefty Brooks Brothers twill repps and a monochrome gold (also twill). Tally?
Five bucks. For three ties. They would have cost us around $150 retail,
estimating conservatively. We like ‘em especially because they can be knotted
up a little fat and flat, good for wearing with spread-collar shirts, for that
Gallic urbano vibe. Some perseverance is required, but you, too, can snag worthwhile
four-in-hand decoration at Irvington, and snag it for a song. Particularly during
the sales, when they virtually give the ties away.

Best Record

DAT Records
12 St. Marks Pl.
(betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)


Isn’t Everything. Although DAT is smaller than many of its competitors,
its well-edited selection seems built on the “quality before quantity”
maxim. Situated above a yoga studio in a brick-faced building, DAT feels removed
from the hustle of St. Marks. Sunlight floods the lofty space, reflecting off
the hardwood floors and yellow walls. Four turntables, impeccably maintained,
await listeners or one of the store’s five DJs (Swingsett, Dinky J., Justin
Lovelace, Jessie System or DJ Silver).

DAT caters
to the DJ or serious collector of new, uncommercial, mostly dance-oriented music,
with stock running from acid jazz to hard techno, and just about everything
in between. Whereas some local stores might order dozens of copies of a popular
single, once DAT sells out of its small initial buy, they’re probably not
going to order it again. This keeps the supplies fresh. Besides vinyl sales,
DAT also fixes DJ equipment, sells used Technics 1200s (but there’s usually
a waiting list of at least three months), sells DJ accessories like slipmats,
needles and headphones and runs a mobile sound system out of the back of the

buyers are all active in their respective scenes, so on any given day, the place
is like a UN of DJs in discussion about the latest tracks, parties and gossip.
DAT has a family atmosphere; two well broken-in couches in the middle of the
selling floor make lounging a near imperative.

Best Olive

The (Original) Vinegar Factory
431 E. 91st St. (betw. York
& 1st Aves.)


Not Drab. You know this part of Yorkville, way uptown, way east, practically
hanging over the river. “The Point,” we call it, because it always
seems so faraway, so remote, so distant from the sodden quarters of breezeless
hip in which we gloomily find ourselves daily and nightly. Winds buffet northerly
Yorkville with a force enjoyed almost nowhere else in town. We could swear it’s
cooler, year-round, by a few degrees–a few naturally air-conditioned degrees–than
anywhere else. Or it’s not, but we could swear…

It is here
that Eli Zabar’s Vinegar Factory delivers gourmet goods to the otherwise
deprived denizens of banker-dorm country. In the context of the neighborhood–all
glistening towers and white-brick blockhouses and co-ops with fountained semicircular
driveways, like it’s Wilshire fucking Boulevard or something–the
Vinegar Factory’s warehousey strip is a dash of Tribeca deposited in condo-land:
blank-facaded loft buildings, a garage-like beer distributor, a general mood
of low emptiness. And the Factory, a vast two-story rough-hewn space crammed
with foodstuffs. What we like particularly is the self-serve, DIY ethic that
governs much of the place. For example, you scoop and grind your own coffee,
which permits some interesting custom blends.

And then there
are the olives. So, so many olives. Arranged in a round of large crocks, and
in great variety. You can sample. Kalamatas, plump green Sicilians, picholines,
mixes, herbed selections, olives brined with fennel–oh, it goes on and
on. We killed a few months one autumn trying just about all of them.

Best Bigfoot
Shoes for Women

94 7th Ave. (16th St.)
111 Thompson St. (betw. Prince &
Spring Sts.)

2355 Broadway (86th St.)
324 Columbus Ave. (betw. 75th &
76th Sts.)


Shoes. Yes, we’ve heard them all–we water-ski without skis and we
have a good understanding. We’re pretty much immune to the barbs aimed
at our really big feet. One thing we never got used to, though, was the lack
of decent footwear available for our boats. You’d think a town filthy with
models’d be teeming with stylish shoe salons for those with less than dainty
tootsies. But no, until just the last year or so, the best we could score over
size 10 would be sensible pumps with comfortable crepe soles, or maybe a pair
of orthopedic oxfords, usually available by prescription and with an option
for extra sole inches should one leg be shorter than the other. You know the

We got in the
habit of wearing men’s shoes. We like big black oxfords, especially Sebago
wingtips, and prefer men’s sneakers to pastel Reeboks anyway. But men’s
shoes are wide, the smirks we’d get from men’s shoe salesmen were
worse than anything we endured in junior high, and there are just some occasions
when a lady’s shoe is required. Like with dresses. We were to the point
of checking out the drag queen shops when we passed Sacco, in Chelsea. There,
stenciled in the corner of the front display window, was, “Size 11 in Stock.”
Yeah, right, we thought, but not in those hot shoes in the window. Probably
for some dyable fabric bridesmaids’ pumps in the back.

But we went
in. And right off spotted a pair of extremely cool matte black leather slip-ons.
They had a seam up the middle, a “microfiber” sole, which made them
featherweight, and high vamps. They looked like the first shoes ever made, like
they were found on Piltdown man when they dug him out of the gravel bed, and
we fell in love with them instantly. A friend was very impressed, telling us
in an awe-filled tone that they looked like hippo feet. The 11s felt like slippers
and were, dare we say it, almost roomy. We forked over $125 almost giddily.

Sacco is rich
with very contemporary styles: Big, round-toed, almost bulbous ponyskin slip-ons
with rubber soles are new in stock, and go for $159. Squarish-toed black leather
boots with molded rubber soles–a must for fall, we’re told–come
in mid-calf ($165) and below-the-knee ($289) heights. They have a small selection
mid- and high-heel strappy sandals with a squared sole, in gold, silver or black,
for $145, although it takes more than “strappy” to hold in our flounders.
For dressier occasions, we’re casing a pair of Cynthia Rowley low-heeled,
low-vamp (for a glimpse of toe cleavage) patent leather pumps, available in
olive, burgundy and black ($175) or perhaps a gorgeous pair of Audley black
suede pumps with a square, mid-height heel ($149). One of those will no doubt
accompany us to the “Best of” party, unless we’re tired and it’s
raining, in which case we’ll be sporting a pair Rocket Dog rubber clogs
in white, yellow, red or black ($39).

There are three
other Saccos in Manhattan–two on the Upper West Side and another in Soho–and
we’re told they carry similar stock and the big shoes. But Chelsea’s
our branch. The selection is huge and cool, just like our feet.

Best Way
to Lose a Day’s Work

Buy a Mattress from Sleepy’s

Is More Like It. If we had just bought the expensive goddamn mattress in the
first place, the money saved on trips to the chiropractor would’ve more
than made up for the four-figure price tag. But they were lean times, and the
$300 spinal-cord-killer seemed the right–no, the only–choice. Well,
after six years of hills and valleys formed of dead and dying springs and countless
nights of shrimp-like, scrunched sleeping trying to find the last comfort zone,
we finally decided to take the plunge and buy a decent mattress.

A colleague
directed us to Fredrick Furniture on 31st St., but by the time we’d arrived,
the gate was down. Being impulsive consumers, we refused to accept the delay,
so we found ourselves in Sleepy’s on Park Ave. To be fair, the shopping
experience wasn’t half bad: Willie, our salesman, wasn’t so pushy
that we high-tailed it out of the dank, dreary basement showroom. We found a
comfortable full-sizer, priced to move at $899 including tax and delivery.

Along with
the high cost of city living, one’s hope for a cherry co-op buy-in and
tales of rude cab drivers, delivery nightmares are among the core material for
Manhattan residents’ barside griping sessions. Time Warner was once among
the worst offenders, second only to Bell Atlantic. Funny thing, though, is that
both of those monopolist service providers have cleaned up their acts over the
last few years. Now, Time Warner offers promptness guarantees. And the phone
guys? Our last few experiences with line installation and maintenance have been
downright pleasant. And even prompt. So who the fuck does Sleepy’s think
they are?

Our appointment
was for noon. “But,” the dispatcher fessed the night before our scheduled
day, “I like to allow two hours on either side.” Well, two hours would’ve
been fine. Even four hours wasn’t a deal-breaker. But when 5 o’clock
rolled around–and we still had to go to work for a few hours of keyboard
punching–and the dispatcher was now cadging another two hours, that’s
when we hung up, called the Park Ave. location and told them to kiss our ass.

There is an
irony at work in this situation: Mattress wholesalers were among the first businesses
to successfully eliminate the brick and mortar storefront and, instead, concentrate
on prompt delivery of cheaper products. Now, with the Web in every living room,
home delivery has become a genuine revolution in consumerism, and with every
conceivable consumer product being sold via modem, the sluggish, arrogant behemoths
like Sleepy’s can eat us.

Fuck you, Sleepy’s.
Fuck you for the day we lost at work. And fuck you for making us feel like chumps
for our folly of trusting a chain store to deliver on their promise. Next week,
as soon as the boss forgets this lost day and we can sneak out on another, we’re
going back to Fredrick during business hours. And if they don’t have what
we want, then we’re going online.

Best Brooklyn
Tax Man

Joseph Colacino Tax Service
304 7th Ave. (betw. 7th &
8th Sts.), Brooklyn


Clever Pennies on Your Eyes. For the past couple of years, we’ve been bringing
our taxes to Joseph Colacino’s Brooklyn storefront office, and we’ve
never been disappointed with the results. Even if the final tally of what we
owed teetered on the ugly side, we always left his office with a smile on our
face. Unlike some–even most–of the bigger tax places in town, the
service Joe offers is accurate, it’s quick (he does everything while you’re
sitting there with him), it’s straightforward and its reasonably priced.
His recently expanded office is bright and comfortable, and everyone on the
small staff–at least in our experience–is extremely pleasant and helpful.

Bringing our
taxes to an accountant for the first time wasn’t an easy decision–we
preferred to take care of things ourselves. But as the forms grew more complicated
and impossible, we found ourselves sitting with them for days at a time, puzzling
over what they wanted, sometimes weeping openly at the prospect of what lay
before us. When we finally went to Joe’s, well, all that anxiety drifted
away. It all took about 15 minutes, and in the end all we had to do was sign
the forms (which Joe printed out), write a check and drop everything in the
mailbox, confident that we wouldn’t be hearing from the IRS for another
year. It couldn’t have been easier. And it’s much safer than joining
a militia group.

Best Kids’
Spring Flowers
1050 3rd Ave. (62nd St.)

Oops, Forgot That’s a Hillary Streisand Song. Excuse the politics there,
couldn’t help it. But when we shop at Spring Flowers two or three times
a year, it’s hard not to remember buying jammies and Christopher Robin-style
shoes many years ago. Now our boys are older and so we’ve switched to blazers,
stunning winter coats, loafers, ties and slacks. Shirley’s the woman to
see: She’ll give you a tour of the store’s pricey but quality goods
and make suggestions for baby gifts. Our wife, who helps support Spring Flowers
(along with Visa), still gets misty-eyed upon entering the store. And when she
turns on the drizzly waterworks, we get choked up too. Our boys are simply mystified;
after all, it’s just clothing to them.

Best Misleading
Store Name

“We Got It!”

319 7th Ave. (betw. 8th &
9th Sts.), Brooklyn


No You
Don’t. When you first move into an apartment, you always discover a million
tiny, necessary things you’re missing. Cleaning supplies, lightbulbs, paper
towels, hangers, shelves.

why, when we saw a place called “We Got It!” within walking distance
of our new apartment, we were ecstatic. An all-purpose general store was exactly
what we were looking for. So we stopped in, looking for roach motels and mousetraps.

Well, okay,
they didn’t have them. That was fine. We could find them somewhere else.
Later, we went in looking for a socket set and maybe some shelving material.
Okay, so they didn’t have those things, either.

As time went
on, we kept going back to look for things we needed. Vases, sewing kits, religious
memorabilia, collectible liquor bottles, cat collars and tags, military surplus,
pens with the naked ladies on them, backdated magazines, maps, toe shoes, Hummels,
jazz albums, political buttons, computer discs, model ships, Indian rugs, wicker
baskets, watch batteries, videotapes, magnifying glasses, wallets, X-Acto blades,
inner tubes, industrial-sized spools of wire and some chemicals.

And never once
did they have what we were looking for!

Never once!

What they did
have, however, were one-off almost-Barbie dolls, cheap sunglasses, New York-related
t-shirts and sweatshirts, baseball caps and brightly colored vinyl backpacks.
That’s about it, really. They had plenty of those things.

But none of
those things were the “it” we were looking for.

We felt cheated
and deceived and dirty. Fooled again by those Madison Avenue advertising executive
fatcats. Or at least by the people who named the shop. Aren’t there laws
against things like this?

Best Men’s
Haircut (Lower East Side)


149 Ludlow St.
(betw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.)


Shot to the Dome. Came a point about a year ago when we looked at our shaggy
head and increasingly lined forehead in the mirror and suffered two epiphanies.
First, we needed a haircut. Second, we were slowly dropping dead. Autumnal
shadows and shortening days: we suddenly felt mature, our head needed
a cutting and our usual response to the latter predicament–to visit our
friend M, who’s traditionally tennis-balled our head with electric shears–had
been rendered ridiculous by the former. Inch into your late 20s and you can
no longer run around with the same ‘do as some Brooklyn Banks skate rat,
just as you can no longer wear short pants.

So, after consulting
a female friend who’s been initiated into stylish mysteries, we found ourselves
at Valerie’s, the Lower East Side salon that doesn’t even declare
itself; just hangs out there in its blank, unmarked storefront on Ludlow St.,
playing it hip and cool for the slick boys and pretty little girls of style.

Not that we
were entirely comfortable about the thought of this excursion into fashionable,
alien territory. But it’s funny how you get used to things. Late on a weekday
evening at Valerie’s cozy, warmly lit down-the-rabbit-hole location (salon
as junk shop; the tonsorial equivalent of Il Buco) on its ghetto street and
we’re just fine, it turns out, easing back in Shiloh’s chair as that
friendly kerchiefed girl gracefully snips at our tragic head–a little here,
a little there, chunks of our wet hair chuffing down against the old white Monster
Trucks t-shirt we’ve wearing in place of a barber’s smock (no lumpen,
vulgar barber’s smocks here at Valerie’s).

around us there unfolds a scene of downtown glamour of the type that makes us
glad we’ve resisted the urge to move to the country. A tableau of grace:
a dark and ridiculously beautiful girl in a sheer blouse sweeping the floor
in the winey glow of the place and the smell of candles and the witchy ambience
compounded of antique chairs and old mirrors on the walls and soft music over
the speakers–and on this October night we can feel Halloween coming down
and the room’s dark and romantic, with distances getting lost in the shadows.

Shiloh asks us, finishing it and it seems we are. We’re surrounded by prettiness
and scented air. And we look cool as shit, too, at least in this forgiving light–like
we’re going to walk with a bit more attitude for a while. Haircutting’s
a craft, and you have to pay to get it done right. Which is what we did, come
to think of it–pay, and upwards of $80 after everybody was tipped.
Well, fine. We felt luxurious as we stepped into that cool night, and somewhat
grown-up, with some money to spend on comfort. It didn’t seem so bad.

Best Mail-Order

Delia’s NY (1-800-DELIA NY)

“Thank you for calling Dilli-ohs, how can I
help you?”

As in, what
the dilli-oh, young brother? You can’t even correctly pronounce the name
of the company you work for? You’re obviously not going to be very helpful
as we try to figure out the correct size for the luau-print wrap sundress we
crave. As a matter of fact, all of the telephone sales reps at Delia’s–and
we’ve dealt with a lot of them–seem to be the sullen boyfriends of
the smiling, mugging, happy-to-be-alive teen girls who model the outfits in
the Delia’s catalog. The entire service sector of that place is manned
by hostile, inarticulate boys who have been pussy-whipped into a glaze and slouched
in some food court, weighed down with their squeeze’s purchases.

Well, drop
dead. We want our Delia’s. At least pretend to be able to figure
out our size via our bust and hip measurement. “I have no idea, ma’am,”
you mumble. All right, well, send us whatever you’ve got in the fatty girl
size. Throw in a crummy promo CD and a sample of Herbal Essences shampoo while
you’re at it, you fuckin’ mo.

Then our package
comes in, like, two days and we’re always pleased. If you’ve never
heard of this mail-order clothing and accessories company, you’re either
elderly or an intellectual, because it’s the best source of endless aggravation
and whatever happens to be mad good to an adolescent girl in Anywhere, USA:
clean-cut unpierced raver fashions, vague low-slung homegirl looks and midrange
Helmut Lang-isms. The Sarah Skirt–a pair of jeans with the inseams ripped
out and resewn into a long skirt ($48)–we couldn’t live without it
this past summer. Ditto the Strikeout Tees ($22)–baseball shirts of prefaded
heavy cotton. We could easily get these pieces someplace else with less trouble,
but the Delia’s catalog is just so much fun to study that we end up ordering
something every time they send us one, which at this point seems to be every
other week.

And those Delia’s
teen models–didn’t we want to be them when we were freshmen? Didn’t
we want them to die in a spray of automatic gunfire? Coltish long legs, straight
hair, snub noses, blessed with milky Midwestern features no matter what race
they belong to. As my mum would say before I would go out at night: You look
like the girl most likely to be found in a shallow grave. As they prance through
the catalog layouts, seeming to live by the little nonsense missives that run
across every spread (“a shoulder to cry over spilt milk”; or “when
I rule the world, junk food will be good for you”), we’ve got the
phone in hand, ready to order: the Island PJ Set ($36), which is made of flannel
but looks like it could spontaneously combust anyway; Mini Ball-Chain necklaces
($4) that you could buy from any hardware store and a whole host of trendoid,
reasonably priced shoes that are not made of leather (deeply committed vegans
and animal rights nuts, take note of this).

In the Delia’s
world, everything is kind, priced within your weekly allowance and it’s
all good. Delia’s is the sole clothier of the age group that has inherited
the Earth.