J. Levine Books & Judaica 5 W. 30th St. (betw. Broadway & 5th Aves.), 695-6888 or 800-5-JEWISH www.levinejudaica.com
Young, secular Jews: Are you secure enough in your openmindedness to ask if leaving G-d out of the picture was the wisest of ideas? Jews reared after the 70s: Are you spiritually malnourished by the cultural permutations that have generated?out of a 5000-year-old faith?the multicultural haggadah and the droning, witless Hebrew-school giggle, "Jew-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta Fuck Wit"? If so, J. Levine Co. will aid your reacclimatization to Judaism.
Danny Levine runs the midtown incarnation of the store his great-grandfather founded in Lithuania and moved to the Lower East Side in 1905. They stock menorahs?you remember them?of all varieties, from a majestic sterling den of Bad Brains-style lions ($2400) to a silver-plated, serpentine "tree of life" ($150) number to an adorable metal trolley menorah that would do more damage to your Jewish self-image than Portnoy's Complaint ($39.95).
As for yarmulkes, there are nearly 300 styles, colors, patterns and fabrics to choose from. They'll set you back anywhere from $19.95 per dozen (for satin) to $45 per dozen (for patterned leather). I'd stick to basic black, though, since leather makes you look like you miss your foreskin and the satins can be so iridescent as to look Regis-esque.
There's also an impressive variety of software, an Alexandria's worth of Jewish-themed books, ornate seder plates, magazines spanning the range from Moment to Commentary ("We don't sell too many of those," Levine admits of the latter) and tons more. A 98-page catalog is yours for the asking?or visit levinejudaica.com for a full inventory.
There's also an Orthodox prayer service at the store Monday through Thursday at 1:40 p.m. Careful not to jump into it too fast, though, lest enthusiasm trigger your Jewish vacillation and return you to your godless epistemology.
The Bird House 1262 Amsterdam Ave. (122nd St.), 212-665-BIRD
When I was little, my aunt bought several acres of land in an abandoned part of Haifa, which was to become, five years later, some of the most expensive real estate in Israel. People came around offering her millions for her property, but she refused because of the bird collection she housed in her backyard. She had struck a deal with the Israeli government: In exchange for her quarantining exotic birds from overseas for their owners, the state paid the birds' expenses and gave her a stipend. The neighbors complained to the cops about the noise, but the birds kept coming. After a while, when enough of the owners hadn't returned to pick up their pets, my aunt ended up with hundreds of parrots. It was an avian UN in there. That's when I discovered that bird people were different from other pet owners. They tend to be obsessives and utopians.
The Bird House, a store up in Morningside Heights, reminds me of my aunt's visionaire quality. The owner, Pierre, and his mother, Marie, preside over the Amsterdam Ave. store like beatific royalty, answering questions and pulling out macaws and cockatoos for children to hold. Marie, a dancer, has run a pan-Caribbean dance program for years. Pierre used to be in real estate, but decided that he wanted to sell birds. A second career is like a second marriage; it's done out of love, and Pierre ran the store like it was Harvey Keitel's smoke shop in Blue in the Face. People kept coming in to hold the birds. One customer asked Pierre to make her a butterfly house, saying, "It's nice having a butterfly fly into the kitchen from time to time."
The Bird House is as much sensorium as it is a place to buy things. The decor's Romper Room: picket-fence walls against wood paneling, log chairs, vegetable-dyed blocks and natural-leather bird toys cut into shapes and hanging from the ceiling. It's a nice overall effect.
The birds seem very calm and happy. There's none of that nightmarish Woolworth's birds-in-small-dirty-cages stuff that used to make me suffer transitively and give me nightmares as a kid. Newborn macaws stretch their wings under a heat lamp by the register. A gazebo sits in the second room. Most stunning, however, is the storefront itself. It has been transformed into an enormous, glass-enclosed aviary full of parakeets. I forgot I wasn't in Belize, and then I was back on the subway for the long ride home.
The Bird Store sells hand-raised amazons, cockatoos, macaws and other birds at prices starting at $100 and going up to $2000. Cages, birdfood and supplies are also available.
Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital 365 7th Ave. (11th St.), Brooklyn 718-832-3899
I don't have kids, but I do have a problem child. That would be Lizzie, my cat, who was named after Lizzie Borden and has been living up to the name for more than 14 years. I love her unconditionally, but I have no illusions about her temperament?simply put, she's a nasty animal who hates everyone but me and isn't shy about expressing it, usually in ways that entail drawing blood. All of which is rather mortifying whenever I have company.
But as bad as Lizzie can be at home, she really outdoes herself during her yearly trip to the vet, which I've come to refer to as my annual embarrassment. She routinely pisses on the staff; when she's in a particularly demonstrative mood, she shits on them, too. She also does this incredible Linda Blair routine where she makes ungodly guttural noises while contorting her head and body into bizarre positions, and it goes without saying that she slashes at anyone in her line of vision. No vet has ever flat-out refused to deal with her, but several have let me know that they weren't too happy about it, and one offhandedly muttered a joke about putting her to sleep as he examined her. We didn't go back to see him again, natch, but I couldn't really blame him.
Several years ago, however, I began bringing Lizzie to Animal Kind, which at the time had a tiny office in Park Slope. They've since moved to a much larger space, and I've moved along with them, because they've consistently done a great job of handling Lizzie and have even managed to be cheerful while doing it. I've had wonderful experiences with at least four of the Animal Kind vets, but I particularly recommend Dr. Carol Hallinger, who's unusually patient and sweet-spirited?no mean feat when dealing with a devil-spawn like Lizzie. Dr. Hallinger has been especially impressive over the past year, during which Lizzie came down with a thyroid condition that has required frequent visits. Believe me, nobody wants to see Lizzie more often than necessary, but Dr. H. has made it seem like more of a pleasure than a chore (and, lest I forget to mention, has also gotten the thyroid problem under control).
Anyway: The support staff is as terrific as the vets, prices are fairly reasonable, they make house calls for pet emergencies and everyone in the place clearly loves animals (which should be a gimme for any vet's office, but I've seen several where it hasn't been the case). If you need a vet, or aren't happy with your current one, give them a call. If they can handle Lizzie, they can handle anyone.