"My business is words. Words are like labels / Or coins, or better, like swarming bees," writes Anne Sexton, in Said the Poet to the Analyst. The shrink may have tried Thorazine to subdue Sexton's swarm, but the tenacious buzzing persists. Her works and those of many of the giants of world poetry line Bookstop's well-stocked shelves, poised to unleash their fury on readers. Many of the offerings -- Eliot, Frost, Whitman, Byron, Chaucer -- are standard English-class grist. But you'll also find more than 20 volumes by Pablo Neruda; works by Baudelaire, Vallejo, the beats, James Wright, Weldon Kees, even Patti Smith; and an extensive collection of anthologies, including ones dedicated to African-American, Civil War, French and English verse. The store makes some attempt to keep current with works like Seamus Heaney's recent translation of Beowulf, Ted Hugh's Birthday Letters, and newer books by Charles Simic and Sharon Olds. Younger poets most likely will be found in anthologies, with one notable exception: pop singer Jewel's A Night Without Armor.
Bean curd doesn't have to be tasteless, especially if you can buy it fresh. Thanh Son-Hien Khanh makes its tofu daily. Unlike the packaged stuff, which can have a tinge of sourness to it and behave with the consistency of an eraser, this tofu is soft, silky and as fluffy as tofu can possibly get. Poke it, and it wiggles back; panfry it, and it darkens to a healthy gold. Or don't fry it -- Thanh Son-Hien Khanh sells deep-fried bean curd as well. This tiny strip-mall store also offers soy milk by the gallon, colorful Vietnamese desserts and the closest thing to tofu pudding you can get without flying to Hong Kong. Served with ginger syrup, the pudding isn't creamy and sugary like the western kind, but more solid and wholesome, and tastes like, well, sweetened tofu.
Okay, we're cheating here. Obviously you can't buy -- in the traditional sense of the word -- CDs at this Web site. What you can do, however, is find MP3s of local and regional bands, then with a few mouse clicks, make a purchase. The site is essentially an MP3.com for Houston acts, but better. It's Houston-based, run by ex-local band geek James Lewey, who knows his shit, and also provides for the sale of T-shirts and other assorted local band paraphernalia. Participating bands, which number about 100 at this point, don't have to worry about huckster surfers logging on and absconding with MP3s. Lewey gives away only about half of every song -- just little samples. Surfers who are enticed and crave an entire meal need to whip out their credit cards. The future of local music commerce is in our backyard.
On weekends, cars wedge into the small lot of this service station-turned-panaderia, with most people hoofing it from distant parking spaces down the street. They know. They've been warring over parking spots every year for the last two decades or so to get at the pan dulce of La Victoria. The apricot empanadas with toasted coconut flakes catch your eye, but soon you notice the maranitos (gingerbread piggies) and the neon-colored galletas (cookies). They vie for your attention amid the other desserts, most of them variations with pia, calabaza, fresas, pacanas, manzanas and coco. Oh, yes, and azúcar. This is where you pick up your Day of the Dead breads, and if you can afford them, the fancy skeleton-shaped ones. But today you came here to pick up a birthday cake, because you know it is, hands down, the best cake in all of Houston, beautifully decorated in a spray of brightly colored fresh flowers. The cake will have to wait until later, but you sit down for a piece of melt-in-your-mouth tres leches to energize you for the walk back to the car.

Arandas Bakery

Before you get too excited, you should know that SSQQ stands for slow, slow, quick, quick, not sadomasochists squealing and quivering quietly. And instruction in "The Whip" has more to do with fancy footwork than learning how to inflict a blow that will hurt like hell without breaking the skin. But that doesn't mean SSQQ's Whip classes aren't hot. The Whip is a spin-off of West Coast swing, brought home to Texas by GIs returning from their California posts after World War II. But over the years Texas women put their own twist on the upright USO dance: They added a sexy hip swivel, and the dance went downhill (in the very best way) from there. The naughty whippers practiced to the music of Al Green, the Commodores, Barry White, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the dives and honky-tonks along Telephone Road. SSQQ owner Rick Archer honed his dirty dancing skills at one such club, the now-defunct Four Palms, a place with a sign advising you to "Check your guns and knives at the door." Now, in his much better lit Bellaire studio, he teaches The Whip complete with all the bumps and all the grinds. Try it out at a party. Jaws will drop. Just $36 for ladies and $44 for men gets you eight hours of classes, two hours once a week for a month. Schedules vary from month to month, so call ahead or check out www.ssqq.com.
The Galleria is filled with stores trying to sell you stuff that you never knew you needed, but at least there's one whose merchandise can help you learn a thing or two. The Discovery Channel store is, not surprisingly, an offshoot of cable's Discovery group of networks (which includes The Learning Channel and Animal Planet), a group that is home to lots of World War II documentaries and goofily addictive shows like Junkyard Wars, where two teams are locked into a scrap yard and compete to build the best cannon, or amphibious vehicle, or whatever, from materials on hand. The store is a perfect place to go if you have to find a birthday gift for some kid you barely know; there's everything from plush stuffed animals to Pond Scum Soap to informative scale models and astronomy kits. Since it's in the Galleria, by definition it's pricey, but a visit to the Discovery Channel store is a much better option than your standard toy outlet.

Don't let the name of the place fool you. K&R Tire is a full-service auto shop. They'll do your oil change while you wait, often in the same amount of time it takes those other franchises that promise you oil, lube and filter in a jiff. The difference is that they don't pressure you into services you don't need. They don't have to. Business is good. You get to know the guys with the dirty fingernails, and perhaps more importantly, they get to know your car. If you're in a hurry, call first. They'll let you know if they can take you right away. And they don't pretend that 20 minutes is the same as 45. If it's going to take longer than they said, they'll come back and let you know, so that you can decide to bring your car back another time, instead of making you reread the same industry magazines in the waiting area.
This store is heaven for the yuppie puppy. Situated in River Oaks, it's a place where people spend $12 for a bottle of ChampPagne (which is Canadian spring water). The pastry case rivals that of Three Brothers Bakery just down the street. (Sometimes people get confused and go to the dog bakery.) They sell Scottie Biscotti, Ciao Wow Cheese Pizza and SnickerPoodles. Owners can sample the sugar-free snacks. The mini chocolate chip cookies look just like SnackWell's and are all natural (just like SnackWell's) -- but they don't taste anything like SnackWell's. (Trust us -- don't let the nice lady behind the counter fool you into thinking carob tastes like chocolate. It never has; it never will.) Not only are dogs encouraged to come into the store, they are indulged. One wall is lined with snout-high troughs of treats so four-legged customers can sniff and sample everything. The goodies are sold in pint-size ice cream containers. The owners remember every puppy's name and what treats it likes. If the pastry chef is icing a cake, she'll even let your dog lick the spoon.

Best Used BootsA pair of purple ropers from the '80s. A needle-nosed black pair with six impressive rows of stitching on the shaft. A '50s pair of toddler boots with nifty red inlays. White majorette boots with fringe. High-heeled fashion boots from the '70s. Elephant hide, rough-outs, skins from reptiles so exotic that they're probably extinct. Tony Lamas, Acmes, custom-mades and cheapo vinyl crap. Texas, distilled into its signature footwear.

SGP Racing in Deer Park isn't one of those places you drop off your car for a quickie oil change or brake check. It's the place where serious speed and performance enthusiasts might leave their cars for weeks for engine overhauls, ridiculous amounts of horsepower (600, anyone?) and new computerization systems. Their motto, "Performance, not promises," is apparently true, judging from the abundance of shiny Supras, 300ZXs and Hondas holding court in the SGP parking area any given day. SGP is as much a place to upgrade your ride as to talk noise with fellow adrenaline junkies about adventures behind the wheel. Step inside, and it's like walking into a dream world for modifying your ride-shiny rims, tight front ends and accessories galore. And if owners Mark Gust and Kyle Puckett don't have in stock what you desire, they'll order it for you. Or you can just flip through the catalogs and dream.
A pair of purple ropers from the '80s. A needle-nosed black pair with six impressive rows of stitching on the shaft. A '50s pair of toddler boots with nifty red inlays. White majorette boots with fringe. High-heeled fashion boots from the '70s. Elephant hide, rough-outs, skins from reptiles so exotic that they're probably extinct. Tony Lamas, Acmes, custom-mades and cheapo vinyl crap. Texas, distilled into its signature footwear.

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