It had to happen — a chain offering massages at discount rates. And we tired, poor, huddled masses say, "Bring it!" Of 660 clinics nationwide, 20 or so are in the Houston area, lending credibility to the rumor that our city's traffic really does suck. We go to the one in Meyerland; a coworker swears by a skilled masseuse's Swedish technique at the Sugar Land location. First visit's $39 per hour! Check out the Web site, where you'll learn about the different massage types — we learned that there is no authorized use of a peacock feather in any of the salons. And to think we once paid a guy for that at a sports club downtown! We love the standardized, cookie-cutter reassurance of Massage Envy.

If you want to snap up a cute lil' chihuahua, get a really big dog for protection or even snare one of the new hybrids, like a Puggle, for cheap from the Houston SPCA, first you gotta pass muster with the gentle folks there. The organization has you undergo a bit of counseling and education. You'll also have to cough up the fee for the animal to be spayed or neutered before they'll release your new pet. But the cost — under $100, depending on the animal's size — includes deworming and the first set of vaccinations. All this is designed to make a happier family for pets and humans. The kind SPCA volunteers have been known to adopt a pet or two of their own, which says a lot about the animals and even more about the folks who donate their time.

Kronberg's Flags and Flagpoles

Want to strike terror into the heart of that idiot doing a mere 75 miles an hour in the fast lane on the Katy Freeway? Hoist a Jolly Roger from your car's mainmast — that ought to get them the hell out of the way. Kronberg's Flags and Flagpoles carries the classic, black skull-and-crossbones banner in stock. The real pirates of yore each had their own flag, so you might want to customize your own. Kronberg's has you covered there too — you tell them what you want, and they'll make it for you.

David's Pools & Spas

Don't service people generally just scare the crap out of you? They reel off a judgmental tirade laden with technological jargon designed to make you feel like a worm. Where to go, if you're a new pool owner flummoxed by the summertime care and feeding that rivals a newborn baby's? Long before hot weather hits and algae threaten to take over not only the pool but your entire backyard, get thee to David's Pools & Spas. Their mentoring and superior products will make it worth your while. They'll put up with your asking the same question every week for two years, till you get the hang of the gymnast's, mechanic's and chemist's skills required to keep an H-town pool pristine. Occasional house calls.

While Value Village Super Store has plenty to offer anyone stocking an apartment on a budget, the best part of the thrift store is its stock of weird crap to buy for stupid reasons. You can get an old computer screen to throw off a building for a YouTube movie. You can pick up a VHS preview of CBS's 1991 season and laugh at all the shows that didn't make it to '92. You can purchase famed photographs of sailboats or kittens to tear up and doodle obscene pictures over for part of an art project. You can stock your cupboard with coffee cups featuring the names of rural Texas high school football teams or Las Vegas hotels/casinos that closed in 1985. And all of the above will cost you less than 20 bucks.

West Alabama Animal Clinic

What can we say about Dr. Danielle Rosser and the staff at WAAC? Woof! What's not to like about a clinic that sports free, adoptable puppies in the waiting room, tiny canine T-shirts with rhinestone sayings like, "My Mother's a Bitch!," premium pet food, a 20-plus-pound cat on the reception desk and Tag, the Golden Retriever who's always ready with a friendly lick. (Hint: He's trying to get you to give him a treat from the canister on the counter.) Super-efficient and friendly, this crew loves animals and it shows. Check out their Web site and you'll find a mission statement, profiles of staff (and their pets) and a photo gallery of happy customers. Separate entrances for dogs and cats ensure peace among the species.

Tasting Room -- River Oaks

From a single Uptown location to three Tasting Rooms and the überhip Max's Wine Dive, TTR has spread like barnacles on the Black Pearl. It's a wine bar-cum-cafe-cum-super-chic eatery (Max's), but we still like it just as a wine store — a perfect place to pop in after work and grab a bottle to take home for dinner. The walls are lined with vino, carefully arranged by price, region and grape; if you need more help with your selections, the knowledgeable staff will gladly make a recommendation or offer a sip. There's also yummy eats at all locations if you'd rather not cook at all. Ditch the take-home box and pretend you've been slaving over a hot stove to impress guests — even if they have an inkling, after a couple of glasses of your carefully paired wine, they won't care.

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