Let's say little Junior just won't sit still for that pricey photo session you've arranged with Gittings. Let's say you decide to give it one more try and you drop into Kiddie Kandids, where walk-ins are always welcome. Junior is wowed into stillness by one of their many backdrops and props--an oversized flowerpot, a neighborhood fence and a bevy of beach balls. And the photographer begins clicking away, not on some large format camera that will require negatives and contact sheets. But on a digital camera, which flashes its photos on a large computer screen so you can select the first one that works before little Junior breaks down with his third tantrum since breakfast. There is no sitting fee, and in only an hour you have a quality portrait, a gift for any occasion. Now if you can only figure out what the hell to do with little Junior the rest of the day.

Froggies 5 & 10
Imagine being a child again, only with money of your own. No more allowance; no more begging Mom for a dollar. No more promising to go to bed on time, do the dishes, take out the trash...Now just whip out the credit card and start filling your adult-sized arms with everything you wanted as a child. Froggie's 5 & 10 has super bouncing rubber balls, yo-yos, gliders, finger puppets, funky keychains, glow-in-the-dark stars and toothpick-dispensing birds. It also fills the needs of grown-up pranksters with hand buzzers and whoopee cushions and collectors of classic TV items with bobbing-head dolls, metal lunch boxes, T-shirts, cookie jars and mouse pads. And you can eat yourself sick with wax candy lips, Nik-L-Nips (wax soda bottles filled with fruity liquid), Necco wafers and candy bracelets, necklaces and cigarettes. There are also racks and baskets full of Pez dispensers. Froggie's counterpart, Tadpoles, has books, games and toys to suit first-time kids, too.
We've had plenty of arguments about whether or not Zeus is the best comics store in town, and we still think if you've never read a comic book before or haven't since you were a kid, this is the best place to start. Owner Richard Neal and the staff don't sit around engaging in impenetrable fanboy discussions, like who was the better Green Lantern: Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner? (Dude, Hal Jordan. Come on.) They might have an opinion, but they know the Marvel zombies and fans of their Distinguished Competition will come in anyway, so it's best to cater to the people who've never stepped inside a comics store. Maybe the people who just saw Ghost World at the Inwood and want to read the Daniel Clowes comic it was based on, or the people who saw the yanked Spider-Man trailer and want to read about the wall-crawling superhero they forgot they loved as a kid. Part of catering to that audience means stocking their store with bright and shiny baubles that remind you of being a kid, sometimes literally. Not only does Zeus traffic in new action figures--which have more points of articulation than most humans--they also have plenty of the original toys you remember from childhood. An old Aquaman doll? Got it. Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese and the rest of the McDonaldland gang? Got those, too. It's like going on eBay without having to outbid someone. They've got it all, new and old, from comic book to Star Wars characters to WWF superstars to an entire wall of Barbie dolls for the ladies. If you want it, they probably have it. And on the slim chance they don't, Neal probably remembers it and will reminisce with you as a consolation prize. Come for the toys, stay for the comics. You'll be glad you did.
Awhile back, we got it into our heads that we would enjoy a small pond in our back yard. Maybe a modest waterfall. A couple of fish. Surely, we figured, even a klutz like us could handle a simple project like that. Well, we were wrong. Weeks later, after multiple trips to Home Depot, we were enjoying a black, fetid bog that produced all the mosquitoes we ever could have hoped for. So we found our way to Creative Water Gardens, and, for a couple of hundred dollars, they held our hands (both of them) and set us straight. Not only do they offer the largest selection of koi in the area, from a simple $5.99 version to a 3-year-old costing $2,000; not only do they have the widest selection of aquatic plants, 250 varieties at last count; not only do they carry all the pumps and filtration gadgetry and chemicals and food we needed; but they also have a resident kitty cat who rubs against our leg every time we visit. (Please note: The kitty is as yet unnamed. Suggestions are welcome.)
Bridget Barfield was a teacher for many years but quit her job over frustration with her administrators. Eventually, she found herself at one of those career counseling services that uses a personality test to recommend what course in life for which one is best suited. The test said she should sell shoes. And that is how Heart and Sole came to be. It is the only all-Birkenstock store in town. Barfield opened the store with her daughter Brooke a little more than a year ago. We are very particular about our favorite, hard-to-find model of Birkenstock. Heart and Sole carries it, along with about 400 other styles.
Titan Comics
A few months back, the fine owners of Zeus Comics and Collectibles in Turtle Creek Village took umbrage at our insistence that Titan Comics is "the only comics shop that matters." Hey, we can see why they'd be a little unhappy--you don't advertise in a paper expecting it to label your establishment a moot point--but hear us out. Now, Zeus is a fine place to buy brand-new (or close to it) comics, and it's an excellent store for those in search of action figures, high-priced Barbie dolls and other geek errata (count us in on all of it). It's a dilettante's paradise, actually. But the hard-core collector--the fetishist who still lives with Mom or the fanboy with a wife and mortgage--spends his days and long green over at Titan, tucked away in a predominantly Spanish-speaking shopping center across from Bachman Lake. Jeremy Shorr and his knowledgeable girl wonders (as always, it's refreshing to find women behind the counter in a comic-book shop) preside over a store filled with nothing but comics, many of which date back to the Silver Age and beyond (Shorr recently began purging the action figures at bargain prices). Titan's got what the purist craves: a staggering smorgasbord of boxes filled with bagged-and-boarded back issues, a wall of trade hardbacks and paperbacks, cases crammed with history books about the oft-maligned medium and two walls papered with new and current issues. It doesn't discriminate between DC, Marvel and, oh, Fantagraphics: You can find Chris Ware's hypnotically clever work mixed in among the latest Marvel (ironically named) Ultimate title, and you'll find old Neil Adams' Green Lantern-Green Arrows alongside Kevin Smith's recent take on the subject. Fact is, we're thinking of moving in...or applying for a job when this journalism thing doesn't pan out. It's the dork's home away from home, and we couldn't be more delighted to pay some of the rent.

One weekend last spring, we were riding our bicycle around White Rock Lake with our faithful wife and our sometimes faithful toddler son when we chanced to see a well-made sign standing in the grass, along the lake's shore. The sign read, "Free Advice." Near it sat two men in comfortable lawn chairs. Between them, on the ground, was spread a blanket. We stopped, thinking it was some sort of performance art. Turns out, Roderick MacElwain and Neal Caldwell have been doing this most Sunday mornings, weather permitting, since 1996. And it is not performance art. MacElwain and Caldwell are gainfully employed, somewhat eccentric, very thoughtful fellows who enjoy giving advice on subjects from plumbing to marriage to large-animal veterinary medicine (all fields, by the way, in which they do have experience). We and our wife that weekend wound up posing a question that can be summarized as, "What should we do with our lives?" We were not disappointed with the advice we received.
We aren't picky about where we get our hay or our burlap sacks. We'll buy our pot-bellied pig chow from any Tom, Dick or Harry who stocks the stuff. But fox urine is an entirely different matter. We won't buy it from just anyone--mainly because just anyone doesn't carry it. Fox urine is one of those commodities that can only be found on the shelves of stores run by women with names like Dodie, which happens to be the name of the woman who runs the Mesquite Feed & General Store. Dodie is not a city girl. If you ask her, she will be pleased as pie to explain why you might need fox urine. Bless your heart.
Jim DeNoyer isn't the original live-action Fan Man. Think of him as playing Dean Cain to the George Reeves who started the business back in the late '70s. DeNoyer didn't don the tights and cape until 1994, when he bought the business. Now The Fan Man carries more than 400 antique, restored and reproduction fans in his modest Lakewood shop. A reproduced 1912 Gyro fan goes for $2,500. A restored 1930s-era metal-blade desk fan might run $300. And The Fan Man is one of the few people in the entire country to whom you want to bring your old-fashioned fan for restoration. He is truly a man of steel.

Premiere Video
Still the best video rental joint in Dallas, no one compares to Premiere Video--which is what makes it, duh, premier. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, the store is easy to browse, and there's a good chance they have the hard-to-find video for which you've been jonesing ever since that artsy dude at the office embarrassed you by saying, "Oh, my, you've never seen blankety blank?" While chain rental stores mostly trade in current releases and let their back catalog languish, Premiere is fully stocked in a plethora of genres including film noir, Hitchcock thrillers and BBC drama series. Interested in Brigitte Bardot's lesser-known films? Busy exploring Willem Dafoe's oeuvre? It's all there. The store is rapidly building its DVD collection as well.

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