Hooky for a Day

Whether it's cutting class or playing sick, call it time reclaimed, not to mention a feeling akin to that of frantically waking up on a Saturday morning, then realizing that it's, aaahhh, Saturday. Time's ticking, so without further ado, our favorite guilt-free diversions.

There's a price for camping in Floyd Bennett Field's wondrous galaxy of coastal brambles and bizarro physiography, and it's in the form of mad mosquitos, ticks, poison ivy, thorns, burrs, and other bush vagabonds. Yet the payoff is enough to make you return in a mesh bug suit—especially if you're someone who finds apocalyptic beauty in the airport-cum-park's asphalt runways, bodega detritus, radio-controlled-car and -airplane enthusiasts, hot-rodders, crotch-rocketeers, and folks who drive in circles just because they can. Conversely, the two public campsites, Camp Tamarack and Camp Goldenrod, are full of pastoral splendor. For those taking mass transit, you're in for a 45-minute hike from the bus stop at the park entrance, but such eccentric places will always subsist in inconvenient locations. A $50 fee covers 100 people (50 cents a person depending on which campsite you choose) for up to three nights, year-round. Flatbush Avenue, South Brooklyn; call 718-338-4306 for reservation forms, availability, and directions. (Zimmerman)


Yeah, you can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach, but you can train, bus, or bike it to the city's prime stretch of ocean real estate, too. The best beach can be found at Jacob Riis Park—tinny blasts of WKTU the only reminder that the soft granules and crashing waves are in city limits. A $16.5 million construction project will transform the grounds into a first-rate resort community. Pass the tanning butter, please. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Rockaway, Queens, 718-318-4300, www.nps.gov/gate. (Spartos)


You'd have to be heatstroked or on heavy drugs to want to go to Roosevelt Island, but if you were either, it just might make for the perfect summertime afternoon destination. Especially since the air-conditioned Roosevelt Island Tram (59th Street and Second Avenue) takes you there, lifting you high above the East River and offering a spectacular, up-close view of the Manhattan skyline, all for the low, low price of $3 roundtrip. Once you arrive, stroll the breezy promenade, or picnic on the grassy bank that faces the city. If the hallucinogens start to kick in, wander the streets of this Twilight Zone no-man's-land. And don't worry if you find that you dropped a "bad one"; there are plenty of mental health facilities on the island with trained professionals to help talk you through it. (Switzer)

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Sometimes, all you need in this city of freaks and fabulousness is a free place to park your ass. Take heart! Here are three decadent benches to remember: the benches outside of Balthazar (80 Spring Street, 965-1414, 965-1414). Wear fancy threads and bum a Nat Sherman off a nearby bon vivant. Voilà! You are ready to sit and "await" your "reservation" as you browse incoming gourmands. Snuff your cigarette in the sands of standing ashtrays . . . ah! A bench in front of Lucien (14 First Avenue, at Houston, 260-6481) is another French-themed repose. The small bistro is staffed with beautiful young émigrés. If you bench, you're likely to chat with one on a smoke break. Rrrrr! A different breed of long seat rests outside the Mercer Hotel (147 Mercer Street, 966-6060). Sleek, black, and bold, these babies are a must-sit. Cheapest room at the Mercer? $395. Some room on the bench out front? Complimentary. (Peretti)


Casting: Chance of a Lifetime Productions is shooting summer movies and television shows throughout the boroughs. We are currently seeking any type waiting for their big break. No headshot, no résumé? No problem . . . when almost famous doesn't cut it, try hanging out at movie locations. Chances are you may end up as Guy or Girl No. 12 in one of those shot-in-New York classics. Here are just a few of the "projects" filming in a neighborhood near you: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Less (June-July) featuring Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey; Woody Allen Spring Project 2002 (June-August), Jason Biggs, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, and Woody Allen, of course; Law & Order Special Victims Unit (through July 1); and HBO Films' Angels in America (through July 31). Ready for your close-up? (Bastidas)


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Glorious morning, oh happy day! For today I have played hooky from work. Toodles dreary labor. A fig upon you, deadline. And so now the time is mine and a walk down Eighth Avenue sounds divine. It is fine outside, so I dawdle along the way, getting coffee to go. I wish I had a frilly parasol, for the sky above is yellow as a buttered corn cake. The Bleecker Playground (corner of Bleecker and Hudson streets) beckons, and I open wide the iron gates, picking a bench in the sun. Here there are swings and seesaws and banana pudding breezes from Magnolia Bakery around the corner. But as morning becomes afternoon, I recall the weeping willows and genteel carriage houses that frame Cobble Hill Park (Clinton Street between Verandah Place and Congress Street, Brooklyn), and it is still fine outside, but I do not pause along the way. For here there are stone tables for games of chess and checkers and grassy knolls for picnicking. Sheer perfection. Viva truancy! (Rao)


If thinking is the best way to travel, then reading must be the cheapest, smartest ticket of all. And what better place to do it than in that great outdoors and bazaar of the mind, the New York Public Library. Go in search of time past in the Manuscript and Archives Division, whose treasures include 700 cuneiform tablets and 160 medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts; ponder the snows of Kilimanjaro in the Maps Division, repository of 405,000 maps and 18,000 atlases and books; or hit the road with Kerouac, in the exhibition "Victorians, Moderns, and Beats." Dress comfortably for the journey. As for that pith helmet, you may need it for a stroll in adjacent Bryant Park, where the natives can get restless. Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, 930-0830. (Francia)


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Floyd Bennett Field hosts some of the city's fastest and most frenetic remote control car racing, pushing the small gizmos close to 100 miles per hour on empty parking lots. From the beltway, the cars look like a swarm of flies on Ritalin. Up close, they hiss and whine. It sounds like a real stock car race. The course has been marked by an old firehouse laid on the concrete in the form of a snake, but Brooklyn Hobbies (3842 Flatlands Avenue, Brooklyn) has recently constructed a wooden track where racers can compete on real planks. Flatbush Avenue, South Brooklyn; call Brooklyn Hobbies for race times, 718-238-9145. (Gray)


Once seen as a coyly exclusive caveat of suburban splendor, there is a Target in easy reach from Manhattan. It's 45 minutes by train (E to Woodhaven, G to Grand Avenue/Newtown) at Queens Place in Elmhurst, adjacent to the notoriously huge Queens Center Mall. My mission was to score cute summer gear. Fortunately, all clothing—mild, tasteful pieces literally heaped on top of racks—was on sale. I found Mossimo sequined flip flops ($7.99) with a matching sequinned L.L. Bean-esque tote ($9.99), utility camouflage board shorts ($14.99), bucket hats ($10), beach balls ($2.99), and oddly, an awful lot of Hawaiian shirts (cute though, $14.99). Philippe Starck is in the house (Stephen Sprouse hits in July, followed by Todd Oldham's back-to-school goods in September). Queens Place, Queens Boulevard and 55th Avenue, Queens, 718-760-5656. (Germosén)


If you're calling in sick because you need a quick fix of Brice Marden or Gregory Crewdson, head to that broad stretch west of Tenth Avenue where galleries have colonized nearly every street-level garage and acres of overhead office space. Unlike Soho, 57th Street, or Williamsburg, Chelsea serves up a concentrated dose of contemporary art virtually undiluted by any other sort of retail temptation. Start at Sean Kelly Gallery's massive space on 28th Street and, using one of the free pamphlet maps stacked at the front desks of the area's galleries, work your way down. Bring a sandwich from Bottino's take-out annex (246 Tenth Avenue, 206-6766) to the little park on 22nd Street, and return refreshed to resume your unsentimental education. You're likely to give out long before the galleries do—172 are listed in the Chelsea art guide—but you've got other sick days coming, right? 528 West 29th Street,239-1181. (Aletti)


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You've got crabs! First of all, shame on you for what you're thinking. Get your mind out of the gutter and bring it to Canarsie Pier. There you will find an assortment of characters of all races, ages, sexes, and sizes doing everything from fishing to sun worshiping to my favorite—crabbing. All you need is a cage (available at fishing supply shops), bait (chicken, fish, or squid), and a pail for collecting your booty. Then you just sit right back, hear a tale, and wait to see if the seafood gods have rewarded you with a cage full of crabbies. Personally, I always give mine away; maybe I don't trust the waters or I just adore hearing folks say, "You gave me crabs!" The pier has free parking, rest rooms, and concession stands. 2200 Rockaway Parkway, Brooklyn. (Aber)


Easily the best destination for long, rhythmic hikes in the five boroughs, Greenbelt Conservancy, a 2800-acre chain of chlorophyll, was saved by locals who cherish Staten Island's ecological diversity and unique topography (attributes that are due, in part, to the relatively mild weather as well as the grand collision of Africa with North America). It's always worth pointing out that the Greenbelt took first prize in Wild New York's (Three Rivers Press, 1997) Forest Eco-Awards survey of the five boroughs. 200 Nevada Avenue, Staten Island; for access points and trail maps call 718-667-2165 or visit www.sigreenbelt.org.(Zimmerman)


Oh, city pigeons! Praise them please, these birds of the New York street, these precious rats with wings that flock and fly and shit small shits overhead. Don't call them a nuisance, for in a town where friends come expensive, the city pigeon can be your friend for pretty cheap. Loyal too! Please heed the following pigeon feeding guidelines: Do not feed the pigeons in Washington Square Park (West 4th Street and Macdougal Street) marijuana. True, they will ask but pretend to look away, walk fast, and never look back—they tend to be undercover. East Village pigeons should not be fed leftover macrobiotic foods or other edibles high in tofu content, especially in Tompkins Square Park (7th Street and Avenue A). For years these birds have been on a strict diet of cheeseburgers and heroin, and all things healthy will cause their stomachs to explode. On the Upper East Side, near the Central Park Reservoir (90th Street and Central Park West)—do not feed the pigeons bread, croissant, brioche, or other doughy substances. These birds tend to be on the Atkins diet. For best results, try baked, kosher chicken. And finally, under no circumstances should Battery Park (Broadway and Battery Place) pigeons be fed at all. Currently, these pheasants are receiving large economic subsidies from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. (Gray)


For hanging out at installations in the open air, visit Anissa Mack's cottage on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library, where the artist is busy baking apple pies and tempting passersby to steal them. "Pies for a Passerby"(through June 23, Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza, 718-230-2767), sponsored by the Public Art Fund, was inspired by Betty Crocker's remark that if she were to design a coat of arms for our country, a pie would be its heraldic emblem. Staten Island's north shore, from the ferry terminal to Fort Wadsworth and Faber Park, will be dotted with new projects and performances by 30 international artists participating in Snug Harbor's "Artfront/Waterfront," who will also show inside the Newhouse Gallery, on billboards, and on the radio (opens June 30, through January 30, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, 718-448-2500). And if you really want an agrarian buzz, head for the Bronx, where J. Morgan Puett's "The Grafter's Shack," an apiary installation about bees and beekeepers,is in the woods near Wave Hill's own hives (opens July 14, through October 29, Wave Hill, 675 West 252th Street, Bronx, 718-549-3200). (Levin)


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So ogling poor killer whales Shamu and Namu at SeaWorld Orlando is more reminiscent of chintzy family vacations, hot car puke, and stupid-jerk hair pulling than pleasurable squeals at soothing sea creatures. No matter. Coney Island's New York Aquarium is Jaws 3D not. They've got cool and tasteful attractions like those sea horses with little human faces you begged your mom to mail order (oh, those were Sea Monkeys—duh!), not to mention classy beluga whales that don't lay caviar, but calves! Their "Dining and Dancing With Dolphins" does sound pretty cheesy, though. Surf Avenue and West 8th Street, Brooklyn, 718-265-FISH, wcs.org/home/zoos/nyaquarium. (Spartos)


New York's frenetic art world tends to go dormant in the summer. But on June 29 it undergoes a seismic shift: MOMA, moving across the river for three years, reopens as MOMA QNS in Long Island City's old Swingline stapler factory with three inaugural exhibitions. "Tempo" focuses on the cultural, perceptual, existential, historical, and biological aspects of time, featuring work by contemporary artists from five continents including Kara Walker, Matthew McCaslin, Adriana Varejao, Erwin Wurm, and Sooja Kim, none of whom were exactly regulars in the old MOMA. "AUTObodies: speed, sport, transport" takes advantage of the large factory space to show off the design department's collection of cars for the first time. And "Collection Highlights" makes sure we don't forget the museum's iconic 20th-century works. While it's not exactly outdoors, MOMA QNS signals a welcome breath of fresh energy. 33rd Street at Queens Boulevard, Queens, www.moma.org. (Levin)


If you feel like a ship in a bottle, go to the South Street Seaport, where there is so much to do—the elegant Bowne & Co. Stationers (211 Water Street), part of the South Street Seaport Museum, where you can watch them print by hand on old iron letterpresses, which is how they used to make broadsides and clipper cards like "Dear Sirs, it has come to my attention that the calico will be arriving late." Or sit on a worn wooden pile near the water, look out at the tumble of masts and the 1911 Peking, and dream of the days of clipper ships and cargo and silk and gold, or just pretend you're a tourist and eat a pretzel and dream—tourists dream the most. There are so many people to look at, like the two little girls the other day discussing their jars of Glitter Putty. The one with the ponytail said, "Why pink?" The smaller one said, "There was no blue." The ponytail, "Is pink your second-favorite color?" It went on for a while, and then they were met up by some adults holding water bottles. 89 South Street, Pier 17, 732-7678. (Schlesinger)


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You may never have set foot in it, and if it's your last address, never will. In a neat congruence of the living and the dead, Calvary Cemetery is the perfect necropolis (pop.: 3 million, founded in 1848) from which to view a great metropolis (pop.: over 2 million). Across the asphalt river of the BQE, Manhattan aspires to heights; here in Calvary it's depth that matters. Among its inhabitants are Civil War soldiers, Irish patriots, silent screen star Nita Valdi, and Alfred E. Smith, former New York guv. Spread over 365 acres, from Woodside to Long Island City, Calvary has been favored by filmmakers and photographers who want Gotham's spires in the background but don't want to worry about crowd control. It's an oasis, dare I say it, for peace and quiet, and unhurried strolls with a cuppa java and a sweet, or sweetheart, in tow. Laurel Hill Boulevard, Queens, 718-786-8000. (Francia)


When I was little my sister would sit me on our porch, grease in hand, and tug my tender-headed coif into sleek—pre-Alicia Keys—rows. Nowadays, every other celeb has the look, which is also a practical way to keep tresses of sweat-soaked hair off the neck while frolicking in the sun. But the price of looking like the stars (for those without hair-braiding kin) is wallet damaging—until you get to 125th Street, where women bombard you with business cards in the subway station. At Tops African Hair Braiding Center, a small shop lined with tattered chairs and strewn with wisps of synthetic hair. I look around at dusty mirrors, a knotted selection of fake hair exhibiting braid sizes, and a binder of Polaroid styles slumped in my lap. An hour later, I have wake-up-and-go rows that last weeks. The challenge is haggling (prices can range from $25 to $35 if you're good) and kicking myself for not combing out my hair beforehand. 328 West 125th Street, 665-0996. (Franklin)


If the stagnant air and vapid egos that can turn the office into a claustrophobic den have you reaching for that potion of hemlock, resist. Instead, hie thee to Socrates Sculpture Park: By the East River lie four and a half acres of breeze, sun, water, sand, and artworks that stand tall in (or fall short of) the imagination. Wander in and contemplate these aesthetic signifiers against Manhattan's still-splendid, still-defiant skyline. Unwind as you listen to hints of sensual music. Daydream; engage in a tai chi, yoga, or painting class; or watch a film on an outdoor screen, if it's a Wednesday, or on a tugboat cum floating screen if it's Friday. Broadway at Vernon Boulevard, Queens, 718-956-1819. (Francia)


Every summer, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center transforms its dusty outdoor courtyard into a sparkling urban oasis. Last year, glistening pools of water and breezy walls of fans cooled the hipster masses that routinely lined the block for the museum's Saturday-afternoon Warm Up DJ series. Never has Queens been home to so many cutting-edge hairdos! This season heralds Playa Urbana/ Urban Beach, architect William E. Massie's billowy shade refuge, as well as West Coast house DJ Doc Martin (July 13) and the breaks of King Size Records' Chicken Lips (August 24). 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, 718-784-2084, www.ps1.org. (Spartos)


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Wu-wei on the MTA? Try this—it actually works: Call in sick, stay home, drink a bottle of bourbon, pop some Valium . . . no, no, just kidding. Let's try this again: Call in sick (make sure it's a beautiful day), go into Manhattan, pick a subway, ride a few stops, don't pay attention to where you're going, randomly get off the train, ideally somewhere you are unfamiliar with. Try to maintain a playful, positive attitude. Now with your open and ludic "anything can happen today, damn it!" magical mantra in tow—wander! Attempting to maintain this state of awareness and frolicking spirit, get on another train and start all over; see what happens—I dare you. (Bosler)


Why let the tourists and commuters have all the fun, when the Staten Island Ferry is so damn free? Grab the N/R to Whitehall Street, hop off, and take a round-trip cruise, sans game-show victory. Time it right and you can watch the sun set over Gotham, glinting off her buildings, fading on her many people. Smaller-scale aquatics are found at Central Park Lake (located mid-park from 71st to 78th streets). The Loeb Boathouse (East 72nd Street and Park Drive, 517-3623), open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., offers a $10 rowboat hour—that's $5 (plus deposit) each for a pair of friends/lovers/co-workers on lunch break, etc., or—as the boats can accommodate up to four enthusiasts—a measly $2.50 contribution per person. And 22 acres of lake for the rowin'! (Peretti)


Ahhh, golf: Trekking over 6000 yards while lugging at least 20 pounds—not including the canned beer—in the sweltering summer sun. This season evade heatstroke and feel like a pro at the pitch-and-putt golf course ($10) in Flushing Meadows Golf Center, where the longest hole is 80 yards, the course is lit until 1 a.m., and all you need is a wedge and a putter. While you wait your turn, enjoy a $6.50 pitcher of Bud or a round of mini-golf ($6.50) in the cool breeze of summer nights. It's no Augusta, but at least here you can reach every green in one. Go Tiger! Club rental and golf balls are $1 each. Flushing Meadows Golf Center at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, 718-271-8182. (Kim)


Besides being one of the most technically punk, ethnically diverse, and geographically surreal freshwater fishing destinations in North America, Prospect Park Lake is a sporty little joint for bass, crappie, panfish, and even the occasional lunker carp. The 50-acre lake's weedy structure and variegated shoreline can make for especially suspenseful and action-packed largemouth-bass fishing. These fish will often ambush rubber jigs, minnows, and worms with Southern-state fury (despite the flurry of ambulance sirens and UniverSoul Circus hoopla blasting from the p.a. across the lake). 95 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, 718-965-8900. (Zimmerman)

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