Class Conscious

Accidental learning through leisure activities

One of the truly wretched things about being a grown-up is not getting summer vacations. Happily, one of adulthood's great perks is getting to decide for yourself what to do with your time. And since there's no official summer vacation for most of the post-collegiate set, those long weekends, summer half-days, and other downtime hours are precious, indeed. Use them to tone your body, expand your mind, or just plain have fun—without the heavy time commitments and stressful schedules full-time training courses often have. Come fall, you'll really have something to talk about. —LD Beghtol


In deep
photo: Greg Miller

Upwardly mobile:Get fit for summer at Stacy's Boot Camp in Central Park.
photo: Greg Miller
Upwardly mobile:Get fit for summer at Stacy's Boot Camp in Central Park.

SCUBA DIVING is nature's other way of telling you you're making too much money. Expect to spend at least $450 on tuition and gear for introductory classes, offered at several pools in Manhattan. Buying your own equipment (wet suit, buoyancy-control device, regulators, dive computer, and much more) and a customized rolling bag to carry it in can run another two grand. You'll have to absorb a ton of physics and physiology to pass written certification exams. Then there's dive travel: The Northeast offers decent conditions only a few months a year, so it's off to southern locations like the Galápagos, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Caribbean.

But your first open-water dive hooks you. Scuba lets you dance with nature; all the preparation leads you under the sea as a cautious intruder in the realm of fish, coral, and other wonders you've previously encountered only in photos or on a dinner plate. It's a quiet pastime; you always dive with a buddy, but you're alone with your thoughts and the spectacular vistas. Vanity falls away—you look silly, but nobody's watching you.

Most local dive shops offer training. Pan Aqua [460 West 43rd Street, 212-736-DIVE] holds frequent evening pool classes (with the first session a free "try scuba" night) and hooks you up with the Dutch Springs quarry in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to complete the open-water portion of the certification process. If you're over 10 and can float for 10 minutes and swim 200 yards, you can sign up. —Elizabeth Zimmer


Back to the future
Hologram: Jason Sapan's Holographic Studios

In the late '60s, when it was first publicly exhibited, the shimmering hologram looked like the future. Now, after appearances at mall boutiques and on cereal boxes, it's as quaint as Granny's patchwork quilts. For a groovy blast from the psychedelic past, MAKE YOUR OWN HOLOGRAMS at Jason Sapan's Holographic Studios (240 East 26th Street, 212-686-9397), where the master offers beginner classes in which you learn the basics and then take home your own gem. From $150. —Chad Smith


Make/do
photo: Brian Kennedy

Cast off your winter doldrums and get at those household projects you've been putting off. First, check out the DIY CLASSES at your neighborhood Home Depot: Recent optimistically titled courses include "You Can Lay Ceramic Tile," "You Can Organize Your Closets," and "You Can Create Outdoor Living Space"—which is sure to confuse most Manhattanites. The Furniture Joint [182 Avenue B, 212-598-4260] offers a monthly four-session course in furniture re-upholstery and repair. For basic wood- and metalworking techniques, visit the Educational Alliance [edalliance.org/artschool] on East Broadway; the Manhattan YWCA on Lexington Avenue [ywcanyc.org/woodworking] offers more advanced classes. —C.S.


The G-Team
photo: Brian Kennedy

Beyond such factors as age, race, ethnicity, and location, and conditionals including intelligence, physical strength, and sexual orientation, what really sets men apart is team sports: You either love 'em or hate 'em. If you're a gay New York sports lover in search of like-minded men, see Out of Bounds [oobnyc.org], a comprehensive site for GAY MEN'S SPORTS ORGANIZATIONS, including links and an excellent calendar of events. HX magazine also offers coverage and listings in its print and online versions. And for armchair enthusiasts we recommend cruising— oops—surfing these sites: the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club [gothamrfc.org], Knickerbocker Sailing Association [ksanyc.org], and the Metro Wrestling Alliance [metrowrestling.org]. —Leigh Jerman


Self-guided by voices

If traditional walking tours put you off, Soundwalk's PRE-RECORDED WALKING TOURS [soundwalk.com] are a great alternative. These audio guides—available in CD and MP3 formats—transcend the predictable. Soundwalk's neighborhood-specific programs weave through both well-known haunts and off-the-map spots, giving listeners the inside dope on what makes an area tick. Each tour is voiced by an eminent local: Vinny Vella (a/k/a the mayor of Elizabeth Street) does Little Italy, Johnny T. (of Goldman Sachs) divulges secrets of the trading floor, and celebrity tour guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch conducts you through Times Square. All address the listener as a confidant, freely disclosing neighborhood scuttlebutt in refreshingly candid language. —Eddie Mullins


Winging it
photo: Brian Kennedy

The Atlantic flyway is a crucial bird migration route, and New York is right in its path. Central and Prospect parks offer the best-known URBAN BIRDING (try the Ramble or the Vale of Cashmere, respectively), but terrific sightings happen year 'round in all five boroughs: a great blue heron poised on an ice floe in the Hudson, a snowy owl lording it by Jamaica Bay, barn swallows artfully pursuing mosquitoes over the East River in summer heat. Peterson Field Guides are the classics; others, like the New York City Audubon Society's Guide to Finding Birds in the Metropolitan Area, are more site specific. For newcomers, birding.com/wheretobird/newyork.asp provides maps, rare-bird alerts, New York City clubs, hot spots, and a local birding forum. —Laura Bell


Word up

Those knowledgeable folks who lead visitors around museums didn't grow on trees, you know. Most cultural facilities have DOCENT TRAINING PROGRAMS to teach civilians the salient points about their collections. Usually you pay them a nominal fee for training classes, then make a small annual time commitment to guide tour groups. Some prior knowledge of the subject is usually required, but they don't expect experts. Inquire at your favorite marble hall, which is sure to be cleaner and cooler than some dodgy beach. —LDB


Shape-shifter

The words boot camp usually evoke the image of an evil drill sergeant barking orders at a line of cowering recruits; not so for weight-conscious civilians who willingly join Stacy Berman's three-week, outdoor BOOT CAMP IN CENTRAL PARK. At Stacy's Boot Camp [stacysbootcamp.com, 212-531-3531] you'll start with a brisk jog through Central Park, then get strenuous sessions of push-ups, squat thrusts, jumping jacks, and sprints. The differing outdoor terrain provides a challenge not found in gyms, so every muscle in your body will be worked to its capacity. Berman, a certified fitness trainer, also suggests dietary regimens with her thrice-weekly, one-hour sessions ($250 for nine classes). Thanks, Sergeant! —Keisha Franklin


By your leaf, sir
photo: Tamara Rosenblum

For those who long to get in touch with their inner forester, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department offers an excellent opportunity: the TREE CENSUS, which seeks to develop a complete inventory of our urban forest. In 1995, the Parks Department trained over 700 volunteers to catalog our city's 498,470 trees, and again this year they'll train all interested volunteers. Go to nycgovparks.org and sign up for the second census. You won't have to prune anything, just report some scientific data. Their ideal volunteer: someone who is really passionate about New York City trees and who is also detail oriented. —C.S.


Shutter buggin'
photo: Cary Conover

I'm 32 and moved to New York City last summer after working for years as a real estate developer in Charleston, South Carolina. My plan—after years of studying on my own—was to become a better photographer. So I signed up for SUMMER CLASSES. The International Center of Photography [icp.org] has a course for nearly everything, and really great facilities. Though its "Focus on Flowers" class wasn't for me, I soon found others that were. My advice: Do research. Canvass the students and staff smoking out front, and check out the teachers' websites. So much depends on the instructor and the mix of students. —Greg Worley


Net gain
photo: Greg Miller

Beyond the red awning at Wang Chen Table Tennis Club [250 West 100th Street, wangchenttc.com] are seven professional-grade Ping-Pong tables—four downstairs and three on street level, the latter widely spaced across an enormous parquet floor. Open since October (shortly after the closure of the popular Manhattan Table Tennis Club, which stood a half-block away), the new club offers a full slate of TABLE TENNIS LESSONS and tournaments for players of all levels, including a Wednesday-night league, after-school sessions for kids, and intensive summer training camps. The club is named for its manager-primary instructor, Wang Chen, a member of China's 1997 World Championship team and one of the top-rated women players in the U.S. —Jim Hanas


Help wanted

What does it cost these days for a little peace of mind? At New York's Red Cross, it still comes cheap: For eight hours and $75 you can LEARN LIFESAVING TECHNIQUES you probably haven't thought about since junior high school. Courses in CPR and pet first aid are available throughout the week in all five boroughs [see nyredcross.org for more information]. It may not seem like the ideal way to spend your free time, but if you and a few friends make a day of it, think of it as budget group therapy. —Mike DeVoe


Water log
photo: Greg Miller

If you're itching to get out on the water without leaving town, go CANOEING IN THE GOWANUS CANAL. This former New York tidal creek outlived its commercial utility ages ago, but now—despite a long-held seedy reputation—it's becoming a viable recreation spot thanks to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club [gowanuscanal.org], a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to improving the canal's image and water quality. Ongoing environmental efforts have brought aquatic life and waterfowl back to its two-mile stretch, and their 2nd Street boat launch has brought the canoeists. Paddlers pass under five bridges and float by a variety of Brooklyn industries old (a cement manufacturer, a pump house) and new (Lowe's) before reaching the bay. —E.M.


Blossom, dearie
photo: Joseph De Sciose

Most of us love seeing the city full of flowers and greenery. For folks who really dig the dirt, the New York Botanical Garden [200th Street and Kazimiroff Boulevard, Bronx] offers weekend courses covering a wide range of GREEN-THUMBED PURSUITS for adults and kids: herb gardening, bonsai for beginners, and—my favorite—recreational tree climbing. There are also walking tours of the food stalls, herb markets, and apothecaries of Chinatown and Little India to broaden your horticultural horizons. Classes average $125. See the full catalog online at nybg.org/edu/conted/spsu05/index.html, or call 718-817-8747 for more information. —Mason Patrick Brown II


C'mon, get tappy
photo: Lois Greenfield

Keep your legs toned, your sense of rhythm honed, and your spirits hopping while TAP DANCING at Tony Waag's Tap City, a 10-day celebration of our favorite indigenous dance form, featuring the country's finest teachers and performers (June 25 through July 3). Overseen by the ghosts of tap greats Honi Coles and Gregory Hines and recently departed "saloon singer" Bobby Short, the diverse all-star roster offers eight shows at the Joyce; two sets of three-day adult courses at Chelsea Studios; talks and film programs; special classes for kids, beginners, master dancers, and seniors; a boutique; and a jazz boat ride and tap jam. Full details and schedules at atdf.org, or call 646-230-9564. —E.Z.

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