It was the best of times, now it seems the worst of times: Summer's here, and with it come promises of sun, sea, and nonstop

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Hot, broke, and out of control

Cheapskates, unite! Many of the city's pleasures can be had for $5 or less.

It was the best of times, now it seems the worst of times: Summer's here, and with it come promises of sun, sea, and nonstop fun. But this year, it's also the giant sucking sound of your hard-won stock portfolio on empty. Instead of shelling out for every show and fancy eatery, you've got to be pickier this year. We're here to help with a detailed look at affordable adventures. There's plenty to do in sporting arenas, the outdoors, restaurants, and on the sparkling waters of Elliott Bay. If nothing tickles your pink-slipped fancy, well, hey, there's always Metro and a matinee.

Being cheap has a bad reputation. People spit the word out derisively: cheap. As though nothing or no one cheap could ever be worth your time. As though cheap weren't a valid lifestyle choice. Cheap, ladies and gentlemen, is often the way to go. Cheap, I hate to inform you, is the wave of the future. And you can ride that wave this summer, along with all those downsized dot-commies, and embrace your inner tightwad all over town without ever looking back.

You have to eat, right? But you don't have to eat right, which is the costly mistake of tofu minions everywhere. It's amazing how much you have to shell out for a dollop of soy, all in the name of . . . what? Health? A slim figure? Oh, all right, if you must be fit and frugal, you can find five dollars' worth of sushi (best bet: Hana, 219 Broadway E., 328-1187), but excuse me if I ask why we've turned our backs on good old-fashioned flesh. Folks, it's this kind of thinking that may one day take Calista Flockhart from us. You can have your veggie oases. Take the pricey Gravity Bar—please. Maybe it's gluttonous and tacky to want anything more than broccoli, but some frightened voice within keeps me from patronizing establishments where if you ask the waitstaff for something above and beyond the call of duty—like service—you get a sullen glance indicating you've just torn them away from their plate of lentils and discussion of Noam Chomsky. And is it just me or do most of these poor, tired kids look like they need nothing more than a good cry on a sympathetic pork shoulder?

All I want, in these final hours before the current international health crisis hits McDonald's, is for us to give meat one last, wet kiss. The thriftiest, most abundant way, perhaps, is to ingest the Emerald City's overflow of generous teriyaki joints—for a tad over $5, you can get a helluva plate at my personal favorite, Nasai (various locations, but try 43055 University Way N.E., 632-3572). Yet for a truly American reward this Memorial Day, I say, simply and proudly, corn dog. Yes, it is deep-fried innards. Is there a problem? I know we're supposed to hate California, but I think I should tell you that at Disneyland (only the Happiest Place on Earth, people) you can get one of these puppies so big it could choke Anna Nicole Smith. Here in the great Northwest, we must settle for that other smiling institution, Hot Dog on a Stick (Westlake Center, 623-1372), which features the single most humiliating enforced dress code in modern-day food service: a sleeveless garment and a hat the size of a Bundt cake, both sporting white, blue, yellow, and red stripes that resemble the bedsheets of Barnum & Bailey. For $4.75, you get two "delicious, all-turkey hot dogs" or one dog and— mmmmm! No way!--a stick of deep-fried cheese. Let us not shun the deep-fried, which, as far as I'm concerned, pretty much serves as metaphor for most of our popular culture. What is the Oscar-winning Gladiator if not deep- fried Spartacus?

Which brings us to the cinema. Feel free to plunk down your hard-earned three bucks at either of this town's best-known budget houses, the Admiral Twin (2343 California S.W., 938-3456), which offers guilt-free tickets to castoffs like The Mexican, or The Crest (16505 Fifth N.E., 363-6338), which specializes in second-run prestige flicks on the order of You Can Count on Me. I must suggest the childishly dishonest, though, if you're going to get the most bang for your buck. One word: multiplex. You haven't really lived until you've sneaked into an extra movie at one of these 10-screen whorehouses. Find the location nearest you—Meridian, Bella Bottega, Metro (while it lasts)—and casually treat it the way it deserves to be treated. But be decent, for chrissakes—you can't go to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon then sneak in on Pollock. Don't be such an Ebert. The act of sneaking into the movies was specifically developed for crap entertainment. And I'm not talking about Town and Country or Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, either; I said crap entertainment. Certain films are made to be cheated. Driven, The Forsaken, Joe Dirt—these things are screaming, "Take me! Take me!" Anything involving explosions, a creature that eats humans, or the poo-poo jokes of a Saturday Night Live veteran is suitable fodder for a freebie. No one expects you to pay for such filthy distractions. Go to a $5 matinee of, hell, Bridget Jones's Diary, then duck your way into the nearest car crash afterward.

Of course, you could always, I don't know, read the original Bridget Jones's Diary, and finding it is one instance where skimping is actually far more rewarding than living it up. The used bookstore provides one of life's grandest cheap excursions, and Seattle is full of them. A really good one should have whatever you're looking for, yet maintain an aura of being deliciously random. Twice Sold Tales (my favorite is the cat-filled Capitol Hill location at 905 E. John, 329-3586) is a must, with a great selection, corners to sit and read in, and the oddities of the "50 cents" cart kept outside. I find myself leaning more and more, however, toward Horizon Books (6512 Roosevelt Way N.E., 523-4217; 8572 Greenwood N., 781-4680; 425 15th, 329-3586) or, best of all, the downtown Beatty's Book Store (1925 Third, 728-2665). There isn't too much of this crazy alphabetizing stuff at Beatty's. Who needs it? You literally happen upon most of its treasures, inspiring the kind of serendipity that has you thinking, "You know, I have always wanted to read Doc Savage: Man of Bronze."

See how much we've already shared as cheapskates? And we haven't even touched on the glories of Seattle's dive bars, the thriftiness of its Market, or the easy manner in which one may fill up on a lifetime's worth of wine, hummus, and earnest conceptual art on First Thursday. Live, my friends, and the next time someone calls you "cheap," hold your corn dog high with a grin and say, "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Summer feels hotter when it's deep-fried.

 
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