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Forget real estate and blue-chip stocks. New York's hottest commodity is tickets. We're not talking about the half-price seats to Cats that you can pick up at the Times Square TKTS booth on any given night. We mean the tickets that require a rare stroke of luck, a romance with a big-wig's nephew or the patience of Mother Teresa to procure. It helps to know how to weasel your way into the five toughest shows in the Big Apple.

1. Saturday Night Live: Despite the show's ever-declining quality, obtaining SNL tickets is a nightmare. Those who put their postcards in for the yearly ticket lottery have a better shot at winning the Publisher's Clearing House. Your best bet is to hang out at Rockefeller Center and cozy up to an NBC VIP.

2. The Late Show With David Letterman: Another tough show to crack, but tickets are more easily obtained. If you send in a postcard now, chances are you'll be seeing Letterman late next year. But if you've got a little free time someday, you might try getting to the Ed Sullivan Theater around noon and waiting in the stand-by line. If luck is on your side, you'll be freezing in the theater at 5 p.m.

3. The Rosie O'Donnell Show: When the test shows were being taped, they had to beg for an audience. But once Rosie went on the air, tickets for two month's worth of shows were gone within hours. So they've resorted to the same postcard system as Letterman uses, and the same rules apply.

4. Rent: This scruffy, downtown take on Verdi's La Boheme is the hottest ticket on Broadway. Shows are generally sold out about a month in advance, but you might be able to score some tickets the week before the show by going to the theater to buy them. If you want the best seats in the house, however, be prepared to lounge on the concrete outside the Niederlander Theater for 12 hours the day of the show. The first two rows are sold a couple of hours before show-time for $20, and those who camp out get them.

5. Rock concerts: If your idea of a good time is an REO Speedwagon show, you can get your tickets at the door. But if your taste runs to the popular, good luck! Kiss sold out every night of its New York gig, and Pearl Jam sold out its fall dates in seven minutes.

The best seats never go to those who camp in line. Instead, stake out a position by the phone 15 minutes before tickets are available and keep dialing. If you get a Ticketmaster operator before the seats go on sale, keep them on the line. Ask about the best seats available for Phantom of the Opera, then change your mind and try for Yanni tickets. Once the clock strikes 10, get the operator working on seats so close to Kiss you'll be doused when Gene Simmons spits blood. That's how I managed fourth-row center seats on the Cure's current tour.

What you do with the tickets is your own business. It's not unusual to be offered $100 for the worst seats at Rent. Or you can barter your way into Rosie's show with a pair of front-row tickets to the King and I. But best of all, keep them for yourself. The biggest satisfaction is saying you were there.

-- Lisa Milbrand