The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

My Weekend at Fire Island June 29, 2010

With one of our Summer Friday’s conveniently synced up, Mike and I decided a getaway was in order. We tossed around some ideas. I tentatively suggested driving down to Lexington, where I went to school. After all, it’s a great summer spot: a sleepy little town with some lovely restaurants, incredible hiking, tubing down the river with a cooler of beer, wine tasting, and my good friend Dinah who is studying for her CPA all summer and who could probably use some distracting. Too bad it’s a bit of a far drive.

We also tossed around the idea of Delaware. And then we looked at Montauk at the tip of Long Island. I wanted a beach that we could get to by train, and once there not require any other mode of transportation. Once she heard this, Mike’s sister insisted we try Fire Island.

It was a perfect choice. Most people know Fire Island as a gay destination. In fact, I first heard of it over a long brunch with a gay friend of a friend. Sites about Fire Island like to claim that Cherry Grove, the gay destination, is family friendly, but as my friend’s gay uncle told her, “We would totally invite you out to our house, but…you’re not gay!” Can’t be more clear than that.

Our destination would be Ocean Beach, a tiny little town that is more conventional. No cars are allowed, which is super exciting for a smog-breathing city girl like myself. There’s a long beach, and plenty of restaurants and bars.

Early Friday morning Mike and I hopped the train out of Penn station to Bay Shore, where we caught the ferry across. From Penn Station to the dock took all of two and half hours. Mike had secured us a cheap (by Ocean Beach standards) apartment for the weekend. Great move, because the hotels there are insanely expensive, and feature communal bathrooms and “gross” rooms. Our apartment was much larger than we even needed, with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. The best part is that it was less than twenty paces from the dock, right above the convenience store, and a thirty second walk from the nearest bar.

It was a perfect day for the beach, with hot sunshine and wispy clouds jetting across the sky. We dumped our stuff, changed, and walked the quarter mile down the sidewalks, past the little summer cottages with cute names and, as we got closer, large modern houses fronting the water. My goal had been to be on the beach and stripped down to my bikini by 11 AM, and I’m happy to report we only missed the mark by a half hour. Best of all, the beach was practically empty. I can’t say much about the next three hours, except that I took full advantage of my tanning time and the therapeutic qualities of salty sea water. As more people arrived from the mainland, the beach filled up to the point where we had to listen to someone else’s conversation. Horror.

When I felt my skin start to turn from medium rare to well done, we walked back to town, had a late lunch, took a long nap, had dinner, and went out for drinks, all the while wandering about the island with stars in our eyes, sand in our hair, and empty wallets.

Yup, Ocean Beach is crazy expensive. Our lunch at Island Mermaid of crab cakes, a tuna burger, steamers, and a couple of tropical drinks set us back more than $80. We split a delicious lobster for dinner at Matthews with a modest appetizer of – count em – five shrimp, paired with some Red Wagon Fire Island ale and pricey $14 cocktails, and that set us back more than a hundred. Each beer itself cost at least $8, if not more. We just shrugged it off. After all, it’s hard to get worked up about something after waking up from a delicious nap and walking a hundred yards to watch the waves lap up against the dock, rocking the boats in their slips, while sipping fruity cocktails. Not a car horn could be heard.

The rest of the weekend went similarly. I had grand plans to go to Hands Across the Sand, but we quickly learned that Ocean Beach is cut off from the surrounding area. You have to walk along the beach to get to anywhere. So I gave up my lofty plans of hiking and engaging in a protest against BP, and resigned myself to doing nothing of value whatsoever. It was wonderful.

Friday night after dinner we walked along the beach and then cut back to town along a road no bigger than a golf course sidewalk. A long siren rose up in front of us. A good ten minutes later, as we approached the firehouse, a tiny fire truck pulled out out and drove off toward town. It was about the size of an ambulance. “Oh wow, I wish I had my camera!” I cried after seeing the five firemen clinging to the back of the little thing, all lit up with flashing lights.

“If a house was on fire, it’s no longer there,” said older man with yarmulka to the fireman who had been left behind. The fireman shrugged. “It’s a barbecue.” Such is island life.

We next went to the Sand Bar, which takes the Bridge/Tunnel crowd prize. Mike is originally from Long Island, but has gotten pretty far away from that scene. We danced a bit, but I didn’t feel up to the task of competing with all the sexy dresses on the Long Island ladies. After all, I had heard that Fire Island is super casual, so I had just brought a couple pairs of shorts and some casual tops. Not a form fitting dress and sky high heels. Mike just gaped at the bros pumping their fists in time with Biggie Smalls. We stuck around long enough for a truly disgusting “Midnight Makeout” shot, and then beat it.

Saturday morning I woke up early and went for a long jog while Mike slept off his lingering cold. When I got back to the apartment, I popped downstairs to the convenience store to get a pricey pint of milk for the granola I had brought from Manhattan, and a single serving of orange juice. Together they set me back $6.

I noticed, as Mike and I ate breakfast, that the milk proudly proclaimed “From Real Cows!” Uh, what else would it be made of? Oh, how far I had fallen from free-range, organic, grass fed, local, farmers market milk from Milk Thistle farm. Here I was drinking a milk whose best feature was that it was from an actual cow. Mike and I cracked jokes about the real cows.

“Bacon! From real pigs!”

“Apples! From real trees!”

“Orange juice! From real oranges,” Mike quipped.

“Actually, that’s not much of a joke anymore,” I lamented.

For our strenuous activity of the weekend, we decided to rent bikes. We paid $25 each and walked our bikes through town. There are rules against riding bikes within the city limits on weekends and holidays. At the eastern edge we took off, rolling leisurely along the paths shaded by bamboo, beach fragmite, rose bushes, and fragrant honeysuckle. About twenty minutes into our ride, we came up against a fence. We biked south and tried another road. Locked as well. As a nice young mom told us, the other side was a gated community. So much for our strenuous bike ride. We biked back to town, walked through, and rode past the game middle aged men playing baseball until we were stopped once again by a lack of anywhere to go.

So we did the whole loop again. We tried one more time to get into the fancy gated community, but no one would help us out.  So we stopped on the way back by a little deserted hut called Park Pizza.  As we waited at the counter for someone to come out, I started at the sight of a chihauha perched on a stool, peeping out from behind the counter.

“Bertie,” a disheveled, blond, middle-aged woman said, walking out from the back room.

Mike and I shot each other a confused look. “What?”

“Bertie,” she said again, and pointed to the chihuahua. “Oh!” I said. “Hi Bertie!” The little dog stared at me disinterestedly. He didn’t want to make the effort to climb up the counter to be petted, no matter how many kissy and cooing noises I made.

We ordered a few slices of pizza, and I ordered a Diet Pepsi. You know I’m not a soda drinker, but it seemed like the perfect occasion for it, if there ever was one.

I can’t really vouch for the sanitary conditions of the pizza shack, with a kitchen that could be more aptly described as a junkyard, but the pizza was pretty good, especially with sweet peppers on top. It was nice to eat it while leaning back in the sunshine, watching joggers, golf carts, parents pulling red wagons, and kids on bikes go by.

After turning our overpriced bikes back in, we stopped in at Ice Castle candy shop which also had ice cream and fudge. “Is your ice cream made in-house?” I inquired. No use wasting calories on Edy’s or Hershey’s. “It’s not made in house, but it is homemade,” the girl assured me, from micro-batches by a local place called…Steve’s? Steven’s? I wish I remembered! I got myself a scoop of cake batter and a scoop of funfetti on top. It was like eating ice cream cake, but BETTER. I felt like a little girl again, when Mike paid for it and we sat outside on bench, him watching me with an amused expression while I tried to keep it from melting all over my hands.

We passed the afternoon with the US-Ghana World Cup game at the Island Mermaid, then dinner at McGuires (best view in Ocean Beach, though the service was horrendous), and finally a walk through dark paths to the beach. We occasionally passed a house where we could hear drunken shouts and music coming from inside, but mostly it was a peaceful, humid night. We drank beers on the beach, watching the waves slide back and forth underneath the yellow moon, until the beach was overrun with shrieking, drunk, high school girls and boys from Long Island taking flash photos, and we retreated back to our apartment.

I started my day on Sunday late. Well, late for me. I woke up at 9, eating some berries for breakfast and then walked downstairs and five steps outside of my door to Healing Waters Massage for my 10:00 appointment. A little blond lady was behind the desk. She was like what Marilyn Monroe would sound like, if she had reached 50, with a high-pitched, nervous flutter of a voice. “I’m just filling in for my friend,” she told me. “She’s at a wedding this weekend.”

She introduced me to Chris, my very handsome and tan masseuse. I want to say he had an Australian accent, but I think I’m just making that up. Yeah, I am.

He led me to the back room with the table and left me there to get ready, closing the door behind me. I pulled off my coverup which left me with just my bikini. I looked at the table with the folded-down sheet, and then down at myself. I hesitantly opened the door and peeked out. “Um, Jane?” I called. “Yes dear?” she said, popping around the corner.

“I’m supposed to go under the sheet, right?” I asked.


“And um, am I supposed to get naked?”

Just then Chris appeared. “Oh, yes!” Jane nodded at me eagerly. “Jane,” Chris cut in placing a hand on her arm,”let me handle this – ”

“Oh! I – sorry – I just – ” She burst into a fit of nervous giggles. I started laughing too, and she just giggled louder, and then threw her arms around me in a bear hug. Finally Chris shooed her away, and told me that yes, I could get naked, but only if I was comfortable with it. I thanked him, went back in, and got naked, nervously scooting myself under the sheet.

Luckily Chris was super professional, and pretty good too. He massaged out all my cubicle dweller kinks quite nicely, and I emerged relaxed and smelling like essential oil, ready to hit the beach again. (Luckily, Mike is not the jealous type.) I met him at the Mermaid bar, where he was watching a Cup game. Well, first I stopped to get a square of peanut butter and chocolate fudge from Ice Castle. Then we headed to the beach for another lazy afternoon, hiding our Red Stripe from passing lifeguards by creating a tent out of the beach rules they passed out. Rules like “No throwing balls or playing frisbee,” and “no food, drinks, or water.” What?

Mike had mentioned several times he is not the beach type. As I read my yoga magazine and tried not to snigger at the power of prayer to heal tumors, I realized he was talking to me.
“Hmmm, what?” I said, distracted.

“I think I actually do like the beach,” he said. “All I’ve ever been to are the really crowded beach on Long Island that are drivable. You don’t have any space. But this is great.” I’m glad I could show him the light.

We ended our weekend with chicken wings and sweet potato fries while watching the Argentina-Mexico Cup game, and then a couple of tropical drinks by the bay. We boarded the ferry well-rested and happy.

“It was really fun,” I told Mike as the ferry growled its way back to the mainland and the breeze whipped through my salty, crunchy hair, “But I’m ready to go.”

Indeed, we had run out of things to do. I guess we could have eaten and drank more, but three days was the perfect amount of time to spent in this tiny secluded island town.


How to Survive a Weekend-Long Assault by Conservatives June 2, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend: The first good beach weekend of the year. An opportunity, thanks to employers who give a half day or the whole day off on Friday, to escape the city and its 90-degree, gritty air for a fresh breeze and fresh seafood.

For this Clean Hippie, it was also an exercise in restraint.

For the weekend I was invited to Cape Cod by my friend John, along with five others. His parents have ramshackle house on a private beach in Orleans, surrounded by a few acres of woods. It was a perfect place for seven people to try to relive their college days. (That means being loud and inappropriate, in case you’re wondering.)

Anyway, knowing the people who were invited, I KNEW going in that I should avoid politics completely. I didn’t want a repeat of last year, when I got completely frustrated with John over his pro-big business views. Well, John is a Green Peace activist compared to some of the people who were there.

John gave me fair warning before I left. “Just to let you know, the three people you are riding up with are very conservative, and very un-pc,” he told me. The implication? Don’t rock the boat.

Friday I left work at 1 and took the train up to South Norwalk in Connecticut , where I was supposed to be picked up. When I came out of the station into the parking lot, I saw a red SUV come around the corner. “Alden!” yelled the passenger, leaning out the window. I waved and it pulled up in front of me. Drew, the driver and John’s friend from high school, got out to open the trunk for me. Drew would prove to be the quiet one of the bunch, a sort of observer to our rantings. In the front seat was Travis, Drew’s coworker. I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name, so I created the mnemonic “Travesty.”  Let’s just call him large and in charge, and leave it at that. I climbed in the back seat with Travesty’s girlfriend Erin, a pretty brunette.

“We’ve been circling the parking lot for like ten minutes,” she told me. Every time we came around, Travis would yell ‘Alden! Alden? Alllden…’ to every girl that came out front. And then Drew was like, ‘Oh, I think I have her number. Let me call her.’ We were like ‘Oh, NOW you tell us.”

One thing I love about long weekends like this with a group of people, is that by the end of your time together, you have at least five inside jokes that get repeated over and over. One of them for Cape Cod was a sort of impromptu celebration of my name, where everyone would just start saying “Alden? Alllden. Alden!” Great ego boost.

So obviously I took John’s advice really seriously, and about an hour into our trip, I saw the news on my phone that BP’s Top Kill strategy might be working. (Of course it failed later.) I piped up with the news. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” Travesty said. It’s leaking, what, 4,000 barrels a day? I mean, that’s not much in the grand scheme of things.”

“Actually,” I said, “it’s about 40,000 barrels a day.”

“Yeah, she’s right, Travis,” Drew said.

“Ok, whatever. I mean, the Georgia Aquarium alone has over 3 million gallons just in its tanks.” (Actually it has 8 million. But who’s quibbling?) There’s so much water in the gulf, will it really affect anything?”

“Travis, honey,” Erin ventured. “It’s already washing up on the shores.”

“Yeah.” I sputtered. “It’s already coating birds and keeping them from flying.”

“Eh well. I mean it’s not that bad. They just showed a hippie cleaning a seal with a toothbrush on TV, and now everyone is all upset. Come on. You know how many seals there are out there?” Obviously Travis was not yet aware that I call myself a Clean Hippie. Well, he would find out.

We all offered some more feeble explanations of how bad it is, but in the end it degenerated into jokes about how God seems to hate New Orleans.I mean, how hard did I want to fight Travesty about this? He obviously has his mind made up about how he wants to view the world, and that is through the lens of “Me is important. Other, not so much.” That includes seals and the Gulf of Mexico, apparently.

It was a nicely timed incident, coming on the heals of my reading a chapter in Happiness Hypothesis on how we have self serving biases. Apparently, when you are talking to people other than judges, they make decisions not rationally by considering all facts but by choosing a position that feels right and then casting around for facts to support that position. When they find a fact, they stop searching.

So how did I get through this weekend? I had to contend with perfect weather – a Cape record high of 75 and sunny, mojitos, free beer, a trip to a local favorite bar with a live band, and delicious seafood. It was hard, let me tell you.

It’s actually funny how little I have changed since my trip to the Cape last summer. Back then I lamented in my post about not sticking to my no-processed-food guns, and eating lobster rolls and fried seafood. Whoops, did it again!

Hey, I’m irrational just like anyone else. I know that factory farming sucks, both for me and the animal, yet when I see maple-drizzled little piggy sausages and bacon, how can I resist? I’m working on it. Are you tired of my guilt ridden posts on eating consciously yet?

When our little group got there on Friday, we were greeted by John, his friend TJ, and Ryan from W&L, both of whom I’ve metbefore. We packed a cooler with beer, threw it in the back of TJ’s huge SUV, and drove the half mile to the beach where we walked out over the dunes to the water. It was a cool, windy night, and Erin and I shivered as the boys tried to get the fire started. Their solution to the sputtering flames? Lots and lots of lighter fluid.

“I’m not going anywhere near those fumes y’all,” I said.

“Whatever, it’ll burn off,” one of the boys said.

I had found an old brown knit cap with a poof on the top and a brim and had pulled it on my head. “Boy, do you look like a hippie now,” John said. I gave him a grin as I wrapped my arms around myself and edged away from the petroleum scented smoke coming from the pit. But once the fire was good and roaring, we settled in for a couple hours of laughing and talking with only the sound of the waves as our soundtrack. I went to bed early that night when we got back, exhausted from the workweek and the long drive up. I could still hear the laughter and calls drifting up from the basement where everyone was playing beerpong, through the thin floor to me as I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up at nine feeling rested and refreshed. I poured myself a glass of water and wandered out onto the back porch, where the sun rose in a yellow orb above the dunes. I was greeted by a chorus of birdsong and a soft breeze. Inspired, I popped inside for a beach towel and laid it down on the porch. I stood at the edge facing east, and went through the first yoga series, appropriately called “Sun Salutation.” I was stiff, but I quickly loosened in cool air as I stretched and moved through my positions. I never do yoga by myself, but it was a perfect hour for it. By the time I heard people moving around and talking inside I was feeling limber so I joined everyone for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

We spent the day at the beach, naturally. The water in Cape Cod is numbingly cold, but I’m a big believer in the therapeutic properties of salt water, so I finally screwed up the courage, let out a banshee yell and sprinted into the water, plunging headfirst into the waves. I was numb when I emerged, but feeling good. We actually saw little groups of seals pass by. “Someone should get Alden a toothbrush,” Travesty quipped. Thanks dude.

When the idea popped into our heads Saturday night that we should go to the bar, all of us were several beers in. The boys had been playing a frisbee game called Kan Jam in the fading light while the girls, including John’s cousin Anne who had just joined us, perched on the railing to watch. Every once in a while one of they guys would shout, “Nancy! Beer me!” and I would toss a Bud Light to them. (They called me Nancy after Nancy Pelosi.)

After yanking on some presentable clothing, we went to Land Ho, where we all ordered draught beers. That is, except for Travesty. He walked over to us carrying a martini with three olives with such a serious “I’m James Bond” look on his face I barely contained my laughter. Especially since just an hour before he had been wrestling with the other guys in a cross between a drunk bear and a sumo wrestler.

Someone ordered tequila shots for everyone. We tossed them back and I quickly bit down on my lime with a shudder. As I pulled it from my mouth, I heard a cough and felt a thick spray of tequila on my face.

I turned to see where it had come from, and there stood Travesty gazing at me with what only can be described as no expression at all. “What the hell is wrong with you??” I yelled at him, totally losing my zen.

“Woah, Alden,” Erin said. “He didn’t mean it.”

“Uh, can someone hand me a napkin?” an unfortunate bystander said. Behind me, another girl who the boys had been chatting up at the bar stormed off, yelling about tequila on her face.

Meanwhile, Erin and Travesty had exited the bar. I didn’t find out until later that Erin was outside bawling, she was so upset at my reaction. Whoops. Travesty came in later and apologized, and I accepted his apology. I didn’t dwell on it, instead launching myself onto the dance floor with Ryan for another hour.

When we got back to the house we heated up queso for some chips which we ate out on the back porch. Our conversation degenerated into an argument about whether Americans are too stupid to decide what to feed themselves.

If Travesty showed an enormous amount of ignorance, TJ boasted an enormous reservoir of facts and figures about the ridiculousness of unions, the percentage of crimes in Arizona that are attributed to Hispanics, the number of jobs lost versus gained by shifts to a greener economy, and on and on and on. Smart kid. His arguments were convincing, even if the logic seemed to be all off. I struggled, knowing my own biases, to give his arguments for Arizona’s new law a fair shake. TJ did not return the favor, instead he would all but stop up his ears and say “Lalala, I can’t hear liberals!”

One point of contention was the impending soda tax and the ban on salt in NYC restaurants. I think the ban on salt is stupid. The reason Americans eat too much sodium is that they eat too much processed foods.  But anyway, even though I told TJ this over and over, “Yes, TJ, I agree with you. Yes, it’s stupid,” he still couldn’t get it through his skull that I’m not a crazy liberal who kowtows to every Democratic initiative. He also didn’t believe me when I told him that a cheeseburger is cheaper in this country than a head of broccoli. I tried to abbreviate Michael Pollan’s argument about corn subsidies, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with TJ. He literally said, “I don’t believe you.” My goodness.

John repeatedly entreated me to “Just let it go.” And Travesty stood up in anger and told me I should just move to Europe if I hate America so much. (The next day he would argue that landfills are good because they create jobs.) Drew just shook his head at me, Don’t bother. I looked down at the chip dripping with yellow fake cheese in my hand, set it down, and retreated inside to a corner of the living room. I sat, reading another chapter of Happiness Hypothesis about the Buddhist exhortation to break worldly attachments. That nothing is really that important. Man, that book is good. As I read I felt my heart rate slow, I relaxed into the old crocheted chair. The book also extolls the wonderful effects of meditation on happiness, so I decided I needed to meditate as soon as possible. Finally, with my calm restored, I got up and went to bed. I still had the icky, hypocritical taste of chips and queso in my mouth though.

The next morning I got up with a new resolve. I set myself up on the back porch again to do yoga, and when I finished, I sat cross-legged and meditated for 15 minutes, listening to bird song, feeling the warm sun on my face, and repeating the words “Gratitude” to myself. What shouldn’t I be grateful for? How could I let a couple of die-hard conservatives ruin such a beautiful weekend? At the end of my meditation, I felt completely reset and refreshed, and ready for a day at the beach, with or without political rants. Most everyone else went to get a huge breakfast at a diner, but I opted to stay behind, having discovered all the ingredients for a smoothie were already in the fridge and freezer. Score!

We spent another day at the beach, getting nice and brown/red under the warm Cape sun and dunking ourselves in the water. I just wanted to wash the tequila out of my hair, to be honest. At one point, as I laid on the beach with TJ, Erin, Ryan, and Drew, and Ryan, the political debate started up again. I engaged for a couple minutes, then just gave up. TJ continued to cite examples of democratic stupidity. “He’s still going, isn’t he?” I mumbled to Ryan 15 minutes later.

“I heard that,” TJ said from his beach chair. He went back to ranting to Erin and Drew. I just sighed and flipped over, staring at the blue sky above.

For dinner we went to Arnold’s, a fried seafood mecca. I opted for steamers, fried Maryland Oysters, and a diet soda. I took three sips of the soda and dumped it. It didn’t even taste good to me anymore. Despite that small moment of lucidity, by the time I was done stuffing my face with fried food, I felt sick. Everyone was so lethargic when we got back, we all passed out by 10 pm.

The next day I woke up at 6:30 in the morning. Ryan joined me on the porch, quietly sipping coffee and gazing out at the shore while I went through my Sun Salutation, and then he good-naturedly agreed to meditate with me for ten minutes. I thought that was really nice of him. I completed my perfect morning with another homemade smoothie, and a refreshing shower in the outdoors in a little wooden and slate stall John’s dad built.

Overall I would say it was a good weekend, despite all the contention. I feel rested and restored, and – most importantly – brown from the sun. I shook hands with Travesty when he left, though I wouldn’t say we are going to be friends. I gave Erin and Drew a hug goodbye, and I’m now finally Facebook friends with TJ. My opinion of Ryan and John soared, as they seemed to be sane voices among the crazy. They may not be liberals, but at least they seemed to have brains.

And that, my friends, is how I survived a weekend among the enemy.

Bonus: the funniest video ever that was our weekend soundtrack. You better believe we did the Fork in the Garbage Disposal over and over.