The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

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.


I think – gasp – I’m going – gasp – to pass out! Bikram yoga February 2, 2010

Filed under: experiment,Moments of hilarity,Places to go — Alden @ 4:39 am
Tags: , ,

Bikram yoga is supposed to have all sorts of benefits. According to (maintained by the practice’s namesake who pioneered the movement) it just about solves every problem. Do you have kidney disease? Bulging disk? Sinus infection? Dengue fever? Well, then pull on your Lululemon hot pants and get down to your local Bikram studio, because your problems will be solved!

Ok, maybe not. I’m not sure I believe in the magical healing powers of contorting your body while you drip sweat, even if the website does give long, heart-warming testimonials for each of their hundred listed ailments from a client whose life has been changed. I mean, hardly scientific. But it really can’t hurt. You know how you work out in the gym and then get in the sauna? Well, just think of Bikram yoga as saving you some time by combining the two.

The main benefits for which people go are weight loss and detoxification. Lord knows I need some detoxifying, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to lose a couple!

I didn’t really know any of this before I showed up this evening to Bikram Yoga NYC. All I know is that I had gotten a Groupon for one month of yoga on the cheap, and I decided, “Why not?” I hoped it would motivate me to get my cubicle-bound, soft little butt into the classroom. I haven’t been to yoga in forever. Partly because of the new job, partly because of laziness, partly because of drinking on the weekends. So I packed a bag before work and put it on my priority list. With classes starting as late as 9:45 pm, I have no excuse not to go.

One of Bikram Yoga NYC’s locations is located on the second floor of a building on 72nd Street and Amsterdam. As soon as I pushed open the door to the studio, a wave of soggy, warm air hit me. I was a half hour early, but there was already a waiting list. (Once you are a member, you can reserve a spot ahead of time online.)

I fought my way through the overcrowded little locker room, trying to avoid touching the apologetically naked women who didn’t seem to realize I had a prize view of their cootchy when they bent over. Ew. As soon as I could, I stuffed my bags into a locker and went back into the lobby to discover I had gotten off the waiting list and into a class. Score!

When I got up to the classroom, I found it to be very long and thin, with two rows of twenty people each pressed together, mat to mat. It’s a good thing it’s not a flailing, power-type of yoga, or else there would be some bruises. The classroom already felt like a swamp, and everyone was wearing tiny little shorts and sports bras. I, in my misguided modesty, was wearing long pants and a tank. A decision I would later regret.

In front of me was a hairy, middle-aged guy with nothing on except short shorts. I would get disturbingly acquainted with that guy’s back and the v-neck design his back hair made during the class. Two people to my right was a beautiful girl in her twenties with ornate tattoos all over her arms. And a few over from her was a girl with an Astroturf haircut. “How do you give yourself an Astroturf haircut?” you might ask. Well, you buzz your hair into a strip from ear to ear, leaving bangs in the front and your hair long in the back, and then dye that strip neon green. Beautiful.

Not really.

Anyway, the little Asian instructor bounced in right on time. She was leanly muscled, the picture of a well-practiced yogi. She took the names of all the “new friends,” including me, and then exhorted us to move to the outside, where it wouldn’t be so hot. I stayed put. I could take it! I’m a 7-mile-jogging, regular-yoga-attending, weight-lifting, former athlete!

Oh, how wrong I was.

We started with deep breathing and stretching exercises and then moved into basic stretching poses. “Streeeeetch yor body out!” She would exhort us. “Puuuuuuuh [pull]  yor stomach uuuuuup!” Like she was on the toilet straining instead of trying to get us to stay upright. I couldn’t understand half the things she said, but at least she was enthusiastic.

The poses themselves weren’t that bad, nothing I didn’t do in all of my other yoga classes. But as the class progressed, the air became thicker and hotter, until I felt like I was drinking soup instead of breathing. At 4o minutes, I thought I would pass out, and I still had 50 more minutes to go.

I’ve only felt like this three times before. And every time it was August, during field hockey preseason, right after sprints, as the ground spun beneath me and a felt that either I would collapse or vomit. But here I was in a little box with 39 other people, voluntarily subjecting myself to what felt like water boarding. I kept going through that yoga class, occasionally dropping to the ground to suck in slightly cooler air, kind of like what you’re supposed to do if you are in a fire. Stop, drop, and breathe deep!

When the class mercifully ended, I stumbled out and down the stairs. I had to sit for a bit in the locker room and just get my energy back. I needed time to fill my lungs back up with regular air.

So will I go back?

Yes. I bought a whole month of yoga, and damn it, I’m gonna use it! Plus the athlete in side of me is telling myself to stop being such a wuss. All signs point to it getting better, including all the happy and energized women who milled around me in the locker room right after. There were some -ahem- chubby people in that yoga class, but they made it through. If they can do it, So. Can. I.

Update: This morning I weighed myself, and I’ve dropped 3 pounds since Sunday. It’s gotta be the yoga.


I just registered for this sweet yoga/baking session: December 10, 2009

Filed under: events,Food — Alden @ 11:34 pm
Tags: , , , ,

From Dages:

As we head into Winter, our bodies naturally yearn for a time of introspection and deep meditation. This afternoon workshop will lead you deeply inside through an exploration of asanas, meditation, and chanting, to facilitate your internal journey. Join us for a deeply restorative yoga practice designed to soothe the nervous system, calm the mind, and rejuvenate your body and spirit.

In the Sangha Yoga kitchen, you’ll learn easy ways to make seasonal goodies that are healthy, egg/sugar-free, and delicious. Bring them to your potlucks and parties throughout the season and enjoy the sweetness of the season without sugar! Once we’ve made the goodies, we’ll move into the Sangha Yoga studio for our restorative yoga practice and enjoy the nectar of inner unfolding and unwinding. After the practice, we’ll have time to savor all the goodies we made along with new friends and some hot mulled cider!

We’ll make:

  • Scrumptious Almond-Oat Bites
  • Raw Chocolate Date Truffles
  • No Bake Chocolate Drops
  • Spiced Cider

About Leigh: Leigh Evans is a yoga teacher and dancer dedicated to awakening creativity and aliveness in the body. Since 1985, she has practiced Hatha Yoga in the Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga traditions in the U.S. and India. Leigh has been teaching yoga for 16 years. Her classes focus on healing and transformation by blending a strong vinyasa practice with gentler restorative asanas, meditation, and chanting. Her emphasis is on developing mindfulness through the yoga practice, inviting you to witness the shifting sensations of the body and attune to the inner unfolding of each asana. Leigh loves the practice of yoga for the peacefulness and clarity of mind that comes from the breath flowing freely in the body. Leigh is the Director of the Greenhouse Holistic Yoga Teacher Training Program. She teaches workshops and retreats nationally and internationally.

Where: Sangha Yoga Shala, 107 N. 3rd St. #2H, Brooklyn, NY 11211
When: December 12, 3-6pm
How Much: $60 for 1 person, $90 for 2 people,
Early Bird Discount, pay by Dec 1, $50 for one person, $80 for 2 people

To register


The healthiest weekend ever, with yoga! November 10, 2009

Filed under: Food — Alden @ 10:07 pm
Tags: , ,

Foyer Chandelier

So I finally signed up for yoga classes at a studio down the street, Life in Motion, a few weeks ago. And I’m so glad I did! This is not the yoga I did in college. First off, they start by chanting, “oooommmmm” at the beginning of every class. The first time I was kind of like, “What the f? Um, sure ok.” But really, it’s cool! The vibrations from 20 or more people chanting is a very unique experience.

The classes themselves are challenging, even the “basic” ones. But I LOVE it. After every hour and a half session I feel so stretchy, bendy, and totally in shape. And peaceful, of course. It’s also a great place to meet locals.

So when an instructor named Amanda announced there were some spaces left in her yoga retreat, I jumped at the chance. Nevermind I had only been taking classes for a few weeks. Amanda emailed me back and told me no worries, I would have a great time.

It was a windy, frigid New York night when I arrived at the Beacon train station. I waited with another retreat attendee, Diane, for our ride to come. I was thinking that the retreat would be held at some hippy-dippy rustic, buddhist temple-ish lodge with minimal heating. You can imagine my surprise when we drove through the stone gates (the place is aptly called Stone Gate) and around the driveway in front of a gorgeous old mansion.

Stone Gate

The couple that owns it is in the process of renovating this old gem, and meanwhile rents it out to people like us for weekends or weddings. (They have a website here.)  It has three stories of intricate crown molding, chandeliers, and creaky, curving, wooden staircases, and more than enough room for fifteen people to sleep comfortably.


Dages, (pronounced day-jes) was our cook. She specializes in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Although there were only a couple vegetarians on the trip, she still provided the participants with delicious meals concocted of bizarre yet insanely nutritious ingredients: squash, turnips, bok choy, napa cabbage, seitan and tempeh for a meat-like deliciousness, and kale and brussel sprouts from Stone Gate farm next door. Most of the ingredients were locally sourced, in-season veggies from the Park Slope food Co-Op. We were all disappointed to learn that it’s a members-only store.


In the mornings we woke around nine, and would wander down for a freshly made smoothie with berries and almond milk, platters of melon and pomegranate seeds, and hot tea. Then we would converge in what looks like it might have been a formal living room, with a bay window that bathes the floor in morning sunshine. When we were on our backs or doing backbends, it was a pleasure to gaze up at the plaster fruits and leaves that ornamented the ceiling .

Almost two hours of yoga followed, with us trying to balance upside down, or just pouring sweat as we smoothly rotated through challenging positions with the help of Amanda and Ariel. An hour in the spicy scent of Dages’ cooking would waft down the hall and into our room. It was waiting for us in the dining room when we were done meditating.

With our extra time, we would stroll in the artfully crumbling back garden – reminiscent of old European gardens – with it’s symmetry, fountain, roses, and cracked balustrades. At night, after a second yoga session, we relaxed with wine from the adorable little wine shop in town, and nibbled on organic chocolates while we lingered over the dining room table, discussing chakras and homeopathic medicine. (Effective? Crazy? Who knows…)

Ryan and a chicken

We even took a trip next door to see the source of our food. Stone Gate Farm is what used to be Stone Gate’s outhouses. Now it belongs to a photographer and his family, who raise chickens for the eggs, and grow enough food to share in the local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

So was the weekend worth it? Absolutely. I met some pretty cool people. (Ok, some yoga people can be a little bit bizarre. But for the most part, very cool.) And I got to relax in a beautiful setting.

I know one thing. I had been trying to break my personal running speed of five miles at 8:10 per mile. On Monday morning I ran five miles in 40 minutes and 10 seconds. Thats 8:02 per mile. Was it the food? The yoga? Both? Who cares?