For the past four years, anytime we wanted to take a break from the great outdoors (whether it was too cold or too hot or too wet or whatever), we’ve retreated to Athena Spa, a two-story refuge in midtown near Madison, where they let us take over one of the floors and roam free. We’d hang out reading in the Hwangto dome sauna or inhaling the burning, herbaceous steam in the wet room or sipping drinks and nibbling tasties in the lounge or getting the kinks worked out of our backs and shoulders and butts and calves by their talented masseuses. All naked, of course. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen six or eight or a dozen New Yorkers, many of whom have never met before, walk in off the street, take off every stitch they’re wearing, and luxuriate in the combined bliss of pampering for the body and sparkling conversation for the soul.
Well…nothing lasts forever, alas, and after more than a decade of chasing winter chills and unlocking clenched trapeziuses, Athena is closing its doors at the end of July. It’s the classic Manhattan story: they lost their lease. The owners are directing customers to another spa further uptown, but…it’s not the same. Not even close.
So we returned this week for a farewell bash. Toasted the old place with champagne and SkinnyGirl…brought some Amy Tan, some Stephen King, some Hard Case Crime, some PREACHER…brought together members originally from the UK and Poland, from L.A. and Atlanta and Ozone Park, an NYU frosh and an MIT grad, a downtown artist and an upper west side novelist, and enjoyed four hours or so of unmitigated pleasure.
Goodbye, Athena. You were special, and will sorely be missed. (And we mean “sorely” literally.)
Some of us live in Bushwick, some in Greenpoint, some in Ridgewood (NY, not NJ); a few live in Manhattan, but generally not in tony Upper West Side digs. A conversation at our last event involved one member exulting over having recently gotten 28 books for $23 at The Strand.
But a love of personal freedom, and of wearing less clothing when it’s 90 degrees outside, knows no socioeconomic bounds, and this past Saturday one of our members invited us to her penthouse apartment, complete with 3,000 square foot sundeck. (Sundeck? At 3,000 square feet, let’s call it what it is, a whole second apartment.)
And it was a perfect day for it: clear and bright and sunny, but with clouds scudding across the sun just often enough to keep you from feeling achingly hot. We had close to two dozen people show up, including some old-timers, some first-timers, and everything in between. We had a barbecue grill turning out mouth-watering morsels (thank you, Fresh Direct), and we had a blow-up wading pool big enough to hold eight or nine of us at once. We had copies of Aristotle and The Master and Margarita, Carl Hiaasen and Agatha Christie, Nicholas Sparks and Dan Brown. Plus comics — one of Eric Shanower’s Oz adaptations and, thanks to Craig Yoe, the gorgeous hardcover collection Jack Cole’s Deadly Horror.
But most of all we had the sublime pleasure of lounging around under the sun in as little or as much clothing as we felt like (which for most of us meant nothing at all). And why not? Who did it hurt? We know there are some people who would wag a finger at us and talk sternly about morality, but aren’t they the same people who think things were better back in the Garden of Eden?
Well, postlapsarian we might be, but this Saturday we made ourselves a little Eden. How do you like them apples?
Yesterday, ten of us met at noon on the sun-dappled lawn of Madison Square Park, sandwiched between the Empire State Building to the north and the Flatiron Building to the south…and, for a time, between two school groups, one of young’uns who couldn’t care less about boobs being bared nearby (what’s more appropriate at lunchtime than boobs, in the eyes of nursing-age tots?) and one of slightly older ‘uns who were more intrigued but perfectly polite about it.
Afterwards, a friend of ours who couldn’t make it this time spotted the following on Facebook: “Today we had a great field trip to the Museum of Mathematics and Madison Square Park. However, if you ask my students, the best part was when several Nudists decided to sunbathe right next to us during lunch.”
Nudists? Not really; just a group of friends, women and men, who all enjoyed being shirtless and comfortable under the sun in 87-degree weather. Unless you’re prepared to call all the other shirtless men wandering about the park “Nudists” for doing so, the term’s a bit much for us.
Not to say none of us were tempted to lose our bottoms as well. But we’re saving that for the weekend, and a slightly more private outdoor spot.
Scout Willis has done something very simple and unremarkable: walked around New York topless on a warm summer day, as is every woman’s right and every man’s. But because she posted photos of herself doing it online on services like Instagram and Twitter, she got in trouble for it. That is insane.
The good news is that she is strong and confident and proud and not backing down. Which is why we love her.
(And yes, to respond to every person who has made the suggestion, we have indeed let her know she’s welcome at any of our get-togethers. We bet she’s someone who’d appreciate a good piece of pulp fiction.)
Yesterday was the unofficial start to summer, and we have to say, it felt pretty official. The mercury climbed into the sweltering 80s, and people swarmed outdoors, towels and sunscreen in hand. In Washington Square Park down by NYU, the giant fountain was turned on, and people romped in the cool water with unabashed delight. (Some dogs, too.) When we joined in, the police came by to tell us they’d gotten some two dozen complaining phone calls…but they acknowledged that it was perfectly legal for us to enjoy the sun as shirtless as our male brethren, and in the end left us alone, as they had to.
Cooled by the fountain’s spray, we lay out on the grass and discussed Cartesian philosophy, trips to Greece and Hungary, and the finer points of the pastries our friends at Dominique Ansel baked for us—fresh madeleines and croissants and canneles and kouign amanns. (Kouigns amann?)
First-timers outnumbered old-timers, which is always fun, and we even drew a truly new recruit, who saw us from a distance and came by to join us. Shirt and bra dispensed with, Roald Dahl in hand, she became a full-fledged member of our happy band in less time than it takes to type this sentence.
When the afternoon drew to its inevitable end, one of our number moaned, “I don’t want to put a shirt back on!”