Glow-in-the-dark tan

I LIVED for summer. Summer was ice cream, watermelon, fresh peaches - all cool and sweet, drenching chins and dribbling down dusty arms. It was idle days, making all but the most devoted scholars forget about the multiplication table and the capital of Vermont. Summer was long evening games that never really ended, because we knew as we gathered ourselves in from the darkness, which crept up on us unnoticed, that tomorrow we could pick up where we left off.

It was licensed decadence.

But then summer changed. The fun went out of it. Precisely when this sinister transformation occurred, I can't say, but I do know, in retrospect, why it happened.


A new law (I never read it firsthand, but I knew it by heart) required all females to look like Annette Funicello. Those of us who were shaped more like Gumby and had the coloring of Jackie Coogan were not exempt. And nothing revealed our criminality on this point like appearing in public clad only in a swimsuit.

Briefly I entertained false hopes regarding my profile.

Swimsuits in those days were veritable suits of armor, compared with the hankie-and-shoelace numbers sported by today's teens; so, wearing some of the poolside fashions of the day, it was possible to appear to have more variation in vital statistics than was actually the case. I once owned such a swimsuit. It gave the illusion of shape to my rather cylindrical torso, but I didn't dare try to swim in it, because it took in water like the Titanic.

Since I was nearly six feet tall and weighed about 120 pounds, I eventually acknowledged that the likelihood of my silhouette's being mistaken for Annette's was slimmer than I was.

But the challenge of getting a golden tan was much harder to drop.

My friends would lie out in the sunshine and come back transformed, their teeth flashing white from mouths framed with bronze skin. And they all had lots of advice for me: baby oil with iodine in it, this suntan lotion or that one, tea (inside or out?).... None of it worked.

My skin remained its natural color: glow-in-the-dark white, with freckles.

For years I tried to sunbathe. Others claimed to find pleasure in it, even looked forward to it, but the thrill of being hot and uncomfortable eluded me. I would lie there for four or five hours before looking at the clock and seeing that maybe seven minutes had passed.

I never found it enjoyable (or even pleasant) to lie in the path of scorching sun rays, rivulets of perspiration trickling and tickling my skin, insects buzzing my ears, vultures circling overhead.... And for what? Darker freckles.

A deeply tanned friend once squinted at my skin and asked, ``What do you do when you go out in the sun? Do you get tan? Do you get burned?'' I shook my head. I just get sweaty and cross.

Thinking back on it, I spent almost 30 years sporadically trying to change the color of my skin. From time to time I've managed to come up with a couple of shades of pink, and I was nearly off-white for one whole summer. But I have to wonder how it would have improved the quality of my life if I had achieved that glorious tan.

Failing to come up with a single way in which I'd be better off with darker skin, I've come to accept my untanned self, and now I can go back to enjoying summers again.... In a more mature way than I did as a kid, of course: I've learned to bend forward when I eat a peach, to keep the juice from cascading off my elbows.

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