Friday, April 27, 2012

The Giant Orb in the Sky: Not Just Decorative!

Okay, turn your head to the side as if looking at an emoticon. (I'll fix this later)
Having lived in Seattle for a while, I’d totally forgotten that the word “sun” is sometimes followed by the word “burn.” Today, in Gainesville, I sat out in my friend April’s yard for about an hour, followed by a nice bike ride. It had been ages since I'd just sat in the sunshine, and I was excited—thrilled, even—to soak up some natural Vitamin D. But alas, I accidentally overdosed.

Sunburn is nature’s equivalent to a hangover—while at the bar, you always think you won’t regret it later. Like the drunk person who insists that their drink “doshen’t have ‘ny al’chol innit,” the sunbather thinks the sun’s not affecting her. Until later that night, when she's dancing naked on a table with the Eurotrash a bright scarlet freckle bomb waiting to explode with a vengance.
A picture of me earlier this evening.

At this moment, my nose is so red that I look like I should be flying through the air with a sleigh behind me. The funny thing is, the last time I was this sunburned was ages ago—but also with April. We were about 16, and had spent the day at a water park in Ocala (we were young; it was the 90s…). On the way home, on an interminably long stretch of I-75, we ran out of gas. Somehow, we got the bright idea to take the gas can and just hike on up the freeway in search of a gas station. Two 16-year-old girls wearing bathing suits and shorts, walking down the Interstate at dusk—what could possibly go wrong? After all, it’s not like we lived in a state famous for its many dedicated and accomplished serial killers! Oh, wait... Florida is the #1 "Number of Serial Killers Per Capita State" (too long to go on license plates, so we shorted it to The Sunshine State).

Looking back on it, the scene was like an outtake from the first act of a slasher film and/or a Lifetime Movie and/or a Sweeps Week episode of The Dukes of Hazard. Several tractor trailers whooshed by. One or two of them honked, so we fled to the grassy area on the side of the road. It was only in retrospect that I realized that the trucker dudes probably weren’t honking because they wanted the scantily clad teenage girls to move out of the way. 

We walked for what seemed like miles. Honestly, it probably wasn't that far, but time slows down and distance expands when you're walking along a desolate stretch of Interstate in the middle of nowhere. It was like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, if the unspecified civilization-destroying events in that story had involved a water park in Central Florida (and, really, doesn't that sound about right??).

Finally, an ancient Buick the size of a mastodon pulled up in front of us. A lady in her 60s or 70s with dyed black hair leaned over to roll down her driver’s side window.She smiled as if we were old friends.

“Y’all doin’ all right?”

She asked this as if it weren’t a rhetorical question. I got the feeling she didn’t want to be rude and interrupt us if, by chance, we were simply taking our evening constitutional along an Interstate highway at dusk, while holding a gas can.

We explained the situation. “Hop on in, I’ll take you to get some gas!” Disregarding all that “don’t get into cars with strangers,” noise, April and I hopped into the car with head-spinning alacrity. 

A Wal-Mart employee name tag dangling from the rear-view mirror told us that nice lady’s name was Ruby. "My name is Ruby," she said, as if to confirm that she hadn't stolen Ruby's car and thrown her in the trunk. She was just coming off a long shift at "the store," but she managed to seem cheerful enough about her self-imposed temporary guardianship of two Teenage Water Park Refugees (I SO want to learn to play an instrument, just so I can have a band and call it that...).
Ruby's Buick


“I have granddaughters about your age,” she said. “I’d hate to see them stranded out here at night.”

At this point, I just have to thank my lucky stars that it was Ruby, and not any one of a thousand serial killers or just plain nutcases who could’ve stopped to pick us up. Even if we hadn’t run into some murderer, we might’ve just as easily met our untimely demise if the wrong truck had swerved just a little bit. It’s funny how you never know what moments might’ve been the ones that changed everything. But I've always relied on luck and the assumption that "probably nothing bad will happen," which is why it's a good idea that my career path has never involved access to contaminants or radioactive materials.

But hiking along the Interstate at night was not the biggest folly of that day. That prize would go first to the unfortunate pink-and-orange ruffled bikini I thought was very stylin' (and I thought the ruffles made my boobs look bigger, when in fact, it just looked like I had pink and orange ruffles in the general area where boobs might go). The second prize for the Youthful Folly of the Day was the fact that April and I neglected to wear sunscreen during five hours at a water park. Not a good way to get a tan, as it turns out.The next day, I literally couldn't move, and was in agony when touched. Over the two weeks that followed, my appearance recalled some particularly gruesome cautionary tale from The Old Testament.

Much in the way that one does after a bad hangover, I swore then and there that I would never be sunburned again. While the "I'll never drink another beer, ever!" pledge never seems to last very long, the sun thing really took. Like my Southern Belle ancestors before me, I wore floppy hats, and slathered on buckets of sunscreen any time I went anywhere that wasn't inside while living in Florida. Even in Paris and New York, I never failed to wear sunscreen. But living in Seattle, especially in the winter, wearing sunscreen is about like using a condom if you're trying to get pregnant. Any rays of sun are so scarce and welcome, I want them to penetrate my skin (this series of metaphors is sounding much dirtier than I intended, but it's late, so let's run with it).

Now, it's back to Sunbathers Anonymous for me. I'll have to take it one day at a time.

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