I know how to burn things. Trash, marshmallows—I can burn both with equal skill. Indeed, my proficiency is such that I occasionally burn water when I heat it up to make spaghetti.
My skin also burns easily. Toward the end of summer, people whisper about me as I walk down the street: “Look over there, Gladys! That man has been exposed to nuclear radiation! Run for your life!” or “Wow, my prescription bottle didn’t list ‘MAY SEE MOVING FIRE HYDRANTS’ as a side effect, but there’s one coming toward me!” (When I was a small child, a woman once picked me up and aimed me at her face, having mistaken me for an open tube of lipstick.)*
The worst news is that girls are not attracted to guys sporting a five-alarm sunburn. You don’t hear them saying, “That guy is ugly and skinnier than a Fourth of July sparkler, but check out his sunburn!” No, the way I understand it, they want to be seen with a guy who has spent endless summer days on the beach achieving a tan. If I, on the other hand, were to spend endless summer days on the beach, the only thing I would achieve is a strong working relationship with the closest fire extinguisher.
One day I thought, There has to be a way for a guy like me to get a good tan. I wonder if any of those “No Sunlight Needed” tanning products actually work? There was one way to find out.
Later that day I placed the bottle of Super Q Tanning Foam on the store counter. The magic words “No Sunlight Needed” were clearly displayed at the bottom of the bottle’s front label. “That will be $7.39,” the clerk stated. I paid up and headed for home. Girls would soon be turning their heads in my direction!
I didn’t have much time to get my quick tan. My pal Greg now had a driver’s license, and he and his special friend Holly were going to pick me up for an outing in just a few hours. Would they ever be surprised when they saw me!
I yanked off the bottle’s lid and squirted the foam all over my face and arms. The instructions said not to overdo it, and to wait a while between coatings. I don’t have that much time, I reasoned. So I waited a few minutes, then applied another layer of foam. I quickly began seeing results. “Yes! It’s working!” I cried out.
Repeating the regimen often, I allowed the chemicals to work their magic over the course of the next several hours. Just a few minutes before Greg and Holly were to arrive, I looked once more in the mirror. My earlier prediction had come true! Girls, Greg, Holly, and many others would be not merely surprised, but actually stunned at my appearance. Sad but true, my face had now taken on a ghastly, glowing carrotlike hue!
Fully mortified, I quickly grabbed soap and a washcloth and began scrubbing hard, trying to scrape off the coloring. But all was in vain. The chemicals had seeped deep into my skin pigment and refused to budge.
Honk, honk! Greg and Holly had pulled into the driveway. I can’t let them see me this way! Keeping my head down, I dashed outside and hopped into the car’s back seat.
But I’d forgotten about the rearview mirror. Greg whipped around and looked at me. “Wh-what happened to you?” he asked, shocked. Then Holly took a gander at me. She seemed close to fainting.
“I, uh, well, instant . . . tan . . . let’s just go, OK?”
I remain hopeful that someday my friends will experience full recovery from the episode. As for me, the color eventually faded away, though shades of embarrassment linger on.
Trying to be something you’re not isn’t such a hot idea. And funny thing, it turns out that most girls put “good tan” way down on their priority list of “What I Look for in a Guy,” if it shows up at all.
Well, I gotta go scrub some more of this orange color off my face. There’s still hope—it’s only been 20 years or so.†
*In the writing business, we call such statements “hyperbole.” Other people call them “lies.”