Monday, February 06, 2006

One Hot Mama

I saw a cute teenage girl this morning who looked unusually tan for February (though most people look "unusually tan" when standing next to me, I of the no-melanin-at-all persuasion), and for a moment I was puzzled by her golden hue. It seemed out of context in the middle of such bleak weather, but after a split second my brain clicked and I realized that the origin of her tan had nothing to do with nature and everything to do with a booth and some "mystical" spray.

I couldn't help but wish that we had only had the luxury of the spray-on tan back in my college days, and my thoughts immediately took me back to Starkville. Which took me back to Derby Day. Which took me back to a small salon on Highway 25 and an ill-fated 17-minute stay in a tanning bed.

It was March, you see, and the annual Sigma Chi Derby Day was fast approaching. Our sorority t-shirts were going to be red, and one of the powers-that-be at the time decided that we should wear white shorts. Fear and trembling filled my soul, because when you have no melanin in your skin, white shorts are perhaps the most unflattering garment that you could possibly put against your pasty legs because really, they only serve to enhance the blue in your veins.

Since I didn't have the power to fight the Sorority Dress Code, I figured that I needed to be proactive and somehow change the color of my legs. WHY IN THE WORLD this bothered me I couldn't tell you - now I would just put on the white shorts and be done with it - but there was much planning and calculating on my end. First I tried some self-tanner, but in the late 80's the only thing self-tanner did, at least on me, was create an unnatural orange shade. I had no choice but to undertake option #2.

The day before Derby Day, I made an appointment with a local salon that had 5 or 6 tanning beds. Unbeknownst to me, some beds had stronger bulbs than others, but since I didn't know one bed from another, I picked the one with the cutest name and made my way down the hall to the bed called Bora Bora.

In hindsight there are many things I could have done differently. But I think the main piece of advice I'd give to my former self would be, "Put on sunscreen." You see, it never occurred to me that stepping into a tanning bed without some sort of lotion or sunscreen would be the equivalent of stepping onto a beach at noon, nude, covered in Crisco, and staying there for three hours. It seems that I was deceived by the misnomer "tanning bed," which frankly, in my case, should have been called "burn-up-your-milky-white-behind bed," but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I had a 30 minute appointment, but in a fit of responsible behavior I decided that 17 minutes was plenty. Plus, I was burning up, and I've never really been one to enjoy activities that involve heat. So I got out of the "tanning" bed, put on my clothes, and drove back to my dorm. I looked forward to the golden tan that would no doubt greet me in the morning.

Morning came, and there was no tan. I figured I didn't stay in Bora Bora long enough, had wasted $15, and gloomily donned my white shorts and red t-shirt. I have a vivid memory of standing outside the Chi O house as we prepared to walk over to Derby Day - I hoped that I wouldn't be an embarrassment to the sisterhood, because the rest of the girls had golden tans which contrasted ever-so-beautifully with their white shorts.

Over the course of the day I noticed that my face felt flush, but I chalked it up to all the derby-ish excitement. I didn't pay much attention until around tug-o-war time, when my legs started to feel ever-so-slightly warm. I noticed my normal chalky whiteness turning to pale pink, then brighter pink, then red - and I knew I was in trouble. By the time I got back to my dorm room, I was, as they say, ablaze with color.

I remember that I went out that night with Bryan I., and at the time he drove some sort of Jimmy / Blazer truck. The primary reason I remember that was because I had to climb into it and out of it, and my knees, well, they weren't bending so well. We had a lovely time, as I recall, and it's a mighty good thing - because by the time I got home later that night, I knew I was in Capital T Trouble. Bora Bora bit back. And hard.

At first there was the nausea, and after a couple of hours of fighting it I finally surrendered and went down the hall to the COMMUNITY BATHROOM, where I LAID DOWN and even SLEPT A BIT. The tile provided sweet relief - because I cannot tell you how burning up hot I was. I rubbed Noxzema over every part of my body - and I don't care what kind of mental image that conjures, because OH, I was on fire with the heat of a thousand suns. Or bulbs, as it were. As it turns out, though, that Saturday night was the easy part. Sunday was much more difficult.

By Sunday afternoon the backs of my knees had started to scab and ooze. As a result, I could not bend my knees at all, and that did present a bit of a problem in a collegiate setting where there are Many, Many Stairs. I will never forget that I had a history test that Monday morning, and I needed to go study with Elizabeth Martin because she was very smart and always "went to class" and "took notes." She lived in a different dorm, however, and I had to walk up several flights of stairs to get to her room. I swear it took me 25 minutes to get from the parking lot of McKee Dorm up to the "intensive study floor" where she lived, and when I got there, I couldn't sit because it hurt too much to bend my knees that way, and Elizabeth really wasn't very interested in helping me because I had "skipped class" and "not taken notes," so at some point I just gave up and walked, stiff-legged, back down to my car where I had to slide under the steering wheel with the seat pushed back as far as it would go because there was no way, no way at all that my knees would ever. bend. again.

I did get better over the course of the next few days. By the next week, I even attempted to skate at a Chi O Owl Court skating party (tragic mistake - because when I fell, the scabs on the backs of my knees prevented me from getting up, and if memory serves P-Dub finally just let me hold on to his waist while he propelled me around the skating rink, and when I needed to stop I would hurl myself into the waist-level wall because it would break my fall). The pictures from this event are hysterical - and if I can find one I will scan it and post it - because I wore a hot pink sweater that, as it turned out, perfectly matched the color of my face. AND, I might add, the scabs over the water blisters leaked a time or nine, so my jeans were covered with blister-y liquid all across the backs of the knees. Really, I don't why I didn't come away from that event with several potential suitors.

I can't imagine that I've ever looked more attractive.


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