Last Word: Burn, Baby, Burn

I love summer. For a short, blissful time, I don’t require fleece-lined underpants or the thermostat set to “Incinerate” to maintain a body temperature above my usual meat locker. I guess that explains why I also love going to the beach.

With line-of-sight to the sun, I spend most weekends splayed on the sand like a reptile wearing orange, stretchy Lycra in a futile attempt to heat my blood enough to survive another year.

However, beach days don’t come without a price. Each June, I’m forced to acknowledge that I haven’t done a single thing to take care of myself in any of the preceding nine months. Then before trying on my summer clothes, I find religion and pray that something still fits after a winter of eating everything that wasn’t nailed down.

Pulling on shorts for the first time, I am instantly suspicious that my neighbors have been supplying the History Channel with that grainy bigfoot video that appears eerily similar to me walking down my driveway to get the mail.

And my feet, liberated after doing time in the witness protection program, require far more work than an ordinary pedicure. Instead, I get on Angie’s List to locate a general contractor who can bring in a backhoe and asphalt grader before I can wear sandals.

Of course, my swimsuit from the year before never fits or is horrible in some way that I only realize after looking at pictures of myself having spent an entire summer in it. So, I’m tasked with finding a new one. Defying all laws of physics, it’s required to cover all my problem areas without leaving just a patch of my hair visible. This is usually unattainable.

The good news is that I don’t need sunscreen. For some inexplicable reason, I can’t seem to stop buying it as if I’m planning to relocate to the equator. There’s a rubber crate full in the garage, more in my beach bags, and I’m considering an underground bunker in case we’re approaching end of days.

It’s probably because I grew up in the ’80s, when catastrophic sunburns were not just acceptable, they were promoted. Back then, we didn’t sweat the small stuff like melanoma and skin damage. Instead we lathered up with WD-40, squeezed lemon juice in our hair and made lying out a full-time career.

On the first 67-degree day in the spring of 1983, I dutifully put on my swimsuit, grabbed a spray bottle and headed out the backyard for my inaugural summer burn. My dad was a photographer then and had a large reflector crafted from aluminum foil, which I borrowed to fully capitalize on my sun time.

In a lawn chair, holding up what loosely resembled a piece of the space shuttle, and listening to Toto lament how losing Rosanna could hurt so bad, I sat for nearly five hours.

I couldn’t have been more scorched if I’d been handed down a guilty verdict by the Salem witch jury.

Giant flakes of skin peeled off my face and body for weeks, and I endured the stares of my high school classmates who couldn’t decide if I had bathed in boric acid or was just molting.

Things are a lot different now, of course. Kids aren’t even allowed outside anymore unless they’re wearing hazmat suits and SPFs of 100 to the second power. Even my husband is afraid of the sun and fears a burn more than getting carjacked.

Because of this, when we get to the beach he spends an hour meticulously spackling on a layer of lotion thicker than drywall cement and then performs the unholy miracle of coming home whiter than before we left.

My teenagers, however, seem doomed to repeat history. Last year on a trip to Florida, my oldest daughter blatantly disregarded my warnings and pleadings to sunscreen her pasty New England skin.

After five hours of lying on her stomach, she was transformed into the human version of a Monte Cristo sandwich; cheese on one side and ham on the other. Every time she sat, stood, walked, inhaled or blinked, she was acutely reminded of her unfortunate decision.

And when her skin began peeling off in giant flakes, I asked her if she’d bathed in boric acid or was just molting.

Huh. I guess things aren’t so different after all.

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