As I write this I am in the middle of the peeling stage. It’s still miserable but not as unbearable as it once was. The problem is that I have pale skin, the kind of pale skin that just cries out for eugenics. I tan eventually, but it almost requires one bad burn a summer to make that happen. I’m not Irish, but most of my ancestry is German, Dutch, and English, so when God and his angels were passing out the melanin in heaven, I didn’t get much. Maybe one day, with the help of genetic engineering, people like me can be born with parasols that shoot out of our vertebrae at the first contact of direct sunlight. Or maybe one day they’ll just give us all stars to wear and put us on cattle trucks bound for Siberia or Finland.
On the day of the tubing trip I had meant to get my own sunblock. I went to Wal-Mart the night before and got everything I meant to get except sunblock. Then the next morning I was running late and knew the other group was waiting for us, so when Katina said she had sunblock that was good enough for me. It was 40+ sunblock, so it wasn’t lightweight stuff. I had already been a little burned a few weeks prior at a weekend pool excursion, but it had heeled. I figured I might just be alright.
We put on our sunblock in line for the tubes, and this, for me, was the first mistake. Sunblock should be put on in advance of direct contact with sunlight. The directions on the bottle usually read something like a half an hour in advance of going into sunlight. For people like me, this should translate to one application the night before and then another one an hour before you get in the sun; do not shower in between applications.
The second problem was when the sunblock that Katina purchased stopped coming out of the bottle. All of us got one application. That was it. It was one of those new fangled spray bottles, and it was hard to get it to come out. Eventually it didn’t come out at all, no matter how hard we pressed down on the trigger.
The good thing about floating down the river on tubes is that most of the time I was not in a position to burn my back, which meant I still got to sleep like a baby. When we got back I went to Wal-Mart first thing and bought my very own tube of 50+ sunscreen, a stick of the same stuff for my face, a bottle of aloe vera lotion, and a jar of Noxzema. I knew the sunburn was pretty bad. People stared at me as I shopped. A little Hispanic baby with plenty of melanin of her own, actually stared and pointed like I was a new and heretofore unseen race with actual red skin. You just thought Native Americans were red.
I took my stuff home and was looking forward to lathering myself in several applications of Noxzema when it occurred to me that I needed to call my parents to wish them a Happy Anniversary. My mother answered. My father was napping. My mother is a nurse. I mentioned my plans. She said I couldn’t do that. No lotion until my skin actually stopped radiating heat. Otherwise, I’d be trapping the heat in and cooking the skin. It works along the same principle as those clear plastic roasting bags they sell for baking turkeys. This would make things worse. She recommended cold water, cold showers, and ice.
Katina called the next day, probably to see if I was alright, or if the heat had literally baked me clear through. She recommended white vinegar. So, I made a trip to HEB. I bought an empty mister bottle like the kind you are supposed to use to iron clothes. I got a large bottle of distilled white vinegar. I also bought a bag of ice and the cheapest styrofoam cooler I could find. This I saved for after I went to bed. Then I misted myself all evening with white vinegar, which, apparently, if you look it up on the internet is a legitimate form of sunburn relief. It has analgesic properties. It reduces swelling. So, basting myself like a turkey for the next couple days until my skin finally stopped radiating heat, did actually help. The weird thing is that I did actually smell like salad the next day. I don’t think other people noticed, but in the middle of the day I would suddenly sniff vinegar.
I’ve been sunburned before. Unfortunately, I’ve been sunburned many times before, but never quite like this. It actually reminds me of the way we cook lobsters by boiling them alive. It almost makes me think about not eating lobsters anymore out of solidarity. But lobsters are so good, with melted butter. And you know those cheese herb biscuits you can get at Red Lobster? Mmmmmmm. Yeah, unfortunately I’m low on principle at the moment. Does anyone want to go to Red Lobster this weekend? Call me.