My wife and I spent this week vacationing at the beach with our two 16-year-old daughters. The girls wanted to walk the beach in hopes of bumping into cute millionaire teenage boys, and my wife wanted to work her way through a couple of thick cheap books. I just hoped, for the first time in maybe 10 years, that I'd get a tan.
Before I get angry emails wondering if I've ever heard of sun damage, let me set the record straight. Over the past decade I've spent less and less time in the sun and these days am exposed to nothing more potent than fluorescent lights during daylight hours. This lack of sunlight, combined with my existing 100 percent Irish skin, means that over the past 10 years, I've slowly become paler and paler, until now, if you stood me up in front of a desk lamp, the light would go right through. Edward Cullen gets out in the sun more than I do.
When I was much younger, I worked endlessly, and fruitlessly, on trying to look like Ricardo Montalban. I spent some time working in Central America, in a part of the world where the sun always shines. When I first arrived, the locals started calling me by a Spanish nickname I later learned translated loosely as "Ghost Boy." When I wasn't at my desk, I spent every spare moment sitting out in the sun. I had this idea that if I just spent enough time baking, I'd overcome my genetic tendency toward pastiness. My goal was to become a human Slim Jim. (Actually, "carne seca" in Spanish. I looked it up.)
Months later, after I'd spent so much time in the sun I'd built up the deepest, darkest tan I (personally -- remember genetics) could build up, I heard someone refer to me by another nickname, one I didn't recognize. I was intrigued and asked someone to translate. He couldn't, he said, as he didn't know the word in English, but he pointed to my skin and nodded meaningfully and approvingly.
For about a day and a half, I walked around thinking I was now known as "The Mahogany One From the North" or maybe "The Dark American." (I knew it wasn't "Carne Seca.") Finally, I got a Spanish-English dictionary and looked up my new name. I was, it seemed, known to everyone I worked with as "Lobster Boy."
This past week's vacation, then, would be a great opportunity to spend an entire week trying to regain my former glory. In the lead up to our trip, as a sort of warm-up, I drove around with the sunroof open, I walked on the sunny side of the street, and I lingered in any shaft of sunlight I encountered.
When we got to the beach, though, I realized that the only swimsuit I had was a "Dad" suit. It was age-appropriate but would kind of make sitting out in the sun pointless. I'd end up with a tan that stopped right below my armpits and didn't resume again till we got into sock territory, only slightly more skin than a traditional farmer's tan. So I kind of rolled the top down a bit on my suit, and the legs up a bit, so at least my lower torso and upper legs would get some attention. Then I settled back to bake.
After a few minutes, my wife walked over to the chaise lounge where I was spread out like a fresh chicken. There was a serious problem, she whispered, that might disrupt our vacation. I looked up in concern. Both our daughters, she said, were going to go back to the house for the duration if I didn't "cover up." My thighs, they said, were unseemly.
I looked over my wife and daughters, all of them in bikinis that covered far less than my Dad shorts. I got up and moved my chaise lounge to the side deck, where I could sit and tan at will, without so much criticism.
Twenty years have passed since the last time I seriously tried to get a tan, but one thing hasn't changed: "El Langosta Nino" still doesn't get any respect.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.