Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

Summer made an impetuous appearance here in Oregon last week. One day it was chilly and rainy and I was wearing my trademark skuzzy sweater. The next day it was in the 90s. I hung up my skuzzy sweater with a “See ya in the fall!” finality, threw on my favorite purple tank top and opened up all the windows. It was hard to stay focused on work, and the impulse to step out on our deck and bask in the sun tugged at my brain.

Good thing I was working on a story about the evils of tanning. “Teens Unaffected by ‘Healthy Tan’ Debate” reminded me of myself. Regardless of skin cancer warnings and admonitions that they’ll end up looking like leather handbags, teens continue to tan in record numbers. Why? For the same reason I did way back in the 1980s: because I thought it made me look better.

“Sun worshipper” does not begin to describe my romance with the almighty sun. Growing up in the snow belt of upstate New York, I pined for intense UV exposure all winter long. After being cooped up in a cold, drafty house for five months, nothing could warm me so thoroughly as the sun. It seemed to heat the frozen marrow in my bones. It energized me, and made me feel as though I could emerge from hibernation, triumphant once more.

The first temperate, relatively mild, sun-dappled days of early spring found me pulling my lawn chair from the barn. Snow banks lurked in the shadows along the sides of the house and under trees, but that didn’t stop me from finding the sunniest spot on the soggy lawn and baring my winter bleached skin. This was just a warm-up.

Memorial Day weekend was a good bet for laying down the base tan. Or base burn, I should say. I’m very fair and always burn before tanning. This I viewed as a mere annoyance, a small challenge to be overcome. With enough persistence and dedication, I could weather the burn.

And weather it I did. I suffered more sunburns than I can count. Sunburns that left me in bed for days, slathered with Noxema (for it’s cooling and moisturizing effect), blisters popping up on my shoulders and forehead (and once, even my eyelids), headaches, nausea and chills that made it impossible to do anything but lie there in misery.

Eventually the burn would fade and my skin would peel—first big sheets of it, dwindling to smaller and smaller bits and flakes. You’d think one ordeal like this would send a girl to the drug store for sunscreen with SPF 50 gagamillion.

Not me. Because once the pain was gone and the peeling had stopped, I was brown underneath. Just as a snake or a crab molts its old skin, I would shed the old winter version of myself to reveal a brand new and revitalized version—in my mind, a brown and attractive version.

I loved that a dark tan made my blue eyes appear bluer. That a tan made me look and feel thinner. That it cleared up my bad teenager skin. I even remember telling my mom, at the age of 14, that I loved how no one could tell that I was blushing when I had a tan (being an overly shy girl, one who was easily embarrassed and scandalized at the slightest provocation, this was a true saving grace).

During summer vacations in high school, I was a professional tanner. I never had summer jobs, so tanning was my job. Good thing I graduated and went to college and started working after that. Sure, I would still tan here and there, but time restrictions were a major stumbling block. It’s hard to get a “deep, dark, savage tan” when you work in an office all day.

Then I started noticing some freckles on my face that I hadn’t had as a child. After traveling in Latin America for six months, my best friend growing up (being her characteristically blunt self) was quick to point out that I had “even more” sun damage. And then I began to examine, with grave suspicion, every mole and imperfection on my body, looking for changes and irregularities in shape and texture.

So last weekend, during our heat wave, after writing the story about teens and tanning, we went to the beach. Instead of slapping on the Hawaiian Tropic, I dutifully applied sunscreen. Rather than prancing around in a bikini at high noon, I wore a long sleeve shirt and a hat, and made every effort to stay out of direct sunlight.

No more tanning for me. No more burning. No more molting. I'll stick with the pale skin I was born with. (Besides, it takes a lot to make me blush these days.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Go Hornets!

The NBA finals are taking place right now. Anyone who knows me is thinking, “What the hell is she talking about?” because I’ve never shown any interest in the NBA or basketball or sports, for that matter.

But when you live with two men who watch every NBA game that’s televised (and we have cable, so that’s a lot) and these two men also play fantasy basketball (and you’re engaged to the 2008 winner of his fantasy basketball league), you’re bound to be exposed to—I mean, inundated with—basketball.

I suppose it was one of those “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” type of things. How ever it happened, I found myself sitting down to watch the games. And I enjoyed it. The athleticism, the gravity-defying assents to the basket, the tattoos, the handsome young things slapping each others’ butts—that’s entertainment.

Then I found out that the New Orleans Hornets are in the finals, and my enthusiasm was kicked up a notch. I may not know sports but I do know that New Orleans isn’t exactly a leading sports franchise kind of town. The fact that New Orleans made it to the finals was a rare and beautiful thing, of this I was certain. Plus New Orleans is Leo’s hometown, and I had spent a summer in New Orleans so this kinship with the city also added to my interest. And after all that New Orleans has been through, I thought, “The city deserves to win. New Orleans needs this.”

So a couple Saturdays ago, I sat down to watch Game One between the New Orleans Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs. I had spent the day buzzing around town, dropping Leo at the groomer and doing some shopping. While flipping through one of the weekly artsy-fartsy newspapers at my favorite coffee shop, I stumbled on an article about a local chocolate maker. “Lulu’s Raw Chocolate Alchemy” promised something akin to an orgasm combined with divine ecstasy. Being that it was “that time of the month,” chocolate was on my list of must-haves. I made a mental note to get me some of that Lulu’s chocolate before I headed home.

When I finally settled into the couch for the Big Game, I was a very happy woman. Leo was clean and fluffy and smelling like a new carpet, the Hornets were looking good, and I had a jar of Lulu’s Lavender Blueberry chocolate to dip into.

As I sat on the couch, watching my team and eating my chocolate, a strange and wondrous thing happened: a wave of warmth and joy radiated through my body, starting somewhere in my belly and spreading down to my toes and up through the top of my head. Hot damn! Was it the chocolate or the fact that the Hornets were up by eight points within the first five minutes of the game?

Sure, the chocolate had promised pleasure not unlike that of Ecstasy but I didn’t really believe it. It had to be my complete and utter shock at seeing the Hornets spank the Spurs (the Spurs are a team we love to hate in this household, because they are so good, and because they play mean, dirty B-ball).

Whatever it was, I found myself transformed into a rabid fan. I was yelling at the TV, telling Manu Ginobli (of the Spurs) to get out of the way and stop being such a little bitch. I was slapping Chris Paul (of the Hornets) on the back, telling him great job on that kamikaze drive to the basket. I concentrated my efforts at the free throw line, saying quietly, “Sink it, Melvin (Hornets), sink it.” And when Tony Parker (Spurs) threatened to drive it to the basket, I said “Oh go home to Eva (Longoria, of “Desperate Housewives”) where you belong!”

Suddenly I was emotionally invested in a sporting event and it was both invigorating and comical. I “woo-hooed!” when New Orleans won the game, and “woo-hooed!” again when they went on to win Game Two. I was devastated when they lost Game Three and thought I might cry when they lost Game Four.

But last night, the Hornets won Game Five. “Step aside, Anthony Bourdain (of “No Reservations”),” I announced. “The Hornets are my new TV crush.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

A headline on our very own findingDulcinea proclaims what I’ve secretly known all along: “Dog Owners Love Pets More than Family.”

The article cites a study performed at Wright State University in Ohio. The study asked more than 100 college students to rate their attachment to family members (including the family dog). Some students reported feeling closer to their dogs than to their fathers.

Maybe the study is a reflection of the sad state of fatherhood as we know it, though I find that interpretation insulting to dogs (sorry, fathers). More likely, it’s just another one of those studies that proves what We the People already knew: some of us would rather spend the day with our dog than with anyone else.

My fiancé has long suspected that I love Leo more than him. Is it the fact that I’ll get up early to walk Leo but I won’t get up early to make coffee for my fiancé before he leaves for work? Or that I spend more money on Leo than I do on my fiancé? Or that I rub and pet and coo at Leo more than I do my fiancé?

It’s precisely these things that make my fiance’s eyebrow arch in consternation. But do I believe for a single moment that Leo loves me back with the same fervor? As the article on findingDulcinea suggests, and as I know from my own experience, the answer is no.

Sure, I like to think that Leo feels a certain fondness for me, or that he misses me when I leave the house (unlike the dog in this video that my friend Heather sent me, who seems to be having a grand old time while his owner is presumably away).

In Leo’s defense, he does get excited when my fiancé and I return home after a night out on the town (it’s me he does his wiggle butt/tail wag/bobble head “welcome home” routine on first). And when I stumble out of bed in the morning, I find him lounging on his couch doing his paw tap/tail wag/bobble head “good morning” routine (reserved expressly for me). And he seems to prefer to take his walks with me rather than my fiancé (my walks are longer and more varied, and allow Leo the freedom to determine the destination; in other words, I let him drag me wherever he wants to go).

But when it comes down to it, the notion that Leo is loyal to me or loves me (or anyone else, for that matter) is just plain false. What Leo “loves” is food and a comfortable place to sleep (preferably on a real piece of furniture—not anything resembling a “dog bed,” thank you very much). If Leo is capable of any sort of recognition of his surroundings and his caretaker, it’s probably more along the lines of: “I got it pretty good here. Two squares a day, plenty of drinking water, my own couch, two daily strolls around town to hunt squirrels and cats and snack on cat poop, belly rubs from an over-eager redhead, and a day at the spa every eight weeks. Not too shabby.”

Clearly, I am Leo’s bitch. He is a social parasite, a charming con artist. Our relationship is a silly charade. “You only want me for my resources!” I tell him between face nuzzles. But then he gives me a stinky kiss, or lightly paws my arm for attention, or does the wiggle butt/tail wag/head bobble routine when I walk in the door, and I’m more than happy to take part in the charade once more.