22 Mar

By Request: The Tanning Booth

My sister remembers this story from Seattle fondly, so, given the disappointing turn of events weather-wise (we got a foot of snow yesterday!), I thought I’d repost it while I work on the next story.

Originally written in 1999:

Take the phrase, “where the sun don’t shine.” Popular American expression, right? Or at least familiar to everyone. Let’s say that usually this colloquialism refers to the ass. Given, sometimes it can be used to refer to other parts of the body, but it most often refers to the ass.

Now, let’s examine “ass.” There are several analogies which use “ass” as a part of their comparison, no? Something or someone may “smell like ass.” A stupid or uncooperative person may be an ass, as in, “he’s an ass.” Nowadays, things can even look like ass. People may indeed be attracted to a physical ass, (meaning, of course, a butt instead of a donkey) but still, comparisons containing ass are usually pejorative in nature.

In Seattle, the “sun don’t shine.” Seattle is “ass.” It is apparent, I think, through this linguistic analysis, that people don’t like it when it’s not sunny. It is also simple common sense. Sun is good. It stimlates the production of seratonin or something like that. Ancient cultures used to worship it. It is light and warmth.

Get a load of this: according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the average amount of rain days per year in Seattle is 159. If you take out June through September, the ratio of rain days to non-rain days is 129 to 114. They say this winter has been unusually rainy. In December, for instance, 26 out of 31 days were cloudy. And it’s looking like January may be on track to best December.

It’s starting to get to me, man. And here’s my theory why. In Wisconsin, January is by no means a pleasant month, but it is historically varied. It usually has snow, but it also commonly has a mid-winter thaw known as the January thaw (really, I’m not kidding). Then, February sucks. Winter is starting to get long, and it is usually pretty cloudy. March holds on. It won’t give way. March sucks worse than February. But then by April, your hopes are back. May is pretty nice. June’s good. July and August a little hot and muggy sometimes, but overall pretty nice months. September, awesome. October, awesomer. Even November, not bad, though starting to get colder, but not a problem. December: definitely winter, but hey, first snowfalls, holidays, breaks. December is more than just tolerable. I like it!

The bottom line is that in Wisconsin, you have maybe three months of tiresome weather. I figure that since I’ve lived in Wisconsin pretty much all my life, I’ve slowly built up a tolerance for three months. Three. And that’s why I’ve been able to handle Seattle until now. October, November, December all were terribly the same. Rainy, cloudy and 40-some degrees. That’s it. January is the fourth month. And it’s pushin me over the edge. I’m starting to think about robbing gas stations. The smallest thing gets me really angry. And my whole method of thinking right now always gets me back to the conclusion that Seattle really sucks.

So today I went to the tanning salon. Yes, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t really looking forward to it, though. I envisioned walking in and seeing a beautiful, young and tan woman behind the counter. She would say, (smiling, no doubt), “Hi! Can I help you?”

I’d look around hesitantly and then say, “Yeah, actually, I’m totally embarrassed to be in here, but I think I’m having issues with the lack of sunlight, you know?”

And she’d reply, “Oh yeah, lots of people in this area are the same way. I know when I got out here my freshman year of college, I couldn’t handle it. And the only way I survive now is by tanning.”

This would reassure me a little. I’d say, “Okay, well, I’m not really interested in getting any color, but I just need some uv light cuz I hear that it stimulates something in your brain? I don’t know, do you know anything about that?”

She’d smile again, her teeth seeming to gleam against the backdrop of her tan face, and she’d reply, “Actually, yeah. Sunlight causes your brain to produce seratonin, which is basically what anti-depressant drugs like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft do. What you should do is just put on plenty of sunscreen and make sure you’re getting exposure to the back of your knees as well as your lower back.”

I’d look somewhat shocked by her spewing of knowledge.

“Did you just move out here?” she’d ask.


“How long ago, about four months?”


“And I’m guessing you’re from the northern Midwest.”

“Yeah!” I’d say, thoroughly won over now.

“Yeah, well, this is totally normal. You shouldn’t be embarassed at all.”

And with that, I’d walk into my tanning bed, comforted, confident, and hopeful that the uv light would cure my desire to punch annoying-looking strangers. Perhaps I’d be whistling, too.

Here’s what really happened. This past week basically sucked. I was getting frustrated with my rowing, frustrated with the weather, and bored with my job. And to top it all off, I got a bank charge of $100 for some overdraft fees, one of which was a 77cent purchase on my atm card. This $100 was 25% of my total worth, so it was not something I could afford. The bank refused to give me any sort of lenience, however, so I closed my account and went home and punched the couch.

Throughout the week, then, I was getting angry at the smallest things. And I found myself wanting to not be angry and frustrated, but unable to stop it. Picture this: I’m on the water, trying to row well, getting waked by big boats driven by clueless people who wave at you as you’re struggling to stay afloat in their wake. And just as I’m about to have a temper tantrum and stop and slap my oars against the water repeatedly, a miniature Tim with wings and a halo on his head appears on my right shoulder and says, “Don’t get angry; just breathe and relax and remember why you’re here.”

And then I respond, “Go away! You’re pulling me down to the port side!” And as the angel disappears, I add, “And I’m not sure I do remember why I’m here.”

As my frustration was building throughout the week, I started answering “not so good” to people who asked how I was doing. This one woman I know told me I should either get some cod liver oil or try a couple tanning sessions. “Yeah, I did it last year in like February. Trust me, the weather isn’t gonna get better for a while.” I pondered it, but couldn’t find it within me to not care what others would think. And even though no one else would have to know, I a) wasn’t wholly convinced of its effectiveness, and b) let’s just say I think I’ve found a new by-law for the unwritten code of rowing.

This past week, some other friends of mine whom I trust explained to me the logic of being negatively affected by the lack of sunlight. I called one place and asked their price. It would cost about four or five dollars.

So there you have it. I figured, what the heck.

I got to the place about 20 minutes late cuz I couldn’t find it. I walked in and asked if my appointment was still good. Luckily it was. The girl behind the counter was indeed tan, but she was stuuuupid. I said to her, “Okay, I’m actually totally embarrassed to be in here, but I think I miss the sun. So a couple people told me that this might help. Now, I’ve heard that you’re supposed to get exposure to the back of your knees or something. Is that right? Do you know anything about that?”

She looked at me blankly. When I said I was embarrassed to be here, she looked hurt. And when I asked her about the whole knee thing, she just said, “No, but the bed has lights on the top and bottom so you should get all over.”

Great, I thought, just get me into this room so I don’t have to face other people. So I went in. I put on my 30 spf sunscreen and turned on the bed for 25 minutes. There was a radio and a fan inside my room, and as I was lying there, goggles on my eyes, I found it easy to think of summer. Of fans blowing the curtains up and sending the muggy air drifting past your sweating brow. Of that sightless orange world you see when you look at the noon sun with your eyes closed and soak in its heat and listen to the kids playing down by the water. Of that ligering heat you feel in your skin at the end of the day that carries with it a smell of suntan lotion. Of your dry, salty hair and your somewhat dissheveled appearance that doesn’t bother you at all. And of the budding plans for dinner, maybe a cookout, maybe some ice cream, anything that allows you to sit in a lawn chair and look out over the lake or the ocean and feel the breeze coming in.

I had one slight problem, though, that was getting in the way of all this daydreaming. I kept farting. And it was creating what’s called a “dutch-oven effect.” That is to say, these tanning beds had a top that you would pull down over you so that essentially you were inside this clam-like structure. It would retain smells pretty effectively. I suppose it was really only getting in the way of the daydreaming that involved the sense of smell.

But anyway, my 25 minutes passed slowly (cuz really, I don’t at all enjoy tanning), and at the end, I started getting dressed. I was sweating, but I was in a hurry cuz the chick up front had a timer on me and I didn’t want to go over it and pay extra. So I walk out of the room and there’s three stunningly beautiful college girls all waiting for a place. I stood there, sweating (and probably still smelling somewhat bad), waiting to pay and get the hell out of there. But of course, the first lady waiting went into the room I had just come out of. This only increased my desire to leave, thereby making me more anxious, thereby making me sweat even more.

At last, I got to pay and leave. As I was going out the door, some guy was coming in. “What a dork,” I thought, as I ran through the rain to my car.

P.S. I took some artistic license here. Some or much of the above is actually fictional. I won’t tell you which parts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.