Monday, July 7, 2014

Bolts and Screws

The little girl wandered into her daddy’s workshop even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to be there.  How is it that small feet so often find themselves in places they’ve been told not to go?

“What are you doing down here?” she asked the back of his head.

The daddy turned.  The little girl’s voice wasn’t big enough to startle him, but he was definitely surprised to see her in the basement.

“I’m doing what all daddies do in the basement,” he said.  “I’m making a monster.”

“Oh,” she said, and tried her hardest not to glance into the too-dark corners.  And then, after an uncertain pause she said, “A monster? Can I see it?  Where is it?”

“Oh it’s hiding down here in the dark,” he answered.  “But I’m not sure you should see it yet.  Monsters can be very frightening, especially to little girls.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” she said, her eyes wide.

“No?” he replied.  “You know that monster that lives under your bed?  Where do you think he came from?  And the one in your closet?  And what about the one that peeks under your brother’s door after we turn off the lights?  (Well, to be honest, that monster was already in the house when we moved in.)  But those other ones I made down here, in the basement.”

The daddy carefully laid his hammer on his workbench next to a glass jar full of rusty bolts and screws.  The jar once held something like grape jelly, pasta sauce, or dill pickles, but now it was filled with a mismatched assortment of pieces and parts leftover after various projects.  Every workshop, it seems, has one almost exactly like it.

Noticing the jar, the little girl asked, “what are those for?”

“Those?  Oh, those are the bolts that hold the monster together.”

“They must be very special bolts if they’re strong enough to hold a whole monster together,” she said.  “But daddy, what if the monster is too frightening?  What if you make it too well?”

The father was good at building monsters, but he wasn’t a skilled question answerer.  After taking the moment his inexperience required, he said, “If you grow up one day and decide you’re tired of having a monster under your bed, or in your desk drawer, or creeping around the corners of your marriage, or wherever you decide to keep all the monsters I make, all you have to do is wait until they hold still for a moment and then take out their bolts.  Most of the time, they’ll fall right apart.”

“But how will I do that,” the girl asked.  “How will I remove them, and what if they’re screwed in too tightly?  And how will I make the monster stand still?”

But before the daddy could answer, a very old monster – one he had apparently neglected for quite a long time – jumped out of the shadows and gobbled him up in one big bite.

Then, after a loud burp, the monster ducked back into the shadows and left the little girl alone with her questions.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Location, Location, Location.

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” – C.S. Lewis

1.  Sticky Side Down

She didn’t mean any harm.  She was just digging.  And isn’t digging what little girls do at the beach?  But her little brother didn’t like it, not one single bit.

“Look what you’ve done!” he shouted.  “Stooooooop!!”

To be fair, the long gash leading from the surf to the castle’s moat did look a bit infected.  It bubbled and foamed each time a wave attacked and retreated.  But each time the water emptied, the wound also seemed to slowly heal as the sides collapsed into each other and the bottom rose.  In fact, after a few more waves the cut would barely be noticeable as a faint scar on the wet sand.

The boy, visibly upset by his sister’s digging, asked their mother if he could get a band-aid out of the small “emergency box” he knew she kept in their bag.

“Why, sweetheart?” she asked.  “What did you do?”

But before he could answer, the boy had already pulled the paper back off the flesh-colored bandage and laid it carefully on the beach, sticky side down.

“There,” he said, gently pressing the band-aid onto the sand to make sure it was secure.  “Now, isn’t that better?”

Later that day, a teenage girl was drawing a heart in the wet sand with her toe when a soggy band-aid washed onto her foot. 

She screamed.

2.  Soup

Jesse and Sarah had been all over the city looking for something to eat.  Sure, they’d found a castoff crust here and there, but nothing substantial.  For them, as for many of their brothers and sisters on the street, hunger sometimes drove them to terrible places.  No trashcan was too smelly.  No crust too stale.  No offering too small. 

And then they saw it -- a bowl of fresh, undisturbed gazpacho.  The chilled soup was sitting on the corner table of a sidewalk café on E 57th St.  The restaurant was one of those quaint spots where the city’s fashionable housewives pause during their afternoons of shopping to eat off of white clothed bistro tables in the open air.

Of course, there were also breadsticks on the table, but it was the pale red soup that caught Jesse’s attention -- a beautiful soup left unguarded while its fashionably dressed owner, who had spent the morning sipping over-priced vinti coffees, discretely used the restaurant’s ladies’ room.

Jesse and Sarah sat on a park bench across the street from the soup, trying to look inconspicuous.

“I don’t know,” Sarah protested.  “We really probably shouldn’t.”

“We probably shouldn’t?!” Jesse snapped.  “We also probably shouldn’t be eating out of trashcans… but we are.  We also probably shouldn’t be drinking leftover beer out of other people’s cups… but we are.  We also probably shouldn’t be following bratty kids around the park hoping their nannies will forget where Jr. set down his organic peanut butter and free range jelly sandwich… but we are.  So, you can stay here on this bench if you want, but I’m about to have some fresh $12.95 soup, all thanks to Mrs. Well Fed Rich Lady and her tiny bladder.”

Jesse lifted himself off the bench and crossed 57th St.  He casually hovered around the cluster of tables, drawing not a few uneasy glances from the café’s diners, until we was confident the coast was clear.  Then, ever so carefully, he descended on the soup and took a long, slow sip.

The sweetness of the tomatoes… the rich olive oil… glorious.

Consumed as he was by the delicious broth, Jesse didn’t see the woman with the large sunglasses returning to her table.  He was lowering his head for a second drink when he heard her yell.

“Waiter,” she barked.  “What kind of place is this?!  I leave my table for two minutes, and you bring me a bowl of soup with a fly in it?!  Disgraceful.”

3.  Never Been Married

The reason she’d never been married was that she’d never been in love with a living man.  She’d been too busy loving Jesus, that long-haired boyfriend who never seems to call back, to find a boy that might one day want to lie with her.

And then Ken showed up.  He was clean and cut and they almost instantly knew which hymns would be sung at their wedding.  Six months later, those hymns were indeed sung at their wedding.  She wore a white dress, and even her best friends (who knew everything about her), knew the color was appropriate.

Not surprisingly, her brother thought it would be funny to decorate the getaway car with condoms.  For an hour, while the bridesmaids fussed over his sister, Dave and his friends tore dozens of square foil packages and got slippery lipped as they blew up the condoms they then tied to her car.  What better way to send his Disney princess of a sister into wedded bliss, he thought, than in a condom-covered car with a note under the windshield wiper reading “May Your Love Know No Barriers”?

Kate and her groom were halfway down Spring St. on that blessed Saturday afternoon before she paid any attention to the torpedo shaped “balloons” on the car.  When one broke free from the side mirror, she was mortified and said, “oh, I hate to leave that nasty thing on the street! What if a child finds it?”

Her Prince Charming smiled, but didn’t stop the car.  He wasn’t going to stop now – especially not for a condom.


Mrs Murphy lived in a house separated from Spring St. by little more than a narrow sidewalk and a slender rose garden.  The widow stayed on a constant vigil to keep her rose beds free from the beer cans and potato chip bags that blew into yard on a regular basis.

But on Saturday evening when she went to sprinkle crushed egg shells under the flowering bushes and found a limp condom hanging from one of the thorny stems, Mrs. Murphy’s disdain for “litter” reached a new high.  

Shaking her head, she sighed.  “…practically Sodom and Gomorrah.”

4. An Issue of Blood

In those days there was a man named Jesus, the son of a carpenter.  Because of his great love for the people, he walked from village to village feeding the hungry and caring for the poor.  And he taught them many things.

And it came to pass that as he passed through a certain village, Jesus encountered a young woman suffering from an issue of blood.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

Trembling with fear, the woman fell at Jesus’ feet and asked “why are the sins of my fathers being visited upon me in this way?  If you only wished it, I know you could make me well.”

“Arise, my child,” he said.  “I have an uncle, a skilled surgeon, who lives just across the border in El Paso.  In his house there are many rooms.  I will go and prepare a place for you.”

And behold, it came to pass that Jesus did, in fact, prepare a place for her and provided for her every need.  The woman (who was called Angelina) healed nicely and lived in the US for the rest of her days, doing honorable work among her citizen neighbors.

But Jesus, having angered the local authorities by speeding in a school zone, was deported back to Chihuahua.  And there he fell among thieves, and his uncle heard from him no more.

Monday, December 16, 2013


The building at 439 Argyle St. had reached that awkward age before it could be called historic, when it was still simply run down.  The building and its neighbors formed an urban forest that families of tenants migrated through like birds. Sometimes these tenants fit together well and shared their walls without too much fuss.  But when they didn’t match – when the senior citizens got tired of smelling marijuana in the laundry room or the young professionals played their music so loud the writers couldn’t find their words – someone would eventually migrate to another building and make space for the next hopeful renter.

The new girl in apartment 3C rented the space “as is.”  She had just broken up with her boyfriend.  (Or maybe he had broken up with her?  Although she made the final proclamation, it seemed his tendency to share both his bed and his body with virtual strangers was an aggressively non-verbal way of saying “I think we should see other people.”)  In the end, it didn’t matter who euthanized the relationship.  The apartment was his, and that meant she needed a place to land.

And so, even though 3C’s brightly painted walls had not yet been covered with the requisite “apartment white,” she signed the lease, shook the hand, and thought, “It’s colorful and it has character.  I can make this work.”

But shortly after the furniture was arranged and the boxes unpacked, it became painfully clear to the woman that the red kitchen walls clashed with her curtains and her couch didn’t look great against the blue in the den.  None of her prints or posters worked on the green accent wall, and the bedroom was such an unusual shade of brown that she fell into sleep every night with the subtle (but very real) fear that she was being buried alive.

Despite her initial confidence that she could deal with a few minor color clashes, the woman soon realized that she needed the fresh start that comes with a blank canvass of white walls.  Thanks to her lying, cheating, bastard of a boyfriend, the past few months had been entirely too colorful.  She needed a clean backdrop against which she could re-arrange her life.

Excited at the prospect of “doing for herself,” the woman went alone to the hardware store to find a neutral palate for her walls.  There, under bright and dishonest fluorescent lights, she thumbed through the dizzying collection of white, off white, eggshell, bone, cloud, cream, and frost-colored paint chips. 

She had no idea starting over could come in such a wide array of almost-colors.

The next day, after moving her furniture, taping the baseboards, and covering the floor, the woman rolled clean white paint over the apartment’s too-colorful past, replacing red, blue, and green with calm, white neutrality.  The woman worked through the night, painting each room into something that resembled the inside of an egg.

Finally, when every hint of color was gone, she scooted each piece of furniture back to its proper place, always careful not to scuff her clean, white walls.
The problem started in her bedroom, as her problems often did.  While getting ready for work one morning, the woman looked up and noticed a patch of brown on the wall just above her dresser.  It seemed impossible that after an entire week of dressing and undressing in the small cloud-colored room she would only just now notice the unpainted brown square.  Puzzled, the woman made a mental note to “touch up” the spot when she got home from work.

That evening, when she walked into the kitchen with her arms full of groceries, she was surprised to find a similar problem in the kitchen.  Her white kitchen walls were turning pink – which clashed with the curtains even worse than the red had.  Further inspection also revealed a rash of green on the former accent wall and a line of blue bleeding through the white corners of the den.

“How odd,” the woman thought.  “I suppose I should have used primer.”

The woman spent the next weekend re-moving the furniture, re-taping the baseboards, re-covering the floor, and re-painting the apartment with three coats of a non-color called “Clean Cotton.”  Afterward, as she removed the masking tape, the woman carefully inspected her work to make sure she hadn’t missed any spots or patches.  Satisfied that her home was now thoroughly whitewashed, the woman cleaned her brushes and treated herself to a hard-earned beer.

Four days later, the color was back.  This time, instead of slowly creeping across the walls like sweat through a shirt, the color simply appeared.  When the woman went to bed, the walls were white.  The next morning, the white was gone.  She awoke in a brown bedroom, ate breakfast in a red kitchen, and watched the morning news in a startlingly blue den.  The woman rode to work that day in frustrated – and stunned – silence.

The next weekend, the woman invited several of her friends to her apartment for a “painting party.”  Her friends were gracious and hardworking people who were apparently willing to overlook the fact that painting and partying never actually happen in the same space.  Together the friends spread three coats of “Fresh Snow” on the stubborn walls.  But by the time they had ordered a pizza and drunk a few of the requisite painting party beers, “Fresh Snow” was already melting to reveal the red, blue, green, and brown walls beneath.

Having spent a small fortune on paint and brushes, the woman finally tapped into her vacation fund and hired a team of professional painters.  Two overweight Italian men spent most of the next Tuesday afternoon attacking the walls with several gallons of acrylic-based “Mother’s Milk.”  When the painters finished, the woman sighed and told them not to bother moving the furniture back against the walls.  She could already see the color creeping back through.

It seemed her walls didn’t want to be white.
Exhausted, the woman finally did what she should have done months ago - she called her mother.

“I hope you realize that every time you paint those walls, you’re making your apartment a few gallons smaller,” her mother said. “And besides… why do you want a white apartment?  My wedding dress was white, and so was your grandmother’s, and it was a lie both times.”

Her sister was equally as helpful.

“Is it so horrible if the walls don’t perfectly match your over-coordinated life?  You might be looking for something fresh and new, but that apartment’s not fresh and new. It’s been lived in, just like you have. Don’t you think it’s a little arrogant to walk into that old place and expect it to start over?”

And her best boy friend:

“Can you blame them?  After all, blank pages aren’t terribly interesting until you write on them.  I’d be pissed, too, if somebody came along and tried to erase all my interesting.”

The woman hung up the phone.  She walked through her red kitchen and sat in her blue den.  She looked at the green across from her and wondered...  were the walls being stubborn, or were they right?

Before she moved into the apartment and filled it with her furniture, books, and baggage, its walls had already hosted dozens of birthday parties, book clubs, and movie nights.  They had seen the arguments and orgasms of every family that had lived there.  Who was she to erase the history that seasoned these walls – the stories that would seep through even if she tried her hardest to cover them?

And so, instead of asking the apartment to loose itself under her relentless paintbrush, the woman let herself be its next tenant.  She threw away several unopened gallons of “Cresting Cloud” and bought a new bedspread that looked great in her bedroom.  She also found four striped pillows for her couch and decided that it was fine for her curtains to clash with the kitchen’s red.  A little conflict made dinner more interesting.

The woman grew to love her colorful and complicated apartment.  She even told a few of her friends that she couldn’t imagine why she ever wanted it to be white.  “White walls are about as interesting as sleeping babies,” she said one night at the bar.  “Sure, they’re new and beautiful… but they don’t have any good stories.”

Not long after, the woman came home from work and found that her spare bedroom, where she did most of her reading, writing, and singing too loudly with the radio, had become the same pale yellow as her favorite spring sweater.  

And it always would be. 

And that made her very, very happy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Stay Away

It’s not uncommon to see people – men and women – rehearsing on the subway. Young white women hold scripts in their laps, whispering lines as the train rocks them toward an audition. Young black men stand in front of subway doors, looking at their reflection in the glass, watching themselves rap, imagining that the voice in their headphones is actually their own.

The woman got on the Q train at Canal St., shuffled into a seat, and sat with her knees pressed tightly together. Around her, tourists crowded together in clumps, hot with vacation sweat and proud of themselves for buying big, counterfeit purses in Chinatown. Those who noticed the woman might have wondered what it was like to be her – an Asian woman in the almost-foreign country of New York City’s lower east side. Most of the tourists, however, either didn’t notice the woman or pressed her so tightly behind several hundred other vacation memories that they never thought of her again.

In her lap, the woman held a small spiral-bound notebook. It was the kind of notebook little girls fill with stickers and the meaningless scribbles they pretend are words. In the pages of the notebook the woman copied and recopied the strange new English letters, training her hand to remember the way they felt. On its pages she carefully drew the vowels and consonants, stitching them together into something like language. Over it she whispered the clumsy new words that felt big and sticky in her mouth. The notebbook was her private rehearsal space, where she practiced the sounds she couldn’t yet say and studied the words she didn’t yet understand.
The man looked down and saw the woman’s opened notebook. He wasn’t spying. He was just noticing. When it’s been a hard day and the commute is long and your arm is tired from holding the chrome bar above your head, it’s natural to let both your chin and gaze drop. On days like that, it’s easy to let yourself look down and scan someone else’s magazine… someone else’s crossword puzzle… someone else’s cleavage.

On those days, it’s easy to notice the notebook in the small Asian woman’s lap.

There, on the blue lined page, printed in too-neat letters, he couldn’t help but notice that the woman had written:

I won’t let you control me anymore
You’ve made my life a misery
Do not telephone me
Stay away

The woman’s lips moved slowly as she studied the words. Like a child trying to read the Sunday Times to her father, she furrowed her brow in concentration.

Won’t let you control me… Life a misery… Stay away

Obviously, these weren’t sentences the woman learned in a language guide. They weren’t the rote “practical English for non-native speakers” phrases that are recited in dingy community center classrooms.

“No,” the man thought, “someone helped her form these thoughts. Someone helped her craft this syntax, this story.”

As he scanned the lines on her page, the man felt (what?) for her. Sadness? Regret? Pity? After all, these were phrases a person shouldn’t have to rehearse in another person’s language. These were phrases that should slip easily off the tongue like fire, hot and rampant. Unchecked. Yet here the woman sat, silently mouthing the words. Studying.

Control… Misery… Stay away

But the man understood… or he thought he did.

Like most people, he was familiar with the ache of not just speaking words like these, but planning to speak them. Rehearsing them. Anticipating them. He knew what it was like to sit in stammering frustration as the right words lodge stubbornly in your chest.

Do not telephone me

He guessed that in a week, or a month (or maybe more?), the woman would finally feel confident enough to step off the train and say those lines to someone. But to who? Who was the person she had apparently lived with in love (and then frustration) for so long that she could no longer bear being not understood? Who was this man she couldn’t talk to – this person she had been intimate with, without being intimate? And how long could she ride the train with that notebook in her lap, waiting to tell him?

Stay away.

The man turned his head and pretended not to see.
At 8th St., the train slowed to a stop, as it always did. The bell sounded. The conductor’s voice announced the station and reminded passengers where they would stop next. People pushed and shoved as tourists tried to enter the train before commuters had a chance to leave.

The woman looked up from her notebook and saw her friend board the train. The friend stood in the doorway for a moment, scanning the car, apparently looking for the woman. When she saw the woman, the friend tilted her head sympathetically. The woman’s eyes filled with tears and closed, pressing heavy drops down her cheeks. When she opened them, the friend was standing in front of her, looking down with both concern and an anger that’s the truest sign of loyalty.

“甜美的花,我不明白。那个混蛋对你说了什么”, she asked. (Sweet Flower, I don’t understand. What did that jerk say to you?)

“我不知道 “ (I’m not sure) the woman replied, and handed her friend the notebook.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Man With No Number

Yesterday I was summonsed for jury duty. I’ve been waiting for this day for 17 years.

Call me crazy, but I don’t understand why people try so hard to get out of jury duty. Yesterday, when the clerk asked for anyone who thought they should be excused to form an orderly line, 50 people stood and queued to the left of the bench. None of them were dressed as if they would rush back to the office as soon as they were dismissed and put the final touches on their groundbreaking cure for cancer, finish drafting a pre-approved mid-east peace treaty, or tighten the last bolts on one of those anti-gravity hover cars I’ve been expecting since I was 7-years-old.

On the contrary, if they were excused, each of these men and women were planning to go home, turn off their cell phones, and waste the afternoon by watching television. Like me, they’ve all spent a significant portion of their lives sitting on a couch in front of the square-headed time eater. And what have they been watching?

2000’s: American Idol, a show where we watch young “singers” perform so we can responsibly cast our vote as to whether they’ve presented a strong enough case to stay and compete on the next week's show. Paula, Simon, and Randy are the judges. America is the jury.

1990’s: Law & Order, a show where the legal process in action – from arrest to prosecution – holds the attention of millions of people for 60 minutes (or up to 5 hours if you get drawn into a vortex of re-runs on TNT) every week… or, if you get caught in the previously mentioned syndication vortex, every day.

1980’s: The People’s Court. One of the earliest examples of reality TV, The People’s Court gave daytime television watchers a voyeur's seat at the legal system’s bedroom window. While we folded laundry and waited for Al Gore to develop the internet, didn’t we all try to guess how Judge Wapner would settle “The Case of the Overdone Underthings”?

Honestly, who hasn’t succumbed to the guilty pleasure of Divorce Court? Who wouldn’t recognize Judge Judy if they passed her on the street? What child of the 80’s can claim that he/she didn’t ask to stay up after The Cosby Show and Cheers to watch as Judge Harry T. Stone presided over his zany Night Court? What baby boomer doesn’t know how Perry Mason ended every week?

I’m sure Oliver North, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and OJ Simpson each wish America wasn’t addicted to the drama of our legal system at work.

I’m also sure John Grisham is thankful we are. His book-to-movie fortune has been funded by courtroom junkies who love reading/watching stories with titles like The Firm, The Client, and Runaway Jury.

And yet, when given the opportunity to watch legal drama in real-life, 50 people lined up yesterday in a Brooklyn courthouse to say “No thank you. I’d rather not see the live show. I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD or maybe buy the paperback.

Fortunately, as these men and women gave their carefully rehearsed excuses to the court clerk, I was sitting close enough to the bench to overhear many of their reasons for “why I can’t help protect the innocent (or punish the guilty, depending on whether your glass is more full or more empty) today.”

My favorite excuse? A middle-aged man handed his summons to the court clerk and asked (in a heavy Brooklyn accent) to be dismissed. The clerk, confirming that the man wasn’t an immigrant (despite his Brooklyn Forever! accent), politely asked “sir, where were you born?”

“I’m from Brooklyn,” the man said, barely hiding his pride that he’s never been above 23rd street.

“Then why didn’t you fill in your Social Security Number?”

“I was born here in Brooklyn,” the man confirmed, “but they never gave me one of those Social Security Numbers. They must’a forgot. Can I go?”

Bank accounts. Insurance forms. Tax returns. W4’s. 1099’s. Credit card applications. Marriage licenses. Certificates of divorce. All of these documents require a Social Security Number. Is it possible for a 40-year-old man to live in Brooklyn, USA his whole life without having a "Social"?

Did the man really expect the court to believe that the US Government, who uses this number to make sure every citizen pays every penny of tax they owe, simply forgot to issue him one? It would have made more sense for the man to tell the clerk he was waiting for Uncle Sam to issue him a new Social Security Number ‘cause his old one was broken.

The clerk rolled his eyes and told Citizen X to sit down and finish his paperwork. I laughed aloud, wondering again why people gripe and groan when given free tickets to this marvelous show.

Tomorrow, the man with no number will sit on a jury. Together with 11 other fair and impartial strangers, he will be forced to do in public what many of us voluntarily do in private – pass judgment.

I hope he’s more fair than he is clever.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There Should Always Be Dancing

A man danced during an earthquake and believed his steps shook the world. When his dancing stopped, the man saw what he assumed his joy had done, and swore to never dance again.

Foolish man. There should always be dancing.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

Protected by the long shadows of tall buildings, my virgin city skin hadn’t seen the sun in many months. Imagine its surprise when I arrived in Florida, stripped my shirt, and asked it to gradually toast from flour white to a light, golden brown. I know I should have given it more warning. If I had, maybe it wouldn’t have skipped brown, paused only briefly at pink, and committed itself to a stunning shade of red in less than two hours.

At the time, exposing my skin to the roasting sun didn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to do. After all, even at its hottest, a summer day in Florida is seldom hotter than 100°. Although 100° is undeniably hot, it’s not technically “scorching hot.” An average oven in an average kitchen doesn’t even offer 100° as an option. The dials on most ovens start at a “warm” (and basically useless) 250°. Chocolate chip cookies refuse to bake if offered anything less than 350°. The bread in your toaster expects at least 400° before it will properly toast.

Why, then, was a relatively cool 95° day able to thoroughly burn my skin in less than two hours?

The answer, of course, is concealed by my clever cooking metaphor. Everyone knows that playing in the Florida sun has become less like playing in a conventional oven and more like playing in a microwave oven. Thanks to teenagers spraying Aqua-Net in the 1980’s, soccer moms driving SUVs in the 1990’s, and armies burning oil wells in the 2000’s, Florida’s summer sun can now scorch your skin quicker than ever before.

You may ask, “Why did you let yourself get burned, Bryan? Haven’t you been listening to Al Gore? Haven’t you been paying attention to global warming, the greenhouse effect, the hole in the ozone layer, and the dangers of UV radiation? Don’t you know that an afternoon at the beach is practically as dangerous as smoking a cigarette or eating out of old Tupperware? Why didn’t you wear sun-screen?”

Well… I did.

Before my first day on the beach, I carefully applied suntan lotion to every inch of my exposed skin. I even lotioned a few places that weren’t currently exposed, but threatened to be. Because I knew each body part would receive a different amount of sun, I covered each with a different strength of lotion.

Ears/nose/shoulders: 70. Face/neck: 50. Chest/back/arms: 40. Legs: 35.

When I finally walked onto the beach, my collective SPF (sun protective factor) sounded like a Master Lock combination.

And yet, despite my diligence, by lunch-time my shoulders and arms were already the color of a perfectly cooked filet mignon. (For vegetarian readers who might not understand this reference, I basically just said that “my shoulders and arms were hot pink and warm to the touch.”)

I spent the rest of my vacation swimming in a t-shirt, hoping that wet cotton has an SPF of “impenetrable.”


Like the best vacation, the good parts of most days pass too quickly. And like the bright summer sun, even nice things sometimes cause unexpected pain. The worst of these hurts are the ones that surprise us – the ones that come without warning – the ones we didn’t know we needed to protect ourselves against.

Friends too quickly become former friends. Lovers too quickly become former lovers. Jobs too quickly become former jobs. It’s so easy to get burned. Nobody is impenetrable.

I recently got burned, and it hurt. But after the hurt healed – after the damaged layers peeled away and the red faded into tan – I realized that my new, deeper color makes me more interesting.

Of course, getting burned also contributes to wrinkles, leathery skin, weird moles, and premature aging – but that’s not the point.

The point is – I got burned, but it got better.