Take tanning. Tanning is gone, or nearly gone. Only your young teens still lie out on the griddle of pool deck or beach, and the only deeply bronzed people you see in the media are figures of fun, like the neighbor lady in There’s Something About Mary. I remember the audience screaming with laughter when she first appeared on the screen – and that was a good 15 years ago.
Nowadays I’m almost frightened by the sight of a deeply bronzed person. It takes me a good ten or 12 seconds to realize I’m looking at a suntan; a full ten seconds before I stop thinking ‘What on earth happened to this poor prune?’
Your young parents however, totally get it that catching rays is a dangerous practice. Just last weekend I was a looking for some sunscreen to offer a houseguest getting set to take his baby for a stroll.
“Here you go!” I cried triumphantly after rooting around under the bathroom sink for some. “Suntan oil with an SPF factor of 8!”
“SUNTAN OIL?” the young dad repeated with a look of horror. It was as if I had offered him a vial of skin-dissolving acid.
“And with a factor of 8, are you kidding?”
The fact that I think of 8 as super-protective tells it all, especially since I just had a patch of Basal Cell removed my shin, which now looks like someone dug a trench in it with a grapefruit spoon. Live and learn!
Also pretty much gone from the summer scene:
Drive-in movies. Handpush lawn mowers with their wonderful scissoring sound. Dancing in the toxic fog the bug man left behind. Who knew it was DDT, or if they knew who had the sense to warn us away from it rather than toward it? Our parents didn’t seem to know; babes in the woods that we all were, we thought it was just another example of Better Living Through Chemistry as the good people at DuPont used to say.
What about those cute halter-tops girls wore together with hip huggers so as to really show off a tan? My friends and I wore both. We applied Baby Oil to the vast expanse of skin laid bare by such togs and held record albums wrapped in tinfoil under our chins to really train those UV rays at the face .
We sunned on the flat tar roofs of our buildings, and took diet pills prescribed by real doctors, who gave them to any of us wishing to look better in a bathing suit.
The diet pills were amphetamines of course, pure speed, though for sure nobody told ME that. I was 19 and living in Colorado that summer and would look at those Rocky mountains after taking my morning pill and literally think I could walk to the top of any one of them, easy as pie.
I look back now and think the only thing there is to think from the perspective of the years: How did we live to be grownups at all?