Archive for the ‘Florida Tan Tuesday’ Category

My Own Grapes of Wrath – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 8

October 6, 2009

Our vacation to Florida had sadly come to an end and we left as the sun was peeking over the horizon, with our sites set on a stopover for the night somewhere in South Carolina. It was sad because when you think about it, there was no real vacation, at least not the perception any of us had of a Florida vacation. But we all bear our crosses and that summer, that cross was that damned first day spent at the beach.

The sun beat on the car as we zoomed north along Rt 95 and with the aid of the pillow from the Naples trip, I was able to at least sit back in somewhat comfort as we sped along the highway. It was a long, often quiet drive as the southern July heat overtook the interior of the car and we were all shimmering with perspiration in spite of the air conditioner’s valiant efforts to exhale, with all its might, what cool air it could in its attempt to do battle against the rising temperature. Bless its little heart.

I watched as the scenery flew by in a blur and wondered what was in store for when I would return to work, my first full time job…oh, right, you know, the one with the crazy Italian lady. I sat in the back seat of the car, my arms safely hidden from the sun under a towel draped over my shoulders and another towel was across my exposed legs and I was fairly successful at keeping myself covered.

Once, when I shifted, I noticed some white spots dotting my thighs and with a swipe of my hand over my skin, they disappeared. Must have been beads of sweat collecting. But they were back a little while later and in great quantity. These spots were the beginning of water blisters that grew larger and larger at an alarming rate and not just on my thighs, but down across both my legs and feet. The ones on my arms remained fairly small and inconspicuous, all the while resembling nothing more than collected beads of sweat. When we stopped at a rest area for a potty break, my only concern was how to get from the car to the rest room without exposing what freakishly looked like grape clusters clinging to my body, the grapevine. I wrapped one of the towels around my waist and hunched over ever so slightly to allow the bottom of it to cover as much of my feet as possible–all the while still having to walk on my tiptoes–and nonchalantly saunter into the men’s room as though no one would notice. Of course the next obstacle was to maneuver all of my wrappings and take care of business and not let the towel fall. What a sight I must have been.

Later in the afternoon we had finally stopped for the day at a Days Inn because nowhere else would please Grandma and there wasn’t a Knights Inn available and my translucent grape clusters were plumper than ever. It was suggested that maybe a dip in the pool, that the chlorinated water, might help dry out my water blisters. Well, did I have to lose? After we checked into our room I tippy-toed to the pool, draped once again in my towel and I quickly lowered myself into the water, keeping my grip on the pool’s edge so I wouldn’t have to add drowning to the calamitous list of vacation “don’ts”.

I’d had enough sloshing around for one afternoon and began my ascent up the ladder. All at once I caught glimpse of a site I never expected and lost all consciousness of my surroundings; I was too deeply withdrawn into my own hysteria. As I emerged from the water, it was a scene reminiscent of the creature from the black lagoon; most of the water blisters, except those not fully formed, pulling the skin to the breaking point, had bursted in the pool and all that swollen skin was now hanging in shreds off my legs. Was this nightmare ever going to end?

Fast forward to returning home and getting back to work and for quite some time there was no chance of solitude or anonymity because I was leaving a trail of dead flaky peelings everywhere I went. I never did get that rich supple Florida tan I was so craving. In fact my skin just grew a lighter shade of red as I molted and after about two weeks, the metamorphosis had been completed and I think I was even more fish belly white than when I started out. I have gotten a sunburn or two since, but ones that paled (no pun intended) to this one.

The moral of this story is, to paraphrase Grandma B’s strict warning to Ariel about me, watch yourself in the sun. It’s so easy to overdo it, especially with today’s sun; lather up and take it in small doses.



Oblivion – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 7

September 29, 2009

I don’t remember much of the rest of the trip to Naples beyond Grandma S’s regretting the fact that she couldn’t hug and squeeze me as she was prone to do. I remember hearing her say “bless his little heart” numerous times when she would glance in my direction, a phrase she was famous for (bless his/her/their little heart) and seeing the washed out image of a black and white western (most likely a John Wayne picture) playing on her portable TV. And I noticed she still had the compact stereo turntable, which was an incentive for joining the Columbia House Record Club. We all had one. In fact I still have the speakers from ours somewhere, but I’m getting off the track. And next to her was a smoldering Chesterfield in an ashtray. That was the extent of my awareness during the entire visit before I must have lost consciousness and I also have no recollection of the trip home, whether I was so exhausted I was able to sleep or if I sat up with my arms draped over the front seat. Perhaps I did and fell asleep in that position. I just don’t remember.

As a matter of fact, the rest of my glorious Florida vacation remains sketchy. I think I must have finally resigned myself to the fact that nothing really vacation-like was going to take place and slept and stayed out of everyone’s way while they salvaged what they could of the trip. Most daily, though, Grandma B’s neighbor, Aretta, would come over to check on the patient. Being a true dyed in the wool southerner, she could completely sympathize with my dilemma.

There was a new development in my condition later in the week. I started to form blisters, little yellowish pus-filled abscesses like the ones that plagued Linda while she was still with us down there. It was all I could do to keep from touching them–you know how things like that just call to be touched, sometimes to the breaking point, like a loose thread on a shirt that you keep on pulling at until you’ve got a huge hole under your arm.

Also later in the week I was able to walk a little easier. I still had to stand on my tippy toes and keep moving so I wouldn’t loose my balance and go flatfooted and experience that ripping skin sensation. I was even feeling well enough one day to join everyone on a trip to Publix grocery store. It was a chance to get out and I went for it. I used a cart to hold onto, like a walker, to get around the store, cruising up and down the aisles, even sometimes reaching for stuff off the shelves and only those items between shoulder and waist high. I had to put my entire body robotically into because I could stretch my arms only so far, and couldn’t grab anything very heavy. A box of Pop Tarts was my limit. I came across a particular food product I used to conduct telephone consumer surveys about for a marketing research company I worked for while I was in my senior year of high school and before I started my job in the factory, the one with the crazy Italian lady…remember her? I don’t remember the name of this boxed food product–Kitchen Kettle, Country Kitchen…I’ll try to find out and let you know, but it was a complete meat dish (with gravy and diced veggies) in a sealed foil pouch that got heated in a pot of boiling water, snipped open and poured onto your plate, maybe over rice or pasta or by itself. It was processed so that  the DVD sized boxes could be stored in your cabinet. We picked up a few flavors to try them, and as I recall, they weren’t bad. They were sold only in the southern states.

At one point, as we were walking around the store, I noticed a wet spot on the front of my shirt and I also noticed the sensation of possibly sweat running down my back. The store was nicely air conditioned so it couldn’t have been that. And for sure it was not sweat. It was the ever enlarging blisters erupting. Perfect timing. In public. Further humiliation. Just what I needed.

But this was not the last time I would deal with an outbreak of blisters as you’ll see in next week’s serio-comic and ironic conclusion to this story.

This/That: The Road To Naples – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 6

September 22, 2009

The next morning, secure in knowing Linda had returned home safely to her mother’s care the day before, we began our trip to visit “that” grandmother, Grandma S, my father’s mother who lived in Naples, Florida, since she moved there from NJ some years before. The “that” refers to the way I used to indicate, when I was a young’n, which grandma I wanted to visit; the left index finger meant a left hand turn, once we got to the Garden State Parkway because she lived to the north of us and “this” referred to the right hand turn we made to the south to go see Grandma B. So, in essence, here in Florida, we were with this grandma, going to see that one.

Since my grandfather had never been that far south in Florida before, he took as gospel the driving directions of an uncle, by marriage, to “that” grandma’s daughter, who was a beast of a man in both stature and oftentimes demeanor. “Two hours. Two and a half, tops,” he said with an assuring tone. We’d realize later that tone was laced with deception. “We do it all the time,” he said, referring to my aunt and himself, because sometimes, when he wasn’t busy “wrastlin'” or “chawing tabacky” or some other manly thing, he would go to rub grandma’s sore feet, with his “magical healing hands”. Armed with my medication and the two tiered candle we bought at Volusia Mall, near the airport where we waved goodbye to Linda the day before, we struck out on our journey at 10am on the dot.

The directions were clear, the day was pleasant, but long into the ride my arms were rethinking their agreement to be hooked over the front seat, the stance I elected to take to avoid the smallest amount of jostling against the burned skin on my back, in spite of having the softest pillow to rest against “this” grandma could find. Grandpa stopped to top off the gas tank and take a recalculating second look at the map. And yeah, it looked like we could be getting there soon.

That “soon” had long since passed by the time we were on a long road, barren of any signs of civilization, all of us in desperate need of food and drink. Finally (could it really have been an hour later?) the road opened up and were passing some Hall of Fame Wax Museum. I don’t know which it was and of course, we didn’t stop.

But like a gift from the heavens, we came to a place we could stop to eat. The exterior decor was like a Swiss ski chalet and once inside the heavy oaken doors, we were greeted by a smiling waitress in her peasant dress uniform, looking like she had just come down off the mountain, victorious in a yodeling contest. Great, I thought, I can put my years of honor-winning studies of high school German to the test. We shuffled to a corner table, of my choosing, so I would not be the subject of jeering and jokes by others in the place and the waitress took our order then disappeared into the kitchen. I don’t remember if I put any of my German skills to the test.

We ate our meal–I remember I had the Sauerbraten–and as we were leaving, Hans (I’m assuming), the yodel queen’s cook husband, a dark haired man with a rubbery face met us to suggest rubbing the sap from the Aloe Vera plant on my four day old and worsening sunburn. Aloe Vera? What is that? It was hard not to take such friendly and concerned advice from someone with a malleable and sympathetic face. He also suggested we consider a day trip to the Wax Museum and to the Shell Factory next door and of course to be his guests at his restaurant when we did so. Time was slipping away, and already, not counting the lunch stop, three hours of traveling had gone by and after our good-byes to Hans and his wife, we were back on the road hoping that Naples wouldn’t be much further and I could find relief for my tense cramped body and stiffened back from having to hold myself upright during this “two and a half hour tops” drive.

We were finally closing in on our target, we could just sense it, as the sky was turning a queer rusty hue. The sound of electrical interference crackled on the AM radio station but through the static we did hear warnings of a tornado and the blowing wind quickly ushered in a deluge of rain so violent that driving was impossible and grandpa pulled over to the shoulder. We sat in the car in the blinding downpour, fearing for our safety on the side of the highway, but as abruptly as the rain had begun, that’s how quickly it stopped. I pulled myself up from the few moments of resting against my downy soft pillow and hooked my arms over the front seat yet again while we maneuvered across the highway to the parking lot of a shopping center in hopes of finding a phone to call Grandma S to see just how much further we had to go, which, gratefully was within another thirty minutes.

Travel time tally, not including lunch or storm stopover: we were closing in on 7 hours and my poor purple feet were about as swollen and stretched as they could be without bursting–one had to look closely to see that I had toes–and my insteps had a slick translucence to them with spidery veins creating intricate patterns like the road map we were following all over them.

Look To The Northern Sky – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 5

September 15, 2009

When the doctor was finished with me in our curtained cubicle, seeing how much of me was NOT burned, he left me to get dressed and then met with all of us to hand out a stack of papers; prescriptions, manuals on the care and treatment of second degree burns and pamphlets on reasons to avoid the sun. Good one, doc, where were you yesterday, say, around 10am? Quack!

Once we got comfortably situated back at the trailer, my mother and grandmother headed out once again, this time to a pharmacy about a half hour away to get our prescriptions filled.

Donna was elected to stay behind again and not only did she provide comfort to her badly shaken girlfriend and tote glassful after glassful of ice water to keep us hydrated, but I think she subconsciously tried to put us both out of our misery by way of smoke inhalation when the dinner she was making was pretty much burned beyond recognition.

When we were all reunited about two hours later, medicine was dispensed and the edible remains of dinner were dished out. Miraculously, Linda was able to shuffle to the kitchen while I was unable to get off the sofa. Oh, I should mention here that I’d been transplanted from the cot to the sofa, the tweed upholstered sofa because it was higher and therefore thought to be easier to get on and off of. Well, not so much. I tended to sink into the plush cushions as opposed to laying on a rigidity of stretched canvas and it was more of a challenge to hoist my crisp carcass out of there. Maybe it was subliminal added punishment. As the others silently looked on, I managed to get myself into a sitting position and lowered my feet to the floor. I attempted to push myself up with every ounce of strength I could muster but still could not stand erect enough to move myself into the kitchen. Imagine this position: bent over at the waist, knees bent, upper body just about resting on my thighs (perfect for a slalom) and trying to walk. Go ahead, try it. What was I going to do in the middle of the night if I had to get to the bathroom? Necessity is the mother…of all sorts of things.

Tears streamed down my face when I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the table and my pain was heightened by mother’s continued lecture, in that condescending tone, on stupidity. Well, grandma wasn’t having it, she couldn’t stand seeing me in pain and she brought my dinner to me but I couldn’t stay in this seated position long enough to eat, so I took my last medicine for the day, settled myself on that tweed sofa and drifted off to sleep.

Linda was on the phone with her mother bright and early the next morning and it was decided Linda would fly home. It was also suggested I would fly home also, but I chose to stay in Florida. We got to the airport and got Linda checked in and ascertained there would be a crew standing by to assist her when she had to change planes in South Carolina. We tried to keep the atmosphere as light and jovial as possible, hoping her red, swollen and blistered condition wouldn’t frighten the rest of the passengers on the plane. Finally her flight was called and it was one of those planes you had to board from the ground. The heat was too intense for me to stand outside so I watched from inside until we were ready to go.

So the day wouldn’t be a total loss and since it was just across the highway from the airport, we decided to go to the shopping mall. We had to pick out a gift for my other grandmother who lived in Naples, Florida we were supposed to be going to visit the next day. I found a nice decorative two-tier waterfall design candle in the store Wicks ‘N Sticks. When I went to pay for it, the saleslady at the register took one look at me and said, “Y’all are from the north?” “Yes,” I said, “could you tell by my NJ accent?” “No,” she chuckled, in that friendly southern way, “but most northerners usually end up getting sunburned like that.” I felt…unspecial.

So far, two days into our Florida vacation and we’ve seen such exhilarating sites as the inside of the trailer, the inside of the car, the hospital, the airport and the candle store.

More adventures would await us the next day as we set out on our 2-3 hour trip to Naples.

PS.  After McGinty published yesterday, some new material was added, so you can check that out below.


Salt In The Wound – Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 4

September 8, 2009

Finally, July 6th was behind us. Now all we had to do was get through July 7–and subsequently the coming week–and today the nightmare was just beginning to take shape. An air of pseudo-normalcy overtook the trailer while breakfast dishes were clanging in the kitchen where only four occupied a table set for six. Linda and I, in separate rooms, were radiating our heat all around us. Tears were useless  to cry because they only evaporated from our cheeks–okay, maybe that’s going a little far– but there were tears caused by the helpless realization that natural movement such as raising an arm (forget about walking) was no longer an option.

Nevertheless, Donna was put in charge of taking care of Linda and me while the adults went off on a grocery shopping expedition and they planned  to stop at the local hospital to inquire about any possible options for relief for the two of us, armed with the question, “Would aloe or Solarcaine be better?”

We were a hideous sight, Linda and I. To say we were red is an understatement; we were so burned there was a hint of purple in our swollen skin. Unfortunately for Linda, her swelling was a little more intense to the point of facial disfiguration. Deep creases radiated from her nose from the intense bloating that seemed be stretching her skin to its limit and it gave the illusion as though the center of her face had sunken into her skull. So, Donna’s duties included making sure we stayed hydrated, calm and she sat by Linda’s side when she made call after call home to her now worried mother who had been otherwise unsuspectingly enjoying her own summer afternoon back home. And when Donna had a spare minute, what do you think she was doing? Getting more sun. Bless her olive complection.

The best treatment for us, we found out, was to return to the hospital for specialized care. Aloe was only a temporary fix and really best for a first degree burn and  the oils in Solarcaine would be further irritating from being “cooked”. Linda’s mother gave her consent for Linda to see a doctor so off to town we went. Grandpa was tiring of being in the car so my mother helmed the wheel, with co-pilot Grandma in the passenger seat, probably manning her own brake pedal. You know how it is. The trip back into town was a tedious and precarious one. Great care had to be taken not to hit any more bumps in road, especially after the first one resulted in tormented squeals and moans.

The hospital, or medical center as I seem to recall it actually being, was a small one floor facility and the walk to get inside was laborious. Again, it was each man for himself and it was all I could do to get myself inside, in record time (15 minutes) and that was done on my tip toes, which had become my adopted mode of walking to keep the skin on my feet from stretching. The nurse behind the desk looked up  from her paperwork with an unflinching expression and with a comforting southern drawl, simply said, “I’m not even going to lecture you. Go in there and have a seat and I’ll be right with you”. We shuffled into the waiting room where having a seat was a lot easier in theory than in execution. With our arms stretched behind us and our hands ready  to grasp the arms of our chairs, we lowered ourselves in curious contortions as slowly as we could on unbending legs. I cursed myself for wearing those denim carpenter jeans. What the hell was I thinking?

No sooner had we gotten situated than the nurse came out calling for Linda. Donna, meanwhile, had been gone for quite a while in search of a soda machine that was “easy to find, just around the corner” and by the time she had returned, I was now settled and being carted off in a wheelchair to the examination room and my biggest worry at the moment being what the doctor would think when he would “find me out”, that I had neglected to put on my BVD’s to go to the hospital.


If Looks Could Kill…Florida Tan Tuesday – Part 3

September 1, 2009

I could be wrong, but I’m 99% certain that saying was coined late in the afternoon on July 6, 1980. We rolled into the parking space beside the trailer and Donahue, Bin and I were already fearing the worst, certain that another day on the beach would be out of the question for two reasons; one being that we’d not be let out from under adult supervision for the remainder of the trip and the second was that, even though it was unspoken, it was a unanimous bond between the three of us that we might have gone overboard our first day out.

As we pried ourselves out of the car, trying to make ourselves as unnoticeable as humanly possible, I caught a glimpse of my grandmother standing in the door, staring at us in disbelief. She’d heard the car pull up and wanted to warn us to be quiet because Grandpa and my mother were sleeping off the long drive. I won the toss to see who would shower first and so I gathered my things from my suitcase in the back bedroom and made my way, slowly and painfully toward the bathroom. “That’s gonna hurt.” That was all Grandma had to say for the moment. She didn’t say it in an outright condemning way, but rather in that soft tone flavored with self-righteousness and superiority one uses when I told you so seems too condescending. This type of calm reprimand cuts to one’s soul more deeply than a harsh and violent redressing and it was then I knew I was in trouble, but I made my way, nonetheless, to the shower.

I remember there was a fine line of getting the right water temperature; a hair this way and I was freezing and a hair the other way, it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But no amount of lashing water jetting down from the showerhead like sharp knives cutting into my already raw flesh could compare to the silent glare I got from my mother who had woken up in the meantime. And quite frankly, I didn’t need a look or a saying to support it. The sunburn was killing me all on its own.

Moans of pain accompanied by tears and mostly unsympathetic reassurances of our stupidity filled the trailer for the remainder of the day and by bedtime I could barely move and Linda was in no better shape while Donna seemed a little more ambulant after our ordeal. On hand in the medicine cabinet was some sort of spray ointment, slick as cooking oil and both my grandparents were insistent Linda and I be covered in it, so there on the linoleum kitchen floor we were bathed with this slippery unguent. Then I was made to slip on a pair of my grandfather’s pajamas and then I painstakingly lowered myself onto the cot that was set out for me in the middle of the living room. I’m sure Linda got herself settled in her bed, probably with Donna’s help, but for that moment, I was too concerned with avoiding the tearing sensation on my skin to care.

The increasing heat and added pressure of the cotton pajamas and the top sheet over me was making me sick to my stomach during the night and by the dimness of the nightlight in the kitchen, I miraculously made my way to the bathroom. I had to walk on my tip toes because the little bit that feet spread walking flat-footed felt like my skin was being torn from my body. I persevered toward the bathroom, over the soft shag carpet in the living room, across the kitchen floor, and I slipped on the one spot of oil that was missed during the cleanup. I’d have to make sure to tell someone about it. I think I remember at that moment wishing I could have fallen and clunked my head so I would be out of my misery, but rest wouldn’t come until I got to my destination.

I eased myself to the cool floor in front of the toilet, I could feel my stomach was going to give way at any moment and I waited. Relishing the coolness of the tiles beneath me, I waited for the hurling to begin. I waited so long that the next thing I knew I was waking up. I had either passed out or eased into sleep, but I never did get sick. I made my way back, deftly avoiding the oil slick on the linoleum and carefully lowered myself once again onto my cot and slept peacefully through the night hoping against hope my condition would be reversed by morning.

Roll Your Bod – Florida Tan Tuesday, Part 2

August 25, 2009

If you missed last week’s chapter of this exciting adventure, click here.


“It must be too early for anyone else to be here,” I remember commenting as the three of us plodded across the hot sand, already gratefully welcoming the cool breeze. We staked out a spot on the nearly barren beach, someplace between where the car was still in view and the foaming crashing waves of the ocean. Near the water’s edge, we watched as hermit crabs disappeared underneath the wet sand, leaving behind bubbling little holes in their wake.

Little by little, fellow sunbathers came to the beach. Some remained in outfits of loose-fitting gauze or something comparably flowing who huddled beneath umbrellas. Of them we thought, why bother coming to the beach? Others, whose skin were like tanned leather and of them we thought, hmm, we’ve got some catching up to do. Good Heavens, we were from NJ, after all and in desperate need of some color. If laying in my own backyard with a book during the summer months could garner a supple healthy looking tan, albeit after a pesky bout with a sunburn, then certainly full on Florida sun at the height of summer would more than do the trick.

Linda, or Binda if you will, Bin for short, Donahue (Donna) and I, Grain (don’t ask me why–and I can’t believe I’m divulging that tidbit, but there it is) alternated constantly between sand and surf, enjoying the restorative properties of the cooling water and each time we’d return to our blankets, we’d alternate from sunning our front and back sides.

There was a point during the day, while Donahue and Binda were huddled ear to ear listening to yet another loop of the one music cassette they’d brought, I flipped over and had my head at their feet. Now that the music was away from my ears, I began to hear a curious scratching sound beneath my head and I was certain it had to be one of those hermit crabs clawing its way to the surface of the sand. I kept a lazy but vigilant watch on the surface beneath me hoping to stave off a hermit crab attack, latching its claw onto my earlobe, making me shriek in pain and horror. On and on that scratching sound continued and it finally hit me; it was Donahue’s toes digging in the sand.

“I could use a soda.” I think we all said it in unison and we scraped together enough money and the girls offered to go to the snack bar, giggling like girls do as they scampered off out of view. Ah, now I could try to find some other music to listen to at least while they were gone. When they returned, the sodas had already started turning warm from the intense heat and if memory serves (remember this was 29 years ago) I think the girls said they were a little short on cash, but the guy let them go anyway. I guess it pays to giggle and scamper sometimes.

“We should probably think of heading back,” I said sometime later, suggesting we take up our mission again tomorrow, and by three o’clock we were gladly ready. You know how the bright sun tends to “bleach” one’s vision and as we attempted to compare our “differences”, to see just how successful our first day of tanning went, we were disappointed to see nothing but white. “I can’t believe we’ve been here since ten o’clock, and nothing!”

Defeated, and wondering just how long it would take to get our sought after tans, we rolled up our blankets, gathered our belongings and headed back to the car, each step an increased burden. A blast furnace whoosh of air greeted us as we swung open the car doors and oh man were those dark vinyl seats hot. We situated towels and blankets to sit on for the drive home and even with that between our burning flesh and the nearly melting seats, it was like sitting on shards of glass. Once our eyes had begun to adjust to the toned down light inside the car we could finally start to see our “differences” and we slowly and nervously drove back to my grandparents’ trailer. With the last words spoken to us as we set out earlier that morning, not to say long on the beach, started to make sense, only one thing was on our minds.”They’re gonna kill us!”

To be continued….