The summer of 1991 was the last time I tried to get a tan or have sex with someone I didn’t love. It took me more than a decade to accept that I would never be a bronzed guy who’s at ease around women, but at 19 that desire smoked inside me like an AA meeting. I know now that genetics made me into this porcelain colored calamity of suave, but as a younger man, I was convinced my condition could be remedied by the powerful Mediterranean sun and a Dutch prostitute.
I had just graduated high school in Ohio when my parents dragged me to Florence, Italy for a year. Walking around the Marcato di San Lorenzo as a urinal-complected foreigner bumping elbows and shoulders Fabrizios and Francescas stoked my fiery desire to shed all things rube. For that, I needed a tan and probably sex.
My first stop was the island of Elba. The sun had never before turned me any other shade than princess pink, but in a fit of fuck everything, I convinced myself that I would lay-out on the blazingly malignant beach without sunscreen for a few hours and somehow magically defy the science of melanin. Normally it takes a few hours for a sunburn to set in. This one appeared right away. I wandered back to the ferry in a nauseas daze, and fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up when the ferry made landfall nearly unable to bend my legs. I walked like a recently jousted armored knight back to the apartment where I covered myself in aloe and passed out again.
Fast forward two weeks. My friends had arrived from the United States and we were on a train to Amsterdam. We made nice with a French girl in our train compartment. No, it was actually my friends who chatted with her while I sat huddled in the corner peeling off sheets of my blistered skin like wallpaper. She kept glancing over wondering why the two nice American boys were traveling with an escaped reptile boy from the traveling gypsy freak show. If I tried to contribute to the conversation, she looked at them in disbelief. “OH GOD, IT TALKS?!?!” My self esteem was at an all time high as we pulled into the station.
We walked around the red light district drinking, smoking weed and gawking at the prostitues with all the other tourists. One of my friends (the tan confident type) had no problem “visiting” the working girls. He was soon followed by my other friend as I stood back psychopathically removing layers of tough reddened skin while babying my new epidermis with a cheap greasy lotion. Unfortunately, I was drunk and stoned enough to overcome my insecurities and morality.
She looked pretty from a distance, but as I got closer, it was clear she had been doing her job for decades. She opened the door and the smell of stale cigarette smoke washed over me like a panic. Def Leppard’s Hysteria was blasting. There were mirrors everywhere. I was whiskey drunk and hydroponically high. Without looking me in the eye, she told me to get undressed. She put out her cigarette and did the same. Finally looking me in the eyes, she told me to get on the bed. She made no comment about the condition of my skin – an ominous indication of her experiences with much much worse. I laid on my back, staring up at the mirror on the ceiling. My naked (except for a reggae necklace), body was the last thing I needed to see at an already vulnerable moment. She climbed on top of me and began to pretend various things, most of which were centered on her enjoying herself. She smelled like Marlboro Lights, cotton candy and sweat. My mind raced as fast as it could to the logical conclusion that I clearly wasn’t going to have sex with this woman. She reached for a condom and somehow put it on me despite it being in no condition. Few things look more pathetic than a limp penis with a condom on it. In the mirror it appeared to be in a miniature body bag like it was on it’s way to the morgue and eventual cremation.
Being the empathic type, I assumed my lack of interest was somehow hurting her feelings. I’m sure it wasn’t. I think I said “OK, that’ll do it for me. How much do I owe you.” She got off me so quickly, you’d think I had told her we were siblings. I paid her, thanked her, and walked out. I told my friends who were waiting for me, “Wow, that was incredible.” Later, after many more drinks and joints, right about that time when sadness and regret cast themselves over the evening, they too admitted to similarly disastrous experiences.
I never again attempted to get a tan, but I have successfully made love to a 40 year old woman.