Tanning Salon or Abu Grhaib?

Tanning Salon or Abu Grhaib?

Tanning Salon… Or Abu Grhaib?

Winter is almost over. Spring is almost here. The “almost” has been maddening to me. Longer days are great, but I needed warmth – pronto. Without the time or funds to travel to a warmer clime while the Northeast got its act together, I did the next best thing,…the Tanning Salon. For a mere 12 bucks, I could bask in light and heat equivalent to the Caribbean. God, I love this country.

Tanning salons are almost as numerous as gas stations, so I picked the one closest to my office. It was in a typical South Jersey strip mall, nestled between an optometrist’s office and an exotic bird store. Not exactly St. Thomas, but I could smell the coconut and Coppertone from the parking lot . As I opened the door to paradise one of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”greeted me cheerily. What did I want, she asked with more perkiness than should be legal. “I want be in the Bahamas,” I smirked. She didn’t get it. It was a tanning salon, for Pete’s sake, what did she think I wanted, a cheesesteak hoagie? “Okay, I want to look like I’ve been to the Bahamas.” She easily grasped that and rattled off my tanning options.

There was the basic bed, the deluxe bed – or the super-deluxe. According to Suzy Sunshine, anything with the word deluxe offered me “safer” tanning (I think it’s like safer cigarettes, a safer shotgun or being a little bit pregnant). I’d be bronzed rather than burned if I skipped the basic. And for only three dollars more. God, I love this country.

I paid my first-class fare and signed the waiver attesting to my understanding of dangerous ultraviolet light. I think I saw the word “radioactive” in there somewhere but I was a goner by then, soused on the smell of suntan lotion. Then I was informed that I had to wear eye protection. Suzy showed me a collection of rainbow-colored goggles that cost $3 each. I asked if I could just close my eyes really, really tight and pay zilch. She shook her head severely, the universal language for “No way.” As a compromise she offered me, at only 50 cents, two small, gold cellophane cones that would stick to my eyes. I felt like I’d joined a zombie cult, but I took the deal.

We skipped down to Room 2. Suzy set the timer, instructed me on all my new options (face tanner, fan, radio volume) and wished me a relaxing visit. I began shedding clothes before she was out the door. I decided, with modesty and hygiene in mind, to stop at my underwear.Things were going swimmingly until I turned to find an unavoidable full-length mirror. I could use my imagination to whisk me to the islands but no amount of creativity was going to change what was staring back at me — a 48-year-old woman who’d had two children and eaten a Krispy Kreme for breakfast every day for the last six weeks. I escaped into the tanning bed, a big tube lined with lights, applied my eye cones and lowered the “lid.” The radio was blaring a disturbing female rap song about tortured love, with real torture. I turned it off. And turned the tanner on.

The radio in my room may have been off but music was still throbbing throughout the salon and, like the mirror, was nightmarishly unavoidable. Bright light hit me, a menacing whirring noise began and the heat was on. I tried to picture myself on a tropical beach, pina colada in hand, waves lapping at my feet, cellulite-free thighs glistening with oil. Instead I saw myself buried alive. In a rain forest. Or Hell.

I twitched. I took deep breaths. I prayed. Things were getting hotter, something was beeping and the rap song was getting more graphic. I was sure that six minutes had already passed. It felt like 16 – or forever. Panicked thoughts swirled. If Suzy was enjoying this music she must be a sadist. Maybe she lied about the six minutes.This surely was deliberate torture. The disturbing sight of me in my skivvies, the heat, the close quarters. The pounding music, the smell of burning flesh . . . the price gouging. Was I in “Tawny Town” or Abu Ghraib?

Hot, sweaty, and paralyzed with fear, I finally broke. I screamed for Suzy. To her credit, and my surprise, she appeared immediately, with sincere concern. “Get. me. out. of. here,” I squeezed from clenched teeth. Suzy the Savior lifted the lid with just one of her well-manicured fingers (who was the smart one now?). The light dimmed, the heat abated and the whirring stopped. I thanked Suzy profusely, not the least bit self-conscious about my sweat-soaked Tinkerbelle underpants.
I leapt out of the tanning bed, threw my clothes on and hightailed it out of there. It was about 40 degrees out by then and the sun, the real sun, felt delicious. I took a deep breath of the crisp March air and, suddenly, “almost” was good enough.