Biff America: Sun, sins and barnacles
The young gal instructed, “OK, take off all your clothing, your watch and jewelry; you can leave on your underwear. Would you like a robe?”
She chuckled when I responded, “No thanks, it’s pretty warm in here.”
It was only after she left the room when I decided that she wasn’t asking if I was worried about being cold. She thought I might be embarrassed to be standing around in my drawers without my watch on.
I’ll get this out of the way and say I look much better in a jacket than I do in my undies.
Five minutes later, the dermatologist and her assistant were working on either side of me like a NASCAR pit crew. I felt no embarrassment and only a slight discomfort as they froze off stuff that I probably caused over 40 years ago.
Growing up in the northeast, we had only about four months a year to damage our skin. My sisters used to lay out in the backyard covered in a concoction of iodine and baby oil with lemon juice in their hair to lighten it. When no one was around, I did the same.
Once I moved west, to a place with an average number of 300 sunny days, I took my burning/tanning to a new level. I used to work in California in the summer and Colorado in winter, often pedaling a bicycle between the two destinations (usually shirtless). I mistakenly thought the most dangerous thing about those trips was the possibility of getting hit by a car.
All that changed in the mid-’80s. I can’t remember the magazine, but I do know that I saw it at the barber shop. The cover had a close-up of sun-damaged skin and read, “Sun, the warm killer.”
I read the three-page article complete with photos and do’s and don’ts. Come to learn, I had done all the don’ts and had not done any of the do’s.
I put the magazine down and stood naked in front of a full-length mirror to check out myself from all angles. I probably should have left the barber shop first.
The realization that sun was dangerous was the second nail in the coffin for those of us pale, single and worried in the ’80s. To make matters worse, the danger of the sun came on the heels of the AIDS epidemic, along with the warning: “If you have unprotected sex with someone, it’s like you are having sex with every person that person ever had sex with.” At first, I thought that was a pretty good bang for the buck, but then the true meaning of the message hit me.
So in a matter of months, America learned that both sun and sex could kill us, and only one could be prevented with sunscreen.
After my restaurant shift that night, I went to a local bar where my buddy Keith was tending bar. Keith and I grew up together, got in trouble together and traveled west together. At that time he probably knew me better than anyone — including myself. Truth is, I was a bit high-strung.
Without my asking, he placed a beer in front of me, and with no preamble, I said, “I’m going to die of skin cancer.” Keith walked away to serve another customer, but over his shoulder he said, “No, you’re going to die worrying about skin cancer and everything else.”
“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” That quote has been attributed to a few folks, some say Buddha.
But the problem was that, unlike any dating mistakes I made when I was young, dumb and single, the repercussions from my past sun silliness have a longer shelf life. That said, every six months you can find me undies on, St. Christopher medal off, while every inch of me is inspected.
Each visit brings with it a fair amount of concern. I worry if my past sun sins will come back to haunt me. But other than removing a few minor barnacles, the most recent visit was a roaring success. The doc, while reminding me that I was still in a high-risk category, complimented me on my decades of skin diligence since. I was so overjoyed to hear that that I bounded out of the exam room to the front desk to satisfy my copay.
In retrospect, I should have asked for a robe.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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