The summer I was 13, I had a singular pursuit. I was determined to get a deep bronze tan like my friend Margaret, who slathered herself with Johnson's Baby Oil and laid on a blanket of heavy-duty tin foil laid out on the grass. In a single afternoon, she looked perfectly tan and remained so for months. I would oil myself up until I looked like some slimy Irish potato, suffer and sweat in the stupid humidity of Wisconsin, curse the clouds that would hang over me and laugh, swat at the mosquitoes, and end up just as pasty with a pink burned nose. Hopeless.

September was looming, ungodly depressing for the idea of another year spent in the Junior High Monkey Cage and the imminent delivery of 9000 feet of snow, which would remain until at least April. Time was running out. I would not fail.

There was no need, advertising told me, to suffer any longer. I could instantly look like the lovely blonde and evenly-tanned California girl that I believed I should have been and MIGHT STILL BE. On our next trip to the drugstore, and over my mother's brow furrowing and clucking noises, I bought a bottle of QT (Quick Tan) and a bottle of Sun-In for my hair. Who needed the damn sun? Not me, said my new friends, the bottles. OVERNIGHT!, I would turn a rich shade of brown just by anointing my skin with QT. And all I had to do was spray Sun-In all over my hair, apply the heat of a hairdryer, and I would have beautiful blonde highlights. I was SO EXCITED. Before bed, I went into the bathroom, squeezed about the whole bottle of QT all over me and waited about an hour for it to dry. I soaked my hair with Sun-In and torched the hell out of it. I was almost too excited to sleep.

Morning came with the sun sparkling happily through my bedroom window. I pulled back my covers to examine my newly-tanned, lithe, wonderful, perfect legs. What I saw was a pair of white legs that looked like a preschooler finger-painted them with a bucket of iodine. NOOOOOOO! My arms! My stomach! Dark orange patches and streaks everywhere. I wet my finger with spit and scrubbed furiously at one of the rusty lines on my leg -- no luck. It would not come off. I stunk, too -- some awful, sweet, heavy chemical smell. I ran to the bathroom mirror.


Everywhere. My face is blotchy orange. My neck, my chest...the palms of my hands and my feet and my knees and elbows were superstained. OH GOD. MY HAIR. My formerly mousey brown very long hair. EVERY STRAND a horrible brassy shade of yellow-orange. THIS IS NOT A CALIFORNIA GIRL!!!!! This, this is a monster.

My failure was complete. I jumped into the shower, not even caring that the water was not yet warm and scrubbed myself raw. I washed my hair four times. As I stepped out, I saw that it had done nothing except added a layer of pink skin irritation over the orange and intensified my split ends. I fled to my room and contemplated my fate. I could not actually go out like this. But maybe I was overreacting. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and walked out into the kitchen for breakfast. Maybe this would not be so bad.


Thanks, Dad.

School started the next week. The QT orange had faded somewhat, but I still looked off. And the hair, well. It stayed orange, with ever widening brown roots. I refused to cut my hair short, so I stayed with the bi-level orange/brown look for my 8th Grade year. Only once did someone say anything to me, on the bus home after the first day of school. An older tough girl, who never spoke to me otherwise, was sitting behind me.

"Marianne, did you use Sun-In on your hair?

"Um, no, I just spent a lot of time out in the sun this summer."

"Really? Because it looks like Sun-In to me. Are you sure?"

"Yeah, yup, this is just how my hair looks blonde. A heh."

She smirked and we both knew I was fooling no one. I figure I got out of this pretty easy, not being called "Orange Head" or "Sun Failure" or "Irish." I bet Tough Girl had used Sun-In once, and some tiny piece of her felt just enough sorry for me that she did not take that opportunity to beat me up.

I still cannot stand the smell of sunless tanners, I get my hair colored by professionals, and the first place I moved from Wisconsin was Arizona. I stayed in the sun until I did eventually get somewhat tan, then I got bored with the sun and went inside.