Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Sunburn oracle

Here’s the latest time machine for me: I got this stupid sunburn on Sunday, which isn’t as bad as it could be, but it’s an annoyance, mostly because I’ll be sitting here during the day, staring at a FrameMaker window, and then suddenly realize I’m scratching my arm like a crank addict trying to break out of a straitjacket, and it takes so much effort to stop, I could probably channel the same amount of energy into levitating small cars.  So I dug through the medicine cabinet, which I should probably be packing into cardboard boxes for the move, and found this Tropicana sunburn gel crap, which is a bright artificial aqua-blue, and smells like some kind of synthetic fruit punch they only sell in inner-city liquor stores for 89 cents per three liter bottle.  I hate putting the stuff on, because it’s got this horrible stickiness to it, like a bad hair product you’d use if you had one of those faux-hawk things and read a lot of Details magazine.  But it has lidocaine or benzocaine or one of the -caines, and it anesthetizes the demon itching, at least for about five minutes.

I got this stuff on my honeymoon in 07, which is why it’s such a strong memory for me.  (It’s also probably why it doesn’t work well – I’m sure it has an expiration date of 08 or 09.)  We spent a week in the Bahamas, at Atlantis, and I spent about 80% of the days on their inner tube ride, where you sit in a circular rubber inflatable oval, your ass in the water and your arms and legs sort of half-sticking in the air, as a gentle current carries you through this artificial winding rapids constructed out of cement and fake scenery.  I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for this kind of ride, especially when it’s hot out and you’re surrounded by ocean and palm trees and a small army of natives all furiously working for their share of the tourist dollar in a place where the annual per capita GNP would otherwise be about the cost of a McDonald’s Value Meal.  I guess the fact that upon egress from the ride, there was an endless number of people all willing to hand you a towel or a fruity drink or a room service-priced hamburger had little to do with why I enjoyed looping around a chlorinated whitewater rapids, but it made the experience that much better than riding the same attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm.

We spent a lot of time trying to go off the beaten path on this vacation, but the whole battle plan of the Atlantis resort is they want to contain you within their economic sphere, and they will be god damned if they want you to pay any less than five dollars for a bottle of Coke.  This worked to our great disadvantage because Sarah’s luggage got lost, and she spent the majority of the honeymoon wearing $39 t-shirts from the gift shop, with no other real options.  We did talk to the bellhops and staff about where else we could go, and everyone was insanely friendly to us.  I found it somewhat disconcerting that most of the people who brought towels to the pool had gone to the US for college, and probably got full rides on scholarships to obscure places in Oklahoma or Wyoming, but then came back to the island to work for tips, which was probably more per day than you could make in a week pulling hard labor on a construction crew.  Everyone we met had five kids to feed, and every women we met spent entire conversations telling us how they were done with men, how the Bahamian male was only interested in one thing and then quickly moved on.  We got that conversation on the first cab ride we took, a 40-minute drive across the length of the island in a right-hand-drive minivan.

I half-listened to the patter of the cab driver while looking out of the window like Captain Willard watching the river unwind in Apocalypse Now, complete devastation on either side of us.  The night was completely black, no streetlights, no house lights, just the glare of the headlights carving through darkness and revealing this winding road that was almost as poorly-kept as an Indiana county road.  We’d pass by someone riding on the wrong side of the road (well, everything was the wrong side of the road here), riding some beat-up mess of bicycles mashed together into some kind of cart/pickup truck hauling a bunch of loose pieces of junk lumber and driftwood.  We drove by this big open area where they held a fish fry, a bunch of blazing fires in the darkness, people huddled around this strange carnival setting, a bunch of single-story houses built by the old British colonists, looking like some of the guard buildings from the movie Papillion.  I’d left the country a few times before this, but it was always to places like Canada, the Netherlands, Germany – I’d never gone somewhere that still featured artesian wells instead of indoor plumbing.

Anyway, I got a horrible sunburn from this stupid inner tube ride, and it wasn’t just a uniform shade of red; I ended up with this bizarre farmer’s tan in the inverse of where you’d sit in an inner tube, pure red broken up with a band of white.  And I went to the gift store and bought this 26-dollar bottle of ointment, and spent each evening coating my arms and legs with the junk.  We did a lot of stuff on the trip, but the smell of this bright blue medication reminds me vividly of the evenings we spent in the living room of the suite, waiting for this blue gel to dry, eating giant room service meals and going through every snack and drink in the mini-bar, because the crap was just as expensive in the store downstairs, and you only get married once.  We tuned the big screen (one of the big screens – this room had two giant TVs) to the ALCS games, watching the Indians slug it out against the Red Sox amidst a sea of bugs. The Rockies already finished the NLCS right before we left, and I wanted to know who we’d be playing in the World Series.

(Weird trivia I just found out while cruising through the wikipedia article about the 2007 ALCS: Joe Buck went to Indiana University at the same time I did.)

We did a lot of other stuff on our trip – nice dinners, a couple of trips into town, some decent walks at night, looking at the ocean under the moon and peering into the giant shark tanks scattered across the resort, looking at giant manta rays bigger than my car.  And as I wait for the lidocaine to kick in, and smell this distinctive fake-fruity smell, I remember all of this again, and it seems like it was five lifetimes ago and on a different planet than the Oakland I see outside my window.

Okay, time to get to work…