In the reception area there’s a queue of people waiting for their turns in the synthetic sun; another middle-aged geezer like me looking to maintain a little color in the winter doldrums, a carload of fraternity and sorority siblings, and a wisp with the telltale pallor and baldness of a human hit by the business end of a course of chemotherapy. I clock the irony of a cancer patient at a tanning parlor and feel a reflexive flash of smug superiority whip through my brain. How quickly the brain jumps to judge. I’m at the tanning salon too, and for all I know their oncologist recommended a little ultra-violet exposure to boost their mood. Or maybe they’re Stage Four so it doesn’t matter for them anymore, so why not a little moisturizing lotion and color.
Naked, I pull the clamshell lid down as I lower by head onto the clear sheet of plastic floating my body inches above a field of light bulbs. Somewhere hidden in the hinge of the machine, a switch makes contact and the bulbs flare to life and a recording welcomes me to my Ergoline tanning experience. I pinch on a pair of tiny protective goggles I’d been palming.
A smooth beat I’ve heard a hundred times before swells from the machine. As always, I spend a few moments listening to the vocals and wondering of their origins; the singer’s rhapsodizing has the feel of a Romance language, but isn’t. I wonder if it’s machine-generated gibberish, calculated to evoke the feel of effortless cool without committing to the particulars required by decipherability. I hope so. The tanning bed’s music could from anywhere, everywhere, nowhere. This model is probably localized by the Ergoline Corporation to a hundred different countries to suit local variations in electrical voltages and welcoming instructions, but perhaps the music holds steady across time zones. Perhaps I’m one of a dozen of naked apes scattered around the globe laying in a multiwavelength-enhanced bronzing unit at this very moment, struggling to place the morphemes and meter of the same chill electro-jam.
The canned voice returns, hoping I’ve enjoyed my session and encouraging me to come back for another visit. I wipe dry a few beads of sweat from the plastic bed, walk through the lobby. Cancer’s still sitting there, thumbing through their phone. I get in the car and light a cigarette.
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