Johnny America


Tan Man


Illustration of an irradiated tanning professional.

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.

Filed under Commentary on April 21st, 2023

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