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Not a Ray of Hope for a Ray of Sunshine to Tan In

April 08, 1993|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

Like a lot of serious Orange Countians, I recently began considering a weighty spring/summer question: What kind of tan shall I work on this year?

These ponderings began in late winter, when I was in the Pendleton shop at the Laguna Hills Mall swiping up all the cool-weather sale items at tremendous savings. The thought crossed my mind that I'd only get to use these woolen goods for a few short weeks before the weather turned warm. But a business trip to New York was set for the next week, and I justified my purchases by reports of near-zero temperatures and tons of snow.

Incidentally, I asked the very kind saleswoman at the Pendleton shop which were her hottest-selling gang shirts this year, the straight-bottomed plaids being a staple of Mexican gang fashion. She blushed deeply but admitted that the darker colors were all the rage in gangland. She told me Pendleton had actually quit marketing the dark navy blue because of its association--in these parts anyway--with "colors."

We bemoaned this, because I was actually thinking of getting a blue one, but we had to agree that gangsters have good taste.

I settled on a pale blue plaid design with flap pockets--a perfect outer garment for cool weather, and sale-priced. Mindlessly, I found myself wearing this exact shirt some weeks later while driving through the Casa Blanca area of Riverside late one night, realizing that should my car fail in this notorious town I might be either gunned down or laughed out of it, probably the latter. Thank God for Fords.

At any rate, I left for New York laden with cold-weather clothes that, not surprisingly, put me in good stead. What was surprising was that several people in New York remarked on my tan. I had in fact picked up a little color by watching a professional tennis tournament in Palm Desert the week before, but it hardly qualified as a real tan. (What I was hoping to pick up at the tournament were some pointers for my own thuggish tennis game, but the next time out on the courts, all my efforts to duplicate Amanda Coetzer's wonderful backhand were a disaster.) Even while accepting the heartfelt compliments of several New Yorkers, I was thinking to myself: This is nothing. Wait till I get a real tan.

With this goal partially in mind, I swung by the Fiji Islands for 10 days, but the rainy season was in effect there, and the tanning conditions were not good. I was hoping to bring back with me that most coveted of tans--the winter tan--but no luck.

My California friends, eagerly anticipating the new Jeff, were visibly disappointed in me. Those who had been skiing were much darker, at least on their faces. We South Pacific travelers had to content ourselves with great diving, hiking and eating instead. I was actually glad not to have suffered that Fijian sun in all its glory, since the guide books warned that a tourist could be reduced to a piece of twisted charcoal in about five minutes by the ferocity of equatorial summer.

Springtime in Orange County is nothing if not fickle. But one recent spring day began with the kind of sunshine that looked promising for a tan. I finished up work around noon and headed for the beach.

I had the usual equipment: towel, folding chair and book (Theodore Taylor's "To Kill the Leopard"). I arranged myself at Main Beach in Laguna just in time for some rather thick clouds to hide the sun and a crisp March breeze to sneak in from the north. The clouds stayed, and the breeze accelerated.

Within minutes I was wrapped in the towel, toes curled into the sand for warmth, and a distinct feeling of fatuousness descending over me as I watched those with better sense tear down their tanning stations and head out.

Rarely shy about making a fool of myself in public, I remained steadfastly planted on my windwhipped plot of beach until I could stand it no longer. Picking sand out of my teeth was the last straw. Grumbling, I decamped.

But there are as many ways to get a tan as there are to skin a cat. I had a fall-back position, namely, the deck at my house, where sheltering walls provide a windbreak and even the least amount of sunshine can produce a tan in record time. Smug with the versatility of my tanning skills, I set up shop on the deck.

Unfortunately, the ocean breezes are concentrated by Laguna Canyon, especially in the afternoons. No sooner had I sat down when a chill rattled over me, and I went into the house to get my Pendleton gang shirt. This helped. I sat there, legs exposed to the wind, eyeing resentfully the now impenetrable cloud cover that had choked off all direct sunlight and actually seemed to be growing thicker in the southern sky.

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