A Man's Pride

I was a born salesman.

My freshman year of college, I talked my parents into letting my four friends and me drive my mom’s blue Suburban down to Key West for Spring Break. What were they thinking, right?

We decided to make the eighteen-hour journey stopping only for food, gas, and restrooms. I’d gotten a job at J. Crew over Christmas break—please don’t judge me—and had a shift the night we were leaving. David, Chris, Hunter, and Justin swung by the mall to pick me up. We stopped at a Shell station for Red Bull then hit the interstate. Driving through Atlanta, someone busted out the Moon Pies.

Hunter had agreed to ride shotgun and stay awake with me, so the others dozed off one by one. 

We were in Florida by sunrise. I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, but a whole hour passed without our seeing another car on the road. I’ve never been so delirious in my life. I started making promises to God. I started cussing a lot.

Now, let me fast-forward.

I have very fair skin. My “friends” in middle school called me Powder. Middle school is hard on the albino child.

While in Key West, I got the worst sunburn you’ve ever seen while wearing sunscreen. You could feel heat pulsing out of me. I was the colored of steamed lobster.

The night of the day this happened, we decided to take a bus downtown to eat. If you want good stories to tell, take the bus. Driving a car keeps you insulated from the outside world, all the people from whom your parents tried to protect you.

I’m sitting on a bus seat by myself wearing a green, long-sleeved linen shirt. Maybe you have a beautiful olive complexion and don’t know how it is. When you get roasted because you trace your heritage to a country that no longer exists—Prussia—you get cold at night. You sweat like you’re playing pick-up basketball, but you get cold.

So this hefty middle-aged woman with brown hair plops down next to me. She’s ready to talk. 

“Wow, you got some sun!” she said.

I think: Thanks a lot, lady. Why don’t you find somewhere else to sit?

I say: “Yep. I was even sitting in the shade.”

“Looks like it hurts.”

“Not too bad yet. If it starts hurting though, my aunt told me that putting vinegar on a sunburn will take the sting out.”

She leaned back to take me in, as if I said I’d been to the moon. She then shared this insight with me, “You don’t wanna smell like a douche-bag, do you?”

I thought: No, ma’am. No, I don’t.

I said: nothing. No class, no handbook, no mentor, no hypothetical interior monologue can prepare you for that question.

My sunburn started hurting the next day. Later in the week, it started itching so bad that I couldn’t fall asleep at night.

I never bought any vinegar. A man has his pride to consider.

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