Usually when I do something really stupid, nobody notices. My acts of foolishness tend to leave little evidence behind them, mostly because I can realize that I’ve done something moronic before others notice and can then cover it up. Awareness of possible embarrassment is a great defense. Like how if you fart in a room of people, you can move away inconspicuously before the funk starts to set in. Sure, you may be suspected, but as long as you stick to your defense, the crime will never be proven.
Sunburn, on the other hand, is not something that can be easily hidden. While I was on the island of Koh Samui, I got burnt so badly I practically turned purple. Some people leave the beach with a nice tan. I left looking like Barney. On previous days when I’d walk down the street, the massage girls would offer me things like happy endings or private rooms. Now that was over, and all I was being offered was aloe vera rubs. My ankles swelled up and my fingertips went numb. People asked me why I didn’t put sunblock on, and when I said that I did they just shook their heads and said, “Man, you look awful.”
On my final night on the island, my friends went to get massages. I went too, but on my arrival, the lady at the massage place informed me that a Thai massage was out of the question. That type of massage would leave me screaming in pain. It was aloe vera rub or nothing. So I agreed, and for the next forty minutes I laid on a table while a middle aged Thai woman smeared freezing aloe vera lotion all over me.
For the bulk of the rub, I was on my stomach with my face pointed down through a hole in the table. Relaxed and with nothing to really think about, I stared repeating the phrase “aloe vera” over and over in my head. Then I flipped it. Vera Aloe. I liked the way it sounded, like it could be a fictional character that solves murders or something.
My thoughts dumb and free-floating, I thought of the actress Vera Miles. Vera Miles started out playing minor TV roles but was lucky enough to catch Alfred Hitchcock’s eye. He liked blondes and signed her to a contract for three movies, the first being “The Wrong Man” where she played the female lead. Hitchcock was ready to make her a star when she informed him she couldn’t be in his next movie (Vertigo) because she was pregnant. Hitch – who always put his movies above his personal life (or maybe just had a crush on her) – was enraged. The next time he cast her was in “Psycho,” where she plays Janet Leigh’s sister. To get his revenge on her, Hitchcock made her wear a goofy wig and had the makeup department age her about ten years. He shot her at unflattering angles with bad lighting. In short, he felt she wronged him, and he wanted to make her look bad.
A few days after my rub, I looked at myself in the mirror. My body was flaking away, covered in large stretches of peeling white skin. I looked like an idiot. Good old Vera Miles must’ve felt that way too, when her director wanted to humiliate her and stuck her in a crappy wig and an old lady’s face. I thought about how we all try to control the way we look, but sometimes it goes haywire on us. It’s a humbling experience, let me tell you, to lose the ability to look like yourself.
But no worries – I quickly went back to my covert ways. In my next hotel, I left the bed covered in bits of peeled skin, getting out of there before anyone could see, believing that not even a great detective – one like Vera Aloe – could prove that the millions of dead skin cells left on that bed came from the remains my sun-soaked body.