Of the many reasons I love living in Juneau — relaxed dress code, opportunity to maintain parallel parking skills, pickled bull kelp — my favorite relates to sunshine. Specifically, we get precious little. And that, like a shot of vodka in a glass of orange juice on a Sunday morning, is exactly how I prefer it.
For me, the gingeriest of the gingers (I make Carrot Top look like Antonio Banderas), the sun poses real danger. You know that scene at the end of Gremlins where Gizmo, the cute furry Gremlin, opens the shade and kills Stripe, the mutated monster Gremlin, by melting him? That’s what happens when you expose me to sunlight, too (although you can feed me after midnight, which is a whole other problem).
To put it another way: your day at the beach is my worst nightmare. Or at least it was when I was growing up, back when sunscreen SPF maxxed out at eight and rash guard shirts hadn’t been invented. Did you know you can get third-degree sunburns through a cotton T-shirt? You can, I discovered on a family trip to Hawaii in 1989. The skin on my upper back still doesn’t look right. The T-shirt, on the other hand — from MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” — has held up remarkably well.
Even now, prolonged activity in direct sunlight most places on earth requires slapping on a hat, slipping on as much clothing as I can tolerate and slopping SPF 50+ everywhere else. That’s partly why I have a beard — nature’s sunscreen (it’s also nature’s balaclava). Other parts of my body — sensitive parts, like between the fingers, behind the ears or right at the boundary of shirt collar and neck/shoulders — require constant reapplication, especially if I’m sweating, which I almost certainly am because I’m somewhere sunny and I’m way over-dressed.
Needless to say I’d make a terrible nudist. For me, the sun can’t ever shine where-the-sun-don’t-shine — except in Juneau. In fact, it’s “sunny” right now and I’m tempted to go for a pre-lunch skinny dip in the hot tub. But there’s no tree cover yet and I haven’t hit the treadmill for months, let alone the waxing salon. Next thing I know I’ll have animal control up here looking into reports of a wild orangutan loose in the neighborhood.
Still, Juneau, a location depicted by the Twilight series as housing a whole vampire clan (fittingly enough, a “vegetarian” vampire clan) proves an ideal home for an alabaster individual like me. Even with all the vampires. On all but a handful of days, in all but a handful of months, I can go outside free of the whole slap-slip-slop routine. And in Southeast Alaska, you’re never far from shade.
Don’t get me wrong. I dig sunshine. Actually, I’d say I cherish it more because of its scarcity. And I welcome the lengthening days, even though “springing ahead” means my kids now wake up an hour earlier and go to bed an hour later, effectively limiting any child-free time for me and my wife to brushing our teeth and passing out on separate couches watching Netflix. Just as well. We didn’t plan on more kids anyway.
Of course, there’s nothing like increased daylight to make a person feel like he or she wants to do things. And sometimes, all you really need is to feel like you want to do things, instead of actually doing those things, just to confirm you haven’t lost all your motivation.
Plus, longer days mean utility bills decrease — although, I did just buy myself an electric guitar for my mid-life crisis, er, I mean my 37th birthday, so maybe not so much savings there after all. Oh, if you strange noises coming from the hill across the channel, that’s just me, teaching myself Van Halen’s “Eruption.”
People in the Lower 48 often ask me about the light/dark thing (also the time difference — how hard is the concept of the Alaska Time Zone?).
I tell them this: daylight in Alaska is something to track the steady, daily progress of, like baseball statistics or tabloid news stories or the accumulation of dishes in the drying rack before someone puts them back in the cabinet. Also, it’s easier to light darkness than it is to darken lightness — in fact, I still haven’t found a curtain that fully lives up to its “black-out” promises. Not without additional duct tape, at least.
Then, right before I explain for the millionth time that you take California and subtract an hour, I mention that everyone up here is Vitamin D deficient. This explains why every little kid around rips off all his/her clothes and runs around naked any time it’s above freezing and the sun comes out even for a minute.
Speaking of which, maybe I will risk the hot tub soak, after all. What’s the worst that can happen? Animal control shoots me with a tranquilizer dart? Whatever, I’m not driving anywhere.
• “Slack Tide” runs every other week in Neighbors. Read more at www.geoffkirsch.com.