Remember to check out Part 1 of this story! …Then read here about yet another mortifying childhood moment in time. (Or read this first, break the rules!)
Not all traumatic events lead to financial gain. Some just make for another typical Tuesday.
Take the time in junior high when my sister’s friend Nancy invited us to go skiing with her family at Mammoth Mountain. We were excited to ski in California as we hadn’t been since we left Colorado several years prior. That weekend we said goodbye to our parents and all rational thought for the next 3 days. On the long drive up Rachael, Nancy and I chatted in the back seat about music, clothing and how to properly do the Hammer dance, coming to the conclusion you needed very baggy pants in order to do it justice.
We woke early the next morning eager to start our skiing adventure. I remember asking her father, Dean, for sunblock but was met with the response of, “You don’t need any. Sunblock is for sissies.” This was followed by a giant, beer-scented belly laugh. At the tender age of thirteen, I hadn’t yet realized sunblock equaled mental weakness. His girlfriend, Mandy, then informed us that it was cloudy and we didn’t need to worry about getting burned. Also, the sun was made of honey and we should put all our worries into the firm hands of the Lord.
I whispered in my sister’s ear, “Should we be worried they are going to cook us for dinner?”
My sister assured me not to panic. Mr. Dean was a police officer, we were safe.
Flash forward to lunchtime in the mountain cafeteria where the five of us were eating baloney sandwiches. While others were dining on hamburgers, fries and hot cocoa, my sister and I were force feeding ourselves the minced meat product Mandy had “made” for us. And may the Lord’s giant man-hands help us if we got thirsty, as the only water to drink was out of a teardrop-shaped leather wine sack attached to Mr. Dean’s belt buckle.
After four hours of skiing on a mountaintop, the sun exposure had already taken a toll on my tender face parts. My cheeks had started to burn and my mouth was beginning to tighten up, making a bad sandwich eating experience, even worse. I heard her dad make a remarkably offensive comment and turned to my sister to give her a, who are these people? look. By this time Mr. Dean was substantially drunk and getting belligerent with other skiers. Self-preservation told my sister and me to remain face deep in our baloney and act invisible.
“You think you can ski?!” He hollered to no one in particular.
“This here is America! You can’t ski here unless you speak ang-lish!”
As he got progressively angrier, I squished my fingers around the bread of my sandwich, leaving finger impressions on the crustless edges.
“Just keep eating Neen. Don’t look him in the eye.” My sister whispered to me. “Pretend he’s the chihuahua that got hit in the face with a rock. He’s all messed up in the head.”
Nancy was apparently used to his ranting and simply bopped her head around like a Muppett observing it all, merely a blaze sock puppet.
By ski day’s end, my sister and I were both feeling an uncomfortable tightness as the sunburn had successfully made its way across the landscape of our faces, necks, and ears. When we got back to the condo Nancy mentioned to her dad we might need something for our skin. His reply was, “You’ll be fine”, as he made his way to the couch to watch an episode of Cops. Mandy, in what I’m guessing was an attempt to be nurturing, told us to put sliced tomatoes on our still cooking faces. As she stood slicing them up, she insisted it would help with the pain. What it did, in fact, was further cook our tender young skin, but it also made for a nice tomato stew which she later served us for dinner.
Afraid to complain to Mr. Dean, since he had come close to finding a reason to arrest people on the chairlift for simply looking different than him, my sister and I knew a little face pain would be the least of our worries if we angered this guy. Nancy, still oblivious to his aggressive and mean nature did little to comfort us and over the remainder of the evening, we began to slowly puff up like French Beignets. My sister and I later chalked up her behavior to a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
The next day both my sister and I opted to stay in from skiing and sat in the condo playing hypothetical life games to keep our mind off the now persistent facial pain.
“Ok, if you got a million dollars, would you live in a gas station bathroom for a year?” My sister whispered to me through tightened lips as we sat on the couch, keeping a lookout for the return of the others.
“Would I get to get any food I wanted from the gas station?” I asked. Even though right now my cheeks hurt so much anything larger than the circumference of a straw was an impossibility to eat.
“You would be allowed to eat the bagged pickles and protein bars, but not the slushies or potato chips.” She laid down arbitrary caveats further complicating the scenario. The rules of our hypothetical life games involved seeing how close to the line of misery we could handle before folding and having to reject the money.
“Pop tarts?” I’d barter.
“Yes, but only the stale cinnamon ones. And you’d have to walk around with the bathroom key attached to a giant spoon. All the time.”
“Because how are you going to earn the glory if you don’t suffer a little humiliation?” She added.
This was solid logic and eventually, I would buckle and say, yes, to sleeping in a bathroom for a year, but no, if it meant not getting to eat all the marshmallows I wanted.
The mental distraction from the slow, taught, doughy rising of our skin from its connective tissue was helpful until Nancy and her posse arrived back at the condo. Mandy suggested we eat hot peppers to soothe our burns by, “sweating it out.” My sister, a keen negotiator from an early age, insisted we couldn’t eat them because it was against our religion.
I went to bed that night dreaming of gas station hot dogs sizzling on their roller wheels only to wake up the next morning and note the similarity of my facial features to those dreamy meat tubes.
When we got home the next day, we arrived on our doorstep glowing red, our blistered and swollen faces covered in pus-filled sacks from chin to forehead. My Mom took one look at us and lost her parental shit. Thankfully we had been dropped off in the driveway and Nancy’s family had already driven away. My four foot ten Mom was ready to beat down the person who had so irresponsibly let her children get so burned. Considering who the instigator was, it was best she had no contact.
“I’m going to kill that son-of-a-bitch.” She yelled at us. Our faces were still burning and taught like a hippie hand drum so we weren’t even able to properly cry, wince, or apologize. Immediately my Mom turned to her go-to burn remedy, which most likely, she read about in the back of a cookbook. Apparently, this was at a time when it was wildly popular to fix an injury using food. The solution consisted of soaking our burns in white vinegar. Thankfully an hour later, the heat finally began to let up, however, we smelled vaguely like an Italian restaurant.
We were on our winter holiday break and were grateful we got to avoid exposing our wreckage, aka faces, to our classmates. Although as luck would have it, about a week later my sister and I got a call to be on a teen dance show as dancers. And despite having worn paper bags on our heads for the previous 7 days, we told our parents we really wanted to do it.
A week after a sunburn is when the pus pockets have burst, (whee!) and the dead skin starts to slough off the body. For us, we were spinning the roulette question wheel of will-it-peel-off-today? and desperately hoping that our face masks would hold on for one more day so we could be a part of this teen jamboree. Our parents were moderately surprised we wanted to do it considering the condition of our faces but appreciated our go-gettedness. Once we got their OK, we marched into the bathroom to spackle up the damage with layers upon layers of make-up.
My sister and I arrived at the set that morning giddy. We made an agreement to only hang out with each other intermittently so we had space to meet cute boys and girls and get our respective grooves on. I wore a bright blue turtleneck and skin-tight Bongo jeans that cost me a month’s allowance. I wanted to look good. If I’m not mistaken, my turtleneck had shoulder pads. Atop that, I wore my light blue denim Bongo jeans jacket. My curly hair was exploding in all directions which I figured I could use as a Plan B if I needed a place to hide my mug. But as long as I didn’t change my expression too much, my face glue was (fingers crossed) going to keep everything together.
Inside a giant warehouse, there were fifty or so kids dancing on multiple levels of scaffolding and platform stages. Cameras were situated in various areas, on cranes, on platforms, and rolling dollies. This was some sort of contemporary American Bandstand and we were on the pilot show! For the first 20 minutes or so they had us dancing to pop songs, showing off our best moves, laughing and faux interacting with each other like we were besties at the teen nightclub. (Is that a thing?)
About 30 minutes in though, I started to sweat the sweat of a dancer dancing in a turtleneck and jeans ensemble, layered in shoulder pads and 2 solid inches of cake make-up. The beads of sweat began to form and on every take I was patting myself down with another layer of “tan” cover-up powder. I don’t know what constitutes “tan” but a fair skinned red-head definitely isn’t it. As my ethnicity progressively changed from Irish to olive skinned Mediterranean to Alien Baby, my skin began to buckle under the weight of all the makeup and stress sweat.
From time to time I would look over at my sister to see how she was doing. She was starting to look pretty distressed too, and I could see where her tan was starting to crack especially around her ears and eyebrows.
At one point the director had a gaggle of us surrounding the show host in a close-up shot as she introduced the latest number-one hit. We all sat around her bopping to the groove while she talked about the song with her long skinny microphone in hand. Just as the camera was panning around the ten or so of us who were lucky enough to be picked, I noticed a chunk of my chin had fallen clean off and had landed on the third button of my Bongo jeans jacket. I casually grabbed at my coat like a fashion model and threw my head back to laugh in the hopes that the camera wouldn’t catch the gaping pink hole in the lower half of my face.
Once back in the larger crowd, we were told to do more dancing, this time to a faster more intense tune. I Hammer danced my way towards my sister to ask her if the chunk missing from my face was noticeable. But before I could get out the question, I saw that her left cheek looked like it had been bitten into by a hungry badger.
“How does my face look?” I casually asked her.
“Oh, fine. You might want to add a touch more cover up to the chin area.” She said calmly while maintaining her groove.
“How about me?” She asked.
“Oh, you look great! I love what your hair is doing! Maybe just pull it forward a touch over your cheek. It will give you that mysterious air.” I encouraged her as I danced sideways to avoid full eye contact.
Neither wanted the other to panic, but we both knew we were looking at an 8-hour filming day and hoped that whatever remnants of our faces were left by the end, we would somehow look decent enough to get some camera time.
Together as sister zombies, we did the only thing we could do, apply more cover-up. And with every application, our faces grew closer to resembling characters from Picasso’s Guernica. Eyebrows missing, lips sliding down our faces, necks drooping in different directions, we were paintings in progress, our faces had become dismembered objects from the Antiques Road Show. But two head-strong teenage girls who had suffered through 7 days of burns and leaky blisters were determined to get their close up on network television, no matter what.
I remember there was another girl dancer who had shiny blonde hair down to her knees. She was very pretty and all the boys seemed enchanted by her. On the break, my sister and I sat in the corner patting down our melting faces, side-eyeing their adoration. But when I stopped to think about it, how freakish was she? She had more hair than the pony I rode at my cousin’s bat-mitzvah and I can only imagine what her hairbrush must have looked like. Plus when you danced close to her, her hair got stuck to your clothes and you ended up feeling like a lost sock in the dryer, spinning around trying to get dislodged.
We were special in other ways and my sister and I kept pepping each other up despite being dancing burn victims on the Disney Channel.
My sister and I danced for the whole 8 hour day and came home looking like our faces were in the process of a home renovation. But we were proud of each other and ourselves for having stuck it out. Yes, we were forbidden from ever spending time with Nancy again and we knew that yes, if we ever had a complaint with the police, it was best to just suck it up. But we also knew we were heartier than we once thought.
When the show aired a few weeks later, and the last patches of dead skin had finally fallen from our faces, my sister and I excitedly sat down to watch and see if we made it into the final cut.
Parked on our living room floor with healed cheeks and chins, rosy and recovered as only 12 and 13-year-old skin can, we watched with excitement and anticipation.
“Rachael! I think I just saw the back of your head!” I yelled.
“Oh Nina, that was definitely your shoulder, I can tell by how thick they are!”
“Yes! I see my shoes in that shot! And there’s your head again Rach!”
We had made the final cut. Albeit silhouetted and darkly lit, you could make us out not as the progeny of Freddy Kruger but as happy teens dancing along with our un-peeling faced peers.
We hugged each other and ran downstairs to tell our parents. While this event didn’t pay us in money, it paid us in one of life’s most important lessons: Being disgusting doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of love, friendship, or your close-up.