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Posted on January 7, 2009
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from The Daily Beast

“Albany, N.Y., is an indoor tanning mecca, a hotbed of hot beds. There are more than 800 tanning salons in the greater capital region. Four-term Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings presides over ribbon-cuttings with a year-round bronze. At the historically Catholic college where I teach, students grow more preternaturally orange as winter progresses.

I have never fit in here. I was pasty-faced even for Brooklyn, and when I moved to this tanner’s Valhalla I became even more freakishly white. And so, half anxious to fit in, half curious to learn the appeal, I decided to embark on an experiment in which I would join the ranks of the fake-baked to see how a deep, midwinter tan could change my life.

Day 1
When I arrive at Miami Sun Tanning on the outskirts of town, I tell John, the manager and owner, that I want to get as tan as possible before Christmas. He takes me under his wing. “We’ll get you on a special program,” he says, and points me toward my first bed: the Solaris X2 by TanAmerica.

With its glowing handle and purple mood lighting, the X2’s interior recalls a Chevy van I once owned. Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” blasts from its speakers. I put on my sun goggles. Memories of summer days at the Jersey Shore, my ancestral homeland, fill my head.

Day 2
I take the train to New York City for a poetry reading in the East Village and notice immediately how pale everyone is. Silently, I pity them. Is it the New York poets’ desire to retain a Keatsian tubercular countenance that holds them back from the joys of lampbeds on Christopher Street? Or is it the creative class’ aversion to the déclassé trucker tans of the manual laborer? My first-stage tan is subtle to the eye, but already I’m feeling superior.

After all, I’ve now joined the ranks of Real America. One in four teenage girls has tanned indoors, and men, who make up about a quarter of all tanners, represent the industry’s fastest growing demographic. Tanning is as American as a monster truck rally. Britney Spears’ acolytes tan. The Gotti boys tan. Sarah Palin tans, and she effectively coined the phrase Real America. As the newest member of the $5 billion tanning industry, I feel closer to my country. Patriotic, even.

My poet friends, ensconced in their elitist New York hipster bubble, are clueless about my new look. “You look good,” an old poet friend tells me after the reading. “Did you lose weight or something?”

Article - Nester Tanthropology

Day 3
Last week of classes before winter break. Flurries swirl in the air. As I field final exam questions, a few of the browner students cast sidelong glances. One finally speaks up. “Did you go to a tanning salon?”

I smile, and cop to my new tan. Like a real-life version of Facebook, I have SuperPoked the students with the “Talk About Tanning” meme. We cross-chat about which salons they go to, compare monthly package prices, place arms side by side to compare hues.

If I were Malcolm Gladwell, I’d brand Day 3 the tanning tipping point. If I were Thomas Friedman, I’d devote a chapter to this new, flat world of tanning. Me, I’d just call it my first day as an official card-carrying member of the fake-tan club.”

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