This is one of life's tougher lessons, I fear, and I learned it the hard way. During last week’s sojourn to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I diligently tramped from one end of the battlefield to the other. I climbed Oak Hill and Culp’s Hill and both of the Round Tops, and yes, coming down Big Round Top is a lot easier than going up it—going up Little Round Top is not easy, either, but I found it a lot easier going than Colonel Oates and his Alabama regiment did it 1863; it’s a lot easier to climb almost anything if there aren’t large numbers of Red Sox fans shooting down at you. From the Round Tops I tramped on to the Devil’s Den, where there are neither devils nor dens with comfortable chairs, but only annoying little kids playing soldier and screeching at the top of their lungs for their mothers when they get hurt, and the Wheatfield, where there is no wheat, and on to the Peach Orchard, where there are no peach trees, but where there is a nice statue of a New York city fireman, to Cemetery Ridge, where, among other monuments, there is a statue honoring the Tammany Hall regiment, which only goes to show just how far some New York Democrats will go to get votes, and then to the Angle and to Cemetery Hill and thence to the parking lot, where I collapsed in a semi-comatose heap next to a bus chock full of kids from Morristown, New Jersey, who spat gallons of Mountain Dew in my face to revive me. Tramping up and down the countryside of southern Pennsylvania in eighty-degree heat in a leather jacket and two cameras around my neck is not such a bright idea, something I discovered only after I’d done it. And as a consequence of all this tramping, my face was sunburned for the first time in thirty years.
Now, I should point out that I am not in any way a vain person. As I see it, in order to be vain about your looks you have to be good-looking to begin with, and frankly, I’m not. I am not a complete horror; seeing me does not provoke involuntary vomiting in laboratory rats nor does it induce hysterical blindness in hebephrenic schizophrenics, but that’s about as positive as I can be about my looks. Given that I don’t look like a movie star, I do not spend a lot of time looking at myself in mirrors. I don’t need to know what I look like; one look in the morning to shave myself and comb my hair will generally do me for the whole day. So it was not until I stepped into the shower the next morning that I realized that my bald spot was sunburned as well.
Having a sunburned bald spot is more annoying than you can imagine, if for no other reason than that big shocking pink spot on the top of my head makes me look like a vaguely gay overweight Orthodox Jew. I know my hair is thinning up there, of course, but out of sight, out of mind, as they say, and as I can’t see the spot when I shower and shave I don’t really think about it all that often. I’ve had to think about it for the past week or so though, because first, it’s as sore as hell, and second, my skull is now molting faster than a rattlesnake on crystal meth and my self-esteem is hurtling over the brim and into the abyss with every corn flake-sized slab of skin that winds up on my shirt. I don’t mind the winter all that much, but I do mind looking as though I’m carrying my own personal blizzard everywhere I go.
As a corollary to all of the above, I should point out that I am not exactly what you would call an outdoorsy kind of guy to begin with. I know the great outdoors exists; I’ve seen Ansel Adams’ pictures of it, but if it is all the same to you, I would just as soon not spend a whole lot of time out in the great outdoors. Adams’ photographs are wonderful, things of beauty to behold and to marvel at, but you don’t see the squadrons of mosquitoes he had to fight off just to take those pictures. Nature is all well and good in its place, but I would just as soon not have invertebrates use me as the basis of their personal ecosystem. This is just a personal preference on my part, you understand; I know there are people out there who like insects. I'm not sure I know why; liking insects strikes me as only a cut above enjoying beating your elderly mother black and blue with a five iron every morning, but it takes all kinds to make a world, as they say, and who am I to quibble with someone else's likes and dislikes?