Winter Skin

Photo by Phil Kallahar on

One of the perks of living in the beautiful, savage State of Alaska is the opportunity it affords me to sample a wide variety of exotic skin care products.  The unique combination of low humidity, high wind and severe cold has a way of instantaneously freeze-drying my epidermis.  Guys are supposed to scoff at the use of lotions and potions, but I don’t.  I crave the stuff. 

For a while, I too was afflicted by the macho mentality.  Whenever my wife told me that I should take care of my skin, I’d shrug her off:  “I’m fine.  Just a little chapped, that’s all.  I’m not going to rub any of that slimy stuff on me and walk around smelling like a giant peach.”  Although I secretly craved relief, the thought of using a skin moisturizer felt like a betrayal of my masculinity.  I would have sooner worn a scrunchy in my hair, or gotten a manicure.

Even when my fingertips cracked open and I began leaving bloody fingerprints on everything I touched, I refused to come to my senses.  Eventually, I began to hear little tinkling sounds whenever I flexed my skin.  I could hold my hand up to a bright light, make a fist, and watch a puff of dead skin cells explode in a veritable blizzard from my hide. 

For a while it was a great gag.  I would invite some friends over for an old black and white comedy-watching marathon.  My wife would whip up a stock pot of spaghetti, and I would wait until everyone had settled around the boob tube with a plate full.  Then as the tinny, old-fashioned theme music played on the opening credits, I would poke my hand in front of the screen and intone “…and now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the Hal Roach feature film, ‘Laurel and Hardy, lost in Antarctica!’”   Then I would clench my fist.

My guy friends loved it, although their wives were less than amused.  My wife, spoilsport that she is, put an end to it when everyone started complimenting her on the Parmesan cheese. 

She didn’t serve any Parmesan cheese. 

Wives have no sense of humor.

I didn’t start using lotion, though, until the Chihuahua and woodpecker incident that happened when I was Outside a number of years ago.  It was a quick trip, while I was at the peak of a full-fledged flare-up of Winter Skin.  The pivotal incident occurred as I was standing out behind my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania admiring the distinctive thick flaky bark that hung in peeling strips from their beloved stand of shagbark hickory trees. 

I have a vague memory of hearing the hinges squeak on the back door of the house, simultaneous with the flutter of wings above my head.  I had just begun to register a warm flowing sensation in the vicinity of my ankle when fireworks exploded in my head and I lost consciousness.

When I woke up, I was laying on Grandma’s claw-legged, wing-backed davenport with my head on a rolled up afghan, and she was pouring a bottle of cod-liver oil down my throat.  My pounding head was swathed in a comfrey poultice, and Grandpa was talking.

“…now, Gertrude, you’re getting yourself too worked up.  Why don’t you just give Georgie a chance to rest, and I’m sure he’ll be ok.”

“Elmer!  How can you be so calm?  Land Sakes, did you ever see anything like it?  What do you suppose came over Taco?  Bad, bad Taco!  Bad doggie!”

Grandpa snorted.  “Hah, nothing your spoiled mutt does could surprise me, but the thing that has me buffaloed is that bird!  I have never seen a woodpecker light into a person before.  The crazy thing just landed on his shoulder and started pecking at Georgie’s face like he thought he was a tree or something!”

My grandparents never have figured out what happened–but I knew.  It wasn’t the animals’ fault.  Standing there among those shagbark hickories with my winter skin, I must have looked like just another tree.  Taco and the woodpecker were only being true to their instincts.

It was at that moment that I came to the realization that I had two options.  I could audition for a movie role as Treebeard the Ent, or I could use some lotion.  I figured that since Peter Jackson finished filming the Lord of the Rings movies years ago and probably won’t be making another version until they come out with holoprojector technology, I was fated to apply some skin moisturizer.

As soon as I had recovered from Grandma’s cod liver oil sufficiently to drive, I mumbled an excuse and drove up the road to the 7-11 convenience store.  I grabbed a shopping basket and sidled over toward the health and beauty shelf.  On the way, I snatched a Guns and Ammo magazine from the bookrack and made a show of thumbing through it.  When I felt certain nobody was looking my direction, I backed up to a bottle with a picture of an aloe vera plant on it and nudged it with my elbow until it toppled into my basket.  Quickly I dropped the magazine on top of it and headed for the Slim Jims and Twinkies as if that had been my original destination.

At checkout, my face flamed with embarrassment when the clerk lifted my magazine to reveal the telltale bottle of moisturizer.  I stammered something about picking it up for my wife, threw a fifty on the counter and fled without bothering to wait for change. 

My hand was shaking so badly, I could hardly slip the key into the ignition.  My mouth was dry, and my heart pounded as I pulled out of the parking lot.  Shifty-eyed, I searched for a secluded place to experience my first hit of skin lotion.  About a quarter mile down the road I found it—a pullout behind a billboard, shielded by overhanging shrubbery. 

I reached into the bag, took a deep breath, and drew my purchase into the open.  I unscrewed the cap and tore off the safety seal.  The bottom of the seal was coated with a layer of a smooth creamy substance that emitted a slightly herbal scent.  It was nothing like the cheap perfume smell I had dreaded.  Hesitantly, I touched it to the back of my hand.

The reaction was instantaneous!  There was a sharp hissing sound as the lotion met my skin and evaporated in a geyser of steam.  The little foil seal shriveled and writhed, and before my eyes tarnished to the color of a blued gun barrel before leaping out of my hand and bursting into flame.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought I noticed a faint soothing sensation in my hand. 

With a sudden resolve, I tilted the bottle above my hand and squeezed.  My skin became a gluttonous sponge that sucked in the lotion faster than I could pour it on.  Before I knew it, I had dumped the entire bottle into one spot on the back of my hand the size of a quarter. 

When the tingling and the steam had subsided, I became aware of a luscious new sensation.  It was the amazing, exquisite luxury of hydrated skin.  There are no words to describe the euphoria I felt as I peered down at the moist, pink oasis of health surrounded by the parched, dusty desert that was the rest of my hand.

As I burst back through the door of the convenience mart, the clerk flapped a fistful of bills at me:

“Sir, sir?  Excuse me, you forgot your change, sir!”

“Keep it.  Can I get a case of that lotion stuff?  My…uh…wife…no, you know what?  Scratch that.   It’s me, actually.  I proudly admit it.  I want some skin lotion!  Do you hear me, world?  Hahahaha!  I USE SKIN LOTION! ANYBODY GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

Some people may think I’m a wimp, but let me tell you something; no critters have confused me with a shagbark hickory since I started moisturizing.  However, just in case you happen to be one of those hardcore holdouts whose ego prevents you from treating your winter skin, here are a few suggestions that I have come up with to make the best of your situation:

  1. Start a dust mite farm.  Then use an electron microscope to take pictures of them feeding on your discarded flakes of skin, and make a “B” horror flick.
  2. Volunteer your services to the city to lie in Jarvis creek bed during breakup and absorb any floodwaters.
  3. Hire yourself out to outdoor party events as a human wind chime.  Sit in a breezy place and let the wind ripple your scales for a musical ambience.

There are many other profitable ideas that a creative entrepreneur could exploit, but these examples should get your creative juices flowing. 

Either that or you could break down and apply some lotion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: