Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unsolicited Testimonial

I grew up in the days before sunscreen was invented.  The little girl in the Coppertone logo was still toasty brown, lifeguards all wore white streaks of zinc oxide on their noses, and some young women smeared themselves with a vile concoction of iodine and baby oil to achieve skin like that on a rotisserie chicken as quickly as possible.  SPF was not yet even a gleam in someone's eye the summer I ruined my skin forever by taking a job detasseling corn.

To explain, I must digress for a moment and discuss the sex life of corn.  (You may wish to send small children from the room.)  Much of the corn grown in the Midwest is hybrid - that is, a cross between two different types of parent corn.  The farmer plants several rows of "mother" corn - the plants that will actually bear the ears of corn - then a couple of rows of "father" corn - the plants that will pollinate the mother corn - and so on throughout the field.  When the wind blows, the pollen from the father corn will waft across the mother plants and fertilize them, and the resulting ears of corn are hybrids.  BUT...corn plants are bisexual.  For all the ears of corn to be hybrid, the farmer must somehow ensure that the mother plants don't fertilize themselves.  Enter the detasselers.

The part of the corn plant that carries its pollen is the tassel at the top (it looks like this).  To perform the corn equivalent of a vasectomy, the tassel must be removed from the plant before it matures enough to release its pollen.  Unfortunately, this process cannot be (or at least has not been) mechanized.  Human beings must walk through the field, or ride through it on platforms pulled by tractors, and snap off the tassels by hand.  The tassels won't break off if they are too green, and even if they aren't the detasseler must use just the right combination of upward pull and wrist motion to make them part company with the parent plants.  Since the corn plants do not all mature at once, detasselers must comb through each field several times to remove all the problematic tassels.

Of course, the period during which the tassels are at peak removal condition is fairly short and the cornfields are large.  The farmer I worked for had two detasseling crews who walked the fields (tall guys) and two who rode the platforms looking for the tallest tassels (girls).  At the beginning and end of the season, one walking crew and one riding crew worked from 6AM to noon and went home; the second walking crew and riding crew worked from noon to 6PM.  The next day the crews switched shifts.  During the peak season, the morning crew came back at 6PM and worked for another couple of hours.  It was grueling physical labor.  At 6AM the plants were still covered with cold dew and the wet leaves slapped us as the tractor drove down the rows so we were drenched and shivering before we'd gone more than a few feet.  By noon the temperature was over 100 degrees and the dry leaves were slicing us instead (think large paper cuts).  We couldn't really get a good grip on the tassels wearing gloves, so we used our bare hands, which ended each day covered with nicks and cuts and stinging from sap.  At the end of the summer the farmer thanked me for being such a hard worker and told me I could come back the next year if I wanted to.  I declined.

Although I have skin that usually tans instead of burning, 6 straight hours a day in direct sunlight with only a hat for protection was too much for it.  I burned, I peeled, I ended the summer approximately the same color as an old leather saddle - and my skin has been paying for it ever since.  I've always had freckles, but that winter several of them joined hands under my left eye to form an ugly blotch that's been there ever since, and in recent years additional patches of sun damage have started to show up on my cheeks and hands.  A few years ago the spot under my eye had grown so large and dark that I consulted a dermatologist about it.  (Even under makeup it's so visible I've had strangers ask me how I got the black eye.)  He prescribed a tube of bleaching cream that cost over $100 and didn't do much to help.

Now for the unsolicited testimonial.  I've used Clinique makeup all my adult life, so when they recently introduced their Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector lotion I thought, "What the hell," and gave it a try.  It's expensive, but considerably cheaper than the prescription cream, and it works much better.  It's supposed to be applied twice a day, but because I'm a stomach sleeper and don't want it smeared all over my pillowcase I've only been using it in the morning.  It comes with a "progress tracker" card on which you mark your darkest spot's darkest tone before starting to use the product; this enables you to see whether you are experiencing real improvements.  The literature says to expect a 1-2 shade visible improvement in your designated dark spot after 4 weeks.  After 4 weeks, using the product only half as often as I was supposed to, I realized that the very darkest part of my under-eye spot had lightened by 4 shades, and the other patches on my face have noticeably faded, too.  This stuff is fabulous.  I'm hoping if I keep using it that eventually under makeup the bad splotch will just look like a normal dark under-eye circle rather than a shiner.

Sunburn is very becoming, but only when it is even - one must be careful not to look like a mixed grill. ~ Noel Coward

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