The Perks of Being a Pale Flower


I’m not white; I’m sort of a cool beige tone. Try arguing that with a third grade classmate. I tried to tell him that I was not white. I cited as evidence that my socks were white and that I did not match them. He could not get over it. There weren’t many kids who could.

Coming up in the south, in the late 1980s, my hair was commented on by every woman I encountered. They all lusted after the color of my hair which was in their words, “pretty blond”. This was so frequent I thought the actual technical name of my hair color was “pretty blond”. I told people so.

I burned easily as all persons of light complexion do. Always was the necessity to be covered from head to toe in the deluge that is sun block. Naturally, it was difficult to forget to slather it on as I had so many people to remind me. They worried about my little ears. I did acquire severe blisters on more than one occasion. The object seemed to be to get my tanner. We tried the orange spread-on. I was tangerine for a few days. I even used a tanning bed for a short time. These measures were successful in browning me but only for a short time.

Sometime in junior high, I first heard that dreaded word: albino. This was the most cringe-worthy of all names and labels I was given. No bullies get an award for creativity in name calling. Others included: Snow White, Whitey, and Powder. I had been lovingly referred to as Cotton Top by family but that never bothered me.

It was about 1996 when Powder hit theaters nationwide. It was the story of an otherworldly white wonder. Think Carrie. What is it with the evil albino in film and literature? Think, for example, of the Matrix. Anyway, I adopted this name because it just so happened a cute, older, Australian exchange student thought it was endearing. She could call me whatever she liked. I had that name put on a birthday cake for a party she attended.

I also liked to point out that I was not, in fact, an albino. After all, as the record shows they have pink eyes. My eyes are deep blue. And…and…and my skin tone does not quite fall into the Elmer’s range as does theirs.

I was hanging out at the mall one day with my friend, Chris, when a woman approached me about her daughter. The woman flashed me a picture of her daughter who was a bonafide “albino”. She quite literally blended into the white foreground of the picture. The mom rattled off a very sad story and then expressed the belief that we could be friends at least…possibly more. I was horrified but didn’t know what to say. When she handed me their telephone number, I graciously accepted it…only to chuck it out of the car window later.

Did I feel bad for her daughter? Yes. Sometimes, even now, I think about it and wish I had been kinder. But, I resented this idea that we should all be paired up and shipped out to some albino-friendly corner of Switzerland. That night, I would recount the story only to have my friend’s girlfriend tell me that my standards were TOO HIGH. Basically, that because I was a freak I shouldn’t expect to do any better.

97% of the time this is a non-issue for me. Usually, I think I’m one of the coolest guys that anybody I know knows. This is untrue for other reasons, certainly. People worry about me if ever my jokes turn self-deprecating. They defend me from me as I were the bully. This is followed by some kind of lecture on self-confidence. “Oh, don’t say that.” So, yeah I audaciously think I’m cool and *gasp* not ugly. My wife will tell you, I am vain and even narcissistic at times. I know, how dare I?!?

Like I said, most times I’m bopping along to the sound of music in my head, laughing at my own jokes but then it happens. Every so often, I’ll be in Wal-Mart or other such place and some passers-by will feel compelled to comment, “What is that?” or “What a freak.” I am always within earshot. Usually, I am within 5 feet. And they get their giggles in. In these moments, I come out of self-blown cloud of smoke and awesomeness and remember that people have a problem with me.

And let me just say, some people really have a problem with me. I think pretty much everyone is affected. Some people are disgusted by my existence. Others are so moved in pity that it disgusts me. I don’t want your pity. It also is likely that I think you are rather garish looking-though I am not quite so consumed by this way of thinking. It’s almost universally true that my paleness is equated with weakness. Women baby me. Men want to toughen me up, assuming I’m just some ol’ pansy mama’s boy. And that makes me want to open a medicine cabinet of bad language.

I have not yet mentioned any so-called perks. I’m sure there are plenty I just don’t sit around thinking about it.

I read recently that people in Tanzania who possess albinistic traits are being killed for their hair and limbs which are believed to bring good fortune, as a result, scalps and body parts sell well into the hundred thou range on the black market there.

Tanzania, here I come? Yeah, right. I think I’ll stay right here where being pasty though frowned upon is not yet a capitol offense.

Not yet…

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