PORTAGE, WI—Local resident Stacy Nielsen takes great pride in her deep, dark, horrible suntan, the 28-year-old sales associate revealed Tuesday.
"I worked hard all summer to get this tan," said Nielsen, her wide smile threatening to crack her sun-dried, rusty-orange face. "It's not like you can just lay out whenever. To get an even tan, you have to know when to go tanning, and what to expose when."
Nielsen frequently offers coworkers advice on proper flipping procedures, tanning oils, and skin moisturizers.
"I guess you could call tanning an addiction for me," added Nielsen, crossing a leg that resembled a hot dog forgotten on a gas grill. "But I just can't stand to look like a ghost."
Despite having taken no vacation this summer, Nielsen has managed to "get a little color," impressing her coworkers at Reliant Consumer Health Products.
"Stacy looks amazing," said fellow sales associate Judy Haskins, overlooking the obvious flaking and discoloration of Nielsen's epidermis, perhaps in an unconscious attempt to cope with her colleague's increasingly reptilian appearance. "I just don't see how she finds the time. I guess, unlike me, she has the type of complexion the sun loves."
Haskins is not the only one to unfavorably compare his or her own light skin to Nielsen's withered husk.
"I thought I had a tan, but I'm two shades lighter than Stacy," said Don Rourke, his eyes glued to the sandpapery skin revealed by Nielsen's clothing. "Well, if you ever need me to help put suntan lotion on your back, Stacy, just give me a call."
Stretching her arms over her head to reveal her ghastly burnt-ochre armpits, the sun-raped Nielsen related some tricks sunbathers can use to prematurely age their skin and increase their risk of skin cancer.
"I catch a few rays over the lunch hour if the sun's out," Nielsen said. "Then, if I have a little time after work, I drive out to the lake and relax on the pier with a Diet Coke. And, of course, I sun a lot during the weekends—at home and at the lakeshore. I make sure I'm out there during peak hours. I don't burn easily, so sunscreen isn't really necessary."
Nielsen said she looks forward to the Caribbean cruise she will take with her boyfriend in January.
"It's going to be so great getting out of Wisconsin," the leather-handbag-like Nielsen said. "By that time of the year, I'm so faded, it's embarrassing."
"I don't want to look horrible my first day on the beach, so I probably should use a sunless tanning lotion before I go," Nielsen added, twirling a hay-like stalk of blonde hair around her finger.
Dr. Helen Rasmussen, a Rochester-based clinical psychologist who specializes in sun-related psychological disorders, attributed Nielsen's ardent cultivation of her horrible tan to a broad phenomenon she calls "Climate Overcompensation Syndrome."
"People who live in cold regions are often beset with complexes over their climates," Rasmussen said. "Therefore, we see things like Wisconsinites who wear floral-print shorts during a brief snap of unseasonably warm February weather, and sorority sisters in Michigan whose keggers always seem to incorporate plastic leis and Wayfarer shades. Climate Overcompensation Syndrome results in the public nudity along mosquito-plagued Minnesota lakes, and the Key West screensaver popular with office workers in Illinois."
Statements made by Nielsen's boyfriend, hardware-store manager Curt Kleis, seem to support Rasmussen's theory.
"I'm going to spend as much time as possible outside with my beach bunny while we have the chance," said Kleis, using a moniker which would imply that Nielsen is a nubile, attractively sun-kissed maiden. "Before we know it, winter will be here and we'll be stuck inside with nothing to do."
"We're definitely going back to the nude beach at Mazomanie a few more times," said Kleis with a wink, oblivious to the sickening impact of his words. "Stacy wanted to work more on her 'all-over tan,' if you know what I mean."