Big Billy – Sunburn Blues

You can’t even dare to look outside on a sunny day anymore without fifteen people jumpin’ down your neck, tellin’ ya to put on sunscreen.

Get yer SPF 45! Minnie barks at me if I even so much as reach for the doorknob to Big BIllygo outside.

My what? I asked her the other day.

Sunscreen, she said.

But what did you call it? I said.

It’s called SPF 45, that’s the name of the chemicals in it or whatever. It’s one of the stronger ones, she said.

SPF 45? I said. That sounds like the name of the ship in a science fiction movie or somethin’. “We beamed onto the SPF 45 and set our course for a distant planet.” Or like, when Tommy starts talkin’ about car parts none of us ever heard of – “Buddy had a transmission from an SPF 45 but the engine was a V8.” Or like in a spy movie when they asks the secret password and –

Oh for cripessake, just shut up and put it on, she said, throwin’ the bottle at me.

So, naturally, I took the bottle, waited for her to go back in the room and then put it down on the counter again without puttin’ any on. I mean, that day I was only runnin’ out the baby barn to get a few drywall screws from the tobacco can, so it was kind of ridiculous anyways.

But I’ll ya this – and this is my own downfall – the more somebody tells me I hafta do somethin’ the more likely I am to cross my arms, tip back the brim of my ball cap and say – Oh yeah? Says who?

And of course Minnie knows this – after so many years of bein’ together she knows it’s never a good idea to tell me somethin’s good for me. There was one time I was makin’ myself a sandwich and I let out a bellow when I realized – Whole wheat bread, I said. What in the hell is this?

It’s the same as we always get, she said. I started buyin’ that last summer.

Oh, she got her tricks, that one.

Anyways, the other day I find myself home alone. Minnie was out grocery shoppin’, Little Bill was over the girlfriend’s, and Rosie got the bus to the mall with her buddies.

It was so hot in the house I was stickin’ to my chair tryin’ to watch the ball game, so I said to hell with it and went out on the back step to see if there was a breeze. There wasn’t too much of one, but I said to hell with it and took my shirt off. I don’t care who sees me in my own yard, I said to myself, so I let my gut and hairy B-cups breathe a bit.

Hey! somebody yells. I look up and who is it, but Mrs. Fischer – or Ol’ Fishcakes, as we call her. The neighbourhood busybody who always got her nose in everything. Her back yard is right behind our backyard, with the two of them separated by my baby barn and her friggin’ vegetable garden.

I waved to her but didn’t say anything.

You people need to keep your damn dog out of my garden, she said. She was wearin’ a big white hat that looked like a satellite dish.

That’s not my dog, it’s Dave’s dog, I said. (She’s talkin’ about Smiley Bates, the mutt that my daughter Rosie and the girl next door, Stephanie, both claimed as their own a couple of years ago, and which me and Dave both built a doghouse for on the property line, with both of us swearin’ the dog was the other fella’s problem.)

Oh yeah? says Ol’ Fishcakes. Well then why is the dog asleep under your chair? I look down under the folding lawn chair and sure enough, there’s Smiley Bates lookin’ back at me with a big panting smile. I swear, the whole family conspires against me.

Just friendly, I guess, I said to her. Then I seen Minnie left the newspaper on the step beside the chair so I picked it up and pretended to start readin’ it so Ol’ Fishcakes would leave me alone.

I heard her TSK real loud and sort of shuffle around in her yard a bit, but I knew she never went inside. So I started lookin’ through the paper until I found the sports pages and started readin’ about how the Blue Jays were doin’. Now, I remember readin’ the first few lines recappin’ a game against the Yankees and I dunno what it was – probably the heat, I guess – but in no time at all I must have dropped off to la-la land.

Minnie woke me up when she got back from the store about two hours later. She yelled at me to come help her with the bags and I snorted myself awake, stumbled out of the chair and went down to give her a hand.

Oh my god, she said when she seen me. And her face sort of scrunched up like she was in a movie and about to be eaten by a werewolf or somethin’. Did you fall asleep out here? she said.

No? I said, wipin’ the sleep from my eyes.

Turns out I fell asleep. With the folded newspaper teeterin’ between my chin and my gut. So I got a big white patch from my mouth to my right nipple, back to the centre of my chest, and up to my mouth again. The rest of me is as red as a fire truck in a Canada Day parade.

Good news, though. In a week’s time it should all be peeled off. Oh joy.

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