When I was in high school I spent a month each summer with extended family in Chicago. Each summer I would reappear in my old Skokie life like an apparition, and to strangers I was a very rare thing indeed: the Arizona cousin. "There are Jews in Arizona?," people would say, like I was the Loch Ness monster and maybe they should take a picture. Then I'd suffer through an examination from head to toe while they assessed whether I was really this thing I claimed to be, this Arizona Jew. After a few times, I knew what was coming next, the question: "If you're from Arizona, why don't you have a tan?"
Since I've lived in Arizona since 1973, I'm going to claim a little bit of expertise on this topic, though I'll readily recognize that there were people here before me, like the Neanderthals. Let's put it this way, when I moved to Arizona, kids in my eighth grade class rode horses to school. That was a little too country for me. The big event in Skokie before I moved had been getting a Star of David necklace for Hanukkah; the big thing in Scottsdale in 1973 was going to a weekend tent revival.
So here's the big secret that people in the rest of the country might not understand: people in Arizona don't have tans because when you live in Arizona, you actually don't go out in the sun at all, at least from May through September. You are positively paranoid about the sun. You wear SPF 1000 inside your house in case some sunlight gets through the window, on which you have a sunshade anyway. When you go driving anywhere, like even to the corner market, you carry a jug of water, because if your car breaks down you could die of dehydration before help arrives. Your children wear Transition lenses on their eyeglasses because you're afraid of them getting cataracts before their time, like when they're teenagers.
It's very dry here. So dry that when I moved here, I didn't understand why bottles of lotion were constantly being passed around among women who would swoon at the sight of them, reaching for them with their hands shaking in ecstasy. Now I understand. Each morning I take my shower and then I slather on lotion from head to toe. If I didn't do this, my whole body would actually crack into a million tiny pieces and fall to the bathroom floor. Then comes sunscreen for my whole body, secret anti-aging wrinkle creams, more lotions, more sunscreens. I end up so greased up that when I get in my car I actually slip right out again.
Soon I'll be heading to California where people actually leave their homes and have outside lives. It seems unbelievable, but I'm going to feel a breeze on my face. And when I meet Californians they'll look at me and get a quizzical look in their eyes; they'll look me up and down, and then they'll say, "If you're from Arizona, why don't you have a tan?"