The Sun: Is It Brighter? … Can’t a Guy Get Abused in This Town?

The Sun: Is It Brighter?

The sun used to be the most popular guy in–well, in the entire solar system. He was bigger than God.

Poets had nothing but good things to say about him. People basked in his aura for hours and scientists nodded their

approval. He was the only way to score vitamin D.

Now, it seems, the earth is on the outs with its former idol. Chic Manhattan dermatologists–latter-day Cassandras–mutter dark warnings about malignant melanoma and basal-cell carcinoma. New chemical blocks–Parsol, etc.–compound the snub. Beauty editors are pushing self-tanner. And though “Isn’t it nice out?” and “I’m going to lie out this weekend, get some color” are lines one still hears around town, some people have just had it with the cheap, bronzed esthetic; the glare; all of it.

Kate Mayfield, a 25-year-old actress who lives on the Upper West Side, is at the forefront of the antisun brigade. For the past three summers, she has carried a parasol.

“It just seemed like a good idea,” she said.

The rampant teasing she gets won’t make her give it up.

“I mean, they make fun of me,” said Ms. Mayfield, a tall, remarkably creamy-complected redhead who attended Barnard and occasionally models. “Some look at me and say, ‘Mary Poppins.'”

But passers-by are slowly warming to her Edwardian-style paper umbrellas, which cost about $10 a pop in Chinatown–she owns three–and come painted with quail and butterflies. “Ladies with hats are interested,” she reported. “And a lot of men seem to think it’s cute.”

While Ms. Mayfield, armed with parasol, still occasionally braves the beach with friends, her attitude toward the sun, never enthusiastic (her grandfather had skin cancer), has turned downright hostile.

“It’s relentless; it just drives you nuts,” she fumed. “When I’m in it now, it really agitates me. I’m just like ‘Oh, I’ve got to get out of this!'”

Ms. Mayfield’s agitation may be justified. Listen to the scientists: “The sun is brighter than it has been for about 1,000 years, but the variation is very slight. It’s a tenth of a percent,” said Jean L. Turner, an astronomy professor at U.C.L.A. She deflected further questioning to a colleague, Judit Pap, an associate research astronomer and sun specialist.

“This is a very controversial issue,” said Dr. Pap. A symposium on the topic is scheduled to convene in Birmingham, England, on July 21, she added. “The measurements from space cover only two decades, and it’s too short to say anything about the long term. But several indices indicate that the solar activity is rising, and that’s a question whether somehow we can relate it to the solar brightness. We are working on it.”

“It’s, like, hurting ,” said Ms. Mayfield.

Dr. Pap, who hails from Hungary, was sanguine about her subject’s fall from grace. “I mean, myself, I like the sun a lot,” she said. “It is a typical, average star. It’s an average star.”

Things may not look so good for the sun right now, but it will rise again, and when it does–beware!

“Millions of years from now, it will become a red giant, and, for example, the earth will be inside the sun,” said Dr. Pap. “But that’s not in the near future. We’re not that concerned about it.”

–Alexandra Jacobs

Can’t a Guy Get Abused In This Town?

It was my birthday and I was crabby and I privately relished the fact that very few people remembered. I decided it was a good night for a little verbal flagellation.

I’m already very good at verbal self-flagellation. Here are a few of my favorites, which I like to practice on my walk from the one room I live in. Most of the time, they are silent. Other times, I move my lips. Here is what I like to tell myself.

1. Hey, fatass, your thighs are rubbing together and you will likely drop dead of a heart attack before anybody thought it would be possible for a person without a congenital heart defect to drop dead. You’ve probably got about six months left, fat boy.

2. If there was a God, he would hate your guts for many reasons too numerous to count on the way to the train, but know that these reasons include:

(1) sloth;

(2) willful intellectual mediocrity;

(3) back hair;

(4) self-absorption;

(5) bad at geography.

So what does a man like me do for his birthday? He takes the pressure off. He let’s someone else drive the bus. He finds somebody willing to abuse him. He knows that in Mayor Giuliani’s New York, it’s difficult to get abused properly by just walking down the street. Where, oh where, has the cruelty gone?

Everybody is nice, not because they feel any bigger or more chipper than me, but because they are afraid that if they are not nice, some government functionary will jump out from a bodega and swab their eyes with pepper spray! It’s true!

Either that or they’re taking Zoloft, which makes them docile and emotionally un-erect. I hate them.

I went to La Nouvelle Justine because a flier promised me that Wednesday was the “Night of Verbal Abuse at the Original S-M Cafe.” The flier had an artistic rendering of a woman in a face mask, seated at a table with a tea set and a bowl of fresh strawberries.

I went in at about 10 P.M. There were about six employees there, men and women, sitting around smoking and looking like they were about to relinquish their nipple rings and the whole S-M bit and just go to technical school.

I sat down at the bar. A woman going by the name Cid Luscious, who looked like a compact version of Diana Ross in her Wiz period, said, “What do you want?” She had a non-abusive smile on her face. I told her I wanted to be abused verbally–and be merciless about it!

“O.K.,” she said, looking mildly exasperated. “What do you want, asshole ?”

After pouring me a seven-dollar Manhattan, she went to the other end of the bar, and chatted amiably with some other customers.

A dark-haired woman in a rubber bustier and pointed heels, with a sexy mole on her cheek, sat down beside me. She was drinking a margarita. She, too, looked not particularly abusive. Her name was Deborah. She looked like my college girlfriend, only more wholesome. She asked me to light her cigarette, then went over to a closet near the front of the bar, and pulled out a cat-o’-nine-tails whip and began whipping the bar stool next to me, lamely, asking me if I wanted to go out back and get beaten. I told her I wanted verbal abuse, not physical abuse. “Oh,” she said, “Gecko will do it, or Cid. I’m more physical.” Then as an afterthought, she said to me, “Listen, you [expletive] whore, my name is Mistress Deborah!” I waved her off and told her to relax. Too little, too late for suspension of disbelief.

She sat back down and started getting sentimental, saying she missed her slave, some Broadway muckety-muck who was out of town. Then she got on a cellular phone and tried to make plans to go to Joey Ramone’s birthday party at Coney Island High, but she said she was afraid she wouldn’t get in, because she’d recently spit in the owner’s face and been banished for life. Sorry, I said. She shrugged.

Ms. Luscious came back and poured me another drink. Mistress Deb told her that I was yearning for some more verbal abuse. She rolled her eyes from behind the bar. “Uuuugh,” she said. “You’re such a fucking bore,” and walked back to the other end of the bar.

My God , I felt like standing up and shouting, What does a man need to do to be treated like a dog in this town? I am a small, bitter man, and all I want on my birthday is for somebody to tell me that I have difficulty matching ties to jackets, that I have public university and small town written all over me, that I have a troubled hairline, and no real understanding of James Joyce’s Ulysses !

But instead I just left. “I was hoping for more,” I told Cid.

She looked at the tip I’d left for her at the bar. “You got all the abuse that $3 will buy.”

–Andrew Goldman