Column Classic: Tan, Don’t Burn

By Lisa Scottoline

I’m trying to understand when suntan lotion got weird.

I remember the days when baby oil and vinegar counted as suntan lotion.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Flying Scottolines used to go to the Jersey shore for two weeks every summer, and Mother Mary would mix baby oil and red wine vinegar in a bottle before we left for a day at the beach.

I have no idea where she got the recipe.

Maybe the Mayo Clinic.

Or the Mayonnaise Clinic.

Anyway, we would slather on baby oil and vinegar, dressing ourselves like a salad. I even used to put lemon juice in my hair, so I was certifiably edible.

Of course, with only condiments for protection against the sun, we turned bright red.

And we thought we looked great.

Like Beggin’ Strips, with feet.

I don’t think it ever occurred to us to use store-bought lotion. We were like Amish, but Italian.

We passed up Coppertone, which came in only one SPF, – 5.

And we would never spring for Bain De Soleil, which squirted like orange toothpaste from a tube. It was the fancy suntan lotion, for rich and/or French people.

Not for Bain de Brigantine.

The only problem was, as good as our sunburns looked, they hurt like hell.

We would hurry to the drugstore for jars of Noxzema, which only made us hurt more, though we smelled less fattening.

After the pain subsided, we started peeling, which we thought was totally fun.


Telling you would be oversharing, but why stop now.

By the way, if you’re eating breakfast as you read this, please stop. That is, stop eating. You should never stop reading, especially if you’re reading anything I write.

Anyway the overshare is that my father’s back used to peel the worst of all of us, and so at night, Brother Frank and I would have a lot of fun peeling the skin off his back for him.


Okay, in our defense, this was before the Internet.

There weren’t a lot of things to do, back then.

TV only had three channels, and for us, peeling each other’s backs counted as cardio. 

Sometimes my dad’s skin peeled off like eraser rubbings, but other times, it came off like potato chips.


I’m not trying to gross you out, I’m telling you this because I was reminded of the eraser rubbings last week, when I started to use one of these newfangled suntan lotions, all with an SPF higher than balsamic.

One was a lotion that claimed to be “lightweight,” so I slathered that everywhere.

Because I want to be lightweight.

Especially if all I have to do is put on lotion.

But ten minutes later, I happened to touch my arm, and I noticed that there were eraser rubbings everywhere I had put the lotion.

Which made no sense.

I’d used the lotion so my skin wouldn’t peel, but the lotion was peeling.

And without any of the bright red fun.

So I washed it off. Then I tried another kind of suntan lotion, which I sprayed on. By the way, I don’t know when spray cans started being okay. Maybe it’s kosher to destroy the ozone layer to keep it from destroying you.

This second type was a “sport” suntan lotion, and my idea of a great sport is spraying myself with suntan lotion.

The can allegedly had “AccuSpray,” but when I aimed it on my back, the lotion fogged everywhere, coated my hair, and glued my ponytail to my neck, which is always a good look for a single girl.

So I washed that off, too.

I ended up with the third kind of lotion, called Water Babies.

It was “Pediatrician-Recommended,” so I think it was perfect for me.

The SPF matched my age.

Bain de Senior Citizen.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

In Praise of Dillon Helbig

By Lisa Scottoline

Do you know who Dillon Helbig is?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Because I’m betting that one day his will be a household name.

Dillon is a second-grader in Idaho who loves to make up stories. One day he wrote one down and titled it The Adventures of Dylan Helbig’s Crismis. It was eighty-one pages, and he made a cover and illustrated it himself. Underneath the title he wrote, By Dillon His Self.

I love this kid.

But it gets better.

So then, on his next trip to the library with his grandmother, unbeknownst to anyone, Dillon slipped his book onto the shelf in the children’s section. What happened next is that the librarians discovered the book, read it, decided it meets their selection criteria, and added it to the library’s collection. Everybody who reads it loves it, and now there’s a long wait list to check it out. Not only that, the library awarded Dillon its first-ever Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist.

I love everything about this story. I love that Dillon loves books, loves the library, and doesn’t always follow the rules. I love librarians for myriad reasons, and this story illustrates all of them, but mainly because they love books, love the library, and don’t always follow the rules.

Dylan is reportedly working on a sequel to his book, which will involve his dog Rusty.

This kid is a genius.

His marketing instincts are unerring.

Dogs always work in books.

If I didn’t have a dog named Rusty, I would say I did.


Dillon’s next book idea is reportedly about a closet that eats clothes.

Honestly, that’s the best book idea ever.

This kid is the master.

I mean, he wrote a book and put it on the library shelf.

He wanted his book in the library.

Who doesn’t?

I lived in the library when I was younger, and I used to dream of having my books in the library.

I should add that this story about Dillon appeared in The Washington Post, to which I digitally subscribe, and the piece was written by Kellie B. Gormly. If you want to know more details, you should read it there because it will make you feel really good.

The story is all the more remarkable when you realize it happened in the same week that books are being taken off library shelves.

Because you may have read that a school district in Tennessee banned the graphic novel Maus, effectively taking it off its school library shelves, even though the book won a Pulitzer. Maus is about the Holocaust and is written by Art Spiegelman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, and is based on his father’s stories. In the novel, the victims are mice and the Nazis are cats.

The Tennessee school board gave some reason for banning the book, but I’m not going to repeat them because there’s no good reason to take Maus off the shelf in any library.

Especially at a time when people are waving Nazi flags from overpasses in Orlando.

The United States Holocaust Museum said that Maus played “a vital role” in Holocaust education. And by the way, the Tennessee school district took this action the same week as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’m guessing they forgot.

It’s ironic that a child’s instinct is to put a book on the shelf, but at the same time adults who lack his wisdom take books off.

It hit home for me because my novel Eternal comes out in paperback this week, and it’s about many things, among them the Holocaust in Italy. I wrote the book for many reasons, among them that I want people to know what happened during Fascism and Nazism, in the very heart of Rome. I’m proud I wrote the book, proud it’s been so well-received, and proud it’s on a library shelf, where it belongs.

And it better stay there, or I’m going to get very South Philly on somebody’s tushie.

What we need in this country is more books, not fewer.

What we need in this country is more education, not less.

What we need in this country is great big thinkers like a little kid.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2022