The Darkies

Remzi Ari has tan armpits. They match the rest of him— a melting, chocolate brown of a tan— meticulously singed by the sun as he lies, for a certain span of each day, with his arms stretched up alongside his ears. Sometimes he's spread eagle, his naked, Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oiled self splayed out like a mesmerized citizen of ancient Egypt worshipping Ra. Other times he's sitting upright, cross-legged, munching on peanuts and sipping a beer.

He's hands-down the tannest person on Robert Moses State Park's nude beach. And it's no accident.

"To get this kind of tan," says Ari, 43, "you have to work on it. To get this kind of tan, you have to do things step by step."

By the last week of April, he's preparing himself. "I use a reflector and sit in the parking lot of the beach if it's not too windy," he explains, happily baking in the 91-degree high-noon heat of an "ozone warning" summer day. "Two days later, after my face gets red— it has to get red— it peels. I go into the shower and use a facial scrubber, and I shave. Then, a few days later, you come back to the beach— shaven, because if you come to the beach with a beard, you're wasting your time. Twice a week, you have to do that scrubbing."

For the summer, Ari, a native of Turkey who lives in East Rockaway and has been tanning on this beach for eight years, plants himself away from the water, up by the dunes where he says the dark gray sand reflects the rays more efficiently.

He sits on a black blanket covered with towels, and he sleeps— usually fresh off his night shift as a maintenance supervisor at Kennedy Airport— and sunbathes, for up to eight hours a day. He keeps a turquoise hand mirror nearby to monitor the evenness of his facial tan.

He applies his tanning oil with precision. "I start with my face first, because I don't want hair from my body to get on my face," he says. "And if I put it on my legs first, I have the sand get on my face." He makes sure every inch of himself is covered with oil— even his scalp— and he often doesn't wash it off at the end of the day. "You can wipe this off— you don't have to take a shower. It keeps your skin so moist. I sleep with it on. It gives you a tan overnight, because it keeps your tan darker," Ari says. He never wears sunscreen, staying away even from cologne and after-shave because "it blocks you."

To accentuate his color, he gets a manicure every two weeks, a pedicure once a month and a haircut every six weeks. He has his teeth bleached every other month and gets his back waxed twice a year. He leaves his thick chest hair alone, though.

"For females," he says. "They love hairy chests."

Although they don't all love his tan. A woman he was recently having a fling with said she didn't want to sleep with him anymore because he was getting too dark.

"I don't want to be with a black man," she told him.

Ari told her goodbye.

Only Skin Deep, But It Has Layers

Fueled by media images of tan, sculpted bodies, status seekers all over the Island cultivate their skin like perfectly manicured lawns, flaunting their tans like racy cars on the Southern State or cell phones on the LIRR to somehow stand apart from the suburban heap. Whether you truly have status or not, it's a way to say to the world that you do— to ensure that neighbors know you have enough leisure time to lounge in the sand all day long, or that you've been able to vacation in the Bahamas.

For some of the beach's tannest, many of whom happen to be of Mediterranean descent, getting darker may be a way to bring out their own ethnicity. It colors you a lovely shade of olive in a world where black is oppressed and white is white-bread. It's a point of pride to accentuate your own color, to wear it like a badge, to proclaim "I can't burn— I'm Italian-Sicilian!" as one 20-year-old on Jones Beach says. And it's a way to attain the perceived beauty of darkness that society still dictates— through tanned, muscular models— while knowing that you're safe as a white person underneath. It's a way to have it all.

"My mother showed a picture of me to someone and they thought I was black," laughs Jodi Becker, an extremely dark 30-year-old cell-phone retailer from Oceanside who regularly soaks up the rays on Long Beach. "My fiancé thought I was Puerto Rican when he met me— and I'm Jewish!"

Some people must be listening to the dermatologists of the world, though. Walk down any beach looking for severely tan folks— it actually takes longer than you'd think to find them. Almost every beach-goer is armed with an umbrella and some kind of sunscreen, and most look either vaguely tan or downtown-pale— a sharp contrast from 20 or even 10 years ago, when it seemed like every other person on the beach was oiled and cooking.

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