In This Issue
Tattoos and other decorations
Recipe: The Best Brownies
Words I Looked Up Last Month
Keanu Reeves Minute (…or is it?)
Feature: “Beautifying the Dying”
I still have not figured out how to make this menu clickable.
Tattoos and other decorations
I have four tattoos, if you don’t count all of the tattoos I planned to get but the plans fell through. I am acting on the assumption that you don’t count those. I sometimes count them myself, because I was there when I almost got them, but I wouldn’t expect you to. (The main one is a dragonfly I didn’t get. I will get it eventually.)
My first tattoo, summer of 2000, a dragon on my left upper arm. It is similar to a flash dragon that a lot of other people have, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had found a picture I liked and asked the artist to redraw it with a few changes. He did. I would not get this tattoo now, but it has been with me for so long that I also would not cover it up.
My second tattoo, summer of 2006, three stars on my right upper arm. This was an impulse stop on an impulse road trip when Sam was an infant. I would possibly cover this up because it is not very meaningful, except Sam has ascribed meaning to it and has been telling me for nine years that I need to get a fourth star for Gracie.
My third tattoo, June of 2019, a painted lady butterfly and some lavender on my lower left arm. This tattoo is very meaningful. I was okay with my first tattoos not having any meaning, and in fact I preferred it that way, but then I had to get this one because my father died and I wanted to commemorate the butterflies that came to find me when it happened.
Which brings me to my fourth tattoo, September of 2019, like literally right now this week, the Bride of Frankenstein on my upper left arm next to the dragon. Listen, I fucking love the bride. The movie is only so-so but the bride is my LADY. I got a second tattoo in the same year not because I can afford to (I cannot!) but because I needed my most recent tattoo to be less meaningful than the butterfly.
I have approximately two dozen more tattoos planned. I need another job.
Happy September, if it is a happy September. Mine has been very hot thus far, because Southern California is cruel.
Recipe: The Best Brownies
I know everybody says they have the best brownie recipe, but I really do. I clipped this from the newspaper in Pittsburgh in 1998 or ‘99 and although I have tried a few other recipes, I always go back to this one because it is the best one.
16 tablespoons/1 cup/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or use chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
Butter a 13 x 9 pan, and optionally line it with buttered parchment or foil (this will make your life easier once the brownies are baked).
Preheat oven to 350º with a rack in the center.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and remove from heat. Combine butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over pan of water. Stir occasionally until melted. Cool slightly.
Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, then whisk in salt, sugars, and vanilla. Stir in chocolate/butter mixture, then fold in flour.
Pour batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until top has formed a shiny crust (it may be just beginning to split). Cool in pan (good luck with that). If you lined your pan, you should be able to lift the brownies out of the pan by the paper/foil, or you may prefer to invert the brownies onto a cutting board and peel off the paper/foil, then invert the brownies again so they are top side up.
Words I Looked Up Last Month
I was trying to remember a wholly different word (see below) and this was my first guess. As a noun, sepulcher essentially means crypt, and as a verb it means to encrypt.
This is the word I was looking for. It describes the smell of rain hitting soil. I was thinking about perfume, and especially about the ones I love that smell like gardening, like wet soil and flowers.
Vincent Price Minute
Surprise! It’s not Keanu Reeves this month. Over at Book Riot, I did a deep dive into the Corman-Poe Cycle, a series of movies from the early 1960s, based on Edgar Allan Poe (mostly) and starring Vincent Price (mostly).
From my intro: Edgar Allan Poe’s life was tragic; his stories and poems, sad and haunting. The movies are joyful.
Go give the whole thing a read. My plan is to have a write-up on the remaining movies from the series for you next month.
Feature: Beautifying the Dying
(a post-apocalyptic story about living)
This story previously appeared at Patreon. CW: discussion of death and dying
Every morning, I wait my turn for the bath house. In the first room I undress and put my jumpsuit and boots into the autoclave. I brush the dust off my body as best I can. It's white like playa dust. In the shower room I stand under cold water for my regulated five minutes and lather my body and hair with shampoo. I don't like this shampoo, but I have to use it. I rinse off, step out, and towel dry. Then I put on my jumpsuit and boots again.
The worst thing about nuclear fallout is what it's done to my beauty routine.
Of course, the worst thing about it is the people we lost. But my beauty routine has suffered, too. I was surprised to see how hairy my legs are; I started shaving them in middle school.
Once the dust had settled (that's a joke, we like gallows humor here), we were all assigned jobs. Some folks who'd had trades before got to keep those jobs, or adapt them, but there was no use for a beautician in our new lives. I got sent to work in the kitchen. I can't cook worth a damn, but there was nothing except canned goods anyway. Jericho was in charge of the kitchen and he could make magic with any ingredients you gave him. Jericho didn't talk a lot but he had Toshi, who was good at explaining to us what we should do to make it taste better. We ate pretty good.
After about six months, I got a new job. It's like my old job from before, but more personal. I like having clients again.
Whenever someone gets too sick to fight anymore, or decides they don't want to wait until they're too sick, they come to me. They get the works, or as much of the works as they want. Full body scrub-down. Facial. Lotion. Haircut, shave, hot oils, deep condition. I don't have any dyes but if I did, I'd use them. I make people beautiful so they can die. They have to sign about fifty wavers first, but I've never had someone ask for my services and not go through with it.
Jimmy Perez comes to me one morning when I'm on a break from the kitchen. (I still work here part time. People aren't dropping like flies anymore.) He's kind of worked up about something.
“What's up, Jimmy?”
He lights a cigarette, which isn't allowed but Toshi won't give them up and no one enforces the rules behind the kitchen as long as we wash our hands. It's redundant since we wear rubber gloves, but I don't complain. I don't smoke, but I like to hang around when someone takes a smoke break. It smells like before.
“I don't want you to shave me.”
I laugh. “Okay, Jimmy. I won't shave you.”
He's healthy. Part of the small crew that's in charge of the warehouse. When we got here, no one had any idea what was in there. It looked like the place in that Harrison Ford movie, where they put the ark of the covenant, except it was a total mess. Jimmy and Petyr and Jaswinder got assigned to the warehouse because they were OSHA certified before, so they could use the forklift and the other heavy equipment. They cleaned the warehouse up so nice, everything in neat, orderly rows and nicely labeled. One of the first crates they opened was full of sticker tape for a label maker. I think they went a little overboard, but we have to take fun where we find it. They also found the jumpsuits we all wear. They were made for pit crews at car races. Remember races?
Petyr got sick a few months ago. He came to me for a shave and a haircut and then he went to the big house and ended it. The big house is literally a big house, not a jail or anything. The doctors live and work there. Anyway, Jimmy was a mess at the funeral. I didn't even know he and Petyr were close, but I guess coworkers are practically the same as family now.
“It's Petyr,” he explains, and I guess I knew that. “He looked so different. Not at all like himself. I know that's what he looked like before, but it hurt. I want to look like this after I die.”
Jimmy's beard is pretty epic. I don't blame him.
“How about a conditioning treatment? But you won't need it. You're pretty healthy.”
Sure enough, Jaswinder comes to me first. She shows me a picture from before. Gosh, she was pretty. I look at her now, and I can kind of see the pretty under the tired. Her hair sucks up conditioner and I just keep applying it. I go into my personal stash for wax. She's never been shy about having a mustache but she says she feels prettier without it. She has beautiful lips, the lower one darker than the upper one so that she looks a little like she's pouting.
I use my own lotion, too. It's lavender scented, but not in a medicinal way. I rub it over Jaswinder's freshly shaved legs. I work it into her shoulders and down her arms. She's quiet the whole time until the end.
“I don't know what will happen to Jimmy.”
I don't know either. I pretend not to hear her. Later I'm sorry. It's my job to hear the dying. I failed beautiful Jaswinder.
She goes up to the big house and I never see her again.
One of the salvage trucks comes through. Toshi trades for seeds. He's been gardening. There's a vote to expand the gardens. Toshi gets things started, but he goes back to the kitchens.
Jimmy dies in the night. Just up and dies. Maybe you really can die of a broken heart, or loneliness, or whatever it is that did him in. I don't know, though. I think he had a family before. Maybe he couldn't stand to lose everyone a second time.
I've never worked on a body with no one in it before, but I do it for Jimmy. Caitlin from the funerary crew comes to work with me. She shows me how to prepare a body, and lets me do my part. I squeeze the last drops of Argan oil out of my bottle. I rub it through his beard. Otherwise I don't touch a thing, except his hands. I rub lavender scented lotion into his rough cuticles. I wish I could have done this for him when he was alive.
I go to the funeral. It's terrible. Funerals are always terrible. They were worse before, though. At least now we don't waste chemicals to preserve bodies. We need them to keep the soil fertile.
I get a new job. Abebi from the kitchen takes over the beautifying business. I give her everything but the lavender lotion. I go to work in the gardens. Jericho helps me get the job. I know even less about gardening than I do about cooking, but I need this. Need to make something beautiful from death and dying. Come to think of it, it's not very different than my old job. I ditch my boots and trade my jumpsuit for lighter overalls. I learn how to coax shoots from seeds. I protect my plants from vermin and weather. The bodies decompose and the soil becomes lush and full like Jaswinder's lips and Jimmy's beard. Caitlin visits me sometimes. We find common ground between the living and the dying, and common ground leads to comfort and, eventually, love.
I bring fresh vegetables to Jericho and Toshi. They create feasts.