This Tinyletter is dedicated to the vanity license plates
I don’t know where you’re going, but you’ll probably cut someone off along the way.
How to Bake a Butternut Squash
1. Buy the butternut squash. It’s the beige-coloured thing shaped like a big light bulb. Don’t be afraid. Also, don’t get one that looks too new or it will take a million years to cook. At the check-out, give the cashier the reusable shopping bags that you’ve brought along. You’re saving the environment! Then, when the cashier asks if you’ll need any bags today, say — No thanks, I’ll use the ones I gave you. When this embarrasses her, tell her that your nine year-old loves it when you misspeak, and comment on how tough it must be to stand there and say the same words over and over and over again, words like will you need bags today or brush your teeth brush your teeth brush your teeth.
2) Get some sleep. Every night, as I put Oona to bed, she says, “I hope you have a good sleep, dad. I hope the cats don’t jump on your face tonight.” Because a nine year-old’s sleep is important, I shut her door. My own door has to stay open. “The cats will cry,” C says. As soon as I shut off the light, they race in and jump on my face.
3) Wash the squash. Most people wouldn’t bother, you’re only eating the insides, but I wash everything like it’s 1988.
4) Move through the world. Avoid the single white guys leaning in doorways (skin like something found at the bottom of the recycling, patchy beard, drifting somewhere between 25 and 50, Giant Tiger camouflage fleece, those pants with the pockets on the thighs, cigarette, baseball cap, dreams of murder) who are always staring at some distant star. Also avoid the starter packs of young Asian guys (name brand knee-length hooded puffer jackets with faux-fur trim on the hoods, sneakers that look like space ships, ankle socks, cuffs, no hat) who are always in your way and laughing.
5) Cut off the stem end of the squash. You’ll need a heavy, durable chef’s knife for this (thick blade) and, in fact, all squash cutting. Squashes are not tomatoes. Or even wildebeests.
6) Acknowledge the ghosts that are all around you. How many people are haunting your house? At least four. Time to meet the deceased!
7) Cut the squash in half. This will take some patience and doing; you might have to work your way along one side, then turn it over. Then, using an oversized metal spoon, scoop out the seeds and alien-looking bits. These are especially haunted.
8) Look: other people are not real. They exist because you think they do and because they answer back. Still, your simulation self needs squash. It is loaded with vitamins.
9) Treat the squash to some light stabbing I mean piercing (it’s probably committed some kind of crimes, somewhere). Rub butter into all the cuts. Leave a healthy-sized pat of butter in the scooped-out part of the squash.
10) Do not have disasters. Global warming, predatory market systems, surveillance capitalism, never-ending mercenary wars, species extinctions … these are all bad things. Avoid them!
11) Sprinkle the squash with brown sugar. Put a tablespoon of brown sugar in the scooped-out part, on top of the butter. Finish things off with dashes of cinnamon.
12) Go through your closet and throw out some clothes. Why are you hanging onto this stuff? Your history doesn’t live in an old pair of capris.
13) Arrange the two squash halves, skin side down, in a baking dish. There’s probably going to be some spilling and burning of minor juices here, so if you have baking parchment to line the bottom, use it.
14) Napoleon said, “To understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” In 1988 there was: Rain Man, Big, A Brief History of Time, Sega Genesis, Gorbachev, perestroika, Rick Astley, Prozac, George Michael, INXS, Contras, Winter Olympics in Calgary, IRA, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Iraq war, Die Hard, Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Benazir Bhutto becomes Prime Minister, Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie, China Beach, Don’t Worry Be Happy, Andy Gibb dies.
15) Bake your squash for an hour at 425. Squash takes forever. It’s pretty difficult to overdo it.
16) Draw a tiger smoking a cigar. Give him a name. I like ‘Paul’.
17) This is a deep-winter meal, so choose your accompanying dishes, condiments and existential crises accordingly. I went with Italian-sausage meatballs, maple syrup and lingering disquiet.
Have a good week, everyone,
p.s. This is a version of my weekly Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here.