By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
For starters, cattle have wide planes of largely flat flesh that readily lend themselves to the application of large, clean brands. Unlike their bovine counterparts, humans have very few areas on their bodies that are free of curves, and those areas are much smaller than the ones on cows. Just as important, human brands tend to spread to an area two to three times the width of the material used to make the burn.
As a result, Haworth's "branding irons" are actually small pieces of specially formed stainless steel that he holds with vise grips. The steel is usually no wider than 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch. The length of the steel is dictated by the design, but is rarely more than an inch long. The steel is heated with a propane torch until the metal is red-hot, then removed from the flame until it returns to a dark-gray color. After testing the steel's heat on a piece of cardboard (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit is preferable for most subjects), Haworth makes the strike on human flesh, holding the sizzling metal on the skin for no longer than a second or two, when a tiny wisp of smoke appears. Sssssssss!
According to Haworth, the keys to successful branding are the brander's skill at judging correct temperature, the length of time the steel is held to the skin, proper pressure, and correct placement of a brand. Tossing a few more wild cards into this stew pot of variables is the fact that individual skin types differ wildly, making it nearly impossible to predict who is going to scar. A more inexact--and agonizing--trend in body art is hard to imagine.
@body:How does it feel to be branded? "Exactly the way you'd think it'd feel," answers Steve Frankel, Haworth's first branding client. "Like a piece of hot metal burning into my flesh. But a deal's a deal, and I wasn't about to back out of it."
The deal, inequitable as it was, was struck sometime last spring, after Steve Haworth attended a local branding demonstration sponsored by a group of Valley S&M enthusiasts. Following the demonstration (the first he'd ever witnessed), Haworth buttonholed the noted San Francisco Bay area body modifier who'd performed the demonstration. Following her instructions, he spent the next several weeks practicing his craft on cardboard, potatoes, wet leather and even a hunk of rump roast. "Rump roast is pretty similar to human flesh in terms of the way it brands," explains Frankel. "Of course, it doesn't jerk around."
Having mastered the art of branding inanimate objects, Haworth turned to his friend Frankel, a 24-year-old, unemployed taxi driver who agreed to have a pagan symbol branded on his chest. "Steve always finishes everything he starts, so I figured the least I could do was let him finish, even though it hurt like hell," says Frankel of the three-hour ordeal.
"Would I do it again?" asks Frankel. "Not without thinking about it for a long, long time. And I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else, either, until they'd given it some long, hard thought."
A similar story is told by 38-year-old Vicki Grimwood, another Haworth client who recently went under the iron. An S&M buff currently involved in a master-slave relationship, Grimwood decided to please her "master" by permanently embellishing her bottom with his three initials. Or at least that was the original plan.
"I can't begin to describe the pain," says Grimwood of the half-hour session. "I was crying and screaming so much that we never got past the first initial." Grimwood claims she has since amended her plan and that she will now add her master's last initial next year to commemorate their first anniversary together. If there is one, that is--Grimwood sheepishly admits she's been married four times. @rule:
@body:"Different people react very differently to branding," concedes Haworth, who is unbranded. "Some will tell you it feels red-hot, others that it feels freezing cold. Once the endorphins [chemicals manufactured by the brain to deal with extreme-pain situations] kick in, some people claim they get a real 'high,'" he explains. Others, he says, have reportedly reacted with euphoric, out-of-body experiences.
That might have been the case when Jennifer Saunders was branded at El Rancho de los Muertos. The young woman, who scarcely moved, never once cried out in pain. But while one observer enviously marveled that the near-comatose Saunders "was higher than she'd ever get on any drug," some skeptics thought otherwise. Noting her semidazed demeanor and totally dilated eyes immediately following the ordeal, a few witnesses suspected she was actually experiencing some form of shock. In any event, six or seven assistants were required to restrain Saunders. One of the assistants almost retched when she caught a full blast of the scent of Saunders' burning flesh, a stench similar to the odor of a tooth being drilled. And in spite of the human restraints, Saunders still managed to jerk her ankle during one of the initial strikes, requiring a modification of the entire design. The groggy Saunders' first words upon examining her newly scarred ankle?