Night of the Living Dead
It is Friday evening, the
14th of September, back in the boozy comfort of the DownUnder Pub. The mood
down here is still dark, almost despondent, and along with Pro Football, the
band has also been canceled for the weekend. (The shepherds pie, however,
still arrives on schedule.) The watching of television remains the main
attraction round these parts. Come on people, liven up, it's Friday night.
Susan is trying to make
the most of her aborted vacation, and it is taking some serious effort on
her part. She had been absolutely positive that Melinda would call in sick
for the rest of the week, giving her someone to hang out with, but damned if
the girl hadn't returned to work first thing Thursday morning. What a lousy
time for Melinda to start acting responsibly.
Stan hasn't been a lot of fun either, spending the entire day in front
of the boob tube watching CNN, so Susan passes the afternoon alone, getting
high and treating herself to a private festival of old black and white
movies. 'Spider Baby', 'Night of the Living Dead', and 'Blue Angel' have
all been screened.
As the scene opens, the lights are low, and Susan is giddily
explaining the story arc of the Living Dead.
"So, we're in the sixties,
small town sixties, and this guy and girl are at a rundown country
graveyard, all dressed up in their Sunday best. They're both bitching and
whining about everything, but mostly they're complaining about each other's
company. The dude looks like Freddie from Freddie and the Dreamers. Ask
Stan, I'm sure he can show you an old picture of them.
"True," says Stan. "Dorks without peers."
"I remember Freddie and the Dreamers", says Lex. "They used to do a
little dance that was similar to calisthenics, kind of like jumping jacks."
Lex hops around for a few seconds in a windmill kind of move, then puts his
hands on his hips, makes a kissey face, and let's loose with a wail of wimpy
"Do the Freddie."
He sings this phrase in a falsetto British voice, which breaks
everybody up, what with the fact that it's coming from the unlikely looking
source of Lex.
Susan speaks on. So often she is like this, thinks Stan, grinning from
ear to ear, eyes flashing and pulling everyone into her orbit.
"Okay okay, this chick is blond and prissy - she's a little like me,
but not nearly as gorgeous or personable - and she seems to be feeling very
uptight. You can see it written all over her face - she looks like she's
just swallowed a bad oyster. She's trudging along through the graveyard,
with Freddie lagging behind, through all of these tombstones, looking for
the right one. She has this really tacky little flower arrangement that she
intends to put on her daddy's grave, but
the man is just not into
it. Typical. He is not being at all supportive in her time of need and
sorrow... Oh, well. You can't really tell what their relationship is
supposed to be, but I won't be spoiling anything if I tell you they're
brother and sister. So when Freddie pulls his attitude, he's not only
dissing Marion, he's dissing his old man as well."
"Who's Marion?" asks Melinda.
says Susan. "We've only talked about two people so far, and I believe that I
said one of them was named Freddie."
"So, looking over to the side you see this weird guy lurking around in
the background, stumbling all over top of the graves. He looks all messed
up. Meanwhile, Freddie is starting to get real hopped up, like the drugs
must be kicking in... there's like a big storm brewing, and Freddie is all
over the place, jumping around like a real idiot and making a complete ass
out of himself. For some unfathomable reason he starts talking like Vincent
Price - 'They're coming to get you Marion, they're coming to get you'. He is
so obnoxious. And creepy, in the same sort of way that Robin Williams is
creepy. He is jumping around and taunting poor Marion, saying
'they're coming to get you'."
"I like Robin Williams", says Vickie, brightening at the very thought
Vickie is sitting between Susan and Melinda, elbows on the bar with her
chin resting on crossed fingers. She is having just the best time, listening
to people talking about something other than the events that transpired on
Tuesday. She is a quiet woman, but always smiling, as though she has just
heard the best secret. Between her and Susan, this week would seem to be The
Festival of Lights.
"Robin Williams? Yeah, he's a real asshole", chimes in Red, not
unintentionally lending support to Susan and keeping her story from veering
off track. Although he would never form it into a thought, Red feels a real
sense of pleasure in hearing Susan talk. She has this wild sense of freedom
in her voice, and it invigorates him. He is following her every move.
Red has been awake and watching the news for around eighty-ninety
hours non-stop, and the sleeplessness gives his voice a dreamy sound. Red is
speaking from the opposite side of the bar, uninvited into this conversation
but not exactly shunned. Except by Lex, who avoids all potential eye
contact. And by Melinda, who doesn't like him anymore as Red than she liked
him as Milton. And by Vickie. And the bartender.
On the television above Red's head, a plane is flying into one of the
World Trade Center buildings. It scores a spectacular bullseye.
"So by now, Marion has been driven to the point of consummate
irritation, and she's also getting terribly flustered because the weird dude
from the graveyard is getting closer and closer and looking at her in an
unhealthy way and he is
really messed up, eyeballs bulging like maybe he really is coming to get
her, and on top of all that, she's like
'Freddie, you are totally embarrassing me',
and then Freddie takes off running zigzags down the road, leaving her all
alone with the creep."
"Where do the zombies come in?", asks Lex.
"Where do the zombies come in?" shrieks Susan. She cannot believe her
ears. This is hilarious.
"Hold on, hold on," says Stan, taking his eyes off the television for
a moment. He has
"Are you kidding me, Lex? You're telling me you've never seen the
Living Dead before? There are zombies all over the fucking place. How could
you never have seen this movie?"
"You don't remember," Lex says sadly, as though Stan was supposed to
remember every damn thing someone might tell him. In a bar, for
cristsakes... Stan barely even knows this guy. Yeah, it's been a heavy week
and all, but hell, give me a break.
"I told you the first time that I met you..." Lex starts to say under
his breath, although everyone nearby can hear him and instantly turn their
focus his way. Stan sees the ears pricking up around him, but Lex doesn't
notice a thing.
"Sorry man." Stan replies quickly in a quiet voice, and he finds that
at this particular moment in time, he really does feel sorry for not
remembering the guy's story. Lex looks so forlorn that it touches him. Maybe
Stan is just in a sensitive mood, but he doesn't want to be in any way
responsible for this man's further suffering, even through a sin of
Lex speaks in a soft whisper, inches away from Stan's ear. Stan would
prefer to avoid this intimacy, but it's too late to prevent it now.
"I've been married for thirty-four years." Ohhh, Stan wonders, why do
I have to listen to this? Thirty-four years? Lex sounded like an old, old
man when he talks like this. He had reached fifty-five but still looked
decent in a bureaucrat sort of way. His hair was graying but full, and he
wasn't too terribly wrinkled up, but he sure could whine like a
Susan waits impatiently for Lex to finish his little aside. She uses
the moment to order a side beer and suppresses the urge to tell him to speak
a little louder so they can all hear him better.
"My wife doesn't like anything with violence or sex or suspense. She
doesn't even watch television, much less movies. She doesn't like..." Lex
is making an odd gesture with his hands, twirling them like tassels in tight
little circles in front of his chest while he searches for words. "She
doesn't like to waste time. She works a lot. That's about all she does. Did
I tell you that Connie doesn't even like music? I know you find that
disturbing. I should get out of the relationship, shouldn't I Stan? Now that
my son is grown, she practically lives at work. And then when she does come
home, I swear, she gets on the computer and logs into the office. She's
always pushing pushing pushing to get ahead. And for what?
To make a difference, she
What the hell sort of difference is she going to make working at the
Pentagon, for God's sake? You tell me that. What difference is she going to
Good Lord, thinks Stan, I've got him going again. One foot in the
grave. Can we get a volunteer to sidetrack this monologue?
Lex is forgetting to whisper, not that he was doing that well with it
to begin with. "She's driven my son so crazy with all of her shit, you want
to know what he's doing with his life right now? He's trying to do stand-up.
After four years of college. And this is no shit, he legally changed his
name to Lenny Bruce. Now I ask you, Stan, is that fucked up or what?"
Lenny Bruce was Lex's son? Oh man! This is so damn funny. Stan wants to
tell Susan this story now.
"So here it comes. If I want to do anything, if I try to enjoy myself
at my home, she's on my case, hassling me about wasting my time. So, I just
go out by myself and drink. Ergo, I'm here."
This confession seemed to momentarily chill Lex, or maybe he just
liked saying 'ergo'. At any rate, he smiled a bit as he finished off another
scotch, and then spoke with pride.
"Or I work on my computer in the rec-room. I do a lot of PowerPoint.
You know, Stan, I'm very, very good at it. People don't realize that
PowerPoint can be a legitimate art form. I can make PowerPoint fire on all
six cylinders. I can make it dance. You should have seen the presentation I
put together for Fungal Propagation. It was great! "
"I sleep on the loveseat in the rec room half the time...."
Susan thinks that Lex is starting to trail off, and begins to speak
"So anyway, Marion is about to..."
"Connie's always on me to get ahead, Stan. I've got a head." Lex
Stan messages Susan with his eyes. 'It was just a short breather. Lex
is lit.' Melinda and Vickie are pretending to not listen while hanging on to
every word. Susan is authentically not listening - she's rolling her eyes in
irritation and sucking down another Bacardi. She messages back to Stan.
'Goddamn it, I'm trying to have some fun here'. Red desperately wants to
listen and leans so far over the bar that he nearly falls into the pit.
"When I first got my 14 at work, Connie was a fucking secretary. Now
she's an SES and I'm
GS-14, step 10. That's as many steps as you can take. And you know what, I
don't want anything more, I tell you.. I make a good enough living. I'm too
old to want to rise higher. It's all bullshit anyway. I don't need anything
more than I already have. What the hell for? Because the higher you rise in
the stinking bureaucratic world, the more you owe your soul to the company
store. Like Connie does."
Stan gives Lex the world renowned Keaton omniscient eye-contact and
speaks sincerely. "Have another drink, Lex. I'm real sorry that I forgot
your story. I was probably overly engrossed in that propagation project we
were talking about. Wha'd you call it again?" Oops. Wait a second. Don't end
on a question. "You know you were pretty messed up last Friday."
Lex snaps to. "Good Lord! That was just a week ago? It seems like an
eternity has passed since last Friday".
Lex is truly amazed, but the facts are undeniable. Time has swept over
him and tumbled him around, and now it is as if he has just had a shot of
adrenalin pumped into his butt. His mouth tightens. He wipes his glasses off
with a napkin. He gazes intensely at his barside companions.
"You know, a week like this can really screw with your perspective,
don't you think? But you all have been the best. You guys, you're all
adapted. That's a little joke. Because you are adapted to this modern world
and you can deal with the changes. Get it?"
Everyone looks at Lex as though he were an exotic bear.
Lex turns to look around the bar at the other ten or twelve people who
are kind of listening in, listening because they really need a break from
the news and this is the only conversation going on at the moment. They also
love to hear Susan talk and are waiting for Lex to shut up.
"This Bud's for you," says Vickie, raising her bottle.
"You guys too," Lex says with an expansive gesture. "You guys too.
Connie, let me buy a round for the bar, please."
"Her name is Cindy" whispers Melinda.
"To new friends", says Lex.
"To new friends", says everybody else.
There is a refreshing little flutter of talk in the bar as new drinks
are poured. Maybe seven or eight minutes pass before the collective
consciousness begins to slowly drift back towards the television.
Oh, man... Susan's story
has been ambushed, cut off and cast away. Now
looking somber. Stan has helped Lex steal the center of attention away from
It's not that Susan wants to be the center of attention, it's that she
deserves to be the center of attention. She is so animated, thinks Stan, and
he briefly contemplates how strange it is to think of someone as being
Stan is an old pro when it comes to Susan restoration. Maybe he can
get her restarted by using the Z word. He speaks up loudly, shaking his
head back and forth in an imitation of Dan Akroyd doing an imitation of
Richard Nixon. "How can you stand it man? You're old lady won't let you
watch Zombies? That's plain wrong."
It works like a charm. "Oh, okay, wait a second." Susan lights a
cigarette and inhales deeply. Instant on. "More?"
"So anyway, the weird guy that we've been watching creep ever closer
- that's a zombie,
Lex - he suddenly pops up right behind Marion and grabs her by the neck. 'Ayyahyahuheeee!'
She is squealing like a stuck pig! Freddie finally notices what's going on,
and he's like, 'Duhh, what's happening?', and then he comes running back up
the road to rescue Marion, and he ends up getting his stupid head busted
open." Susan pauses to have a big laugh here, and pay a little attention to
her drink. Another Bacardi, Cindy!
"It had to happen," she explains. "It's the logical consequence of
"Okay, so Marion is hiding behind a tombstone while all this is going
on, and she takes Freddie's unfortunate demise as a good opportunity for her
to get away. The Zombie gives her the once over, and whoosh, she's off and
running like a big dumb blond duck down the little dirt path in her white
high heels. I mean, high heels in a graveyard? Give me a break."
Of course, it's not all that hard to run away from a Zombie because
they are so very
very slow. Plus they're clumsy." She turns towards Lex and rolls her eyes up
into the back of her head - cool, she really does look like a Zombie -
staggers the three feet up to him and puts her pretty face right in front of
"Are you absofuckinglutely sure you've never seen this, Lex? Because
this is the greatest zombie movie of them all!"
"He hasn't seen it", says Melinda. "He's never seen anything."
"Umm," Says Susan.
"What a pussy," says Red, from way across the bar. His head had been
angling ever more heavily downwards, almost achieving horizontal, but he's
back up and at 'em now.
"I am not a pussy," says Lex, pulling himself up in full dignity. He
takes the green filtered Salem from a new pack and lights it with a
promotional Zippo embossed with the Sybase logo.
"Maybe my life hasn't always played out the way that I would have
liked it to." Violins in the background. Awkward silence.
"Nobody's life plays out the way they want it to," Melinda finally
says. "I myself would like to see 'Night of the Living Dead' sometime. Maybe
with Susan and Stan. Maybe tonight."
She pauses, and addresses Lex in a teasing, haughty tone. "I
am not a pussy."
"Sorry", says Lex, holding up his hand to signal for another drink. He
has become abruptly sober right in the middle of a good drunk. "Go on Sue.
So the guy who kills Freddie, he's a zombie, right?"
"Oh man, everybody in the movie is a zombie. You do understand the
concept don't you?" Susan was beside herself. Lex was a long-term project.
Speaking to a child, she explains, "If a zombie bites you, then you turn
into a zombie yourself."
"No Suzie, I'm afraid I must disagree," says Stan. By default, by
virtue of his being a rock and roll critic, Stan has the upper hand in this
dispute. Knowledge of Zombies is every bit as important to a rock and roll
critic as knowledge of spinach is to Popeye.
The conversation has triggered a strange moment for Melinda. The
Reporter is trying to remind her of something. Knock, knock. Time becomes
momentarily frozen as she attempts to piece her thoughts together. She has
heard Susan go through three different name changes in a matter of seconds.
Red catches her eye. Don't catch my eye you bastard.
Susan, Sue, Suzie.
One, two, three.
Melinda, Linda, Luna.
Red is staring at Melinda as the others chatter on, and she looses all
context for a wild moment.
"Buy you a drink, darlin'?" Red's voice seems to be coming from right
beside her, even though she knows it's not.
"Irish coffee," she says to Cindy without looking back in Red's
direction. She instantly knows with absolute certainty that it was foolish
for her to have accepted his offer. Wait. No. This is not a conversation
that anyone else hears.
"That's on my check," she shouts to Cindy.
Why wouldn't it be, shrugs Cindy.
Stan clarifies the rules. "You were obviously thinking of Werewolves,
Susan. If a Werewolf bites you, then you turn into a Werewolf. But a Zombie
has to bite you and
kill you in order to turn you into a zombie. They are the living dead, you
know. So you do have to be dead."
"You guys are both full of crap", bellows Red from the far side of the
bar. Odd. His face is white but his eyes are red.
"If you had ever watched the movie without smoking so much wacky weed,
you would realize that nobody has got to bite you. You just gotta die." He
fans his hands out over the bar, and bends his head so that his eyes appear
to be attached to the bottom of his hat.
"Why on earth would just dying turn you into a zombie?" The things
that Lex doesn't know about Zombies could fill a book, but he nonetheless
feels like issuing a challenge to Red. Red's explanation was clearly
inadequate. Surely Stan knows more about Zombies than this ruffian.
"Ex, man, you are hopeless. Cindy, get my boy Ex here another drink."
Red seems to have forgotten that only yesterday he had expressed a strong
desire to kick Lex's ass. Lex remembers, however, and he is accepting this
drink not as a token of atonement but as a token of thirst-quenching
deliciousness. Ha, he thinks, I shall neither forgive nor forget.
Red sits up straight on his stool, ready to teach class. "Look. This
is what happens. You have to learn to pay better attention to things. The
whole situation is explained in one of the television broadcasts that the
survivors are watchin later on in the movie. A strange meteor passed through
the earth's lower atmosphere and it left some sort of deadly cosmic
radiation. And because of that meteor and it's deadly X-rays, everybody that
dies automatically comes back to life as a flesh-eatin Zombie. It's as
simple as that. So you don't have to get bit by a Zombie to get turned into
a Zombie. Course the bottom line is, if one of those Zombies does get a hold
of you and gets a good bite, it probably is gonna kill you,
you are gonna turn into a Zombie. I think that's where your confusion's
"Umm," says Susan.
"Okay then," says Melinda.
"Bullshit!" shouts Lex. This explanation really pisses him off. It is
not even remotely plausible. His intelligence has been insulted, and Red
watches with weary surprise as Lex jumps to his feet.
"You want a little piece of me, crybaby?" Red challenges.
Stan pushes Lex back down and decides to address his little group,
taking special care not to look over in Red's direction. "You know what?
Instead of us arguing about the root cause of Zombieism, why don't we just
go back over to the Keaton mansion and watch the goddamn movie? That would
be fun, maybe. This place is really starting to depress me. Let's get away
from the TV Eye. I don't think I really want to have to look at CNN anymore
right now. I've seen these same clips about a thousand times in the past
couple days." Imitating Johnny Cochran, "If it's on, my eyes are drawn.
None of the others have even been paying attention to the television
playing above, but no one wants to mention this to Stan. He's right when he
says he can't seem to take his eyes off it.
Melinda clutches Stan's knee and whispers, "Stan, I'm feeling a little
bit freaky. You know?" Stan knows. Kindred Souls in Anxiety. "Let's do get
on out of here. Okay?"
"Come on everybody, let's go to the movies." These people are all so
petty, thinks Stan. History is unraveling before their eyes and they don't
seem at all concerned. It's up to him to baby-sit their dumb asses. What the
hell is going to happen next? Like maybe nothing? Or are the planes
going to return soon in a thunderous roar and maybe we're all going to die
and rise up again as flesh eating Zombies. Stan knows that it is his duty to
watch and report. Repetition. Repetition. Looking for clues.
But okay, maybe a break is in order. "Who's coming over to watch some
real live flesh eating Zombies on the big screen?"
A fine idea, thinks Susan. I could watch it again. And what's with the
stick up Stan's ass?
The group starts digging into pockets and purses, getting ready to pay
off their tabs, but Stan is quicker with his MasterCard. Vickie is delighted
- time to move on. Red starts to rise up off his stool, reconsiders the
move, and settles back down. He is watching Melinda intently, and she can
feel it. Don't you look at me you bastard.
On the television a plane is flying into the one of the World Trade
Center buildings. It scores a spectacular bulls-eye. The commentators are
recapping the days events.
"We really do need to get away from all this. I guess." Stan takes a
long last look at the screen as Cindy rings up the tab.
Lex ambles to his feet, and finishes the rest of his scotch. Shoot.
He, for one, has been having a good time. His momentary melancholy has
completely faded away. He would rather sit right here and listen to Susan.
There is a lot of new activity on the screen.
It would seem that Osama bin Laden has been fingered by the big boys.
According to what the talking heads are saying, he appears to be the
mastermind behind all of this mayhem.
'We will not rest until he is brought to justice'. That's Dubya
speaking. Osama was the prime suspect from day one, it turns out. But what
to do about it? Good morning, Afghanistan.
Reserves are already being called up, and the rhetoric was starting to
get fiery-hot by day two. It's just a matter of completing the paperwork
now. America has made a new best buddy with exotic Pakistan, that beacon of
democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Pakistan is willing to help us out
if we can return the favor. Like, by not killing them. And a few supportive
words on Kashmir wouldn't hurt at all.
There is big trouble brewing in these United States, whopping big
trouble. Stan knows it. He smells it. The other shoe will surely drop
shortly. Boston has been identified as a likely terrorist target, but it
might be only a single point of darkness in a grand array of targets. There
truly are terrorists lurking everywhere.
The great American patriots Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have sussed
out the sad reality behind the terrorist attacks, and they explain what is
really happening on the always informative '700 Club'. The depressing truth
is that God has withdrawn his Heavenly Seal of Approval and Protection from
the United States of America.
It was to be expected. We have harbored far too many
pro-abortion-God-mocking liberals for far too long. And everybody knows that
we have way too many faggots. And women's libbers. Just what is God supposed
to do anyway? Sheesh!
The president speaks.
"Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and
rid the world of evil." Rid the
world of evil? Okay. Now that truly is a mind-boggling task, but we're a big
old mind-boggling country, a country with great big balls and a whole lot of
gunpowder. It would not be inappropriate to say damn the torpedoes. We can
start with the Taliban.
Most people are starting to hear about the Taliban for the first time,
and trying to understand where they fit into this picture. They
unsavory group of heathens, that's for sure, but not that much unlike their
geographical brethren except for the fact that they are apparently harboring
the abominable bin Laden in their godforsaken Afghani safe houses. Stan is
not at all surprised to see the Taliban in the thick of things; he knew they
were reprehensible people back when they blew up the ancient giant Buddhas
of Bamyan. That sucked big time. Fucking heathens.
From the TV screen comes a flourish of dramatic music. The CNN banner
screen has been changed from 'America Under Attack' to 'America at War'.
Ummm. This is a Special Report. President Bush supports the new slogan by
once again declaring that 'we are at war'. No one is certain just
who it is that we are at war with aside from Osama, but we sure as shit are
at war with someone. And that someone is probably in Afghanistan. This is
abstract situation, as the nearly nonexistent liberal media would have you
believe. It is time to learn to think again about the nature of the world we
live in. Irony is dead. Nothing is certain. No further information can or
will be released at this time. Be vigilant. Report all suspicious activity.
God bless America.
Red smiles an ugly,
malignant smile. Stan and his compatriots slowly return to their seats,
where they unite in a communal ritual of screen staring.
And there they will remain.