It began two weeks ago when I slept through my alarm and was forced to take the shuttle to work. I usually enjoy a morning saunter through Golden Gate Park, enjoying the music of leafblowers and ravens, and the thwock-thwock of crazy people who wake up at the crack of dawn to play tennis, so it was with great chagrin that I boarded the shuttle, which always smells like hot airplane-seat fabric and drives like it has the hydraulic system of a Habitrail. Once we swung into traffic and got started up Stanyan I started to hear a sound like someone dragging their fingers across a party balloon. I thought it was the usual squeaking of the various parts of the shuttle holding together as it drives, but it was way too melodic for that… and then I saw that the driver was wearing Santa hat, and then my brain did its pattern-recognition thing and the squeaking resolved itself into music: Alvin and the Chipmunks. Christmas music. I look around… everyone looks vaguely smiley. I feel… uncomfortable. I feel, not like a Scrooge… no way… I once described my ascent out of depression as a desire to become the fuzzy puppy of the universe… that is, if I appeared in someone’s dream, (or my own), it would be as a bounding, floppy, furry scatterer of sadness… a kind of patronus/patroness of exuberant joy, with feet four sizes too big, and a “knock-you-over-in-the-midst-of-your-depressive-thought-and-make-you-forget-all-about-it” kind of emotion ninja. So no, I’m not a Scrooge. But man, I hate sentimentality with a vengeance. Why? Because it is Hallmark-card emotion. It’s shorthand… it’s not going to the effort to have your own feelings and describe them, but to reach for the mass-produced feeling because it is quick, and convenient. These were my thoughts as I got off the shuttle.
So I have to stop and admit to something here… who was really missing the point? Me.At least one point… that everyone else on that shuttle was vaguely happy, soothed as the monster was in Young Frankenstein by the sweet sounds Frau Bleucher (cue horse’s whinny) playing the violin. I was the only one getting off the shuttle with a vague scowl and a sense of the heebie jeebies. But… was that good? Was that bad? Was I the Stupid who could not comprimise by internal Yeager-shot of snobbery for the delicious goo of Generic Label Xmas cheer? Was I just being a smarty-pants-intelligensia-party-pooper? Would liquor have improved the situation?
Or was I simply resisting zombiehood?
I have a friend who is also an incredible artist (by “incredible” i mean very credible, so much so his work seems impossibly amazing), who also lectures about zombies. His name is George Pfau, and he created this image of a zombie here on the left. If I had to be a zombie, I would want to be one of George’s images of one… in fact I think I already am. Not a zombie, but I am made up of structural memories… houses and mailboxes and trains and toilets and crossbeams and rebar and a ton of shingles and gimcrackery. I have been to one of George’s lectures on zombies, and I was quite taken by the history of zombies… in religion and movies and popular culture. I find the zombie flash mob idea, like SantaCon, joy-inducing. But it’s not because I want to be a zombie. I like these things because they are a bunch of people getting together to do something that is hysterically funny specifically because it is en masse. One person dressed as a zombie shuffling around downtown San Francisco would probably draw, at best, a lopsided grin or two from the actual zombies (people glued to their cell phones, etc.) who managed to notice. But a whole streetful of people dressed as zombies… that will cause an effect! And several drunken 40-year-old Santas returning to their condos in Concord on BART after a night of cruising uninterested 20-somethings dressed as naughty elves? The best BART ride I ever had for sure!
And there is something paradoxical and strange about the idea of mob mentality. I mean, that’s what zombies are, yes? They are a mob… not even an insectile mass mind… they are a non-mind. They are “walkers” or “biters”, but they don’t think. They eat. They are. So the power of a group of people deliberately dressing up as zombies is a kind of reversal of zombie-ness, or a tongue-bitten-off-in-cheek comment on the idea of a directed mob.
If you’ve ever been to church, or a sports event, the same thing happens when a group of more than say, 30 people, sings together, or cheers together. It’s like standing on the beach watching a thunderstorm come in, or a tsunami– the sheer bigness of it, the power of many people doing the same thing at the same time is both emotionally, and physically overwhelming in a transformative way. If the human tsunami is up to something wonderful… it’s a heart-swelling experince that makes you want to go out and help old ladies across the street and pay strangers’ bridge tolls and catch spiders and put them outside instead of smashing them with a shoe. But if the mob is say… holding molotov cocktails and guns… waiting for the doors to WalMart to open on Black Friday…. or standing in a malevolent clump by your school locker… that’s when every part of your being concentrates in the lower part of your belly, and all the hairs on your neck stand up. The tsunami… it will either lift you up and set you down somewhere else and give you a breathtaking ride… or it will drown the life out of you in two seconds without even noticing.
These of course are two ways of thinking of zombies… but there is a third, and for me, it’s the most frightening. It’s what I’ll call the milk and cheese zombie. Have you ever seen this advertisement?
“Happy Cows Come from California. Real California Cheese.”
Real cheese is right, and by cheese, I mean melt-in-your-mouth jar full O easy cheez. Come on. No one being sucked dry all the day long is going to be happy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink milk or eat cheese, ok? I do! I just think that it adds deep insult to injury and a bit self-serving to re-brand humanely treated animals as “happy”. I mean this is like being in a relationship with a person who locks you in a room and uses you, and then tells you must like it since you haven’t run away yet.
The milk and cheese zombie is the one who believes his or her own bullshit, or the bullshit presented by others as truth. Or, in it’s seemingly more innocuous interation: this zombie likes things because other people do. Does things because other people do. Listens to things because other people do. Buys stuff because other people do. And the more I have to do every day to exist, the more I give in to this milk-and-cheese zombie mind. I just do it because it’s expected. I nod my head and I no longer wear sweatshirts as skirts or put makeup on statues. Is it because being an adult forces you to become a zombie? Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not equating youthful knee-jerk rebellion against the status quo is any better. I’m saying… do we have to lose our individuality to celebrate as a group?
But these are my subjective thoughts about zombies and zombiedom. I decided, once I had reached my desk, (yes, all of this really did go through my head in the two blocks between the shuttle stop and my desk. It was morning, I had just had coffee. This is the best and most productive thinking time of my day… that caffeine-and-angst-fueled golden five minutes when I ponder the really big and important questions of society and self- like “am i a simulation, and would i notice if i were?.) So, as in all things, when I can’t figure out if the problem is me or the rest of the world, or if there is actually a problem at all, I turned to my beloved experts on gchat: one is a former Mole at the Cornell High Energy Sychrontron, now in quasi-retirement in a desk job provided by the atomic witness protection program. Here’s how our conversation went:
me: can i just say that I am no scrooge, but I despise christmas music?why does it all gotta be so SAPPY and MEDIOCRE? notable exceptions: bruce springsteen
this is a recording: unfortunately for me, the sappier the better for xmas music!
me: oh god. you would torture me, wouldn’t you? LOL
this is a recording: i happen to have Santa’s Marching Band SET UP next to my bed … I play dean martin and alvin and the chipmunks out loud ALL DAY at my desk at work. along with MANY other sappy xmas hits.
me: okay… but no barbara streisand. that’s where i draw the line. dean martin is totally cool. alvin and the C’s…. are pushing it tho.
this is a recording: inexplicably…since I’ve begun playing these…more and more zombies shamble in the immediate vicinity.
this is a recording: now playing Gene Autry & the Cas “Frosty the Snowman”
me: that’s like the guy in the piano store at the mall who sits there playing electic organ music all day.
this is a recording: I hate organ mushik.
me: the only organ music that doesn’t suck is the kind I play with my nose.
this is a recording: rotfl!!!!
me: oh, and parliament funkadelic.
this is a recording: I just received a small gift bag from ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦. We exchange bs gifts every year, she’s the one who conned me into working in this hell-hole department. I usually make her a lovely scarf/earring set.
me: what did she give you?
this is a recording: POO-Pourri.
by Royal Flush
me: wait, you’re serious? Poo-pourri. is that ReAL?
this is a recording: sending you a pic. check your email.
this is a recording: gotta go. zombies are storming the bastille.
I decided to try another friend. He works for a large gaming corporation answering fan mail and explaining to European branches that Christmas is in fact a religious holiday and that just because the Church of England has issues does not mean Hannukah and Ramadan don’t exist for other parts o’ the world. I thought maybe he’d have some insight on the zombie question.
me: hey, this is a recording says that the more xmas music she plays at her desk, the more zombies come shambling by…
redacted: well duh.
me: elaborate please.
(the following comments are taken out of of order and out of context but it’s a lot funnier this way, and this is what journalist zombies do all the time.)
redacted: this just happened (paraphrasing): “hey redacted here’s a bunch of stuff we didn’t give you til the last minute, and some last minute changes, and instead of specific assets you need an entire unsorted zip to search through. make sure this is all updated before you leave. hey why aren’t you coming to the white elephant party?”
me: so do you feel that the whole idea of holidays/xmas is what’s causing a zombie outbreak, or does it just hold a mirror up to what’s already there? or are we all zombies in our own way?
redacted: my wife and I meow at each other as a primary form of communication, so i mean….
me: I LOVE THAT. hahahaha!!!!
redacted: it’s the kind of thing where it is so second nature… some day someone here at work is gonna ask me something and i’ll go “Mrrrow?”
It was really time for me to stop creatively thinking and get to work, but I had to ask one more person before I felt I could move on, or that I had really attempted to find a sort of quorum on the whole idea of the relationship (or lack therof) of the embrace of the generic leading to an overall lack of taste and discrimination… which eventually leads to being a walking corpse.
me: Mr. Chips? this is a recording says that the more christmas music she plays, the more zombies come shambling around her desk.
Mr. Chips: i’m not sure what that means. real zombies?
me: she means coworkers i think.
Mr. Chips: do her coworkers eat brains? Oh hey, remember that song Zombie, by the Cranberries?
Alvin and the Chipmunks do a cover version: