By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
BE THE UNDEAD, KNOW THE UNDEAD
To understand the monster, you must become it. These are the rules of the zombie walk: “While on the sidewalk you must remain in zombie mode. Do not touch, attempt to scare or otherwise engage anyone who is not a willing participant. Above all, avoid confrontations! Do not miss the point by causing or getting caught up in drama. And do not apply fake blood to the point where you are dripping it all over other people, the ground or anything else.”
No parasitic infection is needed for people in the city to display zombie-like behavior. Even without financial inducements, some people will be zombies just for the hell of it. It’s early morning at the horror magazine Fangoria’s annual Weekend of Horrors convention, where I’m meeting Anthony Dalbis, the organizer of SoCal Zombiewalk. The rules are his, based partly on common sense and partly from his experience working at Knott’s Scary Farm, where he moonlights as a half-dead-farmer-half-gorilla manimal every Halloween. The night before the walk, I ask how I will recognize him.
“Easy. I’ll be the zombie construction worker,” he says.
According to the literature he hands out, the group was “put together out of a love for the living dead” and “gives fellow fans of the living dead a chance to gather together and transform into a pack of zombies for the night. Walk with us and you’ll see!”
Several zombies are milling around in the foyer of the Los Angeles Convention Center. It’s quiet and surreal. Soon, more undead arrive. They admire each others’ blood-spattered faces. They compliment the cadaverousness of each others’ pallor. “You guys look so good!” a dead nurse gushes to a bloody Bears Stearns stockbroker couple. A zombie surgeon, upon encountering a zombie in a green Starbucks apron asks, in an imperious way, “Can I have a double venti green tea?”
The zombie Starbucks barista stares vacantly, then says, “With brains?”
The room starts filling with zombies from all walks of life: undead teenage prom queens, undead schoolgirls, a decaying ob-gyn clutching a two-headed evil baby, rotting rockabillies, passed-away punks, bloody businessmen, an undead hooker, undead gangbangers, undead joggers, an entire hospital ward of zombie patients. One woman in a fluffy pink bathrobe and shower cap complains that her Chihuahua wouldn’t stop chewing on the stump of her severed plastic hand.
“Remember,” says Dalbis, “stay in character.” When the march begins, some 150 zombies take to the street to do a slow, halting lap around the convention center. Some zombies drag their legs, as if the limb had gone numb. Others march with their arms held straight forward, in classic undead stance. Some screech. Some groan. People in cars stare. They honk their horns. They roll down the windows, point and laugh. The zombies walk in front, clumped up at first, then gradually stretching out into a long straggling line, followed by the bloodsuckers — i.e., the picture-snapping, notebook-wielding, blogging, quote-seeking members of the media.
“Grrrrr ... 5-dollar parrrrking,” mutters one zombie as we pass the parking structure. He’s so convincing, I can’t imagine him as anything but undead. “Blessssss yoouu,” he says when another zombie sneezes.
It’s rather pleasant emptying your mind, shambling around in the early quiet of morning, with nothing but the soothing shuffling of feet and the occasional mutter of “Mmmmmrrains?”
They are the most populist of monsters, representing a negation of the self as well as a contradictory glorification of that which is base and human. You don’t have to worry about being sexy, attractive or smart like vampires. Or ancient and menacing like mummies. Or wild like werewolves. As Time’s Lev Grossman recently noted, the zombie is “plucky and tenacious — you can cut off his limbs and he’ll keep on coming atcha.” As a zombie, the subtler of life’s expectations seem to melt away. You just have to keep on keeping on.
One fellow munching contemplatively on some intestines — juicy bits tumble from his mouth to his feet as he chews — looks positively Zen.
“We usually do the walks in the evening in populated areas, around dusk as the light is fading,” says Dalbis afterward. “That’s when it looks the best.” Ordinarily, he works in the transportation industry delivering cars. The construction-worker outfit (fluorescent orange Caltrans vest, baggy jeans, hard hat, all doused in blood) is an homage to that. Dalbis, who is 35, got hooked on zombies when he was 9 years old and saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video for the first time. “It changed my life,” he says. “I loved everything about those zombies. The way they looked, the way they moved, their clothes, their makeup.” In his opinion, interest in zombies isn’t cyclical. It is eternal.