Since writing about my vampire I’ve been troubled by an awareness of my almost total disinterest in zombies. Frankly, I just didn’t get the zombie thing. Dead bodies running around eating the brains of the living. Whaaat? Dead bodies don’t need to eat anything; they’re dead. Obviously zombies are an allegory for something or other, but what? However, yesterday I saw the (filtered, greenish) light. I am a zombie!
Admittedly, this revelation may have been influenced by my having to take a Valium prior to having a long titanium screw drilled into my skull. I don’t do well with drugs and never mess with them, but the dentist insisted, and I wound up with one uncontrollably drooping eyelid and vastly diminished cognitive skills as I stumbled into his office. In a few months the titanium screw will anchor a new, bionic front tooth neither moth nor rust may corrupt. In the meantime I look like I probably run a still down in the holler and never go anywhere without an old 12-guage shotgun and a mongrel dog named “Stump,” who will kill on command. But a side-effect of the unaccustomed drugginess is, perhaps, this sudden onslaught of zombie-comprehension.
What happened was that in an attempt to stop running into walls, I sat at my computer to read Publisher’s Weekly. Before me was article about Amanda Hocking’s zombie novels being made into comics. Hocking made a fortune with her self-published YA zombie, paranormal and fantasy novels on Amazon, then contracted with a traditional publisher for an additional $2 million advance, and now is doing comics. And there are hundreds of other YA books and movies about zombies, all selling like gold in a recession, as well as countless planned and spontaneous zombie crawls wherein scads of people in cadaver stage makeup stumble through the streets of major cities. “YA” means “Young Adult,” a category that extends, depending on the maturity of the reader, from early adolescence to somewhere in the thirties. I stared groggily at a photo of Amanda Hocking, who is now 27 and a multi-millionaire. I thought, “Gee. Shave off seven years and she could be my granddaughter!” And that’s when it hit me.
We are the zombies, the walking dead from another time, chomping away at a
new, uber-wired consciousness in the young that sees no point in correct spelling, grammar or deductive reasoning. Or in the Protestant Work Ethic, traditional marriage and old-time religion. I’m with them on those last three, but as a former English teacher (and nobody is ever really a “former” English teacher), I am a zombie! Lurching through a world in which infinitives are routinely split (“to boldly go…”), I feel pain as each sequential gaffe opens suppurating wounds on my zombie avatar. That mindless, glazed rage in my bloodshot eyes (one of which hangs by the optic nerve from its socket) is directed at phrases such as, “Him and me went…, “ or “Your so stupid.” A failure of agreement between subject and verb is sufficient to drag my decomposing zombie self from its moldering grave. Incorrect pronoun referents (“Each of the dancers wore their dashing fedora.”) animate my zombie shuffle. My red pen is a slavering maw. It must chew and devour every egregious affront on the English language even though I know perfectly well that languages are fluid, alive and prone to change. I don’t care; correct English matters, and that’s what makes me a zombie.
The redeeming factor here, however, is a peculiar fondness inherent in the zombie crawls of the young. They love zombies, love to dress in our rotting rags and mime our stiff, dead-limbed shuffle as they gather on city streets to gnaw severed body parts. We are the past and our incessant chewing at their brains about grammar and responsibility and the value in knowing anything outside the present moment is incredibly annoying, sometimes scary. So they write lots of books in which armies of the living dead are ultimately vanquished (as indeed we will ultimately be), leaving an ill-defined, zombie-free landscape of, from my perspective, really bad English. Still, it’s nice to be noticed, even liked despite our unspeakable appetites, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I can’t wait to be invited to a zombie crawl. I won’t even need a costume!