But what if it were the other way around? What if YOU were the lone zombie walking around--undead, wandering in a sea of thriving humanity, scaring everyone shitless?
That's why I chose to get into the skin of a zombie--that is, to shuffle a mile in his shoes. But first I needed to resemble one of the living undead--and a bong hit, a couple shots of Jgermeister, and some shabby clothes would not suffice. I needed professional help.
For three hours, makeup artist Rose Barclay added layer upon grisly layer of latex, until finally I not only felt like, but also appeared to be, a believable zombie.
I was now ready to walk among the living. Aside from having a photographer at my side and an extraneous zombie coach to call 911 in case I got shot in the face (which, as you will read, was a distinct possibility), I was on my own to discover how well a zombie can get around Portland and enjoy the normal day-to-day life of the un-undead.
My coach (Mercury's zombie aficionado Erik Henriksen) and I decided I would be a "progressive" zombie. A Citizen Zombie, if you will. I clearly couldn't just start grabbing people and biting them or even frightening people into burning or shooting me. For my own safety and to avoid a lengthy prison sentence, I would be just a regular zombie attempting to go about my business doing everyday normal activities--errands at the mall, loitering in the city's business districts, idling away my "undead" time. With so much lip service given to being "accepting" of people from all walks of life, would Portland's liberal citizens reach out to the undead? If they'll accept dirty, filthy hippies, how would Portland's businesses and residents react to a zombie?
HAWTHORNE 'HEARTS' ZOMBIES
What better place to contrast the effects of the walking dead than the life-loving Hawthorne District? I wondered if they would even notice.
Since it was an incredibly gorgeous sunny day, I first wanted to get an ice cream cone. Even zombies have a sweet tooth. I stepped into Ben & Jerry's for some creamy relief and, with heavy feet, shuffled up to the counter, stiffly hit the glass with some paper money and uttered "Unnnngggghhh!"
Thwap! I hit the counter hard.
Again, thwap! Then, "Unnnngggghhh!"
The young clerk was puzzled, but pleasant, and I had begun to attract attention.
"Dude, can I help you?" he asked, smirking.
"I don't know what you want." He looked around sheepishly, for a camera, I presume. Or perhaps for an interpreter.
"I'm sorry." He apologized patiently.
After a few more minutes of this, I finally had to break character. I had to. I really wanted some ice cream. The ice cream guy looked relieved.
We snapped a few pictures, managing to coerce a little girl's parents into letting her pose with me--that is until she burst into tears, terrified. This was going to be harder than I thought.
As I made my way up the street I attracted more attention, but no overt freakouts or comments. Hawthorne, I'm happy to inform you, turns out to be amazingly zombie tolerant.
After ice cream, I wanted to acquire some brains. Not for my head (that's Frankenstein), but facts are facts--zombies love to eat brains. I stopped at Pastaworks Market, next to Powell's. Again I shuffled up to the counter, but this time instead of "Unnnngggghhh!" I uttered the immortal "Braaaains!" Thwap! I hit the butcher's counter with money.
Again, I faced confusion. One employee made a hasty exit when asked for assistance by the beleaguered butcher, uttering, "I'm going on break."
The butcher remained confused but friendly, even when I was forced to gargle the word "sweetbreads" in order to be understood. Damn! Apparently Hawthorne's stores are overly zombie tolerant. Wasn't anyone the least bit concerned that a member of the living undead was walking amongst them? Wasn't anybody going to try to take me out?
Since your hair continues to grow even after you're dead, the next logical stop was Bishop's barbershop. Hey, the grave is murder on your hair. My handler was forced to arrange a haircut for me, as my groans weren't really effective in the retail communication capacity. Bishop's was a zoo, as usual, and while I waited for my cut I met a nice six-year-old boy named Tim, who studied me, horrified.
"You're disgusting," he informed me. His frown was the most genuine expression of appall that I had ever seen; at one point, I thought he was actually going to puke. He finally warmed up, however, informing me that I smelled more like "fresh muffins" than "dead." He then launched into a far-flung story about zombies, muffins, and dressing the muffin zombies in turkey suits--which I plan to steal and turn into a screenplay. Hawthorne was clearly too tolerant of my undead ilk. Besides brains, I craved a challenge.
How is it that zombies always end up at the mall? Are we seeking dead-eyed beings of a like mind? Or is it just the best place to devour brains, with a high concentration of humans swarming like shoals of tasty, hugely craniumed fish? Whatever the reason, I felt it was my destiny to besiege the throngs of consumer lemmings at Lloyd Center.
First stop: The skating rink. As I've always wanted to try ice skating, I figured that as a zombie, if I sucked at it, I could just blame it on being undead. I was starting to like this undead business. When I went to the desk to rent skates, the attendant was surprisingly nonchalant. After asking my size and retrieving the skates she said, "Out to scare the kids, huh?" as if people just do this sometimes.
My stint in the rink was a bit harrowing. I was attracting attention. Skating dead, among so much youthful exuberance, you stick out. A couple of tween boys began following me closely, asking, "Why are you doing this?" and "What are you trying to do?"
Nervous, I had to explain in human. They weren't buying it. For the duration of my 15-minute skating session, they continued to shadow and keep a watchful eye over me. Perhaps they were hoping to be heroes.
I asked a couple of Olsen twin-esque teenage girls in matching powder blue zip-ups if they would each hold one of my hands and skate with me for a photo-op.
"It's for a newspaper; the Portland Mercury, have you read it?" I inquired in human.
"So it's cool, right? Will you do it?"
"No, that paper's for freaks."
They skated away.
Before crestfallenness could set in, things got really weird. A couple of teenage boys showed up. One had wolf man face paint and the other had monster/zombie face paint. I had competition.
"Why are you doing this?" I asked.
"I dunno," they said. "For fun. We went to OMSI."
Like that explained it.
"I guess people do do this sometimes," I thought. Coincidence can be funny that way.
Eventually, skating into the wall and falling on my ass lost its charm. Even a zombie has a limited attention span. It was time to hit Scamp's, the mall's pet store. I wanted to make an attempt, at least, at buying a live kitten--or failing that, purchase a hermit crab for the Mercury's Katie Shimer, who had asked if I could run a few errands while I was out zombie-ing around.
On my way down the mall corridor toward Scamp's, I remained in character and encountered the most likely candidate for dinner--if I had been a real zombie on an actual rampage.
As I passed him, this 200-plus pound Pacific Islander dude growled, "This guy looks like he needs to get beaten down."
Indeed, the mood was beginning to darken. The glaring looks and body checks were becoming more hazardous. I was starting to fatigue. Being a zombie is hard--and hazardous--work.
Unfortunately, the Scamp's manager summarily denied me entry to the pet store. We were then approached by mall security who starting giving my crew the "no pictures" mantra. I felt angry and unwelcome. It was clearly time to go. And yet, I couldn't fight the urge, however macabre, to return later on with some "friends" and wreak some truly undead, brain eating havoc.
"What am I thinking?" I said, getting hold of myself. Is the physical manifestation of acting like a zombie taking over my better, human nature? Where was my humanity? Had I come too far?
SUNDOWN IN THE PEARL
We rounded out the afternoon at Jamison Square in the Pearl District, where a newly designed fountain spouts gallons of water and hordes of living children splash joyfully. I had expected this to be an acutely anti-zombie zone. It is well known that the rich prefer vampires over the undead--zombies are considered déclassé. This is not to mention the strong vibe of parental protection running throughout the park.
But as I waded around among the children playing in the fountain, I only met with the occasional anti-zombie inference. A few parents yanked away their progeny--but this was limited to the younger, juicier kids. Most parents simply ignored me with the same self-satisfied aloofness usually reserved for the homeless. Not a single person threatened me with a shotgun or attacked me, which I felt would have been the outcome had I stayed at the Lloyd Center.
Shuffling through the fountain, I felt the warming glow of humanity. The sun was dropping westward. I grew hungry and thought about how good it felt to be alive--or at least walk among them--and how truly tolerant Portland can be when you're dead... as long as you're not trying to buy live animals or ice skate with the Olsen twins.