MIDDLE-AGED PLAGUE - Will the real zombies please wake up!

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College Girl and her friends toss everything else aside, including homework, when "The Walking Dead" comes on. Then they sprawl about chomping popcorn while grisly, ashen, ratty-tatty-skinned Frankenstein things lurch on screen, making the same sounds little kids make when they're playing cars.

Of course, college students would chuck homework for Barney the purple dinosaur or reruns of "Gilligan's Island," both of which sound better than memorizing tendons and ligaments around the elbow. But they rhapsodize about imaginary ambulatory dead people.

"They're so sexy!"

Hmmm.

Tired of Being Youngest's generation swoons over vampires, more dead things, white instead of gray, emaciated and wan.

"You've got to see the 'Twilight' movies, mom," Tired insisted. "Robert Pattinson is so hot!"

Personally I find vampires cold blooded, about as sexy as Vulcans.

This fascination with alien life forms is, well, alien to me. I like human beings -- real, ordinary, gregarious, open-minded, regular, everyday people who don't think they're Donald Trump or that nasty British bloke on "America's Got Talent." But recently at an art festival we ran into a few undercover zombies. On the outside they looked like humanoids, but inside, where the heart beats, they were dead people.

Not the ones who smiled, commented on the rain outside, asked a question about a painting, diffidently mentioned that they tried watercolors years ago but really weren't very good -- those people were alive.

The zombies among them avoided eye contact, grunted when we said hello, turned their backs to us, left the booth without a word, made us feel small and insignificant. And no, it's not because they were shy.

"That person's a collector," our neighbor in the next booth murmured.

"That person's rude," I murmured back. The two qualities do not have to go together.

I see variations of this theme at the grocers, the box store, the office mart, the fast food joint. People whose living depends upon serving the needs of others frequently find themselves talking to zombies who don't smile, don't answer a greeting, fail to engage because they eschew trying.

College Girl remembers her stint as a grocery bagger -- "the lowest life form on the planet," she describes it -- and the zombies who looked through her when she smiled at them and said hello. One woman stared at her for 10 seconds, then drew out her cell phone and began a call.

I'm not sure where these people are coming from. This is America, where we do not have royalty, not even the Kennedys, and where we ordinary folk consider ourselves equal to our betters because we all breathe through our noses and our mouths, crumple into little pieces when we're hit head on by semi-trucks, love, laugh, choose soft toilet paper over scratchy, and exclaim something or other when we step on a plastic Lego block with our bare feet.

There is something wrong, something dead inside, when we honestly think -- because of the car we drive, the way we pronounce "apricot," the letters after our name, our antecedents, our political persuasion, IQ score, French manicured nails, or ability to down a neat whiskey without snorting -- that we are somehow inherently superior to another human being.

Reality is, one day we'll all be dead, outside and in. And it will matter more how we lived than where, and as what.

Dayton columnist Carolyn Henderson, who manages Steve Henderson Fine Art, can be reached at 382-9775 or via email at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com. More of her writing is at middleagedplague.areavoices.com.

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