Building Better Zombies

It’s getting harder to distinguish between Election Day and Halloween

I was sitting on a bench outside my neighborhood bodega, relishing the warm afternoon sun. I grimaced as I read Sinclair Lewis’ newly topical 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. I had just finished reading the chapter where the book’s charismatic, evil antagonist, demagogue Senator Buzz Windrip, wins the presidency by promising to make America safe and great again. He did it by guaranteeing each citizen a salary of $5,000 per year. ($90,000 in today’s money).

Just then, my precocious young neighbor, 11-year-old Clyde, walked up. Clyde’s millennial parents named him Hunter, but he likes the old-school coolness of Clyde. 

“What’s shakin’, Clydester?” I asked.

Clyde squinted against the sun, shook his thick mop of black hair, and folded his skinny arms against his black Raiders T-shirt. “I wanna be a zombie for Halloween, and mom said to talk to you.”

“Why me?” I asked.

“Because mom says you stagger around the neighborhood looking like an old, chubby corpse, you talk a lot of goofy nonsense and you think you’re witty. You’re very annoying. To her, you’re like a zombie.”

After recovering from the sudden barrage of nasty zingers, I offered some retaliatory wisdom. “Tell your mom that I appreciate her comments. Also warn her that you reap what you sow. Now, let’s make you a better zombie than me.” 

Clyde clapped his hands in excitement and sat his wiry little frame beside me. His bright, brown eyes were wide with youthful anticipation.

“First off, your mom is right.” I stated. “Zombies are incredibly annoying. They’re constantly trying to eat people’s brains.”

“But I don’t wanna eat anybody’s brain!’ Clyde whimpered, looking dejected.

“Not to worry!” I exclaimed. “There are plenty of ways to eat someone’s brain, metaphorically, of course. When I was your age, we called it brainwashing.” Clyde snickered. “Brainwashing? How do you do that, pour soap in your ears?”

I laughed, then said, “No, we do it by attracting attention with unusual behavior or pretending to be successful, talented, smart and powerful. It’s called having charisma. Then we tell people what they want to hear. We tell poor people that we’ll make them rich, rich people that we’ll make them richer and scared people that we’ll keep them safe.” 

I showed Clyde my book. “The soulless zombie in the story I’m reading is named Buzz. He brainwashes poor people by telling them he’ll make America great again, and by promising them $90,000 a year; a promise he doesn’t keep. They all believed his lies and elected him president.”

Clyde looked pensive, and cupped his little chin in his right hand, deep in thought. “Isn’t there some guy doing stuff like that right now?” He asked.

“Yes, there is, but he’s on his way out. We all know what happens to zombies. They eventually rot away. ”

Clyde pondered that, then asked, “So how do I get this ‘charisma?’”

“Well, we can try changing your appearance into something eye-catching. Can you dye your hair bright yellow and get a phony tan?” I inquired. 

Clyde repeated, “Isn’t there some guy doing stuff like that right now? I wanna be different! Besides, my mom would kill me!”

“In that case,” I offered, “we’ll work on giving you an annoying, yet charismatic personality instead. How about an affected, phony accent? These days, a lot of men talk and laugh like the 1940s’ actress Tallulah Bankhead. It’s kind of a throaty, feminine, southern drawl. 

“Show me!” said Clyde, squirming in his seat.

I tried my best Tallulah, but sounded more like Whoopie Goldberg with a sinus condition. “Mother, dahling, you look simply mahvelous! Tell me, dear heart, do these trousers make me look fat? Ha ha ha! Oh my word!” 

Clyde roared with laughter. “Let me try! Mother, dahling, I simply must dye my hair bright yellow and work on my tan! And, no more pizza! I’m getting frightfully fat! Ha ha ha! Oh, how mahvelous!”

It was my turn to laugh at the perfection of Clyde’s new, incredibly annoying Tallulah accent.

“You’re great!” I encouraged. “Go show your mom! She’ll love her new annoying zombie! And don’t forget to tell her Happy Halloween.”

“Got it, dear heart,” drawled Clyde. He marched down the street, bellowing in a perfect Tallulah, “Mother, dearest, happy Halloween! You reap what you sow, dahling! Ha ha ha!”

His mom has yet to thank me.