If there’s one good thing about this coronavirus mess, it’s the way that it’s brought us together. That’s ironic considering how we’re being told to stay away from one another.

But let me ask you a question: Did you expect this thing with the toilet paper?

You’d think that certain food staples would be scooped off the shelves, but now we know that people are more concerned about wiping their ass than they are about eating.

This turns everything upside down, including what we know about dealing with a crisis. And zombies.

In The Walking Dead, you sometimes see the characters foraging for food and weapons, but toilet paper? Never. I argue therefore, that the Walking Dead is not realistic, because people are not obsessed with toilet paper. Yes, I know, the whole thing about people coming back from the dead is also unrealistic — but the toilet paper!

Art imitates life, so zombie stories will probably start including some toilet paper sub-plots, and you know what, it’s something we’ll all relate to.

Meanwhile, continue to ration and wipe with care. Me? I’m waiting for the bidet I ordered from Home Depot. The key to survival is self-sufficiency.

Attack of the Sample Zombies

Since I first attended the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, the event has grown to monstrous proportions.

What was once a quaint celebration with a small town feel has grown into a behemoth and the two-day affair seems at risk of becoming a victim of its own success. The vast remote parking lots, shuttle busses and hordes of garlic hungry sample zombies were almost too much to bear.

Yes, sample zombies.

You’ve seen them. They’re the folks who shuffle mindlessly past every booth at farmers markets and food events, not in search of brains to eat, but cheese, relishes, exotic olive oils and dipping sauces — and in this case, many different varieties of raw garlic. They lurch from table to table stabbing at tidbits of food with toothpicks, elbowing past other sample zombies for their share of the bounty.  Mmmmmm… foooooood… gooooooood…

The most patient and persistent sample zombies can make a meal of the tiny morsels, one small nip at a time. Me? I prefer to feed in large hearty bites and find sampling to be exquisitely annoying.

The sample zombies do not drink blood, they drink free shots of vinegar.
Sample zombies are attracted to free shots of vinegar.

And how about that garlic? Some varieties were noticeably sharper than others and a few had a taste that snuck up on you, the way hot sauce sometimes takes a minute to really hit home — but overall, the different types of garlic all tasted very much the same.

I couldn’t begin to guess how much raw garlic I ate, but I will say this: I stunk of garlic the next day. The fragrance oozed from my pores and orifices like nobody’s business; while sample zombies may have been a problem over the weekend, vampires were not an issue.

Fright Fest

If you are a fan of Night of the Living Dead, you must see Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary about the making of the iconic horror film and its influence on popular culture.

George Romero’s stories about the ragtag cast and crew, a motley assemblage of friends and business associates, are priceless. It was everyone’s first movie — and as if by magic, they created something completely different. The film also puts Night in the context of its time; they may not have set out to make an allegory for the turbulent late-sixties, but that’s what they ended up with.

One of the interesting things I learned was that Night was originally released in theaters as a matinée feature aimed at kids; it was typical in those days for theaters to run low-budget sci-fi and horror stuff on weekend and holiday afternoons.

Harmless fun — but Night of the Living Dead was like no horror movie ever made.

I vividly remember seeing it at one of those afternoon shows. As my mother dropped us off in front of the movie house in Mineola, a pimply faced teenager with thick glasses accosted us. “I hope you brought a spoon! This movie’s so scary it’ll make you swallow your tongue!”

I was really little, like 7 or 8 years old, along for a fun day out with my older sister and cousins. Swallow my tongue? Bring a spoon? Now I was beginning to worry.

Well, it turns out that spoonboy was correct.

The film was so intensely disturbing and terrifying that several times during the movie we ran from the theater screaming and cowered in the lobby. It was just too much.

Film critic Roger Ebert happened to attend one of these matinée screenings, in a crowd full of children, and wrote this:

The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.

A good time was had by all!

Time To Kill the Walking Dead

The Walking Dead can be infuriating. Part of me enjoys the survivor story that never seems to stop — but part of me craves a conclusion. Stories have a beginning and an end — they don’t go on forever — and as much as I like the show, I’m ready for the final act.

Think of Walking Dead’s AMC cousins, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Both followed a clear story arc aiming for a destination — and they both featured interesting characters who changed as the series progressed.

Could Breaking Bad still be on the air? Sure. Every week Walt would cook more meth and fend off the latest threat to his empire. Or Mad Men: Don sleeps with someone, gets drunk, loses a big account, has an existential crisis… how long does that stay interesting?

I don’t get the sense that the The Walking Dead knows where it’s going, happy instead rack up big ratings and zombie kills.

Even on MASH, the Korean War eventually ended.

So, I say save the show by killing it. Don’t let it become like the walkers, shambling aimlessly around in the woods for as long as their decaying muscles will carry them.

Having said that, here are the three top rejected Terminus signs:

Terminus: We are here to serve humans.

Terminus: We’d love to have you for dinner.

Terminus: Come for the sanctuary, stay for the B-B-Q.

Don’t Drink the Water

Flipping through the dial this morning, I caught the local news on the radio, just in time to hear this interesting item: Albany residents are warned that two bodies of water, the Washington Park Lake and Buckingham Pond, are “infected” with a blue-green algae bloom.  The report advised people not to “drink the water.”

If you’ve ever been to Washington Park or seen Buckingham Pond, I’m pretty certain that the last thing in the world you would ever do is drink that water. And if for some reason you completely lose your mind and  do drink the water, the health department outlines some serious ramifications:

“Consuming water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people.”

We get into frequent arguments at my house about The Walking Dead, which returns this Sunday night. Someone will say, “Where are they getting water? Imagine the time you’d have to spend locating and purifying water just to stay alive.  Very unrealistic.”

Yes it’s extremely unrealistic. Almost as unrealistic as the idea of dead people lurching back to life and consuming human flesh. I suppose if we can accept the zombie premise, the maybe we can let go of the fact that the show’s characters don’t spend time collecting water.

Suspension of disbelief is central to enjoying horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. When you start getting bogged down in in conversations about what’s realistic, it takes the fun away.

Instead, let’s talk about a real world issue, like who’s the numbnut that thinks people would drink the water out of the Washington Park Lake?

Dream On

The doctor told me not to take my pills at night. “They’ll increase your urination, so I usually suggest people take them in the morning rather than be woken up to pee.” I suppose I’d rather wake up to pee than not wake up and pee, but whatever.

It turns out that there’s another side effect of taking this drug at night, one that’s more interesting: extremely vivid dreams. If you’re like me, you enjoy extremely vivid dreams — even at the expense of increased urination — so we’re off to the races.

Last night’s dream was both vivid and weird. It was another zombie episode, in which I am pursued by the undead, but this time, one of the zombies was a vending machine with arms and legs. Was it supposed to be someone who turned zombie while wearing a vending machine costume — or sort of a zombie/robot vending machine?

We’ll never know. More likely it was a subconscious reference to my constant struggle with resisting vending machine snacks, but that’s another blog post.

Halloween by the Numbers

People were asking this week if we get a lot of trick-or-treaters. I wasn’t sure what to say because the truth is I’ve never actually counted — until last night.

In an effort to apply a little science to Halloween, I kept track of how many trick-or-treaters received candy, and took notes on their costumes to see if I could pick out any cultural trend among the local children.

We served a total of 63 trick-or-treaters. There was one adult, who was either dressed as a biker or an S&M enthusiast. I was not sure and did not want to ask.

The greatest number of costumes recorded fall into the category “unknown.” These were either impossible to distinguish by observation, or incomprehensible after explanation. This may reflect a cultural bias on the part of the examiner who is not up on every aspect of pre-teen culture.

A note on methodology. I tried not to ask young kids what they were dressed as. Generally speaking, adults should avoid chatting with young children who come to their door because it’s creepy. When I was growing up, there was one creepy guy who insisted that we do a “trick” to get our “treat.” He clearly misunderstood Halloween, which is about handing out a “treat” so you don’t become the target of a “trick.” I remember walking away flummoxed because I didn’t know any tricks. What a jerk! I hope somebody egged his house.

Anyway, the diversity of costumes was impressive. There were more than 40 different identifiable costume character types represented and it is difficult to establish any sort of pattern. Surprisingly, there was only one vampire — and there were no politically themed costumes. Here are the top costume categories:

[table ]
[attr style=”width:10px”],Type of Costume,Trick-or-treaters,
1,Hippie ,4,

All of this makes me wish I’d started recording this data ten years ago, because it’s only with that sort of history that you can pick out trends. Expect another blog post like this in 2022.


Life’s too short to waste time with crappy books, so let me help you out. Here are a few things I’ve read lately that you might enjoy.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead  Ever since first seeing Night of the Living Dead (at wayyyyy too young an age) I’ve been obsessed with zombies. While Zone One doesn’t really bring anything new to the brain table — these zombies are a lot like those you’ve seen before — it’s much smarter than most horror fiction. It’s not just a thinking person’s zombie thriller, but the story is funny and heartbreaking in equal turn, and really communicates a deep sense of loss.

 Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides The is the terrific true story of 200 men sent on an impossible mission during WWII: rescue hundreds of starving POWs from a Japanese prison camp behind enemy lines in the Philippines. It’s rife with larger than life characters and heroic acts. You’ll love the Filipino guerrillas who helped pull off the raid. The Japanese? Not so much.

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but this is a great book. Kurlansky has written several volumes on seemingly mundane things that have had profound geopolitical and economic influence. Cod is no different — and it’s sure to fuel your inner Cliff Clavin with some fascinating anecdotes.


Less Talking, More Shooting

SPOILER ALERT! Didn’t see Walking Dead on 3/11? Stop reading.

On “The Walking Dead” this week, Shane plots to kill his former best friend and the show’s protaganist, Rick Grimes. He lures him away alone and they stop in a clearing. Instead of just shooting Rick, Shane launches into a bunch of chatty nonsense — and WHAM, Rick has the opportunity to shank Shane. This is a prime example of what’s referred to as evil gloating.

Evil gloating, or as Roger Ebert called it, The Fallacy of the Talking Killer,  is all about bad guys who can’t shut up — and lazy film and TV writers who lean on the technique to build tension.

Outside of Hollywood, people who are going to shoot you don’t deliver a lecture about what they’re thinking and how you’re going to die. No, they just start shooting. How many people have slipped away thinking, “Hey, wait! You didn’t talk before shooting me!”

No. The real world is cold and brutal and things fly at you without any preamble. Even if you did have a chance, you’re probably not going to foil someone intent on getting you. And you won’t even come back as a zombie to even the score.