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Zombie Zone & More
By Thomas Piekarski
Why put stock in Zombies? They’re primarily fabrications
of the demented, the horror-stricken, pandemic imagination.
They’re supposedly corpses rejuvenated and then expelled
from oblivion’s pit to rise up through an immensely hideous
underworld, phantasmagoric world in which the savage dog
Cerberus terrifies, the ghastly boatman Charon haunts souls,
from which Orpheus couldn’t rescue his heartthrob Eurydice
and live blissfully with her forever in some psychic paradise.
Creepy creatures. Spicy Chicken Gumbo. Voodoo? Who, you?
Me no Zulu. Maybe you be undead, but meanwhile I pretend
I’m headed at warp speed, my silver fangs craving to drain you.
To become a Zombie entails eschewing death, one’s rebirth
triggered like space alchemy the way a new element is forged
in the eye of insight. Such insights can be alarming at times,
as when confronted by a demon a wicked witch sent to enact
clandestine espionage and incarcerate the spirit, or as we view
in the Thriller video when Michael Jackson moonwalks amid
a throng of dancing necromancers whipped into a frenzy from
the rhythm of his diamond feet. And again when Frankenstein
is electrified to life, that giant monster set loose upon his prey.
Stick a live electrode into the spine of a pithed frog and watch
its legs twitch. Though consciousness no longer exists, the frog
exhibits vital motor functions, mind digressed into the realm of
dream, if there can be dream despite the loss of aptitude to think.
Some doubt it. But not those millions of Zombie enthusiasts who
have watched Night of the Living Dead, or who dress up for this
Zombie Walk fest the evening after an orange full moon. Vice is
their aim. Imprisoned in flesh, they itch to conscript the unwary.
The setting sun off in the distance blithely genuflects, and engulfs
the spent day, then with profound grit encapsulates it for posterity.
I’m on foot, making my way to the carnival at Roosevelt Park
in the middle of town, surrounded by bland 50’s office buildings
and apartments built in stock rectangles. I arrive to discover that it
takes up one square block, features a spacious ball yard, oak trees,
plentiful bleachers and protective cyclone fence. It’s nothing great,
but with just enough shade to provide respite from the summer heat.
Dozens upon dozens of families mill about on the lawns. A portable
generator installed at the corner of 10th and Q chugs, pulses current.
Helium-filled birthday balloons waft, tethered to truck antennas.
A live band whets synchronicity with bombastic beats. An acrobat
walking on his hands wows. The baton twirler on stilts dazzles when
suddenly the pop of a bullwhip stops me stone cold. Zombie zealots
will join the infamous parade later, as darkness gradually displaces
luxurious light. They’re undoubtedly devoid of sleep, don’t dream,
so can’t fathom beauty, can’t grasp alternative manifestations like
two unicorns standing face to face in a verdant meadow with horns
that touch and transmit metaphors like explosive stars with potential
to resuscitate their sagging realities. They’re seized by conviction
that redemption can be won, or surely suffer a plight such as Ben Hur
who was goaded into a chariot race for the sake of vengeance. Guts
and gore dominate these zombie buffs’ aftermath, while pain grips
their indentured hearts, hearts that have been institutionalized this
stark yet copasetic evening during which the blonde chick in sleek
platform shoes strides beside a man happily steering his wheelchair.
Roach coaches all in a line, their motors humming, dish out grub.
Go light on the gorgonzola please, and only a dash of limoncello.
We admonish Thoth, cremate Apollo, and then ejaculate his embers
into speculative space. Give me mystic vision or mythical wisdom,
either one will do. The vampire lady prances up to me and inquires
if I’m scared. When I reply no she’s vengeful, vows she’ll revisit me
late tonight. Fear comes naturally, but this event is way too staged:
faux gashes abound, and fake blood plastered all over gangly limbs
seemingly sliced and slashed, mutilated. Relaxed in my lawn chair
I observe the little black girl who scowls while posing before her cell
as she clicks selfies, the left side of her face pierced by a fork, handle
protruding from the cheek bone, and tines clear through the forehead.
You can’t sanctify a half soul quivering in the shadows. Nonetheless
Zombie fans get in line for the parade as flags swirl, snare drums erupt
and the band leader blows his shrill whistle. They’ll go stalk midtown,
defiling its smooth sidewalks with ominous banter and rapture, down
rowdy R Street past the Shady Lady saloon to the tune of debauchery,
sick as sorcerers that don hairy warts, as well as loathsome spinsters
who beget poison steam as they bubble and boil in red-hot iron pots.
These guised partisans implicitly resurrected, quite diabolical, extolling
torture and scandal as Bela Lugosi did to adoring audiences nationwide.
There are people who would like to turn back the clock,
who don’t feel that technology equals progress. But I
for one would not want to be huddled in some grass hut
lighting a whale oil lamp, waiting out a winter freeze.
And I don’t envy the Portuguese whalers who had to rise
early in the morning and embark on a lonely journey out
on choppy ocean waters in order to harpoon those whales
that were living lives of luxury, only to be rubbed out.
But our present day lifestyles can be equally distressing.
People adhere to philosophies that have no foundation
in fact, and impose them on their brothers and sisters when
they have no right to. And those philosophies can be ruinous.
Let’s eliminate the faux glamor and contraction. Let’s climb
the ladder of philanthropy. Let us save what is near and dear
to every living creature, and harness our jealousy, box it up
and bury it. Let us not be blinded by fashion nor dour fear.
I was at home alone in my study
as the furnace spit and thumped,
miles away from where my peers
partied joyously on Saturday night.
I can’t in all honesty recall
ever being cruel to any of them.
But obviously I failed to impress
because they left me uninvited
to the ballyhooed bash, in effect
relegated me to the city dump.
And this while I was fielding
with every ounce of my flesh
invective hurled from tyrants
like electric bolts that purged
the daylight from me.
Excitedly they squawked about it
afterwards at work.
How the gals wiggled their
voluptuous booties to boogie-woogie
on the dance floor at the pool hall
while the guys guzzled suds and toked.
Meanwhile I, giver of invisible light,
apparently demoted to some
insufferable dud, neither thought
nor afterthought that flipped
like a beached fish, flapped wings
emulating a crazed angel, gurgled
and slashed, steeped in oblivion.
Dalí’s Party at the Del Monte Hotel
Breton himself led the committee
that excommunicated him
from the Surrealist movement.
To this Dalí aptly responded
“I myself am Surrealism!”
They accused him of being a Fascist,
but he wasn’t. Éluard in particular
had a bone to pick because Dalí
swiped his wife Gala. But such things
aren’t altogether uncommon
among artists. For instance, Eric Clapton
lifted George Harrison’s woman
right out from under him, and Harrison
just let it ride.
But no such thing
with this group. They thought Dalí a menace
to their tightly-crafted rules, but he wasn’t.
He was a manifestation, magician, mentor.
On the other hand Charles Crocker
was essentially a crook,
robber baron who with his railroad pals
gobbled up ungodly
thousands of acres of the western states.
His pockets overloaded
with ready cash, he saw
the awesome opportunity that lay
squarely in his lap:
one thing San Francisco lacked was a trendy
getaway at which ritzy socialites could vacation and play.
Had it not been for Crocker
this party of the century
would never have happened.
He saw the Monterey peninsula as the perfect
escape, replete with every fond amenity
Mother Nature could administer.
Such visionaries quite rare, and despite
their moral ills at times produce
fine philanthropic projects
such as the Del Monte Hotel. Crocker spent
a king’s ransom having it built,
along with broad development
of the Monterey Bay wonderland.
Crocker’s projects proceeded
full speed ahead
like those steam locomotives
the Big Four were infamous for.
Grandest Ocean Resort On The Pacific Coast
it was advertised upon completion.
The Del Monte in its early years
typically loaded with jewel-bedecked
ladies of the sterling stage, capitalist aristocrats,
like Teddy Roosevelt and Hemingway,
dignitaries from foreign lands, skilled
sportsmen and upper crust industrialists.
Beyond the hotel itself were grounds
fit for a royal palace, with coaches
running from the Monterey train station
to greet and transport visitors. Crocker added to this trophy
Pebble Beach Resort
and 17 mile coastal road with breathtaking views
that provided his trusting patrons
a vibrant California Shangri-la.
All of this long before the arrival
of the mercurial Dalí. He wasn’t
even a thought back then.
Dada was yet to unfold,
Surrealism wading in its future. Meanwhile
the fabulous wooden
Gothic palace Del Monte
one sad day
burned to the ground.
It was built back quickly,
but again constructed from wood, a few years later
burned down once more.
By the time Dalí arrived
it had been rebuilt a second time,
coated with protective stucco.
Dalí’s consummate genius
fascinated Miró and Picasso.
Picasso who eschewed
Surrealism for himself while in general
accepted its bohemian precepts. Only Warhol
among 20th century painters
possessed such great instinct
for self-promotion as Dalí, who had
the art world tucked in his pocket
so wrote his own ticket.
With trusty muse Gala to inspire and back him up
he dominated, electrifying the world’s cultural landscape
like a golden thunderbolt.
No more mad than his pal Man Ray.
No more megalomaniac than
could be expected under
such extraordinary circumstances.
For Dalí had assimilated techniques
of Renaissance masters.
He could readily paint in any
style or form he chose, and render
stunning results. Lesser talents
have receded from history
not with a whiz but a thump, yet Dalí
still tantalizes imaginations
and stokes fancies like no other.
Quite the celebrity
by the time he arrived at the Del Monte
back in 1941. He wanted a retreat
from fractured Europe, the wars, the politics, stress,
and found unbridled serenity
at Monterey invigorating. Happy to prep
for the big bash, he threw himself
headlong into details
of an extravaganza the likes of which
even Hollywood’s most renown
hadn’t fathomed. Admission $4, dinner
included. It quickly booked.
Dalí in America was some big deal.
The Del Monte event drew national attention,
as detailed in a newsreel that ran at theaters.
Clark Gable simply had to attend, as well as Bing Crosby,
Alfred Hitchcock and Gloria Vanderbilt. Moreover
it even pried the conspicuous recluse
and his wife away from their beloved Tor House.
Preparations were exorbitant.
The expenses Dalí racked up
sizeable. And his demands non-negotiable.
He ordered twenty types of animals delivered
from the San Francisco zoo
to roam about and mingle freely.
The grounds largely transmogrified by installation
in strategic places of female mannequins
wearing fake animal heads.
The party included a wrecked car
with a nude model playing dead
inside it. At one point during the evening
two bandaged women with fake blood all over them
were scheduled to jump from the dismal wreckage, then
perform the chilling
“Dance of Death” deftly
choreographed by Dalí.
“Surrealistic Night” they billed it. At substantial cost
Dalí had a huge bed placed at the front
of the lengthy banquet table.
Gala acting regal, sat up
at the head of it, propped by a pillow,
donning a unicorn bust like a helmet.
Attendees respectfully requested
to come costumed in an unusual outfit
borrowed from a dream,
as a primitive animal or perhaps
mysterious being of the forest.
Dalí attached ridiculous large flaps to his ears
that oddly resembled
the baby elephant Dumbo’s.
Some worn cliché like
“oh what a night!”
could scarcely describe
everyone’s glib insanity
and sheer merriment.
The next day the Herald
reported “Surrealist Salvador Dalí
threw a party last night, and by dawn
most of the best people were
Should you google the YouTube video
titled “Dizzy Dalí Dinner” and click the link
you’ll plug into the anarchy.
My favorite clip is
of Bob Hope
decked out in a tux as usual,
removing the lid from a silver service
and out pop about a dozen frogs.
His fright and startled amazement
really leap out
and grab you.
The other day on the way to work, as I was walking along
the bike path that stretches from Cannery Row to Pacific
Grove, I sat near a cluster of twisted cypresses, gazed at
boats trawling out on the bright bay, and then happened to
notice a magnificent bird stationed on a laurel tree branch.
At first blush I thought it a may be a young eagle, osprey
or exotic hawk. And yet it was shaped more like an owl. Its
beak looked sharp as a razor, the breast a brilliant, radiant
orange, and the rest of its feathers pale gray. I must admit
that to this day I can’t place this bird. It remains a mystery.
These sorts of puzzles tend to flummox one, such as
my neighbor Janet’s experience. One recent night she
was awakened by a loud chirping from under her bed.
She flipped the light switch and saw this big black bug
crawl out. It jiggled to the middle of the floor, its wings
aflutter like a schizophrenic hummingbird. Janet could
have freaked, but she kept her head and captured it in
a Mason jar, then released it outside, where its fate shall
remain a mystery to her, the bug, and perhaps humanity.
While driving up the Pacific coast, mid way between Santa
Cruz and Half Moon Bay, you’ll notice beside the road
an abandoned cement plant. In my youth I would wonder
when passing it how officials allowed its heavy clouds
of exhaust that blew into the crisp ocean air on fair days,
practically choking off travelers as they motored through.
Why this was permitted remained a mystery until the plant
was shut down. Now it’s but a hulking rusty eyesore along
the road, no longer a quandary. It will not play hide and seek
with my conscience. It will no longer pollute oblivious air.