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Gutter Zombies
The Mentholated Undead
© 2012 James LaFond
It is strange, how on the calmest of nights and in the mildest weather we are often reminded of the everyday natural wonders around us. On this pleasant morning I watched a catbird and dove cavorting above the asphalt while a bunny absently chewed his clover in the yard of a half-way house for sexual predators—did I say this was sponsored by Mutual of Omaha?!
This past Monday night, July 23rd, at about 11:20 P.M. I was angling into the parking lot at Mister Nice Guy’s Food Market, where I work as a night clerk. I was coming in an hour late to help Mister Nice Guy save on payroll since it was a full week since the end of the food-stamp/EBT cycle that fuels our business. However, not everyone could afford to rest. Not everyone of God’s two-legged creatures is as fortunate as I, selling my labor by the hour to the highest bidder in this post-industrial world…
I saw him there as I turned the corner, whistling to the birds that were fast asleep somewhere, but no-longer here under the canopy to join him in song. He was a lean biped without noticeable body-hair and was the color of dirty aluminum siding. His short black hair was slicked back with nature’s own pomade. His shredded and once blue jeans came to his ankles above his once white medical surplus sneakers. He looked at me, but, unlike the fictional walking dead of cinema he did not say, “Brains” and lurch toward me.
No, he said something inaudible and pounced on his inanimate prey—or perhaps he thought it a vegetable—a well-smoked menthol cigarette butt. He clawed in the gutter between asphalt and concrete until he pried this manmade morsel from its crevice. Once in hand he licked it, licked his lips, checked to see how much tobacco aggregate remained above the filter, and then deposited it in his used sandwich bag. As I gained the interior of the building, wondering at the most diligent of the local undead—the first of four that night to scour this fertile bed of discarded HEP-C vectors—my boss let me in the door, and the harmless zombie and his prosaic habitat receded into my subconscious…
Little did I know that five hours later my colleague in the ghetto, Big Gus, would be called upon to deal with a more advanced case of mentholopry in West Baltimore, where he toils for Cheap Guys Are Us. At 4:50 A.M. of the 24th Gus and Big D were escorting the female support personnel into their firebase. Not only are retail food night clerks known for their chivalry, but Big Gus always goes out of his way to help any set of Double-Ds in need—he is a gentleman after all…
A new gutter zombie was scavenging the curb bases and upending the cigarette receptacles in its quest for menthol filters. He was dark-skinned, largely free of fur like his suburban con-specific, and naked except for a pair of worn rolled kakis held up around his emaciated waist by a piece of twine, and one blackened sock, which only covered two toes. He was speaking to something or someone. After the non-combatants were within the perimeter the newspaper van dropped off a bundle of papers.
This windfall was seized upon by the opportunistic biped who began hauling it out to the main-road, presumably to set up his own retail operation. Big-D was on the phone to security and the mobile unit pulled up next to the newspaper scavenger. The thief resisted and was relieved of his plunder via a baton to the head. The zombie was held and the police were called. The police declined to lock up the zombie, and he was released, without even a radio collar.
Sometime after the police left the zombie was seen ‘talking to the birds’ [These dudes all talk to birds, a menthol-induced avian mutation perhaps…] in front of the store, and in possession of a bag of trash. When the front door was opened at 6:00 A.M. the zombie gained entrance, only to be forcibly evicted by the uniformed Baltimore City cop stationed at the store.
At 6:30 A.M. the receiver working the back dock called the bookkeeper, who called the police officer. When they reached the dock the zombie was standing there staring at the receiver. The officer again had to forcibly remove the zombie, who he drag-pushed through the store and out the front door. He then called an ambulance for the zombie. The zombie continued to ‘talk to the birds’ and say "I just wanna a cigarette."
When the hook & ladder truck from the local firehouse showed up for breakfast the zombie attempted to gain access to the truck, banging on the side, saying, "Let me in there, is this my ride, "I just wanna a cigarette."
Eventually an ambulance came and took the poor creature away. As seen by this later stage mentholopry, addiction to menthol cigarette butts is a degenerative condition. My hard-grubbing suburban gutter zombie has a lot of thankless asphalt grazing ahead of him, followed by a bitter ending.
I have only known these people to be violent during extreme cold when they have attempted, in bone-chilling desperation, to take the coat from my back. For the most part they are completely passive. For this reason I side with the interpretation of the menthol butts as vegetable surrogates. John the Bum was one of these zombies, and he lived behind the dumpster of the store I managed. He even had his mail addressed to the store. Even when cornered in his lair John was not dangerous.
By and large our real urban zombies are the harmless grazers of this ecosystem, a symptom of societal decay if you will. What I found most interesting about the ‘bird man’ above was that he had one violent altercation with security, and resisted an officer twice before he became the subject of law-enforcement scrutiny. I do not know how he will be entered in the database of crime stats that will later be massaged by authorities to make themselves look good. However, I guarantee that the only serious incident of the three acts of violence involving him on that morning will never find its way into a police report.
This is not to disparage the responding officers. It takes a lot of time to process someone, which takes the officer out of action for hours. So they must practice triage. The bird man really seemed more pathetic than dangerous to everyone involved. I have had three mid-level law-enforcement people [federal and local] tell me that if they filed a report on every altercation that they were involved in that they would only be on the street for a fraction of their shift. So, by definition, all crime and violence and police action stats only represent a fraction of the actual incidents. And that is before the politicians and their stooges begin spinning the data.
So, the next time you watch a zombie flick, keep in mind that the reality is much more pathetic, plaintive even, less like rampaging rats than like mangy chinchillas cast out of their cage…
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Ishmael     Jun 27, 2017

To imagine, that they were once babes, suckling at the breast of a loving mother, becomes unimaginable!
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