a price with legs

There wasn’t a blog post on Thursday because when I drove to work at noon and tried to pay for parking it turned out that I’d overdrafted. I work in a restaurant kitchen in a high-end mall called Merrick Park. Each parking ticket you get in their garage costs more than the last one. My most recent parking ticket cost $71. I paid it on a day I’d earned $67. 

Realizing I’d overdrafted, and that I couldn’t pay for parking, I went into the restaurant in my uniform and spoke with my manager. Told her I couldn’t afford to park here at the place that I work, which opens me up to getting a ticket, and the next ticket I get would likely cost more than $100 and I couldn’t afford that either. She was sympathetic. One thing lead to another and they sent me home. I’d be getting my paycheck at midnight. I would be able to afford tomorrow’s shift. 

I went home and was feeling very bad. I thought of Joe Biden’s father because Joe tells us to do this. “Joey,” his father’d say, “take away a man’s job and you take away his dignity.” My dignity doesn’t have much to do with the fact that, when I go to work, I fill a black bin with dirty dishes and then hoist that bin to a dish pit, unload the bin, clean the bin, and repeat the process for seven hours. I’d like to think my dignity comes from other things like, for instance, who my mother is, and the size of my chin. 

What I do like is that I can go to this restaurant, do the job without being seen by anyone who knows me as a person called “Alex”, come home and shower, change my clothes, and then, in my evening denims and my flannels, I don’t look like a man who spends his day elbow-deep in the filth of strangers. I just look like a guy with no taste. Maybe an illness. Someone so schlubby he must be hilarious or wealthy because look at his girlfriend she surely has options.

Makes me think of the filmmaker George Romero who’s most famous for inventing the modern zombie with his movie Night of the Living Dead. Cool story: when he made that movie, he fucked up the copyright, and the movie lapsed pretty quickly into public domain. Romero felt like a heel. Suddenly, whenever his movie played on TV or in a movie theater, he never saw a cent. Then suddenly it’s a cult classic. Beloved. Groundbreaking. Praised through the roof. 

He never sees a cent. 

But it works to his favor. 

TV stations and movie houses start playing Night of the Living Dead ‘round the clock. Why? 

Because they never pay a cent. 

The movie garners so much attention that it cultivates a huger and huger following and finally he gets funding to make his masterpiece. Dawn of the Dead. 

The series goes on from there. Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. They get worse and worse.

Dawn of the Dead is the real masterpiece and it was released in 1978 when (surprise to me) the “shopping mall” was a relatively new concept. Dawn is a sequel to Night but it centers on a new cast of characters, survivors of the zombie plague, who hole up in a shopping mall, where they have everything they need, while a horde of zombies fights to get in. It’s a satire about consumption. All these zombies go back to the mall because it’s the place they vaguely remember being happiest when they were alive. And now, for eternity, they’re destined to shuffle its walkways. Listening to muzak. Tugging at doors that won’t open. Pawing at storefronts. Things they want but can’t buy. 

Sometimes I imagine myself in the restaurant, I see myself from a third-person view, and I look like this. I’m moving faster and I’m way sweatier but I look basically like one of Romero’s zombies. When Danny Boyle made one of the greatest zombie movies of all time, 28 Days Later, he made the zombie mythos more frightening by having his zombies run. Full sprint. Without ever tiring. Someone asked Romero what he felt about sprinting zombies and he said without a smile, “No. Absolutely not. Their legs would break.”

I respect that. A man who knows his fantastical undead characters so well, believes in them so deeply, that he knows which tasks they can and cannot endure. 

With every subsequent day at the restaurant, I think of this zombified Alex in the same way, and get to thinking in clearer and clearer terms of just how much his legs and the rest of him can take. And the clock is winding down.

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