Walking Dead

The thing I have the most trouble believing when I’m watching movies or television shows about zombies is not that the dead are walking the earth. For some reason, I can accept that as a mystery to be solved, or a situation to be gotten out of. What I have the most trouble believing is that I have to pretend that all the people who are not zombies have never watched a movie or television show about zombies. Pre-George Romero, it was easy to believe that nobody would be able to wrap their brains around the horror unfolding around them, but after forty-four years and who knows how many dozens, maybe even hundreds of zombie movies, well, I’m sorry, but I just can’t accept that there’s a single living person left anywhere who doesn’t know what to do in the event that the zombies attack.

A man wakes up in a hospital bed and calls for the nurse, but nobody comes. The lights are off. All the machines that go *ping!* are silent. After a long struggle, he manages to get out of bed and stagger into the hallway where he finds loose papers and other junk strewn across the floor. He pushes past a gurney parked askew in the middle of the hall, turns a corner and there, to his disbelieving eyes, is a chewed-upon corpse. Blood is spattered across the walls. Ceiling tiles are missing.

The ceiling tiles are missing! I don’t watch a lot of zombie movies, but even I know that’s one of the top ten signs of the zombie apocalypse. I’ve never heard a good explanation for all those missing ceiling tiles. There never seems to be an incidental scene of zombies chewing on ceiling tiles when the supply of brains is getting low. Nevertheless, missing ceiling tiles equals zombie apocalypse. Make a note, because you never know when you’re going to wake up from a coma in a hospital after the zombies take over. You want to be prepared.

Also: Don’t go wandering off alone; that one will get you eaten every time. If you do go wandering alone, though, and you hear what you think might be somebody sneaking up on you, you should assume it’s a zombie and act accordingly. Would you go looking for a zombie that wants nothing except to bash your brains out and eat them? No, you wouldn’t. So, if you’re dumb enough to go wandering off alone and you find yourself in that inevitable scene where you hear footsteps nearby, don’t pretend that it might be one of the other survivors you stupidly wandered away from. Don’t call out a name in a shaky voice, or go looking for whomever or whatever is following you. Assume it’s a goddamn zombie! Get out of there as quickly as you can, or at the very least keep on moving. Don’t freeze. And never, ever back up. If you have to back up for some reason, you might as well bash your own brains out and serve them up to the zombie who is without a doubt standing right behind you.

All this to say, we watched the first couple episodes of The Walking Dead last night. It was okay, but the people in it did a lot of stuff that only people who had never watched zombie movies or even heard of zombies would do. Like when Deputy Dawg rode his horse into the city past the long line of broken-down, burned-out cars. Who does that? Who wakes up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and thinks it’s a good idea to head into a city? Stupid people, that’s who. There are millions of people in cities; therefore, there will be lots of zombies. It’s not brain surgery. Har.

The one big thing they did different was, the survivors somehow survived even though they were living in tents within eyeshot of the big city. I’m almost interested in finding out how they managed to pull that off without getting eaten in their sleep. Almost, but not quite.


TL,DR: I snaked the shit out of the sewer yesterday afternoon and it’s all good now. And beer.

I just can’t figure out how the sewer works. In theory, it’s a pipe that carries water from a drain to the the city sewer line.

In actual fact, though, there are several drains, one leading from the kitchen sink, one from the basement sink, and one from the floor drain in the basement. There’s also a toilet in the basement. The drain from the kitchen sink and the basement sink converge at the top of the sewer stack before it ducks under the concrete floor. The floor drain meets the sewer stack somewhere underground. So does the toilet.

When the basement sink backs up, the floor drain is okay. I know because I usually siphon the backed-up wash water from the sink into the floor drain. The toilet gets sluggish, but it still drains. Only the sink completely stops up. I’ve tried to diagram how the three sewer lines might come together and work this way, but no matter how I do the mental gymnastics I can’t figure it out.

I used to unblock a blockage by forcing water through the pipes under pressure. This worked well for a while, but it doesn’t work so well anymore.

Some time ago I bought a sewer snake, thirty feet of tightly-coiled steel with a hook at the front end that I could force down the sewer pipe. Working it back and forth is like working a pipe cleaner through the stem of a pipe. In theory, it should clean the sewer out the same way, although it should be noted that the snake is only three-eights of an inch in diameter, while the sewer pipe is at least three inches in diameter. It might be closer to six.

If I had to guess, I’d say the blockage has to be a big gob of grease because there weren’t any roots or hair or another tangled-up mess caught in the hook on the end of the snake when I pulled it up. The sink drained fine after I used it, but the toilet never really improved. Sometimes it flushed fine, sometimes not so fine, and sometimes it wouldn’t drain at all unless I plunged the hell out of it. It didn’t make sense to me, but as long as the sink was draining I was okay with it.

When the sink began to back up again this week, and the old trick of blowing it out with water under pressure was absolutely no help at all, I got out the snake again, but was gobsmacked when that didn’t work, either. The blockage was more than thirty feet along? Then how does the floor drain still work? And the toilet?

I was not about to let this beat me. I went to the hardware store and bought a fifty-foot sewer snake. They had seventy-five-foot sewer snakes on sale, but they were mounted on motorized drums and were priced at more than three-hundred dollars. I’m way too cheap for that, even thought the motorized thing made my gadget lust twitch.

I’m not sure what happened at the checkout. The guy scanned the other items I bought, then held up the sewer snake and said to me, “There’s no price on this.”

I shrugged. “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I said, not knowing why he was pointing this out to me. Did he expect me to go back to the shelves and get the price for him? If he did, why would he take my word for it? What if I came back and said, “Oh, my mistake, it was on sale. Four ninety-five.”

He stood there for an awkwardly long time holding the sewer snake while I wondered what he would do. Eventually a woman came hustling up the aisle to ask him what was wrong. I assume she was a supervisor or manager of some kind. He pointed out to her that there was no price on the sewer snake. She turned to me and, pointing behind her, she asked, “They’re in the aisle on the other side of that wall, right?”

“That’s right, yes,” I answered.

Another awkward pause followed as they both stood looking at me. I couldn’t read their expressions. They might’ve been waiting for me to apologize for grabbing one without a price tag, or for me to go get one with a price tag, or they might’ve been trying to figure out how to suck out my brains through my nose. I couldn’t tell. At last the woman turned and hustled back up the aisle and disappeared behind the shelves where I found the sewer snake.

She didn’t come back for five minutes. The checkout guy could hardly figure out what to do with himself. He clearly felt uncomfortable just standing there doing nothing, but if there was a way to put my checkout on hold and scan the next customer’s purchases, he couldn’t figure out how to do it.

When the woman came back, she held up her hand, her palm toward her face, and asked me, “What was the price on it?”

What’s this? A guessing game now? “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I answered.

“Okay, it’s this one,” she said to the checkout guy, pointing to something, presumably the SKU, that she’d written on the palm of her hand. Computerized checkout but they couldn’t look that up in the database.

Back at home, I shoved all seventy-five feet of that snake down the sewer pipe and worked it back and forth, flushed the sewer with water, and worked the snake again before I pulled it all the way out. This is by far the uckiest part of the whole enterprise. The first time I snaked a sewer, I made the mistake of simply pulling the snake out. What do you do with a snake that’s covered over its entire length with black, stinking goo? I sure didn’t know. What a mess I made of the basement that day. What a lot of cursing I did. I learned to leave the water running so most of the gunk would get washed off the snake on the way out, but it’s still a pretty nasty proposition.

I ran water for about ten minutes down the newly-opened sewer before I shoved the snake down the drain again and did the pipe-cleaner dance some more. Then, just to make sure the path to the sewer was as clear as I could make it, I took apart the trap under the sink to make sure there was nothing in it, and I snaked out the pipe it connected to before putting it back together.

There. That ought to do it.

I threw all the bath towels in the wash machine, set the fill to MAX and crossed my fingers. The washer drains in to the basement sink and the sink is just big enough to hold all the water the wash machine can chug through in one complete cycle. After the wash cycle I ran downstairs to check on how it was draining: Okay, so far. Then the rinse cycle finished up and it was still draining okay. I ran another load and it was okay, too.

Cleanup was worst. It always is. I cleaned off the snake as best I could by rinsing the gunk off it, then leaving it to soak in a sink filled with water and a cup of bleach for half an hour. Then I rinsed it off again. In all this rinsing and washing and rinsing, after all the snaking and flushing and snaking, I got a lot of gunk and sewer water on my arms and hair and Oh My Goodness it even splashed ON MY FACE! There was a lot of spluttering and a frantic rush to the sink in the brewery to flush my face with clear water when that happened. After I cleaned up all the hardware and tools and rinsed off the floor, I peeled out of my dirty clothes, burned them and stood under a scalding shower until I felt almost normal again.

Then beer.


Ugh. Zombie dreams last night. Nothing too graphic. I was living in a warehouse with a couple hundred other refugees from the zombie apocalypse. Spent most of the dream doing pretty mundane things. Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up after zombies started getting into the warehouse somehow, and each time I fell asleep again we’d be looking for the door or window that must’ve been left open and find another zombie, and I’d wake up. Nobody ever got their face eaten, and the dream itself was never all that scary, but lying awake in bed wondering what the next installment of the dream would be like really frazzled my nerves after a while. I have rarely felt so grateful to hear the alarm clock start bleeping.


No zombie dreams last night, thank goodness. No dreams at all that I can remember. I was so bushed after dinner that I could barely hang on long enough to drag myself to bed before I fell asleep. I had plans to stay up late enough to sand and finish the book shelves in the extra room, but hitting the hay early to get a full night’s sleep sounded like a much better use of my time. That’s how the zombies get you, by the way. You fall asleep at the wrong time and, next thing you know, they’re munching on your innards. That’s how the pods steal your body, too. And how the Wicked Witch of the West gets your shoes. There really isn’t a safe time to go to sleep, even in cheery kid’s movies.

My Darling B and I had to fold some of the mountain of clothes that have piled up in the baskets on top of the washing machine over the past week. We’ve been champion procrastinators about this, putting it off night after night for at least a week, so last night I set up the television at the end of the coffee table and popped a DVD from the first season of The Big Bang Theory into the player, then cranked up the theme song to lure her into the living room and sit down on the sofa where I’d moved all the laundry baskets. She fell for it. In just two episodes, we folded forty-two million pieces of clothes. Now I just have to figure out how to get her to put her clothes away.

Then, we tried to play Boggle, but I was already having a hard time staying awake. I got one really good word, “footsie,” but the rest were all three- and four-letter words, and my scores got worse as the game went on. I capitulated (that would be one hell of a good Boggle word) after playing just a half-hour or so, brushed my teeth and went to bed to read. I managed to stay awake long enough to finish two chapters of Just My Type, but only because I kept dropping the book on my face. I may have to go back and re-read some of it tonight.


Zombie on a plane! How come nobody’s made that movie yet? A guy gets mugged on his way to the airport and, unbeknownst to him and everyone on the place, the zombie apocalypse has just begun. Even though the mugger manages to drag the guy to the ground and bite him the guy manages to fight the mugger off and escape, but it’s too dark for him to see that it’s a zombie. He’s in a hurry to catch the plane to see his dying mother or something like that, so he just patches himself up with overpriced Band-Aids from the airport concession, jumps on the plane and doesn’t think any more of it until he starts to feel sick, which inevitably leads to the scene where he bursts from the airplane lavatory and starts eating passengers and crew. Honestly, I can’t believe nobody’s thought of this yet. Then again, I only thought of it because that was my dream last night. That was my nightmare. Gah. Agh.


In last night’s dream, I was wandering through the zombie apocalypse, only it was the most pedestrian zombie apocalypse I’ve ever seen. The lights were on, nothing much was broken, and it was really easy to get a ride to wherever I wanted to go. I traveled from one city to another in what would have been an ordinary road trip except that twice I had to jump out of bed and run from zombies.

But that was it, really. The only people who got eaten by zombies that I saw were people who just weren’t paying attention. In a parking garage that had been converted to a really nice swap meet and coffee shop, some zombies broke in and devoured a table full of people who kept on chatting and drinking coffee while everyone else was screaming, “Zombies!” and running for the exits. They just sat there, unconcerned, finishing their coffee.

And just before my alarm clock began to bleep I was trying to convince a bunch of survivors that it would be a good idea for one person to stay awake and act as a lookout while the rest of them slept. They didn’t seem to think much of my idea. “But we’re all tired,” one of them said, which lead me to explaining the concept of sleeping in shifts, but they vetoed that as too complicated. If they didn’t all die after the alarm clock woke me up, I’d be surprised.

Art My Kid Could Make

I should give my impulses a rest. After reading an article in today’s The New York Times about a Chinese artist under house arrest whose name, Ai Weiwei, reminded me of a playground taunt or the chorus of an African tribal dance, I felt an irresistible urge to share it with My Darling B.

B wasn’t as interested in the sound of his name as it came tripping off the tongue as she was puzzled and then, gradually, agitated by the photograph of Weiwei standing in the middle of one of his works installed at the Tate Modern in London.

Titled Sunflower Seeds, it consisted of one hundred million tiny nibs of porcelain shaped and hand-painted to look like sunflower seeds and dumped on the floor where visitors were, for a while, encouraged to walk on them, handle them, lay down and roll in them and otherwise frolic in them until somebody noticed that the weight of thousands of visitors every day was grinding the seeds to dust. Museum officials, worried that the dust was rising into the air and being inhaled by the visitors, shut the vast room in which the exhibit was installed so visitors could only look at it from a roped-off gallery, changing the piece from an artistically highbrow ball pit to a scattered mess of porcelain chips. Before, visitors could step into them and play. After, all that was really left for visitors to do was make a mental game of figuring out how long it would have taken any number of people it took to hand-paint that many fake sunflower seeds.

My Darling B was not pleased that the Tate was once again exhibiting a work of art that was not actually art, probably recalling all the fuss that was made over Tracy Emin’s “works of art” at the Tate, her most famous being her unmade bed. Littered with books, newspapers, cast-off clothes and, almost inevitably, a condom, she lugged it up to the Tate and not only convinced the gallery’s managers that it was art, she had every newspaper and quite a lot of the public buzzing over it, too. She made bales of money from it and other similarly silly exhibitions.

“That’s literally art that I could do,” B said, the implication being that she could as easily hire a thousand people to make a million sunflower seeds, then dump them on the floor and call it art. I have no doubt that she could, although I had to dispute her follow-up observation that “Anything I can do is not art.” If hand-made quilts are still as popular a hundred years from now as they are today, and all the forecasts of a zombie apocalypse are wrong, then her quilts will no doubt be found hanging in antique malls across the nation, their tiny little four-figure price tags fluttering in the air-conditioned breeze coming from the ceiling vents. I would also swear before a court that her cooking is truly artistic.

“That Cristo guy who’s always wrapping stuff up in brightly-colored fabric – not an artist,” B went on, warming to her subject, “My kids could do that.” I had to wonder at this point if her observation of Cristo’s artistic abilities wasn’t tinged by perhaps just an eentsy-weentsy bit of jealousy. There isn’t anyone who can pack a box as full as she can, but she’s always expressed the frustration when wrapping packages that it never comes out the way she wants it to. Not that I think Cristo’s any great shakes when it comes to wrapping things, although I would have to admit he’s clever enough to have figured out it’s more impressive to wrap the biggest things in eyeshot.

I had no idea Sunflower Seeds would set her off as badly as it did. If I had, I would have never brought it up. “But I only thought his name sounded interesting,” I pointed out, eventually calming her down by having her breathe into a brown paper bag I held over her mouth for a couple minutes. Later, we’re going down to the grocery store to buy up all the sunflower seeds. Then we’ll dump them in a pile on the living room floor and dance in them, singing “Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei.” Should be fun.

Zombie Dogs

I never thought about the zombie apocalypse in this way before, but I think Alessandra Stanley may be on to something:

All it really takes to outrun a zombie is a car. Also, a bullet to the head will stop one cold. And that may explain why so many men prefer zombies to vampires: zombie stories pivot on men’s two favorite things: fast cars and guns. Better yet, zombies almost never talk. Vampires, especially of late, are mostly a female obsession. Works like “Twilight” and “True Blood” suggest that the best way to defeat a vampire is to make him fall so in love that he resists the urge to bite. And that’s a powerful, if na├»ve, female fantasy: a mate so besotted he gives up his most primal cravings for the woman he loves.

Vampires are imbued with romance. Zombies are not. (Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus.)

Stanley wrote this cogent thesis in a review of AMC television’s The Walking Dead In today’s New York Times.