Summer of the Zombie Novel

My daughter has been working on a zombie novel. She is very excited about it. It’s a about a kid named TJ and begins with him day-dreaming in school about this girl, Debbie, that he kind of likes. After that the structure gets a bit fuzzy, but still it sounds cool.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that maybe it is time I started work on my own zombie novel. I’ve been kicking one around in my head for awhile now.

Here is the opening:

For the past thirty-seven hours I have been trapped in my ex-wife’s attic. And I can still  hear them down there. By them I don’t mean my ex-wife, Carolyn, or her new husband, Roger, or my daughter, Melanie.

No. I mean the zombies. That’s right — zombies, undead, walkers,  biters, ghouls, legends of the undead. Whatever the fuck you want to call them. They are down there.

It happened. The dead came back to life. I don’t how it happened or why. I just know that it did. And I don’t know where my daughter is. I need to find her and make sure that she’s safe.

What do you think? Does it grab you?

I thought this could be a project for the summer, for my daughter and I — we could work on our stories together.

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Pinched

Driving home from my parents’ place this evening, where I had dinner with my folks, I was listening to the NPR show On Point, and the focus was the economy, specifically the jobs situation, the poor jobs situation. They’re talking about how the country, in the wake of this recession, is becoming divided into the affluent, the wealthy, and everyone else, i.e. the middle class is disappearing, which has been said to be the engine of our economy.

The guest “expert” is Don Peck,the author of  “Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It.” And I got to tell you that guy does not sound very optimistic.

I heard quoted that the average time of unemployment time span is 9 months. Nine freaking months! I can’t imagine still being unemployed come next may. And yet I’ve heard of people being out of work for up to three years. What do you do with yourself when you’re unemployed for three years.

Something else they’re talking about is how there are certain segment of American society that are not touched by the recession, people who don’t see the jobs problem. Now, I’ve only been unemployed for a week but I’ve been job-searching for months, ever since I learned that jobs would be cut at the library where I worked, because I strongly suspected that I might be one of the unfortunates to get the ax, and I can tell you that it is not good out there, jobs-wise. I don’t care what anyone says. I reviewed perhaps 100 j0bs and found only three to apply for. I mean, unless I want to work for $8.50 and hour, which would be a step down from unemployment. But who knows? I may be begging for a job lock that in a few months.

And yet there are people who believe things are not that bad, that they are improving. Someone said to me that they felt things are getting better because their company was looking to hire 7 people or something like that and couldn’t find people to fill those positions. That may well be, but it is not representative of what is going in the greater economy. The situation is not good, and I seriously doubt that it’s going to get much better anytime soon. It is going to be years and years before we recover, it we ever really recover entirely.

Of course, statistically I am supposed to be in a good position, since I have an education, an advanced degree even. But consider that my degrees are in English, creative writing. I’m not sure that these seem very practical or impressive to employers, if they even look at my resume amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, that are submitted for any given position.

Finally, they say that people get more conservative financially in times like these, and I agree. I question and pain over every nickle that I spend. I cut wherever I can. I go without. I just don’t buy stuff. And I’m not about to until things start improving.

Example: my lease is up at the end of September. I have to give thirty days notice to the rental office if I’m going to stay or move out. So that basically gives me two weeks to nab a job that will allow me to stay in my apartment. But I doubt that is going to happen, so my plan is to move back in with my parents. Now, I could probably afford to stay in my apartment while on unemployment. I could probably scrape by. But I’d probably run through what meager savings I have in addition to burning up the unemployment, which is substantially less than I was making at  my job, which was not that much. It may not be ideal, moving back in with my parents, but my goal is to not go into debt, and perhaps even preserve some money, what little I have.

I’m sorry, I’m just not very optimistic. Others may be, but I’m not. It’s a new reality, and it’s not good.

A wandering fate

Here is an article about a local homeless man. He spends a lot of time in the library where I work. It is a sad story, of course. Up until the age of 25 this man was living his life, and doing well. And then one day he was fired from his job for making a mistake with a client. One lousy mistake. Okay, maybe it was a big mistake. I don’t know. But still… And like that his life crumbled. He is now 31 years old, according to the article. I often wondered about him, how he ended up this way. Now I know.

Sometimes, when I wake in the gray morning light and I can’t get back to sleep I worry that this will be my fate as well, a lost soul wandering aimlessly, no home, no direction, no purpose. Sigh….

The Road…h

…movie was pretty good, but not as good as the book.

And I know, I know people always say that. But in this case it really is true.

I liked it (the movie) but it just didn’t have the same effect on me as the book, you know. I think it has something to do with the language. Cormac McCarthy’s voice is so…particular, so evocative. I’m not sure it can be captured well in film. It is captured quite well in the audio book version of the novel. Same goes for previous novels such as All The Pretty Horses and No Country for Old man. Although I have to say that I think the Coen brothers did a very good job of translating Cormac McCarthy’s voice and style and asthetic to film. In fact, it was spot on  as far as I’m concerned. I was so sure it would be too, when I heard that they were making NCFOM into a movie. They just seemed like the perfect fit. Which of course is why that movie won so many awards.

I’d had similar hopes when I learned that it was going to be directed by John Hillcoat because of a movie he directed entitled The Proposition, which was an amazing albeit very brutal movie, but I wasn’t as sure as I was about the Coen brothers doing NCFOM. In fact, so certain was I that the brothers Coen would make a great movie out of that novel that I actually argued it’s merits with someone who had seen it and didn’t think it was all that good even before I’d seen it. Of course, I later saw it and felt entirely justified in my stance.

It’s funny because I wasn’t as enthralled with NCFOM when it first came out. I remember liking it but thinking it was just kind of a Cormac McCarthy-esque thriller, you know. That was partly because it didn’t impress me the way All the Pretty Horses, the first Cormac McCarthy novel I ever read, had. And there’d been a lot of build up, waiting for it to come out. It has been about seven years since he last novel, Cities of the Plain, kind of let down as the third installment of the Border Trilogy, which started with ATPH followed by The Crossing. Point being I was anxious to read something  new by McCarthy. And even though NCFOM was quite an improvement, I found it a little disappointing. And who knew  how long I’d have to wait until the man’s next novel.

Turned out not that long. The Road was published the next year. I had no idea it was coming out. I just remember opening a box of new book at the library where I work and seeing this book with a glossy black cover with the title, The Road, in a muted brown color, and Cormac McCarthy’s name in an even more muted gray color. It was like discovering something you’d always wished for but hadn’t had the chance to yet. My heart began to beat faster. My hands shook a little. For a second I was sure that I was imaginging it, hallucinating. But I wasn’t.

I began reading The Road immediately. And I know that people say this a lot but I literally could not put it down. And as soon as I finished it I began reading it again right then. As soon as I was able I ran out and bought a hardcover copy, because I wanted to have a first edition. If only there was some way to get it signed.

I knew instinctively that it was a great book, a superb novel, and there was no doubt that it would win some literary prize. And I was right. I won The Pulitzer and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, as well as being nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Being selected as an Oprah Book didn’t hurt none either.

Perhaps the movie version never had a chance to live up to my expectations.

But don’t think I’m ragging the movie. Because I’m not. It was excellent. And there were some moments in that book that literally made my heart race. And Viggio Mortensen was the perefect cast for the father, as were all the character castings. The kid who plaed The Boy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, was excellent. But perhaps the most stunning performance came from Robert Duvall, who plays the feeble old man that they (The Man and The Boy) encounter and take a meall with, mostly because of The Boy’s insistence.

Still, I’m not sure I’d automaticlly recomend this movie. It is not for the average movie goer. Most people aren’t going to want to see this movie; no feel good fare it be. Which is why during Thanksgiving I purposely refrained from talking about it when the subject of movies came up. I’d learned my lesson after reading the book, when I was talking aboug books at some family gathering and mentioned the novel — I got a response like a tumbleweed blowing through a ghost town pretty much.

Global warming: a reason to stay in Michigan

According to this slate.com article, part of week-long series that wonders how the United States might finally come to an end, if global warming does in fact inflict the damage that some predict it will Detroit is one of the places you’re gonna want to be. Along with Buffalo and Cleveland.

There’s a reason these cities were settled early on in the country’s history — there’s an abundant source of water, and for Buffalo there’s Niagara Falls nearby (i think; i’m not looking at a map and have no memory for geography and believe that i’m recalling the article correctly) to provide power. Makes sense to me.

Which is why I’ve actually considered this a factor in whether or not we should move, believe it or not. As appealing as California sounds right now, if water becomes scarce, which it already is out there, then it is not the place you’re going to want to be. Also, worst case global warm scenarios expect that both coasts will be pretty much devastated, driving people inward. The slate article assumes that cities like New York and Boston will be entirely abandoned.  Yikes! Just imagine. If you can, let me know, because honestly I can’t even begin to.

As for Texas, well, it, along with other gulf coast states/cities, will be pummeled again and again by increasingly powerful hurricanes and storms.

The Great Plains will turn to dessert. Southwest will become almost unlivable. And all the people there will have to migrate somewhere — inland and northward.

In such a scenario some think that we could head towards a conflict, ie war, with Canada.

Of course, the aticle concedes that this isn’t going to happen suddenly, like a James Cameron action flick. But rather it will unfold more slowly, like, say, a Terrence Malick or Stanely Kubrick film, over the course of years, perhaps almost a century. But still.

DTE fails

This Thursday will mark five years since we had that big power outage that stretched from the East Coast into Michigan and Ohio, leaving millions without power for days. And according to this Freep article, DTE still does not perform regular tree maintenance, which could go a long way to help avoid power outages. According to the article, about a third of all power outages are cause by falling trees and tree limbs and could be largely avoided if the power companies would simply do some tree trimming, but of course they won’t, fuckers that they are.

I remember that black out. It was in 2003. And it was pretty fucking scary at the time, more so than previous blackouts because of the specter of 911 hanging still fairly fresh in the air.

I didn’t even realize that the power was out until I was stuck in traffic on Maple Road, heading to pick up my daughter from my parents house in Warren. I was low on gas, because I figured I’d fill up on the way there. Once I realized what was going on, and worried what might really be going on but which we, the public, were not being told about, I parked my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, scooped up all the spare change in the car and a small flashlight and started walking.

Later, my wife would ask why I didn’t simply walk back home and get the bike and ride it to my parents’ house. I was mile from my house and about 10 from my folks’. I just wasn’t think. I guess I kind of panicked. It was kind of funny afterwards, but not at the time. The radio was reporting that a state of emergency had been declared in Warren. I didn’t know what the fuck that was supposed to mean. All I thought about was getting to my parents’ house. My daughter wasn’t even two yet and my parents are elderly.

Of course, had I been able to talk to my wife she might have made the bike suggestion to me, but my cell phone was not working. Creepier still was that the pay phones that I tried along my walk did not work either. So I just kept walking.

I stopped in the first party store I came to and bought a bottle of water. Passing a busy intersection, where people were stuck at the gas pumps of a gas station because when the power went out they could not pay, I saw guys selling bottles of water for a buck apiece. One lady in a minivan full of kids bought about ten dollars worth. I would have too.

Naturally, the traffic lights were out but most intersections did not have cops to direct traffic flow. So people were left to their own devices. It seemed to work pretty well, until this yuppy woman in a black SUV tried to jump through an intersection so she wouldn’t have to wait for the big truck that was passing through in front of her. She blocked the intersection and the guy in the truck was pissed. He started yelling at her through his windshield, cursing and flailing his hands. The yuppy woman in the SUV acted as if she coudl not hear the guy, as if she was unaware of what she’d done. I remember thinking that this was how riots started. I picked up my pace to get as far away from that intersection as possible.

It was weird. People were coming out of their houses to see what was going on. People in their cars rolled down their windows. People talked, sharing what news they had. You could hear radios broadcasting information from through the open car windows. But there wasn’t really that much to say, and there was this strange vibe in the air, or so it seemed to me. As if people were eying each other, keeping a watch out. For what? I don’t think anyone could really say, even if you’d asked.

It started to get dark before I got to my parents’s house. And I remember walking down side streets that were almost pitch black because there were no street lamps. I could hear people talking on their porches. That reminded me of my childhood, the way my parents would sit on the porch and talk to neighbors passing by, going for a walk. People sat on their porches when I was a kid. But that was before air conditioning was so ubiquitous (sp). I also noted how as I got closer to these people talking, they would often hush their voices. I couldn’t see them but I could sense that they were watching me.

Finally, I stopped at my dauther’s old day care, the house of a woman my family has known for years, and got a ride to my parents’.

Of coures, everyone was fine. Although my daughter was down to her last diaper. And even though at first she thought it was kind of cool that ther was no power and we had to use candles, as it grew later she wasn’t so happy about it. I couldn’t get her to sleep. Eventually, my wife showed up and we went back to our house. But after a couple of days with still no power we decided to head north to my in-law’s place in Marine City, where they had power still.

After that, though, I started thining more seriously about having an emergency kit stocked with thing we might need. I’ve gotten some of that stuff, including a Red Cross emergency kit backpack, but I could still do more, and plan to.

Every year around this time I start thinking about a story I started that was inspired by the blackout of 2003. It is about a similar blackout that happens years afterwards, and is eerily similar, almost as if the 2003 was some kind of trial run or something, or so it seems to the main characters, who admittedly has an overactive imagination.

It begins like this:

It’s getting late.

The sun is going down.

Soon it will be dark – pitch black.

And you’ll be alone it in again. With that strange hum that seems to come from the sky.

Pretty spook, eh.

I’m reading this…and this…and this…and, oh yeah, this too…

As per usual, I’m having a hard time reading one book to the end before picking up another.

Last week, I set aside Slackonomics and Real World, and for some reason started reading David Brin’s The Postman, a science fiction novel from the 80s that was the basis for that Kevin Costner movie, The Postman. It isn’t a very good movie but for some reason I have an attachment to it. Probably because it is of the post-apocalyptic variety, always a favorite of mine. Also, I rarely ever like science fiction novels. Somthing about the writing style of most SF writers doesn’t appeal to me. But I’m always on the look out for one I can get into. That happened this time.

Of course, for me, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the gold standard for this particular genre, if you can all it that. His novel is much darker than Brin’s, and thus much more realistic in my mind. Brin’s novel, while intersting, seems to unwilling to examine closely just how depraved human being can, and likely would, become under such circumstances.

It’s interesting how post-911 this fear has crept back into the  public consciousness. When I was in high school in the 80s, I fretted about nuclear war, as did many of my friends and I’m assuming other people my age. But I wonder if adults back then worried about it as much? I don’t recall anyone stockpiling supplies like water and food etc. Or keeping extra cash in the house. Or having on hand things like emergency packs from the Red Cross and crank-generated radios etc. Now they do, though. I know I do. In fact, I need to re-evaluate my families emergency kits and see what more is needed.

Somehow it seems like it was inevitable that the fears from Generation X’s youth would rear their ugly heads again in our adulthood, but maybe that is just standard GenX cynicism at work.

Anyhoo…back to my reading montage. Today, George Pelecanos’s new novel, The Turnaround, came out, so I’m reading that now too. Pelecanos is one of my favorite writers. For just a plain good story with great chracters, no one does it better. Pelecanos also wrote for the HBO series, The Wire, perhaps the greatest TV show ever!