Around the Bend: Bring on the zombie apocalypse

I know zombies are hot in popular culture right now, but until Sunday night, when I caught part of a Discovery Channel documentary — with the not-at-all alarming title “Zombie Apocalypse” — I had no idea that zombies posed an actual threat.

The zombies I know from TV, movies and video games are undead humans who stagger around looking for live brains to eat. They don’t generally move very quickly or with much precision and their enunciation is poor at best. But what they lack in agility they make up for in perseverance.

They can be “killed” only with a shot to the head and because they are already dead they don’t get fazed by things that would slow the rest of us down, such as sciatica or compound fractures. They just keep going until they get your brains. And if they only manage to bite you, you turn into a zombie as well (a trick they stole from the vampires).

The “Zombie Apocalypse” show, through interviews with real scientist-like people, delves into the implications of a real-life zombie uprising, which it suggests is not only possible but even imminent. The show presents, for example, a hypothetical scene on a city bus where a zombie leaps out of his seat and begins eating one of the surprised passengers, causing noticeable panic in the others. The show doesn’t explain how this groaning, shambling freak managed to quietly get on the bus, pay his fare and stagger unnoticed to his seat, but the message is undeniable: It could happen.

Eventually, the scientists do have to fess up: The real-life zombies they are talking about wouldn’t technically be undead (meaning, as I see it, they would not be zombies at all). Rather, they would be people who would exhibit zombie-like behavior — such as a halting gait — due to damage to their frontal lobes, caused most likely by some sort of pandemic viral infection.

I missed the critical part of the show where the scientists explain how the virus would trigger symptoms such as immunity to almost all normal lethal injuries and an insatiable appetite for brains (rather than, say, an urge to tap dance). I had the norovirus a few years ago, and the only thing I had an insatiable appetite for was a swift death to put me out of my misery. The last thing I wanted to do was hunt down healthy humans. And eat brains? Please. I couldn’t choke down so much as a Saltine for three days.

Although the “Zombie Apocalypse” show essentially admits that a more appropriate title would have been “A Large Number of Sick People Limping Around, Potentially,” it nonetheless profiles a number of actual American citizens who are holding out for the “real” zombies.

One guy, a dead ringer for Bill Murray’s character in “Caddyshack,” insists that anyone who doesn’t believe the zombie hordes are coming is — get this — delusional. A woman gives a tour of her home, showing how she keeps her bottled water and survival gear upstairs because, as everyone knows, zombies don’t climb very well.

Several high-strung camo-clad men with weapons sit in a fortified gun tower and talk about the future, posing such important questions as, “If your own child got bitten and turned into a zombie, would you shoot him in the face?” (They don’t mention an alternative, but I assume it’s to continue to love him, teach him good values, hope he gets into a decent college and support him even through the difficult teen years, when not only is he sullen and rude but also he is constantly trying to eat your brains.)

It’s a good question.

My heart goes out to these people, and not just because they’re still bummed about the world not ending on Dec. 21. It’s more because, when the zombie apocalypse comes, they will eagerly retreat into their cramped underground bunkers, deprived of natural light and fresh air, rationing MREs and sitting toe to toe with their closest family members with absolutely nothing to do for months. Years, even.

Our family took an informal poll about building a bunker and decided unanimously that, as much as we love each other, we’d rather get eaten by zombies.

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