When ordering zombies from a Sky Mall catalog, you have no idea whether the reality will match your expectations. One might politely inquire why an individual might want a life-size representation of a rotting corpse head and arms extracting itself from the earth.

I wouldn’t know.

I don’t want that creepy fucking thing in my yard; I purchased the garden zombie as a gift for my friend Ron.

Over the years, Ron taught me to cook vegetables and appreciate homemade pesto. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Around him, I feel calmer. I take deeper breaths. Despite his mild-mannered banker exterior, he’s goofy and angular, regularly in touch with his inner, mischievous child. For two Halloweens, he transformed his own flesh into the living dead, believable enough that I stand as far away from him as possible. Last year, Ron improved on the original, creating gaping flesh divots on his face and neck that bled whenever he squeezed the flaps, like a zit.

Truly, he turned zombification into an art form.

To this day, when certain friends ask me about other friends, they say, “So, how’s Zombie Ron doing these days?”

I waited until Ron was away for an out-of-state business trip and snuck into his back yard to position his new Garden Zombie tastefully amid the shrubs, trying several positions before finding the exact right spot. I left the undead in view of the kitchen windows.

One gorgeous Saturday night in September, I joined Ron in his luxurious, newly renovated backyard for a fire in the fire pit. He made us fresh pesto, tomatoes and a garlic chev spread, and as twilight fell, we drank a bottle of red wine, poked the fire with our boots, and chatted about old memories, people we love, and all those odd topics that seem completely natural around a blazing fire.

Ron was quite horrified by the Garden Zombie, and within 24 hours had moved the creepy thing into his garage, until he discovered he then feared going to his car. But the night I came over, he pulled the tarp off the zombie’s head and created an artistic placement in a flower bed near the fire pit so that the zombie was front-lit, half in shadows. Ron sprinkled dirt over the sculpture for that ‘fresh from the grave’ authenticity. Ron is a good friend.

We toasted the Garden Zombie, our friendship, and this cool, perfect Minnesota evening. We argued whether the big fat star was the north star or Mars, both of us too busy enjoying the night and our argument to go inside and google the answer. We sipped wine, told stories, complained about various airports, and in the golden light of fire, loved each other as two friends can do.

I told him that when I die, as my consciousness twinkles out of existence, I would not mind if this night is what I experienced in those last moments:   sitting under the stars, chuckling with a friend, the cozy glow of a zombie a safe distance away. That would not be a bad last scene.

Later in the evening, I shared an disquieting experience that had occurred a little over 24 hours earlier. While teaching a class to law enforcement officers in a southern state, one of the students, a man whose presence I had enjoyed in class for several days, made a comment that upset me. On a break, a few officers recounted stories of recruits who did not do well. After discussing three men who got drunk and skinny-dipped, the conversation turned towards ‘gays among us.’ The tenor of the conversation was not particularly welcoming.

Discussing one such suspected gay, this individual said, “We should have shown him a real southern welcome: swinging from a tree at the end of a rope.”

Probably eight officers were directly engaged in the conversation. Another three or four were present in the room, and just before he made that comment, the room got completely silent. After he said it, nobody said a word in response.   A full moment later, a new topic was introduced.

On the plus side, nobody said: “YEAH, we should kill them all!” On the downside, nobody said: “It’s inappropriate to suggest murdering gays.”

These were law enforcement officers, the folks who protect our lives.

I had a hard time reconciling that comment with my Saturday night in Ron’s backyard. We’re monsters? Two middle-aged men talking about camping, childhood pranks, family members we love and miss…arguing over stars in the sky…we’re so dangerous we need to swing from a tree at the end of a rope?

It would be easy to paint that one officer, and those who said nothing, as the enemy. They’re not. I spent a week with these folks. They were goofy and hilarious. We laughed together quite a bit. Even when they were bored with the content they did their best to participate in class. The last day I spent with them, a mere four hours after that comment was made, they presented me with a cake they had purchased and decorated, incorporating several week-long jokes. (One of their peers confessed a fear of clowns, so of course, the cake was decorated with plastic clown heads.) They thanked me for coming and cheerfully clapped for me.

I met some great people that week.

And yet.

As I sliced through the frosting, I couldn’t help but reflect on the swinging from a tree comment. Really? Would you murder me? Or if someone else got a little zealous, would you stand by and let it happen?

Ron and I reflected on the story I shared as we drained the pinot noir and over the fire turned fresh bread into toast for our bruschetta. We discussed the nature of hate and love, how fear grows, and what it takes to change ourselves and the world. We discussed how it feels when strangers, and even family members, consider us to be a monster for being gay.

If you don’t think like me, you’re deluded. If you do think like me and you disagree on a major point, well, you’ve taken a wrong turn. If you’re too conservative politically: evil. If you are too liberal, you’re trying to bring about Armageddon. Those with religion consider those without to be monsters. And it’s not hard for me to look at religious zealots with the same fear I usually reserve for zombies.

I guess we’re all monsters to someone.

4 Responses to “Monsters”

  1. Django Says:

    Wow. That story really struck me.

    We did training for police officers out here and I expected to not care for them. That they’d be oafish and serious and conservative pricks. Instead I found them funny, earnest and admirable.

    Of all the groups I have ever trained they cared the most. They really wanted to be good at their jobs. The cliche was true: these are the people who run into a burning building. And they had wicked senses of humor that often came up just when we did hit some topic that was politically charged.

    Despite myself I loved them. They remain my favorite group of people I have ever trained.

    But if I had been there when that happened I would have lost my shit. To put it mildly. Partly I would have been in shock, but I can’t let that kind of comment go. I’m not sure that is entirely a good thing. I have an inclination toward fights like that, which isn’t always wise.

    And I realize it’s easier for me, being straight, to speak up. I don’t know, maybe I would have tried to start a conversation with him, find out why that stupid hate ran so deep. Or maybe my teeth would have clenched, my hands would have rolled into fists and my body would have become unnaturally still as I locked eyes with him and calmly asked him to repeat himself.

    He should not be a police officer.

  2. Edmond Says:

    Jason, thank you for your lovely comment.

    I chose to do nothing, say nothing, and to this day, I wonder if I did the right thing. Up until the moment I left that day, I felt shock and this…I’m not sure there’s a word for this… “ugly surprise.” Like hearing someone say racist and thinking, “Oh…I didn’t realize that was in there as well…how unfortunate.”

    I didn’t feel like I would physically be attacked or anything, but I definitely walked on eggshells that last day. Plus, I am evaluated by my employer quarterly on the class participants/ evaluations and it certainly dawned on me that making a stink about that comment could influence those evaluations.

    To this day, I don’t know what I should have done.

    Thank you for listening.

  3. Edmond Manning » Blog Archive » Is There A Problem, Officer? Says:

    [...] There’s a rainbow sticker on my bumper and they hate gays. [...]

  4. Edmond Manning » Blog Archive » The End of Days Says:

    [...] My tradition on New Years Eve is to walk Lake Harriett just before midnight. I reflect on what the year held for me, for my friends, my birth family, and family of choice. The days of sorrow and those where I shined right back at the sun. This year, something different: Zombie Ron and I are attending Billy Elliott at the Orpheum Theater. We’re dining in a favorite, elegant Thai restaurant. Ron’s wearing a tux and I’m wearing a new suit purchased in 2010 for two significant days:   one cousin’s devastating funeral, and less than two weeks later, another cousin’s joyful wedding. [...]

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