The Trouble with Old People | Zombies in Orthopedic Shoes


column by Steven Van Auken; illustration by Paul Hoffman


When did zombies enter the national consciousness? No one knows for sure. They didn’t cross the frozen Delaware with General Washington. They weren’t there to chase Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. They didn’t lurch their way across Europe after D-Day, and no one so far has linked them to the attempted assassination of President Reagan. So why now? Why do they stretch their putrefying arms toward us in the past couple of decades?

We do know this. The rise of the zombie coincides almost exactly with the advent of the senior discount at multi-plex theaters.

Old people like myself are awash in offers of financial assistance. They come from perfect strangers. I walk up to a movie ticket counter and I say, “I am old.” The nice young lady thanks me for my service at Gettysburg (we oldsters love to complain about the fact that young people aren’t taught history in the schools anymore), and gives me a discount. My meal is discounted in some restaurants. My medical bills are comped by Medicare. Nobody asks if I need the help, I just get it. Of course this means that others (and here I refer to you) have to pay more to make up the difference.

There is a Silver Sneakers plan that pays the full cost of gym memberships for many of my friends. (These friends of mine are the reason that they have chairs in yoga studios.) Is there a Wornout Sneakers program that grants a discount to a strapped young mom or dad who might like to stay in shape? What do you think?

I think that here is where the zombie hoards lunge into the picture. Who is watching these shows about young people besieged by gangs of lifeless fiends who do not have the good manners to die and stay that way? Who feels compelled to watch them drain the lifeblood of the young, productive members of society?

It is young people themselves who are watching these shows and young people who keep writing them. It is because they have a vague, horrifying feeling of being under attack from decrepit old people. There used to be five workers, on average, to provide for every person on social security. Soon it is estimated there will be two. These over-worked young people will have to get up pretty early in the morning and stay at work until late, to take care of me and my cohort in the manner to which we have become accustomed. The people broadcasting the zombie shows know a cultural phenomenon when they see one. Young people sense that they live under threat.

That threat is the financial demands of their parents and grandparents. Zombies symbolize this. Do you suppose that it is a coincidence that the weird way of walking that zombies have looks exactly like the way we seniors walk two months after our joint replacement surgery? And those perpetually outstretched zombie arms: what could look more like me and my peers after we have (yet again) misplaced our glasses? What do the zombie hordes really seek as they try to sink their recessed-gum teeth into a random young person? My guess is, fiber.

Shows about zombies are not likely to go away anytime soon. They speak too powerfully at a subconscious level to the fact that young people feel burdened by the politically powerful demands of oldsters. At some point it seems likely that younger people will rise up and gain political strength of their own. Their representatives will question why it is that AARP has millions of members who have no hesitation in demanding more and more financial favors, even for those seniors who don’t need them. Maybe someday there will be an equally powerful American Association of Young, Kind of Annoyed and Financially-Stressed Persons.

In the meantime, keep on the move. It’s the best way to avoid us zombies.