Brain Pan

The air is thick with the stench of decay and the metallic tang of fresh blood which thankfully isn’t yours.  Your back is braced against the battered door, enduring each lazy, persistent blow from the other side.  You can feel as much as hear skin and nail dragging against the wooden surface, scrapping away layers of each.  In one hand you hold a smoking Glock 9mm, its magazine spent.  In the other the bloodied axe you liberated from the abandoned fire engine on Elm Street.  Both hands shake from the conflicting forces of adrenaline and exhaustion.  You close your eyes tight, trying to recapture your focus and sketch out a plan to survive the next few moments.  That’s when you hear the window shatter from the other room, followed by the shambling movement of creatures entering what had been your shelter, your haven, for the past six days.  But now your castle has been breached, your security compromised.  What next? 

We’ve all seen or censored the many incarnations of undead party crashers killing the mood at civilization’s orgy.  For decades the zombie apocalypse has infested every form of media and been flavored with every possible genre; fast swarming zombies, smart child zombies, night stalker zombies, romantic zombies filled with teenage angst.  The zombie craze has even given rise to a counter-culture of YouTube videos and wiki entries, supply lists and exercise routines, all offering insightful methodology for surviving your doom while maintaining a bikini ready bod.  Even the CDC got into the action and published a graphic novel and numerous follow-up blogs to ensure that the citizens of our once great (now mildly functional) nation are properly prepared for the worst.  Preparedness is great in theory, but I bet most of you don’t even have an escape plan for a house fire, much less have a backup plan for the end of the world!  Even here in the heart of earthquake country many people are not stocked with sufficient disaster supplies beyond the crank radio they got from a NPR pledge drive 6 years ago and the box of stale Ritz crackers in the cupboard over the fridge, so I’ll just assume most of you aren’t sitting pretty with a bug-out bag hanging ready by the front door.  You might be quite proud of your fancy new InstaPot and the cornucopia of post-Soccer meal options it offers but when the shit goes down it won’t be any better than foil wrapped roadkill cooking on the engine block as you floor the gas pedal to escape being brain tartare.  Bon appetite!

Now granted, there are those few dedicated individuals who are totally prepared for this (or any) eventuality and we lovingly refer to these people as “bat shit crazy”.  This is the demographic sweet spot that live on “compounds” and stress the importance of a healthy paralegal militia… er, I mean likeminded, proactive citizens embracing an old-world chivalry wrapped in a new-world order.  But despite the televised NRA propaganda that says these are the people that keep the world safe, anyone who’s ever watched Walking Dead knows these are usually the people that end up eating other people or at least pressing them into indentured slavery.  While this seems like very poor manners for god-fearing church goers, I must admit “thou shall not eat your neighbor” did not make the cut in the final draft of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the editors thought that one was a no-brainer.  Ha, no-brainer, see what I did there… okay, never mind.

For the others out there, who think the zombie apocalypse isn’t plausible for the simple fact that brain sucking undead seem about as likely as rampaging unicorns with a disturbing horn fetish, you need to remember that the zombies (and kinky unicorns) are completely optional.  They’re all just window dressing in this scenario… like the faded floral print window dressing at grandmas that smells of saccharine and fried fish; sure, you could do without them, but they lend a vivid sense of place.  The true nature of the event, be it alien incursion, viral outbreak or dinosaur rampage, is just a single slice of the larger threat pie being served up.  First there is the simple destructive force of Mother Nature and the necessities of life made more elusive by a collapsing society.  Second but perhaps more problematic is “humanity”; not French Literature or Neo Impressionism, but human beings, driven to “Lord of the Flies” type shenanigans. The wackos of the world suddenly given free rein now that society is no longer around to keep them in check.  Sorry to say, but the meek shall not inherit the earth; they will either be forced to serve others or be served with a tangy BBQ sauce… or a bold seasoning rub if you’re caught in Kansas City.

Despite the name of my blog (or the resulting Google search results when trying to find my non-SEO optimized blog) I have only a rudimentary knowledge of actual survival skills. While I grew up with heroic visions of self-sufficiency my most grueling experiences have been things like the Spartan Run, so as long as the road to desolation has a clearly marked route and someone there handing me water every half mile I should be fine.  But even if I manage to survive the basic elements I’m not sure where I’d stand when facing off against bad guys with BBQ sauce.  Sure, I’ve geeked out on blades, owned a hand gun, learned plenty of self-defense but I question the level of violence I’m actually capable of; Hell, my friends still give me grief for my catch and release policy with spiders.

But I think at its heart this is the very question people take pleasure in wrestling with; do I have what it takes to survive?  What would you do to survive?  What would you do to ensure your family survives?    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to slather your body with putrid zombie gore to escape detection?  Could you make the hard choices for the people who rely on you?  Would you sacrifice your own humanity to prevail?

One classic scenario is set in the early days of the fall.  You and the family are fleeing the city in a car well stocked with more than just Ritz crackers and a labor-intensive radio.  You have food, water, fuel, blankets, med-kits.  The works.  The situation outside is already sketchy and while trying to flee to safer ground you come across a stranger on the side of the road begging for assistance, perhaps suffering from something as simple as a flat tire.  Do you pull over to render aid at the potential risk to your loved ones, and if so how much assistance do you provide?  Want to help with repairs?  Share a generous resupply of food and water?  Do you offer a ride?  Would your answer change if the stranger was female?  Had kids?  What if there were 3 adults and 2 kids?  Even if you’re inclined to be generous the realization that you’re now outnumbered becomes a concern… what’s to prevent them from just taking your well-stocked car once you pull over?   What if your own car breaks down further down the road and you find yourself in the reverse situation?  Would you hi-jack a Good Samaritan if it meant protecting your own family from being abandoned roadside?

Fast forward a couple days, you’ve survived the road trip and find yourself at the entry to a gated community that offers the chance for a real level of normalcy.  The catch is that due to limited resources they ask you at the gate “what useful skills do you have to offer the commune?” Keep in mind it needs to be something practical and useful.  Programming skills, worthless; we can’t even power the toaster (since NPR didn’t think to market one of those with a crank!).  Social media phenom with 50,000 followers on Instagram, who cares, most of them are now zombies or zombie chow.  Artist or musician, pointless; post-apocalyptic society has about as much use for the humanities as the Trump administration!  Accounting skills, well maybe, but how much skill is required to count cans of green beans or determine the exchange rate of bullets to toilet paper (it’s 10 to 1 for a roll of single ply and 25 to 1 for double ply quilted, just so you know)?   So, what do you have to offer?

Putting aside the unlikely premise of the zombie apocalypse there is real value in these types of mental exercises.  On the surface they teach us to be good little Boy Scouts and always be prepared. The CDC had it right in assuming that proper preparation starts with an awareness of potential need.  You may live in a zombie-free zone, but you can still be side-swiped by earthquakes, floodwaters, flashfires or Sharknados (hell, there’s been like 5 or 6 of those things already).  Imagining what we might need to survive these situations is more effective than a reminder to replace the smoke alarm batteries at the start and finish of the utterly pointless and completely antiquated Daylight Savings Time (not that I’m bitter).

Another, perhaps more important, benefit from these scenarios is that they allow us to be introspective about an aspect of our psyche that most of us will never have opportunity to explore.  We are confronted daily with heart-wrenching tales of suffering from all around the world that we are powerless to affect.  Thinking about how we’d kick ass and chew bubble gum after the fall of civilization can become a cathartic exercise of empowerment; what is our measure of heroism and the value we place in maintaining our humanity? For many of us this is as close as we’ll ever get to facing real life-threatening choices; would we have the courage to rise from the shelter of a battle-torn trench to charge the machine nest pinning our platoon?   Would we have the conviction to run towards the burning skyscrapers on the verge of collapse to help those trapped inside?  Would we rush into a school on lockdown to face off against a school shooter? We want to believe we’re brave enough.  We want to feel like we have the right stuff to survive in this world against all threats, real or imagined. Since there are no zombies knocking at the door and Bear Gryllus isn’t hovering around challenging us to drink our own pee or sample live scorpions, our assumptions are safe from scrutiny. Hopefully we’ll never have to put up or shut up in the real world so for now we can ravel in thoughts of zombie carnage and celebrate our inner hero… along as he doesn’t step on any spiders.


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23 thoughts on “Brain Pan”

  1. So well said – I would love to think that I would run into the face of danger, but I think I would not really know what I would do until the situation arose. I have been faced with very minute dangers before and found my adrenaline to keep me upright and standing my ground.

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to imagine. I think for many of us if the decision meant protecting loved ones it might be less of a choice and more of a reflex.

  2. I guess it would depend on the situation. I’d help if the person seem to deserve help. But then again that would be to judgmental. Upon self-assessment, I guess being a nurse would be a valuable skill during the apocalypse…I hope.

    1. Heck yeah! Medical personnel would be first pick in the team selection, you got it made. You’d also probably feel more inclined to stop and provide aid (because you can) regardless of the danger.

  3. Brilliantly written, makes me think hard of those untoward incidents and how I would have reacted to it. Though hard to imagine unless one has been in that place but true Medical professionals are the one , who would be on the fore front to help n survival.

  4. This is a really good read! It made me think about an emergency management class I had (I used to work for a health care organization) and because of that, I have started to pack a survival kit in my trunk. I just hope I’m not locked out of my car when the zombie comes (or worse, stuck in carmageddon)!

  5. Man! I loved this. I know its hypothetical and all but the tone that you explain it with, building it up like a story. I just love it. Zombies or no Zombies, I am gonna read more of your blog. Keep them survival tactics coming. lol

  6. As I started reading, I felt the pain in your words…and yes, what next? What next after such a painful ordeal? Anyway, we hardly think about survival mechanisms until they happen. It is very rare to see people actually planning on coping with a disaster until it looms. But I’m enlightened! Now that you got yourself equipped with defense skills, I think I’ll have to also get prepared as well…for survival!

  7. Preparing yourself for a survival situation is not just easy as 1,2,3 even you are prepared physically and mentally you are still going to struggles with so many things.

    1. You’re absolutely right; ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…’ It’s all just a metal test of the emergency broadcast system, played in the relative comfort of the world we’ve grown accustomed to. If this had been an actual emergency… well, lets hope that never happens.

  8. First off I just wanted to say this was an amazing read! This topic, maybe even obsession of “do I have what it takes to survive” be it natural or unnatural disasters seems to be a hot topic in today’s world. I think it is largely in part to our society moving so far outside the realms of our basic instincts. At one time people didn’t have to daydream or think about these things because daily survival was just a part of everyday life. We have become so “domesticated” that we’ve lost/forgotten those basic survival instincts that we were inherently born with but were never nutured..

    1. Thanks Michele, and yes, very well said! I make light of the fact that there are people out there that are “less domesticated” and while they are vastly more prepared for a break in society the fact that this mindset feels so foreign to most of us is a testament to exactly what you said, and how far we’ve come from basic survival instincts.

  9. One of my college professors wrote a great commentary on recent occurrences in the country and how we tend to idolize and normalize heroic behavior when, in fact, human tendencies to fear and to react to survival instincts should not be dismissed and punished. He mentions that heroic behavior should also not be equated with fearlessness.

    1. All great points Rachel, and I’d love to read the commentary! Heroic behavior is typically acting with purpose regardless of fear, motivated either by reflex or purpose. It may not always be pretty or driven by noble valor and yes, it is far less common then the paralyzing fear most of us would encounter, but stories of heroes are still compelling. They are the stories that play well in media, and make good headlines. Hero’s have been around since the dawn of civilization. They are vital to our mythology. I think the heroic ideal gives us something to aspire to but in reality it is the flawed heroes that struggle through life, and battle self-doubt that we most identify with.

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