April 2015

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My Make-up for the July 3rd "Red, White and Dead" Zombie Walk/Thriller Dance in Fremont

(Most'a what you're about to read originally appeared on my Flickr account, and is cross-posting. Bear with me. For some reason, I am a-going on here) ...

I like the idea that the thumbnail of this image will appear in all my friends' "Recent Uploads", and the first thing they're likely to think - what with the descriptive text and the details of the peeling not visible at that scale - is that I went tits over tee-bar at seventy on a Harley out on the 90.

What's going on is that, on July 3rd, my girl and I participated in a "Zombie Night" down in Seattle's Fremont district. Attending this thing was a big question mark for me - for one thing, zombies are pretty played out. On the other hand, hanging out and having fun are not. On the other other hand, part of the purpose of the evening was to try to set a new Guinness Book World Record for ... um ... largest zombie gathering in history.

That is a dour hand, to my mind; I hate World Records that are dingy and stupid and vain like that. "Biggest chainsaw sculpture of a dinosaur", "Most waffles cooked on a single waffle iron". I like the world records that are, you know, architectural and engineering marvels, wonders of nature, humans excelling in their disciplines, whether mental or physical. These novelty records are kind of wankery.

ON THE OTHER HAND: That's just the way I feel. There are a lot of people who are going to be able to point to the Guinness Book and say, man, you know what? I was there. I was somewhere that made it into Guinness. I shared that experience. They can tell their kids "You were there too, as a tiny zombie baby. So was Daffodil, our old Golden Retriever. You remember Daffodil? Daffodil was there, too."

So, what I am saying is that I participated and registered in the totally kind of douchey novelty World Record-keeping, because who'm I to not help someone have a little kicky fun in their lives? No sweat off my teeth, as it were, to help someone else have some guilt-free giggles. This is an attitude I need to further cultivate ...

More on the next photo!

Left: Pretty much as good as I get with making zombie faces. Enjoy the multiple band-aids. That's my idea of a joke.

SO ANYWAY. Kate (my girl) sent me an email, about a week before, with all the details for the big zombie event. I didn't really commit to doing it or not doing it - see my earlier sentiment about zombies being played out, fun not being played out, etc.

What sort of changed my mind was the fact that they were going to be hosting a huge group Thriller dance. I am coming up on 38 years old, and I have never, in my entire life, ever before learned a choreography. I guess not everybody does, but still, it seemed like something I ought to try, just once. I like learning new things, and I've never taught myself to follow some sort of disciplined, physical performance (I mean, I took tap dance classes ... in second and third grades. I don't think those count. Neither do all the Jiu Jitsu classes from junior high and high school. Basically, nothing I've ever learned while I was in school counts, and I stand by that proclamation).

My girl, being a professional dancer, has, of course, done a thousand choreographies in her lifetime, and was a huge help. I started learning the dance steps on Thursday, the day before the get-together. We spent more than two hours practicing the first half of the dance moves, then took a break to head into Seattle and grab some dinner, then came back around 11:00, whereupon I sat down and worked my way through the next half of the remaining section.

I'll spare you the details of what exactly was murderously sore the following morning. Still, after running a few errands and picking up some important supplies for the makeup (see next photo for details), I came back, and we spent another couple of hours working on the choreography for the remaining steps, and then running through the whole deal a couple of times until my cramps and fatigue encouraged me to become a Bitchy Betty about the whole thing, and we camped out in our respective bathrooms to shower, get dressed, and start fleshing out (har har) our creature makeup.

By the way, I didn't mention it up there, but I should point out now: There is something - rather understandably, possibly even predictably - both wonderful and humiliating about undertaking something with your loved one with which she possesses almost limitless experience and expertise and with which you possess zuh-eeee-roh comparable experience. I've always admired and respected Kate's dancing, I've always loved learning how to tell the good dancers from the bad (or at least less experienced) dancers, and I've always loved learning the history and the depth of her discipline, but, before these last two days, I have never had the opportunity to experience firsthand the gulf between my wife's capability as a professional and, basically, mine as a guy who sometimes comes out of the bathroom before bedtime in just his underwear and a tee-shirt and does sassy dances for her entertainment across the living room (We have a jovial life). ANYWAY, what this comes down to is this: You know how great it is to watch an expert ply his or her craft? Okay, imagine you are getting to watch the inner workings and step-by-step designs of an absolute expert, while you are an absolute beginner, and that absolute expert is someone you've loved with all your heart for twenty-one years, and yet this is the first time you've found yourself in this situation?

Understandably, you fall in love all over again.

Okay, let's talk makeup techniques and how the evening actually went, NEXT PICTURE ...

Okay, let's take a moment to talk about the makeup. When I hit the theatrical supply store - and by the way, how odd is it that Redmond, Washington, of all places has a theatrical supply store? We only have, like, two bookstores and ZE-RO men's clothiers. Everything else is either British pantries and Teriyaki places - I knew that I could walk out of there with pre-fabricated latex appliances and "Realistic Gory Wounds" and other assorted festering gashes or bloody abscesses easily applied with some brand of Spirit Gum marketed under the brand name "Makeup Glue".*

(*Which, by the way, is not to insinuate that our theatrical supply store is lacking in any particular way - it's actually quite good, and the staff is both comfortingly knowledgeable about makeup techniques and pleasantly inviting of new knowledge. They have a pretty good supply in stock, although I felt strongly their lack of liquid latex. I had intended to render the wide, wondrous palette of my denuded pate as a series of mountainous, bloody crevasses and humourous valleys, but rather was relegated to the above muckings-about)

However, there is a part of me which refuses to buy anything wholesale - even if it's cheaper and easier - if there's a possibility of manufacturing it one's-self from household goods and a little classic proletarian craftiness. This is the part of me that's building a Flea Circus and a Coconut ventriloquist's dummy, if you must know. I call it "The Plastic Hassle Part of Me."

SO, ceasing my beating around assorted bushes, here's how my multitude of cranial and facial wounds were invented: Tracing paper, Elmer's Glue and grease paint. You crumple the tracing paper (tissue paper would work infinitely better, but I'd bought and cannibalized an ENORMOUS sheet of the stuff for another craft project of the "Plastic Hassle" variety earlier, and was eager to make some additional use of my mutilated investment), then give it a good but brief soaking, effectively moistening the torn strips of paper without soaking them to the point of dissolution.

Once moistened, work a liberal (by which I mean, in the spirit of the day, a "European Socialist Model") amount of Elmer's white glue onto both sides of the paper. The water will thin it out and help it coat the paper equally on both sides, inasmuch as Elmer's is water-soluble. Step whatever: Slap that shit on yo' head. For extra depth of wounds, allow the first layer to dry and then slap additionally another layer or two on the existing layer. Make sure to let them dry between slappings.

I realize, at this point, you will resemble the victim of some sort of sheet-based bukkake, but that's because the color needs be added. Using any sort of flat applicator, you'll want to apply a coat of clown white to the dried, crinkled tracing paper, and following that and using a brush of some sort, you'll add red, black and brown greasepaints to the textured areas of yo' haid. I wish I could give you better advice about HOW to apply the colors, but a lot of it, for my part, was instinctive - I've spent about twenty-eight years of my life learning how to paint and how to color, so most of my knowledge is more reflex than it is intellectual. I will tell you that I went:

RED - for the thickest portions of the texturing
BLACK - for the areas surrounding the red
BROWN - for the areas leading into flesh.

From that point, there's a lot of mopping, repainting, re-applying, and mopping again. After that, a quick dose of baby powder (Ideally, made from real babies) and another coat of Elmer's over pretty much the majority of the face and head (the drying Elmer's will both protect the existing paint and such, and also will dry in such a way on exposed skin as to make it wrinkle and crease).

Yeesh. After all of that, I haven't yet talked about the actual Thriller Dance and Zombie Night! Good gravy! I think I'll leave that for my Livejournal - in the meantime, please note that this photo represents me about twenty pounds lighter than I was in February, following four months of strict diet and exercise, and yet I still bet that no sweet young ladies will find themselves swooning over this photo, as much as large, hairy bears of the West Coast will. That's okay. I find Bears to be comforting sorts of fellows, and after all, I have my one sweet young thing to swoon over me, if'n I need as much as that. Swoon away, Bears.

Okay, to my Livejournal, where I'll finish this Great American Goddamn Novel of Greasepaint and Four-Counts ...


After having written that interminable and seemingly unending volume of errata and tat (Thus, "erratat") about the preparation for the performance, I suddenly find myself at a certain dearth of appreciable content to provide inre: the actual performance, and the experience of the Zombie Night, itself.

So here's what I can recall, amid the haze of spasming hamstrings and pulsing calves which define my late Friday night at 1:30 in the morning (at present time of this stage of writing): We made it to Fremont at half after seven, with at least an hour to kill before the official start time of the Thriller Dance - following our preparation, the single event for which we were making any effort to show. The streets of Fremont were impossibly populated with the endless spawn of a thousand decent gags and a million ounces of fake blood: Zombie derby girls, zombie shark attack victims (who raised more questions than they answered), zombie dogs, zombie babies, zombie homeless people, zombie tennis players, zombie brides, zombie bananas, zombie contortionists - frankly, an assortment of zombies as rich as ever the imagination allowed and displayed as far as the eye could see.

Some forty-five minutes or so late - as these things are wont to go, great and expansive expectations coupled with underwhelming preparation, no one who ever runs anything they describe unlaughingly as a "flash mob" manages to provide enough volunteer organizers or port-a-potties - we finally got around to actually performing, for the first time, the Thriller dance. I was electric, a primed rocket of mid-80s choreography so packed to the gills with preparation that I'd been unable to cease from performing snippets of the dance during the quiet minutes of anticipation - my girl and I attracted stray groups of uneducated zombies, eager to learn the dance from our expert steps, on and off through the tick-tocks of patient expectation. Pied Pipers, of a sort, were we.

When the dance was finally unveiled, we were left bereft on an island of preparation; the instructor, unconcerned for accuracy, failed to negotiate with the crowd as to whether the dance in which she tutored them was to be mirrored or translated from her posture - i.e, when she said "step this way", did she mean to go left, as she did, or go right, as would be the student facing her? No answer was given from the stage. The natural human instinct to mimic meant that the audience - seemingly to an undead man of them apiece uneducated in the ways of the choreography - danced opposite to Kate's and my steps. We'd learned the motions from the original video and the instructor who'd most acknowledged them, the crowd learned their steps from an instructor who placed little value (honestly, she said as much) on determining right from left. Unsurprisingly, the dancing zombie mass fell into chaos.

During the event's instructor's leading tutorial, I noticed, there was an intriguing and amusing event taking place: Whomever in the crowd stood AHEAD of my girl, halfway as we were among the body of volunteer performers, acted out the individual steps as they were taught from the instructor on the dais far removed, reversed. Whomever stood behind my girl acted them out in proper alignment, inasmuch as every eye who could spy her watched my girl go through the zombie motions and based their actions on hers.

This was a theme of the night; when the instructor announced that we were to give the actual choreography that fabled old college try, Kate and I moved to a largely abandoned stretch of parking lot far to the south of the mish-moshed calamity of misdirected dancers. While the dance began, and some moved left while others moved right, Kate and I performed the dance as the original dancers did - for her, with equal agility and expertise, for me, with the clumsy leadfooted and breathless asthma of a fat man doing his best.

We were allowed, as a group, two opportunities to perform the whole dance, and on the second opportunity, I retired and allowed Kate to perform the Thriller dance in singular expertise and perfection: I did this for two reasons, the first being that I had a cramp the size of an insidious coconut made of bile and hate stuck to the side of my abdomen, and also because I wanted to step away from the obvious tilting of viewfinders made by hundreds in the crowd in the direction of my wife; the audience, gathered on the bounds of a cordoned-off parking lot, loved her.

I counted off steps, offscreen of most viewfinders, vocally - I was proving, in my juvenile shallowness, to myself and any in earshot, that I'd learned the dance well enough, even if my bulk prevented me from indulging in its performance more than a single time. I was doing this because it was the only way to allow the audience of dozens upon dozens whom Kate had attracted to indulge in her act without having to endure my fat frame in their home movies and photos, and yet, despite that, to still dance with her. I had rather grown addicted to dancing with her. I'd had one single taste of what it meant to be the ribbon tied to the tail of her kite, and I hated to be bereft of it, even if it was largely due to the lack of care of my physical health to which I'd committed myself over - let's say - the last 38 years.

(I'm being a tetch high-falutin' in my parley, and I hope you'll forgive it the complexity of its syntax - I only speak like this when I find myself touched by spirits and ethers far above the concordance of my vulgar being. I speak like this when I feel elevated by beauty. I kinda speak like this when I talk about my girl. Ain't that a thing?)


The Thriller portion of the evening ended, and I believe from there it descended into some sort of zombie costume contest, and from there a cramped showing of Shaun of the Dead against the wall of a warehouse, viewed from the comforts of an asphalt parking lot. As for Kate and I, we'd had it - I had puckered almost every inch of my sun-facing skin with Elmer's white glue, but three hours of patient waiting and eager dancing had done the additional job of turning my lips to wide, violet raisins. We signed up on the official documents, adding ourselves to the roster of willing participants in the novelty circus of zombies, and from there admired a lovely and happy baby - of which I feel there are strangely few of in the world, and therefore we chose to extend every kindness to his father, holding the registry for him to sign and inviting him to cut in line ahead of us - and then abdicated with terrific ferocity and weary determination.

In brief, from that point, there was gelato: Coconut, pistachio and pear for my girl, chocolate (they were out of stracciata) and strawberry/jalapeno (don't judge me, it's not loss and envy of my former home in the Sonoran Desert, it's merely a delicious combination of flavorful tinctures which complement one another with rarefied expertise, thank you) for me. Following that came what I believe was a mile and what Kate believes was a quarter of a mile walk back to our car, uphill, nevertheless seemingly endlessly, through tired leg muscles and wearied spirits, and then a stop at 7-11 for a bottle of water as large as the femur of any of the Titans of Greek Myth and as many caffeinated beverages as my beefy, exhausted arms could carry. Girls, whom high schoolers would consider the apex of feminine beauty but whom wiser men would consider 'trying too hard' stared in uncomprehending disgust at my appliances of decay and blood, which, later, rested unceremoniously in the brown paper trashbag under my bathroom sink.

And so we came home, whereupon I promised a plentiful chicken dinner (PS - I delivered) and pledged to myself that I wanted nothing except to read comic books (PS - I did no such thing, being largely bereft of my medium of preference) until my aching limbs dragged me to sleep - and yet, instead, I wrote this, penning the last letters long after my girl has succumbed to sleep and, furthermore, the hour has grown long beyond reason.

I wish that I could say that, following the example of this moment, I expected to find myself invariably through whatever other opportunities presented themselves indulging in any array of outre performance art upon the wild streets of cultivated Seattle for my intemporary delight, but the truth is this: It's whatever allows me to dance alongside my girl again that'll drag me out of my occasional yet seemingly persistent hermitage to sample the wonders of this city I otherwise have immediately learned to love so well. And with that, devoid of tattered ornaments of torn, sticky flesh, I think I'll choose to join her in a well-deserved slumber which I suspect will see us asleep until the evening sun, on the day following, chooses to set ...


It's so wonderful to read this! I danced a lot in high school, so I pick up steps fairly quickly. In two separate relationships, my boyfriend and I have decided to take ballroom dance (both times, the guy in question was totally interested in doing it; I didn't drag them to it), and in both instances, the dance classes infuriated them so much that they precipitated the end of our relationship. They were both the kind of guys who couldn't stand being clumsy and slow when I picked it up so fast, and even though I tried really hard to make them see that no one in the class was any better and that I had 6+ years of dance under my belt, the blowups after (and sometimes in) class resulted in major fights.

Anyway, enough of my sordid relationship history; but I think a measure of a relationship is the ability to enjoy the things your partner is good at without turning it into a competition or a matter of false pride. And it's really lovely to read your feelings about dancing with her. Thanks!
That is an awesome story! Hooray for dancing and zombies and showin' people what for and counting and bears!
Oh, how I wish there was video of this. How I very much wish that.
There will be, no doubt ..
There is, undoubtedly, limitless video of this floating around the internet right about .... now.
Here is video, shot from near the spot we abandoned when we realized we were going to get our zombie asses stomped if we stayed there.


Edited at 2009-07-04 07:57 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you did this - - I'd been hearing about it but wasn't going to go. I was in one of the first zombie walks as an accidental participant -- K and I were in Fremont and the zombies went by, and some of them "got" us -- and if they do that, then you turn into a zombie and can walk with them. I shook my hair into my eyes and we zombied along with them to the bar at the end of the walk, where they wouldn't serve me until I put my hair straight.
The organizizer of the walks, cleozombie, is on the LJ and so check her out, she might have video in the future.
I like that story. "Didn't you see the sign, buddy? No messy hair!"

I also like to think he was like Nick at Martini's Bar. "All right, out you zombies go, either t'ru the door or OUT the window!"
Awesome! But how did you get the bald cap to look so realistic?

I love going into stores in zombie makeup, superhero costume, and what have you. I used to do it often with the Tuesday night dinners, and I imagine I got a little more Utica famous every time.
True story, by the way - the, er, bald cap was extra realistic because I was shaving my head before getting ready (I'd intended to turn the entire top of my head into rotting garbage)and the cheap-ass razors I was using TORE a 1 inch-by-quarter-inch strip out of my flesh. So ONE of the bandages I was wearing was for real, and blotted through with actual black blood before the end of the dance ...
Also, is "Utica Famous" anything like "Ghetto Rich"?
Man, excellent costume - and I would've been shocked if we had seen you there, it was so goddamned packed that even moving around was kind of tricky.

I think I'm definitely going to do it again, if they host another one later in the year. Lemme know if you have any plans, we can pass around zombie tips ...
It's on for 2010, I hear.
Thanks for the kind words, bro - and man, I will never ever forget the choreography to this dance, so you can count on me to exhibit it for you the next time we see each other ...
I only found out about this mere hours before it was scheduled to start so Pamela and I didn't attend (she said she would need more time to "do it right"!). Great writeup of your makeup process, Jon. When I was around seven I read about making fake skin in "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and decided to give it a try, but I put all the tissue paper in clumps that of course would not stay on my face. Had I known you were supposed to layer it I might have had a different career!

And all the personal stuff was very touching. Thanks for sharing.
My pleasure, and it woulda been great to see you guys there. I know what Pamela means about 'doing it right', particularly as I ended up feeling really lame after seeing how many really creative and involved costumes there were this year.

Since I only had one day to prepare, I just did the monster makeup, but I think I have a pretty good idea for next year ... I'm gonna dude up in Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts, camera around my neck, everything to look like a Hawaiian vacationer ... and then put a big straw, a little paper parasol, some fruit slices and what-have-you coming out of a seeping wound on my head, so I look like an tourist turned into a tropical drink for zombies ...