There goes a tumbleweed dancing across the empty street, sending slivers of shadows through the harsh bright circles of the street lights. I rub my eyes. “Did yinz just see that?” I ask the others.
“See what,” answers S.
“That fuckin’ tumbleweed that just floated across the street.”
“Your stoned,” M said. “This isn’t the wild west. This is a city.”
“Yeah, but if there was any tumbleweed bouncing around in any city, it would be in Dez Moyns,” R said. He still didn’t know how to properly pronounce Des Moines, and we stopped trying to correct him a long time ago. “This place is a shithole.”
And it was. We were searching, desperately searching for something to do. The munchies had our group, numbering five – four of which were stoned – firmly in its grasp and finding food was of the utmost importance. We could subside with the liquor in our flasks for now. But I felt that I was on the verge of starvation.
At long last, we found it, possibly the greatest establishment mankind has the privilege to take credit for. The holy grail of Americana, appropriately situated in a ghost city in the most Americana section of America, the Midwest. The very basis of this eatery was crafted from various aspects of American culture: the core of its menu was diner-style hamburgers and shakes, which of course are two of the cornerstones upon which this country was built, complete with restaurant seating as well as a fast-food takeout counter where the obese can order their food to be eaten in the sanctity of their own homes or cars, away from the judging eyes of the shrinking pool of skinny people left in this country; then add on a large bar with one of the largest selections of microbrews on tap that I have ever seen, paying respects to the hard partying principles of our forefathers; and finally pay homage to the already stale pop-culture giant that is the zombie apocalypse. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, ZOMBIE BURGER + DRINK LAB. It seems that for the ‘lab’ section, they unfairly lumped Frankenstein’s monster in with the zombies, but hey, the creature has to stay relevant somehow.
We enter Zombie Burger about as appropriate as we could have: bodies hunched over from the cold, eyes red, puffy slits from THC inhalation, voices slurred to the point beyond recognition from the two flasks of whiskey we had and our mouths drooling with the collective excitement of a horde of the walking dead being presented with a brain buffet.
Curious looks are possibly thrown our way as we are led to our table. One in our number is paranoid. He thinks that the weed in my pocket is giving off an unbearable stench and that the whole restaurant knows we are high and are staring at us, judging us, and about to alert the authorities. Only once we purchase drinks do his complaints subside. But his paranoia does enough to trigger mine, and soon my brain is flooded with visions from D.A.R.E. commercials: cops storm the establishment, tackle me to the ground and cuff me, triumphantly holding up the bag of green with smiles that read: THERE WILL BE NO MARIJUANA HERE, NOT IN MY CITY. I decided that we immediately had to drink more so that the alcohol would suppress these terrible visions. Tequila shots for all.
The rednecks in this place seem not to care what age you are to order alcohol, but they do have several signs that read “IF YOU APPEAR INTOXICATED, YOU WILL NOT BE SERVED.” So we order a second round of tequila shots at the bar.
Eventually, a plump, bespectacled waitress makes her way to our table. It only took around ten minutes of very loud grumbling for them to notice us; of course they were busy, but we were customers too, goddamn it! However, in our haste to summon the waitress, nobody at our table had actually decided what they wanted to eat. Afraid to let the wench out of our sights, possibly submitting us to another ten long, foodless minutes, I tried to stall by engaging her in conversation. Unfortunately, my brain is significantly slowed and all I manage to say is, “Its cold out.”
Her body, already coiled into order taking stance, relaxes. She tucks her notepad under her arm, pinches the bridge of her nose, and sighs the deep, condescending sigh of a person who has had a much longer day than you. Unfortunately for her, we have all had very trying days as well and would like nothing more than to playfully terrorize some poor individual. “Do you guys actually know what you want to order?” she finally says, her eyes closed.
This show of attitude was enough to snap one in our number out of his trance.
“Whoa,” he growls, his blond hair bristling. “Easy. We just have some questions,” he announces with the air of an interrogator in some police procedural.
“Go on,” the exasperated waitress says. She regains some professionalism, but the order notebook remains under her arm and her hip-to-the-side stance reeks of teenage rebellion.
“What.” Dramatic pause. Unwavering eye contact. M is really trying to sell this, and I am having a difficult time suppressing giggles at the faux-seriousness of it all. “Is the burger of the week?”
“We ran out of that.” Return volley without missing a beat.
“How do you run out of burgers at a burger joint?” he asks.
“Not all burgers, just that one. It’s been real busy this week, with that tournament and spring break…”
“Spring break?” R cuts in. “Who the hell goes to Dez Moynes for spring break?”
Waitress faulters. It was unclear if caused by R jumping in, or his complete butchering of the name of the city she lives in that does the trick, but the crack in the armor was all we needed. As to who the hell goes to Dez Moynes for spring break, we never found out.
“Well what the shit are all these?” M roars, pointing to the large and confusing microbrew list of which I have never heard of any of the beers. “These zombie beers or something?”
“What? No, they’re not zombie beers, they’re all local microbreweries.”
“Well what does that mean? Are they better than other beers? And then why don’t you have zombie beers then, you have zombie-everything else?”
“Can I substitute a turkey burger for mine, or do yinz only serve the flesh of the recently deceased?” I ask. She simply stares. The fear is evident in her eyes.
“Where do all these spring breakers party around here?” R asks. “We’re trying to fuck shit up after we eat all your zombie burgers and drink all your zombie beer.”
“Does this city suck as much as it seems so far?” S asks.
“Does this city have a large tumbleweed problem?” I ask. “We passed about ten on our walk over. They were holding up traffic and everything. Man, the stagecoach drivers were pissed.”
“You didn’t see any damned tumbleweeds” S says, momentarily lapsing our table into a heated argument over the merits of my tumbleweed delusion.
This was all too much for our dear waitress and she tried to sneak away in the confusion of our argument. But we weren’t fooled.
“HEY! Where you going?” M screamed. “We haven’t ordered yet.”
“But none of you know what you want to eat, you’re all just stoned and jabbering.” Point for the waitress and for the paranoia. “I’ve had a long day, so if you want to order then order if not – “
“Ten,” I said, cutting her off.
“Ten what?” She sighs again, almost pleadingly this time, but her frustration moves none of us.
“Beers,” I said. “And be quick about it.”
“What kind of beer would you like me to be quick about?”
“Uh, this one,” I say, plopping my finger randomly onto the microbrew list.
“That’s our most alcoholic beer.”
“And you want ten?”
“You’re all 21?”
“Of course.” Two of us were not, but it is my belief that a confident approach to that touchy situation, especially after our tables’ delusional outburst, solves this problem. I was doing well until my stomach growled.
“Wait,” I yelled as she tried to turn around again. “We want…french fries!”
A chorus erupted from my table. Yes! French fries! And cheese, bring cheese! And Heinz ketchup, none of this pussy Hunt’s shit. Bring us the good stuff! French fries! Cheese! Heinz!
We carried on in this manner until our beers were delivered. Our table’s noise level had drawn the attention of everyone else in the restaurant, but we were left largely in piece. Aside from this young bimbo and her friends, who sat at a table near ours. There were five unbelievably young-looking girls and one guy; however, his deep, deep v-neck, rhinestone bejeweled fedora, painted nails and paint legs rolled up to well past capri level made me wonder which gender he chose to identify as.
Anyway, this group decided it was there job to mingle with us. It was not a pretty sight. I could say that some terrible things happened, but that wouldn’t be true. In reality, some really depraved things were said to these young and impressionable souls, before Ron finally asked them just how old they really were. Their leader, a skinny blond who wore too much makeup and hit the tanning booth far too much, paused and quickly glanced at all of her friends. This blew a huge hole in their story that they were all 18 and freshman at the local community college, and we immediately laughed them all the way back to their table.
Eventually we got around to ordering and by the time all ten beer glasses were empty and the burgers consumed – their zombie burger proved to be quite good but that didn’t stop us from demanding that the chef – some pimply college drop-out looking sort – come personally reassure us that there was no zombie parts included in the ingredients. That wouldn’t be FDA approved, he told us.
I wish I could say that we blew that scene triumphantly. That upon being presented with the check, we all ran out of there, flying into the empty street, dodging phantom tumbleweeds and retreating into the sanctity of the shadows. But, that scene only happened in my head, which is home to many other delusions and daydreams. So it came to a great shock whence upon returning with our checks to be signed, she told me I didn’t pay. She told me that I wasn’t funny. And she told me I better pay or the police would be called.
Naturally, my initial response was to get angry and accuse the waitress of stealing my money. I put a fifty in the bill folder, I just knew it, and I wasn’t about to get screwed out of that much cash. But just as the manager was about to get involved, P informed me that the subject of debate, the missing fifty, was sitting on the floor underneath my chair. Apparently the damned thing slid out just as I closed the small black folder and handed the newest perceived insult to our waitress.