Last night, around eight, I walked a few blocks down from my house to buy some cookies at the corner store. It was dark, overcast and in the 60's. It had been raining all day and it was misty and cool. Not really sticky-humid either, the way this time of year usually is. August 7th and 60 degrees. Could've worn my leather but I was in shirt sleeves. I don't ever remember an August like this in Chicago before but I can't say I dislike it. It was like late September. Gray and Halloweenish.
In the store there was Halloween candy and autumn decor. Apple and pumpkin scented candles. Cheap scarecrows. Back to school notebooks, rulers, pencils and pens. I bought my cookies just before a crowd assembled at the register. Cramming together to buy their junk. Carts full of cheap junk. Crap that won't be buried with them, but might bury them.
On the way back, walking down Cedar Lake road, just across from the Funeral home, I saw this older guy decked out in a black suit stumbling towards me. Red tie matching the red carnation in his button hole. Not something you see walking down Cedar Lake road. On Cedar Lake Road you see kids with baggy pants and backwards baseball caps, ears plugged with headphones. Or Chicas in flip flops and tight jeans throwin' it out there for the boys who drive past. Or people on bikes carrying crinkly plastic bags. Or mothers pushing carriages. Not red carnations in button holes. Not middle-aged gentlemen in three-piece black suits.
Hair impeccably combed. Graying temples and mustache. He was staggering when he walked. Looked like he'd been dressed for his own burial. For a minute I thought This is it, someone's actually raised the dead the way the old Tibetans used to. I thought he might be blaming me for it because he was stumbling towards me. I laughed a little because it was a wondrous sight. He just kept getting closer, zig-zagging down the sidewalk.
He staggered past me, smelling like a Catholic wake: no shit, that's the only way I can say it. He smelled like flowers and embalming fluid. I guess he was drunk. I said, 'Hi,' to him. He stared at me like he was trying to focus, slurred a greeting, then stumbled on.
Keep in mind the sky was dark, overcast and the air was cool. The light was all inverted: everything looked weird. Like black-lit death, you know, the way it is in Autumn. Light that makes the colors garish and wild: like green and purple. And black. Like the guy's suit. Black. With just that bright red carnation, that splash of bloody red in the middle of all that dark.
I stopped for a while, looked back, and watched him stagger down the street until he was just a black smudge in all that gray mist. Was one of the creepiest things I ever saw.
I went home and popped Night of the Living Dead into my little portable DVD player lay down on my bed and wondered if the zombies would rise up soon...