Posted by david james keaton Friday, April 2, 2010

So…Amy’s friend Jen was flying in from Memphis that day, and she wanted to hit all the Pittsburgh landmarks. The Duquesne Incline, that crazy church they turned into a bar (or vice versa?), the overrated Primanti Bros., the site of Roethlisberger’s near decapitation, etc. Also, despite being like two foot two, she apparently thinks of herself as some sort of competitive eater because she engulfed an omelet bigger than a hubcap and then wanted to hit the Atomic Hot Wings Challenge at Quaker Steak and Lube (worst restaurant title ever) before I was barely out of bed.

But that morning I’d just gotten word of my zombie story “Zee Bee & Bee” getting into the new Comet Press 250-pound anthology (sweeeeet), so to celebrate we decided to check out Monroeville Zombies, a.k.a. The Mysterious New Zombie Museum at the Monroeville Mall, home of George Romero’s orginal masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. Maybe she could add this to her tour? Pleeeeease? This was easier said than done. First off, it was getting late in the day, and we were still dealing with Hiroshima.

Jen signed a waiver before she started eating the nuclear wings, but where was my waiver? Because the boneless wings with the “mild” sauce (translation “for pussies”) that I’d ordered were barely friggin’ edible. Amy was filming Jen’s valiant, red-faced attempt to get down that last wing Cool Hand Luke style (Burning Hand Luke?) but I kept trying to turn her camera on my desperate attempts to penetrate a boneless wing (“wing,” my ass) with a plastic fork. Impossible. This was the true challenge they did not advertise. Luckily, there were wrenches and screwdrivers glued to the walls because, hey, it’s a theme joint. But I have to assume those are really there in case of a rubber chicken penetration emergency.

So, while I was still whining about my meal, Jen ate that last toxic fin, er, wing, grabbed her “trophy” (a.k.a. “bumper sticker”) and we ran out the door to meet my friend Nate at the mall before the exhibit closed. See, Nate’s kind of a zombie connoisseur and the type of guy who takes his apocalyptic scenarios more seriously than most, so I figured he’d dig this “museum” we’d somehow missed.

By the way, there will be more scare quotes than usual in this adventure. You know, the ones they used in newspaper headlines to be sly? Apologies. I mean, “sorry.”

Okay, so it’s like 5:15, and the internet is telling us the Zombie Museum closes at 6:00. So we come flying in the Barnes & Noble side of the mall at Mach 2, and we (me) immediately get distracted by zombie anthologies and DVDs. So by the time we get into the mall itself to find the directory, it’s 5:30. And, of course, there’s no listing for anything containing the word “zombie” or “museum.”

Amy tries asking some employees at a jewelry store and gets back an audible scoff in return. Nope, no idea what she’s talking about. So Amy and Jen wander off to get some ice cream, sort of giving up (and Jen needs ice cream to wash the delicious atomic chemicals out of her mouth) but me and Nate are still hopeful. We notice a GameStop out of the corner of our eye (“Gotta be movie geeks in there, right, right?!”) and run inside.

There are two employees working. One a very athletic-looking young man who’s not doing much of anything. The other a slovenly, disheveled basement dweller-type who is furiously helping some screeching family buy games for their Wii. I chose poorly. The sporty kid doesn’t seem to understand anything I’m saying, let alone where this mysterious museum is. But like a chorus of angels, Disheveled tips his head towards us, never even looking up from his transaction to bark out:

“Take a right out of the store, take a left by the escalators, a left where they used to sell snowmobiles, a right where Old Man Witherspoon’s barn used to be, a right near the creek, left near the Hurricane Booth, and there you’ll find a toy store. It’s in the back of the toy store.”

Holy shit, we’re back in business. 5:53 and counting. As me and Nate run out and grab Jen and Amy like a couple of footballs, I swear I see Disheveled mutter into his watch just like those creepy undercover aliens in They Live:

“I’m sending down four.”

And there it is. Buried in the back, a converted storeroom entrance in the shadows of this toy store reads, “Zombie Museum.” And it apparently doesn’t close any time soon. None of this “open till 6:00″ bullshit like it warns you on the website. And there’s no one in here at all. Just some punk on his laptop messing with Facebook who doesn’t even stop Jen and Amy from bringing in their ice cream.

But for a museum, hell, it’s not that bad. Small but heartfelt. Sad but earnest. Among the attractions: full-size replicas of the Nazi Zombie from Shockwave, Poor Doomed Flyboy and pint-sized Roger from the original Dawn of the Dead (Flyboy in his tragic limp-necked final state), the barrel with the Army stamp and phone number from Return of the Living Dead (yeah, don’t dial down the center, dude, unless you want a mushroom cloud), authentic severed limb props from the original trilogy with the blood bladders and tubes still attached, a TV running the special features off the ‘78 Dawn of the Dead DVD (I think), an actual framed newspaper headline from Day of the Dead screaming, “The Dead Walk!” but, of course, with none of those insincere quotation marks to ruin it, and…

The coffin ride.

Wh-What? Well, there’s this full-size coffin being guarded by that first zombie from Night of the Living Dead. But he’s holding up a sign that says, “Sorry! Coffin Ride Out Of Order.” Only there’s nothing to indicate that this is a “ride.” Just a coffin. And a small milk crate step to climb up and in. No electrical cords, no lights, no controls of any kind. Just the coffin. We start to suspect that this “coffin ride” might be, uh, death? If it wasn’t out of order, maybe you would pay your dollar and…get shot in the face? It raised all sorts of questions. At first, we thought maybe it sort of vibrated like those lame vehicles outside a K-Mart, but the more we talked about it, the more we were sure it meant that you would be killed. We didn’t dare ask the punk at the counter ’cause I learned my lesson when I foolishly tried to get an extra large T-shirt that said “Monroeville Zombies” on it. I only saw small and mediums hanging, and Spacebook mumbled, “No, those are the most popular, so we never have ‘em.” Very Yogi Berra. Like saying, “Yeah, no one goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded.”

So, anyway, that’s about it. We watched the TV cycling the special features off the Day of the Dead DVD so I could point out that all the zombie extras were also munching on hot wings during those movies (apparently because it most resembled delicious human flesh), got some cool snapshots of the scale-model dollhouse replica of the Monroeville Mall of the ’70s (ice rink!), even snuck some bubblgum machine Homies onto the teeny escalators to pose for some pics with the zombie toys (security was lax, remember?), and when other people started to wander on in, we wandered on out. But at the door, some little brat seemed to be making fun of the meager attractions, and Nate surprised us all by cornering him away from his parents and hissing:

“Listen, kid, when I was your age, zombies were real!”

And get this, it turned out this “Hurricane Booth” actually existed, too. But it was as broken as the coffin ride. It promised “200 mile per hour winds!” and we bullied Amy inside (because she was the only one of us wearing a skirt) and I desperately tried to get it to take my dollar. Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. The second the glass door closed, a crowd magically appeared, expectant looks on their faces. I’m not kidding. It was like BAM. Suddenly there was a crowd watching me fumble with my soggy dollar and Amy scratch at the glass. I swear some of them must have rappelled out of the ceiling to see some nudity. But much to their disappointment, we let her back out of the booth, never knowing what it really did, if anything(microwave?). But I suspect its function is to imitate a hurricane by doing nothing except spitting out a small piece of paper that reads, “Now you’re homeless.”

Oh, yeah, there really was a creek, too. More like a stagnant little pond right outside the store with a tiny bridge going across it. A stern sign nearby warned, “Don’t feed the fish!” and it was packed full of those bloated, sluggish mutant coy (koys?) things you see at the zoo. Remember those horrific ponds? Talk about an aquarium of the undead.

But this was also full of money. So, apparently, you couldn’t feed them because that’s cruel, but you could whip coins (koins?) at their heads. One of the big ones even had this big, nasty black hole on its back right near the gills. Clearly the result of a child’s wish gone wrong. What did the kid say who threw those lethal pennies? “I hope these fishies are happy!” Smack. “I wuv you!” Thud.

We did consider trying to “rescue” the injured one for a good minute or so. Translation, “grab the struggling, diseased, foot-long monster and bumble out the door chased by security so it can die in my car.”

Coffin ride indeed.

dead walk

This post was submitted by david james keaton.

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  1. Did you really put the Homie toys in the model doll house of the mall? Because if you think about this, it would be just like the biker gang invasion at the end of the movie! That is hilarious, even if you didn’t know you were doing it until I told you.

  2. Awesome story! Makes me want to visit Pittsburgh and see this place. Especially this “coffin ride.” Can you add more pictures? And congrats on the zombie story publication. After reading this post, I can’t wait to read that story too!

  3. Really liked this post about Pittsburgh, although I wish you worked in the casino, another great landmark. I don’t understand what all the hub bub is about Quaker Stake. For my money, Gooski’s has the best wings and they’re all insanely hot too.

  4. i visited this museum today — small but heartfelt indeed. i love these kind of “museums” so i didn’t find it sad. (mothman museum in west virginia = absolutely worth the drive from pgh, btw.) it was about what i was expecting, actually.

    however. i was completely bummed that the coffin ride wasn’t working, because i suspect i’d have loved it. i’m pretty sure all it does is get lowered by about six inches, but whatever. i’d pay to ride it. i mean, unless i’m turned into a vampire,* it’s probably my only chance to see a coffin from inside. i guess i could always hope to get buried alive, but what good is a story if you can’t tell it to anyone?

    as a pittsburgh may-as-well-be-native i feel like i should add something. okay, two things. one, primanti’s is not overrated. it is awesome. i will fight you on this. pastrami with cheese, onions, and a pickle. seriously. also, vincent’s pizza. talk about food as religion.

    two, those fish are indeed the undead. you see the big white one? i’m pretty sure that’s been there since i moved to the states in the late ’80s. it’s most likely older than i am. hell, all of them probably are. during the inevitable zombie apocalypse, it will serve you well to be on the good side of the fishies.

    i’m now going to go watch the possibly glorious “japanese underground horror” dvd i got at the museum. i’ll let you know how that turns out.

    *i am not now, nor have i ever been, a twilight ‘tard.

  5. Deadlander, yes, i did indeed sneak those little toys into the model. looked a bit shady, i guess, but that’s the price you pay when you’re the worst clerk of all time and not keeping an eye on the tourists or find the shirt they need (i’ve been back since and they STILL haven’t replenished their supply of XL Zombie Hockey t-shirts). In a perfect world, i’d get to sneak a Homey into all sorts of famous art exhibits. There would be a Tiny Homey in all historic photos, like a tenny Forrest Gump, but not as annoying. and, i must admit, you had an interesting idea about those toys in the model representing those Hispanic gang members at the end of the movie! in fact, i think i’ll steal, er, borrow it…

    Cricket! thanks for the kind words. i think you’ll dig the story if you’re the kind of insect that likes zombies. it has a cast of about 619 characters and hopefully doesn’t disappoint..

    and Voodoo Priestess, i would love to agree with you about Priminti’s but they’re on strike 2 with me at this point. two lackluster sammies so far, one left to go. maybe its the chain-looking one i’m frequenting by my house not being the original that’s causing the disappointment, but i don’t know. i just don’t know. maybe i’ll try one more time at bat. pastrami you say?

    and, yes, those pale, slugging zombified fish will haunt me for a long time after they’re gone. if they’re ever gone. maybe that mall was built on a fish burial ground. they cannot be contained! one could run past me right now and i wouldn’t be that surprised. okay, it would be a surprise, but i might not scream.

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