—Saturday, October 29, 2011—
It was the Saturday of Halloween weekend and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than by taking a zombie apocalypse handgun training course. I mean, right?
Since I had been up late the night prior, at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I’d had an illness-ridden, busy week, I slept in a bit. By the time I woke up and collected my thoughts, I had a text from Mikaela notifying me that she was on her way into the city from Brooklyn. We had talked about lunch, but I must have been thinking of a later lunch than she was. Looked like I would be starting my day in panic mode.
I jumped out of bed, into the shower and then back into my room to change. I saw out my window that it was snowing. Wait, IT’S SNOWING?!?! I dressed myself as appropriately as I could having not made any drastic wardrobe gains that early on in the season, and without a second thought about my ensemble, I was out the door into the slush.
My train took forever getting to Union Square but at last, I met up with Mikaela at a Sephora. She apologized for meeting in a cosmetics store but it was disgusting out, so I was just happy to be inside. We waited a few minutes and then it was back out into the slush in pursuit of Thai food.
We found Spice, which I had looked up earlier, and stomped off our feet and shook out our jackets as we entered the modern interior of the restaurant. It was not very crowded, likely on account of the weather. Mikaela told me that there was a Spice in her neighborhood too, but she had never been, so that afternoon’s meal would let her know if she should eat there. I knew there were at least a few of them around town, but hadn’t realized there was one in Park Slope. That was where Mikaela lived. If you didn’t follow that, I’m not sorry.
Once seated, our first main topic of conversation was the terrible weather. It was a very typical conversation but Mikaela and I had hung out enough times previously such that we weren’t worried about the boring subject matter. We were making small talk comfortably, not making small talk out of nothing because we felt awkward. I know many people ask about the weather and then feel like an idiot, but that was not this scenario. And really, the October snow was just gross. It was wet, heavy and turning into slush immediately. No, thank you. It was the worst kind of snow for NYC.
I had met Mikaela that Spring of 2011 after a UCB class show in which one of her friends was a fellow performer. She lived in Hoboken at the time and so we had met up on a couple occasions before she moved to Brooklyn and I subsequently moved to Queens. In July, she had lunch with me when I was stood up by a 43 year old woman at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and she had also been to a number of my improv shows over the previous six months. I was never sure what it was exactly, but there was always something about her demeanor that I found intriguing and I liked hanging out with her.
Plus, I found her to be sexy in some kind of unfamiliar way.
After ordering our lunch specials, Mikaela and I talked about Halloween and what we were supposed to do for trick-or-treaters in the city. Did kids enter a building and go door-to-door, or did you hang out on the stoop with the other tenants, offering candy? I guessed that in large buildings, the kids who lived there could trick or treat regularly, but smaller six-unit buildings like mine confused me. They still do. As such, I have made a habit of abstaining from trick-or-treating.
With our food delivered, the vast majority of our conversation revolved around the topic of Halloween costumes. Mikaela was trying to figure out what she would be for her office party that next Monday with ideas including a grown up princess, a 404 page not found error and Leela from Futurama. I discussed my favorite costumes over the years and how I would likely not dress up at all that year considering the actual holiday was on a Monday and I was not dressed up for our date, the Saturday before, nor my date the previous night, the Friday before. In the end, Mikaela decided to go with Leela, which was a choice I fully supported.
We paid and bundled up again for the snow, but I was sorely lacking boots — just a pair of leather PF Flyers and some very wet athletic socks. We trudged down 14th Street towards the PATH station and stumbled upong a costume store along the way. It was perfect, since Mikaela needed a purple wig for her Leela costume. We stopped inside, but after ten minutes of searching and asking a clerk about purple wigs, we were forced to give up. There was though, a great selection of Jersey Shore costumes and a decent Kim Jong Il get up. If she’d wanted to be a fist-pumping dictator ripping sojubombs, she would have been all set.
A few storefronts down, we came upon another costume store and went inside. There was one purple wig package, which was initially exciting, but the product within turned out to be the wrong one and was in fact pink. It wasn’t what we were looking for and with our costume search more dead than a rotting corpse, we braved the elements once again and made our way to the PATH.
Damn, I hadn’t been on a PATH train in a while — maybe only twice since I had moved to Queens from Hoboken. The very smell of it brought back memories of late nights, weekend commutes, new friends and my first year of New York flooding into my consciousness.
Stepping out of the train at Grove Street in downtown Jersey City, the plan was simple: warm ourselves with some hot beverages, hail a cab and get to the gun range located elsewhere in JC. Shuffling into Beechwood Cafe, a favorite of my friends Tony and Sarah, we were seated straight away and I was relieved to take off the heavy layers of clothing. I told her a little bit about JC, which was a place I had hung out somewhat frequently when I lived in Hoboken. Tony and Sarah had since moved but another friend, Mike, still lived there. I watched the street intently as we sat there but I didn’t seen any cabs. As we neared the end of our drinks, I called a bunch of taxi services, but it sounded like no place had any cars to send our way.
Finally, one of the car companies told me they could have a car to us in 15 minutes. We were going to be cutting it close, but I had faith it would work. After all, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we were a tad late.
As we paid our bill, the taxi called me and arrived outside. I paid the cashier as Mikaela ran out ahead of me to get the car. I told them the address as I jumped into the cab and we were off. Twenty-five dollars was steep but they didn’t do cabs the same in NJ — it was a quote instead of a meter.
We slipped and slid around the streets a bit and Mikaela asked me if we were going to the right place, only because there were specific directions in the emails we had received from the firearms academy. I told her that I had mapped the address listed for the company, so we should be good. Fearing my own ability to be a shithead, I checked the email just in case. As it turned out, the gun range was practically in Jersey City, but nowhere near where we were currently headed. We were in the very southern part of JC and the range was just past the most northern end of the city.
I felt like such a stupid idiot. I was so dumb. I must have been brain-dead.
We arrived in front of a small storefront, which was definitely a gun shop and NJ Firearms location, but almost certainly not a gun range. Mikaela waited in the car while I went inside.
“Hey. This isn’t the gun range, right?”
“Nope. You want the zombies?”
‘Yeah, I’m looking for the zombies.”
“You gotta go to the other place. Kennedy and 32nd.”
I’ll admit, those were some of the friendliest men surrounded by guns and ammo I had ever encountered.
Getting back in the car, I asked the driver, “Can you go to Kennedy & 32nd?” He said he could, but it would be $45. Well shit, we didn’t have a choice if we wanted to make it to the course, which was starting right then. After much slipping and sliding, a lengthy detour and some more cash, we finally got out of the car again by the side of a major boulevard. There were no signs and it was not clear where the gun range was located, we only knew it was in the roadside plaza someplace.
We first approached a pair of men in the garage of a Germanic heritage center, asking where the gun range was, but their faces were confused. It didn’t sound like they spoke much English, so all they likely heard was “WHERE ARE THE GUNS?” I was a suspicious character, to say the least.
After a few lines back and forth, one of them said, “Practice?” Precisely! Yes, practice. He pointed us to a lower parking lot. In his beautifully broken English, he told us it was in the bottom of the adjacent club.
Out towards the street, through a fence’s gate and down a sloping and slippery parking lot, we entered a building labeled “Senator’s Club” only to be informed by the sole employee that the gun club was downstairs. He walked us back outside, into a basement entrance, through a bar and finally, into a back room.
Finally, we had made it to the zombie apocalypse and I can’t tell you how understanding Mikaela was throughout the whole ordeal. Not for one moment did she act irritated or impatient. It may have had to do with the fact that I was exuding stress the entire time, but regardless, I appreciated her even temperament.
As we entered, a man was presenting on survival techniques and roughly 15 people sat around in zombie makeup watching him. A man named Mark came over, introduced himself and told us that they were just getting started. I felt the stress melt away. We were half an hour late, but we’d made it. Thank goodness.
We filled out our paperwork and then listened to the presentation. It was an interesting crowd.
In one row, we had a few large men who didn’t seem to have a lot of brain space. There was one kid who knew a lot about zombies. Some geeky folks. A perfectly average couple. Us.
The course was a good laugh because it was a lot of general survival stuff, but with zombies inserted in place of gangs and terrorists. The speaker and head instructor, Lateif, was fairly intricate in his descriptions, detailing a zombie apocalypse survival plan for a home with a backup location just outside of the city, and also a cabin in a more remote location. In case we were not aware, burying essential survival items along the road to your cabin was a good idea too. That way, you didn’t need to carry everything and also, zombies likely wouldn’t find your stuff. Lateif was the kind of guy who bought extra canned goods every time he went to the store as a method of slowly stockpiling his home. This man had spent considerable time preparing for the end of days.
Another assistant, Leah, was painting everyone’s faces in zombie make up and so Mikaela and I partook in the revelry as Lateif continued. I was sitting behind her, but when Mikaela finally turned around, I could see how crazy her make up was. She had blood all over her mouth like she had recently taken a bite out of someone’s head. She was definitely the best zombie there.
I sat down and Leah gave me a large head wound complete with teeth marks where Mikaela would have bitten and infected me days prior. We were the most adorable zombie couple ever! Leah was very pleased with herself as she loved getting to use the fake blood. I couldn’t blame her — it looked fun.
After we had crossed over to the realm of the undead, the remainder of the presentation was about gun construction, gun function and gun safety. We learned how to make a gun “safe” — both semi-automatics and revolvers. We also learned how to properly position ourselves and take aim, which in the case of zombies, was always at a head. By the end of it, I felt totally ready to waste some scumbag zombies.
Before that though, there was a pizza break! Because, fuck zombies. Zombies didn’t get pizza.
Once everyone had had their fill, we filed into the rearmost section of the basement where the gun range was located. The range was really just a dirt basement underneath a social club, so you knew it was super legit. We were ushered into the booths and shown how to load the guns. Once loaded, we were instructed how to be extra careful with them because, at that point, they could kill us.
With that out of the way, it was time to mow down some zombies.
I shot a .22 revolver first and I was competent at best. I knew full well that I could get a better grouping, but it was my first round. Mikaela jumped in a few minutes later and shot her first round from a firearm ever. She was a bit taken aback, literally and physically, but it was awesome that she had gone for it. Next, I shot a .22 military rifle, which I didn’t love; then a bolt action .22, which I aced; and finally, a semi automatic of a caliber I can’t recall, which also went fairly well. Mikaela and I were doing our own things and it was a relaxed atmosphere despite the potential for death and all of the gunshots firing off.
Everyone took a break while the instructors brought out some larger guns. I asked Mikaela how she liked it and she smiled big, telling me it was great. It was a little tough with small, female hands, she said, but she was enjoying it. A part of me couldn’t believe that this date at a gun range, especially given our start to the day, was going so well.
We got back in the booths and were shown the new guns. The first we checked out was a .38 revolver. Mikaela went first and immediately learned that the recoil was far greater and the bang much louder than the .22 handguns. She turned around as if to say, “WOW”, and carried on with her clip. I got to experience the power of the .38 a couple minutes later. Next up was a 9mm, and I could handle that one a bit better. I got to shoot one more rifle before we took another break.
The last part of our evening together was going to be a competition. We were all going to get five shots at a zombie target, our choice of gun, and the smallest grouping in the zombie’s head won. I wanted the .22 bolt action but I had to wait for two other guys to shoot first. A fact unknown to all but Mikaela, was that the bolt action .22 was almost identical to the one I had used to hunt with as a pre-teen. It was familiar, comfortable and easy to shoot.
Stepping into the booth and firing off my shots, I felt great about it. When the target returned to me off the line, I could see that all five shots were in the zombie’s head and within about an inch and half of each other. I was convinced I’d won as I exited the booth.
Apparently, the kid in front of me had also done quite well. The judges reviewed our zombies and concluded that a one-shot shoot off was necessary because they could only count four shots on each of our targets. It was a load of shit because, really, I had grouped two of mine so closely that they had punched out a single, larger hole in the target, but I was not going to win anything by being a sniveling know-it-all.
My only option was to drill that zombie in the head with a .22 caliber bullet one more time.
We each shot with the same rifle in the same booth but the target was sent out twice as far. Distance was not my strong point in regards to vision, so the zombie’s head was just a blurry gray circle at the end of my barrel. As I took aim, I could hear some Hollywood action star shouting in my ear, “TAKE THE SHOT,” and I, the world-class sniper, released by breath and fired. Seconds later, the target was in my hands and my latest attempt was only about an inch outside the grouping. Nice! In my head, I did one of those Tiger Woods fist pumps.
My adversary sent his target out and took his shot. The comparison wasn’t even close. I had just won the first season of The Walking Dead on DVD and I was stoked. Pizza, guns and zombie DVDs?!?! What a great fucking date!
We took some pictures with Lateif, gathered our things from the other room and headed out having vanquished many undead.
Standing outside, I debated the best way to get from the North Bergan highlands back to Manhattan. There should have been a 163 bus around there somewhere but we couldn’t locate the stop. A woman instructed us to cross the boulevard and take the 125 bus. Through the icy slush, we trekked to the other side and took shelter in a bus stop. We talked mostly about being cold and miserable, which marked a decidedly negative shift in the date since I had won the shooting contest 30 minutes earlier. We also realized that we only had $11 cash between the both of us, so we were hoping the bus wouldn’t any more than that.
Eventually, another traveller joined us in the bus stand and I asked him if the 125 would be coming. We had been waiting at least 30 minutes. He said, “Yeah, soon enough.” After a few more minutes, he pointed out a jitney bus coming down the road and told us to get on it. We flagged the bus down down and boarded, but not without asking the cost. The driver said in his broken words that we would pay when we got there and that it was $5 each. Perfect. Relieved and warmed, we took extra comfort in the plastic seats of the old hotel shuttle.
After such a long, cold day I just wanted to be home on a couch. I asked Mikaela if she wanted to drink hot beverages and watch TV. She said yes, and I asked if she would rather go to Brooklyn (her place) or Queens (my place). She chose Queens since she’d never been to my neighborhood.
Once off the bus, we walked through the Port Authority and a woman looked at us, smiling. In that moment, I remembered that we were wearing crazy zombie makeup. Our whole journey back, I’d wondered why people had been looking at us so strangely but I figured it was simply because we were lost New Yorkers in North Bergan. But really, it was because we looked like zombies. Either way, folks shouldn’t be so judgmental — zombies were once people too.
Mikaela and I caught the train back to Queens and decided that food was even more important than a couch. We debated options for zombies in NYC, attempting to create a foodie scene devoted entirely to brains of vegetarians, farm fed brains and brains educated at Ivy League schools. It all seemed appropriate to be discussing such matters since Mikaela thought I looked like a hipster zombie.
Despite how great we looked in our makeup, we first headed back to my apartment to wash our faces. I felt weird about eating with all that makeup on. Not weird because I looked so strange, but more that I worried about getting makeup in my mouth. Is this something that women worry about all the time? Seems like it should be.
I gave Mikaela a tour of my apartment and we took turns washing our faces in the bathroom. We debated take out, which would have been perfect, but couldn’t find anything on Seamless that we wanted. As such, we ventured out again — to the nearest establishment.
I had already brought two dates to Sparrow, and while I was trying not to repeat date locations, Sparrow seemed to be the one exception. Given the proximity to my place and the fact that my little slice of Astoria didn’t have too many restaurants, this is unsurprising.
We were seated in a corner and our waitress sounded like she’d had six packs of cigarettes that day, but in a totally endearing way. I ordered a beer and Mikaela stuck with water, which was smart because staying well hydrated while on a date is important. I couldn’t remember, so I asked her if she drank at all. Basically, no. Previously, she has been someone who drank more but had been phasing it out since college and by the time of our date, one beer was plenty for her. She was a cheap date, unless you were going to shoot zombies in New Jersey and had to take two taxis.
Our food didn’t take long to arrive — a veggie burger for Mikaela and mac & cheese for me. Since we had hung out a number of times, and spent all day together, I wondered if there was anything I didn’t know about her. She said that most stuff was out there in the open and that she wasn’t hiding any secrets from me, however boring that may sound. We were able to fill most the time with small talk — something that Mikaela never ran short on.
After we’d paid, she told me that her veggie burger was one of the best she’d ever had. That was good to know — I planned to get it next time I brought a date there.
We returned again to my apartment and I told her she could spend the night if she liked. After all, it was getting late and she lived at least an hour away. In silent contemplation, Mikaela rolled the offer around in her head and after what seemed like a full minute, said that she wouldn’t mind crashing on my couch if it meant we could hang out for a while longer. That was what I had hoped to hear.
Minutes later — it’s Pat! My roommate of roommates, Pat, came in the door and I introduced him to Mikaela. The three of us hung out in our living room until the clock read 2:00 a.m. and we all realized that it was time for bed. It was a very sedate and peaceful end to a day filled with a snow storm, gunshots and the walking dead.
And really, fuck those zombies. They couldn’t keep good times down.