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"Sssso you guyssss got a vaannnn er what? Wannna paaaarty?"
I sat at the bird crap covered picnic table, choking down a greasy hamburger. The strange, smelly hippy-hobo chick would not go away.
It was the summer of 1975 and I was about 19 years old. I had driven to Salt Creek Beach with my friend Fred, his younger sister Monica, and her cheerleader-type girlfriend, Debbie. After body surfing and setting on the beach for a while, Fred and I decided to leave the girls with the beach blankets, and walk to the snack bar to buy some burgers.
As we started off towards the snack bar, I turned to check out Monica and Debbie roasting in the sun. When I looked back, Fred was glaring at me. "Sorry", I smirked. We continued down the beach.
Fred was always alert when Monica was around. His skinny, younger sister had blossomed into a voluptuous young teenager, and it really bothered Fred when any of his friends took notice. This was particularly ironic, because Fred himself was a major lady killer; he had a different girl friend every week, and was always on the look out for the next one.
As we got closer to the snack bar, I noticed this weird, dirty looking woman romping fully dressed in the surf. She had a strange, stiff walk like Frankenstein's Monster. Stumbling along with her arms stuck straight out in front of her like a zombie in a Mexican horror movie.
The Zombie Woman was about 200 feet away, but even from that distance, I could see the other people in the water were trying to avoid her. Mothers were herding their children to other parts of the beach, and jittery young couples were looking away, pretending not to notice Zombie Woman's odd behavior.
"Check her out man, she must be really high or retarded or something", We laughed snotty teenage laughs as we continued on our way to the burgers.
We got our burgers and sat down at a filthy old picnic table and started to eat.
After about 15 minutes, Zombie Woman came walking up the stairs to the snack bar. She shuffled into the patio area, and intently surveyed the crowd of mostly clean-cut, smartly dressed California beach goers, nervously eating their hamburgers and doing their best to escape her Xray-like stare. She quickly spotted Fred and I, and made a bee-line straight for our table. I guess she must have felt some sort of kinship with us because we were long-hairs.
As she came closer, I could see that the Zombie Woman was about 25 to 30 years old, and the product of some very hard living. Her clothes were worn out, stained and still dripping wet from her dip in the ocean. Her hair was a tangled, oily mop. She was barefoot, very thin and tired looking, and smelled like a garbage truck. That zombie romp in the surf was probably the first bath she'd taken in a long time.
She sat down and without any introduction or small talk, immediately started telling us her life story. The way that she talked was almost as strange as the way she walked. Her speech was very slurred. She had a tendency to draw out and over-emphasize unlikely words and most of her sentences ended in a hiss.
"I been thumbinnn' `rrround the wessst for yeeeeearsssss" she slobbered. "I jussss' got into to towwwwn sssssss' mornin'".
Then came the sad story. "I usssed to be a fassshion model, I wuzzz married to a rich guy and we livvvved in a big fanccccy mannn-ssshyun. I travel't allover th' world, `n' had my pitcher on mag'zine coversssss `n' on TeeVee an' sssssstuuuufff".
It was hard to believe that she had ever been a model, but who knows, stranger things happen everyday.
"I got inna bad carrr wreckkk an' my faccce got all messssed up, so losssss my job maaannnn. Then my huzzzban' took th' kidssss an' lef' me, an' I wuzzzz so broke, I got kicked out of my houuuussssse."
Fred and I sat speechless, except for an occasional "Wow, bad scene" or "Bummer man", while Zombie Woman rambled on and on about her tragic life. It looked like she was getting ready to hit us up for spare change, but what if she was telling the truth? Her face did look sort of funny, but it was more like she was just pimply and plain-looking rather than disfigured. There were no long, jagged scars or missing teeth or anything.
"Sssso I been thumbinn' `rounnn the country, jusss hangin' out annn' party-innn' maaaaannn. I been alloverrrr!". That part of the story was obviously true.
"I like druuuuuugsssss! ... I like guyssssss! ... I like vaaaannnnssss!". I believed that too.
"You guysss got `ny druuuggsssss?, You guyssss got a Vaaannn maaann?".
I gulped, imagining the sordid scenes Zombie woman must have seen in the past. I pictured her lying on top of huge piles of naked, sweaty outlaw bikers and truck drivers, greedily gobbling down weird, unknown rainbow colored pills and swigging Robitussin or Night Train till dawn. I could see her trading party favors for long-distance van rides from Bakersfield to San Berdoo.
Evidently, Zombie Woman could not read minds. She continued with her sales pitch as though she already had one foot in that party van door.
"Sssso you guyssss got a vaannnn er what? Wannna paaaarty?"
"Sorry, no van, just a `65 chevy impala."
"You guyssss live `rrroun heeerrrre? ... Kin ya' give me a riiiiiide later onnnn? ... Got `ny druuuugssss?" she persisted.
"I don't know, the car's kind of full already, we got a bunch of people with us" we lied.
So we sat at the picnic table while Zombie Woman raved on about her adventures and misfortunes with a kind of hurt, glazed look in her eyes.
We must have been sitting there for an hour or so, because after a while, Monica and Debbie came up the beach looking for us.
"Hey Look!" interrupted Fred in a futile attempt to shoo Zombie Woman away, "Here come our girl friends, you better split!".
This didn't bother Zombie Woman at all. Instead of retreating to look for other victims, she seemed more intent than ever; she repeated her entire fashion model story for Monica and Debbie, who had missed the first showing.
We sat there for another twenty minutes or so while Zombie Woman continued her tragic tale. The whole time, Monica and Debbie kept giving us looks like maybe we had gone out of our way to meet Zombie Woman, or she was an old friend or something.
Monica had an idea, "Hey, why don't we walk over and look at the tide pools?".
Good plan; we were all wearing flip-flops, but Zombie Woman was barefoot. She could barely tolerate walking on the hot pavement, much less the jagged, barnacle encrusted rocks that surrounded the tide pools. It would be a perfect opportunity to escape.
We started down the beach towards the tide pools while Zombie Woman continued to rant about lost wealth, heartbreak, and hitch-hiking.
Along the way, I noticed that many of the other beach goers were staring at us in disgust. They had probably witnessed the Zombie Woman's earlier Surf-Frankenstein routine; "Holy Moses, she 's come back with her friends!" ... "Godamit! This is a family beach!"
We finally arrived at the tide pools and began picking our way across the jagged rocks.
"Ouch!, thessse rocksss are ef'in sharp maannnn! ... Lessss do ssssomethin' else ... Hey, wait up!" she whined.
Zombie Woman lagged farther and farther behind and eventually sat down and gave-up as Fred, Monica, Debbie and I continued out on the rocky point.
I looked back several times to see if she was still there. For a while she waited, sitting on a rock, probably hoping that we would come back in time for the party. The last time I looked back, she was heading back towards the snack bar, looking slightly dejected, but none the less, determined to find a party and a place to sleep for the night.
After investigating the tide pools for a while, we figured the coast was clear, so we headed back to the beach blankets. There was no sign of Zombie Woman.
It was getting late, and we decided to split. We grabbed our stuff, and headed back to the car.
When we walked out to the parking lot, there was Zombie Woman again, leaning on a van and talking to the guy inside. No doubt repeating the fashion model story for at least the third time that day.
For a second, I was afraid she would start following us again, but instead, she kind of sneered and pretended not to recognize us. She had a new victim in her sights, and this one had a van! I guess we had hurt her feelings ... or maybe she felt that we were not worth the trouble. After all, we only had a beat-up old chevy sedan, and she was lining up a ride in a tricked out party van.
© Copyright 1999 Scott Mitchell