“All of us were, apparently, nothing more than just bit actors in another terrible episode of THE LOVE BOAT.” So, I died again. It really happened this time, not like one of those cheap dream episodes of some terrible old TV show. Not like last year. No, this was as real as pillows and blankets on the couch in the middle of the night. As real as passion, hope, and broken hearts. As real as chest pains that have plagued for months. They were particularly bad that night, these pains. So I fell into the sofa and tried to soothe them with some tunes. The hypnotic thrum of the krautrock band CAN spiraled into my mind while the television flicker filled up the living room. It was the Love Boat, making another run, while CAN asked if anyone had seen the snowman standing in the road. Jaki Liebezeit and Holgar Czukay had both died that year, but they were still very much alive inside my skull. Somewhere just beyond me I heard, love, exciting and new – come aboard, we’re expecting you, but in my ears another word was rolling over and over, Halleluwah, halleluwah, halleluwah . . . The thrum in my chest was like broken glass. Moments and memories, tumbling over each other . . . And the pain. My heart. I pulled the blankets tighter around me, shroudlike. Reached for the remote so far away. There was another goddamn episode of THE LOVE BOAT setting sail. No, man, just no. I couldn’t go out like this. I stretched just a little further, and felt it . . . right there . . . at the edge of my fingertips . . . But then the darkness took me. I knew that I had died. Again. But this time I must have gone to hell because the music was terrible . . . coming up like it had been stuffed deep into a darkened tunnel of shit, the words floating toward me . . . promises something for everyone – set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance . . . Then the guitars kicked in. That was different. The voice of Chris Cornell, who had also died a few months ago, was suddenly playing in his sound garden. . . if this isn’t what you see it doesn’t make you blind, if this doesn’t make you feel it doesn’t mean you’ve died . . . And I was standing on the deck of the Love Boat. I wish I was kidding, but that’s how it happened. In addition to being unable to afford decent healthcare, I couldn’t afford cable, which meant we saw a lot of rabbit-ears television. When you have rabbit-ears television, you see much more LOVE BOAT than you ever wanted. I was sadly familiar with the Pacific Princess . . . and that’s exactly where I was. (alive in the superunknown, alive in the superunknown) The crunch of Soundgarden faded back into wherever it came from and then all I could hear were the saccharine strings of 1980s incidental music. I looked around for speakers, but there were none apparent. Only vaguely famous faces dressed for sitcom action. Everyone was parading past me in bunches and clusters, the worst b-movie transmigration of souls, all of them seemingly moving on cue. Like this terrible show had somehow become a reality. So I stood and watched them pass. There were those who I recognized . . . Roger Moore was laughing with Hugh Hefner, whose voice I couldn’t hear but had his hands apart like he was demonstrating the size of something. Whatever it was, it was about ten inches long. They shared a few more words, then Moore straightened his tie and proceeded alone, Bond-like. David Cassidy raced to catch up with Adam West, dressed cheekily dapper in an ascot, and Mary Tyler Moore as she turned the afterworld on with her smile. They, too, had a few words, wrapping their arms around each other like long-lost friends, like actors before a performance, and then went their own way. Harry Dean Stanton strolled past, all hangdog cool, and I thought, holy shit, it’s Harry Dean Stanton. Then John Hurt appeared, looking forlorn and intense, like he might have already been in character. George Romero was much taller than I expected, but that infectious smile was the same one I’d seen in endless interviews. Just as I had begun to think that I was invisible here, he looked at me and gave a nod. He was talking to Tobe Hooper, whom I recognized, and a few others I did not. As it did a year ago, captions appeared above the heads of those I was meant to know, like some kind of psychedelic celebrity episode of Pop-Up Video. Romero was walking beside a stately-looking man, the words above identifying him as “Anthony Harvey, director of THE LION IN WINTER”, and “Mark Milsome, cinematographer, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.” Behind them was Jonathan Demme . . . there were a couple of his movies I could have guessed from one frame, but I wouldn’t have recognized him now. Like the others, they chatted happily for a moment, then seemed to quickly get into character. All of us were, apparently, nothing more than just bit actors in another terrible episode of THE LOVE BOAT. Then, just like they did on TV, these folks all started checking in with the Pacific Princess crew. But Julie, the cruise director . . . she was being played by Erin Moran, who was flashing the huge smile from her happier days. That Gopher dude, he was none other than Gomer Pyle himself, Jim Nabors. Robert Guillaume, who once had a great TV career as the acerbic butler Benson, was now tending bar as Isaac. The lecherous doctor, who spent more time trying to get laid by every woman to ever sail the Pacific than performing medical services, was for some reason being portrayed by Judge Wapner. And the captain of the ship . . . that was Jerry Lewis. It wasn’t alright to speak ill of the dead, but since I was one of them I had no problem saying it aloud, I fucking hate Jerry Lewis. As more and more passengers boarded the ship . . . Joseph Bologna, Frank Vincent, Miguel Ferrer, then Michael Parks and Eddie Murphy’s brother, Charlie . . . that goddamn Jerry Lewis was there to greet them. He was decked out like Merrill Stubing, but all those faces he was making, that terrible unending mugging for a camera that no longer cared, and at least three ridiculous pratfalls in fifteen minutes . . . that was nothing but Jerry. I had just begun to think I should feel bad for my evil thoughts when the music kicked in again. It came from out of nowhere. When I turned to look for the source, I saw a handsome mustachioed black man with a full band near the entryway. The caption called him “Cuba Gooding, Sr., main ingredient of the soul group Main Ingredient”, and he was deep into their most well-known tune . . . So your heart is broken, you sit around mopin’, cryin’ and cryin’ . . . you say you even thinking about dyin’. . . well, before you do anything rash, dig this . . . Before I could stop myself, I started to sing along, everybody plays the fool . . . sometimes, there’s no exception to the rule . . . Then I was whisked off, commercial-break style. Suddenly I was standing beside Harry Dean Stanton. He was speaking furtively into a telephone. Not just any kind of telephone, mind you, but one of those in-house shipboard kinds of things that looks like an old phone booth. He was looking very Harry Dean Stanton-ish, which means he could have been a detective, dock worker, Molly Ringwald’s dad, or damn-near anyone. As it turned out, he was an aging hippie novelist who had started some kind of investigation. He noticed me standing there . . . since I was inexplicably no more than six inches away from him . . . gave me a casual head-nod, then turned his back for the conversation. Of course, I still heard every word. There were a couple large photos in his hand, 7×10 glossies that no real detective would ever carry around. As he spoke, I figured out who they were, or were supposed to be. The first pic was Hugh Hefner, who was a recently murdered music promoter. According to what I overheard, his heart had been ripped from his chest. His heartless body was left on top of an old concert poster – that of an occult band called the Nazgul – from an event that had happened almost ten years ago to the day. That event was the on-stage murder of the band’s lead singer, who called himself Harry Hobbit. My eyes flashed to the second photo. It was Chester Bennington, who had fronted the alternative-pop band Linkin Park until taking his own life. Harry Dean Stanton’s detective informed someone on the phone (and those of us in the audience) that Hobbit had been brutally stabbed by a crazy cult member. No one was sure yet why the band’s former promoter had been killed, or why it had happened now. Harry Dean Stanton was Hefner’s friend, though (at least in the land of the Love Boat), and had taken it upon himself to track down the remaining band members. They were here, naturally, backed up by a mysterious new promoter. Rumor was that they had found a new lead singer and were going to make an astounding return on the final night of the Pacific Princess’ current cruise. Ominous music thundered from the sky itself. Someone said . . . and cut. That’s when I figured out that Tobe Hooper was behind me with a full film crew. He motioned to Mark Milsome, then turned back to Harry Dean Stanton. Okay, that’s great. Harry, you were a bit flat, but I think we can still use it. Alright, let’s see what Craft Services are like on this dinghy. And I realized that I had just appeared in a Tobe Hooper flick. Though I couldn’t see him, Chuck Berry was somewhere above. While that guitar sounded like ringing a bell, his voice went on about in the wee, wee hours, that’s when I think of you, you say but yet I wonder if your love was ever true . . . And then I was standing beside Julie, the cruise director (Erin Moran), as John Hurt approached with his wife, Mary Tyler Moore. I figured this for the standard introductory scene. What I didn’t figure was that John Hurt would look so stunned to see Erin Moran standing there, like something was about to burst from his chest. Erin Moran had already started with hi, I’m Julie, and welcome to the . . . when she looked up to see him. Both of them stopped breathing for a moment. Oh, hello, I . . . well, I . . . It was strange to hear John Hurt stumbling over his words. His wife, Mary Tyler Moore, raised an eyebrow and glanced back and forth between her husband and the attractive younger brunette. John Hurt said that he was surprised to see Erin Moran there. She said, yeah, I’ve been doing this for years now. I had to do something . . . you know, after. Yes, after, John Hurt said. Mary Tyler Moore, oh, this is . . . Yes, this is. Then she was looking at him and he was looking at her, while the other one looked at them both, and suddenly I wished I wasn’t dead so I didn’t have to be here for this awkward moment. But apparently Death, like its more celebrated cousin Life, just can’t resist piling more shit upon an already shitty situation. The music segued into the Amusing Complication Theme and another voice floated across the deck of the Princess. How can you afford a cruise when you can’t even give me my alimony? We all turned to look at an old woman, bejeweled and bedecked, arriving like an empress. A large man stumbled in behind her, lugging at least five suitcases. Every one of them was hers. And the woman . . . it was Rose Marie, who was Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show. If she had already been old in black-and-white, with that gravelly voice and that wizened face, now she was positively Yodish . . . but without the kindness or grace of the Force. Beth, said John Hurt, but what he really meant was bitch. And Jonathan Demme was there with a clapper, proclaiming the end of the scene. I wondered what terrible things he had done in life to go from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to working the Love Boat, but he didn’t seem to mind. That’s great, everyone, he said, let’s go check out Craft Services. Oscar Goldman was sitting behind a large desk in a room far too spacious for a cruise ship. Well, it wasn’t so much Oscar Goldman as the actor who portrayed him in The Six Million Dollar Man, Richard Anderson, and in this case, he was actually supposed to be boss of the world’s most famous British spy. So, Anderson, as M, was staring almost disapprovingly across the desk at a very rascally-looking Roger Moore, who was, of course, James Bond. I was standing in the room with them, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, while a very old German man was situating a movie camera behind me. The caption above his head blinked “Ulli Lommel, cult director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder collaborator, and man responsible for the 1980 horror film THE BOOGEY MAN.” He nodded at me, as did James Bond and Oscar Goldman, and then the scene began. I should hate you, Bond, but I don’t, Oscar Goldman said. That incident with a particular Russian operative almost cost the MI6 its reputation. Just trying to keep the British end up, sir. Be that as it may, I have another mission for you. Sadly, this will be your final mission, but it’s also one of the most deadly you’ve ever faced. He flicked a switch and an image arose on a previously unseen screen behind the desk. It was the crazed and bearded face of a lunatic, a well-known cult leader with a swastika carved into his forehead. His eyes seemed to reach right out of an abyss into the room itself. Bond raised an eyebrow, are we really still worried about hippies in 2017, sir? Oscar Goldman looked very serious. I’m very serious, he said. This man is no average hippie. He is a dangerous individual who inexplicably still has a great deal of influence. It does not matter that he is, frankly, dead . . . because that has only made him more determined to bring about an apocalypse . . . right here in the afterworld. Bond looked ready for an orgy and a martini, but not another mission. The image of Charles Manson, thankfully, vanished and was replaced by one of several elderly African-Americans. Among them, I recognized Della Reese, Al Jarreau, Earle Hyman, and Dick Gregory. There was something strange and even pallid about their faces. It almost looked as if their final roles were that of zombies . . . For their final roles, Oscar Goldman said, this sadistic bastard has managed to cast these fine people as zombies. Not Della Reese, sir. I loved her in that show about the angel. As did I, pal. But that memory, and many others, will be forever tarnished if Manson is able to infect everyone on this vessel. Especially if he’s able to produce the race war that he always dreamed of before everyone has become the walking dead. He is . . . here, sir? He is, indeed, and his evil plot has already begun . . . I beg your pardon, sir, but I’m dead. I have served Britain loyally for many years, but I’ve earned a reprieve. I should be having sex at this very moment. Oscar Goldman nodded. I agree, Bond . . . and this is no normal mission. Therefore, I’ve arranged for you to get some assistance from the States. Not Tom Cruise, sir. No, Oscar Goldman said, someone much better. Music whirled above our heads, and if I had to guess I would have said it was Neal Hefti. Then, as soon as the notes sprang to life, Batman also appeared beside Oscar Goldman. This was no dark knight, of course, but Adam West . . . the full 1960s rendition. He grinned, almost dapper, through the bat-mask. I am at your service, M, he said. Bond looked downright offended. I was really hoping for Pussy Galore, he said. I don’t doubt it, but Manson has managed to ratchet up a great deal of tension among the races. We need to diffuse the situation. Everyone knows that all white people love Batman and they will listen to anything he says. White people don’t like me, sir? Not as much as they like Batman. Look, James, I know this is asking a lot of you, but please . . . help us just one more time. With James Bond and Batman together, we will defeat Charles Manson easy. Easily, Batman said. Oscar Goldman replied, easily? Batman nodded, good grammar is essential, M. Bond swore under his breath. Ulli Lommel was standing at the Craft Services table with George Romero, bitching about the terrible storyline he’d been given to direct. I worked with Fassbinder, he said, and with Andy Warhol. What kind of shit is this? George Romero took a bite of his sandwich. Mouth full, he said, weren’t you the same guy who did DANIEL THE WIZARD? Isn’t it considered one of the worst movies ever? I’m European, Ulli Lommel said, these people just didn’t understand. Look, man, I’m not trying to make fun of you. I grew up on EC comic books and Tales from the Crypt, which were all loaded with humor, bad jokes, and puns. I can have that kind of fun and make these comic book movies, but, at the same time, talk about things I want to talk about . . . maybe you’re just not looking at this the right way. I know you’re mad at being typecast and everything, but . . . So, what you are saying is that I should be happy my last film is here, on Shit Ship? Okay, my friend, what is your film about? George Romero shrugged, zombies, man. Then he held up his hand, muttering something about I love this song through another mouthful of sandwich. It was Fats Domino. I want to walk you home, please let me walk you home . . . you look so good to me, I wish I was the lucky guy who could walk you right down the aisle . . . John Hurt sidled up beside Erin Moran near the pool, where everyone on the Love Boat always did their sidling up. Though a reserved man, dressed in a finely-pressed shirt and tie, the emotion shone through his eyes. As he looked at this lovely girl from his past, there was a spectrum ranging from loss and regret through undying love, not to mention a bit of passion. You better be careful, baby, she said. I don’t care anymore, he said, all I can think about is you. I feel the same way, but we can’t just throw everything away to be together. Why not? I feel utterly naked when I’m with you. As he said it, John Hurt stepped up to the edge of the pool, fingers moving over the knot of his tie. He quickly disassembled it and tossed it over his head, into the water. Then he started on the shirt. Other passengers were starting to pay attention. Rose Marie, as his ex-wife, was starting to pay attention. Erin Moran laughed, but looked around nervously. John, she said. But John Hurt had already removed his shirt, exposing his pasty chicken-chest to the gathering crowd. His hands moved to the buckle of his belt. I’m not just John anymore, he said. What I am . . . the belt slid free of the pants, dropping like a defused snake at his feet . . . is another extension of you, my love. His voice was loud and Shakespearean, his arms raised in the air like a preacher who had lost his mind. He pants fell down to his ankles. Underneath, he wore Scooby Doo boxer shorts. Erin Moran, Julie, laughed again. But not so much laughter from John Hurt’s ex-wife. Before he could make any more confessions, or get completely naked in front of everyone, she was beside him at the pool. She moved pretty fast for such an old woman. It was hard to read her face, but she was either thoroughly disgusted by this man with whom she had once shared a life . . . or still totally in love with him. You’ve always been all wet, she said, just before she shoved him in the pool. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t laughing, that Erin Moran was looking on in shock, or that his current wife (as in Mary Tyler Moore) had suddenly appeared, looking somber . . . because the studio audience broke out in canned guffaws. I was trying to remember if there was a laugh track on the Love Boat when I suddenly vanished from the scene. Harry Dean Stanton shook his head and lit another cigarette. He was watching the band Nazgul bash out another terrible new song, deep in whatever ship’s hold they were using as a rehearsal space. It wasn’t that these guys didn’t know how to play, but it was obvious they weren’t playing together. Malcolm Young, formerly of AC/DC, was just wailing on the guitar. Geoff Nichols was throwing down a great dark Sabbath vibe on the keyboard. Grant Hart, taking an eternal break from Husker Du, was showing the afterlife exactly how great he was on the drums. But every one of them was doing their own thing and the result was a truly hellish sound. Harry Dean Stanton couldn’t stand it anymore. He threw up his arms and said, alright, alright, enough of this. You guys are gonna bring on the apocalypse with this shit. Malcolm Young, who the hell are you, mate? I’m just a guy who doesn’t wanna spend eternity with his fingers in his ears. Look, Malcolm, you need to try and hear the drum, it’s kinda the heartbeat of the whole thing. Geoff, you are . . . amazing, man, but your band broke up a long time ago . . . and Grant, you might be just a little too fast for this song. It’s supposed to be ominous, but it just feels like everyone’s had too much goddamn coffee. The three musicians stood looking at each other, looking back at Harry Dean Stanton. Finally, Grant Hart said, we need a new manager. Since you’re so full of suggestions . . . Malcolm Young, I dunno if Eden is going to like that. He’s just the promoter, Grant Hart replied, and if we don’t get it together, he’s not going to have anything to promote. A voice snaked out from the shadows. But I do have something to promote. Michael Parks stepped partially into the light. He was looking every bit the bad guy, or maybe the dark hero, depending on your point-of-view. His was one of those faces that you knew you’d seen, but you just couldn’t say where. That’s because he had an endless stream of television appearances going all the way back to The Real McCoys in 1961, up through his turn as a drug runner for David Lynch in Twin Peaks. Recent years had brought him more success than ever, with standout film work with Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith. And the guy was a damn musician too. But right now, he looked more like he might be the Devil than anything else. My name’s Eden, he said, without a touch of irony. Strolling out of the dark, there was a coiled snakelike intensity just below the surface of his every movement. He gave little more than a glance at the band as he approached Harry Dean Stanton. Both of them lit a cigarette, furrowed their brows, and let the lines in their faces say everything they had to say. They stood toe to toe, like the greatest battle ever of character actors. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Then Michael Parks said, well, fuck, Harry, you need to get a job. Nothing changed in Harry Dean Stanton’s face, but you could still feel the wheels moving in his head. You making me an offer? Michael Parks raised his hands, like what-more-do-you-need, and pointed at the band. You’re right about what you said. These guys are great, but they need to get their shit together. He grinned a devilish grin. There’s a very important show coming up. It’s the one that will change everything. Geoff Nichols let an ominous chord slip away. Harry Dean Stanton squinted his eyes even more than they were already squinted. We need to find a lead singer, he said. Michael Parks chuckled. Oh, I gotta guy. Bill Paxton was not having a good day. First of all, he was dead. That shit will get you every time. But mostly he wasn’t sure what George Romero wanted from him. Sure, he’d been in plenty of movies, and even directed a couple, but he was having a hard time figuring out how he should react to zombies. Apparently, laughter was not the correct response. And he was hungry, real hungry. I could eat the ass out of a dead rhinoceros, he said. Nelsan Ellis, who had a brief but memorable career on True Blood (and was currently one of the walking dead), said, then you might wanna try the Craft Services table. Richard Hatch was standing beside him . . . you know, he rocked Sunday nights in 1978 as the Battlestar Galactica’s Apollo. Well, he was a zombie now too . . . but not such a zombie that he didn’t laugh. Bill Paxton just grinned. George Romero said, Bill, You’re an even better actor than you think you are. Just imagine these guys as aliens, or maybe a tornado, but you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean. You’re probably doomed, but you can’t let them make it back to the shore. Sure thing, chief. But would zombies really play shuffleboard? The braindead do everything these days, George Romero said, especially in Washington. He wandered behind the camera, waving the hordes of undead back from where they stood eating tacos and finger sandwiches. Alright, THE DEAD ARE DEAD, scene twelve, take five. But, before filming could resume . . . John Heard ran onto the set, all torn and tattered, covered in blood. You remember John Heard, right? Dude was in about a hundred movies and TV shows, mostly in the 80s and early 90s. He was the boyfriend who handcuffed Natasha Kinski to the bed in CAT PEOPLE, and the photographer who discovers cannibalistic monsters in the subway in C.H.U.D. He snagged an Emmy for his corrupt detective on The Sopranos. Oh yeah, and he was Macaulay Culkin’s dad in HOME ALONE. In an interview, he once said that he’d dropped the ball, gotten sidetracked from having the great career he could’ve had. So here he was, in one last walk-on role before the abyss, screaming and drenched in ketchup. George Romero said, um, John, you’re not in this movie. It’s not a movie, John Heard panted, you should have seen them. I was below decks and they were attacking us – they were eating people! – it was horrible. One of them took a bite out of my arm . . . I barely got out of there . . . He was doing some of the best acting of his career. His panic seemed really legit. He started twitching, jerking his head around in a way that hurt to watch. I wasn’t sure, even in the afterlife, how he got his eyes to start clouding over like that. George Romero said, that’s great, John, really convincing. I’ll think about putting you in the next one. But I’m sorry, this thing’s almost in the can. It was just the black people . . . they were going after everyone . . . Needless to say, all the white people started looking around. Checking out skin tones. Look, man, I don’t know who you voted for, but – Then John Heard said, Bleeeeaarrrrghhh . . . or something like that, and started biting Richard Hatch. I mean, he really tore into him. Like he was chewing through his shirt to get to a sandwich or something. There were teeth ripping into flesh and everything. I mean, I never knew John Heard was that good. Bill Paxton jumped back, having found the right reaction. Game over, man, he said. George Romero rolled his eyes and hollered cut . . . but John Heard, he just went right on biting Apollo. Even when he started screaming. Talk about Method actors, this guy was going for the Oscar. Batman said, did you know that I was almost James Bond? I highly doubt that, James Bond replied, one eyebrow raised. Our heroes were making their way down a staircase toward the hull of the ship. They had gotten word that Manson’s zombie army had begun attacking the passengers. There seemed to be little keeping them from attacking each other. It’s true. The other guy had retired, then that Australian fellow didn’t work out. They were considering a handsome American for the role and naturally considered yours truly. He smiled through his bat-mask like a playboy millionaire. You should be aware that I’m trained to kill, Bond said. You should be aware that I have everything I need right here on my utility belt. That’s why I have Q. He can get any kind of gadget I want, including an Aston Martin. I have a Batmobile . . . and a hot girlfriend who dresses like a cat. Well, I have girlfriends everywhere I go. And I don’t have to wear a mask. Oh yeah? Well, I have a sidekick. I don’t need one. There came a sultry whistle from further down. Then a high-pitched, ditsy voice said, hey boys, what are you up to? When they reached the landing, what they found was an aged, yet still nifty actress dressed in leather. She had stolen the show from Madonna in DICK TRACY, and conned the cons in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. It was Glenne Headly, and she was sporting a smile as deadly as her coiling bullwhip. I’d say this is my Bond girl. Not with all that leather, pal. That’s Catwoman . . . Mel Tillis was crooning smoothly yet sadly in a corner of the ship’s bar. If she seems cold and bitter, I beg of you just stop and consider all she’s gone through . . . don’t be quick to condemn her for the things she might say . . . just remember, life turned her that way . . . Somewhere below there was the crack of a whip. Meanwhile, three old gangsters sat around a table talking about love. If you decide to go clubbing on a Friday night and you’re home before 2am, you’re not a man’s man. That was Frank Vincent, and if you think you don’t know him, you better think again. You remember that nightclub scene in RAGING BULL where Joe Pesci beats the shit out of that mafia guy? What about the scene in GOODFELLAS where that mafia guy tells Joe Pesci to go home and get his shinebox, but gets the shit beat out of him instead? Or maybe the scene in CASINO where the mafia guy finally gets to beat the shit out of Joe Pesci? A man’s man has no problems with commitment, as long as he’s not with a woman who needs to be committed. Why won’t she move in with you? She’s not a Mormon or anything is she? That was Joseph Bologna. He wrote the play “Lovers and Other Strangers” with his wife, and then starred in love stories with titles like MADE FOR EACH OTHER. But come to Hollywood and what roles did he get? Gangsters. Tough guys. Cops that get corrupted. But he hung in there and managed to grab a few lighter roles, like the father of Demi Moore in BLAME IT ON RIO, or in another play with Mrs. Bologna. I can have an affair with my director, writer, and co-star at the same time, he said. I think villainy just comes naturally to me, said Miguel Ferrer, but then he threw off a little grin. His career took off as a coke-snorting corporate executive in ROBOCOP, then he just kept getting demoted to lower forms of douchebag. Sinister bikers. Informants. Vigilantes. Gangsters. He finally started showing up as cops in Twin Peaks and NCIS: Los Angeles. But the best role for this badass? Crossing Jordan. I loved that. Six years on the same show, the same lot. I got to go home and see my kids every night. But Frank Vincent just shrugged him off. Fellas, it’s all a numbers game, he said. The more women you meet, the greater chance you have of finding the right one. Outside the bar, Joni Sledge had joined Robert Knight in song. Then Gord Downie jumped in. Their voices carried down the hall to every set of lovers still in their cabin. Hearts go astray, leaving hurt when they go, I went away just when you needed me so . . . The door to Erin Moran’s room squeaked open. From behind a huge potted plant, Rose Marie put her hand over her mouth. She watched with squinty eyes as her ex-husband stepped outside. Just as he might have turned to find her there, a naked arm reached out to pull him back in. Without closing the door, John Hurt began once again to kiss the woman he loved. (filled with regret I came back, begging for more . . . forgive, forget, where’s the love we once knew?) Seizing her opportunity, Rose Marie hustled past them, racing up the hall. I’m never letting you go again, my love, John Hurt said, even if I can’t have you every day. Erin Moran answered by burying his face in more kisses. (where life’s river flows, no one really knows . . . ’til someone’s there to show the way to lasting love . . .) Like a little angry Yoda, Rose Marie stormed past door after door. Finally finding the one she was looking for. You could feel the hatred brewing inside of her, smell the vengeance she was about to let rip. She raised her fist to pound on the door . . . and it opened. Judge Wapner was standing there. Mary Tyler Moore was naked behind him. And the music flowed and floated down the hall, like the sun shines, endlessly it shines, you will always be mine . . . While the long-lost lovers were still locked in each other’s embrace. (. . . it’s eternal love) So I was in the ballroom of the Pacific Princess, finally sitting down in the afterlife. It was kinda exhausting to be dead. The big show was about to begin, even though the ship was in pandemonium. Zombies. Rumors about Charles Manson. Fuckin’ Jerry Lewis. However, it didn’t seem to be bothering most of the passengers. Seated at my table were John Hillerman, who was Higgins on Magnum P.I., the dude who played Billy in PREDATOR, and Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter movies. William Peter Blatty, author of THE EXORCIST, was nestled deep in conversation with Nancy Friday, who wrote MY SECRET GARDEN. Johnny Hallyday joined us after a while . . . I guess he was some kind of French superstar, but he didn’t say anything I could understand. Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, of the Allman Brothers Band, knocked out a heavenly version of “Whipping Post.” Martin Landau walked past on the way to his table, giving me the now familiar nod-of-the-head. Either I knew him from somewhere or he was just a really friendly guy. Sam Shepard sat down beside me for a few minutes. He never said a word. Everything seemed . . . well, normal. At least as normal as it could be on a star-studded version of the Love Boat that existed on an entirely surreal metaphysical plane, one which I wasn’t even sure I believed in. Then Don Rickles took the stage. Oh my god, look at you, he said, anyone else hurt in the accident? There were a few chuckles from the audience. Is that your wife? Jesus, what was it, a train? Yuk-yuk-yuk. That’s a really nice jacket, though. Come back tomorrow with some cotton candy and you can work the carnival. Great, I was going to spend all eternity in a Vegas lounge act. Then he started in on the races. Italians are fantastic people. They can work you over in an alley while they sing opera. A few less laughs this time. Asians are nice people too, but they burn a lot of shirts. It started to get much quieter. Don Rickles looked around the room like maybe he’d never bombed before. Yeah, I make fun of blacks too. Why not? I’m not a black. Then a voice rang out from the back of the ballroom. Get off the fuckin’ stage! A murmur went up from the crowd, everyone looking around to find the source. Meanwhile, the source was approaching the stage. It was Charlie Murphy. He was grinning, but he didn’t look that happy. Really, man. I gotta put up with this shit here too? It was hard not to notice now that he was the only black man in the room. He looked around, but mostly his eyes were on Don Rickles. Alright, you non-joke tellin’ motherfucker. I got one for you. Don Rickles eyes were wide and a bit afraid. So this dude from the KKK come up to me and said, ‘You know, Charlie, I used to hate niggers. But since that Dave Chappelle show come on, you and Dave Chappell make me and Bubba love niggers every Wednesday night.’ There were a couple chuckles for real now, though they seemed a bit nervous. Charlie Murphy nodded at the room, forcing his own laughter, still looking a bit pissed off. Gotta tell you something else, fat boy. As a black man, I didn’t get mad when Paula Deen used the word nigger. I got mad about all the recipes she stole from niggas. Now that was some laughter. Don Rickles made the throat-cutting motion with his hand, apparently hoping to end the show. It must have been the captain’s cue. Suddenly Jerry Lewis was heading for the stage and I knew that I really had gone to hell. But just as Jerry . . . or the Captain Stubing of my nightmares . . . started to ascend the steps, an ominous note stretched out from behind two of the worst comedians ever. I recognized it as something right out of Black Sabbath. The lights went out for just a moment, just long enough to spook the crowd. There was a chorus of surprised gasps. When the lights came back up, everything was bathed in red light and the band had arrived. It was the Nazgul. It was as if they had appeared from the air itself. Grant Hart added a steady but threatening tap-tap-tap of his drums to Geoff Nichols’ synthesizer, while Malcolm Young drew a slithery sound from his guitar strings. Their promoter, Eden . . . Michael Parks, at his very best . . . was standing like a ringleader at the Circus of Insanity, arms raised into the air. He didn’t say a word because he really didn’t have to. He glanced off to the left . . . where Harry Dean Stanton sat morosely, a man uncertain about his choices . . . and smiled. The smile twisted into a maniacal grin and he thrust out his arm to point stage-right. To point at the new singer of the band, the sinister secret that I probably should have guessed, who launched into their first song with furious glee. There was a demonic buh-ba-ba-ba, buhbuh, buh-ba-ba from the band . . . And David Cassidy leapt into center stage. He grabbed the microphone and oozed the words, I’m sleeping. . . and right in the middle of a good dream . . . and all at once I wake up from something . . . that keeps knocking at my brain . . . As the terrible words snaked into the ballroom, all hell broke loose. I don’t know when the horde had arrived, but they consumed every possible exit. They were all ravenous, bloody teeth and sunken eyes. They seemed to be led, and had apparently been turned, by none other than Della Reese, Al Jarreau, Earle Hyman, and Dick Gregory. Among them now I saw John Heard, Richard Hatch, Nelsan Ellis, Rance Howard, Michael Nyqvist, Barbara Hale, and Monty Hall. They were the living dead. The song . . . it was their evil incantation. Before I go insane . . . I hold my pillow to my head and spring up in my bed . . . screaming out the words I dread . . . And the undead all sang . . . I THINK I LOVE YOU. I’m not even kidding, the living dead were singing. Zombie lips chomping up and down like they were chewing on the words. As they sang, they descended like a tornado of gore upon the ballroom. Well, okay, they were Romero zombies, so they didn’t move that fast . . . but it was still pretty damn surprising. It was like a slow fury of fingers and teeth. This morning, I woke up with this feeling . . . I didn’t know how to deal with . . . and so I just decided to myself . . . I’d hide it to myself . . . Everyone in the audience – frankly, a bunch of old white people – were screaming and panicking. William Peter Blatty, responsible for one of the scariest movies ever, looked like he was going to piss himself in fright. Higgins and Cornelius Fudge huddled together like schoolgirls. And there was Johnny Hallyday, crying in French. . . . never talk about it . . . and did not go and shout it . . . when you walked into the room . . . And the zombie chorus kicked in. I THINK I LOVE YOU!! I think I love you . . . so what am I so afraid of? . . . I’m afraid that I’m not sure of . . . a love there is no cure for . . . There was Powers Boothe, total tough guy, Southern Comfort badass, trying to take a swing. But they were on him like starving rats. I saw Monty Hall take a bite out of gossip columnist Liz Smith’s ass, and that wasn’t a good deal at all. Al Jarreau was breaking away from the horde to feast on gopher Gomer Pyle’s face. I think I love you . . . isn’t that what life is made of? . . . though it worries me to say that I never felt this way . . . George Romero was walking through the melee, eyes wide, looking lost. Behind him trailed another George . . . George Kosanar, whose name no one would remember, even though his work was in the damn Library of Congress. Funny, grumpy, and sincere, he’d spent more of his life working in steel mills than in movies. But he had that one moment, and he had it again now . . . Without missing a beat, he said, they’re dead, they’re all messed up. Just before the dead piled on top of him. There was no way out of this, and I was wondering if the dead could die. Bill Paxton had joined the fray, looking scared, but also looking a bit Chet from WEIRD SCIENCE. Overcompensating like a son-of-a-bitch. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled, loudly. Listen up, people, I know what we gotta do. While the band played on. I don’t know what I’m up against, I don’t know what it’s all about, I got so much to think about . . . Amidst the zombie blood feast, he leapt up on a table. For real, man. This is what we do. And he was sometimes a hero . . . you know, he was Bill Paxton. So, even in the craziness, there were people trying to hear him. Look, I don’t mean this in a racial way, but you gotta take out the black ones. What the hell. No, no, for real, y’all. That’s where it started . . . that’s how we stop it from spreading. You gotta take out the black ones. No, Bill Paxton. That didn’t even matter now that everyone was getting bit. You never seen a zombie movie? But people are stupid, even famous dead people. So everyone looked around like it all made sense now. I saw Martin Landau grab a chair, smash it on the floor, and pick up a wooden stake. Higgins from Magnum P.I. broke a wine glass and started looking gangster at all the black zombies. But just the black zombies. No, no, no, you’re all idiots. I think I love you . . . so what am I so afraid of? . . . I’m afraid that I’m not sure of . . .a love there is no cure for . . . And then they were doing it. They were going after the black ones. I think I love you . . . isn’t that what life is made of? . . . though it worries me to say . . . I never felt this way . . . Gnashing teeth. Ripping flesh. Blood splattering. Martin Landau jammed a pointy stick in the middle of Robert Guillaume’s face. Miguel Ferrer jumped on Della Reese’s back, pounding on her head with his bare hands. Charlie Murphy scowled comically, then started kicking ass on the grandpa from THE COSBY SHOW. Believe me, you really don’t have to worry . . . I only wanna make you happy . . . and if you say, hey go away, I will . . . but I think better still . . . I’d better stay around and love you . . . That’s when, from somewhere near the very back of the ballroom, I started to hear the laughter. Like some crazy-ass, flat-out cackling. The kind of thing you might hear from some nutty cult leader who’d been locked up for almost fifty years. Some lunatic bastard that had carved a swastika in his own forehead. Yeah, turned out that Charles Manson showed up for the party after all. Charles Manson said, you know, a long time ago, being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy. And there he was, just sitting in a chair at the back of the ballroom while everyone destroyed each other. The dude didn’t look any saner than before, but he didn’t look much crazier than anyone else in the room. He nodded his head at someone across the way. I looked to see Michael Parks, as Eden, nod back. In the corner, Bill Paxton held a chair like a lion tamer. Meanwhile, zombies were tearing out intestines. Blood and body parts were everywhere. White folks and black folks were still seeing colors before they saw the shit that was really trying to eat them. I was wondering what happened when you got your guts ripped out in heaven. But at least David Cassidy had finally stopped singing. Manson was laughing. We’re not in wonderland anymore, Alice, he said. He was disturbed, sure. But he didn’t seem to get any more disturbed, even when James Bond and Batman suddenly appeared. They seemed to have settled their differences, standing together like the greatest heroes that ever were. Glenne Headly was trailing behind. Her leather was torn and she was smiling. As they entered the ballroom, Bond casually flipped zombie Apollo into Tobe Hooper. Charles Manson said, welcome, friends. Batman stood with his hands on his hips. Your evil days are over, Manson. Manson just laughed again. Sure, why not? Dying is easy, living is what scares me. Michael Parks was not apparently as keen on that philosophy. He had grabbed hold of the ship’s captain, holding a blade to Jerry Lewis’ throat. Naturally, Lewis started mugging, throwing out huge bug-eyed looks like he was in one of his terrible movies. I’m walking, Michael Parks said, or the skipper gets it. Bond and Batman looked at each other, shrugged. Batman reached down to his utility belt and unhooked the batarang. He flung it effortlessly, hooking into the massive speaker behind Parks and Lewis. Then he gave a quick tug. The speaker, which was at least ten-foot-tall, toppled easily onto Michael Parks and Jerry Lewis. Instantly killing them both. I always had a crush on him, Bond said. Batman laughed. Bill Paxton seemed to be pretty pissed off, though. He motioned around the room full of feasting undead movie stars and character actors. Then pointed at Manson. Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal. That was always one of my favorite lines, Batman said. Bond said, your evil days are over, Manson. He already said that. Look, man . . . Zombies moaned and ripped flesh in the background. Zombies of every color. Charles Manson stood, all shaggy and intense . . . and short. He was much shorter than I would have figured. As he started to pace back and forth, Della Reese looked up at him with cloudy undead eyes. There were still bloody chunks of Miguel Ferrer stuck in her teeth. Some of the other zombies started looking up too, gurgling and rasping restlessly. Manson didn’t care about zombies. He had seen enough of them in prison and, he would have said, in the prison that was out here. I can’t judge any of you, he said. I have no malice against you and no ribbons for you. But I think it’s high time that you all start looking at yourselves and judging the lie you live in. Batman looked puzzled. Bill Paxton looked pissed. Bond looked disinterested. Pain’s not bad, Manson said, it teaches you things. And here’s what I know. Robert Guillaume looked up from eating Martin Landau, and there was still a table leg in the middle of his face. Charlie Murphy had Don Rickles down on the ground and his fist raised high. Harry Dean Stanton was looking like he wanted an office job. I was thinking that being dead was no safer than being alive. As if in response, the living dead started rumbling again, still hungry. Manson looked around at everything, looking more sane than he had for years. You haven’t got long before you are all going to kill yourselves . . . because you’re all crazy. You can project it back at me, but I am only what lives inside each and every one of you. Having said his piece then, he sat back down in the chair. Resigned to whatever his fate might be. Now I’ve got you, Manson, Batman said. Bond glanced about the ballroom, uncertain what to do about the feasting hordes of the undead. This kind of thing wasn’t really in his training. Now, if you could be so kind, inform us how we will . . . fix all of this. Just tell them to stop. The zombies were grumbling, getting back on their feet. Ready for another feast. Undead, stop, Bond said. They grumbled louder. I said . . . undead, stop. Gomer Pyle stumbled closer. So did Cosby’s dad. George Kosanar growled, all messed up. The rest of the room had begun to look like Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Bond looked just a little concerned. I say, undead – Knock it off, Batman said. And they did. Not only did they knock it off, but they stopped grumbling altogether. Some of them kinda shook themselves. Others rubbed their patchily fleshed skulls, wondering where the past few days had gone. Robert Guillaume looked around at everyone, then said, what the hell happened? There was still a table leg sticking out from the middle of his face. Della Reese let out a zombie growl . . . No, wait. She was clearing her throat. She cleared her throat, then looked around at everything. She looked at the demolished ballroom of the Love Boat and the wreckage of the past year. She looked at all of the friends who had gone ahead of her, thought about those who would soon join her. Then she looked at all these other folks who would be with her on this journey. James Bond. Batman. Bill Paxton. Charles Manson. Oh, and look. Here were some others, just arriving now. She was joined by Fats Domino, who had brought Chuck Berry with him. Gord Downie was there, and so were Tommy Keene and Fred Cole. Walter Becker started playing a gentle guitar to which Al Jarreau nodded his head. Butch and Gregg were already there. They motioned Geoff Nichols over. Chester Bennington strolled up, deep in conversation with Chris Cornell. Tom Petty quickly jumped in, having almost forgotten that he was dead. Glen Campbell had not, and he gave her the song. She closed her eyes and began to sing. Don’t think I’m ungrateful, and don’t look so morose. Adios, adios. And the other voices began to join in, all of them. The ones who sang and those who did not, the famous and the unknown, the good and the not-quite-so-good. We never really made it, baby, but we came pretty close. Adios, adios. And I’ll miss the blood red sunset, but I’ll miss you the most. Adios, adios. Adios, adios. Then, upon the sea of sound . . . with a deck full of passengers . . . the Love Boat was off on another run, sailing into the syndication of another burning sunset. Welcome aboard, it’s love. – j. meredith Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.