With the mayoral election just around the corner, the hue and cry has gone out about how much better off New York City is today, compared with 20 years ago. Michael Goodwin, in an editorial in last Sunday’s New York Post, warns readers that a city under Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for Mayor of New York City, who, in Goodwin’s words “cut his teeth under David Dinkins”, will revert to the mean streets of Travis Bickle’s “Taxi Driver” era. If Goodwin is to be believed, a city under de Blasio will soon become the almost unlivable dystopia that many felt it had become pre-Giuliani/Bloomberg. It turns out that Goodwin may be off in his timing. Bloomberg hasn’t left office yet, and already Times Square is seeing the first traces of the dreaded Zombie Apocalypse.
Relax, not really. The zombies who have been seen recently in the Crossroads of the World are actually, under all that crusty blood and ooze, three young artists who have a gift for special effects makeup, a la the foul creatures regularly seen on the hit AMC show, “The Walking Dead”. They have been witnessed, for the past month or so, shuffling amidst the Elmos, Buzz Lightyears and assorted costumed characters that have turned Times Square into an off-brand version of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”. Cesar Johan Vargas is a Beauty and Special Effects makeup artist who has worked with Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Kamila Wysocka is a Creative Director who transplanted from Sarasota, Florida, and Alexis Jackson is a theater actor, also from Florida, and the newest member of the team, having arrived in NYC three months ago. Together, they spend about three hours, usually on a Friday night, at their makeup tables creating the revolting visage of a zombie before boarding the Q train for the trip to Times Square from their home base in Brooklyn.
The zombie’s first stop, this past Friday night, was the Jamba Juice on 7th Avenue and 47th Street. The employees there were unfazed by their ghoulish guests, who chose the giant smoothies to fuel up on because the straws gave easy access through the layers of latex and fake blood. The trio of walking dead did not get much of a chance to enjoy their liquid dinner before requests for photo ops started pouring in. For the next five or so hours, team zombie complied with dozens of requests for photos, as they slouched and shuffled their way from 47th Street to 42nd Street. The verisimilitude of their zombie makeup elicited many genuine yelps of fear and shock from people of both genders and all ages. Once people became aware of the joke, most enthusiastically begged to pose with Vargas, Wysocka and Jackson, and happily passed along tips as a show of appreciation for the effort put into the costumes and makeup, and for helping turn a visit to NYC into something truly unique.
The process of turning three attractive young faces into ghouls requires more than time; Vargas, Wysocka and Jackson call upon their artistic ingenuity and resourcefulness improvising the disgusting detritus of the undead. For teeth, fake nails are cleverly chipped, stained and affixed to heavy duty tape that is then applied around the mouth and covered with tissue, liquid latex, spirit gum and a mixing medium called Third Degree. Brand new clothes are painted over with Chroma Cake, a MAC product that is mixed with water, similar to painting, and then cut, ripped and layered to give that recently buried look. Hair is rendered dull and lifeless with baby oil and talcum powder. Assorted fake scabs, scars and bottles of “wound juice” are smeared over clear flesh in the transformative process from human to zombie. The final touch is the pouring of fake blood on each other before exiting their apartment to walk past their neighbors toward the subway station.
Robert Kirkman, the creator of “The Walking Dead” comic book series, and an Executive Producer and writer for the show, talks about why zombies have taken hold of the collective consciousness in an interview with Rolling Stone this month. He speculates that, despite the show’s depressing bleakness, he “thinks about it optimistically. Maybe it’s going to make us better people by the end of it.” Kirkman may be commenting on the show’s depiction of humanity, post-zombie virus outbreak, getting back to basics and having to band together for the survival of what is left of the human race. Bleak is an understatement for the new season, which, under new show runner, Scott Gimple, is more personal and character driven, giving the viewer a visceral experience of what life could be like after an apocalypse, viral or nuclear. For some, the line between fantasy and reality can become too easily blurred, as evidenced by Sunday night’s shooting death of a 22 year old college student in Yorba Linda, California. Paul Bracamontes was allegedly in the back yard of a stranger’s home, yelling about zombies, and was fatally shot by the owner of the house when he broke through the glass door. An autopsy is pending to determine if the student was high on drugs or alcohol. Either way, tragically for that individual, the zombie apocalypse had indeed begun, at least in his head.