Dawn of the Deadbeats

Originally published as ‘The End Times Cometh’ in [crude] Magazine’s Summer 2009 issue.

If I were a praying man, I’d be on my knees right now, calling in a few favours in exchange for divine deliverance from the greatest crisis that has beset Irish civilisation since its inception. I assure you, dear reader, that this article is not more hackneyed histrionics over mere recessionary matters – what’s been keeping me up at night lately is the impending apocalypse.

You’ve seen the signs yourself, you’ve just yet to shed your denial. Perhaps you first noticed it on a busy street of people toing and froing, starkly contrasting that motionless figure that emitted a low growl as you passed: “Chaaaaaaange”. So jarring was this experience that it seemed unreal, not finding its way into memory but rather dismissed as fantasy.

It first occurred to me at about 10pm during an attempted trip to an ATM in Limerick. A creature, exhibiting only faint vestiges of humanity was perched by the cash-dispenser, and he raised his head forlornly as I approached. His dull, lifeless eyes stared past me as he grumbled: “Got a qweed?” I looked into this character’s gaunt face as it rocked lightly from side to side, trying to assess the situation. Despite his hoodie & tracksuit ensemble costing more than I had in the bank, he was somehow reduced to beggary.

Fearing an airborne virus was to blame for this chap’s condition, I skipped across the road to another hole-in-wall. There, in a stoop by the machine was a similarly attired, equally haggard critter. His dead eyes rolled in loose circles as he struggled to look straight, yet he stretched out his hand and implored me to “spare a few bob”. Met with only a stunned silence, he turned his outstretched hand to frenzied arm scratching and muttered to himself as I continued hurriedly out of earshot.

These encounters ruined my night, as the frivolities of my socialising had to take a backseat to my ponderings. How were these people justifying their fundraising efforts without having a stump to wave about, or a crude scrawl on a piece of cardboard to inspire sympathy? Their incoherence provided me with little information to diagnose the seeming pandemic that had struck the unfortunate sub-culture of perma-tracksuited street loiterers.

Please don’t confuse these shared musings for bigotry – I’m not necessarily complaining about these people, I just want to understand them. I’m aware that beggars come in all shapes and sizes – like the ones who don’t seem like they really needed the money. I’m speaking of course, about the organised network of snack-sized-Pringles-can proffering Romanians that are collected every evening in nice Passaats at six o’clock outside post offices. (The most I’ve ever offered them was the advice that the full-size cans are much more economical). But this seems different.

Since we’re on the subject of my tolerance, I’m anxious to add that I’ve encountered entrepreneurial sorts who have offered a service that mirrors beggary in its execution. People like the polite Africans who dwell in Ireland’s pub toilets, hoarding the hand towels and soap products and shilling breath-mints to halitosis suffering clubbers. The warmth of their smile (and slight erosion of white guilt) is well worth the €2 “tip” for a service that would otherwise be carried out gratis by a wall-mounted plastic box. But I digress; this is an altogether more pressing matter.

How can one reconcile the designer clothes with the pale skin, epidermal irritation, and impaired cognitive function? By now the astute readers should have – as I have – put two and two together, and surmised that the zombie apocalypse is upon us.

I have been fortunate enough to witness the zombification process in action, over 100km away from the site of first contact. Whilst enjoying lunch in one of Cork’s fine eateries I happened to observe a hooded gentleman halt his gait, take a few sips from his bottle of Deep River Rock, glance over both shoulders, then sit against the electrical box that encroached on the footpath. As he pulled away his hood, his blank expression was replaced with a slack-faced mournful desperation, and his body slumped back in a way that drew attention to the tattered paper coffee cup that had suddenly appeared. A pathetic murmur followed each passerby as the emaciated one attempted to collect a few coins.

For all that has been said recently about revitalising the economy, clearing infected from the streets has been conspicuously absent from Brian Cowen’s recent addresses. It’ll be quite difficult to lure the punters into city centres once the growing numbers of undead turn feral and start taking money, rather than politely (albeit unnervingly) asking for it. What if equally-enlightened denizens consult their accrued B-movie knowledge and set about despatching zombies by way of a bullet in the head? Such obstructions left on the footpaths would make shopping quite cumbersome, nevermind the health and safety worries that the tripping hazards represent.

It’s about time that the Gardai step up their efforts into investigating and removing whatever substance out there that’s causing this rather terrorizing outbreak before it gets any more out of hand. If the recent Swine Flu hysteria has taught us anything, it’s that the only reaction to public health concerns the populous will stomach is overreaction.

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