Big Brother Is Listening: Zombies, Brunch And An Afternoon With FBI Agents

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I love zombies. Not in a creepy, borderline necrophilia kind of way, but more in a guilty pop culture way. If I had to pick one single favorite film, it would have to be Shaun of the Dead. I’ll watch anything with zombies in it at least once, even Zombie Strippers.

I write about zombies. I’ve done zombie walks, and I can’t wait until my son is old enough to get dressed up with me for one. The fact that I still enjoy them is a testament to their hold over me. After all, it was my love of zombies that brought me to the attention of the local FBI.

It was March 30th, 2006, and I was in my final semester in college. I had finished my classes for the day. Imagine my surprise when I walked through the front door to find two strange men in my apartment with my male roommate.

One guy was wearing a baseball cap and jeans and was sitting with my roommate on the sofa. An awkward man in a suit was hovering nearby. The atmosphere was incredibly tense; at first I thought they were debt collectors because my roommate had a rocky financial history.

They were actually local FBI agents, and they had been waiting there for me.

We all introduced ourselves, and I confirmed my identity after I was shown badges. I offered them something to drink, but they weren’t interested. The plain clothes guy was definitely the one running the show, and he began asking questions immediately.

What is a zombie?

What is a zombie?

He opened with “What is a zombie?” I couldn’t help but stare at him for a few seconds before answering. It seemed he had a lot of questions about zombies, and after a few, I asked what this questioning was all about.

Although they couldn’t say who, when, or where, it seemed that someone had overheard a conversation I had been having in a public place regarding my zombie survival plan. This person had been so upset by this conversation that they had called the local FBI office, and the agents, in turn, had come to find me and verify if I actually posed some kind of threat.

Apparently the concern was that I was engineering or somehow helping to distribute a real zombie virus, or perhaps just a bio-weapon (zombie could be a code-word, the agent said). These guys knew I was going to a good school on a full tuition academic scholarship and that my major had been pre-med.

Somehow, however, they didn’t know that my major had been changed to English my freshman year, and that first semester biology was the only “B” I’d earned. I hadn’t even had access to the science building, let alone the labs, in three years.

They stayed in my apartment for over an hour, asking me questions. It was apparent within five minutes that the situation was not what they had thought it to be, but they kept going anyway.

They looked at my zombie DVDs. The guy in the suit even flipped through my copy of Max Brooks’ excellent tome The Zombie Survival Guide, furiously taking notes. Years later, Max Brooks autographed that exact copy after I told him about my run-in. I am proud to say my 10-second rundown of the FBI story netted me a sincere chuckle from the author.

They asked if I belonged to PETA, because the FBI believes that PETA is a terrorist organization. They also asked me if I belonged to ALF. I had never heard of either organization before that day, though I spent a long time reading about them online later that night.

They asked me if I knew any anarchists. I kind of side-stepped the question because I lived two blocks from a college; half the people my age in the area were anarchists. None of them were violent or any more of a threat that I was. I certainly wasn’t going to give anyone’s name.

I couldn’t help but glance at the two foot Buddha fountain on my coffee table when he asked me if I felt like violence was the best way to resolve political issues. I told him about how I was politically active, sending letters with clubs at school and participating in marches and protests locally, and that all of the groups I participated with were non-violent.

They closed up with the standard questions about if we had drugs and weapons. In the spirit of over-disclosure, I advised him my roommate had an athame. His look of sudden interest made me quickly add that it was ceremonial, symbolic blade protected by his first amendment right to freedom of religion. The disappointed look on ballcap’s face made it clear he had thought it was something more interesting than a dull, useless knife used by Wiccans.

They left, and as soon as they were out of the building’s back hallway, I reached for the phone to call my mother. We had a landline, and it cut out while I was dialing. After about a minute or two, the phone began working, but there was an echo only audible on my end during the call. After talking to my mom, I decided to walk over to a friend’s place.

The agents were still parked out behind my apartment when I left. When they saw me come out, they pulled off right away. After I got to my friend’s place, it turned out that the FBI had been there a week prior, and they had spoken to his neighbor. They had been looking for a guy and a girl in a green Subaru. My roommate drove a green Subaru. Suddenly the pieces all fell into place.

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks

Two weeks before that, all three of us had had brunch at the vegetarian café up the street from his apartment. We had been talking about The Zombie Survival Guide and our zombie survival plan, which was humorously elaborate and involved several elderly men coming with us. Someone overheard us, and then followed us out. They watched us walk up to my friend’s apartment, and then saw us get in our car and drive away.

They didn’t get our license plate, which is what likely accounts for the delay in the FBI finding us. I’ve often wondered how many green Subarus there are in this town, which has a population of roughly a million people, if you count the adjoining suburbs. How many people did they talk to before they talked to us? It certainly took a long time for them to track us down.

My phone buzzed for weeks. For a while, my roommate answered the phone by saying “The eagle has landed.” I got passive-aggressive about it by talking to my friends in Spanish on the phone, hoping that would force the FBI to pay someone to translate a conversation about Deconstructionism or someone’s ex being a dick.

More than that annoying echo in my phone, the thing that stuck in my head after the agents left was the ballcap’s parting words. He told me to be careful about what I said in public, because people are always listening. It’s true and it’s not true. I had just written an essay on Discipline and Punish, I was keenly aware of how he was trying to intimidate me.

I am sad to say that it worked. It has taken me years to recover from that experience. Although it was funny in many ways, it was also terrifying, and it left me very paranoid about going in public and eating in restaurants. Cannabis would eventually prove to assist me in that regard, but that is a story for another day.

The things that should most upset people about this experience are not the ridiculous and unnecessary infringements on my rights; they are the things the FBI couldn’t figure out for itself and the amount of money wasted on a stupid conversation about zombies between three dorks.

Field agents in the FBI in our area weren’t familiar with common terms used by a minority religion. They couldn’t be bothered to call my school and obtain a copy of my grades or a schedule of my classes, both of which the school would likely have readily handed over. They spent two weeks looking for us for a very ridiculous reason (zombie virus). They (probably) tapped my phone, even after talking to me for an hour.

I’d say calling them “intelligence” agents is a bit of a stretch. Those are our tax dollars hard at work.