Breakdown: The Condition
Here it is, another one of those days in which every time Chalice Sinclearly inspects his fingernails he finds that dirt has managed to pack under their unbitten tips. He’s straightened a paperclip and he’s been using it throughout the morning to scrape the dirt out. Thank God it’s malleable, the dirt that is (not the morning); even if it’s wavering towards a very dark purple hue – which is fairly distasteful, as most anything else that leans surreal proves to be – it always moves easily enough. Yet no matter how many times he tills the dirt out from under his nails, more gets under them within the hour, half-hour even. It’s one of those days.
He’s in the office, a presumably sterile workplace. He’s not at home where he might actually use a tool or pick up a rag—use his hands in some genuine act of manly labor, however minuscule that act may prove to be. Chalice will be the first to show you his hands are not callused. He’s no factory hardass; he’s no weekend grease monkey; he’s no laborer in that sense. In fact, it’s probably too late in his life for the skin stretched over his hands to ever become anything close to resembling what more than likely is the intended character of that farmer character’s hand in American Gothic. He spends his weekdays moving a mouse around within a diameter of only a few inches, for Christ’s sake; he finger punches keys on an ergonomically correct keypad. Chalice is no he-man, and he knows this. When he lifts the hood of his unAmerican economy car, the only thing he knows under there is where to pour the wiper fluid. … He works in a cubicle in an office that has a legal immigrant come in after hours each workday to re-tidy the already mostly tidy. He himself regularly uses air dusters and disinfectant wipes on his equipment. So, how the hell does dirt get under one’s nails in a place like this?
But what’s even worse, his hands feel sticky. Not clammy, more sticky than that. Gross, really, sort of like how the skin on his brow is presently feeling: like way too much lotion’s been plopped in one spot and left there to encrust under the dry heat conditions of a retirement spent in the deserved pursuit of skin cancer. But the skin stretched over his cheek bones feels different than that—those swaths of skin are experiencing a weird, I’ve-just-beheld-my-future type of embarrassed-like strain. … Chalice Sinclearly is bald, has been for two decades, nonetheless he can’t stop itching at his phantom curls. … Yes, friends, he did bathe before coming in to work today. Even so, he feels gooey – he wants to rip himself out of himself and scream a little scream of conclusive inescapability: Fuck me!
It’s one of those days. …
He hides the straightened paperclip amidst the binder clips and the undestroyed paperclips that sit sloppily in the front tray of his desk organizer. Though hidden to the passing eyes of colleagues and supervisors, the cleaning instrument remains easily accessible for him. It’s nearing spring outside, but year-round the management company keeps the office building at a temperature that is only a smidgen warmer than the one he keeps his wife frozen at in their home throughout Chicago’s half-year winters. Regardless, the pen he has just lifted from the desk in his cubicle feels like room temperature Baklava in his fingers:
“So this is what it’s come down to,” Chalice begins writing, “getting myself all twisted up inside the flesh and drug trafficking trades all because I thought I could be strong and cool when after eight long and productive years of sobriety I decided in a spontaneous state of confidence to go ahead and have a sample of tequila at the liquor store. I had gone there – as I had done many times in my AA-serving past – to purchase a nice bottle of wine for my husband to enjoy with our supper. He adores his wine, and I never believed for a second that his cultured enjoyment should suffer because I had gotten myself to the point where at the age of 40 I was still, just as I had throughout my 20s and 30s, using up too many sick days and vacation days due to the alcoholic shakes. He gave me the ultimatum eight years ago: shape up or ship out. I shaped up.
“But that one taste prompted me to buy a bottle for myself, and I started downing that bottle of tequila on the drive home and instead of ever arriving home I ended up in this motel room a few states over, making cash off cocaine and cooter to keep me high, high, high. I’m sure people are looking for me; but I’m gone. Long gone. So I’m figuring I should try to leave behind an account of my demise—of my about-face from an everyday, humdrum reality to this fast-wick disaster that my world’s become.”
Chalice has his character pull the ballpoint and ink chamber out of her Bic, flick the end cap off, then bend away from the page before her and lean to an ash-ridden end table to use the disemboweled pen to snort a thick line off the jewel box of the X release that uses her current condition for its cover image. … She’s reassembling the pen. … She’s now ready to write again; let’s see where Chalice takes this character. … Well, no; hold it—Chalice has paused to read over what he’s written so far.
… Hmm? He rips the sheet from the pad and drops it in the garbage. The phone in the cubicle rings and he answers it before it can ring a second time. He politely states the company’s name, not his own, and asks, “How can I assist you?” And as the client on the other end begins to make an inquiry, Chalice Sinclearly leans over and grabs the sheet from the garbage and crosses out what he had just written. In the open space remaining on the sheet, he begins to jot down lines:
Boredom n.: Truth coked
Outed in a nervous motel room’s
Breakdown: The condition
One appeals for from life
Nonplussed by the tasking
Of no risk making: Moment
101 one checks into once
Being pushed by the ability
To afford the things that hide
The horror they’re purchased
Out of a conscious checking
Out from the choke needed to
De-poem the poetry of a poet.
The phone in the cubicle rings again, and again he answers it before it can ring a second time. Again, he politely states the company’s name, not his own, and he again asks, “How can I assist you?” Upon hearing the client’s voice, he realizes that he’d hung up on the client at “Breakdown: The condition.” As he commences upon an emphatic apology that is in actuality, of course, one big lie, Chalice pens a title to the lines that one day actually transmute into this finished piece:
Pushed by the means
to season the substance
of lines that recuse
the horror they are
Checking out from
the choke needed
To de-poet the poetry of a poem.
He jots down “Moment 101.”