Chickens and That Human Condition by Charles L. Stafford

And so the man speaks his evil in the room and says that the body of Christ tastes like chicken. He is a liar. The body of Christ tastes like cardboard—not chicken—cardboard is truer than chicken and both thoughts are blasphemous and evil and under God’s scrutiny and once you get on God’s bad side (because we’re all convinced He has one, and our human condition keeps us held to that conviction, no matter what comes out of our mouths) well then, the jig is up. And so you need not try anymore and you give in, as this poor man was prepared to do, indeed planning to do, because giving up was just so much swifter. And he forgets that the moment he gives up he begins a fast and downward spiral where everything is exponentially more difficult.

But that’s what he says and another man (that would be me), sitting in this very same room not ten feet from him says, “Whoa!” as if to pull in the reigns on this wild horse from hell.

We all have our issues; it’s part of the human condition.—That’s why it’s called the human condition, not the human delight. We have a condition rooted in the fact of the fallen. We are creatures blessed with a proclivity toward sin. We have motive. We have opportunity. Nuclear bombs and infidelity and overproduced pop music and murder and artificial trans-fats and greed and the like are the opportunities before us.

We have a condition, which if left unchecked, like mold or cancer, will spread; will consume us like any self-respecting parasite is wont to do which feeds by invitation. And we can fend off the feeding horde, but it will take some doing of a spiritual nature, albeit that the spirit is a slippery one.

The hunt for the Spirit, for big game; the Big Game, the Super Bowl of Serenity, the panacea for all ills brought on by that human condition. And that liar, returns home along the line that bisects heaven from hell, and has his right foot on the fire and his left on the clouds, and neither feels too firm. The fire burns and blisters; the clouds, so billowy, comforting, give way to each step so that the man is falling anyway and the fear of falling remains with him at every instant. So he walks home on this line and arrives well off balance.

He tells his wife he loves her and goes to the shed and looks for sharp equipment to manualate. And manualate is, of course, not a word, but manipulate is wrong and he can’t think of the proper word for what he wants, so he goes with manualate, carrying as he must just a little hint of shame that his vocabulary is quite lacking. And he wonders if his calling came from God and suspects, just suspects, that, in truth, it did not; that it came from him and was fashioned as a passion and a talent that he insists is his due, though he’s very limited in his talents of any and all kinds.

This is precisely why he tells his wife that he loves her and then opts for the shed instead of the comforts of her arms, his bed and her beauty. Because he is talentless; he pries the rusted metal cap off the turpentine bottle and sniffs and considers, because he is not selfless, nor is he self-assured. He is nothing. And the best place to have a relationship with nothing is, as everyone knows, a shed.

And what he couldn’t possibly know—what is, in fact, so far from his consciousness there manualating in his shed—is what I left that room with. I, the man who spoke up, who said “Whoa!” in defense of God, in admonishment of his comrade; that man in quite a dismal loop now… mixing blasphemies of church and Madison Avenue; of Finger Licking Good News, and Jesus McNuggets and all that chicken scratch.

Tastes like chicken…

He can’t get the thought out of his mind: it plays in his head over and over. It has taken the place of the 1-877-CARS-FOR-KIDS jingle that's commandeered the synapses that web this little corner of his involuntary mnemonic circuitry. And this poor bastard (poor me! poor me!) has to walk—not home to a loving (and, as it so happens on this morning, naked and randy and web-prowling without so much as the decency to use the Incognito mode) wife—but instead to a cavern that is the machine that feeds them. And he knows all about Pink Floyd and Roger Waters and “Welcome to the Machine”, and really likes that metaphor because he also knows that God and business are mutually exclusive, and he is of course confounded.

When he arrives in his machine—and it’s not a big machine, like the EMI of the Waters song, but a puny machine that only thinks it’s EMI—actually, to be fair, it thinks it deserves to be EMI, which is worse, of course, because this just weighs the whole thing down with a cold iron chip, so cold it hurts when you touch it—arriving, he sighs in the elevator, stares at the numbers and waits for his own to shine bright. But then he’s through the open door without bothering to check if his number’s come up.

So this poor burdened bastard shuffles in to work and he’s got Christ and chicken on the brain, and the new administrator greets him cheerily: she’s a spacious redheaded sweet tart and her flat hair looks rough and chewed like a withered, raw nipple. And there will be feeding, he knows it—spoor girl. She’ll become known to one-and-all as Big Red.

The pain of humiliation by invitation is, of course, just like being sucked bone dry, inside-out, by an exotic tapeworm who's measured in feet rather than inches; it’s subtler: there’s no burn or flush or throbbing rage, but just some cramps in style and an unmistakable weakening that often leads to increased lethargy. And there we have it, the human condition, right in the pocket as the drummers will say, sticks twirling in their snare hands as if their baton chops might get them a steady studio gig with the actual EMI, at least something close enough.

And drumsticks are never truly satisfactory as they just don’t have the built-in delight that comes from that meaty part of the wing... that must be the chicken’s—what? Shoulder? Well, that’s good meat. Drumsticks are just another empty promise. But so convincing that I defy any of you to avoid falling for it the next time you have chicken. Or holy communion. And the problem here is expectations, always expectations.

And since he's now in the relative privacy of his cubicle, he says it again, this time to himself: “Whoa!” He says it at a decibel level that exceeds the spring-loaded clip of a fingernail next door (the next wall, technically), says it softly, but not soft enough. It was a pinky nail, not a thumb. Frankie has big, thick thumbs.

“Whoa, what?” Frankie's challenge plops over their shared wall and reaches his ears just ahead of a more violent, impressive and undoubtedly wholly satisfying CLICK-CLICK! That was heavy thumbnail work for sure.

“Whoa, nothing,” he mutters. Chicken that he is.

Charles wrote his first short story at the age of fourteen about a secret society of wealthy, unscrupulous panhandlers. He has had a passion for writing ever since, studying English Literature at the collegiate and graduate levels. His literary heroes include Hemingway, Vonnegut, Woolf and Greene. Charles opted against the starving artist route, choosing to leverage his penchant for fiction as a marketing executive for large CPG corporations. In 2008, Charles acknowledged his true passion and left marketing behind in favor of writing full time. In addition to his short stories, Charles has written a screenplay and is currently at work on his second novel. His work has appeared in Venȕ Magazine.