I started eating chalk after I got the job as a meter maid. I say meter maid, because meter man isn’t specific to someone who checks parking meters; I might have been a meter reader — a more masculine occupation — but I wasn’t. I checked parking meters. I scratched at tires with the chalker. I checked back. I ticketed. I started the summer after I finished college. When someone asked my girlfriend, Lacey, what I did she would say “He works for the city.” Lacey, your smile lies crooked across your straight, white teeth, and you did not lie when you said that I work for the city. Lacey was relieved when I eventually left the job.
The supply room contains six chalk boxes, twelve pieces of chalk in each, two boxes each of three different colors, white, red and yellow. I approach the box. I smell the chalk. It reminds me of perfect, clean stones under clear water. I open the box of white chalk and look in at the cylinders. They lie there like sardines in a tin looking somewhere else. I remove two of them and hold them. One for me, one for the chalker. I drop one in my pocket and turn to take up the chalker and notice dust on my fingers. I raise my hand to my mouth and then the door opens and I start in a small way. My chalky hand goes to the chalker. I smile at Dale as he enters the closet. Dale drives around emptying the public trash cans. He’s here for absurd, scented can liners. “I’ll tell you what,” says Dale, who usually tells me what, “I can’t wait till we kill this pack of liners and get unscented. I hate the smell.” I agree and I feel sorry for Dale, who has to work with physical objects he hates. There’s no pleasure in that kind of work. He leaves, I finish setting the chalk in the chalker. White dust in the whorls of my finger tips. I lick them clean.
One night over at Lacey’s place, we were having dinner and watching our shows. A commercial for hand sanitizer – set in a classroom – came on, and I followed the blackboard in the background, watching for the chalk. The teacher ended the commercial by writing the name of the sanitizer on the board, and I felt pleased. Chalk doesn’t make it on TV very often. I like to see it represented. My hand went to my pocket, and a nub of chalk I planned to eat on my walk home. I got lost looking forward to the walk home, when I would walk, listen to an Audiobook of “The Sun Also Rises”, and eat chalk, and then noticed too late as Lacey’s dog, Kip, chewed an obnoxious Scandanavian pattern into my leather shoes by the door. Kip, Lacey loves you, but I do not. I would feel no loss if you fell out of the window of Lacey’s third story bedroom and yelped at the sudden contact with cement. I would not waste the chalk necessary to outline your body on the ground.
Most people do not understand that chalk is a perfect taste. It boasts no complexity. It functions on one level of taste, a clean, flat taste. The complexity of chalk exists in its texture. The texture moves from crunch to dust to paste, and I love that transformation.
The first time I tried the chalk, I didn’t think I’d ever try it again. From my whole experience I’m convicted that you need to respect most social boundaries. Tiny transgressions lead to bigger. Once you lick chalk off your fingers, it’s easy to nibble a crumb, and once you’ve nibbled, you’re going to have to try chomping into a whole cylinder. You just shouldn’t ever start.
I didn’t like that I stole the chalk. That weighed on me. But no other product approached what I could get at work. So I stole it. But I found a way to compensate. I started writing one premature ticket every day, for someone who was within 15 minutes of their deadline. The tickets cost the perps 30 dollars a piece, and I don’t know how much chalk that buys, but I’m guessing a good amount, more than I was taking. 30 bucks a day, five days a week, 150 extra dollars a week. I picked this sad blue toyota pretty often. It had a bumper sticker that expressed a strong opinion about people who drive minivans, and which got at least a ticket a week anyway. The car didn’t seem to learn its lesson and I didn’t feel bad at all.
This idea worked better than I expected.