A History of the Darkling Eclectica

Well, from my point of view, anyway

by Michael H. Payne, Air Personality

Part One

         I graduated from Newport Harbor High School here in the coastal deserts south of Los Angeles in June of 1983, missing by one year the chance to be a member of The Class of 1984. I'm just not Orwellian enough, I guess....

         Since I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, I entered the University of California at Irvine in October of 1983. It seemed like a good place for someone with no plans or ideas: no football team, an anteater for a mascot, and close enough so I could take the bus in every day--I continue to be proud of my status as one of the seven people in Southern California who doesn't own a car.

         To help pay my college costs, I got a janitorial job at the Main Library on campus-- sweeping stairs, moving furniture, cleaning gum out of the carpets--and one of my first duties was to remove the clutter of old desks, partially broken chairs, and bent-up shelving that had been slung into the cavernous storage chamber in the library's basement.

         I started on the basement around Hallowe'en of 1983, and at that same time, I entered the training program at KUCI, the university's student-run radio station. I'd been a fan of radio my whole life, and by that I mean real radio: the comedy, variety, and drama programs of the 30s, 40s and 50s. I was also at the time a constant listener to Mike Hodel's Friday night broadcasts over KPFK in Los Angeles, and his terrific readings of science fiction and fantasy short stories had a great influence on what I wanted to do "on the air."

         So passed my first quarter at UCI: I filed "undeclared" as my major, carried seventeen unit of breadth requirement classes, worked my way through the amazing amount of junk in the library basement during the ten hours a week I was allowed to work, and attended KUCI's training meetings.

         By the time Winter Break rolled around, I was still "undeclared," I'd gotten my usual 'B's in my classes, had made a slight dent in the storage chamber--it was as if new stuff grew every night: I never seemed to make any headway--and had sent off my application for an official FCC class A radio broadcasting license.

         Then things got peculiar.

         Just before Winter Break, my boss at the library, Mr. Anthony, called me in. He was concerned that it was taking so long to get the stuff moved from the basement and asked if I could work a full eight hours every day for the two weeks school was out: the renovations on the first floor would start the beginning of January, and they needed somewhere to store the books.

         I shrugged and said, "Sure." I've never had much of a social life--I'd gotten all the way through high school without drinking so much as a glass of beer or kissing anyone who wasn't related to me--so I figured I might as well do something useful instead of just sitting around my whole vacation.

         The first day of Winter Break, I left the house at 6AM, made the half hour trek to the nearest bus stop, arrived at the old campus entrance--where the bridge across Campus Drive is now--at 7:30, put my sack lunch in the janitor's closet up on the fifth floor of the library, then descended into the basement.

         And, well, it's a basement, right? So no windows, and since it was Winter Break, there weren't that many other people in the building. I stacked piles of shelving onto the flatbed truck, freeing up desks and credenzas and filing cabinets that I then had to drag out and divide into those that still had all their working parts and those that didn't, and after a while my stomach growled. I pulled my watch from my pocket, and it said 3:15. I'd apparently worked for seven hours straight without even noticing: I can get a little focused sometimes.

         I went upstairs to eat lunch and to check the bus schedule. Back then the buses ran till 10PM every night, so I wouldn't have to worry about getting left behind if I got focused again and ended up working late. And Mr. Anthony had given me the keys to the loading dock behind the library, so I knew I couldn't get locked in.

         But working a twelve hour day when I was getting paid for eight, that didn't seem too clever from an economic standpoint. I therefore resolved to pay more attention.

         Not that I did. By the second week, I would regularly eat my lunch around 3PM, head back down to the basement, and when I finally figured it was time to knock off, it would usually be close to eight o'clock at night.

         So it was that I was stomping to the door of the storage room that last Friday of winter break, telling myself I was an idiot for working till 9:30, reaching for the light switch, turning to give the place one last look...and I saw a figure standing by the stack of broken chairs I'd cleared from the detritus.

         My fingers kept going, snapped the light off, but the impression of someone standing there had been so vivid, I flicked my fingers in the opposite direction, the lights sprang back on, and I saw...

         Well, imagine a broom, the handle pointed down, the bristles pointed up. Carve those bristles into a diamond shape, burn a couple holes for eyes and a slash near the bottom for a mouth, shape a big nose on the front, and shove a black cardboard hat over the point on top.

         Still with me? Okay, now hammer two wooden legs at the base of the handle, put a crosspiece about where shoulders outta be, and fasten on a pair of arms, the hands more like little bushes than anything you'd normally think of as hands. Make the whole figure just under six feet tall from his slat feet to the peak of his hat, and you've got a pretty fair idea what Ned looks like.

         Suffice it to say he's not the sort of person you mistake for anyone else. As you can perhaps see from the picture...

         So he was standing there as the lights flashed on, and I couldn't do much for a minute but stare. He looked every bit as surprised as I did. "What are you still doing here?" he asked, his voice like a breeze through tree branches.

         I was too busy staring to say more than, "Uhhh..."

         "I can't take this any more!" He was shouting now, the burned holes of his eyes pulsing. "How'm I s'posed to get to work on time if you stay down here all night?! I've still gotta move all this stuff back, and I know Mr. Hyniof's gonna yell at me for being late!" He waved his twiggy hands. "Why do you have to make my life so difficult all the time?!"

         I had no answer to that, so I changed the subject. "Who--or what--are you? And what are you doing down here?"

         "Me?!" He sputtered for a moment. "I live here! I've lived here since they built this place, and I don't appreciate you digging around, upsetting the whole architectural balance! It's taking me longer and longer each night to move the stuff back into place, and I--"

         "What?" I had to stop him there. "Move the stuff back? You mean you...you've been..." It made sense, then, all the hours I'd put into taking stuff out only to have more stuff there the next morning. It also got me a little sore. "Hey, I've been working for three months on this stuff! I don't much appreciate you undoing everything I've done!"

         "Oh, yeah?!" He sneered at me.

         "Yeah!" I tried to sneer back, but I don't think it worked: I've never been much of a sneerer. "Besides," I went quickly on, hoping he wouldn't notice, "I'm a library employee down here on library business, while you're just some squatter who--"

         "Squatter?!" He looked for a minute like he was going to start yelling again, but then he stopped, blinked, shifted the slash of his mouth over sideways, and said, "Well, yeah, okay, I guess I am a squatter." The straw of his forehead wrinkled. "But you wouldn't really tell them I'm here, would you? I mean, it's not much, this old cabinet I'm living in in back of all that junk, but, well, you wouldn't believe the trouble scarecrows have getting apartments."

         I nodded. "Tell me about it. I'm almost nineteen, and I'm still living with my parents."

         He rolled his eyes. "I wish. But my folks've moved back to Illinois: since they've torn most of the fields down and put buildings on them, there isn't much call for scarecrows in Southern California anymore." He sighed. "This job I've got now, it isn't much, but it keeps me from going completely crazy not doing anything at all."

         "I know what you mean." I stopped. "Look, the library folks are pretty much determined to clear this place out so they can store books down here. Maybe we can, I don't know, move your cabinet some where out of the way." I snapped my fingers. "Right over by the freight elevator, there's the supply closet. It's all full of buckets and mops and brooms and like that, and I've been putting excess furniture in there, too: I'm sure no one'd notice another cabinet shoved in the back."

         "Really?" The lipless slash of his mouth curled into a smile. "You mean it?"

         I shrugged. "Sure. If you'll help me get the rest of this junk moved before Monday."

         He stuck out one rustling hand. "It's a deal. I'm Ned, by the way."

         That's how I met Ned, all those years ago. How I got involved with "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries and the rest, I'll save for for Part Two: don't wanna make this thing too long a chunk of text.

If you'd like to go on directly to Part Two, please click here.

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