A History of the Darkling Eclectica

Well, from my point of view, anyway

by Michael H. Payne, Air Personality

Part Six

         February 17, 1984, a Friday, it was: My FCC license and a couple others were delivered to the studios of KUCI, then located atop Gateway Commons on the beautiful campus of the University of California at Irvine. And the following Sunday at 3AM, I was on the air broadcasting the first episode of the Darkling Eclectica.

         It was the only time I could get a show. I mean, it was the middle of the winter quarter, so people who'd had their licenses back in January had already taken most of the time slots. No one wanted to do a show from 3 till 6 in the morning, though, which gave us new folks a choice of any 3-6 show we wanted. And that Friday afternoon, I got the Sunday morning slot.

         It was a big moment for me, and after getting my time slot, I danced down the Gateway Common stairs, flicked the hidden switch, and scooted under the rising stairway to share my good fortune with my colleagues at our little branch of "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries.

         Ned was sitting at the typing desk, hammering away on the battered green manual Smith-Corona and grousing about it. He'd been grousing about that typewriter ever since Mr. Hyniof had brought it in. "We're a modern office, aren't we?" he would ask, and before I could ever respond, he would continue: "And we need modern office equipment! Computerized workstations at every desk, printers capable of the finest resolution, electric pencil sharpeners, the works!"

         I always felt Ned's upbringing as a scarecrow on an Orange County bean farm had something to do with his mania for machines. "It's the machine age!" he would say. "And we're not doing our part!"

         Every week--twice some weeks, I think--Ned would present his report on how to upgrade our office space to Mr. Hyniof, and every time, all Ned would get in return would be a view of Mr. Hyniof's back as he turned, stomped into his office, and slammed the door.

         Ned never seemed to get discouraged, though, and that Friday when I came in, he was typing up yet another report, the ratty Steelcase and IBM brochures he'd fished from trash bins at the Physical Sciences building there on the desk next to him. "Ned!" I announced, waving the goldenrod sheet of cardstock with my name and the FCC seal on it at him. "I got my license! We start the radio show Sunday morning!"

         "Uh-huh," Ned said, not looking up from his typing.

         "Hey!" The nest of shredded paper on El Brujo's desk stirred, El Brujo's head popping up and scowling at me. "Do you mind? Some of us are trying to sleep here."

         I waved my license at her. "But El Brujo, it's official! The Darkling Eclectica office of 'Hey, Your Nose is on Fire' Industries goes on the air in less than two days!"

         El Brujo's ears folded back, but she didn't say anything: she just turned and subsided back into her piles of paper.

         "Hmmph!" I said. "Well, I'm sure Mr. Hyniof will be glad to hear it."

         "Probably so," Ned answered, still not looking up.

         I squeezed between the desks back to the door to Mr. Hyniof's office and knocked. A few seconds, and it drew open, Mr. Hyniof filling the doorway and chomping his eraser.

         I held up my license. "I got it, Mr. Hyniof. The show's scheduled for Sunday mornings from 3 till 6. I know it's not a very good time, but next quarter, I should be able to--"

         "No," Mr. Hyniof said, using another three of the dozen or so words he spoke to me in the time I worked for him. "Exactly right."

         I shrugged. "Well, yes, I suppose so. I can use the time to get the feel for the place, find out what sort of music I want to play, maybe even get some friends organized to do some readings or plays or some such."

         Mr. Hyniof had turned away while I'd been talking, had reached back into his office, and was now holding a thick blue folder out to me: Darkling Eclectica Playlists it said.

         I looked from it to him. "Sir?"

         He merely shoved the folder into my hands, stepped back, and closed the door to his office.

         I stumbled back to my desk, flopped the folder down onto my blotter pad, opened it up, and there was the first episode of the Darkling Eclectica, all three hours, planned out to the minute: music, readings, what to say during the breaks between songs, everything.

         And that was just the first two pages. The next two pages detailed the second episode of the program, the two pages after that the third episode, and they just went on and on, the first year's worth of the Darkling Eclectica laid out before me in excruciating detail.

         It took me a long couple of minutes to find my voice after that. "He...he's got it all...I won't get to do...won't be able to..."

         Papers rustled on the desk next to mine. "What is it now?" I heard El Brujo grumble.

         I looked over at her, peering out from her nest. "Mr. Hyniof. He's gonna be programming the radio show." I tapped the folder. "I'm just a...just a..."

         "Just a loud, annoying monkey-boy," she finished for me, "keeping honest cats from contemplating enlightenment."

         I waved a hand in the air. "I mean, the reason I wanted to get a radio show in the first place was so I could play the stuff I like to listen to! Pete Seeger! Georg Phillip Telemann! The Mills Brothers! Not to be a...a..."

         "An Air Personality?" Ned asked from the typing desk. "That's what Mr. Hyniof hired you as, remember."

         El Brujo gave a coughing little cat-laugh. "Air Personality?" She cocked her head at me. "The title fits you."

         "Yes, very funny." I looked back at Ned: he'd finished typing his latest proposal and was tapping the pages into alignment against the top of the desk, his twiggy fingers scratching against the papers. "Ned, I can't just sit there and not really do anything the whole show!"

         Ned shrugged, his wooden shoulders clattering. "That's your job." He stood. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I've finally got a presentation that Mr. Hyniof won't be able to ignore. Look out, machine age! Here we come!" He knocked on Mr. Hyniof's door, pushed it open, and stepped inside.

         I went back to the folder, poking through the pages and pages of instructions. I remember that I thought about quitting, telling Mr. Hyniof I wanted to do my own radio show, not someone else's, asking him for whatever resignation forms I would need, walking out from under the rising staircase and ending my six week association with "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries.

         I remember thinking about it, yes, but looking back, I doubt I was thinking about it very seriously. I mean, sure, it was just a regular sort of office job, but how many offices have talking cats on the payroll? Or living scarecrows? Or a gelatinoid, the sort of creature Mr. Hyniof was?

         Yes, I was having trouble with Mr. Hyniof's management style, and yes, he and El Brujo hadn't exchanged a civil word since the cat had come to work here, but it was exciting just being involved in whatever "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries was. I didn't want to leave behind this strange world I'd suddenly found myself in, not when a little creativity on my part might be all it would take to work my way around Mr. Hyniof's restrictions.

         I was starting to feel better about the whole thing when I heard the door to the inner office slam open. I turned, and Mr. Hyniof came trundling out, the eraser jutting from his clenched teeth like FDR's cigarette holder, his hands full of paper scraps and Ned trailing along behind, a dazed look on his canvas face.

         Mr. Hyniof squished his bulk between Ned's desk and the typing desk, then stopped between my desk and El Brujo's. His neck twisted like a thick column of bread dough till his head was facing Ned. "This for your report," Mr. Hyniof said, and he dumped the paper scraps all over the top of El Brujo's nest of shredded paper.

         A yowl rang out from El Brujo's desk, and streamers of paper burst into the air. "The hell!" I heard her shout. "Whaddaya think you're doing?!"

         Mr. Hyniof's head swiveled around. "A mess you have," he said to her. "So a mess I give."

         He began sloshing his way back toward his office, and with him out of the way, I could see the top of El Brujo's desk, the cat crouched in one corner, her ears back, her tail lashing. "I don't want this junk!" she spat out. "I had every scrap in exactly the right resonance to maintain my blocking spells! Now it's all--"

         "Big talk," Mr. Hyniof said, reaching the door to the inner office, "for one who does no work." He stepped inside and closed the door.

         Ned was still standing off behind the typing desk, his cork eyes drooping. "He tore it up," he said. "My whole report, just..." He raised his hands and gestured vaguely toward El Brujo's desk.

         El Brujo was still crouched in the corner, her tail still lashing, her eyes half-closed and fixed on the chaircreature's door. "That's two," she said softly. "One more's all you get, Hynny."

         My good feeling had pretty much evaporated by this time. Ned was gathering up the tattered office catalogs and moving to his desk, El Brujo starting to bat at the new mounds of torn paper on her desk, and I turned back to the folder Mr. Hyniof had given me.

         Talk about tension in the work place....

         And next up, I guess, we'll come to the story of Mr. Hyniof's last day at the office. Don't fail to miss it.

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