A History of the Darkling Eclectica

Well, from my point of view, anyway

by Michael H. Payne, Air Personality

Part Eight

         The first time Ned slammed the hammer into his hand instead of into the antenna wire and spun with a shriek, his wooden arms flailing, the hammer flying from his grip as he toppled off the desk into me, his feet swinging around to boot me in the chest and knock me into the floor, the crash of the hammer imbedding itself three inches deep in the wallboard audible even through the ringing in my ears, I just got up, dusted myself off, wrenched the hammer out, and helped him back up onto the desk.

         The fourth time this all happened, though, I pushed myself into a sitting position, rubbed at the throbbing in my temples, and asked the heap of black sticks Ned had collapsed into, "Are you sure we're doing this right?"

         With a rattle, he sat up, one bushy hand rubbing the burnt corks of his eyes. "Well, I'm sure the method's right. Maybe we're just using the wrong hammer."

         I moved over, began untangling his legs. "It's a poor workman who blames his tools, Ned."

         "I s'pose." He shook his arms back into their correct positions and hauled himself up. "But if we had a compressed air nail gun, I'll bet this sorta thing wouldn't happen."

         The desk beside us gave a snort, and El Brujo climbed from the deep drawer out onto the carpet next to me. "Oh, yeah," she said. "The sort of carnage you idiots could wreck with something pneumatic would make this little mess look like Martha Stewart's house. Now, are you gonna stop and let me sleep, or do I hafta get rough?"

         Ned wielding a nail gun wasn't anything I wanted to contemplate, either, so I had to nod as I squeezed between the desks, peeled away a chip or two of plasterboard, and started working the hammer from its hole. "She's right, Ned. We get any higher-tech than this acoustic nail banger, and I don't think the office could take it."

         The slit of Ned's mouth drooped. "But we're living in the machine age! Instant communication, computer networking, global villages, just...just everything! Without a nail gun, we're gonna be left behind!"

         I blew out a breath. See, when Ned was born, most of Orange County was still bean fields, stands of corn, orange groves, and strawberry patches: a scarecrow like him could hope to find work for the rest of his days.

         But people, pavement, and the inexorable force of progress put an end to all that, and I think watching it happen made quite an impression on Ned. He's forever fishing old IBM brochures out of the trash bins around campus and bringing them into the office. "It's the machine age!" he says, waving the brochures at whoever's available. "And we're not keeping up!"

         Now, back when Mr. Hyniof was still chaircreature, Ned got nowhere. But, well, I found it all sort of interesting: Ned's enthusiasm can be pretty contagious, and the way he talked--I mean, this was 1984, years before the nowadays ubiquitous information superhighway. I guess the newness, the potential adventure of it all just caught me up.

         So, when I became acting chaircreature after El Brujo cast Mr. Hyniof off into the Incandescent Paradox, the first thing I did was go over the operations logs, Ned right at my side, to see if our annual supply budget could support the major investment even a basic IBM com- puting system was back in those days.

         The answer was fairly disappointing. "Our budget is seventy-two dollars?" Ned asked, his mouth drooping. "We're supposed to run a machine age office on that?"

         I poked the ledger. "Seventy-two dollars and forty-four cents, and remember, that's the full amount for the fiscal year. It looks like Mr. Hyniof's already spent $8.27 on Mars Plastic erasers and $11.03 for new blotter pads to replace the ones El Brujo keeps shredding. Which leaves us--"

         Ned's fingers twitched, and his face fell. "Fifty-three dollars and fourteen cents! We can't get anything for that!"

         All I could do was nod. "We have to look at the big picture, Ned. I mean, the 'Hey, Your Nose is on Fire' Industries annual report was what, eighteen pounds of paper? And we got one word on the list of new offices opened." I put an arm around the wooden slat that served as his shoulders. "We'll just have to make do with what we already have."

         Ned blinked at me. "But we don't have anything!"

         "Oh, come on." I looked around the office. "We have four desks, seven filing cabinets, and two credenzas, don't we? And what about that Smith-Corona Sterling 12 of Mr. Hyniof's?"

         He rolled his eyes. "A manual typewriter? Even electric ones are out-of-date: computers are the future!"

         "Ah." I tried to think. "Well, what about the stuff El Brujo found when she searched Mr. Hyniof's office?"

         Again, his eyes rolled. "Two more desks, two empty filing cabinets, and a Mr. Dancing Bean Coffee Maker, whatever that is. Nothing useful, at any rate."

         I sighed and closed the ledger. "Well, moping won't help any. I mean, if it was up to me, you could order the fanciest silicon-based whatnot you could find. But we just haven't got the funds for it."

         For a moment, his mouth going sideways, I thought he was going to start arguing, but at last he nodded, gathered up his catalogues, and put them back into his desk.

         They stayed in there, too, for the rest of the week, and by Sunday, as I was heading up the Gateway Commons' stairs to the office, I was starting to congratulate myself on my handling of such a potentially tricky situation.

         Then I jiggled the part of the bannister that made the section of stairs rise up, granting access to the office door, and there stood Ned, his straw face positively beaming, another brochure fluttering in his hands. "I've got it!" he shouted. "It's perfect, and it's only thirty-six dollars!"

         I gently pushed him back into the office so the stairs could close behind us and managed to get to my desk before he was flapping the brochure in my face. "It's perfect!" he said again. "I've been so depressed all week, I've been wandering through the drainage tunnels underneath the campus, and last night it was just laying there! It's perfect!"

         I managed to get the brochure away from him, a single sheet of paper folded in half with the words "The New Wave in Computer Technology!!!" visible through the brown stains on the front. I unfolded it, and on the inside I read, "The Pauly- Wisowa E25!! Tomorrow's Technology Available Today At Yesterday's Prices!!"

         And below this was a picture of...well, see, back then, I was still working in the Main Library on campus as a janitor, and part of my job was uncrating the computers for the new on-line catalogue as they came in. So I dealt with computers pretty much every day at my other job. And this thing in the picture, it didn't look like any computer I'd ever seen.

         It looked, in fact, like one of those old fashioned typewriters, you know: big, black, cast-iron, the keys round and flat at the front, the back arching up so you could see all the type rods.

         The platen, though, was a lot bigger than I'd seen on any other typewriter and from the picture seemed to be made of some clear material. It didn't have any paper rolled into it, and it had a couple cables attached to the side, one ending in a pair of rabbit-ear antennae like TVs used to have, and the other leading to a foot pedal, the kind you'd find on a sewing machine, I remember thinking.

         And in faded red letters was the price: $35.95, postage and handling included.

         I blinked at the picture, then at Ned. He was grinning from ear to ear...I mean, if he had ears. "It's perfect," he said. "It's a local company and everything."

         Sure enough, the paper showed the Pauly-Wisowa company as being on Gilbert Street up in Garden Grove. I looked at Ned again, a little tickle of excitement in my chest, and handed him the brochure. "Get a requisition form," I said. "We're entering the machine age."

         He had the form filled out and back to me within the hour. I signed it, got all the payment paperwork in order, and when I was done for the evening, dropped the envelope into the mail box there at the bus stop. Sure, it didn't look like any computer I'd ever seen, but, I reasoned, the ones I worked with probably weren't the newest models.

         So we settled in to wait. March turned into April, and before I knew it, school was letting out for summer. And still, no computer.

         In June, I arranged with the management at KUCI to move the radio program from the deadly Sunday morning 3 till 6 timeslot into a slot on Saturday mornings from 3 to 6, something that worked much better for me. And still, no computer.

         We got word that August from "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries that I was to remain acting chaircreature until the first of the year, after which time a new chaircreature would be available to take over the office. I sent back that the earliest they could manage to get someone real out here, the better I'd like it. And still, no computer.

         Then fall kicked in. I started my second year as a UCI undergrad and convinced the folks at the radio station to move the show up to the time it still holds today: Saturday morning from 6 till 9. And still, no computer.

         Which brings us to December of 1984. Now, to be honest, I'd pretty much given up on the Pauly-Wisowa company. I mean, six to eight weeks I can understand, but eight months with no word at all?

         But Ned never gave up hope. Every evening when I brought the mail in, he'd look from his desk, shrug, smile, and go back to work. And since he'd stopped waving catalogues at me, I didn't mind at all. I'd done as much as I could. Maybe when the new chaircreature arrived, I'd bring the matter up, but if Ned was content to wait, so was I.

         Finally, though, on the Saturday before Christmas, one of those fine southern California December evenings, a breeze making the long shadows chilly, the sun big and orange through the trees of Aldritch Park--though it wasn't called Aldritch Park back then since Dan Aldritch was still the chancellor of UCI and alive--I was coming up the loading dock at Gateway Commons, ready to go in and finish the show report from that morning, when a package caught my eye, a big cardboard box sitting against the wall next to the door, "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" scrawled across the top in blue felt tip marker.

         It hadn't been there that morning when I'd stopped by the office to pick up the playlist, I knew, but a quick look up and down the loading dock revealed no one, the school being out for winter break and all.

         But since it was addressed to us, I hefted it, a lot heavier than it looked, trudged up the stairs, jiggled the bannister, and moved through the panel into the office. Ned was there, and as usual, his head came up as I staggered in, but this time his cork eyes went wide and he slowly got to his feet. "You s'pose?" was all he said.

         I was too out-of- breath to reply, but I let the package down onto my desk as gently as I could and gave him a nod.

         "Yes!" he said softly. He pulled the long drawer of his desk open and started rummaging, but of course the scissors weren't there: a search finally brought them to light under El Brujo's desk. "Okay!" Ned said. "Machine age, here we come!"

         I used the scissors--Ned's hands aren't exactly designed for them-- and after a few clips, I folded the flaps back. Styrofoam pellets scattering in all directions, we finally got the bundle out of the box, unwrapped the butcher's paper, and there sat our Pauly-Wisowa E25.

         "Wow," Ned muttered, the wrapping paper tangled in his fingers. "The future, right here in front of us. It's more beautiful than I'd ever imagined."

         I wouldn't've gone that far myself. And, in fact, now that the thing was right there in front of me, I realized that neither of us had the faintest idea how to make it work. "Uh, say, Ned." I gestured to the wrapping. "You suppose there's instructions in there anywhere?"

         "What?" He blinked at me. "Uhh, gee, I, uhh..."

         I nodded. "You didn't think of that either, huh?"

         He didn't reply, just raised the wrapping, shook it over the desk, and we both watched a scrawled and crumpled note drift down onto my blotter. I picked it up, smoothed it out, and read:

         "Please accept my sincerest apologies for the delay in delivering your Pauly-Wisowa E25. What with the lawsuits, the seizure of my stock for rent arrears, my wife filing that restraining order and all, I have found it necessary to spend the last eight months in the jungles of Peru. Enclosed please find my last E25. I've been carting it around, waiting for a chance to slip in under the Coast Guard's radar and drop it at your office. I' m sorry to say no instruction books survived the fire, but I've found the machine works very well if you roll a piece of paper into the platen and type onto it."

         And the note was signed, "Yours in flight, Gustav Pauly."

         I looked from the note into Ned's blank stare, then down to the thing sitting on my desk, the foot pedal attached, a length of antenna wire coiling from the side. "Well," I said after a moment, "nothing wrong with having a second typewriter."

         "No." The tone of his voice made me look up, and Ned was shaking his head back and forth, his eyes on the Pauly-Wisowa E25. "We're s'posed to be entering the machine age, and no little thing like not having the instructions is gonna stop us!" He leaned over his desk, threw the long drawer open, and pulled out a hammer. "You got any nails?"

         And, unfortunately, I did.

         And I guess that's where I opened, Ned standing on the unoccupied desk, trying to hammer the antenna wire up, missing and falling and knocking me over and going on about how a nail gun would save us from all that. "Those old fashioned tools just don't cut it anymore," he was saying now. "This is the machine age!"

         "That's it," Brujo hissed. "That's the sixty-ninth 'machine age' I've heard from you. I hear a seventieth, and I'm gonna be finding out what's inside that straw-wrapped head of yours."

         "Oh, yeah?" Ned's tone made me turn from where I was trying to pry the hammer out of the wall, El Brujo squatting on my desk, her fur fluffed up, Ned standing in the aisle, his arms crossed. "Like you do anything around here but sleep! Like you--"

         Her ears folded back with a growl, and I knew it was time to step in. "Okay, okay, okay," I said, moving forward.

         "Back off, simian!" El Brujo's amber eyes snapped over to me. "I already know what's inside a human head!"

         That stopped me, but just for a second. "Look," I said, "I'm sorry we woke you up with all our hammering, but there's no need to threaten anyone. We're done now, and--"

         "What?!" Ned rattled around to face me. "But...but we haven't got the antenna up or anything!"

         I blew out a breath. "We're not going to put the antenna up, Ned. We don't know what we're doing here, so we're going to stop doing it."

         "Hmmph." El Brujo's fur was settling. "I could've told you that half an hour ago."

         Ned was still gaping. "But...but...but," he said again. "But what about the machine age?!"

         "It can get along without us a little while longer." I took the antenna wire from where it had fallen, coiled it up, and set it on the desk next to the E25. "For now, we'll use it as a regular typewriter, and I'll put a note in the next monthly report asking if anyone at headquarters knows how to work a Pauly- Wisowa E25."


         I turned back to him and spread my hands. "That's all we can do, Ned, and that's all we're going to do."

         "Finally." El Brujo stretched, hopped down from my desk, and pulled herself back into her drawer.

         Ned's mouth went sideways, but after a moment he nodded, moved to his desk, and sat down. I went back to trying to pull the hammer out, but after another ten minutes, I decided that it made a nice design feature. So I went back to my desk, too.

         Well, in the next part, we'll have Carmen's first appearance and all that happened then.

Clicking here will allow you to view that next part, Part Nine.

Or to go back to Part Seven of this history, click here.

You can even click here to get back to the Darkling Eclectica Main Page.