Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale High...
Sunnydale High School…
I had never thought to entertain the notion that I would be standing on that infamous campus from the fictions of television, but looking back from now, I must accept the perverse humour that the Powers-That-Be had decided to inject into my existence from that point, for until I had come to the end of my flight from the banal existence that I had led previously, and had at last seen the respite that the town of Sunnydale had offered me, how would I have ever known that I would somehow become enmeshed in the struggles of a very few young people and their mentor against the endless hordes of the damned? I recalled with a bitter conscience the old cliché that meant that a person could always see things clearly in retrospect, but I always had preferred to look forward and see things clearly, and thus to have a plan of action in place prior to the foreseen event, rather than to look backward after the fact, after the whole regretful incident regardless of its nature or origin, and wonder in the darkest corners of my memory what I could have done better to improve my lot or to prevent whatever sinister agent that lurked in the dark tunnels and alleys of Sunnydale from enacting its dreadful scheme. I would not, I swore to myself as I surveyed the, quote-unqoute, “Hallowed” halls of this institute of public education, permit myself to descend into complacence and become another of the many that, out of their own requirement of insulation and provision of safety, poorly react to whatever circumstances they feel they can do nothing to resolve beyond simple preservation of the self and the immediate family. I walked toward the principal’s office with tool kit in hand, remembering from those same televised fictions of over a decade ago the image of the man known as Snyder, almost at once recalling also that the man was particularly disagreeable with both students and the faculty, and I prepared myself for a dreadful encounter with what one of the main characters from the fiction described as a homunculus, a particularly vile personage that no one would miss were an unfortunate accident to befall him. I resolved myself to not take much stock in what the fictions had predicted, trusting instead in the proof offered by my own senses.
Within perhaps a minute of looking around I had noticed the door to the administration wing of the campus, and upon closer examination once I passed the threshold of the office space my eyes fell upon the nameplate affixed to the door I sought, a fairly nondescript item that read:James SnyderPrincipal
Upon which I presently made a direct approach to the desk behind which sat a rather attractive female of the species, around forty years of age or so judging by the slenderness of the wrists and the delicately aged skin of her hands, who I immediately acknowledged by the nameplate on her desk as the principal’s secretary. I halted about two feet from the front of the desk and presented my driver’s license and credentials, announcing myself:
“Ma’am? Doug Bartson, the new maintenance head, I’m here to see Principal Snyder?”
After a second she had finished some unnamed task that she had been attending to, and she looked up to regard me with blue, intelligent eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses over a delicate, Italian nose and sharp, defined cheekbones over a strong, square jaw and a set of full lips painted violet, all of which a rich mane of black hair interspersed with subtle hints of blue and violet, arranged so that from one angle she appeared to have a full head of dark blue hair and from another angle, purple. A slow smile caressed those full violet lips which shared their hue with the several strands of violet in her hair. I confessed to myself at that moment that she was quite the looker and would have been a fine date for men of any reasonable age, younger or older, and I wondered also if I could be bold enough to ask her out on a date with me, though I had not much to offer her in the way of entertainment beyond casual conversation. I would learn later that she had caught the eyes of many males within the student body and the faculty as well, and she had a particular penchant for seductively teasing the same as she walked past to and from her station in the administration wing. My reverie passed in but a moment, after which she replied in a lilting contralto like silk and honey:
“Yes, Mr. Bartson, he’s expecting you. Welcome to Sunnydale High.”
I said to her “Thank you, Ma’am,” and walked around her desk with purpose to Snyder’s office and knocked on the door in the manner in which I had been trained from basic, three firm raps upon the faux wood of the door and waiting for his acknowledgement.
“Come in”, he called out. Now I had promised myself that I would not permit myself to react openly to any sense of unease, nor to any hint that the fictions surrounding this place might not be fiction after all, but I immediately found myself loathing the man at once just from the sound of his voice, which had an undertone of malice and ill intent. I opened the door and went inside, taking my first look at the throne room of the lord of Sunnydale High School. At first glance it was unremarkable, a simple office room with a large glass wall behind the monarch’s throne and desk. Over low tables were displayed in wood frames the accolades of the principal during his educational years, his titles and symbols of heraldry. The tables themselves were sparsely furnished and polished to a brilliant lustre, and a low couch made with rich dark leather matched the dark wood finish of the desk and the throne. Behind the throne, looking outside with his back to the door was the monarch himself, appearing for all the world like an appointee to an office he did not wish for nor appreciate, and suddenly I found myself recalling an old animated film in which the main villain was a man of such short stature as to seem ridiculous, were it not for the fact that he was the lord and master of his realm. For all of Snyder’s simplicity, I saw not a simple salaried worker but Lord Farquand himself; the man barely cleared five feet in height. Were he to sit on his throne, its own majesty would eclipse even his.
Snyder turned to me finally, and I saw for myself why he was frequently referred to as a “homunculus”. The mouldings of his face resembled more a member of the genus Rodentia than one of the human persuasion; his small eyes, sunken under an upward=sloping brow, seemed to dart this way and that as though constantly searching for predators or prey, and his ears seemed overly large for a man of his station, as though, like his eyes, they twitched at the slightest sound of a seditious or rebellious student. And though his nose did not twitch incessantly in the manner of a rodent, I got the clear impression that Snyder could sniff out a test cheater or an otherwise disobedient pupil, and together with his keen hearing and eyesight, the diminutive principal would home in on his prey and pounce eagerly, rending him or her to ribbons.
“Mr. Bartson,” he said in that loathsome, spite-laden voice of his, “Welcome to Sunnydale High. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say you’re going to have an interesting career here.” He reached toward his chair and turned it so he could sit down, and indeed my suspicions were confirmed as, when the lord of the manor took to his throne at last, the comfortable leather chair completely dwarfed the small man, muting his features with shadow, and his eyes seemed to brighten ever so slightly like those of a rodent in the dark. “Please have a seat,” he continued, as he reached for a manila folder on his desk. He then opened the folder, and a couple of turned pages later, his eyes widened ever so slightly. “I see you have an interesting resume, Mr. Bartson. You worked for a number of years as a contractor for various construction companies, in places like BASF and Dow Chemical Texas Operations,” (I had thought that my work history, such as it was, would have to remain intact; to search for work under a false resume would not gain me ought in the way of gainful employment, regardless of which identity I used; better to hide the lie in at least one grain of truth than construct an entire fabrication of my work history that would fool no one.) “Freeport LNG as a pipefitter helper, and finally you achieved some sort of certification as a journeyman pipefitter, after which you decided to change your career and pursue an interest in the educational department. I have to ask, sir, what persuaded you to turn away from industrial construction? Why not continue in what obviously promised to be quite a lucrative career for you?”
My answer was simple, and I was quite glad to have rehearsed it so well:
“Mr. Snyder, my career interests would have eventually found me in the educational industry in some capacity or another. I always enjoyed working in a setting that provided opportunities for young people to grow and achieve adulthood in a favourable manner. I learned eventually that to continue working in the plants would have been detrimental to my long=term health, and I have no wish to learn what mesothelioma feels like, nor to experience firsthand the breathing problems associated with one who has breathed asbestos fibres for twenty years or more, and all for the sake of acquiring more wealth than I personally need. My preferences tend to lean towards the simpler pleasures, and for me the finer things in life are by far the simpler, and with those met, and no more, I am content.”
A simple “Hmm” from Snyder was all I got for my well-thought response; whether he bought it or not remained to be seen at this point, but he looked down at my resume once again. After a minute the voice of the rodent spoke again –
“You graduated from Brazosport College with an AA in General Studies, but your educational record leads me to believe you would have been better off working somewhere other than in the construction industry. Criminal Justice, criminal law, a healthy dose of teacher prep education…you could have picked any well-meaning career you wanted, but then the bills do have to be paid on time, so I can see you having to scrape by while you better yourself and prepare for a better career and a better life later on. I do admire the strategy, sir, I do, but you wanna know something?”
At that moment he took a lighter, which shocked and appalled me at the audacity of the man to have for any reason a device that was inherently linked to tobacco use in an environment that quite vigorously forbade such paraphernalia, and he lit one corner of the paper which contained my resume, watching with joy and pride as the flame grew hotter and brighter as it consumed and carbonized the wood-based material in little more than a moment. When the paper had burned to sufficiency, Snyder took a simple metal plate and placed the remnant of my work credentials to smoulder into fine ash. As the wisps of smoke rose from the tray, the principal looked me squarely in the eyes and continued speaking.
“I don’t personally care where you came from or who you are, just as long as you can do the work I give you to do. I personally hate children, and I despise teenagers even more. Slackers and hormone-crazed cretins, that’s all they are, and even this institution of learning, which I think is a total crock in and of itself, cannot hope to brighten the dull gleam in their eyes for even the slight chance that they might amount to little more than flipping burgers at any local fast food establishment. But the state of California says that we have to have a public education infrastructure in each town, including this one, and to keep students from moving with their families to other communities that might offer a competitive quality of education, our buildings must be in top order, and that’s where you come in, Mr Bartson. Do we understand each other?”
“I believe we do, Mr. Snyder,” I replied confidently. And that was the extent to which I had expressed my discontent with standing in the presence of this arsehole. I had figured early on that this excuse
of a man did not enjoy his position for any reason other than to lord it over the rest of the school, students and faculty alike, and now I positively loathed him and would have gladly expressed my intense dislike of the rodent-faced man in the most unique manner possible to my rather overworked imagination at the moment, save for the fact that the school district of Sunnydale had just now become my employer. To do otherwise, needless to relate, would have imperiled my income, and so I held my peace.
The rodent nodded his head, then, and said “Good. Then I want you to go home and enjoy the rest of your day, and tomorrow I want you to take your first tour of inspection, starting with the boiler room in the basement and working your way up. Bring your results to me first thing when you’re finished, yes?”
“Thank you for your confidence, Mr. Snyder. I look forward to it.”
“Go home then. We’ll see you tomorrow.”