Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Absence of Noise

"If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." - Doug Larson

How strange our language is, to define certain things as the absence of other things.

I'm specifically thinking of the word quiet, which is defined by Ye Olde Dictionary as the absence of noise.  Noise--yes, that can be defined, and pointed to; we all know noise when we hear it.  Right?  But quiet?  It's--well, um, it's the lack of, um, well, it's, I guess, it's the lack of noise.

See what I mean?

There are any number of sonic physical definitions we could come up with.  After all, sound is merely a vibration in the air around us, and that is easily measured in terms of decibels.  I suppose one could--and, now that I think on it, someone probably already did--specify "quiet" as a certain number of dBs.  Still, that seems a waste, since few of us carry dB-meters around with us.

That said, we all know what quiet sounds like, right?

Quiet's certainly not the only word that's defined like that.  Take my own pastime, writing.  It's got an entire category of genres--and here I refer to non-fiction--that is defined by what it is not.  Fiction is fairly well defined; it is prose that's imaginary, made up, false.  Romance, for example, is fiction (take that for what it's worth).  The same is true of science fiction, but I suppose that one was too obvious.

So the antonym, or opposite meaning word, of fiction is truth, right?  Problem is, that space in the bookstore contains far too many books by folks like Rush Limbaugh to be called "The Truth Section."  Thus, I imagine its title is the result of a bookseller of old nodding at it and saying, "Forsooth, verily, I supposeth that yon volumes be not entirely made up."  Not Entirely Made Up is too long a title for that area, though.

Hence, the non in non-fiction.

But I digress.

I've written about quiet before.  Then, it wasn't completely quiet; I was actually surrounded by the beautiful crescendo of a natural wooded environment awakening for a splendid fall morning.  This morning, on the other hand, the lack of noise was pretty much complete.

I awoke to a power outage.

I didn't realize it at first.  Upon my eyes fluttering to their open position, I noticed a couple of things in rapid succession.  The first was that it seemed quiet--but then again, it was morning in our new Mobile, Alabama, home, a solidly brick house with a decent quantity of sound-proofing.  Second, my bladder was full, full, full.  The second sensation rapidly overwhelmed the first, and so I staggered toward the bathroom along a path I'd already walked a few times that was luckily rather well back-lit by the morning sun streaming through the open window shade.

As usual, I closed the bathroom door first so as to not disturb my beautiful wife's slumber, and only when the door latch caught did I flip the light switch to its on position.

Nothing happened.

Now, I wasn't entirely awake yet.  That, and my mind was occupied in dealing with the screaming sensation coming from my bladder.

Slowly it dawned on me that what should've happened--a bathroom appearing before my very eyes--hadn't, and that could only mean one of two things: either the bathroom had been taken away in the middle of the night, or the light switch was broken.  So I did the only thing any sane person would do: I reached over, flipped the light switch back off, and then moved it back up again.

Again I was shocked by the amount of nothingness that happened.

By this point I was coming out of my morning stupor enough to wonder if it could be a power thing--I didn't take those electrical engineering classes at West Point for nothing, after all--but also by this point my bladder was starting to wrap itself around my entire abdominal cavity and do its best boa constrictor impersonation.  Luckily I knew pretty much where the toilet was, and I'd learned a secret trick long ago that drastically improves my aim first thing in the morning, especially in the dark. 

(don't tell anyone, but I'll share it with you--the secret trick is called sitting down.  I manage to avoid hitting the seat and the floor 100% of the time when I do that little amazing trick--just, never in public.  I am, after all, a manly man)

Bladder finally satisfied, I sallied forth to discover the extent of the not-noise.  Our bedroom ceiling fan was off, I noticed for the first time.  It's almost always on, and though it's not a noisy one, its soft shwoop-shwoop is noticeable in its absence, once you--um, notice it.  The main bathroom similarly didn't have any light no matter how many times the switch was flicked.  Every appliance in the kitchen was dark, and even the little guy in the refrigerator refused to turn that light on when I opened the door.

Definitely, the power was out, I realized as I closed the refrigerator door.  See how much good that excellent EE education I received was doing for me?

I tried using the spiffy cell phone app the power company has to check it.  Problem is, Mississippi Power and Alabama Power are so close together--literally--that they use the same system, apparently, and so when I signed in I got a "well, of course your power is out; your account was closed five years ago," message.  No, no, no--not that account in Biloxi, this one here in Mobile, I told my cell phone, which for once didn't prove itself smarter than me.

Finally I called the actual phone number, and right away they told me that there was, in fact,a power outage, and that crews were working on it, and that power was expected to be restored within a couple of hours.

Ahhhhh, I was finally able to say.  Coming up: a couple hours of--well, of quiet, and today I'm working the late shift and don't have to be in till afternoon, which meant that I could enjoy the entirety of it.

What was I to do?

Sleep, was the obvious answer, and so I did the only sane thing I could think of.  I went back to bed.

Have a great day, and--oh, by the way, have a great 2015!


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