Tuesday, March 1, 2011
In many movies, you can see the sonar operator sweating at his post, straining to hear the slightest evidence of an enemy presence. Sonar is not a magic window on the world, though, it takes years of training to understand what you are hearing. It takes straining to understand what you are hearing; focusing on that one sound and analyzing it.
Radio operators do similar things. They take meaningless sounds and make it into something. Imagine being part of an artillery company, and then hearing the call come in. Did he say 100 meters west? Or did he say 100 litres of your best? Or did he say it thundered peters in the west? You have to strain to understand what you are hearing or you'll be sending willie pete(white phosphorous) in on your friends.
If you grew up during the Cold War, you remember listening to the "BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP, this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System, this is only a test." If it had been a real emergency, the sound would have been followed by important information. We listened to those on the radio. Of course, by the 1980s, they were more for national disasters rather for impending nuclear annihilation. Still, it was something we listened for.
If you saw the movie "Signs" a few years back, you recall the attentiveness that the characters showed to a radio receiver. Listening with your ears is important.
Now, imagine two adults that seem very preoccupied with a radio. They cannot transmit upon this unit. There is no scheduled radio program on it. No one is calling in for fire support. There is no enemy submarine out there about to launch torpedoes. there are no aliens planning the invasion of Earth. It is a simple radio receiver. Nothing more, nothing less. However, the effort the pair puts into listening to the receiver seems out of the ordinary.
While there is no scheduled radio program, there IS music coming out of the receiver. The DJ is not in an office somewhere playing CDs or even records. Once in a while the adults move. As soon as the music stops, they strain to hear anything. ANYTHING. "What is going on in there?" they ask each other. In previous days, they have picked up the thump, thump, thump of IT deploying its best means of entertainment. It was the grotesque sounds of pandas hitting the ground.
Tonight, there is nothing else. Then...a giggle. Again the music plays, then it is cut short. The adults stiffen, then a queer voice comes from the receiver, it says something that sounds like, "Good night Chloe." The adults relax.
This is what Cora and I have been going through. Every night it is something slightly different. The latest thing, the voice that says "Good night Chloe," is a stuffed dog, named Violet, that my wonderful aunt and uncle in Colorado sent Chloe. It talks, plays music, and lights up. She likes it more than the seahorse, which also lights up and plays music, but it doesn't speak. The dog speaks. And, speaking frankly, the dog sometimes freaks us out. Imagine waking in the middle of the night, out of a sound sleep.
I was dreaming about starting the engine in an airplane. I wasn't supposed to. I didn't even have a pilot's license, but it was an unlocked airplane, and I was bored. What are you going to do? I was reaching for the magneto switch when a voice, somewhat child-like, said something to CHLOE. That's my daughter's name...WHAT!?
I jerked awake and could feel Cora returning from her dreams next to me, probably something to do with oat-meal and kayaking or sumo-wrestlers and razor blades, you really never know with her.
Anyway, I felt her wake up too. We lay there, sleep draining from our heads, listening. Then the music began to play and there was a giggle. The child began babbling to herself happily. There was no distress, no wail of a full diaper, no scream of absolute hunger. We were safe. We relaxed a little. The music and giggling continued and I decided it must surely be close to time to get up. I reached over and read the clock (bad eyesight, have to squint and draw the clock close up) and read 1:29 AM. I told Cora the news. We both breathed an inward groan.
"It's going to be a long night."