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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Noises of the Night

Hello Troops,
It was 1:00 A.M. I was tossing and turning, hoping to find a comfortable position on a thin pad held rigidly in place by the school's hardwood stage floor. I stared up at the ceiling. Two banks of stage lights hung precariously overhead. I though for a moment about the 'Big One' predicted to shake Utah to its knees sometime in the near future. I wondered what those lights would do if that massive earthquake broke loose that second. I envisioned two possibilities:
  1. All would be well because Central Elementary was built in the 1950's and people knew how to build quality schools in those days.
  2. I wouldn't survive because Central Elementary was built in the 1950's and people didn't build earthquake resistant schools in those days.

Fueled by that thought, my late night pessimistic strand led me to think about the gym's massive air conditioning / heating unit which sat directly overhead on the roof. One good jolt would bring the whole thing crashing through the roof and right onto the very spot where I slept. I thought of moving but didn't. There are times in life when the occasional risk must be taken.

Right in the middle of my 2012 disaster movie playing in my head, a noise from the gym shifted me back to the hear and now. Below me on the gym floor were fifteen space campers sleeping on our quality creaking cots that like to collapse without warning. Twelve or so of the Space Center's male staff and volunteers ranging in age from 13 to the twenty something occupied the stage with me. One of the campers started to cough. The first cough broke the silence and was quickly followed by a series of three or four coughs in a row separated by a couple of minutes. Each series of coughs pulled me back from those few minutes of shut eye I desperately needed. I debated whether or not I should wake him up to get a drink. My hesitation paid off. After twenty minutes or so, that part of the evening's performance of Noises of the Night came to an end on its own without my intervention. It was nearly 1:30 A.M.

I turned over on my flimsy pad. My old unyielding bones complained about the hard floor. I adjusted my pillow and tried a different position. My unsatisfied bones continued to object. I layed on my back and closed my eyes. I thought of the alien invasion predicted by one of the SyFy Channel's UFO reality shows. I wondered if the Grays with the bulging almond shaped eyes would take an interest in my fleet of startships, show mercy, and allow me keep my brains off their supper menu or decide not to replace my consciousness with one of their own in a weird body snatching scenario.

Right in the middle of that thought another noise pulled me back to the here and now. It was a gurgling accented with the occasional snort. One of our young campers was snoring. After chaperoning our Space Camp for twenty one years, I've come to realize that everyone's snore is distinct - like fingerprints. Many times I've been tempted to record the more interesting snores with the intention to send the sound bytes to some professor of linguists for analysis. Such a study might answer a nagging question I've wondered about for years. Do snorers snore with a regional accent? If so, then it was my believe that this boy's snore had a definite southwestern tonality and pitch.

The snores ended abruptly when the boy sleeping next to the snorer shoved him. "Stop snoring!" he whisperyelled.

Shortly after 3:00 A.M. The Noises of the Night woke me with a crescendo of Dreamtalking. One of the boys on the far end of the stage burst into audible babble. His dreamtalk might have been religiously motivated - something akin to speaking in tongues because I couldn't understand a word of what he was saying. I reached for my flashlight. I found the boy sitting up in his cot. He looked into the light. I held him in the spotlight while he finished his thoughts and fell back into silence. I switched off the flashlight. I closed my eyes and counted sheep to the sounds of the heating unit on the roof.

At 5:00 A.M. I awoke to the sounds of the hardwood floor. One of the volunteers was up on his way to the bathroom. Each step caused the floor to creak like the timbers of a old wooden sailing ship riding the waves of a building storm. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a flushing urinal. The bathroom door opened. "Don't do it!" I thought. I didn't want him to reenter the stage through the hallway door. Of course he did just what I didn't want him to do. "Here it comes," I thought. The metal sound of the door's crashbar latch snapping and clicking into the locked position rang throughout the gym. The cymbals had their moment in our nighttime symphony.

A couple boys woke up just before 5:45 A.M. and started whispering. They provided the Noises of the Night with its closing piece. I turned my flashlight in their general direction. They quieted right down. I was done for the night. I got up, left the stage and prepared to make my early Saturday morning WalMart donut run.

All of us who have worked at the Space Center over the last two decades have grown accustom to the Noises of the Night. These performances have good and bad weeks. This weekend's performance was good thanks to the absence of one tune I despise with a passion. It starts with a wrenching guttural sound followed by the sound of liquid splattering onto the gym floor. I refer to it as "Vomit in F minor". Its absence from this week's playbill makes me grateful for life's simple blessings.

And so, we move into another week. I want to thank you campers for coming to the Space Center and serenading us with your renditions of the Noises of the Night. There would be no Symphony Hall without you. And a Thank you to our great staff and volunteers.


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