What to write? I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, reading Facebook posts and old e-mails, killing time waiting on my muse to inspire me. There must be something worth writing that hasn’t filtered out to my fingertips. I’m beginning to think my muse went back to bed. Maybe she didn’t even wake up in the first place.
It is dark out, it should be as it’s only 4:49 in the morning. The apartment is subtly noisy even though I’m the only one awake. It’s not noisy in the loud sense, it’s noisy in the odd sounds at odd times sense. The noises that would normally stimulate my writing motivator that we all call our muse. This dark, detached morning when every sound drifting in from who-knows-where should be questioned, my muse is oddly silent.
The refrigerator makes strange noises, clicking and straining as it cycles through its programmed duties. The building itself seems to occasionally groan, or burp, or emit steam and of course I can hear the ever present hum of electricity. Oddly, I can hear 60 cycle AC, 115 volt electrical power. I used to think I had ringing in my ears until Hurricane Andrew shut down all of our electrical power in Miami for several weeks. I didn’t really realize how quiet it was without power until the night it came back on and the ringing in my ears started again. Perhaps that is one of the reasons my wife and I love camping. I finally hear true piece and quiet when we get away from the outlets and extension cords, except for the ambient noises that come and go in the night. As long as they are not train horns I don’t mind.
Train horns are why I’m awake now, sitting in front of my laptop screen trying to write something intelligent. My muse has abandoned me, leaving me here alone, unable put coherent sentences together. The freight train rolled through at exactly 3:14 am. The tracks really aren’t that close by our rental house here in the rolling hills of Athens, Georgia, but the main-line CSX railroad track between Atlanta and Charlotte runs along the crest of the hill on the other side of the Middle Oconee River from us, so the sound of the daily, sometimes hourly trains is unimpeded. In fact, I think the small valley is a great natural acoustic chamber and we’re unfortunately at the wrong end of Mother Nature’s really good amplifier.
I like to think one day a great piece of writing will appear here, but so far only detached musings and oddly mismatched pieces of memories display in front of me. For some unknown reason, thoughts about high school, in 1959, when all the cool, future leaders of America were reading their mother’s copies of “Lady Chatterley's Lover,” my friends and I were trading dog-eared copies of “My Brother Was An Only Child” and the book about the Roman Circus Maximus, appear magically on my screen. I don’t remember the name of the book about the Romans but I doggedly remember astonishing things about the Roman Coliseum and the gladiators. It was also when I read my first paperbacks by Ian Fleming, a collection of short stories and a hand-me-down copy of Casino Royale.
Since I was a teenage airplane fanatic, I also had a copy of Adolf Galland’s book, “The First and the Last” and of course Robert L. Scott’s famous book about the Flying Tigers, “God is My Copilot.” I also had the original, illustrated large hardback I got as a present from my Grandmother – with a little coaching help on selection – William Greene’s outstanding “Famous Fighters of the Second World War.” I still have the original book, along with the other three volumes of the set I collected over the years. I used the airbrushed illustrations to paint the multitude of plastic airplane models I built as a teenager. Probably well over a hundred between my brother and I. Most of them ended up hanging from our bedroom ceiling from monofilament fishing line and one time or another.
One of the books in that set I have is a replacement for one I loaned a friend and never saw again. It took over forty years to find a replacement book, but it did teach me to never, never loan a book to anybody. Period. Not a book you want to keep, at any rate. They never come back. Never.
I wonder why no one here complains about the trains, especially in the dead of night. It is Sunday morning and I seriously doubt anyone is driving across any of the several unguarded railroad crossings in the dead of night or in the early hours before daybreak, but I know the trains blow their mournful long blasts at the same places every time, day or night. Probably at the bridge over the river. That’s why the awful sound carries so powerfully down the valley.
And not just short toots or honks. I sometimes think the engineer might have died and collapsed on the horn button. Of course I researched train horns and why they have to be a loud, blaring nuisance at Oh Dark Thirty in the morning. I now know that under the Train Horn Rule, (49 CFR Part 222), blah, blah, blah, “Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.” I also learned the volume can no longer be above 110 decibels, down from the old 130 decibels which is probably why railroad crew members are all deaf. I also learned that we are forty miles from any of the fifteen registered "Quiet" railroad zones in Georgia. I’ve heard so many horns in the last month I can tell differences between different types of locomotives. My wife just looks at me and shakes her head. It is now 5:52 am and there have been no more trains since the one that woke me up almost three hours ago.
It’s really quiet right this minute. The place has gone silent. It doesn’t last long as a compressor starts up somewhere in the kitchen or wherever back there in the dark. I look at my computer screen, apparently my muse was here after all. There isn’t enough to write about to take advantage of the otherwise secluded time of traction. Yes, look it up! Look up the opposite of distraction. That’s what writers do, they research! That’s why I know so much about train horns. Research.
Maybe that’s why my muse went to bed. Muses just don't seem do well in the land of facts and reality. They much prefer to be free and unrestrained, flying on the backs of dragons or joking with the President about his golf game. They don't care much for the mundane universe of plausibility.
I’m going back to bed, too. The sun will be up soon and maybe, just maybe, they’ll forget to blow the horn.