Saturday, July 13, 2013

False Alarms

Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I like to ask myself, “How does today compare to the day the batteries died in the smoke detector?”

Usually, that’s enough to cheer me up considerably.


Once when Matt was out of town, I woke up without the alarm. This almost never happens – I can wake up tired after ten uninterrupted hours – so I knew it was going to be an amazing and wonderful day. After much leisurely stretching, I rolled ever-so-slowly over and squinted at the clock to check the time.

Fifteen extra minutes! I thought. Fifteen minutes in which to do whatever I want! What will I do with it?

I know! I’ll take a nap! So saying, I wrapped myself in my favorite panda bear blanket and settled in like the world’s happiest egg roll.

Then the smoke alarm went off.

I don’t know how I ended up in the floor. Smoke alarms are designed to get your attention, and this one was serving as a fine example of its profession, but I imagine that in that moment of sudden panic my mutant powers manifested for the first and (so far) only time and I teleported like Nightcrawler. Regardless of how I did it, I fled the room, tripping over my terrified cats as I checked the house.

“I’m not on fire!” I cried after finding no smoke, triumphant at what most people do not consider an accomplishment, but my triumphal elation soon withered under intense feelings of betrayal: my smoke alarm had gone off for no reason, and now continued to do so. This could not be allowed to persist.

Back in the hall upstairs, precariously balanced on a hastily fetched chair while trying to cover both ears with one arm, I fumbled at an obvious button on the smoke detector, successfully hitting it on my third attempt. The alarm stopped. Ears ringing in the sudden silence, I said, “Now I need yoga,” in the same way that other people might say they need Jesus.

Cross-legged on my yoga mat in the bedroom, focusing on my breath, I tried to relax, making good progress on that score right up until the smoke detector started beeping again, not in mutant-backstory alarm as it had before but in tiny, shy, clipped beeps, one every minute with staggering regularity, each beep causing me to cringe a little more, collapsing in on myself in increments like a mummy withering away in a tomb. Yogic focus all but forgotten, I began plotting the smoke detector’s untimely and violent demise. Tomorrow, my house might burn down without warning, but today there would be glory for Sparta.

However, back on the chair, I found that the battery compartment on the side of the device remained stubbornly out of reach. I stretched, grunting, my fingers just brushing over the latch as the beeping continued at intervals, taunting me a second time.

I don’t have time for this, I thought as I returned the chair to the kitchen. I don’t have time for this either, as I fetched the ladder from the garage. I most certainly don’t have time for this, I thought, assembling and climbing the ladder while trying not to fall off it and die. Balanced thusly, I easily ripped the offending battery from its little compartment and cast it to the floor before me, crowing in unblemished delight.

Short on time now, I started my shower, then quickly turned off the water. I waited, soaked and horrified, like Janet Leigh in Psycho. Was that a beep?

It was.

It was the beeping of that hideous heart! Come back to haunt me from beyond the— No, wait, hang on. If it still beeps when there’s no battery in it, could a dead battery perhaps be the cause of this morning’s alarm?

Wrapped in a towel, I fetched the battery from the floor where I had discarded it. Nine volt, I noticed. Seeing it was approaching its use-by date, I decided my theory had merit.

We’ll soon get this sorted out, I thought, pulling the battery box out of the linen cupboard. We are techie people, Matt and I, with a dedicated box to hold the batteries we have for our gadgets: video games, stereos, portable speakers, flashlights, alarm clocks, RC helicopters, and other assorted toys we’re too old for. AA, AAA, D, C, a whole alphabet soup of batteries!

But did we have nine volt batteries? No.

And now the smoke detector continued to beep at me, igniting the crazy nerves in my brain and fanning the flames toward the saner parts until I declared, “No more! This far and no further!” Looking at the clock, I knew I could make it to the store before work, but only if I left RIGHT NOW. I dressed quickly in whatever was hanging at the end of the closet, grabbed a comb for my still-wet hair, and left.

I can salvage this morning, I thought in naïve hope on the drive to the grocery store. I have not been relaxed, I have not done yoga, but I can still treat myself right. I can get a healthy muffin for breakfast. Maybe pick up a nice organic juice from the health food aisle. I parked crookedly, ignoring glares from other shoppers as I rushed inside.

There were no healthy muffins. I waffled between chocolate chip muffins and chocolate chocolate chip muffins before deciding, Screw it. I’ll get a donut. That’s what I wanted anyway.

At the checkout stand, ringing up one donut, one non-diet soda, and $50 worth of nine volt batteries (because this shit was not happening to me ever again),  the bright cashier smiled winningly at me, despite how I must have looked. “And how are you today?” he said.

In the voice of Death’s spinster auntie, I said, “Don’t ask me about my day.”

He shrank back from my malicious glare, his arm stretched long to hand me my receipt, keeping himself as far from my hateful disease as possible.

I sped to work with the windows down as a makeshift hairdryer, scarfing my breakfast of champions as I went. Mine was the last car to arrive at the library, but the clock showed that I was still on time, if only just. I ran for the conference room where my coworkers were gathered for staff meeting, sliding into my seat with less than a minute to spare. “I’m here,” I said. “Go.”

My coworkers stared at me, saying nothing, at which time I remembered the comb I had left in the car, unused. “Is there anything like a hair dryer in this building, anywhere?” I asked.

“No,” Karyn said. “Not really.”

I cursed.

“Did you sleep in this morning?” Carla asked.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “Apparently, this is what happens when I wake up early.”


Now, ask yourself: did your smoke alarm go off today?



And are you on fire?

Not just now?

Okay, then. It’s obviously going to be an amazing and wonderful day.

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