They came for me quickly, in the deep of the night when my defenses were completely down. A coordinated attack as I slumbered. Theirs was no slow, stealth-like movement of sentries, but a full-on guns-a-blazin’ ear-splitting blitzkrieg. Who was this ruthless after-hours enemy, you ask?
My smoke alarms, of course.
Smoke alarms sit quietly on the ceilings of your bedrooms and hallways. They rest there upside-down like giant aspirins, waiting for a reason to blow their horns. They smugly advertise themselves as safety mechanisms (“you need us, pal”) but don’t be fooled. Even as I type they’re plotting another one of their coordinated onslaughts.
I have ten of these little monsters in my house: three upstairs, three on the main level, and four in the basement. In the dozen years we’ve lived here our smoke alarms have never – not once – alerted us to actual smoke or fire. Sometimes they chirp their once-a-minute beeps, demanding their failing batteries be replaced. Other times they sound off in pain as the static electricity of nearby lightning fills the air.
Lately it’s gotten worse. Now they’re making unreasonable demands, exploding in unison for no reason whatsoever. It always starts with one and then the others join in quickly. It’s downright deafening. A symphony of sirens more ear-splitting than the cannon fire of the 1812 Overture.
Their latest invasion came last Friday, in the wee hours of the morning. As usual they attacked without warning. The general (oh yes, I know which one he is) commanded one of his basement infantrymen to sound off, and per design as soon as one opened his mouth the other nine joined in with obnoxious harmony.
The net effect of this audio jolt was a magic trick. I levitated off the bed at least a foot – still horizontal, still under the covers (my wife missed an opportunity to wave her hands with a flourish and say “ta-dah!”) But shortly after returning to earth my brain kicked in to fully 5% of capacity and I was on the move. Alarms screaming, dogs barking, feet pounding, and no smoke or fire anywhere to be seen, I clapped my hands over my ears and dashed to the garage to grab a ladder. Then I climbed to the nearest little devil and ripped his battery out. Then to the next one. And the next. Hurrah, I was winning the battle! Or so I thought.
After dismantling four of these buggers it occurred to me the batteries-down approach was having no effect. All alarms continued their gleeful shrieks, and no amount of screaming obscenities would shut them up. Then it dawned on me: batteries or not, my alarms were still feasting off the house current. I dashed back to the garage, threw open the breaker box door, and triumphantly killed the circuit. Better. But six of ten still wailed away on battery life.
The remainder of my counterattack was the beginning of the merciful end. Each time I yanked out a battery, the siren would weaken to a pathetic moan and finally die away. I’m not saying it was music to my ears but you get the idea. After I dismembered Number Nine the sirens stopped entirely. And thank goodness for that. Number Ten – the general – sits seriously high up in the two-story stratosphere of our family room. It takes the full height of my extension ladder and tippy-toes to bring him to his knees. So I left the general with his battery, but fully detached from his regiment. He all but waved the white flag.
The following morning, as I surveyed the carnage hanging from my ceilings, I wondered how I could bring this war to an end once and for all. I decided to take down one of the dead bodies and have a closer look. Just as I was about to crack open the plastic cylinder for the autopsy I noticed the following words, printed in raised lettering around the edge:
“REPLACE THIS DEVICE BY YEAR 2012 TO AVOID MALFUNCTION”.
Seriously? Smoke alarms have a shelf life? Apparently the joke’s been on me for the past four years.
The general’s still up there and I swear I hear him laughing.