I was up early, quietly putting the finishing touches on a story I was writing about dog turds when the smoke alarm started to shriek, and by shriek, I mean an eighty-five-decibel blare that sent my heart bursting out of my chest.
“What the flying swear word!” I blurted, but those words were drowned out by the screeching smoke alarm. The alarm then stopped as suddenly as it started.
“Huh,” I said, slightly amazed. Swearing apparently can silence a smoke alarm, but that silence didn’t last long before the alarm started again, and it was even more terrifying and belligerent than the first time.
It should be noted that my gut reaction when the alarm went off was not to wake my wife and gather her, the dog, and the family photos, and race out to the front yard before the house was engulfed in flames. No, no, no, not at all. My reaction was probably the most common male reaction to this particular situation—to swear loudly and creatively and look for a hammer with which to smash the offending alarm.
The second time it went off, I got a little worried, so I did what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances. I wondered if a spider might have crawled up inside the detector or maybe, it was the humidity. Believe it or not, these are two common causes for false alarms with smoke detectors. Then I wondered why smoke detector manufacturers couldn’t make a smoke alarm that is immune from spiders and humidity. These things must go off all the time in Florida, which is the world capital for spiders and humidity. No wonder those old snowbirds are hard of hearing. I’m surprised they aren’t twitchy too.
Oddly enough, I never once considered that there might be a fire in the house, but I did sniff the air. All I smelled was coffee, but I was now filled with smoke alarm jitters, so coffee felt redundant. Meanwhile, Mrs. G. and the dog were both still sleeping.
Without warning, the smoke alarm started blaring again, so something had to be done. The unit is mounted nine feet off the floor and flat to the ceiling, and in a remarkable bit of technology; it has a symbiotic relationship with the other eight smoke detectors in the house. They all talk to one another, gossiping back and forth as if they were a row of 1950s housewives having their hair done. “Did you see what he did the other day? What a goofball,” has likely been a very buzzy topic.
Since my reach falls about a foot short of being able to grab the device, I went to the kitchen pantry and got the small two-step stepladder. This is the type of ladder that women used to use to get up and away from mice, only to realize that their hair was now entangled in spiderwebs.
Once I was under the now quiet alarm, I unfolded the ladder and climbed up one step. Not enough. One more step and my head almost hit the ceiling, so too much. If I could have hovered in between the steps it would have been perfect. While I was eye-to-eye with the alarm, it fired up again, which caused me to recoil like a terrified toddler playing with a Jack-in-the-box.
“What in the holy swear word on a birthday cake?!” I said. I then grabbed the screaming alarm, twisted it by the neck, and popped it off the bracket. “Take that, evil screaming alarm beast,” I said, but that was not the end of it. It was still squawking in my hand, refusing to die. I clearly had the Jason Voorhees of smoke alarms.
I finally figured out that it was experiencing separation anxiety from being disconnected from the rest of the gabby smoke detectors, but being the heartless creature that I am, I opened the little trap door and plucked out the backup battery. It let out one last fading gasp before it died in my arms. Not taking any chances, I swaddled it in a towel and shoved it in the closet.
So here’s what I know. If there had been an actual fire, the nearest alarm would have sensed it, relayed the information to the other eight alarms, and they all would have gone off in unison. Had this happened, the noise would have been so loud, it would have shattered the windows, thus allowing air to rush in and fuel the flames up to wildfire level in about two seconds. One of these alarms is loud; nine of them in harmony would make coal miners in West Virginia wonder what the heck was making all that noise.
So this specific alarm was bad, but why was it bad? Well, it’s hard-wired with a backup battery, so the battery must have run out of juice or was about to do so. I went into the basement to my battery stash and looked for a nine-volt battery. There was an entire alphabet of batteries, but only one that was nine volts. Perfect. I poked it under the lid into the smoke detector, and as soon as I slid the little cover closed, the unit sent out a bone-chilling scream.
“Son of a bad swear word (as a verb) red-butted monkey on a merry-go-round!!” I said. That was a good one. I’ll have to remember that.
Out came the battery, on came the pants and shoes, and a trip was made to Lowe’s.
Since we have nine smoke detectors in the house, it seemed prudent to replace all of the batteries at the same time. They advise changing the batteries twice each year when the clocks are changed, but since the Daylight Saving Time people and I have a huge disagreement on the worth of their time altering lunacy, I choose to ignore their battery advice.
I found the Great Wall of Batteries and looked for the squatty nine-volt size, which has fallen in popularity because AM transistor radios are no longer the height of technology. I believe they are only used now for garage door opener transmitters and smoke detectors, and of course—by eight-year-old boys with damp tongues and more curiosity than brains.
There they were, buried behind the bargain-priced fifty-count pack of AA batteries, and … huh … would you look at that?
Four batteries in a pack and I needed nine. This was the hot dog/hot dog bun situation all over again. They were also absurdly expensive, but without any choice, I bought twelve batteries. This will leave three of them lost in the wilderness, hopefully with enough power left when I need one in the middle of the night in a few years.
Once I got home, I brought in the normal stepladder from the garage, which gave me the perfect amount of headroom, plugged in the smoke detector, twisted it back onto the bracket, and with the trepidation of a crack-addled bomb diffuser, I inserted the fresh battery, and slowly slid the cover shut. I then closed my eyes.
One down, eight to go.
So that’s how it went, and as far as I can tell, I bought myself another year or so of peace for thirty-six dollars. Plus tax.
And that included three extra batteries.