Monday, July 21, 2008

Smoke from a Distant Fire.

I know I was just recently complaining about an object in the kitchen that didn’t work and it’s kind of churlish to complain about something working which is meant to save your life, but would someone please come over and talk to my smoke detector? A few months ago, Consort upgraded our kitchen smoke detector. It not only senses smoke, it senses carbon monoxide, radon and people with malignant thoughts. It’s possible I wasn’t entirely listening.

After installing its little square battery, Consort tested it by pressing the “test” button. It screamed BLEEP! at us and we flinched. This was an alarm in the truest sense of the word. Consort installed it high in the corner of the kitchen and pressed the “reset” button. After a couple of grumbling Bleeps it tucked its nose under its tail and went back to napping. The user’s manual assured us we had purchased the most sensitive smoke-detector on the marketplace and I have come to agree. It is sensitive. My, but it’s sensitive. Twelve year-old girls are less sensitive.

Its first night in our house, I made a quesadilla in the usual way. That is, I let the tortilla cook a few seconds longer than usual, leading to a bit of smoke wafting around. The smoke detector, ever alert, screamed BLEEP! several times while I learned that even standing on a kitchen chair I am too short to reach the reset button. Several more BLEEPS occurred before I located the step-stool, dragged it into the kitchen, grabbed a wooden spoon and began whacking at the infernal siren until it finally shut up. Consort wandered in a few minutes later and said “I guess you’re just going to have to be a little more careful when you cook”, which caused me to look around for the wooden spoon yet again. I did get my revenge when later that night he decided to cook up a steak and we discovered that the smoke detector is programmed to worry about our cholesterol. I’d have enjoyed me revenge more, though, if it hadn’t been accompanied by BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP (and the sound of wooden spoon whacking plastic).

Over the next few days we learned that any sort of kitchen smoke worries the smoke detector. So does boiling water, a fire in the fireplace, mammalian body heat and certain Verizon commercials. It’s as if the last thing the detector did before it was shipped to us was attend a conference at the Airport Hilton about being the very best smoke detector it could be. Now I can certainly appreciate anything which worries that much about my family’s well-being, but it’s hard to enjoy life if you are constantly second guessing an over-enthusiastic appliance:

(Quinn and Daughter are in the living room, reading and enjoying the afternoon sun. Consort wanders in carrying a hot drink from Starbucks. Instantly, Quinn springs catlike to her feet and crosses the room to form a physical wall between the steaming cup and the kitchen.)

QUINN: When did you get that?

CONSORT: Uh, about ten minutes ago.

QUINN: Are you insane?

CONSORT: I was falling asleep at the wheel!

(Quinn blows firmly at a whisp of steam rising from the cup, gently directing it towards an open window.

QUINN: It doesn’t like steam. Have you forgotten the minestrone incident already?


(As polished as a dance troupe, we swing into gear. Consort lunges toward the detector, I swoop the step-stool into place as Daughter tosses the "Whacking Spoon”from the drainboard. As Consort passes me, I notice he’s wearing a red shirt and, fearing the color might set it off again, offer to take his place.)

Eventually, we started to remove the smoke detector's battery whenever we cooked, took showers or thought the air temperature in the kitchen might rise above above seventy-three degrees. But we could no longer avoid the inevitable: the world’s most dedicated employee had to be fired. Consort purchased and installed a new, less emotionally labile detector as I imagined the exit interview with our old detector:

(Quinn is behind an office desk. The smoke detector is sitting in a chair in front of her, weeping copiously.)

DETECTOR: But…why?

QUINN: Because you woke us up three times in one night to tell us someone was walking past the house, thinking about smoking a cigarette.


QUINN: Where?

DETECTOR: (Miserably) I…don’t know. Somewhere. SMOKE!

QUINN: This is what I’m talking about. No one doubts your passion.


QUINN: Maybe I could just pour you a nice glass of bourbon. A tall glass of bourbon. With a Valium crushed into it...

DETECTOR: No one will ever protect you like I did.

QUINN: I can only hope. But please know that I’ve found you a wonderful place to work, an enthusiastic and like-minded group filled with individuals just as passionate and dedicated to the cause of rooting out danger as you are. They can’t wait to meet you.

(Quinn opens a packing box and pats the inside appealingly.)

DETECTOR: But...I love you.

QUINN: I know.


QUINN: Get in the box.

And with that, the detector scrabbles in to the carton and settles down for a troubled and smoky voyage to its new home. Quinn tapes the box closed and carefully writes the address across its surface: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC, 20528.


Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

That "Bleep" in our house means "dinner's ready."

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've trained our kids to grab whatever magazine is handy and wave it in the general direction of our smoke detector. Works like a charm.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Chatty said...

The smoke detector in our bedroom cheeps erratically - and always in the middle of the night. The puzzling thing about this is that we removed the battery TWO YEARS ago.

I can only conclude that this (SMOKE!!! Hey! SMOKE!!!) detector definitely attended that seminar at the airport Hilton...

12:45 AM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

Classic. Absolutely classic. Loved every word of it. The smoke alarm should be very happy in its new job.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Pat'sPen, Ink! said...

You're one up on me. I live in an apartment, so according to law, my smoke detector is hardwired into my electrical system. And there's no "reset" button on it that I can find! It goes off if I even THINK about boiling water for a cup of tea. The only thing I can do about it is to go into the bedroom, open the fusebox and click the fuse that controls ALL the electric in every room in the apartment except for the kitchen itself (the detector is in the hall off the kitchen). When I finally finish cooking something and go the turn the thing back on, it has to BLEEP very loudly three or four times before settling down again.

And then I get to go around resetting all my clocks.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel Achenbach's "Achenblog" in the Washington Post linked to your blog - what a pleasant discovery! I paraphrased this story for my family at dinner last night and hilarity ensued! You have a truly wonderful writing style, can't wait for your book!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Karen of TX said...

One of your best-ever columns! I think the book has honed your skills, rather than turning them into tapioca, as you feared. Great job!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

Ahahah! Too funny! You know this one will have to get sent to Five Star Friday, don't you? Damn those overactive alarms.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Mine doubles as a hot-flash detector.

If only it were wired to an automatic sprinkling system.

Joy might insue.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Kelly @ Love Well said...

The kindness you showed that detector is truly admirable. I usually beat my into a collection of parts.

And it still BLEEPS at me.

It's like a horror movie. "You can hit the button, remove the batteries, pull it off the wall. But it's just getting started on protecting your family!"

10:29 PM  
Blogger Elan Morgan said...

You are being featured on Five Star Friday:

8:38 AM  
Blogger Rae said...

Are you sure you didn't send that smoke detector to my house by accident?

We've taken out the battery to our detector as well. I've decided I'd rather risk fiery flames spreading throughout my house than give in to certain insanity caused by incessant BEEPing!

7:09 AM  

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