● By Tom Mailey
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
I’m a pretty mellow guy, with a live-and-let-live kind of attitude. I get along with most people and those I don’t, I simply do my best to avoid.
I’m not emotionless, of course. My kids occasionally raise my blood pressure. I can get frustrated with inanimate things—if a tool isn’t working right, say, or my computer inexplicably refuses to link with the printer. But for the most part I’m rational and calm, and only one thing really makes me lose my mind: the low-battery chirp of a smoke detector at two in the are-you-freaking-kidding-me morning.
Who among us hasn’t been there? Sound asleep, buried deep beneath the covers and dreaming contentedly when suddenly…
At first, it doesn’t wake you, it just syncs up with your dream. Like, there you are on a magic carpet ride around the world with Tom Hanks, Gandhi and Yogi Bear when all of a sudden a huge psychedelic pterodactyl glides by, opens its massive beak and—
You think, OK, that was weird, and somewhere over a mountain range made of Fluffernutter, you, Hanks, Gandhi and Yogi all exchange bemused glances. But the dream continues soaring until, again—
And this time, somewhere deep in your REM-suppressed brain, you know. Bidding your travel mates adieu (...is that a tear on Yogi’s cheek?) you struggle mightily to break through sleep’s sticky surface, and as your eyes stumble about in their sockets—
Again! And suddenly you’re staring at the ceiling with eyes as open as 7-11 on a Saturday night. Still, a lingering air of disbelief compels you to continue lying there a few moments more. And as you do...silence. Where is the next chirp..? Foolishly, against everything you know, you begin to believe that it may have stopped on its own, or maybe it was a part of your dream: Maybe that’s what pterodactyls sounded like. Maybe you even close your eyes and allow sleep to begin pulling you back and—
*&%*$#! Now you’re awake—fully. Covers flung off the bed, and feet stomp across the floor. You march up beneath the first detector you come to and that’s when you realize, A) the ladder’s in the shed outside and B)...it could be this one or any of the other seven in the house...because the cruelest thing about the—
—is it’s so infrequent and brief that pinpointing the exact detector often devolves into a sick, in-home version of Marco Polo. And when you finally do locate the offending device, you still have to go out to the shed and get—
—the*%&*#%$! ladder. And as you do, you always say a quick prayer that you actually have spare batteries in the drawer downstairs.
Look, I understand the life-and-death importance of smoke detectors. Truly, I do. My son is in a high school firefighter-training program for Pete’s sake. I also know that if I would just change the batteries whenever we set our clocks forward or back this would never be an issue. But I’m imperfect: I’ve been known to leave my shoes on the stairs. I don’t always put the toilet seat back down. And twice a year I sometimes...mostly...forget to change the batteries in our smoke detectors. It’s just...couldn’t they have a better, more humane way to alert us that the batteries are low? Maybe by adding a snooze button?
I know: No. It’s just way too important. You’re right. Maybe my son, the future-possible-firefighter, can help me out with this. Yeah, I’ll bet he can, and he’d be happy to! Teach the old man some responsibility. He’d love that!
I’ll talk to him about it…right after I put the ladder back in the shed.