Where there’s smoke …


By Neil Offen

I’ve found another thing I can’t fix: a smoke alarm.

To be honest, I hadn’t previously known that smoke alarms ever needed fixing. I figured that they sort of fixed themselves, like clocks that will be right twice a day.

But then the smoke alarm started chirping. Either that, or we had somehow adopted a canary from the local canary shelter, although I’m allergic to feathers.

The chirping happened, of course, in the middle of the night, the time that I usually reserve for sleeping. I figured it had to be the smoke alarm because I knew it wasn’t the alarm clock, because the alarm clock doesn’t chirp but tends to sort of whimper, knowing that it’s still really too early to get up in the morning.

There was no smoke. So technically, that meant that it had to be a dead battery inside the smoke alarm making it chirp every three seconds. The chirping made sleeping, thinking or, actually, living, difficult.
Meaning it had to be fixed — or, to use the technical term, replaced.

I figured that would be an easy thing to do at three in the morning, even if it was three in the morning and I was putting my bedroom slippers on my hands.

Although I am a person who has hired others to hammer nails, take out staples from healthcare statements and get keys onto key chains, I was sure I could do this. Also, my wife would kill me if I woke her up and it was probably too early in the morning to call a handyman.

I went to look for the step stool, after looking for the manual that would tell me how to open the step stool. I opened the step stool flawlessly, even though it was my second try. I got up on the step stool.

I knew to take out the batteries I had to turn the outside of the smoke alarm to the right, because it’s always “righty loosey, lefty tighty.” Or maybe it’s “righty mighty, lefty shmefty.”

Just to be sure, I turned it both left and right, up and down, around and back. Nothing happened.
That was probably good because then I noticed the words on the outside of the smoke alarm: “Caution: Disconnect power before removal. And whatever you do, don’t get up on a step stool in the middle of the night while you should be sleeping.”

I had to turn off the power. I went down to the garage, where I keep my fuse box since it wouldn’t fit into the refrigerator. The fuse box had 27 switches; none of them said, “this is the right one.”

So I turned them all, righty tighty, one by one by one.

That stopped the smoke alarm from beeping. It also turned out all the lights in the house and most of the mid-Atlantic states.

I needed a flashlight so I could go find my flashlight, go back to the smoke alarm, and take out the battery. I lit a match so I could go find the flashlight. The smoke alarm chirped.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has been a humor columnist for four decades and on two continents. He will sign copies of his new book, “Building a Better Boomer,” and speaking at Flyleaf Books Jan. 4. https://www.flyleafbooks.com/event/offen-2024

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