Tuesday, February 7, 2012

THIS CHIRPING WAS FOR THE BIRDS

The electrician who wired our house when we built it must have heard rumors about my cooking skills because he installed eight smoke detectors. All eight are wired so when one goes off, they all do. And believe me, when they all start blaring at the same time, they sound like an air-raid signal. People in Canada probably can hear them.

When they first were installed, one of the detectors was in the habit of randomly setting off all of the other alarms whenever the mood struck. We weren’t living in the house at the time because it still was being built, so an assortment of joggers, dog walkers and people on bikes could hear the alarms blaring when they passed by and called 911. After the third time, I was pretty sure the local fire department was ready to form a lynch mob and string us up.

Naturally, the faulty detector wasn’t in an easy place to locate. The culprit turned out to be up in the attic – the attic that has no stairs leading up to it and is accessible only through a hole in ceiling in which no one weighing more than 100 pounds could squeeze through without needing the jaws of life.

The detectors also have backup batteries in case of a power failure. Unfortunately, when one battery gets weak, all of the detectors intermittently “chirp” to let us know that one of them needs changing. Then it’s a guessing game, trying to figure out which one of the eight it is. I’ve never understood how, when every battery is replaced at the same time and from the same new package, one of them always manages to die before all of the others. I suspect it’s part of some evil plot among the batteries, just to irritate us.

So last Saturday night, when my husband and I heard the familiar high-pitched chirping of the dying-battery signal just as we were sitting down to dinner, we both looked at each other and groaned.

“Any guess which one it is this time?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

“No clue,” I said. “But you realize if we don’t find it, we’ll have to suffer with that annoying chirping all night, even when we’re trying to sleep.”

By process of elimination, I finally tracked down the battery that had the death wish...out in the garage. I stood with my hands on my hips and glared up at the detector. It was on a rafter that looked about 10 feet high.

My husband can’t climb ladders because of his bad knees, and I won’t climb one because they terrify me. Usually I’m able to climb only a couple rungs before my legs start turning to Jell-O and I feel lightheaded.

I went back into the house, grabbed a kitchen chair and brought it out to the garage. I stood on the chair and extended my arm as far as I could toward the rafter. There was so much space between my fingertips and the detector that even if I’d been born with orangutan arms, I still couldn’t have reached it.

So the chirping continued.

“Well, we’re sure a great pair, aren’t we?” my husband said. “So what do we do now? All of this chirping is driving me crazy! It sounds like deranged birds or mating crickets!”

I remembered a small, folding stepladder tucked away in the closet. Stepladders don’t scare me as much as regular ladders because they have steps instead of rungs and they’re not nearly as wobbly.

I found the stepladder and set it up directly below the smoke detector. Then I climbed one step, two steps, three steps...and froze. I could tell I needed to climb at least one more step before I’d be able to reach the detector, but I couldn’t move. My brain was saying, “Go ahead, you big coward! Do it!” while my legs were saying, “Noooo! We’re not budging! If you fall, you’ll break us!”

I climbed back down, went into the house and said to my husband, “I need you to come out to the garage and stand behind me while I’m on the stepladder. If I feel safer, I just might be able to make it up to the fourth step.”

He followed me back out to the garage and positioned himself behind me as I climbed up the three steps. I then tried to gather the courage to climb onto the fourth, but my legs started to get wobbly again.

“Hang onto my hips!” I shouted at my husband. He grabbed me by the bottom of the seat of my sweatpants and gave me an unexpected boost up to the next rung. I reached down with my left hand and grasped a handful of his hair to steady myself.

“Ow!” he complained, tightening his grip on my pants. “You’re yanking my hair!”

“And you’re giving me a wedgie!”

Cautiously, I extended my right hand and finally touched the object of my quest...which chirped into my ear as if to mock me. The ladder made a creaking sound.

“There’s a label down here on the ladder that says not to be used by anyone over 200 pounds,” my husband said. “When’s the last time you weighed yourself?”

I tightened my grip on his hair and twisted it. I used my other hand to unscrew the cover of the detector. When it was off, I spotted the demon battery, just within my reach. With my fingernail, I popped it out of the detector and then dug into my pocket for the new one. Trying to keep steady on my rubbery legs, I snapped the battery into the detector and screwed the cover back on.

The chirping stopped.

Very slowly, I climbed back down the ladder. When my feet hit the concrete floor, I knew how Neil Armstrong must have felt when he first set foot on the moon.

“We did it!” I cheered, hugging my husband. “Do you believe it? Now the next time this happens, I won’t be so scared! It should be a snap!”

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his head. “As long as I don’t go bald before then.”

Maybe I should buy him some Rogaine, just to be safe.

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