Responding To The Chirp

Last night when we got home from dinner we heard one of the most reviled sounds ever heard in an American household:  the once-a-minute “chirp” that tells you that your smoke alarm battery is dying.

At least, the smoke alarm manufacturer calls it a “chirp” — but it’s nothing like the happy, carefree, burbling utterances of songbirds in springtime.  No, the smoke alarm “chirp” is more like fingernails on a chalkboard or the insistent barking of a hungry dog.  It’s a sound consciously designed to be so incredibly annoying that after a while you can’t stand it any more and must act immediately to stop it.

Smoke alarm manufacturers realize the “chirp” must be as annoying as possible because the act you need to perform to stop it is even more reviled.  No one, but no one, is eager to change the batteries on their smoke alarms because it’s never a simple process. Let’s see … which chair is likely to be tall enough to allow me to get to the alarm if I teeter on the arm and really stretch?  And once I’m up there, figuring out how to unlock the alarm from its lofty perch so the battery can be changed is a pain in the ass.  Even worse, the batteries for the alarms are always tucked away in some weird configuration.  Our unit had the batteries in a kind of sliding drawer that didn’t fully extend, requiring me to use a table knife to extricate the batteries.  Fortunately, this unit took AA units that we actually had in the house — which is a one-in-a-million shot.

And finally, the piece de resistance — reinserting the alarm to its base on the hallway ceiling and relocking it.  Every homeowner knows the frustrating reek of failure that usually hangs over this final step in the hated process.  Four out of five American homes feature smoke alarms hanging by wires, or bases left empty of the alarms themselves, or bases torn from the ceiling when the homeowner, arms fatigued by being held directly overhead for minute after excruciating minute, finally lost his balance trying to perform the delicate placement, thrust and twist that the manufacturer’s evil engineers require.  

Today, at least, the responsible thing got done, without incident or injury.  I’m proud to say that we now move forward as a once-again chirp-free household.

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