The Smoke Detector Story

Come gather round children and let me tell you the story of my constant battle with my smoke detector. I’ve written before about the ups and downs of living in a new apartment by yourself. Most of the time it’s full of fun, self discovery-type of stuff, but every once in a while it can be truly terrifying.

Before I begin, let me just say that yes, I know smoke detectors are important. I know there’s like laws or whatever that require us to have them in our homes. And that’s a good thing. I know that if there is ever a fire in my apartment that my smoke alarm may save me. But for all of the wonderful reasons to have one, why does mine have to be such a dick?

Let me go back. When I moved into my apartment the landlord said that I was in charge of checking the smoke detector and making sure its battery worked and all that jazz. Meaning the building isn’t responsible for anything that happens if I go up in flames because I didn’t press one silly button on a plastic smoke detector. In the process of settling in to my new apartment I made sure to check the alarm. I balanced on top of a slightly wobbly chair to reach it and pressed the tiny button to make sure it worked. It obnoxiously beeped like it’s supposed to letting me know it was fine and that was that. I didn’t think anything else of it.

Boy am I an idiot. The first few weeks were fine really. It was still summer and I had my air conditioner blasting all the time. My living space was cool and I was still kind of standoff-ish about cooking real person food. Eventually, though, I had to start feeding myself more than peanut butter and jelly. The problem really started when the days began to get cooler and I no longer needed my AC on all the time. I would turn the unit off and open my windows. Opening your windows can be really great because that’s air you don’t have to pay for! Around this time I also got braver about cooking. I started making all kinds of things! Steak, homemade mac and cheese, tacos, actual hotdish (Minnesotan) recipes; I was ruling at adult cooking.

As I got more comfortable in my new home and using my kitchen, my smoke alarm started to get, well, friendly. At first I thought it just didn’t like my new toaster, which I could understand. When you buy a new toaster and use it the first few times it smells like you’re burning human flesh (Note: may be an exaggeration). It smells horrible. You want your glorious toast but you don’t want the smell. The smoke detector took great offense to the smell as well and would go off at random any time I used the toaster. I knew there was no fire or immediate danger but I couldn’t stop Hugh from going off (what I’ve now named said smoke detector). The only way I could get Hugh to stop whining was to open the windows in my bedroom and turn on my AC full blast. After doing that the crazy beeping would usually stop almost instantly.

I wasn’t too excited about Hugh’s new hobby so I asked the landlord if there was something wrong with him. She mentioned that if it got too hot or even too humid in the apartment he may start going off. Great! I’m living with a lunatic. Hugh and I continued to live together, him reminding me at least once a week that it was a tad bit hotter in my apartment than he liked it when I cooked. As time went on I learned more about him. He didn’t like when I used the oven over 400 degrees, or when I cooked bacon. Basically anything delicious, he hated.

And then November came and I had to take my AC unit out of my window for the winter. It’s not like I needed it anymore, but it was my only way of calming Hugh down. On Friday of last week I came home and decided I wanted toast. It was a nice day out, but a little chilly so my windows were all closed. My AC sat comfortably in my hall closet, completely useless. I threw the toast in the toaster and thought nothing of it. I went to do something else quick as people do when they’re waiting for their toast.

Suddenly I smelled it. That stupid new toaster smell. I’d just like to point out that my toaster hasn’t been new since August and hasn’t smelled like that horrible burning smell in months. But for some reason it decided to act weird that day. So I went back to the kitchen and canceled the toasting, taking the toast out of the toaster. But it was too late. Hugh had sensed a disturbance and started whaling like the crazy household appliance he is.

I quickly ran to my bedroom and opened all the windows and set a fan in the hallway, turning it on full blast. Hugh wasn’t stopping, the bastard. So I opened my front windows and prayed that there would suddenly be a giant gust of wind outside. The problem with your smoke alarm going off at inopportune times isn’t that it’s loud and annoying. I could have handled the beeping until Hugh had settled down, but it’s everybody else in the building I was worried about.

At 22 you don’t want to admit that you care what others think, but I’d be damned if Hugh’s beeping was heard by the neighbors. You see, I live in an apartment building with a lot of older people and they are lovely and nice but they’re always home during the day. They have also taken a very sweet, grandparent-like interest in me, which means they view me as a very fascinating, very fragile young girl who can’t do anything on her own, including cooking a piece of toast without setting off any alarms.

Hugh’s beeping lasted for five minutes before finally calming down. But he didn’t fully stop beeping. In fact, he started doing that thing smoke detectors do when they’re having a problem; beep at random intervals. A few minutes would go by and Hugh would sound a single beep. Then another. Then another. This annoyance went on for an hour. An hour of my life where I was terrified he might start fully beeping again.

I finally decided I couldn’t take it any longer so I grabbed my wobbly desk chair, dragged it to the hall, and step up to take a closer look at Hugh. It was the closest we had been since I moved in. And I realized, staring at him that I had no idea how to open him up and I sure as hell wasn’t going to press his button and unleash that fresh hell. Also, my mom wasn’t there to help me like she was when I moved in so the stakes were suddenly much higher.

I hopped down from my chair and grabbed my laptop. Trusty Google told me Hugh probably needed a battery change. I needed to twist the detector to the right to loosen it and take the cover off so I could get to the battery. I jumped back up on the chair and tried twisting Hugh’s plastic cover every which way. Nothing moved. “Too bad this thing could save me from death,” I thought. “Otherwise I would just rip the whole thing out of the ceiling.”

I soon realized that Hugh did not in fact twist, but rather just pulled down from the ceiling. Once I got it open I secretly had hoped that the sad beeping would stop. But it didn’t. And I couldn’t just leave Hugh half hanging off the ceiling. So I took the existing battery out and the beeping completely stopped. But now I had another problem. I truly did contemplate just leaving Hugh like that for a longer time than I’m willing to admit. No power source. He wouldn’t bother me anymore. He couldn’t yell at me every time I used the oven or occasionally when I took a really long shaving-my-legs-shower. There might finally be peace. I could finally be free.

But then again I knew that I probably didn’t want to die in a fire where my only excuse would be that I took the battery out of my smoke detector because he was annoying. So I went to my kitchen drawer where I keep random household items that my mom had bought me that she insisted I needed to live on my own even though I figured I would never use any of them. Luckily, my mom had anticipated a Hugh situation and had left me with a few of those D batteries that scary big appliances use. I grabbed one and ran back to Hugh.

One thing to remember about smoke detectors is that they only beep. They have no other way to communicate with you. And their beep setting seems to only be set to one volume: extremely loud. And when you go to give them a fresh battery they will beep, loudly, six times to let you know they’re good to go. And when they beep loudly at you chances are you’ll be really close to them because that’s the only way to change the battery, so the loud beeping will probably be right in your ear. After Hugh and I went through this routine, something funny happened. There was silence.

In the days since changing Hugh’s battery we’ve been living in harmony. It’s freezing out so my windows are closed and I’ve been using the oven and toaster regularly without so much as a peep out of Hugh. I guess he hated everything before because he just needed a new battery. How stupidly strange!

At least now I can say that I know how to change a smoke detector’s battery. Check one more thing off the “You’re an Adult Now!” list.


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