Friday, December 9, 2011

How Alarming

Remember when people first started installing car alarms in the 1980s and they would go off all the time in the middle of the night every time someone walked by one of their cars and farted? Were you one of those people who wanted to go outside with a baseball bat and beat the car to a mangled bloody pulp? Julia Sugarbaker did that on an episode of Designing Women.

You knew who had a car alarm because they had a fob. Now, everyone has a fob. Mrs. M lost her fob one day and asked me if I knew anything about getting one replaced. I said, “Do you see what I drive? My cars use a skeleton key.”

I never had a need for a car alarm. My cars are insured for three times what they are worth, which is equal to the price of dinner for two. If someone wanted to steal one of them, I would hand him the keys, turn around and say, “Gee, officer, one minute it was there and next thing I knew … oh, when … three days ago” (I want to give them time to get away, so I can collect).

House alarms are also very popular now. My upstairs neighbor in Mount Pleasant, the one who would hire teenage drunks to walk his dog, had one. When the dog would whine because the dog walker didn’t show up, I would go upstairs with my key and set off the alarm. I just realized something. He gave me a key but not the alarm code. What was that about?  Anyway, the police knew me by name. I would open the door, and three minutes later, they would show up, and we would have a good laugh.

My parents had a house alarm. Once, while visiting, I came back late – in our family that means after nine o’clock – and I set off the alarm. Their code was the year they met and the year they got married – 5354. I kept doing it backwards. Oh, they’re dead, so you can’t rob their house now. And you wouldn’t have wanted to. A burglar broke into their home once and redecorated. I think his parting words were, “Enough with the Chinese chachkies!”

A friend once told me that if you break into a Chinese home, you willl find Jewish chachkies.

Which brings me to my home …

The problem with living in a trailer is I didn’t know if I needed an alarm, and if so, should I get a car alarm or a house alarm. Think about it. A thief could break into my house or just drive off with it. “We’ve spotted him on Route 1. Yes, an F-150 with a single-wide hitched to the back. He’s doing around 20 mph. We're in hot pursuit.” Then you sing “Bad Boys, Bad Boys” very slowly.

I have been the victim of three crimes in my life, which means I should be done for now – what with all things happening in threes. In 1988, my car was stolen. Later that same year, my apartment was robbed. In Atlanta in 1993, I was mugged at gun point after which I threw up in the back of a police car while being driven around trying to find the culprits – like that made any sense.

“Oh yeah, officer, there he is walking down the street with a gun in his hand with my wallet in his back pocket.” UrrUrrrUrrrrraaalphh. “Oh, sorry about that. Someone’s going to have to clean that up.”

The thief stepped out of the passenger side of a car at a crosswalk and pointed his gun at my head. Seriously, it took a gun to steal $27 and my license. They were driving a white Chevrolet Cavalier; no wonder they were mugging people.

I manage to survive four months without an alarm. Then Daylight Savings Time ended, and I was leaving for and coming home from work in the dark. And for the first time in my life, I have four exposed walls. And more importantly, Esmeralda is alone until Mrs. M comes to get her around ten o’clock for her first walk.

My things, I don’t care about. All my dreck can be replaced. My dog – that is another story. Do what you want to me. Touch my dog, and you’ll regret the day you left your mother. Don’t fuck with my dog! I’m from Hampton Roads, Bitch!

I got that out of my system.

So, I decided to call that alarm company with a short attention span – ADT.

The representative showed up fifteen minutes late, and the first question I asked was whether the police would do the same. You know I have no filter.

I offered him a seat, and he said, “Nice house. Did you have it professionally decorated?”

He could have sold me a motion detector for the toilet after that compliment!

He then went over all the packages and asked what in my house was important to me. I said, “Nothing. This is to protect my dog because thieves take little dogs like her and use them for pit bull training, and I don’t know what I would do if someone stole my dog. I don't care about my stuff. That can be replaced.”

“You are getting an alarm for your dog?”


He knew then to keep his opinion to himself or he wasn’t going to sell an alarm system.  I picked a basic system, while Esmeralda just watched. He asked, “Does your dog ever bark? Are you sure she’s a beagle?”

“Yes. She just prefers to observe rather than comment. We’re polar opposites.”

Not even a chuckle. How do people get through life without a sense of humor?

I chose a basic system for the doors and one motion detector for the dining room. The way my cooking is received, if someone is still moving after one of my meals, it will be truly alarming – unless I serve creamed corn, a family favorite.

Then he needed a $75 check for Howard County. What? I have to pay the county in order to get an alarm installed? Apparently, in Howard County, yes.

The following week, the alarm was installed by my first cute installer. Be it a contractor, plumber, handyman, you name it, I always get the trolls! After a few hours, he showed me how it worked, and that is when I became alarmed.

I didn’t know that when leaving the house, the damn thing would let out a high-pitched beep for one minute. The first time he tested it, Esmeralda was under the bed in less than three seconds.

“This isn’t going to work. You need to remove this thing. I bought this for my dog, and now it is scaring the shit out of her.”

“Mr. Stern, that is how it sounds.”

“You mean I can’t lower the volume?”


“Then rip it out of the wall.”


For every problem, there is a solution. He didn’t have one, but I did – the owner’s manual. I read it – in front of him. You can lower the volume of the beep by pressing two buttons, and I showed him how.

Some things in this world never change. Cute still equals dumb; too bad it doesn’t always equal hung.

I wonder how many people out there have dogs under the bed because their alarm’s beep is too loud.

The other thing Esmeralda didn’t like was the lady’s voice. “Alarm, stay, exit now.” For the first week, every time the lady would speak, Esmeralda’s ears would go down and she would sulk away from the thing. It was like in Sybil, when Joanne Woodward played the tape of alters to Sybil, and she heard her alter with a voice like her mother’s and went under the piano, reverting to a fetal stage.

Something tells me Esmeralda was abused by a woman – a morbidly obese woman with a cigarette. Once while walking her in Rockville, a morbidly obese, chain-smoking woman exited her car, and I said hello. The minute Esmeralda saw her, she took off on her leash and dragged me three blocks. Or maybe Esmeralda worried I was straight and into morbidly obese, chain-smoking women? No, I think it was the former.

Esmeralda finally became accustomed to the voice. Now she just stares at it waiting for it to say more.

But here is the best part.

The $75 check was for the inspection fee. And this is how that works. The county sets up an appointment from 9:30-4:30. On the day of the appointment, the inspector shows up at 9:35 am, walks into your home, looks at the control panel, and says, “OK, that’s it.” Hands you a card saying approved and leaves.

For $75, I expect a happy ending.

Apparently, this is some old rule from the days before wireless to be sure the control box is not a fire hazard or something like that. The inspector said it was ridiculous, and he did about ten of these a day and was usually finished by 10:30.

I want his job.

If you find the above alarming, join me, follow me, recommend me to your friends …


  1. What about a fire alarm? What happens if there is a fire and you are not home? Can Esmeralda call 911?

  2. Ah, car alarms. When I lived in Manhattan in the late 80's there was a new Nissan 300z that was always parked in front of my building who's alarm would always go off at 5 to 6 in the morning and not stop for hours. The neighborhood I lived in was not the most posh section of Manhattan. Let's just say that local supermarket had the largest Goya section I had ever seen, before or since. An expensive car like that had no business being there, alarmed or not. This car was ruining everyone's sleep for what seemed like a week, until someone, either from a window or a roof, had dropped a large hunk of concrete through the hatchback window. I never saw that 300z again.