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Don't be alarmed

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

There are alarms and there are alarms.

Consider the alarm clock. Dave has it ours so low you can hardly hear it. I won’t even tell you how late in the day it beep-beeps. I do appreciate its gentleness: Getting up in the morning is by far the hardest thing I’ll do all day, and my demon would let me sleep until about noon unless I set the alarm.

We tend to stay up until midnight, watching TV, and then reading after we get to bed. One of the perks of retirement, after all, is that you can stay up as late as you want. Well, as long as your bedmate is of like mind.

Some alarms are even funny. In our travels, we have seen directions to public rest rooms that say “Toilets alarmed.” The same people, I suspect, post signs near low door frames warning “Mind your head.” And the places I’m describing here are English-speaking.

Lighter warnings, maybe too light, include the one in the new refrigerator. If you fail to close all the doors properly, a rather chirpy “beep” that is all too easy to disregard will persist – I don’t know how long – before it finally gains our attention.

We respond to alarms according to our interest and vulnerability. Failing to react to the fridge door beeper is likely to annoy you, but will probably not kill you.

Unlike a railroad whistle. I love that lonely call in the night, at the same time acknowledging what it must be like to live a couple of hundred feet from the tracks.

And you haven’t lived if you’ve never been caught in a department store’s security system. It happened during the recent busy Christmas buying and exchanging holidays. A high-pitched scream began and the staff members ushered a few customers out the door. Seemed like it would stop at any moment, but it didn’t. The manager ran the length of the store several times, reassuring us that there was  no emergency. He just didn’t know how to turn it off. We were deep in the back of the store, so I took my time moving forward to check on some slacks I had spotted earlier. Any suggestions about the merchandise had to be shouted to a slightly flustered saleslady, and the answers shouted back. You could barely hear shouts.

For a contrast of dangers and their warning devices consider the telephone call from the office where you get your annual mammogram. After a recent visit, an office staffer called. “We need to do one more X-ray on one side,” she said. “The radiologist found something suspicious. He’s just being extra cautious.”

After the second X-ray, we scheduled a 6-month re-do, a decision I would normally have insisted on 12- to 18 months. Now six months sounds not cautious enough.

No one pays any attention to a car’s security devices. What was the last time you heard someone’s car horn beeping? Nobody responds to that insistent alarm, at least not the police. It began just as I got to the door of the physician’s office, after Dave dropped me off and pulled into the nearest parking spot in the lot.

Yes, I did turn around to see whose car it was – ours – but no, I didn’t ask if I could help figure out how to shut the alarm off. He’s a boy and I’m a girl and everyone knows who is mandated to work under the hood of a 1991 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Besides it was a terribly cold and blustery day, and I wanted to get into the building.

The raucous security system was in high dudgeon, accompanying itself with flashing headlights and emergency flashers – when suddenly it stopped. From the warm waiting room, I could see Dave settling into the paper, and just as abruptly as it shut down, the monster resumed its evil cacophony.

Again, it quit after a few minutes and I avoided eye contact with the other patients in the room. When I was done and walking to the car, all was quiet. I thought Dave had overcome the beast – until I touched the door latch, and it started again and he slammed his hands on the steering wheel and vented his frustration with all things Jeep.

God bless AAA, who got their operative to us in about a half hour. He’s not a mechanic; his job is to pick up and haul hapless souls such as we, and that he did that easily in the lofty towers of the cab on his huge flatbed. Our pleasure was doubled when the AAA affiliate in Fayetteville found the problem, although not the necessary sort of key required to shut it off.

He fixed the problem and advised us what we need to do to replace the key. Neither trucker nor shop-owner charged us.

Despite the now horrendous weather, we stopped for lunch at one of our favorite eateries, a really good place west of Fayetteville. Souls and bellies sated, we hurried on home to a warm hearth, laughing at our own mixed fortunes.

Everyone, sooner or later, has a false alarm story, I betcha.

That’s just life. Don’t be alarmed.  

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