The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Smoke Detectors: A Government Conspiracy

So, guys… I’ve uncovered a US government conspiracy to systematically identify and eliminate the weaklings in our society in order to strengthen our position as a global super power.

No, I have! Really, just hear me out:

What’s the core value of being American? Like the one thing that really makes us who we are, and different from any other nation in the world? That’s right: The fervent and universally held opinion that we are THE BEST at everything important. We’re the strongest and the militariest and the coolest and the BBQiest and if not the smartest, well then certainly the craftiest and smuggest. And don’t you try to tell us differently.

Certain secret government agencies, in their quest to protect our national identity of WINNERS OF STUFF, have noticed some disturbing cultural trends that indicate we could be slipping:

  • Reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty and Slednecks.
  • McRib sandwiches with meat pressed into the shape of pretend bones.
  • Formal sweatpants.

Just to name a few.

These government agencies eventually decided the indicators had reached a level of concern that needed to be addressed if we are going to maintain our status of Country Everyone Else Wishes They Were. Something needed to be done to cull the herd, to select out the individuals who weren’t up to par. So they hatched a plan to infiltrate American homes and secretly institute a barrage of physical, emotional and intelligence tests to filter out the weakest of us, cut the fat and keep us at our societal fighting weight.

I know what you’re wondering: What are these tests and how do I know about them?

Well I’ll tell you. Smoke Detectors. That’s how they do it. And I know, because this week my family was subjected to this brutal and barbaric round of testing. They thought they were smarter than us. They thought we wouldn’t figure it out. But I’m here to tell you right now that what we went through could only have been part of a government conspiracy to break us down, reveal our weaknesses and ultimately eliminate those who couldn’t handle it. There’s just no other explanation. Here’s how it goes:

Monday morning at 3:17, I was dreaming that Scott Folley showed up at my door with a bacon blue cheese burger and a bottle of Zinfandel. When he spoke, he sounded like Louis CK, and he told me he wanted to take me to a deserted island and help me write my novel. Just as he looked into my eyes and leaned forward (he smelled like beef and cheese), alarms started going off, Barack Obama and Portia DeRossi with her terrible hair burst in to take him away and I woke up, only to realize the alarms weren’t in my dream. They were all the smoke detectors in our house going off.

By the time we’d checked to make sure there wasn’t a fire (let’s be honest, I stayed in bed while Jason checked) and calmed the kids down, the alarms inexplicably stopped. Everyone went back to bed and laid awake trying to calm our heart rates while wondering if our house was haunted, and trying to remember if our alarms only detected smoke or if they were some kind of carbon monoxide thing, too, and sniffing to see if we could smell gas.

About 10 minutes after we’d all finally settled down and drifted back off to sleep, at 4:45, they all went off again. This time they stayed on for a good solid 10 minutes. The kids and cat huddled on our bed with me and their hands over their ears, while Jason stumbled around the house in the dark yelling profanities and our neighbors updated their list of Reasons to Evict The Newlins* to present at the next HOA meeting.

At 5:15 the alarms went off for the third time and continued to blare until Jason ripped them all off the ceiling one by one and removed the batteries.

This is Phase I of testing. It targets anyone emotionally unstable, depressed, or suicidal. Sleep deprivation plus non-stop ear-piercing alarms, combined with the terror of potentially seeing your family cooked to death is an extremely quick and effective way to whittle you down to your core where you’re just a bundle of raw nerves. Sometimes it even causes loved ones to turn on each other. I was actually a little surprised we survived this stage. When Jason broke down and began angrily berating the smoke detectors themselves while Jonas begged me to make it stop because it was hurting his ears and the cat shivered in my lap, I had a moment where I wondered if the sweet release of death wasn’t preferable.

After Jason and the kids shuffled blearily out the door to school and work, I was determined to figure out and solve WHATEVER THE FUCK was going on with the smoke detectors so that we could get a decent night’s sleep the next night. I began by calling the manufacturer of the smoke detectors. I was routed through a phone system and forced to leave a voicemail for a customer service rep.

Next, I turned to the internet. A quick Google revealed sometimes dust caused smoke detectors to malfunction. Vacuuming them out could remedy the problem. I came up with a plan to vacuum each out, replace the batteries (just in case) and put them up one by one. The first one seemed fine. The second seemed fine. The third croaked quietly when I tested the alarm, despite the new battery. The fourth also seemed not as loud as the first two. The fifth, as soon as I put the battery in the little motherfucker, caused all of the alarms in the house to immediately begin sounding. And, of course, when I tried to take the goddamn battery out, the little battery door was stuck and I had to run around the house like a lunatic trying to find a screwdriver to wrench it open while all of the alarms sounded for the fourth time that morning. I consider that one yet another victory for not throwing myself in front of a bus.

Clearly, I thought, I had three bad smoke detectors. Two sad ones with insufficient alarms, and one angry one causing all of the rest to go off. I took a sharpie and marked two of them with an “S” and one with an “A”, so I wouldn’t forget which were which, and headed to Home Depot to buy replacements.

At Home Depot, I was told by Wilford Brimley and Don Knotts that they don’t sell the brand of smoke detectors I have in my house, because they’re only sold to contractors and home builders.

Me: OK, so… I have to replace them ALL??

Wilford: No, you can buy this brand we have here. But see how yours have a yellow wire and these have a red wire?

Me: Yeah…

Wilford: You’re going to have to strip the wire and pigtail the red and the yellow together when you install them so they still talk to each other.

Me: Um… I think this might be above my pay grade.

Wilford: Oh I don’t doubt that, ma’am, but it’s not rocket science.

Don: Heh, heh. You just need to pigtail that sucker. But make sure you turn off the main breaker. It’s not that difficult.

Me: Pigtail. Main breaker. Ok.

When I got to my car with three new smoke detectors I would have to ‘pigtail’, I looked at my phone and realized that I didn’t have a missed called because the cell service is so spotty in Home Depot, but I did have a new voicemail. From the manufacturing company. That said, “Please call me back at this number”, and when I did, I got the same voicemail message I had before.

This was clearly Phase II of the testing. It was designed to evaluate intelligence. Someone not bright enough to find a solution and then immediately subjected to taunting by elderly hardware store employees would likely crack from frustration and humiliation, retrieve a semi-automatic weapon from their car and spray the inside of the Home Depot with bullets and body parts. I also nearly failed this round.

Phase III of the testing is the government’s crown glory achievement. It targets their biggest concern and the problem they’ve found is most prevalent in dragging America down off its pedestal of Awesome: laziness. Phase III is rather brilliant, I have to admit. In Phase III, all of the people who were thwarted by one or all of the roadblocks to fixing the smoke alarms:

  • Step ladder is too short to reach tall ceilings
  • No access to the correct brand
  • Lack of electrical knowledge
  • Unwillingness to pay an electrician $100/smoke alarm to replace them
  • Would rather watch bad reality TV

will give up and simply live without smoke detectors. Eventually, they’ll forget to unplug their straightening iron, light the ant traps in their bathroom on fire and burn their house down with them in it, thus, naturally selecting themselves from the planet.

Currently, there’s still a strong possibility we’ll fall victim to Phase III.



*They write their names on our property in permanent marker. They wander around asking to play in our yards. They accidentally murder indigenous creatures. They let their smoke alarms go off for no reason at all hours of the night.

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