Alarming Events

Last month, upon hearing that a neighbor had been burgled, my husband voiced a desire to beef up our home security. I was largely unresponsive. It’s hard for me to feel threatened by a verb that is one letter off from gurgle. The previous owners of our house installed a burglar alarm system, but we never got it switched on, because, quoting Ed, I apparently care more about the $29 monthly fee than I do about our family heirlooms. I gave in, even though I question the likelihood of strangers risking jail time for my father’s brass-plated Lions Club paperweight or Ed’s mom’s blondie recipe. (Though that is only because they haven’t tried his mom’s blondies.) The alarm company sent over a sales representative, a well-coiffed professional in a suit and heels. She recommended adding some infrared motion sensors. I was not wild about this. I like to keep things simple. My idea of home security is to hire cheap, disreputable painters who can be counted upon to paint the windows shut. "Besides, can’t the motion sensors be set off by a pet?" I said.

Ed leaned in close to the sales rep. "We don’t have any pets," he whispered. The sales rep looked me over: the sweatpants, the Goofy slippers, the unbrushed hair. You could tell I was fitting right in with her mental image of People With Imaginary Pets.

"We don’t have a pet now," I conceded. "But we might someday." I knew this to be a lie. Ed is a dog person, and I’m a cat person. We cancel each other out. Though sometimes I let Ed take the slippers for a walk.

I pointed out that every now and then, the neighbors’ cat, Sprinkles, who likes to sleep on our deck, will sneak into the house when the back door is open. The alarm woman started talking about "pet resistance." This was a feature of the motion sensor whereby it was set to cover the room from the waist up only. "Though of course …" She hesitated. "The cat would have to stay on the ground at all times." She did not verbalize the logical follow-up: "So you’ll want to induce a coma before heading out for the evening."

We got the sensors, and we got the system switched on. We never got a pet, each of us practicing his or her own particular brand of pet resistance, but we did, after many years of cost-based bickering, get a housecleaner. Here we compromised by having her come less often than normal people’s cleaners. Every other month, Natalia can be seen macheteing her way through the filth and cobwebs. I gave her the alarm code but promised to leave the alarm off the day she came.

Naturally, I forgot. Later that morning, my work phone rang. It was Natalia, yelling in harmony with the shrieking of the alarm. She couldn’t find the code. On top of all this, my cell phone started ringing. This was the alarm company, responding to the alarm and calling me to get the secret password — which was different from the shutoff code — required for them to shut off the system and prevent the police from rushing over to arrest Natalia for breaking and entering. The machete was bound to complicate her defense.

Some weeks back, Ed and I had spent 15 minutes arguing over the secret password for the alarm. Ed is a fan of the complicated, hacker-proof, identity-theft-foiling password, the kind that involves alternating capital and lowercase letters with obscure foreign accent marks, interspersed with the square roots of street numbers from 35 years ago. Whereas I’ll use my name. I had no recollection of what we’d settled on. "Ummmm." The alarm, and Natalia, continued to go off.

The alarm lady gave me a hint, as a game show host will do from time to time out of pity for a contestant who is bombing unbearably. "Begins with G." "Groach? Goofy?" This went on for some time. Meanwhile, Natalia had dug through her bag, found the piece of paper I’d given her with the shutoff code and quieted the screaming alarm. I don’t know how effective these alarms are against burglars, but Sprinkles hasn’t been seen on the property in weeks.