My wife despises things that beep. Whenever a blackout ends, her first recovery checklist item is reprogramming every beeping thing in our house so that it becomes a non-beeping thing. So, when our security system randomly began beeping at me Wednesday night I knew right away that it would bug her when she got home. That was literally my first thought. I had walked halfway through the house before wondering whether somebody had broken in to steal our collection of four dozen unmatched coffee mugs.

Well, the system wasn’t sounding an actual alarm. It was just beeping the way it does when a door opens, telling you to watch the cat sprint outside and fall over in the dirt. I felt confident about diagnosing keypad error messages, and this one was easy since it just said to call the alarm company. I examined all the control keys, but none looked like it would connect me straight to the alarm company, as if the keypad were also the bat-phone.

Out of the universe of things that can be known, I have not learned many. But I have learned not to manipulate an electronic security system by randomly pushing buttons and hoping that something good happens. I’ve never seen it done successfully, even in spy movies where people fly airplanes sideways all the way through empty buildings and live. I called the alarm company.

The nice alarm lady told me to push Cancel twice to make the beeping stop. Then she had me push a different button, which gave me a “Low Batt” message. Beautiful. I just needed to change the backup battery. I knew we had the manual, because my wife keeps a kitchen drawer full of manuals for every household system, appliance, tool, and piece of electronics we own. It sounds terrifying, but because of her organizational skills, I had the manual in my hands within seconds.

The battery was the size and weight of a big, shiny, black brick, like something you’d throw through a window at a black-tie riot. I slid it out, ordered a replacement, and was watching TV all relaxed and smug when my wife got home.

At midnight the security system started beeping again and woke us up. I figured maybe I should have hit Cancel twice again after I took out the battery, so I did that.

At four a.m. it beeped again until I hit Cancel twice. Perhaps I needed to reinstall the dead battery, so it could keep the seat warm for its replacement. I did that. The beeping had pulled my wife out of some horrific nightmare, the nicest part of which was being trapped in a car that was washed away by a river of blood. I am not exaggerating. She lay awake while I slept until eight. That’s when the system beeped again. I hit Cancel twice.

My wife in her days as a James Bond villain

We studied the manual the next day because there’s got to be a setting for this, and I hate to call companies for help before I read the damn manual (unless their keypad message says to). We found a possible solution (that didn’t work), and then another (that didn’t work). We were handicapped by the fact that we had to wait for four hours to find out whether a solution worked. And as crazy as it sounds, we had other things to do during the day, so that limited our trials.

At bed-time we decided to just turn off the beeping functionality. Brute force.

At three a.m. it beeped. I pressed the Cancel button an improbable number of times. “Press” may not be the right word. Ten minutes later the system began beeping again.

I called a different nice alarm lady and explained our situation. She said that the system should only beep every twelve hours, not four. I invited her to wait on hold for four hours to experience the joy of the next beeping with me. She declined and said the only ways to stop the beeping were to install a fresh battery (which wouldn’t arrive until Saturday), or power down the system by unplugging it inside the house.

“Yes, power us down! We don’t care about death as long as we can sleep. Where do we unplug it?”

“It could be somewhere in your garage, or basement, or laundry room, or attic. Or in any closet in your house.”



For the next half-hour my wife and I re-enacted the scene from “Practical Magic” in which Sandra Bullock rips up the entire floor of her Victorian house looking for a deadly, chirping beetle. Our scene was less picturesque in that we were throwing around clothes, and boxes, and vacuum cleaners, looking for a fist-sized, gray transformer plugged into a random outlet.

At last my wife spotted three feet of near-invisible wire running down her closet wall, going from nothing to nothing. Her cedar chest squatted on the other side of the wall. It was a brutal, coffin-sized thing holding her entire past, which weighed more than her current husband. We threw everything out, moved it, and tore the dread transformer from the outlet behind it.

The creature was dead. I wanted to snip it off at the wall and dangle it from the mantle by its wires. We went back to bed just before dawn. My wife patted my shoulder and muttered, “My hero.”

Now it’s Tuesday, and our home is once again as secure as the belly of a constipated whale. I’m sitting around with no tangible threats for us to slay, after which I can take all the credit. It’s one of the curses of modern man. Tonight, I will secretly break the clothes dryer so I can look good fixing it tomorrow.

My attic is a squirrel hotel. The residents appear to have used their teeth, which generate the approximate cutting power of a reciprocating saw, to create an entryway under my eaves. I even now can hear them frolicking through our Christmas ornaments and tacky decorative baskets. It’s driving my cats berserk.

This is one of the perks of home ownership.

I just got off the phone with the fellow who will repair that hole next week, hopefully with titanium plates. Then I have to trap my little rodent guests and relocate their probably-rabies-free selves to some safe and convivial locale, like a park. Far from here. Maybe on another continent.

These buck-tooth thugs haven’t been my only homeowner challenge lately. Rabbits excavated so far under our front walk that it looked like a bridge in Venice. A disease slaughtered both of the trees in our backyard with the efficiency of a Hellfire missile, and now nothing remains of them but a little sawdust where the stumps used to be. We enjoyed rain in our living room throughout five re-sealings of our roof, until some bright fellow figured out that our chimney needed to be torn down and rebuilt.

The front doorknob came off in my wife’s hand, a light fixture dropped off the underside of the kitchen cabinet, and sunlight disintegrated the dining room curtains. Most of our double-pane windows have unsealed themselves, and now they function like single-pane windows that block the view because of condensation. My air conditioner is giving me nightmares because it’s old enough to drink.

Even my stupid mailbox is no longer a cheerful red, but instead is the color of mud that’s been baked in a Georgia summer. I know that’s not hard to fix, but I just feel like pouting.

Our house is approaching its 30th birthday. For 20 years other people got to enjoy it before we came along, so I suppose we’re paying the tab for some of their fun. I should expect a little wear. But damn, I didn’t expect a Willie-Nelson’s-face amount of wear.

Then again, we have a house to enjoy, and a lot of people can’t say that, so I should stop pouting. I can hear my wife, who rarely pouts, telling me, “It’s broken? Let me add it to the list.” The list is a kind of magical place where things go to get taken care of, assuming you ever remember to read the list and don’t mind some hard work. So our house may be rather crumbly around the edges, but we can slap some spackle on it and sit in the den with all our cats, speculating on the meaning of the popping and groaning sounds coming from walls.

We already know what the thrashing sounds in the attic are.

That's me--the Maginot Line standing between my home and the squirrel invasion.
That’s me–the Maginot Line standing between my home and the squirrel invasion.