False Alarm*

When my carbon monoxide alarm went off at four in the morning on New Year’s Eve, the only thing on my mind was getting the ear-splitting screeching to stop.  So I did what many a half-asleep person would do at 4am.  (Though I categorically do NOT recommend that anyone else do this.)  I got up on a ladder, grabbed the alarm, and after hitting the test/silence button to no avail, took the battery out.

I tried to decide what to do next.  I was loath to call 911 at 4am on New Year’s Eve.  I checked the stove, opened the kitchen window, went on the First Alert website.  In the end, I decided I would just crack open some other windows and go back to sleep. 

That’s when I made my mistake.  Before getting back in bed, I posted a query on Facebook.  I described what had happened, then asked for opinions on how concerned I should be, and how often these alarms go off due to a bad battery or malfunction.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, here were 232 friends and acquaintances from whose experience and knowledge I could cull.  Perhaps some would reassure me by telling me these things often went off by mistake.

Then I did something truly stupid.  I made a little joke at the end of the post--a joke born, perhaps, of that tiny part of me that thought it was possible I might be in danger.  I wrote, “I will be happy to get your advice on CM alarms and batteries, etc. tomorrow when I wake up.  That is, if I wake up!”

My closest friends knew I was kidding, but some people did not.  Even a smiley face can not lighten an otherwise ominous sentence.  And the truth is that I am usually extremely conservative when it comes to Facebook posts.  I am jealous of my privacy; the idea of plastering my personal life all over the internet is unappealing to me.  Before posting, I always try to remind myself how many people may see my post.  But the thing about Facebook is that you usually can’t call to mind every single one of your hundreds of friends.  For example, on New Year’s Eve I wasn’t thinking about my old high school friend, Matty.  If I had, I might have been able to predict how she would react.

Matty freaked out.  She set off a personal alarm louder than the one I had to take the battery out of.  She posted a frantic comment on Facebook.  She called me at 6am.  (Who is awake at 6am on New year’s Day?)  When she got my voice mail, she said “I am VERY concerned.  I think you are in trouble.  Call me back immediately!”  She called again at 8:00, and at 8:45.  I retrieved my messages at 9:30 and called her back just as she was getting ready to alert the fire department and have them bust down my door.

She was apoplectic; I was apologetic.  Indeed, I felt sheepish and guilty.  I hung up and logged onto Facebook as quickly as I could make my fingers move.  I typed “Okay that was a dumb thing to post, I am ok everybody,” before even reading the other comments.  Most people had merely offered advice about opening windows, but one person had written, “Leave the house immediately!!”  One friend, a fireman, chastised me for disabling a life-saving device, but then did offer the helpful information that a dead battery can in fact make the alarm go off.  (Which is what, as it turned out, had happened.)

But why had I been so cavalier?  Are all New Yorkers desensitized to alarms, because we hear them going off so frequently—car alarms, store alarms, fire alarms, emergency-vehicle sirens?  Or is it because I am “wired” to assume that anything in my rent-stabilized, pre-war apartment is bound to break down, so I don’t really have to take an alarm seriously?  How many other New Yorkers hear an alarm and think, “What a nuisance” instead of “I am in mortal danger?”

Whether or not I am jaded in this manner, one thing is for certain: I broke the number one rule of on-line status posting: Never joke about dying.  Believe me, no one will lol.

PS:  I put a new battery in the next day and everything was fine.  My alarm may sound again some day, but I myself will never sound the alarm.  (At least not on Facebook.)

 (*Originally published in The West Side Spirit, 1/13/11)