A dream morning. Mesdames Clio and Pandora are dozing in their “puppy palettes” as I finish my second cup of coffee. It’s 72 degrees, with 55 percent humidity. Things are quiet. My wife, Millie, is out of town.
Suddenly Clio is on my chair, pawing frantically, with a wild look in her eyes. But we’ve been fed and walked. What is it? Whaaaat?
Then I hear it: the faint but unmistakable sound of a smoke detector gone to the dark side.
Errant smoke detectors are — at least to dogs — a 21st-century variant of the Whoopee Cushion, that little packet of inflatable flatulence that kids could order from the back pages of comic books in the 1950s. But make no mistake: Appearance of these “embarrassing” little packets under the seats of upholstered chairs was not limited to trailer parks.
Way back in the 20th century, Millie and I were summoned to dine at the Uptown residence of a delightful, supremely-well-educated and lovingly-child-indulgent attorney and his brilliant wife, a writer of note. She pretended not to notice when their daughter slipped one of the devices under the cushion as she sat down at the table. Feigning embarrassment, she laughed as the kids giggled, just like the lady in the black-and-white 1950s illustration.
Imagine how New Orleans social columnists would describe Rex slipping a Whoopee Cushion under Comus at the Meeting of the Courts: “Comus Unmasked As Rex Blows His Cover.” A grave disruption of Errol and Peggy Scott Laborde’s TV commentary, and a shocking lead to Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide the following year.
But I digress.
My first thought: Which one did it? (Smoke detector, not kid with cushion.)
It seemed obvious: the one at the top of the stairs, just inside the bedroom. Must be the battery, so let’s pull it out.
No. Seconds later, a plaintiff beep, like the fading voice of the Voyager spacecrafts as they approach the outer edges of our solar system; then another. Then scores.
Ah, It’s obviously connected to the electrical system. Get the ladder. Unplug unit and detach from ceiling.
Beep! My God — this thing has a life of its own. Where can I put it to muffle the sound until it dies?
The first sound-deadening place I find is a drawer filled with brassieres. That should do the trick. Those things are great at their primary job; they’ll no doubt do well in this new capacity.
Heading down the stairs, glowing with success.
Beep! And now it appears to emanate from the hole in the ceiling.
It can’t be. I have to leave for work, and the dogs are only modestly mollified. I decide to flip the main electrical switch, taking a chance on coming home to a defrosting freezer. But the dogs’ aural comfort is worth it, I decide.
Home again; flip on the switch. Dogs quiet. Then: Beep!
I tear up the stairs in disbelief and gape at the hole in the ceiling.
Then my eye goes to Millie’s nearby bookcase. Could it be? A battery-operated smoke detector nestled amidst pamphlets and miscellaneous. I take it in my hand: Beep!
I rip it open to find a dying battery, which I extract from the compartment labeled “Made in Hell.”
Let ‘er R.I.P., I think, just like on the back pages of comic books.