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Friday, July 20, 2012


So here we are.
New York City apartment living is one of those things that people who do not live in New York City apartments somehow seem to know about, via sitcoms and movies and folklore. It’s expensive. It’s cramped. There are wacky neighbors across the hall. Peepholes and buzzers are involved. Leaks and peeping toms and thin walls. Nutty landlords, and uh oh, the rent is due. Really, that’s any apartment anywhere, not just in New York. But because of sitcoms and movies and folklore, when suburbanites think “apartment,” they think New York. 
But sitcoms and movies and folklore never capture everything. They rarely do. It’s just because sometimes things happen in apartments that are strange but mundane, annoying but not fascinating, eventful but not enough for a plot line.

Take, for example, the other night. Out in the hallway near our front door, there began an intermittent -- and somewhat shrill -- beeping from either the floor’s smoke alarm or the carbon monoxide alarm. It wasn’t the actual alarm going off, but more likely either a malfunction, a dying battery, bad wiring, or the unit needing to be replaced. 
What was odd about it was not the beeping. It was the beeping patterns and timing. It began with a single beep, not unlike the familiar chirp of an alarm whose battery needs replacing, but at irregular intervals. 
beep... beep... ... ...beep
Then began the double beeps, with an occasional single beep thrown in.
beep beep... beep beep... ...beep beep... beep... beep beep... beep...
Being as this was not technically an emergency, the building super was not called right away.
Triple beeps began an hour later, but that did not mean that the single or double beeps went away. I tried to establish a pattern, but there was none, in the beep sequence or in the spaces between the beeps. 
Later, more sequences joined the mix of single, double, and triple beeps:
beep beep beep *beat* beep
beep beep beep *beat* beep beep
beep beep beep *beat* beep beep beep
beep beep beep *beat* beep beep beep *pause* beep
And at one point, for no good reason, triple beeps over and over.
It would also stop for long periods, and just when we decided we could breathe again, beep
Eventually, much later than we would have hoped, this was remedied by the assistant super yanking the infernal thing off the wall entirely, but until that occurred, several things happened:
I wanted to hit things.
I began to place little bets with myself to see if I could guess which beeping sequence would be next. (I owe myself a lot of money.)
Finally, I started to wonder if the alarm was sending out a secret code, that each beeping sequence had a meaning, and that the alarm might have been in trouble. Who it was sending the message out to is a mystery. Maybe it was trying to communicate with aliens, or other appliances. Maybe it was a spy code. Why would an alarm send coded messages? And whom would those messages be intended for?
Sure, it was impossible... or maybe just improbable... or was it? 
Sitcoms and movies and folklore are often about the impossible and improbable. Many thrive on it. Half of the sitcom or movie or folk tale is about someone trying to convince everyone that sure, it seems impossible or improbable but it’s true! Why won’t you believe me? I’m here from the future! I’m a 13 year-old boy trapped in the body of a man! My mom and I switched bodies! Peter Parker is Spiderman! That woman is a mermaid! 
(Slightly related tangent: If in real life, someone dear to you says, I have something important to tell you, and you say, wait, let me talk first, and then after you talk you say, now what was that you wanted to tell me and he/she says, never mind, it’s not important, it probably is really important and has to do with time travel, body-switching, murder, or stolen identities.) 
And after all, isn’t truth often stranger than fiction? Then why wouldn’t a smoke alarm or a carbon monoxide alarm feasibly have a reason to send coded messages to some unknown entity by way of beeps that would seem like a simple malfunction to the untrained ear, so as not to raise suspicion? Maybe it was a signal to the toys that come to life when we leave the room. Or maybe it wasn’t the alarm acting on its own; maybe it was a miniaturized person who’d crossed the path of a shrink ray who managed to make his way across Manhattan, into our building, up to our floor, down the hallway, up the wall and into the alarm, and was now sending distress beeps to the crazy scientist (who apparently lives on our floor) to come help him. 
Forgive me. This damned heat wave has kept me in front of the TV too long. Between that and all the beeping, well, I think my mind has been compromised. I need to get out more. But I hope I don’t cross paths with any shrink rays, because they haven’t replaced the alarm in the hallway yet.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me. 

1 comment:

  1. I immediately upon reading thought that it might be a morse code. Don't worry. You're normal!