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Charlie Hatton
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(In)Security Measures

From the “It’s Always Something” Department:

The missus and I live in a condo near Boston. When we moved in, we found the previous owners had a security system installed — a real professional job, by one of those companies that shows commercials of scary home break-ins during football games.

(Just to be clear, the break-ins don’t appear to happen during football games. Those appear to only happen when a woman at home alone is vulnerably drying her hair, or when a single mother is busy getting her daughter ready for school. Or maybe an elderly lady is trying to reach something from the top shelf, with her back to the door and her hearing aid off and hundred-dollar bills hanging out of her robe pockets.

It’s the commercials that play during football games, for some reason. At least, that’s when I’ve seen them. Maybe pro linebackers have more vulnerable domestic moments than I’d realized.)

Anyway, we inherited this alarm system, in a manner of speaking, so we resolved to use it. And we did. Every time we left the house, we diligently armed the system, and punched in our super-secret security code (that’s 1-1-1-1, for those of you scoring at home) when we returned. We felt good. We felt responsible. We felt safe.

That lasted about a week.

The first problem was the dog.

(Surprise, surprise, Sergeant Carter!)

Often when we left the house, we’d leave the dog at home. Because she drools a lot, and sometimes she smells like pee. But our fancy alarm system included a motion sensor for the front hallway. We tested it out once, and had the dog walk into the foyer while the alarm was set. Had her parade around, back and forth all over the room. The sensor didn’t so much as bat a photoelectric detector. So the next morning, we left for work and set the alarm, with the dog inside.

“I mean, nobody expects the Visigoth marauders. After all, their chief weapon is surprise.”

An hour later, I got a call from the alarm company asking whether we were aware that the alarm was shrieking loudly, and there might possibly be a horde of Visigoth marauders pillaging our unit at that very moment.

Well, no sir, I replied. We weren’t aware of that. I mean, nobody expects the Visigoth marauders. After all, their chief weapon is surprise.

Anyway, I told him, it’s probably the mutt. We always suspected that as soon as we leave, she walks around on her hind legs and rearranges the furniture and practices somersaults, so that’s probably the issue. Just disable the alarm, and I’ll sort it out in the evening.

Only, of course, the alarm people can’t disable the alarm remotely. Not even for “MuttKayla Maroney”, apparently. So the insanely loud klaxon fired away for another hour, until I could manage to get back home, turn off the system and ask the pooch what in the name of Olympic tumbling passes she was doing in there.

Of course, she couldn’t hear me; she’d just had an hour of emergency alarm going off in her ear. Also, did I mention the couple right upstairs has children? Small children, prone to needing naps in the late morning and noonish hours? Yeah. They loved us that week. We were just the best.

So we stopped setting the alarm when the dog was in the house, which was most of the time. Partly, that was to placate the neighbors and avoid another DEFCON 3 moment. But mostly it was in the hope that any robber breaking in would take the stupid mutt with him.

Didn’t happen. And the dog still doesn’t listen to me.

So we set the alarm maybe once or twice a week, when there was well and truly nobody home. That lasted a while, until we broke down and did some home improvement, having the old original drafty windows replaced with modern and efficient double-paned jobs.

That was great, and saves us money via proper insulation over the long haul. In the short haul, though, we found that our old security sensors were mostly kaput, since the new windows weren’t big enough to fit them. Evidently, “high-efficiency” also means “skinny as hell window-silled”, and we physically couldn’t even attach the old hardware to the new windows.

So we gave up, put the sensors in a pile in a drawer, and went on with our day, less protected. The front door sensor worked, and the motion sensor worked — oh, sure as shit the goddamned motion sensor worked — but nothing else. It was like going from wearing a condom during sex to strapping a rubber band around your winkie and calling it “safe sex”. It wasn’t an ideal solution, by any means, but we decided we could live with it.

The next morning, I got a phone call. It was from the security company, asking whether I was aware of a possible “security breach in zone nine”. I told them that I wasn’t even sure I had a zone nine, but so long as my keys and wallet and underpants were still where they belonged, I really didn’t give a shiny beaver turd about whatever was breaching this zone of theirs. And anyway, why were they calling? Our system wasn’t armed, and the alarm (mercifully) wasn’t going off.

That’s true, he conceded. But even with the alarm off, we get notified of possible breaches. That’s just the sort of high-powered, technologically-advanced state-of-the-art monitoring that the company provides. For a modest fee, of course.

(“Modest”, if you can have it withdrawn automatically from one of your Swiss bank accounts, of course.)

I thanked the guy for his concern. Then I told him that his precious “zone nine” — along with zones one, two and four through eight — were currently nestling together far away from any window, in a drawer in the kitchen between the extra scissors and a wad of rubber bands.

Once he recovered from his initial shock, I explained the situation. He suggested that we have a company consultant drop by to design a new hardware solution, perhaps involving pressure plates or infrared imaging or sensors with laser-level trips. Suddenly he wasn’t a security guy any longer; he was “Q” from the James Bond movies.

Sadly, my wife and I are about as handy with such things as Ms. Moneypenny. Give us lasers and infrared doohickeys, and somebody’s gonna get hurt. And anyway, we’d just come to terms with having the same no alarm system we’d lived with for thirty-odd years apiece, so no thanks, old chap. We’re done here. Let’s cancel the service.

Sure, he said. There’s just the matter of the outrageously exorbitant opt-out fee, since when we moved in and a security system seemed like a low-hassle no-brainer that was already installed and configured, we had agreed to the standard two-year service deal.

(I could certainly see the guy’s point. They really needed to protect the investment in all the work and hardware they hadn’t just put in, by slapping an enormous penalty on us.

Why, if everyone with a legacy system who had it activated with the flip of a switch — or more likely, prevented it from being deactivated, with the non-flip of a switch — decided to back out of the service, where would they be? Bankrupt, I tells ya! Bankrupt and destitute! And at the mercy of the Visigoth hordes!)

I assured him that our “zone nine” was just fine, thanks, and that we weren’t in the middle of a home invasion, and that we had no plans to ever arm the system again. Or use it. Or pay them a penny more than we were legally obligated to, which turned out to be quite a lot, really, when added up over eighteen months or so. But at least we had the immediate problem solved.

Three days later, the phone rang. Our zone nine was under duress, they informed us. Perhaps we should pick up a billy club or taser or something at the nearest megamart and proceed home with caution. So we explained, again, the situation. And our zone nine problem was put to bed, Again.

Until the next week, when it wasn’t. Over the next several months, all of the various sensors would come to the attention of the security masters — and, by extension, me. We explained about zone eight, zone six and zone two. We asked them to decommision our system; they said they couldn’t do that, so long as we’re under contract. We asked what it would take to get out of the contract — and they laughed. We and our drawerful of sensors were in this for the long haul.

At some point, we got all of that settled, apparently, because I haven’t gotten those sorts of calls for a while. Everytihng has been nice and quiet — with emphasis on quiet — security-wise for several months.

Until tonight. About an hour ago, my wife and I started hearing an intermittent BEEEP coming from somewhere in the condo. It chirped only one every couple of minutes, leading us on a cat-and-mouse game of Marco Polo, trying to find the gizmo responsible for the noise.

We finally tracked it to the control panel for the security system, where in pale gray the word BATTERY was winking on and off. Fine. We set about changing the battery for the display.

Only, you can’t. That piece of hardware is mounted onto the wall, with no release or hatch or battery ejection button in sight. The console wasn’t budging — but it was BEEEP-ing. By the time we’d given up and called the company, I had a splitting headache. And I hated our security hardware with the heat of a thousand safecracking blowtorches. The console blinked a light at me, as if in acknowledgement: BEEEEEEEP


Finally, we got the company on the phone, went through the old explanation, that we never arm the system thanks to Harvey windows — and then went through the new explanation, that we don’t gave three-quarters of a shit whether the system battery corrodes the keypad from the inside like a Sigourney Weaver-style alien, so long as we can turn the damned beeping off and get some freaking sleep.

The nice lady on the other end of the line held her harumph in check, and helped us make it happen. Ten minutes of key-punching obedience later, and our non-functioning alarmless security system finally stopped complaining about a fading Energizer and a drawerful of sensors. Problem solved — for now.

I’m just waiting for the next thing — a four-in-the-morning four hundred decibel alert when the battery finally dies. The motion sensor keening like a banshee when it detects the dog farting in the middle of the night. A home invader who isn’t interested in adopting an elderly pit bull with chronic medical disorders and ass wind that’ll melt a solid gold candelabra at fifty paces.

I don’t know when it’ll come, or exactly what it’ll be. But I can tell you it’s not the prospect of being broken into that keeps me up the most at night now. It’s wondering what the hell else can go wildly awry with this “security” system of ours before we can nix the contract and move on.

Oh, and also keeping me up? Dog farts. Lots and lots of dog farts. Thank goodness we don’t have a sensor for that.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “(In)Security Measures”

  1. ema says:

    Thanks, I needed it

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