I received a bill today from the City of Alameda — a $73 fine for a third false alarm. For once, it’s a bill I am happy to pay.
Alarm #1: Honestly? I don’t remember. With several people under one roof, it could have been anyone’s fault. You don’t really worry about the first false alarm.
Alarm #2: The phone rang in the middle of the night when a dead battery in a window sensor sent a signal to the alarm company’s central station. After 25 years with the same password, we recently changed it. Everyone knows it’s hard to remember passwords, and harder still when half awake and not firing on all cylinders.
Rattling through every possibility, I couldn’t conjure the new one under pressure. I could hear from the dispatcher’s sympathetic tone that she wanted to cancel the police dispatch. But she couldn’t. The good news is that if a man with a nylon stocking pulled over his head, flashlight in one hand and sharp knife or unregistered gun in the other, had been standing beside our bed, she could have saved our lives.
So mop-headed in my bathrobe and bare feet, I headed down the cold, damp stucco stairs to greet the APD squad car out front, practicing my sheepish “bow and scrape” apology.
The officer smiled (albeit a bit condescendingly) and said, “Can we go inside, ma’am?” I said, “Sure,” realizing that he, too, could picture the same bad guy, nose squished and contorted in Dollar Store control-top panty hose, the muzzle of his gun pressed against my husband’s temple or knife on jugular until I successfully convinced the cops that all was well.
I led them up the stairs and into our front hall. All was well, of course…
Alarm #3: Si was out of town for this one. I came home tired from a long day of running the warehouse by my lonesome and noticed that one of our basement windows was slightly ajar on its hinges.
When I crossed the front hall to read the alarm panel, it said something about a system alarm, but with no deafening noise I figured everything was fine and went about my usual evening routine. I turned on the news, fed the dogs and settled in at the kitchen counter for Diane Sawyer, wine, cheese, crackers, and commercials aimed at the AARP demographic. Fifteen minutes later, Gracie started barking, hackles at attention at her nape. Two of Alameda’s finest stood on our front porch.
“Ma’am – did you know your alarm went off?” I looked down at my toes and said I had a hunch, but wasn’t certain. He looked at me intently and said, “Would you like us to check the house for you?"
Minutes before they arrived, there was something scary-creepy on the news. It was like that time I was in middle school on a textbook “dark and stormy” night. My parents were out, I was alone, and a classic Rolling Stones song came on AM radio. You know the one - about the Devil and the Kennedys?
With rain pounding against the paned breakfast room windows, cypress and eucalyptus trees whipping in the windy dark woods of the Presidio below our house, I was terrified. I grabbed every sharp kitchen knife I could find from every squeaky kitchen drawer and gripped the longest one in my trembling hands for two or three hours until my parents got home, then felt completely stupid.
It was like that. And that big-eyed cop in his freshly pressed uniform asked, “Would you like us to check the house for you?” My inner warrior princess meant to say no, but what came out instead was, “Well, I would sleep better if you checked the closets and under the beds because my husband is away for a few days.”
And I struggled not to cry.
The officers looked at each other and their eyes said, “This one’s a fruit loop…” But they checked the house, closet by closet, and everything was just fine, as I knew it would be.
They came back downstairs and I thanked them for their quick response time and blushed, feeling conspicuous in my synthetic black ballet-style slippers with their precious little bows.
That was the call that put us over our false alarm limit. It was $73 well spent because that night I put the chain on the front door, turned off the lights and went straight to sleep, knowing that Alameda’s finest had tucked me in, safe and sound.
Sometimes you need to make the unnecessary call, or the alarm company needs to make it for you. Here in Alameda, we have a terrific and responsive police force. And I want them to be there when the burly guy on the back porch isn’t just a figment of my creative imagination. So I will send my check and be careful about generating any more false alarms, because the fine increases to $147 after the sixth response.
But I do wonder if a Neighborhood Watch block captain can get a sticker similar to the stickers and license plate frames I see on some luxury cars, persuading the CHP to let lead-footed drivers off with just a warning. (Just kidding, guys, just kidding...)