Also Alarming Me, These Days

We’ve got a pen that’s missing its cap. It hasn’t done any of the unauthorized pen activities that a capless pen might do, such as dry out or draw all over the tablecloth or something. But still, it’s sitting there and making me over eight percent more anxious than you imagine it would make me. We need to add some kind of alarm system for this contingency. If we had an automatic system worrying about this then I wouldn’t have to do anything about it.

A marker pen sitting out, without a cap, on the tablecloth.
Also, while picking up a coffee mug that was right at the edge of the table I managed to knock over the glass that was in the center.

Returning To The Alarms

I’ve still been thinking about alarms we might use. Please note that these are not based on dreams, except the dream we all have of a world made perfect. By perfect I mean one where we find out there are problems and can do things that fix them.

An alarm that it is time to make something in the slow cooker. Many of us have slow cookers not being used for their primary purpose. This can be okay, since we can use them for their secondary purpose, which is to be a big heavy thing covered in slightly greasy dust that’s on top of the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, and that somehow falls away from us whenever we try to take it down. It’s a demanding job but what else could possibly do it? The blender? The rice cooker? The jumbo-size plastic bucket from Wall Drug, a place neither we nor anyone we know has ever been?

Yes, clearly. Any of these, plus the fondue pot and the bread maker that still has some kind of crust in it from 2014, can fill the slow cooker’s secondary purpose. So we need a reminder of that, and that’s what this alarm will do. It’s not an urgent alarm, just a reminder that, hey, you could take two hands full of edible things, put them in a pot, fill the rest with water, and set it going for between three and twelve hundred hours, so why aren’t you?

An alarm that someone might put a full travel mug in their backpack or suitcase or something. This is not based on anything I’ve seen someone do. It’s just that we have a really good travel mug. It’s dishwasher-safe, for one thing. And it’s scary good at keeping things warm. It’s kept an ordinary load of coffee warm for stretches of up to eight months. We don’t know if it could do longer. We wanted to put it in the dishwasher. Anyway this doesn’t call on unusual magic. It’s just really good at forming a closed seal to hold its liquids. Now here’s where it gets alarm-worthy.

My love uses a small backpack to lug stuff around. And sometimes at the end of the day tosses the empty travel mug in there, freeing up hand slots. And this has made me realize that someone could just toss a full travel mug, coffee and all, into their backpack or suitcase or anything else holding other stuff. And move around like that! This makes my feet crawl, and not in the good ways. I mean in the ways like when I hear how in the 60s NASA sketched some plans to make a Lunar Flyer, that would just be this platform with little rockets they could set off in pulses, using the mechanic we would come to know from Flappy Bird but at the Sea of Tranquility. The idea was this way astronauts could cover a lot more ground, then crash into it. And that’s the feeling this “chuck a full travel mug into your suitcase” idea gives me. There is absolutely nothing in place to stop this from happening. We need something in place to stop this from happening.

An alarm that we’re about to over-water a plant. Obviously this isn’t needed for every plant. Christmas trees, for example, have these nice huge buckets of water and we can see whether we’re putting too much in: it spills out onto the skirt. But for other plants it’s harder. We can see that, say, the soil is pretty dry, since the cactus is smothering itself in skin lotion that isn’t helping. Watering is the obvious answer. But we start out and the water just disappears into soil that isn’t made the slightest bit less dry. As we pour in the first three gallons of water the soil somehow becomes more dry. And then suddenly one more drop and it’s too wet. The flower pot is this stew ready to be put in the slow cooker, and there’s a waterfall of mud and cactus remnants pouring out over the bookcase, across the floor, and down into the basement, sweeping away whatever’s on the floor. This is piles of magazines and back issues of the local free alt-weekly newspaper that we can’t agree whether we’ve read. This is not just obviously inefficient. It’s also inefficient in the un-obvious ways. Anyway we need an alarm to let us know we’re entering the one-24th of a second window between “needs more water” and “is overwatered” so we can stop pouring.

There are probably more things we could be alarmed about give a fair start.

A Great Alarm, From My Dreams

I had been figuring to continue my talk about alarming things. I mean alarming to me. And particularly about things alarming to a wakeful mind that’s as rational as you get around here. Then I went and slept. If we accept that dreams can be warnings of what we must face, then I’m up for something big soon.

For this dream alarm to make any sense at all I should tell you we haven’t met our new neighbors. All we know about them is that they maybe exist. We’re not sure. The house next door is a rental. Sometimes we’ve had great neighbors. Like the ones who were pointing out the adorably silly look of this kitten’s tail, and said someday they’d bring us a pie from work. Those were great neighbors, everything you could hope for. They never even did bring us pie and that’s fine. We were happy to be thought worthy of pie delivery.

But that was a long time ago, and different renters have come in, and left, a couple times over. We’re sure that the last set of renters left. We noticed them less and less, then we noticed we didn’t notice them at all, and that’s how someone leaves, right? We’re not completely sure there’s new ones there, though. The evidence for is that someone goes in and leaves lights on, and there’s sometimes a car in the driveway at some implausible hour like 4 am. The evidence against is there’s not a curtain in the entire building and we dont see furniture either. But someone’s gone raking leaves there. It has to be at least someone who knows what they want out of the place. The point is that I don’t know our neighbors, if we have them. Any interactions we’d have with them would be our first, as far as I know.

So the dream scenario starts with me in the dining room, puttering away on the computer, probably writing this essay only even later. And then looking out the back to see that something’s knocked over part of the fence. This would be very annoying to have to deal with, so I did not. At least not until I looked again later and saw the whole fence was gone. That would be a problem I couldn’t ignore, which is why I did. And before you get all smug about how you’d be more active about this let me point out that you’re a lying liar who’s lying to yourself, by whom I mean me. If someone came in and stole your backyard fence you’d do anything to not deal with that too.

Which is fine except that a couple minutes later, I saw that the neighbor’s house was gone. More, all the houses down the block were gone, replaced with what looked like the clubhouse for one of those golf courses they make retirement communities out of these days. This annoyed me since we have some pleasantly old houses in the neighborhood, getting on a hundred years now, and they might be utterly ordinary Dutch Colonial things but there’s value in having an ordinary neighborhood in kind-of respectable shape. Plus it’s ridiculous to put in a golf clubhouse without a golf course. But on most of what had been the neighbors’ driveway was now a pool.

Offisa Pupp, berating a magician: 'You and your magic! You've got all Coconino County upset making things vanish. That mouse vanishes. That brick vanishes. My jail vanishes. Even that dear Kat vanishes. Everybody vanishes. Everybody ev --- ' Pupp vanishes. The magician, rolling over to sleep: 'I'm still here.'
George Herriman’s Krazy Kat for the 16th of January, 1942, and reprinted on Comics Kingdom today, the 5th of December, 2019. I feel peculiarly called out by all this.

Recounting this makes me realize that if the neighbors’ driveway had been replaced with a pool, then there’d be no good place to put the ladder for when I change the storm windows out for screens in spring. Our houses are close together and we use the neighbor’s driveway under the well-established legal principle of “I dunno, we’ll do this in the middle of the afternoon when they’re probably at work, if they exist”. That I was not worrying about how to take the storm windows down should have warned me that I was not in my rational mind. Whatever conclusions you draw about me, as a person, from knowing that self-assessment, are correct.

Anyway I was willing to put up with the neighborhood going missing and the fence being stolen, especially with the nice fountains spraying out of the ponds. This until I felt the water spraying on my back. Now the walls of our dining room were gone and I had to say something. I knew that our neighbor was responsible, somehow, and also knew who our neighbor was, and got a bit shout-y. The neighbor tried to point out that he’d left many of the walls in our house intact. Plus now we had the benefits of a covered patio for our dining room, which didn’t satisfy me because I was thinking of the heating bill. “Where do you get the nerve to STEAL our BUILDING WALLS”, I shouted. As I remember I put in the word “building” in order to make clear I was not this upset about the fence going missing, in case someone would mistake a wooden fence for a wall. And I wanted “building’s” but couldn’t make that work.

Also, and this is a real thing that really happened for real, in reality, I was yelling loudly enough in my dream that I was also saying this in real life, waking up my love. After listening a while to find out where this was going, my love woke me up. This was disorienting, and then I realized: oh, yes. Realizing that all this was a dream answered most of my questions about the situation I was in.

Anyway, if all this is a harbinger of the relationship we’re to have with our neighbors, if and when they exist, I think we must say they are very alarming neighbors indeed. I shall have to insist on actual pie delivery before they swipe any walls.

Some Things Which Are Not Alarming

But these are things that we do need alarms for as long as I am thinking about alarms.

First, we need a warning about putting things on tables. I have to preface this with a warning. I’m going to sound like a great big hypocrite. This is because I am a great one for putting things on tables. I come from a long line of people who put things on tables. Also footstools, bookshelves, chairs, slow-moving relatives, sofas, all kinds of things. We put things on any kind of reasonably horizontal-ish surface, and then putting some more things on top of that.

Look anywhere you like on my family tree and you’ll find stacked on it three magazines we figure to read someday and maybe an orange or a disused volleyball. Something in the greater orb family. On top of that is the cardboard box something was mailed to us in years ago and kept around just in case it could be used to mail something else. It will never be so used, because by that time it’s acquired too much sentimental value to just mail out like a piece of common boxery. Also by then it’s got four possibly expired credit cards, a sandwich baggie full of loose bolts and magic markers, plus an Underdog comic book, the broken-off wrist strap from a digital camera, and a block of lucite representing no clear purpose in it.

So please understand that it is not simply putting things on the table that I think needs an alarm. It is the placing of something that could get knocked off the edge of the table, that I’d like a warning system for. And here we have a problem. My love is the normal one in our relationship. I’m the one who, within the past week, has shared the cartoon where Mister Jinks acknowledges to Pixie and Dixie that he didn’t want to be transformed into a cow but he isn’t going to raise a fuss about it. (Mister Jinks is fibbing. He’s very cross, blaming them for his turning into a cow.)

My love therefore just puts, like, a can of soda down on the table. You know, anywhere that isn’t already covered by my stack of library books and unopened letters from the ham radio people and the DVD of Automan I bought two years ago and haven’t watched yet. Me, I feel uncomfortable with a soda can anywhere too near the edge. I define too near as “within three feet of a zone that could reach the edge of the table, if someone were to take a running start from at least twenty feet away, leap up, and attempt to tackle a Mello Yello Zero”. I would like the pop cans to be kept at least 28 feet away from all edges of the table, and surrounded by that little foam padding thing they use to wipe up chemical spills. And be watched over by a protective agency. I’m thinking mouse guards, dressed as Romans but carrying pikes because that would look great. They would be fully equipped with an antigravity mechanism to move the pop out of the way in case of flying tackles.

Obviously this scheme is impractical. Being 28 feet away from the dining room table would put the soda somewhere in the attic, possibly the roof of the house, depending on which side of the table we sit at. While this would prevent spills on the floor, it could cause spills on the beach gear, insulation, or squirrels casing the joint.

So I’m already the one in the wrong about whether “setting a can of pop on the table” is an alarming scenario. But furthermore, spilling a pop on the floor is maybe the best indoor place to spill it. The only thing that’s ever on the floor is our feet, which clean well, or the socks our feet are in, which also clean well, or the pile of computer cables topped with a bag of plush dolls that I got at an amusement park that I mean to give my nieces as presents and keep forgetting to do. Spilling something too near that pile on the floor might actually make me clean that nonsense up, which would be worth it. Spilling something on the floor is a boon to housecleaning altogether.

Spilling on the table? Now that’s a mess. That we have to deal with by getting the laptop computers out of the way, and maybe tablecloths, placemats, United MileagePlus reward catalogues going back to 2016, this packet of Splenda we snagged at a Tim Horton’s in Hamilton, Ontario, last summer, and four different hard drive cases, some three of which contain working hard drives that we use for backup backups. Getting all that cleared out ahead of the wave of spilled Mello Yello Zero is stressful. We should be placing our pop nearer the table edge just to make sure it spills in productive places instead.

I meant to have more things to be alarmed by but somehow ran out of space. I apologize for the inconvenience.

And Some More Alarming Thoughts

With another week since the strange disappearance of our leaves I feel less unsettled by it. Naturally enough. The more you live with something the more you think it’s normal to live somewhere people rip off your bagged leaves. I’m worried that it’s getting me complacent, though. What’s needed are some new alarms. Obviously for leaf thieves, or as my love puts them, “leaves”. But for more things, too.

And I know you’re figuring I’m going to put up a bunch of nonsense here. No. These are all alarms to reflect real problems that real people really have in reality. I mean if I count as a real person. I’m open to arguments on the matter, but if you win, how can you possibly feel proud?

So the first is about the phone. This morning my phone told me I had voice mail. A lot of voice mail. It had a bunch of messages going back two months to when we had the phone company out to do phone things to the phone line. Also the dentist reminding me about an appointment I went to anyway. Also about three hundred messages in which a robot from account services warned my Windows was expiring but we could get the extended warranty if I pressed five now. Also something where my boss called. So, yes, it’s a good thing that I check my phone for voice mails once a year, whether I’m using it or not. But also there needs to be some way that phones send you some kind of notice about there being voice mails.

Here’s another one. The other day I needed some cellophane tape. I was using it to … you know what? I’m not sure that’s really your business. I don’t mean to insult you. I just don’t know how much of my business I want the world to know. Anyway, I needed some cellophane tape and there was none in the house. I know tape was brought into the house. I would bring it myself. It’s not here, though, not when there’s things to be taped. What’s needed is an alarm that we are almost out of tape and therefore should do something about that. We could either get more tape or commit to getting fewer things that need tape. That’s hard given how Christmas is coming up. I suppose we’d have to switch how we wrap things up. Maybe staple the wrapping paper on. That’ll work out fine for me giving calendars to everybody I know. It’ll be less good in case someone is trying to give me, oh, a soap bubble. So maybe this is not practical. Anyway I handled this by going to the store and buying — here I am not exaggerating — ten rolls of cellophane tape. I have put one in every room where we might need to tape a thing to another thing or itself. I cannot find any of them.

While we’re at getting alarms where we need them, we should do some alarm-balancing. We have two kitchens in the oven, one a microwave and the other a real one. When we set the timer on the real oven we get this kind of alarm:

“[ whispering ] (bing.) Oh, well, that’s done. I suppose if no one comes check on me I’ll just sit here pouring 450 degrees into the curly fries until something burns down then.”

Whereas the microwave oven alarm has this level:


I’d like to balance these two out a little bit if we could.

Also I have to admit telling a fib there. I almost never let a mug of tea get lukewarm enough to put in the microwave. Coffee, yes, but not tea. I hope you don’t think worse of me for that.

Just Thinking About Those Alarmed Skunks

So I was thinking about those skunks who’ve been alarmed by things so much this year. I’m this close (please imagine two things close together. No, not that close. Only this close) to going out at night and asking them if everything’s all right, and if they would maybe like to talk it out instead of getting into whatever fights it is they’ve been getting every four days lately. Well, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. I’d keep trying to understand more of the context of what they’re so upset about and we’d never get the issue settled. Hm.

Some Alarming News

I don’t mean to alarm everyone. But there have been an alarming number of alarms here lately. In fact, as I write this, I hear one that’s completely new. It sounds — oh, there, it’s just stopped. Well, it sounded like someone was running a vacuum cleaner that has just inhaled a throw rug. Whatever that means can’t be good. My guess it is it means the dogs nearby aren’t nervous enough.

Anyway that’s just the latest strange and alarming-like noise here. Another one only stands out when I go outside. This is … well, it sounds like a smoke detector complaining about a low battery. This is a more successful alarm than that vacuum cleaner that’s swallowed the throw rug, which is back, by the way. It’s not just more unsettling because the smoke alarm’s been going on a week now. The smoke alarm is unsettling because it implies there’s some house on the block where it’s always 4:30 am. This seems improbable. If it’s always 4:30 am in there how do its residents know when to oversleep for work? But more, how am I hearing the smoke alarm from some other house? It can’t be the neighbors. I know them, kind of, and they’d absolutely have replaced the batteries or smashed the smoke alarm with a sledge hammer by now. But what other house could possibly be near enough to hear? Unless all their windows were open, and they had set up a megaphone right by the smoke alarm and aimed it right at our driveway?

But what other explanation makes sense? Could someone have set a smoke alarm in the park at the end of the block? This would be great, since the local squirrels and raccoons need some warning of brush fires. The skunks do too, but they need something less alarming, for the obvious reason. The local skunks have been very alarmed by many things all summer and fall, I infer. We don’t need to add to that.

Anyway — there’s that vacuum cleaner again — there’s a bunch of alarms in the area. Like, this past Saturday they did the usual monthly tornado siren test. My area of Michigan, despite being in the Midwest, doesn’t actually get that many tornadoes. It gets tornadoes about as often as my old area, New Jersey, does. And New Jersey doesn’t get tornadoes. When I grew up we only ever heard about tornadoes touching down in warehouse districts of Brooklyn. These days, tornadoes have been entirely priced out of Brooklyn. Where are they even going to go, Staten Island? So the point is we don’t really need a tornado siren in Lansing, Michigan. One Halloween they tried using the torando siren to announce the official start and end of trick-or-treating hours. The catch is that year it was so rainy, and windy, and turbulent that everyone figured we were getting a tornado, so everybody stayed home, confused. This foiled our plan to get a good reputation by giving out full-size peanut butter cups.

And then this Tuesday they tested a different alarm. This is one they’ve set up to warn people that the dam has broken. Also that there’s a dam which, if broken, could be a problem. We’re near a river, but not the one that’s got a dam so far as anyone has told us about. But we are near enough that other river that I could hear the siren. It was this kind of quick, rising tone, with silent intervals, sounding like someone was trying to hurry through the tornado siren and made a mistake and had to start over again.

After like thirty seconds of that, the siren gives way to a prerecorded announcement. Here, this booming voice gives people the useful emergency information: I don’t know. We’re far enough from the river that by the time the sound reaches us, it all sounds like Charlie Brown’s French teacher. So, if the dam does break, I’ll have to follow the instruction of “le hrronk, la bwooonk-wa-wa-honk et les nous hawrooronkarronk sur ta plume”.

I think that vacuum cleaner has digested the throw rug, so whatever problem that is has cleared up. I know I feel more secure now.