2013-12-22 The Electronic Crybaby

This ran in the Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, 12/22/2013.

I don't want to seem too picky, but this year, please don't give me anything with a battery. Even if batteries are not included.

various types of batteries

It is 3 a.m. and after an hour of searching, I am at exasperated. Something with a battery somewhere in the house is crying for a change like a child with dirty diapers. And I can't find it.

I slipped out of bed trying not to wake my wife. I fumbled through my dresser drawer. My mobile phone is off. I don't think my laptop beeps when it is expiring, but I checked anyway. Digital cameras don't beep, do they? I took the battery out just to be sure. It's not my new wireless keyboard and mouse is it? Nope. Is it that newfangled digital oven thermometer that tells me when my brisket is ready. Nope.

I find my way to my wife's purse. I never touch her purse, but tonight I must grope it in the dark. It is cold and fearsome in there, but I eventually fish out the Crackberry her boss issued her. It glows green as I squint at it without my glasses. I don't know how to tell if their batteries are low so I stand there slipping out of consciousness waiting to hear a beep. I hear it, but it does not come from my hand.

I head for her desk and I smash my toes against a chair that is not in its usual spot. My wrist in my mouth barely muffles my curses and my wife calls out to ask if I am alright. "Does it sound like I'm alright?" I turn on the room lights now that she is awake. I musta really hollered. Normally she is immune to things that go beep in the night. She can even sleep through the car alarms that wail during thunderstorms. Does anyone call the police when they hear a car alarm anymore? Did she leave her personal phone on (yes she has two phones)? She can't remember, so I check. Is it her iPad? Nope.

I am narrowing the possibilities. There are wireless landline phones scattered around the house, often left on the sofa away from their charging cradle and the juice of life. How many times have I told her to put them back? How many times has she told me? Tonight they are not guilty and neither are we.

I stand beneath the kitchen smoke alarm for a few minutes until I hear the plaintiff electronic blip mock me again. Not this smoke alarm. Nor is it the radio frequency thermometer transmitting the temperature on the side of the garage to the receiver in the kitchen so I know what coat to wear.

It must be a smoke alarm upstairs. Even with the lights on I get a faceful of spider webs in the attic. I repeat the ritual of standing under the alarm waiting to hear a beep. And there it is! But it is coming from below me. Waaaaay below me. It must be in the basement.

I descend two flights and check the basement alarm and the crawl space alarm, but neither wants a new battery tonight. I am stumped. I cannot imagine what it could be. I hear it again. Behind me. I begin the process of triangulation. I walk slowly in the direction of the sound until I hear it again. I correct course like a bloodhound on the scent. I finally find myself in the furnace room and remember the carbon monoxide detector I put there so long ago that it is old enough to vote. I stare at it. It mocks me with a high pitched electronic laugh. I rip it off the wall and open its belly to discover that it needs a special battery. I will pick one up tomorrow.

After I finish this letter I will go to the living room and open a real book, not a Kindle. It needs no batteries, and neither do I. I am wired, and I will be up all night.

Meathead

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