So we had this storm. It was hyped daily as it approached: heavy rain, ice pellets, freezing rain, snow and very high winds – ergo – power outages.
I don’t listen to the news, except about Trump, but everyone told me, even strangers in the elevator. I got in provisions. I checked the lantern’s batteries. Good to go. Or not go really. I’d hunker down inside out of respect for my old bones.
As the storm began, I was woken by a beeping alarm. I stood in little hallway where the CO alarm and the smoke detector were mounted, cheek by jowl, so to speak. No further information was forthcoming.
The next time I woke up,I had a headache or rather something inside my head was trying to get out though the top. Two swords were drilling into the bones there. I sat on the edge of the bed. Dizzy, nauseated. Action!
I opened the bedroom window, the outside right slider, the inside left. Air could get in, but not whatever was falling and hammering at the glass.
I turned on the exhaust fans, opened the other windows, tried to eat toast, drank water and tea, and went back to bed.
A little after noon, I woke up again. Beep. Pause. Long pause. Oh that’s okay. Beep. Long pause. Again I stood in that five foot long hallway, open on the east to the living room, with three other doors and great potential for echoes. Nothing. Except head pain.
I went to the fridge to read that all important magnet. I raised my right arm, then my left. I said, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickles peppers, Peter picked a peck of pickled…” I looked in the hall mirror. No mouth droop. No numbness. Lack of strength? Well, all I wanted to do was lie down. I turned to the stove and hefted the iron fry-pan. Okay, there. Was it the worst headache ever? No, actually, it was the second worst. The worst was over twenty years ago, and just as I was about to call an ambulance, it stopped.
What to do?
At that moment, 1 p.m., the alarm beeped 4 times in a row. I rushed back. Nothing.
I phoned Georgia. If you have a daughter, phone her. Mine was way far away. My sister listened to me as I enumerated the stroke signs.
“Which alarm is it?” she asked.
“I can’t say. It’s like a watched pot. It only sounds when I’m in another room.”
“Remember Daniel,” she said.
Daniel was my son, to whom I had given a carbon monoxide alarm for his birthday, one February. I was apologetic about it. It seemed to show a lack of imagination. A few weeks later, a hornlike noise woke him up. ”
“Stupid thing,” he said, unplugging it and throwing it across the room. He went back to bed, but just as a deep and permanent sleep began to claim him, he leapt back up, threw open every window, and rushed upstairs to wake the other two tenants. By the time, they were at their doors muttering, “What the hell?”, he had turned off the furnace. The furnace had last been cleaned 12 years before, it turned out. It also turned out that the girl on the second floor was the landlord’s step-daughter.
I called the resident manager, the superintendent. He was not pleased. We had had a round about a beeping alarm a few weeks before when I had awoken to smell someone else’s fire place. As did the alarm.
By now, my head was pounding so badly I couldn’t think and I was slurring my words. Super was not best pleased. He reset the CO alarm and turned to go.
“That’s not going to work,” I began as I flopped onto the couch.
“All right, all right, I’ll take it to the office to monitor it. Like I did last time….”
“Not going to work,” I said. “It won’t beep there.”
Things escalated. “I’m really ill,” I kept saying, but he just talked over me.
“And if you don’t like it here, you can leave.”
I found myself weeping head-down at the table. Apparently, this was the desired effect since he was still telling me to leave as he closed the door.
“Phone his boss,” said Georgia.
“He is the boss,” I replied.
“No he isn’t.”
“It’s Saturday, and there’s a new management company…”
“Have you met his wife?” she said. ” She’s the boss.”
I phoned his boss.
The lady super could have been vice-principal in a middle school. Indeed, she could have been the head warden in a maximum security prison, but she arrived the image of our Lady of Mercy. She sat down, took my hands, told me amusing tales of exasperating tenants, there was a hug in there somewhere. Anyway her husband said that to all the tenants. And she laughed, lightly.
“But I’m sick,” I said. “I think I need to go to a walk-in clinic. Maybe I have carbon monoxide poisoning.”
“Can you drive?” she wanted to know.
Clearly not. I could barely stand.
“Have you looked outside?” Georgia said. “I can’t go out in that. Open more windows.”
And she had a garage. She didn’t even have to scrape her windshield. Still from the 14th floor, I could see a car in a snowbank and the blue flashers of its rescuers. And no other movement, except whatever evil mixture was lashing diagonally in from the north-east.
As the afternoon wore on and the weather got worse -was this when the ice started building up on my windows? My head pain went down from 10/10 to 6/10. I was able to eat toast and even watch television. The wind was howling in under the door to the corridor and wrenching at the frames of the windows.
At 6 p.m., the beeps started up again. I reported this to Our Lady of Mercy, by phone. At 9 p.m. beeps erupted from two directions, from the smoke alarm beside the bathroom door and the CO alarm, mine own, I had plugged in, in the kitchen as a stop gap. I unplugged the CO alarm. The Lady Super had put in the 12 Volt battery for me, but had not put on the cover. By now I was able actually to think. I put the cover on. The alarm sat silent.
REplying to my phone call, Mr. Super said he would be up in the morning to take down the smoke alarm, It was now beeping every twenty seconds. I thought I had read this was a ‘nuisance alarm’, but I wasn’t sure. I had spent the evening downloading user manuals. I closed the bedroom door, took a mg of Lorazepam and checked the windows. The outside slider was frozen in place. I turned up the electric base board heater, added a heavy wool blanket and slept like a log.
Next morning, Mr. Super put back the CO alarm and removed the smoke alarm, all the while saying he had told me from the beginning it was a malfunctioning smoke alarm. Maybe so. It wasn’t the part I remembered.
“We have to order a new one. These are time sensitive.”
“Me too,” I thought.
Monday, the schools were closed, but only snow fell. I could see my iced up red Yaris in the parking lot. It wasn’t going anywhere.
Tuesday, I hauled my dirty clothes down to the laundry and set my iPhone timer. Thirty minutes later, two loads were ready to dry while one sat deep in water. An error message was flashing. Thank God, the assistant supers were on duty. Blissfully unaware of my unsuitability as a tenant, one of them climbed up on top of the washer and reached way down to unplug it. This was supposed to cause the water to drain. It didn’t, but it did unlock the door. I sloshed the soaking wet clothes into another washer, paid again and put newspaper down on the wet floor.
Around dinner time, I caught a bad smell in the bedroom. The carpet felt damp. Using two screw drivers, I reefed up the rug. The under padding squelched when I pressed down. It was clear that somehow water had got in at the floor line.
I lost it. How could I face yet another emergency call to the office. Georgia told me to buck up.
Fifteen minutes later assistant guy super showed up with a shop vac.
“Happened upstairs too,” he said as he got to work.
“Just keep the heat on high,” he added, as he left. Smiling kindly.
I had emailed my distant son who had once been a gas fitter. He did some research and got back to me, telling me how to get in touch with the gas inspector for my building and ruminating about how the 25 separate fire place chimneys that vented on the roof could react to such unusual weather. He talked about glass fronts being available but not effective.
Bad word! Bad word! I said to myself
The fire place damper had been open throughout!
Moral of the story: I may or may not have had a migraine brought on by low pressure. The alarms may or may not have actually been signalling danger. It may or may not be a good idea if you are a resident super to assume an alarm is a malfunction. It is definitely not a good idea to piss off an ex-high school teacher with an ex-middle school teacher for a sister. Next time – the full teacher voice in stereo – way worse than a resident super voice!