Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vexatious Security

            I have just gotten back to sleep after my usual middle-aged late night walk-about when my cell phone rings. Only half conscious, I’m thinking it’s awfully late for “Rachel the Automaton Voice” to be calling from Oregon to assure me that there’s nothing amiss with my credit card, but boy does she have a deal for me. The phone now in my hand, I see that it is 2:23 a.m. and the caller is Vector Security.
            I am on my feet and wide awake.  “Yes?”
            “This is Vector Security. We are getting a burglar alarm from your house. Are you at home?”
            “No, I’m not at home.” (I am on Cape Cod, 350 miles away from home.)
             “Would you like us to call the police?”
            For some reason I take a second to silently review that Jon is in the Adirondacks with his siblings, Annie is in Seattle with her college roommate, and Jay is unlikely to have traveled from Brooklyn to arrive home at 2:23 in the morning.
            “Yes, please call the police. Will I get a follow-up?”
            “If the police find anything, they’ll call us and we’ll call you back.”
            Well, so long sleep! I sit straight up in bed for a full hour, spending the first 30 minutes getting my heart rate back to normal. At 3:23 I figure I’m not going to hear anything, so I turn out the light.
            While driving home the next day I call Vector Security. Did they really not hear anything, as I was not eager to walk into a ransacked house?
            “No, we heard nothing from the police.”
            “What sensor sent you the alarm?”
            “The right living room exterior door.”
            Ah. The usual suspect.
            We have not had good luck with our security system. In our old house, the converted livestock barn, we had nine, yes nine, “exterior doors” on three levels. None of the doors had locks and we had no alarm system. We lived there for 16 years, and the only breaches were in-laws who sometimes wandered through the kitchen when we weren’t expecting them.
            When we moved to our current house, our insurance company not only insisted on covering us at two times the purchase price (“We have to go with replacement cost!”) but also insisted on a central station alarm system.
            The previous owners had used Vector Security, and the remnants of the system were still in the house. So we called Vector. They sent a salesman who was exceedingly proud of his literary name. To protect the guilty, I won’t give his real name, but it was the equivalent of “Shelley Melville.” He told us that we would need all new sensors (doors, movement and fire) throughout the house, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Luckily Joe the technician said that “Shelley” was nuts. Joe replaced a couple sensors, added a few new ones, and reactivated what remained.
            The system was intimidating. The User’s Manual was (and still is) 120 pages long. The main panel has three rows of seven buttons each. The “fobs” for turning the system on and off from a key chain have a complicated pattern of how many times to press which icon for what outcome. We never turned the darn system on. We did lock the doors, though, since having the ability to do so was such an interesting novelty.
            Election Day 2007. Jon and I are heading home early from our respective offices in PA and NJ so that we can all vote together as a family for local school board representatives. I’m 20 minutes from home when Annie calls. She has arrived home from school (she was still in high school at the time) to find the kitchen door bashed in.
            We had been robbed.
            The only thing the thief took was Annie’s jewelry box, which was worth more in sentiment than cents. But we were stunned.
            As for the local constabulary, Annie could only marvel at their tramping and shouting through the house with flashlights at 4:00 in the afternoon, slamming doors and talking to the cats, while looking for the perpetrator(s). The lead detective was also puzzled by our quixotic housekeeping: Jay’s TV on the guestroom bed, for example. But they were especially censorious about the fact that we hadn’t had the alarm turned on. They didn’t recover Annie’s jewelry box, but they did give us a lengthy lecture.
            So we began using the alarm system. And so began the false alarms.
           June of 2009. Jon and I both had our cell phones off so we didn’t even know it had happened until we got home and listened to all the voicemail messages. We also got a nasty note from our township office threatening fines for false alarms. (How this squared with the lecture about always turning on the alarm system I do not know.)
            The summer of 2011. Jon and I were heading into Philadelphia, looking forward to a movie at the Ritz Five and a light supper afterward at Zahav, when my cellphone rang: Vector Security. Burglary alarm.
            My heart racing, I tell Jon to turn around (well, get off north I-95 and then back on south I-95) and head for home. The police are still there. They could find nothing. They said, with some disdain, that the cats must have set off a motion alarm. But we hadn’t turned on the motion alarms. Vector said it was the right living room exterior door.
            And now the alarm has interrupted vacation rest instead of movie-going. (Plus, earlier in the summer Annie had arrived home to find that the panel buttons wouldn’t work to turn off the alarm. When she couldn’t tell Vector the password the local constabulary arrived at the house again. They and Annie were old friends by now.)
            So something is wrong. I’ve called Vector to come out and check the whole system. Who will they send?
            Joe or “Shelley”?