06 April 2015

The Unintended Consequences of Better Home Security

     In the same way that I was in some small way relieved to receive my first A- during my freshman year of high school, I am just a little bit glad that our first break-in occurred only a couple weeks after we moved into our first house. It was nothing truly serious – probably just a few punk teenagers looking for cigarettes – but we did have our car and garage broken into. This also came as no real surprise.
     It’s not that we live in a bad neighborhood, but more that we were really just asking for it. The rear driver-side door on our car only locks occasionally, and the doorknob to our garage looked like it had been bought – used – from a hovel in the backwoods of Ukraine, shipped overseas by boat, lost at sea for several decades, and then ineptly installed upside-down like half of the other doorknobs around our house. Of course, our garage was also so full of remodeling detritus at the time that we had parked our car in the driveway overnight for a few nights that week.
     The day after it happened, I had this confusing moment of realization because I had to quickly grab something out of the car right before Katy and I were going to breakfast with my parents. The glove box was open, the console was open, the trunk was open, and our stuff was scattered all over the seats. The side door to the garage door was also wide open, and I don’t think we had opened it at all since we first got a tour of the house. At first I thought, “are we slobs?” And after remembering that our books are ordered by genre, by subject, and then by size (alphabetical by author’s last name just looks too ugly), it occurred to me that someone else must have done it.
     As it turns out, there had been quite a few similar break-ins in the area where the thieves would basically just break into a garage, break into a car, and then grab whatever cash was available. I’m not entirely sure what kind of person keeps non-coin cash in their car, but apparently it was a lucrative enough practice to keep the thieves busy for a few months. Of course, the only things we had in our car were napkins, a box of lactose pills, and a tire-pressure gauge. And the garage primarily had empty boxes, torn-out carpet that looked like Cookie Monster pelts, and a horrifyingly ugly 5-light golden chandelier that we promptly cut down as one of our first home improvement projects. I can only imagine the thieves’ disappointment.
     Naturally, we went about investigating options for home security and ended up buying 2 deadbolts, 3 motion-sensor lights, and a relatively inexpensive and expandable alarm system with 2 motion sensors. I also had enough scrap wood from a small deck project I was working on to cut two robust wooden bars to block our slider doors in the unusual case that someone would get the locks open. I think the total cost, including batteries for all of it, was less than $75. The goal for what I am now calling “Phase 1 Security” was basically just to be notified when we’re home if anything suspicious is going on outside the house. I’ve got big plans for our future home security, but I’m holding off on getting an 8-camera infrared DVR system until we have a little more disposable income (which I estimate will be approximately 10,000 years from now given the recent failure rate of our large home appliances).
     I feel exponentially safer now, but there have been some unintended consequences of having a safer home. One of them is the obnoxious beeping. When the alarm system detects motion, it beeps – that is its singular purpose. One of the nice features that prompted me to buy the unit was that it has two volume settings. What I didn’t realize was that those setting are “low” and “ear bleeding.” I’ve only ever had it on “low” and have also bought stock in Q-tips. Honestly though, it’s great when I’m downstairs and it goes off since I can hear it; the other day, I even beat some Girl Scouts to our front door. But we keep the alarm in our bedroom, so if I’m having a sleep-in day, it will go off when Katy leaves for work – BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP – seven times, four beeps each time – that’s the garage setting.
     The other problem is that we have a few critters in our neighborhood: a few stray cats, curious rabbits, constantly mating squirrels, and the neighborhood dogs who wander around unleashed for the sole reason of taking gigantic dumps in our front lawn – but only when we’re watching and they can make uncomfortable eye contact with us. Of course, the motion sensors are sensitive enough to detect them traipsing about through our front yard (that is, in fact, the whole point of having motion sensors), so if any one of those creatures decides to investigate our lawn in the middle of the night, I will be woken up and will naturally go to investigate what’s going on. During these late-night surveillance missions, I’ve seen some pretty neat things, like one of the neighbor dogs burying a dead animal in a bed of woodchips on the edge of our lawn, squirrels chasing each other up and down the two trees in front of our house, and the occasional gentle breeze. I have yet to come face to face with a human intruder.
     Ultimately, I’m fine with occasional false alarms like those since it lets us know the system is working. In fact, our dogs have even learned which beep is for the front door and which one is for the garage: they sleep through the garage beep, but they sprint down to the front window to investigate whenever they hear the other one. I’d love to see your stupid cat learn that trick.
     The beeping is what I would call a minor inconvenience. Another minor inconvenience is the fact that I now have more keys to carry and more locks to lock on the way out of the house. Putting the board in the slider and removing it, like when I let the dogs out, is also a minor inconvenience. These minor inconveniences are the kinds of things we tolerate for greater home security. There are probably ways I could inconvenience myself to reduce or eliminate most of those minor inconveniences, but shortly after installing the system, Michigan winter happened, and I’ll be honest – it’s hard to tweak a motion sensor outside when you can’t feel your hands.
     Unfortunately, though, a minor inconvenience can sometimes become a full-blown major inconvenience. For example, the other day I was working from home in my pajamas. Right around lunch time, I fed the dogs and went to let them out back, which is a normal part of our routine. (Our back yard is fenced in, though, so they don’t just wander the neighborhood unleashed to shit in other people’s yards.) It was the beginning of February, so it was 16 degrees out and the wind chill made it feel like it was -8 (I checked the weather). Our slightly larger dog Sydney – a 25-pound smooth coat collie mix – has fairly short hair but doesn’t really seem to mind the cold. She’ll stay out for about 20 to 30 minutes sniffing every inch of the back yard before she comes to the door. Our little dog Pip – a 10-pound Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix – is not as tolerant of the cold. In fact, she actively protests going outside if she can see any trace of snow on the ground or if she hears wind.
     As much as we would love to let her stay inside and have her paw at our faces until we build her a nest of blankets to snuggle into, she will make messes in the house if she doesn’t make them outside, and she’s incredibly sneaky about it since she knows she shouldn’t be making messes in the house, which makes it difficult to train her to go on a pad or in a particular area. So, we’ve come up with a few tricks to get her out of doors. The one that almost always works is actually stepping outside with her and encouraging her until she does her business.
     So, I pulled the board out of the slider and leaned it up against the door frame, I opened the door, and Sydney leaped out to repeatedly bury her entire head into the 2 feet of snow covering the back yard until she had sniffed every completely buried blade of grass. Pip just looked sideways at me from the living room doorway, which is about 15 feet away from the back slider. She can’t talk, but I knew exactly what she was thinking: “I love you so much that my heart almost explodes every time you come home after being gone for anything more than 3 minutes, Sir, but there is nofuckingway I’m going outside. I will repeatedly soil the furthest corner of your bedroom – the one behind the door so you don’t notice it for a few days – but I am not going out there.”
     Luckily, dogs, like toddlers, are easily distracted. So, in my playful high voice, I said, “oh Pip, you want to go outside? You like it outside? Let’s go outside.” Her tail started wagging, but her ears were back and she didn’t budge – she knew what was up. So, I just turned around and walked out on the deck. More than cold weather, but only slightly, Pip is deathly afraid of being left behind when we’re going on an adventure. I heard the rapid clickity clack of her claws on the linoleum behind me and she came running out. I closed the slider behind me and heard another noise – the sound of a board falling.
     I immediately knew what it was because I had heard that same sound numerous times every day. A heavy feeling of doom hit me, but I calmly grabbed the door handle and tried to open the slider. It moved about an eighth of an inch – but no further. That was the first time I regretted being so meticulous about measuring twice and cutting once. I jiggled it a bit in hopes that the board was precariously perched on the edge of the frame, but there was no movement. I knew there wouldn’t be; when I installed it, I methodically checked and made sure it would still work even if it wasn’t placed correctly, if it fell out of its slot, or even if a hypothetical intruder jiggled wiggled and jostled the door for hours.
     When I turned around, Pip was just staring up at me helplessly – suffering in the cold.
     “At least it’s sunny out today,” I said out loud to her and myself.
     Luckily, I was wearing slippers. Unluckily, I was in a set of thin cotton pajamas (the kind you imagine dads from the 1950s wearing) and didn’t have my phone on me. I also hadn’t showered yet that day, so my hair was still a little insane. First, I walked over to the kitchen window. After looking inside, I saw it was locked. Of course. I knew all our windows were locked, but I was still in denial about my position. That didn’t last long, though. I soon accepted that I was locked out of my own house, that it was completely my fault, and that I had to be proactive about my situation before I stopped shivering. (Fun fact: shivering is your body’s way of warming itself back up. Shivering is a good sign. If you stop shivering or start suddenly feeling warm while you’re outside in cold weather, you’re probably in trouble.)
     So, I waded through the snow of our back yard and hopped over the fence (there was no opening the gate through two feet of snow). Just little to the right of our driveway, I spotted a girl in a black jacket next to a red car with a shovel in her hand. I could tell she was a millennial – after teaching for the last decade, I can spot millennials from miles away – so I knew she would have a phone on her person. Bedraggled, in pajamas, and with wild hair, I approached her.
     “Excuse me. Hi. Ummm… I live right over here, and it seems as though I have locked myself out of my house. Is there any way I could borrow your phone and call my wife?”
     “Oh, sure,” she said. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, unlocked it, and handed it to me.
     Naturally, it was my arch nemesis – a smartphone. I fairly quickly deciphered how to place a call and phoned Katy. She didn’t answer. I didn’t really expect her to – she never answers mysterious numbers, and she was at work.
     “She didn’t answer – would you mind if I texted her?” I asked.
     “Sure, go ahead,” she said as she continued ineffectually shoveling around her front tires. I knew I needed to contact Katy first, but my incessant urge to help other people combined with my swiftly escalating frustration with her mediocre shoveling was making it hard not to just grab the shovel out of her hand and get her car unstuck.
     I did the best I could to text something coherent using the tiny touchpad with my fat fingers: “this is dave im using someone elses phone –”
     And a call came in while I was typing.
     “Um, you’re getting a call,” I said as I walked over and handed her phone to her.
     “Oh, thanks,” she said.
     I motioned for the shovel as she began talking, and I started chipping at and clearing away the snow and ice right behind the front tires, which were in desperate need of replacement. I had a shovel’s width of pavement showing behind each tire by the time she was done talking. She put her phone away.
     “Actually, I didn’t get a chance to finish that text before your call came in – would you mind? And go ahead and try getting unstuck again.”
     She handed me her phone, I plugged in Katy’s number and started my new message: “this is dave im using someone elses phone I got locked out of the house can you come home and let me back in”
     When I looked around for a button to send it, I then realized that I had typed my entire message in what appeared to be a superfluous subject line or new contact line – I honestly have no idea what I did because I’m smartphone illiterate, but I definitely knew it was not going to send, so I deleted that text and awkwardly poked the screen in a couple other places until a send option appeared. I re-retyped my message, finally sent it, and then returned the phone.
     Of course, while I was focused on that, all I could hear was the sound of spinning tires on wet pavement. It appeared as though the girl in the black jacket was trying to pull forward with no success, and her tires were now turned about 35 degrees and creating a new pile of snow to get stuck in. I motioned for her to try reverse, and she almost had enough momentum to get over the hump behind the spot I had cleared but not quite. I grabbed the shovel and went back to work. She came out of the car to watch, apparently.
     “I’m Dave by the way.”
     “Oh, I’m K.,” she said. “I live right over there in the cul-de-sac with a bunch of my friends. My car actually got stuck around the corner by that stop sign last night,” she motioned to the corner about 100 yards away, “but some really nice guy helped me get unstuck like an hour ago and I only made it this far.”
     She kept talking, but the things she had already said were like sand being dumped into the gears of my brain. If he got you unstuck from an unplowed road 100 yards away, how did he not see you get stuck again on what was clearly another unplowed road? And how nice could he be if he just left you there? Also, are you and your housemates the ones who party late and loud on Friday and Saturday nights (and any other night that seems to strike your fancy) all summer, and if so, why am I helping you?
     “– plowed. How long have you lived here?”
     “Oh, we actually just bought our house back in July,” I said as I hunched over to shovel more snow and ice out from under her car. “I think they’ve plowed this road maybe twice since we’ve moved in. I’m starting to wonder why we pay taxes.”
     “Yeah,” she said distractedly.
     At this point, one of her housemates drove up next to us in her extremely new looking SUV. The two of them vacuously chatted a bit. Their conversation primarily consisted of K. re-describing her situation and mentioning that she really needed to get a gift card for that nice guy who got her unstuck. I kept shoveling.
     “Oh, I think your wife texted you back,” she said suddenly and handed me her phone.
     I looked at the message and Katy said she would be leaving soon. Our house is only about 12 minutes from her work, and with the weather and roads, I figured it would only be about 18 minutes before she arrived. I didn’t bother trying to type a response and handed K.’s phone back to her. Shortly after that, her friend drove away. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the shoveling job I had been doing, so I scraped around a bit more.
     “So, what do you do?” I asked.
     “I’m a human biology student at Lansing Community College,” she said.
     Distracted by “human biology,” but excited about “community college,” I enthusiastically said, “oh, that’s great. I’ve been teaching at Muskegon Community College and Davenport University for a few years now.”
     “What are you going to school for?” she asked.
     Slightly confused, but figuring it wasn’t really worth correcting, I said “English.”
     “That’s interesting,” she said halfheartedly.
     “Okay, it looks like you should be able to back up now,” I said. “Why don’t you go ahead and just pull into our driveway,” I suggested. “You can leave your car there until the road gets plowed – there’s no way you’ll be able to make it any further down this street, let alone into the cul-de-sac.”
     I had shoveled twice the day before in an attempt to stay ahead of the snow, so although there was still a pretty good amount in the driveway from the overnight accumulation, it was substantially less than the road, and I always shovel an unnecessarily wide swath of the actual road in front of the driveway anyway to make it easier for us to back out and get some momentum going when the road hasn’t been plowed (and in hopes of reducing the volume of disgusting, heavy slush the snowplows push into the driveway when they do go by).
     This time K. reversed and continued to reverse until she almost got stuck again past the swath I had shoveled in front of the driveway.
     I’m going to have to shovel in front of her tires this time.
     Luckily, she got just enough momentum going forward to slide into the driveway. I started shoveling a car-sized spot in front of where she stopped and then motioned her to drive forward and to the left. Our driveway is big enough to fit two cars, but just barely.
     When she stopped, she got out of the car and asked, “is this good?”
     I didn’t want to be a jerk, but I also knew there was no way Katy or I was going to be able to get by her car on the other side.
     “Could you pull it a little further to the left?” I asked apologetically.
     She pulled it about as far to the left as she could, and she had to plow some snow out of the way with her door and trudge a few steps through the massive pile of snow on the edge of the driveway when she got out.
     “Great! Thanks!” I said.
     “Okay, well, I think I’m gonna get going – I have to be at work at two, and I still have to find a ride. Are you sure your wife will be okay with me leaving my car here? I get out of work at ten, and I can pick it up then.”
     “I’m sure it will be fine. You can go ahead and keep it here until they plow. It’s not like you’d be able to go anywhere anyway.” I smiled, gesturing toward the road on which she had gotten her car stuck twice in the last twelve hours.
     “Okay. Thanks so much.” She took her shovel and started trudging toward the cul-de-sac in her huge, puffy coat and winter boots.
     Luckily, I had left our shovel outside the night before, so I grabbed that and started to do the rest of the driveway, which I had been planning to do anyway. When I made my first path from the garage door to the end of the driveway, I saw that my neighbor D. was snow blowing the road next to his property, so I smiled a big grin and waved. I wasn’t surprised to see him there since he always clears about a car’s width of snow from the edge of his grass into the road. Some may think that’s crazy, but I think it’s pretty spectacular since he lives on the corner lot, so we never have to worry about getting stuck at that stop sign when the snowplows never come.
     D. appeared to be dressed for the snowpocalypse: he had on a winter hat, a substantial winter jacket, snowpants, and winter boots, and he had a scarf wrapped twice around his head so only his eyes were showing, which is about what I wear whenever I go out shoveling in the middle of January. I waved to him. And that’s when I started thinking that maybe something was a bit amiss. I was wearing only thin cotton pajamas and house slippers, I was surrounded by snow, and everyone else I saw was all bundled up. I wasn’t even shivering.
     I assumed Katy would have been back by that point, but she was nowhere to be seen, so I started really going to town shoveling the driveway in hopes that I would warm up a bit. I knew it took me about 45 minutes to shovel the whole driveway, so I kept getting more and more worried the closer I was to finishing without Katy getting home. Just as I was thinking about the best kind of snow shelter to build with dry, fluffy snow, Katy pulled into the freshly shoveled driveway.
     I motioned her to open the door to the backyard as she was pulling in, and I waded back through the snow to the back yard where I originally got locked out. The poor dogs were both snuggled up next to the door together. Pip looked absolutely miserable. We got inside, Katy and I shared lunch together, and when Katy had to go back to work I took a lukewarm shower that I made progressively warmer, and then I immediately bundled up in 4 layers of clothes afterwards.
     All things considered, it was a fairly innocuous survival scenario, but it’s not one I’d like to repeat any time soon. On the upside, I got to help a stranger and get the driveway shoveled; plus, I had my FitBit on the entire time, so I kicked all my friends’ asses on steps and active minutes that day.
     But the story didn’t quite end with me getting back inside and getting back to work – we still had a red car in our driveway. The plows finally came through at about 9:00 PM that night (over two days after it actually snowed), but the car was still there the next morning. And the next. And the next. I actually shoveled around it several times and even shoveled a canyon into the snow on the driver’s side of the car so its owner could get in without wading through what had become a waist-deep stratum of frozen precipitation during the seemingly endless stream of intermittent blizzards.
     “Do you think they stole it?” Katy asked one evening while we were peeking out of our front window at the car. “One of my coworkers has a babysitter whose client just had their car stolen. It was in the news. They started it, ran inside to get something they forgot, and someone jumped in and drove away while they were inside. Now we’ve got a mysterious car in our driveway. The police will think we stole it.”
     “Well, my fingerprints are all over the steering wheel from when I tried to get it unstuck,” I said as seriously as I could manage.
     “Didn’t they say they were going to pick it up after they plowed the road?”
     “Unless I’m really bad at communicating, I think I made it pretty clear that they could leave it in the driveway until the plows came through. I’m fairly certain I never implied that it could be their new permanent parking space. If I had, I would have negotiated some kind of rental fee.”
     “I just don’t get why it’s still there. Don’t they need their car for things? Don’t they have a job? There’s no way we could survive without a car for three days.”
     “I’ll send a text tomorrow if it’s still there.”
     To be honest, it’s hard to explain or justify exactly why having the car in the driveway was so offensive. Sure, it was an inconvenience trying to get our car around it and to constantly shovel around it, but it’s not like it was a total pain in the ass. I think it boils down to the fact that I expect others to have the same ethical standards that I have in any given situation. I’m a nice guy, and I love to help people out, but I also believe in a basic courtesy economy – fundamentally, your courtesy should be greater than or equal to the courtesy someone does for you. That feels like common sense – the basic principle being that you should never put someone out who has done you a favor.
     Honestly, I didn’t necessarily even care if they wanted to leave their car in the driveway for the rest of the winter – it’s not like we were using that space for anything. But it really bothered me that they just left it there – no communication about it, no attempts to move it, and no gift card stuffed in our mailbox or the space between our front doors. Not that I necessarily thought that we deserved any kind of compensation – I’m more than happy to just help someone. And we didn’t really need them to keep us updated about it – it was pretty obvious that the car was still there. But they had our phone number. They knew where we lived. I was 98% certain that they knew the agreed upon conditions for the duration of the car’s stay. If it were me, I would have moved it or let the person know why I hadn’t moved it, and if I couldn’t do either of those things, it would have meant that I was dead. And yet – there it was, and we knew not why.
     It was there the next morning too, and the plows had been through a second time after taking care of every other street in the entire city first. I was flabbergasted.
     Katy sent me the phone number I had originally texted from when I got locked out.
     I texted: “Hey, this is Dave – any idea when you might be able to move your car out of the driveway? =)”
     Less than one minute later: “Yes! I am today. Thanks again for letting me park it there. I apologize for the overstay!”
     “Haha – no worries. Just wanted to check in =)”
     And then nothing – except that the car was not there the next day. In fact, they must have moved it when both Katy and I were home, but neither us nor the dogs nor the home security system were aware of it when it happened.
     “Did they say why they left it here so long?” Katy asked.
     “Nope. Nothing.”
     “But whyyyy?”
     “It is confusing, isn’t it? Maybe there was too much heat because they stole it.”

1 comment:

  1. The people who live across the street from me have lights everywhere and flood lights on the front of there house. It lights up my yard and it is annoying as hell SecurityInstallers.com.au