False Alarms

During the spring of 1970, my final year in jail- I mean, high school, our beloved principal got even with all the aggravation my fellow schoolmates and I had ever foisted upon him. One day unexpectedly the fire alarm went off in the school building but instead of being told to do the normal drill we were instructed by loudspeakers blasting in all rooms as well as the corridors to head in proper formation to the lower level school auditorium. We were also told that we were under an air raid alert for possible nuclear bombs attacking the United States.

Naturally, we were all somber as we headed to the gym-turned-assembly hall. When the principal took the stage and grabbed the microphone from the podium, his first words were for us to relax- that he was trying to teach us a lesson on what other countries have gone through in various hot and cold wars. I can assure you if this had taken place in an episode of The Simpsons, little Bart would have yelled something to get the rest of the kids into a frenzy at which point the school commissioner would have looked at the principal and yelled, “SKINNER!”

But this was real life and we were not in a position to seek revenge or foment a riot. It did teach me to always be on the alert for a prank or bad joke gone awry.

In more recent times, I’ve gotten used to the middle-of-the-night fire alarms that go off in my condo building due to crossed wires for whatever reason. I usually end up getting out of bed to go to the front door and check if the hallway on my floor has any signs of smoke. The fire department provided us with literature that warned us to stay in our apartments in case there really was a fire; otherwise, we would get in the way of the firemen coming up the stairs. That kind of changed when a few years ago several people died in a fire in a condo building that had at least twenty floors. There was a lack of communication on the part of the fire fighters and the people who were stuck inside the building. Granted that my building has only eight floors, but we’ve learned that when it comes to dangerous situations and potential tragedy- trust no one but yourself and your own instincts. In fact, in the early years of my dwelling in this ninety-six unit building, I’d take the alarm going off very seriously and regardless of the time of the night, I would quickly dress and head down the stairs. I would still beat the first fire truck to show up by more than five minutes. And the fire station was less than a mile away with little obstructive traffic, especially at one or two in the morning.

This past Saturday night, my older sister who lives three miles to the north of me called to ask if I had spoken with our mother. I mentioned that I indeed had maybe twenty minutes earlier. She replied, “well, I just got off the phone with her and she was complaining that she was having heartburn along with her left arm being a little sore.”

I asked sis if she questioned her husband what he thought since he was a more than thirty year practicing Internist. She said, “I’m not talking to him. He just yelled at me a few minutes ago.” I retorted, “well, don’t you think it’s a good idea to still ask him?” Reluctantly, she ate crow and called me back two minutes later to say that her live-in doctor suggested that Ma take aspirin and some form of liquid antacid.

Bottom line, my sister was a coward and took her daughter along- the one who last year got a PHD in Physical Therapy which I guess now made her an expert in heart issues. She also insisted that I go over to the house and in case she really needed to go to the emergency room, that I ride shot gun.

Our mother reluctantly took the medicine, felt a little better because she had two children and one grandchild over who were doting on her. I also was able to grab a plastic bowl of home made pea soup that she kept in the basement freezer for a couple of months for unexpected visits from her family. I put the soup in the microwave for six minutes and then ate it (the soup, not the microwave). So, it wasn’t such a terrible waste of time.

I only got concerned a few hours later around 11:45pm when the Bulls lost to Golden State. I knew she would be watching and I was afraid THAT would send her to the emergency room.

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