The roof might be on fire

Last week, for perhaps the first time in my life, I paid attention to the stop sign in our neighborhood, mainly because I was on foot. I still didn’t come to a complete stop, but I did break stride for a moment when I saw this message about halfway up the signpost: “Welcome. This is a neighborhood watch community.”

Was anyone going to tell me? We’ve lived here for almost four years, and our neighbors have gone dangerously unwatched the whole time.

“I’m a little offended nobody’s tried to deputize us,” I said to the dog as we rounded the corner, scanning the horizon for any suspicious activity.

While we didn’t find any crime out of which to take a bite, I did notice that several of our neighbors still had Christmas trees at the ends of their driveways. The trees had been buried for the past couple of months, just recently left behind like old mammoth bones as our own personal glaciers finally began retreating. The bedraggled things sure didn’t look too festive anymore. Perhaps their owners could stick some Guinness cans in their branches to turn them into St. Patty’s trees.

In any event, you’d think the Neighborhood Watch would be banging at my door to sign me up, since I’d recently invited half the emergency response vehicles in the county to come visit us.

Several weeks ago, when the snow was still deep enough that you could only be halfway sure that your patio furniture was still under there somewhere, I took the dog out for her morning constitutional at about 6am, shortly after the toddler had crowed. As soon as I stepped onto the deck, I heard, “Beep beep beep beep beep,” coming from the neighbor’s house.

A moment later, I reemerged from the house in snow boots and jammies to figure out what was going on. The best detective work is always done in flannel pants.

In a few minutes, I’d determined that our neighbor’s fire alarm was going off, and either they weren’t home, or they slept wearing air-traffic-controller earmuffs.

Fortunately, they’d given me their cell phone number, so I called them and found out that they were away for the weekend.

It’s funny how when you tell someone, “Don’t worry, I don’t see any smoke billowing out of your windows,” it doesn’t really seem to stop them from worrying.

After I took a stroll through their house and couldn’t find anything wrong except the cleanliness of our own house by comparison, we decided that I should call the fire department. I got the answering machine there, so I had to call 911 for the first time in my life.

“Hi, this isn’t really an emergency, I don’t think,” I started.

A few minutes later, a cop car rolled up. I made an excellent sidekick.

“That beeping? That’s what tipped me off,” I told him.

“We should really stay out here, in case it’s carbon monoxide,” he replied, and suddenly, I was even more relieved than usual to still be alive.

A few minutes after that, a fire truck roared into their driveway. You might not realize this until you’re standing next to one, but you never really lose the awe you had as a three-year-old for fire trucks, especially if you’re still wearing your jammies.

“They’re lucky to have a neighbor like you,” one of the firemen said before heading inside, apparently not familiar with my “The Wind Will Take Care of It” leaf raking strategy.

Still, getting complimented by a firefighter felt pretty awesome, like I was a kid he’d just let borrow his hat.

“Thanks, Mister,” I almost replied.

In the end, the problem turned out to be a fire alarm that was dying, but didn’t feel like going quietly. So my vigilance didn’t actually stop anything bad from happening, but I fully expect to be invited the next time our Neighborhood Watch forms a posse.

You can let Mike Todd borrow your hat at