June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:36 PM
"Pavlov made his canine subjects salivate at the ringing of a bell. I've done something similar, by making family members salivate when they hear the alarm of the smoke detector. Whether they're salivating in anticipation of another dinner made by yours truly, or they're thinking of sneaking out for a pizza is another subject.For some reason, no smoke detector I've ever had has been able to differentiate between a raging inferno sweeping down the hallway and the sweet smell of myself at work in the kitchen. Every time I cook, something inevitably starts smoking and the faithful detector becomes alarmed, emitting a high-pitched, intermittent bleating that results in the dog and cats, normally natural enemies, covering each others' ears with their paws. The humans in the house drop what they're doing and run to the smoke detector in a futile effort to quiet it down. Typically, one stands on the chair while two others scream hurry, hurry, and start turning the chair around, like morons trying to change a light bulb.Smoke detectors are harder to solve than the Rosetta stone, particularly when they're screaming. The ear-piercing decibels disable the brain, and suddenly one can't remember how to remove the battery. It's like trying to break into Fort Knox, only far more noisy.Usually, my services are required to quiet the detector because I can reach it without standing on a chair. But I don't analytically decide how to unscrew the mount and then carefully remove the battery from its compartment. Normally I turn the detector the wrong way and it breaks, resulting in a screaming hand-held smoke detector. Then I pry open the battery compartment with my pocket knife, pop out the battery, and rip off the wire providing 9-volts of juice to the screaming mechanism. Finally, after a few final gasping bleats, the smoke detector dies and the family heaves a collective sigh of relief. Meanwhile, the kitchen is enveloped in black smoke because I abandoned whatever was cooking on the stove. After opening all the windows in the house I agree that pizza might be a good idea.The upstairs smoke detectors where the kitchen scents gather have long since been disabled, and now the downstairs detectors are meeting a similar fate. It seems that their time is up. Even though they're wired into the electrical supply, for some reason they still need a battery. The batteries are programmed to beep annoyingly every few seconds, beginning at 3 a.m., until they are changed. I can stand it until 5 a.m., when I literally rip the offending detector from the ceiling and stomp on it. Due to my cooking and expired batteries, our house is now a smoke detector graveyard. None of them work, but their effectiveness has been ruined, anyway. When our kids hear a smoke detector they don't fear for their lives. They think only one thing: Dad's cooking, let's go get pizza."