And our nominee for idiot of the year…

At 8:30pm, with two Kiddos in bed and one more getting ready for bed, the smoke detector blared.

I hauled a chair out into the hallway to disconnect the alarm, and we went over the whole house looking for anything that might have been on fire, including the attic and the basement. When we were satisfied that there was no fire, we chalked it up to the ancient smoke detector having fits due to the steam from Kiddo#1’s shower.

We had an unopened smoke detector, so we assembled that. In the absence of a place to put it, we shoved the chair against the wall in the hallway and stood it on top of the chair.

By now, you all know I’m neurotic, so you’ll understand what happened the next day. It was an ordinary day at the start, although due to losing sleep, Kiddo#3 was an absolute bear and had to be put in time-out in his room upstairs due to having a full-on meltdown tantrum at the bus stop.

After he calmed down, I went back upstairs and smelled smoke.

Bearing in mind that the Force has a strong influence on the weak-minded (I don’t know why I keep saying that) I went back over every part of the house to make sure nothing was on fire. Nothing was, but I still could smell smoke. It was an eerie feeling, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the whole house silence, and me looking for the silent flames destined to consume us all.

I went downstairs again, and I forgot about the smoke. Half an hour later, I went back upstairs, and again I could smell smoke. I could smell it consistently in all the bedrooms. But it wasn’t really like smoke. Just a little bit “off.” And there was no visible smoke.

I went into Kiddo#4’s room to change his diaper and found the cover for the thermostat on the floor, along with the battery cover for the carbon monoxide detector and the new smoke detector we’d opened the day before. Odd.

Then I had an impulse: go get the sock yarn for Kiddo#1’s socks and knit the swatch the way I’d intended to. I wandered over to the yarn bag, and when I touched it, it was hot. “What the heck…?” I said, pulling it away from the wall, and that’s when I realized: the baseboard heaters were on.

This wasn’t smoke. Kiddo#3, in the fit of his tantrum, had gotten onto the chair and tried to pull down the CO detector and the thermostat, and in doing so, he’d cranked the heat up to 90!

Suddenly it all made sense. That smell wasn’t smoke! It was the startup smell for the heaters, all the dust from the summertime burning off the grids. 

And I felt like the idiot of the year, waiting for the house to spontaneously burn down when in reality, it was only an impromptu heater test.

Congratulations, Philangelus, for making giant strides toward getting that “Golden I” award (once again) for 2008. Next year, I need to start working on a lifetime achievement award in cluelessness.


  1. Bopper

    I saw an article on about angels:,8599,1842179,00.html?cnn=yes

  2. ivyreisner

    That is so far from the stupidest thing I’ve seen people do concerning fire, it doesn’t even put you in the running.

    I used to paint with oils. I used turpenoid, instead of turpentine, because no one liked the smell. Imagine this now. A small bedroom, so small that I had to move the chair out from behind the desk to open the sofabed, and with that sofabed open, the room was full, wall to wall. Above the bed were shelves overflowing with books. In the closet, on the shelf, were piles of very old, very dry books. Along the far wall were shelves and shelves of books. Then a wooden desk. Then more books. Then a stack long boxes full of comics.

    My mother’s friend walked in, with a cigarette, to see what I’d been painting. As I showed her, she flicked the ash from her cigarette into the turpenoid.

    The small column of flame that shot back at her seared off her eyebrows and part of her hair. My parents were furious, and I was punished for this, but I’m just glad the whole place didn’t catch fire.

    That’s the level you have to play on for the lifetime achievement award.

  3. philangelus

    Well, if we’re going to talk about *actual* fires, we can talk about one regular commentor’s friend who, as a child, was sitting on two legs of a chair, with his legs braced on either side of an open window, lighting fire crackers in his room and tossing them out the window.

    All fun and games until one of them hit the window sill and bounced back onto the chair between his legs. he pushed back from the window and toppled himself head-over-heels and when the firecracker went off, he managed to keep all his body parts.

  4. philangelus

    Bopper, thank you for the link to the article. I emailed that over to my literary agent to include in our novel proposal, since it has a guardian angel in it and we need all the ammo we can get to prove this book will sell. 🙂

  5. philangelus

    If we’re talking about “imprudent use of fire” stories, then I feel obliged to link back to Christine’s guest post on the weblog, “Mr Hooper’s Viking Funeral” at

    That wasn’t “idiot of the year” award material though. That was more like “Kids end up doing dangerous things sometimes without realizing it.”

  6. ivyreisner

    I wonder if we can get Jason to tell the story of his father, a homemade rocket, and a prize fur coat. It’s in the “kids and dangerous things” category.

  7. philangelus

    Oh Jaaaaaaaaaaaaason…?

  8. Jason Block

    I will tell it…but I am on the way to a friends house in NJ. I promise I will.

  9. Jenni

    We sort of had a similar incident with our smoke detector. It was one that the alarm company installed a year ago that hooks into the electrical system as opposed to being battery operated. (In the same hallway are 2 other battery operated ones.)

    It was the only one that went off (out of 5 total in our house) and after checking the whole place and attic, I noticed a couple of little black ants crawling around it. I figure there’s a couple fried little ants somewhere inside that thing.

  10. Jason Block

    Ok, you wanted the story. Here it is…with details added by my dad.

    Well, my dad and his friend Stewie Hamburger had bought and scraped together money to buy a DynaJet pulsejet engine. They wanted to actually home build a plane and needed to test the engine. They didn’t want to fire the engine through the outside of the window because jet engines make noise and disturb the neighbors.

    So, he and his friend faced the jet engine into his mother’s closet. They bolted the engine down on a table and point the exhaust straight into the open closet. Now, the engine worked perfectly…it created a nice blue flame.

    Unfortunately for Stewie’s mother’s mink stole…there was a perfect circle which was burned straight through. Well, they turned off the engine and they could smell the burnt fur…just and Mr and Mrs. Hamburger walked in.

    Being the smart kid that he was…my dad opened the ground floor window. He did for two reasons. One, to let the burnt fur smell out and two to let HIM out and try and escape any punishment…leaving Stewie to hold the bag…I mean, engine.

    My dad didn’t realize that Mrs. Hamburger made a phone to my call to his mom(aka Nanny Rose.) When Dad got home, he was hit on the head with a wooden spoon multiple times…which explains a lot. My grandmother couldn’t keep a straight face as she was laughing while doing this. 🙂

  11. Cricket

    I can just imagine the officials after hearing this. “Yes, it was tested, but do we really want to let these two fly it?”