Meditations on mortality, part I

Two weeks ago (okay, yes, attending to this blog with any regularity is still a habit I’m struggling to develop), I had an odd sort of evening.

In July a co-worker made me aware of a big Barnes & Noble sale on Criterion Collection films – so, me being me, I spent a chunk of change on some fancy artsy films (most of which I haven’t seen before – I’m daring like that). Weeks later, I still haven’t gotten around to most of them, but the first one I did sit and watch was Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

I’d been aware of this movie for some time – my father spoke highly of it, and Bergman in general, so it seemed an important step to take in broadening my celluloid horizons. Plus, it’s Swedish, and if you weren’t clued in by parts of the Alinea blogs, I have a bit of a fondness for such things in my blood. For the uninitiated, it’s a movie about the personification of Death playing chess with a knight home from the Crusades, among other things.

Fortunately, I have other things to discuss in this post, otherwise I’d be in the awkward position of trying to convey an opinion on this movie that has had, to use a scientific term, a crap-ton of opinions written and said about it. Suffice to say I liked it, quite a lot, particularly how funny it actually is in a number of places. I also was struck by how otherworldly it was – you look at the actor playing Death (Bengt Ekerot – what a name!) and how stylized his performance is, and you think, why aren’t people allowed to act like that any more?

I begin to digress. The movie was watched and well enjoyed, and I set about making a late dinner afterward. About twenty or twenty-five minutes later, the carbon monoxide detector started to go off.

I’m not necessarily a stranger to piercing beeps – every once in a while, the ventilation situation in my place leads to an occasional smoke alarm any time the oven gets used. Even as I realized that this scenario was slightly different, my first unconscious action was still to wave something around below the detector to get the air moving. That’s when I saw which light was flashing and began to wonder.

Like any responsible twenty-something still struggling with adulthood, my next action was to hold my breath and Google something to the effect of “co detector going off.” Based on that, my next actions were to open all the windows and get the heck out, leaving an insistent beeping in my wake.

It all seemed strange – according to my impromptu research, CO usually gets released due to wonky ovens and pilot lights, or perhaps old heating systems (and mine, of course, weren’t even on, this being August and all). Safely outside in fresh air, the next logical course was to call upon the best available source of worldly wisdom – home.

My father answered the phone, and was for his part a bit bemused by the whole situation (this sort of thing is less of a concern when heating needs are primarily covered by a woodstove) . We chatted a bit, and I eventually trekked back up to my apartment to see if the whole situation hadn’t resolved itself in my absence. Sadly, the beeping continued, and I steeled myself – following prevailing Internet wisdom, I was going to have to call the fire department over here to check it out (note that it was around 11:30 pm at this point, a bit after my planned bedtime).

I prowled through a phone book in the building lobby, looking for a number to call that was slightly below 911 on the emergency scale. Dialing 311 offered only a laborious pre-recorded message, so finally I decided I had to go the distance and call Rescue 9-1-1. It took a bit of effort to break through childhood conditioning – this felt more like an irritation than a full-on emergency, and I dialed the number while steeling myself against a potential chew-out from the operator, while my folly cost actual human lives because other people couldn’t get through.

Fortunately, no such thing happened – I explained the situation (it’s sort of weird how nervous you feel when calling 911 – like a phone interview or something), and was forwarded on to some fire department dispatcher. Situation explained again, I was told someone was on the way. A few minutes later, while hanging around outside, some sirens entered the edge of hearing and I immediately though “Surely not?” But yep, here they came, a full engine blaring away. Man, did I feel like the stupid jerk who cried wolf.

From there, it was guiding three firemen through the building, a quick sweep through the apartment with a CO detector, and a gentle chiding for opening the windows, which can lead to inaccurate readings (I dared not protest that the Internet had told me to). The guilty party seemed to be an old detector, or an attention-seeking 9-volt battery – either way, the apartment was deemed safe, and I bid the firemen farewell. Hopefully they enjoyed the easy call up to my place, and it wasn’t too much of an annoyance – either way, firefighters are pretty much aces in my book, for all they do.

CO is the silent killer, as many a website and pamphlet will blare at you, so suffice to say I still kept all the windows open when I went to bed that night. Despite the all-clear, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to go to sleep one night and never wake up the next morning. It seemed sad, but on the other hand, you would never really be aware of how sad it is – and besides, aren’t the entire concepts of sadness and fairness nothing to the Death I had just studied earlier that evening?

To allay any fears: I woke up the next morning (no undead author is typing these words). Things are fine. I replaced the potentially criminal 9-volt battery. No more alarms. I am happy.

It seems as though the last couple weeks have had a strangely mortal bent about them, though – both in terms of death, and the flip side of that coin. More to come on that soon.

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