Vexatious Security


I had just gotten back to sleep after my usual late night walk-about when my cell phone rang. My left armed flailed to the bedside table and, half awake, I’m thinking it’s awfully late for Rachel the automaton voice to be calling me from Michigan or Oregon to assure me that there’s nothing amiss with my credit card, but boy does she have a deal for me. Trying to focus on the screen, I see that it is 2:23am and the caller is Vector Security.

I am on my feet and wide awake (though in the process I drop the phone on the floor).

“This is Vector Security. We are getting a burglar alarm from your address. Are you at home?”

“No, I’m not at home.” (In fact, I am 350 miles from home on Cape Cod.)

“Would you like us to call the police?”

It’s late (or early), so my brain needs a second to review: husband Jon is in the Adirondacks with his siblings, daughter Annie is in Seattle with her roommate, and son Jay is unlikely to have traveled from Brooklyn to arrive home at 2:23am. in the morning.

“Yes, call the police. Will I get a follow-up?”

“If the police find anything, they’ll call us and we’ll call you back.”

Well, “good night, sleep”! I sit straight up in bed for an hour, spending the first 30 minutes deep breathing to get my heart rate back to normal. At 3:23 I figure I’m not going to hear anything, so I turn out the light.

Driving home the next day I call Vector Security. I want to know if they really didn’t hear anything, as I was not eager to walk into a ransacked house.

“No, we heard nothing from the police.”

“What sensor sent you the alarm?”

“The right living room exterior door.”

Ah. The same sensor that sent a false alarm the last time.


We have not had good luck with our security system. In our old house, a converted livestock barn, we had nine, yes nine, “exterior doors” on three levels. None of the doors had locks and we had no alarm system. We lived there for 16 years, and the only breaches were in-laws who sometimes wandered through the kitchen when we weren’t expecting them.

When we moved to our current house, our insurance company not only insisted on covering us at two times the purchase price (“We have to go with replacement cost!”) but also insisted on a central station alarm system.

The previous owners had used Vector Security and the remnants of the system were still in the house. So we called Vector. They sent a salesman who was exceedingly proud of his literary name. To protect the guilty, I won’t give his real name, but it was the equivalent of “Shelley Melville.” (I’m sure English majors have figured it out.) He told us that we would need all new sensors — doors, movement and fire — throughout the house, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Luckily when Joe the technician showed up he shared that “Shelley” was nuts. Joe replaced a couple sensors, added a few new ones, and reactivated what remained.

The system was intimidating. The user’s manual was (and still is) 120 pages. The main panel has three rows of seven buttons each. The “fobs” for turning the system on and off have a complicated pattern of how many times to press which icon for what outcome. At first we avoided the challenge by just not turning the darn system on, though we did lock the doors, since having the ability to do so was such an interesting novelty.

Then came Election Day 2007. Jon and I were heading home early from our respective offices in PA and NJ so that we could all vote together as a family. I was 20 minutes from home when Annie called. She had arrived home from school to find the kitchen door bashed in.

We had been robbed, kind of. The only thing the thief took was Annie’s jewelry box, which was worth more in sentiment than cents. But we were stunned.

As for the local constabulary, Annie could only marvel at their tramping and shouting through the house with flashlights at 4:00 in the afternoon, slamming doors and talking to the cats while looking for the perpetrator(s). The lead detective was also puzzled by our quixotic housekeeping: Jay’s TV on the guestroom bed, for example. But they were especially censorious about the fact that we hadn’t had the alarm turned on. They didn’t recover Annie’s jewelry box, but they did give us a tongue-lashing lecture.

So we started using the alarm system.

That didn’t help us, of course, when the interiors of our cars were torn apart in someone’s (successful) search for our GPS unit. But all was okay until a couple summers ago. Jon and I were heading into Philadelphia on a lovely Saturday afternoon, looking forward to an indie movie at the Ritz Five and a light supper afterward at Zahav. We were on I-95, just passing the Walt Whitman Bridge, when my cellphone rang: Vector Security. Burglary alarm.

My heart racing, I told Jon (perhaps a bit forcefully) to turn around (which meant to get off I-95 and then get on it again) and head for home. The police were still there. They could find nothing. They said, with some disdain, that the cats must have set off a motion alarm. A false conviction, as we hadn’t turned on the motion alarms. Vector said it was the right living room exterior door.

And that was the beginning of the security system’s  indifference to our peace of mind. The false alarms added vacation interruption to movie-going anxiety. And on occasion Annie has arrived home to find that the panel buttons won’t work to turn off the alarm after she’s in the house. When she can’t remember the password during Vector’s call, the local constabulary shows up at the house again. (They and Annie are old friends now, but we don’t like the nasty notes we get threatening fines for misusing public services.)

So something is wrong. I’ve called Vector to come out and check the whole system. Who will they send? Joe or “Shelley”?

Our retirement account depends on the answer.

Vector the Protector

To read more of my work go here or to my website at (where you can see what I really look like). 

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