Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ever since we moved into our apartment, Allyson and I have been hearing a mysterious buzzer sound. It’s not the doorbell, which sounds completely different, though whenever we hear it we run to the door, only to find no one there. It’s not a smoke detector or a fire alarm, either. I’ve been joking that it’s a ghost.

It always rings at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m getting out of the shower. I wrap myself in a towel, run to the front door, see no one through the peephole, return to the bathroom, hang up my towel – and then it rings again!

Yesterday afternoon, while Allyson was doing laundry, it rang again, only this time it wouldn’t stop. It was constant, like somebody – the ghost? – was pressing on a hidden buzzer somewhere. The sound, we discovered, was coming from the electrical panel by the front door. The only way we could make it stop was to flip the circuit breakers – which of course turned off all the power to our apartment.

We called the embassy, which sent over an electrician (grazie, American taxpayers). He arrived within an hour (in the crepuscular light, I might add) and flipped the circuit breakers back on. The buzzing resumed. Then he asked us if we had bells in our bathroom. This question puzzled us. No, Allyson said, I don’t think so.

Here I should mention that each of our bathrooms has a string coming out of the wall above the bathtub. It looks like the string you might find in an American hotel or motel bathroom for hanging laundry from, the kind that attaches to a thingamajig on the other side of the shower stall and retracts into the wall. Only our strings don’t retract, and there is nothing to attach them to. They just hang there.

Still, we figured they must be for hanging laundry, so we tied them to the towel racks in each bathroom. I would hang my towel on the one in the main bathroom. Allyson would hang her laundry (gentle cycle stuff, of course) on the other.

So the electrician walked back to the second bathroom and politely asked Allyson to remove her unmentionables from the string, which she did. The string, which had been pulled taught, slackened. The buzzing stopped. The electrician explained, laughing, that the strings aren’t for hanging laundry, but for emergencies: if someone falls in the tub, he or she can summon help by pulling the string and ringing the buzzer.

It was the easiest 100 euros that electrician had made in a long time.

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