Monthly Archives: October 2018

things that yell EVACUATE in the night

Here are some lovely garden photos from a few weeks ago. I’m including them with this story because they are calming and zen-like and quiet – unlike our night last night.

We have eight hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms installed in our house as required by code. One per floor (including the basement) and one in each bedroom. You might recall that our basement is still only accessed from our backyard, and it’s also where we store our ladders. Each smoke detector has batteries, but they are also wired together, so if one is triggered by smoke or heat, the rest of them go off as well. Important information for the following story.

We had another busy week, and by Friday night we were all pretty tired. We attended a Friday late afternoon soccer game in the heat and blazing sun for E’s high school homecoming (her school doesn’t have a football team). After roasting on the bleachers for a few hours, we ran a few other homecoming errands together – first, new shoes – and then we finally went to dinner around eight. We were really hungry at that point, and really wiped out.

After dinner we stopped by Target for a couple more essentials, ran into Trader Joe’s for milk, and headed home. It was nearly eleven by the time we all collapsed into bed. M and I were both getting up around 6:30 on Saturday – and so that 7.5 hours of sleep ahead of us was a welcome thing. I think we all fell asleep within seconds of hitting our pillows.

A few hours later (2:20am to be exact), all hell broke loose in our house. It started with a single siren sound, but within a few seconds all eight detectors were blaring. It’s hard to describe just how loud these things are – they emit a piercing welping sound that bores into your brain within seconds. Layered over that sound is a digital voice screaming EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE over and over and over and over again. Approximately thirty times per minute.

But it’s not just that all eight detectors are going off at once – they are also going off just SLIGHTLY out of sync. So it sounds like eight devices welping and EVACUATE-yelling in some sort of twisted echo chamber. Within seconds of it starting you have to clutch your ears tightly and your head starts to pulse with pain. It terrifies the girls. They don’t actually run downstairs to evacuate. They huddle into useless blobs in their bedrooms. There is nowhere to hide from the noise.

Our first response was to wave pillows underneath each one to see if maybe something has triggered them – dust? heat? a ghost? who knows? we were all dead asleep and we couldn’t even think straight. M grabs a chair to start pressing buttons and to open the battery slots, but even at 6.5 feet tall on a chair, he’s no match for our tall ceilings.

So he heads outside and down to the basement, grabbing the ladder and a huge pack of new batteries on the off chance that one detector has failing batteries that have somehow triggered this response that can be heard way beyond the confines of our home in the wee hours of the morning.

At each location he removes the current batteries and replaces them with new ones. Nothing is working. He moves through the house, and our ears are ringing. EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE.

I’m not sure what all he tries, but he’s up and down the stairs with the ladder several times, and back down to the basement again. We get a few moments of quiet before they rebel again. F has curled into a ball in E’s bed, and both have their heads buried under pillows.

I think at some point I started to just zone out. It was so loud and my head was pounding, and I was too short to be any help at all. We’d have some quiet, and then it would start again, which was honestly worse than just listening to it non-stop. Somehow he finally got them to stop, and it didn’t involve a baseball bat. I’m convinced that anyone other than M would have wielded a bat by that point.

I saw 4:30 am on the clock before we finally had permanent quiet. I’m not sure how we didn’t end up with the police at our door. Or an angry mob. I’m also not sure how we can all still hear each other today. We’re all grumpy and exhausted, and M’s working on figuring out what the issue was, and we’re trying not to burn down the house in the meantime.




I’m off to take a nap now, at least for a few minutes. Just typing this story makes my head hurt and the welping return. More than once this week I uttered to myself “just burn the whole thing down” – obviously I wasn’t referring to the house, but to the rest of this mess we’ve created and maintained by centering power and privilege with a select few. Maybe these machines could sense the simmering heat of the moment and it built up to a level that could no longer be ignored, and last night they rebelled. Maybe a baseball bat isn’t such a bad idea.

draft posts resurfaced

I’ve fallen so behind on this blog, and I came here tonight to post something – anything – to refocus my energy before bed. And then I drifted into my drafts folder and realized just how scattered my brain has been over the past few months – particularly on deeper topics. So many unfinished thoughts there.

I found this post, and it seemed complete, so I’m not sure why I never hit publish. Ironically, this letter from the mayor of Clayton regarding the situation was published just this week. I thought I’d post this now, even much delayed. I came to this place – this blog – to look for beauty – most likely photos from the garden this morning, in the sun, with F. I found this poem instead. I found this photo with dear friends.

From July 27:

I reread a beautiful poem this week on what would have been Emmitt Till’s 77th birthday. I follow Eve L. Ewing on Twitter, and she wrote the poem imagining running into him recently in a Chicago grocery store.

I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store

by Eve L. Ewing

looking over the plums, one by one
lifting each to his eyes and
turning it slowly, a little earth,
checking the smooth skin for pockmarks
and rot, or signs of unkind days or people,
then sliding them gently into the plastic.
whistling softly, reaching with a slim, woolen arm
into the cart, he first balanced them over the wire
before realizing the danger of bruising
and lifting them back out, cradling them
in the crook of his elbow until
something harder could take that bottom space.
I knew him from his hat, one of those
fine porkpie numbers they used to sell
on Roosevelt Road. it had lost its feather but
he had carefully folded a dollar bill
and slid it between the ribbon and the felt
and it stood at attention. he wore his money.
upright and strong, he was already to the checkout
by the time I caught up with him. I called out his name
and he spun like a dancer, candy bar in hand,
looked at me quizzically for a moment before
remembering my face. he smiled. well
hello young lady
        hello, so chilly today
        should have worn my warm coat like you
yes so cool for August in Chicago
        how are things going for you
 he sighed and put the candy on the belt
it goes, it goes.


I also attended a rally in Clayton last night calling for the Clayton Police Department to do better and be a leader in the region on policing practices, just as they lead the region in schools and parks and housing and business.

Here are a few articles about the incident that happened:

College Students Detained for Eating While Black

WUSTL Faculty Demand Clayton Address Race in Wrongful Detention

There were many emotional moments watching my friends talk about their stress levels around raising their children in Clayton and educating them on how to walk to school and home again without raising suspicion. But the hardest part for me was listening to the father of one of the incoming Wash U students, Teddy, list off the dozens of accolades his son holds – 5th generation Catholic, altar boy, 4.0 student, grad from SLUHigh, lettered in 3 sports, Eagle Scout, etc etc… and standing next to Anitra and her son (and Ella’s friend, Bryson) and having Anitra ask “should I tattoo all of those things onto my son so that others know he is worth our concern and care?”

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, and interesting discussions on the intersection of race and class and prestige and power. Is this story different because these were 10 Wash U students, and Teddy’s mother is a Wash U professor? Yes. They are also close friends with Tishaura Jones (should be STL mayor), whose son is also a Clayton student. Every black family living in Clayton has stories of being pulled over or questioned in front of their own homes because their very being arouses suspicion. Another organizer was Wash U professor and friend Shanti Parikh and her husband Jason Wilson. Wilson recently ran and won a position on the Clayton School Board, but he twice had the police called on him for canvassing in his own neighborhood – he captured one of those situations on video that went viral:

Stopped for Canvassing While Black

His wife talked about the fear she had when watching that and seeing the officer touching the latch on his holstered gun.

And then there was a really unfortunate piece written by Bill McClellan for the Post-Dispatch that tries to lay a dozen different things onto the shoulders of these black students merely because they are of the same race, and of course that article just bolsters the arguments of so many in our region who bristle at any suggestion that the police are doing anything other than their job and responsibility, and really it’s black folks’ duty to clean up their own house.

Dine and Dash – How About Some Context?

But the challenge laid out in the rally was to do better – we have the data, we know what works and doesn’t work, and Clayton is literally ground zero for what could have been a radical shift in policing practice four years ago that would have been an example for this entire country. There is likely no place better positioned with resources and brain power than this spot, and they’ve done nothing. One speaker pointed out that the dine and dash check amount was $62. Four squad cars were deployed to investigate. Four. (You might recall that I called the city police about a drunk driver and didn’t get a response in 45 minutes.) This IHOP averages 7 calls to police a month on unpaid bills. The average cost of those bills a month is less than $500. So Clayton residents are paying for that kind of response – 6 total officers – 7 times a month. When does IHOP start to evaluate their own security measures or best practices in their restaurant to reduce dine and dashes? When do they decide to hire a security guard or add cameras or rethink the layout of their restaurant?

It’s pretty convicting to listen to a parent describe their relief / grief over this incident, to be able to visualize just how quickly this could have gone wrong and one or more of the brightest lights in our community are on the sidewalk while half of our region turns a cheek and writes it off as somehow deserved. Over a $62 dinner bill. Or a stolen cigarillo. Or a whistle in a grocery store parking lot.