Murphy's Law only scratches surface

Timing is everything, and that's never clearer than when problems arise.

That's why one version of Murphy's Law says: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time.

I was reminded of this when the smoke alarms at our home announced they needed new batteries. Wait, "announced" is too polite a term. When our smoke alarms need batteries, they emit a chirp loud enough to wake everyone in a cemetery across town. The startling chirp repeats, ever more frequent and persistent, until somebody by golly replaces those batteries. Or else.

This has occurred three times in the years we've lived in this house. Each time, it's happened in the middle of the night.

Each time, I’ve had to get up, go to an all-night market, buy batteries and replace them before anyone could get back to sleep and/or my wife killed me.

Have I mentioned that our house came with six of these smoke alarms? That they're all wired together somehow, so if only one has a low battery, the others chirp in sympathy? That two of the alarms can only be reached with a ladder? That if you furiously rip one off the wall because you can't stand the noise another second, the others will chirp more?

Anyway, there I was, at 2 a.m., teetering half-asleep on a ladder, replacing batteries and pushing buttons and praying the noise would stop. And I noted once again how things always go screwy at the worst possible time.

You could argue that we bring this problem on ourselves. Clearly, we don't change the batteries frequently enough (like, say, every week). Clearly, I need to study how the smoke alarms work, at a time when I'm not also trying to sleep. At minimum, we should always keep spare batteries on hand.

But such preparation would be tempting fate. If the smoke alarms weren’t going haywire in the middle of the night, it would be something else going wrong, maybe something worse. Like a fire.

Murphy's Law doesn’t begin to cover all the possible variations of inconvenient timing. Here are some suggestions:

Bell's Law: The more important the telephone call, the more likely you'll be unable to answer it in time.

Montezuma's Law: The longer you are on vacation, the greater the chances that one of you will get sick.

Babel's Law: The farther you are from proper health care facilities, the more serious the symptoms will be.

Gates' Law: The worse your boss' mood, the more likely he'll walk up behind you while you're playing solitaire on your computer.

Eveready's Law: Your flashlight will work fine right up to the moment a storm knocks out electrical power to your house.

Heloise's Law: Surprise guests arrive only when your home is at its messiest.

Goodyear's Law: The harder it's raining, the greater your chances of getting a flat tire.

Caterpillar's Law: If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, you will encounter street construction detours. Every time.

Macy's Law: The more you want a product, the greater the odds that the store sold the last one five minutes ago.

Ditka's Law: The more your wife wants you to take her out -- right now -- the better the chances your game will go into overtime.

Brewer's Law: The later the hour, the louder the chirp.

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