Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Loosing Touch With The Vacuum Cleaner

I heard a small commotion in the hall closet. Of course, I went to investigate. I found my wife, a highly talented and self-reliant person in the closet struggling with the vacuum cleaner. When I asked what she was doing, she told me she couldn’t get the thing to work. I reached down, pushed a button and the handle turned up into the operational position.

For some reason she looked terribly embarrassed.

To understand how this all came about I have to take you back a few months.

The “old” vacuum cleaner was what some might call a “lightweight” and it wasn’t very old. It was one of those small canister types that followed the operator around like a dog looking for a belly-scratch. Frankly, that was its only redeeming factor. It made all the appropriate sounds but suction, the prime purpose for the device, was sorely lacking. As a piece of power equipment, it was a disgrace.

OK, so here is where practicality enters the picture.

Cheryl’s business is incredibly busy from December through to June. I tend to have plenty of time to deal with household needs for most of that period, so I mentioned that I was terribly unhappy with the vacuum cleaner. This labor-saving device involved a major workout on each occasion of its use, and I was certain that a well trained aardvark could get the carpet, and all other floors, a lot cleaner, despite the obvious exhaust problems.

“Go get a new one,” instructed the “Minister of Finance”. And without further ado, I began my search.

What I found was an army of sales staff convinced that vacuum cleaners worked better if they were festooned with odd colors and the occasional racing stripe. It took me some time to realize that I was dealing with former automobile sales people who were used to describing a vehicle and confidentially informing the prospective customer that the “basic” model is really a stripped-down piece of junk and one won’t be happy unless it is stacked with at least some of the available options.

Realizing I was going to end up with a colorized and decorated version of the ornamental vacuum cleaner I already had, I decided to retaliate. I went into car-buying mode.

“It’s a beautiful shade of umber,” said the sales clerk. “It has a fully retractable cord, forty-five different attachments, a filter system which most hospitals would kill for and it can easily be made the centerpiece for dinner parties.”

“Motor,” I said. “I want a big motor. And a powerful carpet brush. Beyond that, not much matters… except incredible suction.”

I walked out of the store with a real machine. It was the same color as a fire engine, had no bags, a filter that could be washed clean, three attachment tools, a cord that didn’t retract, a handle that folded away for compact storage and a carpet brush that could be converted to a belt sander with some minor adjustments. It had an efficient motor and enough suction to strip a cairn terrier down to its guard hairs. It was not fancy. Obscurely located switches and odd innovations, to be found only on that particular model, meant that despite its incredible power, it was relatively inexpensive – and the price had been further reduced due to the fact that it had been a demonstrator.

Once put to use it turned out to be more than effective. I could vacuum the entire main floor of the house in less than half an hour, even if I was paying attention to the corners.

Now, I don’t want to over-glorify a vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming is a mundane task. But, given that cleaning fell to me it was nice to have a tool that performed well enough to make an otherwise boring job less onerous, even though I would rather be tinkering with the electronic gadgets in the jeep.

The most important point was that my wife, who was busy to the extent of working six days a week until every client had filed their income tax returns, did not have to worry about that particular task, nor others involving regular housekeeping.

That brings us to the other morning when she was struggling with the vacuum cleaner; a machine with which I had essentially become one.

“I don’t know how to work the damned vacuum cleaner!” she exclaimed with visible embarrassment.

I thought about it for a minute and then said, “Put some meaning into it. Say that with pride.”

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