Saturday, March 13, 2010

I saw you across the crowded room, nestled between a washing machine and some skis, by the back wall where all the suitcases were stacked side by side, patiently waiting for someone to take them on a safari, or maybe to Niagara Falls. You were different from the others--older, wiser, more mature, with solid steel parts and a burnt orange body that whispered of a time when things were built to last, not break down after just ten weeks like the silly, whining Dirt Devils and clumsy, boorish Hoovers that languished here and there among the electronics, their shiny black plastic shapes screaming "cheap."

Your long metal neck--hard, cold, a little industrial--was made of three parts that clicked together smoothly and led in a curve to your head, or dust-sucking part, whatever it's called: a hefty (but not heavy) orange mouth that slid easily across the thrift-store floor; when I turned you on, I discovered the dust-sucking part was motorized, thus increasing the sucking-ability to three horsepower, which I had a hard time picturing, but which I guessed was good.

I lifted you, my new friend, by your handy black handle, your elegant neck lying firmly on my shoulder, and paid for you: ten dollars and eighty-three cents. I brought you home and cleaned you, rejoicing again and again at things like the brand-new empty bag in your canister, your power switch, so easy to press with my toe, your attachments--nozzle, brush--still there after all these years. Someone came into the kitchen while I was cleaning you and politely inquired if you were maybe, actually, a "piece of crap," since you were the exact same model, down to the color, that his mother had back in the 70's, to which I replied that new stuff is more likely to be crap and anyway, I vacuumed the thrift-store floor with you, and you worked, and anyway, you looked cool, so there.

When you were all shiny I pressed your little switch with my toe and we spent an hour and a half cleaning, and re-cleaning, the twenty square feet of the downstairs of the house. You gripped the bare floor like a leech and I decided never to sweep the kitchen again; for years and years to come I would use you, my trusty new friend; for years and years we'd be together, working and watching the kids grow up, creating memories, sucking up the dust that sifts down and settles, sharing a life.

Today I decided to show He Who Wondered If You Were A Piece Of Crap that he was wrong, that just because his mother had one like you doesn't mean you're not good, so I carried you upstairs and plugged you into the kids' room, where a few pieces of shredded toilet paper were lying on the carpet and some big black specks were scattered around. "Meet the new member of the family," I said. "This thing BLOWS AWAY our old Miele*!"

You were a little louder than I remembered, but maybe it was the fact that we were in a small room, and when I pushed your motorized mouth over the biggest piece of shredded toilet paper it reappeared on the other side, not having been sucked up, and that happened about five more times, until I turned your mouth over and hand-fed the toilet paper into it. "Hm," I said, jiggling the power cord, because maybe not all the electricity was going through it, "something's not working right, I think." I ran you over a few more pieces of toilet paper and the black specks and you didn't suck any of them up without my hand-feeding them to you, by which time He Who Rolled His Eyes And Left The Room had lost all interest in being persuaded that you were an amazing mechanical relic and insane cash-saver to boot, and I was contemplating taking you apart.

It was clear you were averse to carpeting, so I stuck you, not very gently, in the kids' closet. You're up there now, an orange-and-silver shape in the dark, huddled next to a stack of books, some shoes, and a cardboard box full of toys. You're up there now, but I don't think you will be much longer.

*which stopped working so well after I took it apart

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