I first wrote this little piece in 2008, four years ago. A few things have changed since then (only two dogs now, more birds, fewer kids in the house), but the wear and tear on vacuum cleaners seems to continue. The current model – successor of the one in the story – is now protesting its job with jet-engine noises instead of a peaceful purr. I fear it’s not going to be useable much longer. I just hope it doesn’t try to do what this one did…
I knocked over one of the spider plants yesterday, and needed the vacuum to get the potting soil out of our cream-colored carpeting. (Yes, I know that cream colored carpeting is insane when you have four dogs, three of whom are large, and four children. It wasn’t my choice. It came with the house. If we can refrain from buying computers and software for a while, we will replace it with wood. Easier said than done. We are geeks.)
Anyway, the vacuum wasn’t where I thought I had put it – where it usually lives, in the back hallway by the big birdcage. My daughter checked the boys’ rooms, I checked various possible spots upstairs, and still no vacuum. I was thoroughly puzzled. Where could the thing be? Our house isn’t that big!
Then, checking in the hallway one more time, I saw a piece of paper sticking out from underneath the stand the big birdcage is on. Grumbling about offspring who can’t seem to pick up after themselves at their ages, I fished the paper out. Not wanting to accidentally throw away someone’s homework or an unpaid bill, I looked at the paper. It wasn’t homework or a bill or even junk mail stolen from the trash by the dogs. It was a note. The writing on it was a little hard to read, but I finally made out what it said.
I wasn’t sure I was seeing it right at first, because it seemed to be from my vacuum cleaner.I know, vacuum cleaners are things, and things don’t write notes. But after this, well, I’m not so sure. The hand writing wasn’t my daughter’s, and it was too legible to be my youngest son’s. It wasn’t like the handwriting of anyone else in the house, either. The note read:
I have had it. I am leaving. I cannot take it anymore. Do you have any idea, any at all, of what it is like to be a vacuum cleaner in this house?! I am not even a heavy duty model. Kirby over there is, and he isn’t working. You wore him out! And then you expect me to just come in and take over? You said you’d get him fixed right away and I would just be the back-up model. That was more than a year ago. I haven’t forgotten, even if you have. If you can wear out a heavy duty model like him, what do you think I feel like?
Let me tell you, this house is no walk in the park. Why couldn’t I have been purchased by a little old lady who vacuums her spotless house once a week? Or even by the owners of a dust farm. THAT would be easier.
Let me elaborate. You have dogs. Specifically, you have Labrador retrievers, who shed five or six Labrador retrievers a week, each. Black and brown fur, on that white carpeting. And you expect me to keep it clean. Oh – and let’s not forget the red mud they track in all spring, summer and fall. You expect me to suck that out, too. Lady, that stuff stains. It’s murder to get out! Torn up papers, mangled sticks, chewed up bits of unnamable things – all of it falls to me to get rid of. You don’t really want to know what some of the stuff they find to chew on is. Really, you don’t. Oh sure, you push me back and forth, but I’m the one doing the dirty work. And remember how the dogs used to attack me when they were puppies? Who was that fun for? Not me!
Let’s not forget all those times my hose has gotten clogged with dog hair. Yeah, I know you got it out, but come on- some of those clogs really gave me indigestion until you got them out! (And that broom handle you used in my hose to get loose the clogs caught in the middle of the hose – I think that’s against the Geneva Convention. Pure torture, that was.)
Then there are the birds. I’m glad you like birds, and feathers aren’t hard to suck up, when they don’t fly the other way so I have to chase them. But all that bird seed! I know you can’t stop them from tossing it out of their cages, but can’t you put them somewhere other than on the carpeting? Somewhere you can sweep, for instance? I wouldn’t even mind if it were just one or two birds. But you have four budgies, a canary, and three lineolated parakeets. That’s a lot of seed, lady, especially when you use me to finish cleaning out a bird cage. And all that fiber wreaks havoc on my digestive system.
Then there are the times that all of you haven’t checked my bag soon enough and I’ve gotten a tummy ache because my bag was too full, all the rug cleaners and freshening chemicals you’ve made me eat, the times you’ve broken my belt and then blamed me for eating something I shouldn’t – hey, I don’t steer me, you do. And the times someone has just dumped my cord and left it in knots – knots hurt, you know.
Let me also mention coins. Pennies HURT. People usually manage to pick up the larger stuff, but then they don’t get the pennies and when I run over one, they whack all over inside me with my roller brush and they really, really hurt. If they get up into my fan, they leave nicks in it. How would you like nicks in your digestive tract? At least the kids have out-grown Legos…Small blessings.
Of course, I am used and used and used. I never get a rest. Someone always seems to be vacuuming something up. I am exhausted, on top of everything else.
Monday was the last straw. First thing in the morning – AT SEVEN AM! – I get hauled downstairs to clean up after a sick dog. I mean, YUCK! How would you like to deal with that first thing in the morning? But okay, it’s my job, and if I had been left alone for the rest of the day, it might have been okay. But then, THEN, I get hauled into hell for a cleaning job. Let me tell you, the rooms of seventeen year old boys are unconstitutional torture – even more so than being used to clean out under the sofa cushions. There is NOTHING worse. Old gym socks, dog hair, bits of snacks that he snuck down there so long ago they don’t qualify as food items anymore, all the dirt he has tracked in, pieces of paper, broken pens and pencils, lost change, you name it, he had it down there and most of it, I had to eat. He didn’t do a good job of picking up first, and I had to try to eat a lot of stuff that I couldn’t. That was VERY uncomfortable. I ate so much in that room that I thought I was going to burst. His carpet isn’t large, but believe you me, it was dirty!
So I’m out of here, lady. Get old Kirby over there in the corner fixed, or go buy another sucker – I mean replacement. I don’t care. I am gone. I feel sorry for whoever gets stuck with this job, but is sure isn’t going to be me anymore.
The Vacuum Cleaner
Well, I was more than a little bit floored by this (so to speak). But I didn’t think he could have gotten far. After all, the gutters are still full of ice and snow and the streets are still ice ruts on our block. That would make for slow going for a vacuum cleaner with small wheels. After checking all the closets and the corners in the garage just to make sure, I started hunting around outside for tracks.
The front was clear, but I didn’t think the vacuum would have gone that way anyway, because it is so exposed. So I started looking around the back. Sure enough, in a patch of unmelted snow near the back gate, I found the tracks of little vacuum cleaner wheels. I could even see where his underside dragged through the snow because of his low clearance.
Opening the gate, I went out into the alley. I had no trouble seeing his tracks going down the alley, towards the street that leads to the park. He must have followed one of the kids out on trip to the garbage cans last night. There was a lot of mud as well as ice and snow out in the alley, and I could see that while the vacuum was avoiding the puddles, he had almost gotten bogged down at least once.I followed the tracks down the alley and out to the street.
This street was relatively clear of snow and I lost the trail. I looked to see if it resumed in the snow at the park, and sure enough, there it was. I couldn’t be that far behind him, I reasoned, so I kept on following. The trail led to one of the foot bridges across the creek that runs through the park. There are two rather high steps up onto the bridge, and I could see that the vacuum’s tracks turned away here. They went to the edge of the ten-foot deep flood control channel that the creek trickles along the bottom of, but then veered away from that, too, and followed the creek down the park.
The vacuum cleaner was heading towards another street – one that led to an area with nicer homes than our 1960’s era subdivision. So he thought things would be better if he lived in a nicer place, did he? I trotted along, following him easily now.Yes, there were tracks turning up the street to the nicer area…But wait! On the other side of the bridge the tracks were turning back into the park! That could only mean one thing. He had his sights set really high -on the McMansions at the east end of the park.
I followed the tracks up the muddy little road that ran between the stream and the open space part of the park, up towards the kids’ fishing pond. His wheels had to be thoroughly clogged with mud by now. I could see where he had rolled over snow in several places, trying to clean off the mud.
Then, in a picnic shelter by the pond, I found him. He was huddled miserably between the picnic table and the trash can, and looked done in. He was mud-splashed and filthy, and his cord had come partially undone. The trailing cord was why he had stopped. It had wrapped around one of the posts holding up the roof of the shelter, trapping him here. He looked pathetic. His front was partially open, his bag was torn, and there was bird seed leaking out.
I sighed and shook my head and unwrapped the cord from the post. “Ready to go home now?” I asked, taking out the leaking bag and putting it in the trash can and putting his front back on tight. He didn’t say anything, so I took that as a yes, and hefted him up into my arms.
As we went home (by a much shorter route) I scolded him. “You don’t run away from your problems, you face them like a man – I mean a vacuum cleaner. You need to do the job you’re made for, and do it with pride. After all, without you, I have dirty carpets. After you go over them, they look nice again. Be proud of your job! And anyway, if you think you’d have it easier in a fancier house, you have another think coming. They have three times the floor space we do!”
Ten minutes later, I had him home and put a new bag in him. I left him alone for a while, to make sure that he was thoroughly dried out before I plugged him in again, and then I cleaned up the dirt from the plant. The carpet was pristine where I had run him.
“Well, I guess you are glad to be home, eh?” I said.
But just in case, I made sure to put him away in a closet with a door that shuts tight.
-Jane W. Wolfinbarger (She Wolf) © 2008