Quiet Desperation

You might not care about vacuums, but suck it up


My vacuum cleaner has headlights. It's a great feature. It allows me to vacuum in the dark. Nietzsche might say that “vacuuming in the dark” was a good metaphor for existence.

My vacuum cleaner also has its own half-hour television show. It's a little repetitive: someone is always spilling tiny candies or flakey cereals and the vacuum easily takes care of it.

Sometimes they challenge the vacuum cleaner with sawdust.

The cord, however, is never shown. The reason is simple: the cord makes a modern-day vacuum cleaner just as much of a pain in the neck as all of its predecessors because it invariably gets wrapped around something on the way to the tiny candies.

A vacuum cleaner was the first purchase I made that distinguished my childhood from adulthood.

Maybe this was true for you too?

My college apartments were always furnished, except for one thing. A vacuum cleaner.

I can't remember whether I bought new or used. If new, I'm sure it was one of the least expensive on the market and didn't have its own TV show.

A cheap vacuum cleaner is practically worthless. You have to pick up the particle, show it to the attachment, then stick it in.

Adulthood really settled on my shoulders when I bought a home. To a vacuum cleaner I was required to add a lawn mower, a washing machine and dryer, a dishwasher, stove and refrigerator. The works.

Although the dishwasher stopped working, exploded and flooded the wood floor which had to be sanded and varnished from the kitchen all the way to the first floor bathroom.

It meant leaving for 72 hours.

I drove to Durango, had green chili on my eggs at the Durango Diner, and came back.

One of these days I might be able to do away with the lawn mower. And the snow shovel, snowblower and garden hoses, and move into one of those seniors-only places that look so tempting in the brochures.

Everyone is smiling and holding a glass or a putter. That's for me.

But the truth is, each and every one of them has to have a vacuum cleaner. You can simplify your life in a lot of ways, but you're still going to need a vacuum cleaner.

Unless you're a hoarder.

None of the interior shots in these brochures indicates that hoarders would be welcome.

If there are 88 units there are at least 88 vacuum cleaners.

My mother had five. Each one was a specialist. If you know anyone who vacuums almost every day whether it's needed or not you'll understand.

If not, you might think I made it up for the purposes of enlivening the narrative.

No, Shirley had five vacuum cleaners.

Visitors have told me my house is clean. I know better. I have seen Clean.

My mother cleaned walls and ceiling, corners and crevices.

Obsessive? Absolutely. Difficult to be around? I began to stay in hotels when I went back to Michigan. It was better for everyone.

When I was a kid I'd see how others lived, in “lived-in” homes, and couldn't believe my eyes. Naturally, I was envious.

For one of my birthdays she gave me a book: “How to Clean Everything.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“You're welcome, son. Clean on. Clean until your clean comes true.”

P.S. I loved her.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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