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This Just Suck!

illustration by Kevin Tong, Chris Kawagiwa and Mai Stewart
By: Jes Alexander

A while back, I wrote an article on my decade-long love affair with my steam cleaner. I received many responses, but one stood out from the crowd. This person wrote, “Thank you for writing about your steam cleaning addiction. I have an obsession with vacuuming.” I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what pleasure could be derived from sucking dust into a bag and disposing of it. I mean, there is zero satisfaction for me in unseen ick disposal, so I wrote this guy off and didn’t think of his vacuuming obsession again.

Then I went to a home show where I was cornered by an Electrolux salesman in the first aisle. He was straight out of a 1940s movie and even threw dirt at my feet to get my attention. I felt like I had walked onto the set of the sequel to Tin Men. He asked me what kind of vacuum I used at home, and he told me about how dust passes right through the bag and is thrown all over the house by inferior machines. Now, my grandparents were Electrolux aficionados and my dad still uses one of his parents’ canister jobbies that looks like it came straight from The Jetsons. I know they’re good, but surely my 12.5 amp black, plastic upright from the discount  store couldn’t be that bad. So, I skirted the Electrolux guy by making some desperate bathroom excuse and forgot about vacuums again, mostly.

Over the next couple of months, I found myself watching the plumes of dust after I vacuumed. Sometimes they twinkled in the sunlight that streamed in the dining room window. Other times, I found myself having to redust the furniture. I even found myself pausing, hearing the Electrolux guy’s song-and-dance replaying in my head as I handed my little boy another dose of Sudafed.

Then, on a post-Christmas trip through one particular retailer (I won’t single them out by name, but their logo has a large red target on it), I found my cart parked in front of an aisle-end display marked, “Clearance.” Of course, my senses were enlivened by the “C-word” and I took notice. The display was stocked with vacuums, and no ordinary jobbies, but the kind with “cyclonic action” that promised to remove 100 percent of my airborne, carpet-borne dust and allergens. Anyway, this wasn’t the bright yellow, uppity British brand of über vacuum, but a cleverly crafted knock-off. I was intrigued by its bagless operation because this is the kind of validation I love in household cleaning. Just like the murky brown water that I extract in the steam cleaner and dispose of with creepy delight, I could now give myself the eebies after each vacuuming.

So, I bought it.

I brought it home, assembled and plugged it in within the hour, and boy, does this thing suck! No, it’s the good kind of sucking, the kind that drags your runners across the hallway when you try to vacuum them. I think that OSHA has guidelines for hearing protection for using such a noisy machine, but for what I paid I’ll live with hearing the high notes a little flatter. My new friend did a particularly fine job on Christmas tree pine needles, too. Admittedly, I was, well, sucked-in. I have cats – five now (hush, they keep showing up at my door!) and a school-ager, so there’s plenty to vacuum. I am currently vacuuming the entire house twice a week, sometimes more, while reveling in the crap that was lying underfoot in my home.

Here’s the fascinating part. Initially, it was psychological. This new C-word purchase was doing a better job because I got a great deal. Then I surmised that maybe I was sucked in (pun not intended) by the ability to see a day’s worth of crap in the clear, plastic cyclonic chamber. Maybe it just seemed like it was working better because the stuff wasn’t going into some unseen vacuum bag. But, there was more. In the past two months, my son’s allergies have gotten better. My perennially stuffed-nosed child can actually breathe through his nose now, and his consumption of over-the-counter allergy medications and decongestants has gone down considerably.Hooray for cyclonic action! And when I vacuum, I am no longer enamored with the sparkly plumes of dust from the old vacuum’s exhaust and I don’t have to redust.

So, to the Bay Area guy with the vacuum fetish, I apologize. I now understand you and applaud your choice of obsession. To the Electrolux tin man, you were 100 percent right, but it didn’t cost me $1700 or another gaze at your slippery moustache wax to improve my home’s airborne environment.

When not in use, my cyclonic vacuum and my steam cleaner reside in a spare closet upstairs. I think there’s a little romance going on between them, and I look forward to the day that I go to retrieve one of them and find that they are the proud parents of a bouncing baby Dustbuster.

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