I just got sucked into buying a seventeen-hundred dollar vacuum cleaner. That’s right. I wasn’t trying to jumpstart our economy singlehandedly; it just sort of happened. In my living room. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Perhaps because door-to-door salesmen are a vanishing breed, I’ve forgotten how to deal with them. I’ve become so used to blowing off telemarketers and direct mailers that when an actual live merchandiser shows up, it’s like a black rhino has appeared. They have this aura that leaves you agape, wondering how many gun barrels they’ve stared down recently, and before you know it both feet are in the door. This is a far cry from incidents like the following, which were common at my parents’ house.
Having somehow negotiated the pillboxes, mines and SCRAM welcome mat that graced their front porch, a boy about eight or nine, carrying a handle bag, is hammering with a landlord’s insistence. This does not bode well for him. Anyone who compelled my folks to answer the door (even my dad hated cold-callers) they treated like something crawling out of a cargo hold. The storm door has almost shattered with the force of kiddie’s blows when my dad shoves it open. Though not much over five feet tall, he grew to the size of Ursula in The Little Mermaid when affronted.
“Stop that banging!” he shouted. “Whaddaya want?!”
“You don’t want no candy?” the kid croaked.
(It could have been worse. A Hare Krishna devotee nearly lost his topknot to my mother’s hedge clippers. For all I know, there may be a Fuller Brush man or two enriching the soil at the old homestead.)
I now look to this incident as all epigones regard previous generations’ deeds, with a mixture of wonder, longing, and shame. The taste of ashes is in my mouth as I crouch on the sand under a threadbare blanket, feeling the wind whistle through my wallet.
I suppose the fact that our last three vacuums sucked eggs should console me: a can vac that wouldn’t inhale a dandelion pod, another that kept flipping on its back like a sprayed roach, and an upright which required a course in safecracking to change the bag. Next to those, this machine deserves a niche at the Smithsonian: streamlined, quiet, with wands for suctioning drapes and shampooing carpets. It probably has the power to do liposuction. It’s so versatile that Pigpen from Peanuts could visit every day and we’d still be presentable. Is it worth seventeen-hundred dollars? Let’s put it this way: It’s the last cleaning apparatus of any kind we’ll need, Handi-Wipes included.
I have to admit, the salesman knew his stuff, changing attachments so fast my head spun like a beater bar. He showed us how the clutch worked. That’s right, clutch. Poured enough table salt on our carpet to purify a Sumo wrestling match, and sucked it up. And every so often he’d drop a hint, while fingering a reward program in his pocket, about how close he was to earning a vacation in Cancun. At the conclusion of his spiel, when he saw me waffling, he brandished this sheet with evangelical fervor, as if trying to replicate a Gulf breeze. I expected him to fall on one knee like Al Jolson and break into a rendition of My Mammy.
At this critical point in the proceedings I looked to my life’s companion for much-needed dissent. When the mood hits her, Marsha can prepare a dish of Rocky Mountain oysters from just about any merchant. Given a choice between solvency and selling the place settings, however, she’ll eat off paper. This time she did her level best to impersonate a bobbing-head doll. The salesman practically capered about the living room. He was so excited I feared we’d have to break out the shampooing hose prematurely.
Mercifully, we got credit for a trade-in. Between this, the clutch, and the price tag, we practically need a registration and stickers to operate our new appliance. We also received a video instructing us how to use the various attachments. (Just as well: We won’t be renting any movies for a while.) Now all we need is a can of Simoniz to keep the aluminum hood shiny. With enough light, you can see yourself scratching your head in it.