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Two Christmases ago, my mom sent me an Oreck. Not being much of a vacuum cleaner connoisseur, I didn’t know what to think as I unwrapped this delicate creature and attached her neck. It was true that my old vacuum cleaner, Mr. Bagless Hoover, was messy and heavy, and he couldn’t reach all the way under beds. However, he had many attachments for all manner of nooks and crannies; even picking up bird seed and pebbles outdoors on the patio didn’t faze his durable plastic cup.
I was good to go in the suckable-mess category, and my mother knew it.
So, her sending me this upright vacuum with absolutely no attachments struck me as odd. My mother had always been an attachment woman; I remember learning about each brush and tube as she taught me how to keep a clean house. But she had recently discovered these no-attachment Orecks, and she’d been talking them up like they were the second set of hands she’d always wanted.
Who was I to say that my new Oreck was anything less than the ultimate in cool Christmas presents? My mother sharing her enthusiasm with me? Vastly better than just money.
When I called to thank her, she told me she loved me and went directly into how much she loved Orecks too: “I absolutely love mine. Honey, they are so lightweight—you’re not draggin’ around 100 pounds—and the cord is the longest cord I have ever seen in my life. I only have to move the plug once to vacuum the entire downstairs. But the best thing is that you can bend it totally flat to get under beds and chairs and I don’t know what all!”
I knew what the underlying story was here, the part my mother was leaving out: rolling around on the carpet with a three-foot plastic attachment stuck to the end of a hose so she could vacuum under a bed wasn’t as easy now as it was sixty years ago. Hauling a hundred-pound vacuum down to the basement to suck up mice droppings was probably also getting old, especially if she had to haul it back up the basement stairs to put it away. No wonder my mom loved her Oreck.
“But what about the nooks and crannies?” I asked, not quite sold. I knew my mom would never give up on a cobweb.
“That’s what your Dustbuster’s for!” she said triumphantly. Of course!
This glowing report from my glowing mother shut me up about the lack of attachments and earned my new lightweight XL X-tended Life Oreck the top spot in my hall closet. Mr. Bagless Hoover got transferred to the garage. He sits out there now with his extension tubes, waiting for the heavy-duty sucking disasters like dirt from a knocked-over plant or dried cat something. He inhales those kinds of messes like nobody’s business, then I empty his icky cup.
I could push the Oreck and her special compression bag to the limits regarding mud and dried poop because she did come with a fragrance tube, but I like to keep internal festering to a minimum, even inside my vacuum cleaners. I coddle my Oreck, only asking her to pick up human hair and animal fur from the carpet, crumbs from the kitchen floor, dander, dandruff, dead bugs after the exterminator has been here, tumbleweeds I drag in from playing outside, gray hairs I pluck out of my head, lint from the dryer, dust bunnies from the cats, sins and mistakes I don't have time to cover up.
My Oreck worked like a charm for two years but recently she bucked; for as gently as I’d push her and for as hard as she’d inhale, she would retain little in her bag. I didn’t want to seem overbearing, so I let her do her thing for awhile without complaint. I didn’t realize the severity of the problem until my sister came to visit from Minnesota last month and kept writing my name in the dust on my furniture. “Clean me” she would write, and giggle. “Wash me.”
“I dusted right before you got here!” I kept saying, which was the truth. I had dusted and Orecked; the place should have been spotless. Instead, my furniture was coated with grit, and whatever had been on the carpet in the spare room was now on the walls in the living room: pigeon feathers and red lint from washed Christmas stockings.
In my heart of hearts, I knew something was wrong. Instead of cleaning, I’d just been moving dirt from place to place.
Frustrated, I took my Oreck to the Oreck store to see what the problem might be. The gentleman behind the counter examined her from top to bottom, as a pediatrician might a child. He picked her up gently and turned her upside down; she didn’t complain. When he asked her to jump up on the counter, she readily complied.
I can tell you that Mr. Bagless Hoover would not have made me so proud. He’s strong and durable, but he’s just…dirty. His cup drops dirty all over the place when I empty it, and his filter makes a twelve-inch high pyramid of ash-like material when I bang it against the house outside. If The World's Heaviest Smoker lived here or if the industrial cleaning of Mount St. Helen’s had taken place in my backyard, I wouldn’t expect more from my Hoover’s cup, because it would have done its job. But I don't live near Mt. St. Helen's, and nobody smokes in this house.
I’m not sure I would bring Mr. Bagless Hoover to a Christmas Party. I'm not sure I'd bring him to the Hoover doctor if his sucking abilities diminished further. I might let him go.
I stood quietly on the customer side of the counter while the older gentleman on the other side inspected my Oreck. It didn’t take him long to diagnose the problem: “She plugged. She suckin' real good but she plugged up down there so she’s blowin' it all out the back. She ain’t retainin’ a thing, see?” He showed me the near-empty bag. No wonder my furniture was always covered with dirt that used to be on my floor.
No wonder my sister had been writing my name in spewed cat litter.
“How much to fix?” I asked, using my best poor-me, I-have-no-money Asian impersonation. Probably a thousand dollars. It’s always a thousand dollars.
“Free,” the man said. “It’s still under warranty. Just let me get you a tag and do some paperwork.”
Free? Still under warranty? What language was this?
A happy flush warmed me and I wanted to hug my mom and would have waved at this older gentleman if he had been more than twelve inches away. I wanted to make a nice gesture. I looked around at the words spelled out in shreds: grt brkfst on the Oreck store’s otherwise clean carpet. Happy Hol days, with the “i” vacuumed up. “Merry Christ as” said another, the “m” neatly sucked into some Oreck, somewhere.
“Your store is really clean,” I said to the gentleman who had been helping me as he handed me a claim ticket and looked past me at the new customers coming in. Just like I had, these people had Orecks over their shoulders or swinging by the neck, hauling them in like the lightest of weapons.
"Not clean enough," Mr. Oreck said with a twinkle in his eye, bending over to bang some of the letters for "Let it Snow" out of a bottle of baby's talc. "It's never clean enough."
I totally understood.