Talk of the Town - Life in a vacuum March 11 2004

This really sucks

When it comes to modern life, a lot of things suck. One that did not was my vacuum.

I don’t know why — a vacuum cleaner should. Mine treated crumbs on the carpet with the delicate hands-off consideration of an archaeologist puttering over pre-Columbian pottery. Vacuuming at my place was a multistep process:

1) Run vacuum around floor.

2) Pick up — by hand — all debris the vacuum left behind.

3) Swear — lots of swearing — that today you will buy a new vacuum.

In truth, No. 3 fell from my priority list at the slightest provocation. A bottle of 18-year-old scotch, a new suit jacket, anything can take financial precedence over acquiring a new machine that does nothing but, well, suck.

Part of the problem is that, despite years of connubial bliss, I still have single guy-itis regarding household appliances. When you are a single guy, you don’t buy such things. You wait for relatives to get new stuff and give their old gizmos to you. A single guy doesn’t buy much of anything except beer, potato chips and dinner dates calculated to get someone back to the place where the beer and chips are stored.

Most of my career as an unattached boulevardier was accompanied by the ancient Electrolux canister vacuum passed on to me by my parents before they moved to Florida. Mom had bought it from a door-to-door salesman the day John Glenn first blasted off into space.

Now, that vacuum really sucked. If you cleaned drapes with it (back before drapes morphed into “window treatments” with 1/150th the cloth) and left the hose in one place for more than a nanosecond, the Electrolux could devour the curtain, the entire curtain rod and a chunk of drywall. When the vacuum was in operation, you couldn’t hear a hydrogen bomb going off in the next block, a very real thermonuclear possibility that year of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For a sense of what the vacuum cleaner looked like, catch a screening of Superman and the Mole Men, the 1951 theatrical release introducing George Reeves as “the man of steel.” The death ray the Mole Men used — after they came out of the deepest oil well ever drilled wanting to know what the hell was going on — was a vintage Electrolux, all hose attachments included.

Much like planet Krypton’s most famous alum, my old vacuum was indestructible. It was nearing its 30th birthday when I accidentally left it behind during one of several moves that made my single existence resemble a remake of The Fugitive.

Its second-hand replacement — again, donated by kin — was one of those lightweight, hold-with-one-hand models that clutter the vacuum market, and my floor with unsucked debris. After several years of marriage — and a higher standard of cleanliness than the one I’d considered adequate whilst a bachelor — we decided to buy a new vacuum.

I’d done my homework, studying a copy of Consumer Reports with ratings and rankings for 49 upright and canister vacuum cleaners. They couldn’t have found a 50th model just to round things out?

The vacuums were rated on a host of qualities, from noise and ease of use to emissions — that’s a scary thought — and “manual pile adjust.” The latter piqued my interest. Any machine that can adjust the piles of stuff lying around my house is a keeper.

So you look at all the ratings, consider the manufacturer’s reputation, ask friends what vacuums they use — and the answer is it doesn’t matter. “Paying more doesn’t buy better performance.” This right out of Consumer Reports.

And now the pressure is on, because I’ve been terrorized by all the medical news about dust mites. Have you ever seen an image of a dust mite magnified 10,000 times? It resembles a Type A personality CEO scorpion in a bad mood. And there are billions of them running around my house hosting a smorgasbord of illness-causing bacteria.

So we journeyed to the Best Barn media/appliance emporium. Buying a vacuum there is akin to traveling in steerage on the Titanic, because all the glamour stuff — giant plasmoid TVs taking you into the 12th dimension, and sound systems that could make a continent vibrate — is on the other side of the store. Along with the sales staff.

In the vacuum cleaner aisle, a telltale sign of middle age manifests itself: I’m actually excited about buying a vacuum. I’m transfixed by the sleek, shiny streamlines of a Eureka Upright with its sassy, see-through intake receptacle.

This correspondent may not be able to afford a Ferrari, but by God, I can meet my midlife crisis head on by tear-assing around the rumpus room with a supercharged vacuum. It even has a headlight.

In case I want to go joy cleaning at night.

Glen Slattery is sucking it up in Alpharetta.