Never Met a Stranger: The new vacuum


By T.W. Burger

The new vacuum cleaner winging its way through my house is a far cry from the monsters I and my contemporaries grew up with.

Sleek. Red plastic embedded with metal flakes. Cordless, because batteries these days are awesome, not to mention light.

The new vacuum is very flashy. It looks like a Star Trek medical device.

I always liked the steel vacuums -- Electrolux and Hoovers and Kirbys -- we had when I was a kid.

But those suckers are too heavy now. I think they were designed for Bob the Builder or Wonder Woman. Nobody else could haul the damned things up and down stairs.

As much as women (it was usually women who used them, back when we were still primitive tribes,) complained about the machines’ bulk and heft, nobody could complain that they did not seem like they meant business.

For one thing, they sounded like it; dogs, cats and small children were terrified of them, with their banshee screams and their steel-reinforced bodies crashing and clunking around the house.

I do not reliably remember how big they were back then, but fading brain cells recall them as powerful, big, massive, even.

I seem to recall that the house lights dimmed when mom stomped the “on” switch, but I may have made that up.

Mom’s Electrolux was made of gleaming steel, some chromed, some painted an icy blue. It was so streamlined that it seemed as though it ought to go fast, and do things much more dramatic than pick up household dirt.

It was old, even when I was a boy. I think my folks used it and the upright Hoover to clean up after World War II. I would not have been shocked to find the rubble of European cities in their respective bags.

The Electrolux looked like something Buck Rogers would use to clobber Ming the Merciless and had a rumble to it like Armageddon.

The most amazing feature about those days was the way one bought these machines. You invited people – perfect strangers - into your house for a demonstration. The salespeople, of varying ages, were almost always men, wearing a tie, maybe even a whole suit, shiny with age, mended here and there, with mismatched buttons.

I took training in my early 20s to sell Kirby’s, but never actually made the jump to selling them door-to-door. I got lucky and snagged a job driving concrete mixer trucks, but for a long time I could still give the sales spiel and talk up the various attachments, available for a special introductory price.

It was a long time ago. The new vacuum is a Shark Navigator. Nobody came to my house and talked their heart out for a few bucks of commission; I bought it over my smartphone, from Amazon.

Somehow, I feel as though I missed the best part.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

President of Marsh Creek Media, he has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”

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