Demise of a Salesman

Haven’t you always wished your old vacuum cleaner would beat the salesman’s?

“Congratulations! You have just won a free deep-cleaning of one room of carpet!”

“A what?” Pushing my pillow aside, I juggle the phone and surface from my afternoon nap.

 

“You entered our Kirby vacuum cleaner $1000 drawing recently. While you have not yet won the $1000, your name was selected for one of the preliminary prizes! We will clean either one room of carpet or a couch/chair combination for free.”

I’m still shaking cobwebs from my head but the word “free” came through loud and clear. Slowly, vaguely, I recall a young man who stopped at my door a few days ago. He entered my name and phone number in a contest, giving me a numbered yellow ticket stub to keep by the phone in case someone called to say I had won.

“You are still in the drawing for the $1000 of course, but this is an additional award.” The woman is polite but it is clear that she thinks not all my puppies are barking.

We just recently steam-cleaned all the carpets. “I guess the couch needs to be done.”

“Fine. We’ll send Jim out to clean it tomorrow. Is 3:00 p.m. okay?”

Quickly the woman gathers information on directions to my home, says goodbye, and disconnects the line. This is all accomplished before I notice that she never asked for the number on my ticket stub which is resting on the counter next to the phone. Or before I realize that 3:00 p.m. is exactly in the middle of tomorrow’s nap. My dubious prize is a thinly-veiled appointment with a vacuum cleaner salesman.

The next day, a young man appears ten minutes before the hour just in case I have any idea of sneaking out before his arrival. He pulls into the driveway, parking his car behind my own vehicle, preventing any possibility of escape.

From the car’s trunk, Jim (not his real name) pulls a week’s worth of luggage. The biggest box holds the vacuum cleaner. Three other boxes contain miraculous attachments that will turn this machine into the Harry Houdini of housecleaning.

Balancing the smallest box on top, Jim moves toward the door. As he cuts across my lawn, he sidesteps a pile of dog poop. The smallest box slides to the left. In a dramatic effort to save the box, Jim drops the rest of the load.

I offer to assist. Jim hands me a box and decides this is not the right moment to promote the portability of this cleaning system.

My dog enthusiastically welcomes Jim. Her dog pillow is the “chair” that Jim will clean in addition to the couch.

In the living room, Jim places a large black notebook on a display stand. The gleaming Kirby cleaner moves to front and center. I mention that we already own a Kirby.

“Really? How long have you had it?”

“About ten years.”

“Well, as you can imagine, things have changed quite a bit. We’ve spent over two million dollars researching and improving the machine.”

Reaching for his bag of tricks, Jim displays some of the new features of his model. He tosses on the floor a variety of attachments, all of which I can not only name but duplicate from my own box of vacuum cleaner parts. My box is stored downstairs under a tidy layer of dust.

“Ah, but have you seen this?” He picks up a small hard rubber attachment and wrestles it inside out. He is strong and works hard to make this process look easy. “Of course, this is a new piece. It becomes softer after a few times.”

The inverted piece piques my interest. “It looks like the head of a bathroom plunger.”

“You’re right,” Jim replies. “You can use it with the blower feature to clean out a drain.”

Have I been negligent? Do people really vacuum their kitchen drains each week?

“Can I use it to plunge a clogged toilet?”

“No, you wouldn’t do that, of course. If you turned the machine on, water would splash all over you.”

The picture of filth spewing all over me is not pleasant, but why wouldn’t the same thing happen with a plugged drain in the kitchen? The kitchen drain only gums up after you wash the roaster, gravy boat and fry pan, and the sink is full of tepid greasy water. This device cost two million dollars and I still have to bail out the sink first?

Nevertheless, I go downstairs and fish out my version of the rubber attachment. Sure enough, it is made of the same tough rubber. I attempt to turn it inside out. After ten years it should be broken in. I can’t budge it. I show Jim.

“Yours,” he informs me, “is old and has become inflexible.”

Moving right along, Jim pulls out a plastic Zipp brush.

I love this attachment. “I use my Zipp brush in the car for getting up dog hair, gravel, and lollipop wrappers.”

“You’re kidding!” says Jim.

“No, I’m serious. It does a great job.”

“I mean, about the Zipp brush. This is a brand new feature. You can’t already have one.”

Once more I trot downstairs and return triumphantly with a Zipp brush. The only difference is that mine is chrome, not plastic, and it comes in a little velvet bag with the logo “Zipp brush” imprinted on the side.

“A velvet bag? Mine doesn’t have one of those!”

Who is going to sell a machine today? I wonder.

At this point I confess that I have a long history of abusing vacuum cleaner salesmen. I have a different room cleaned each time a salesman comes to the door. (How else do I keep my house clean?) “One time, the Electrolux man did my living room carpet, drapes, upholstery, and even the piano. See that corner up there? He even unpacked a second demo kit to get extra extension rods to reach that far.”

Jim’s eyes widen at the thought. He looks longingly for the door. At that moment, my daughter walks in from school. She stands on the stairs taking in the scene.

This new audience reanimates Jim. He gets out a box of baking soda and dumps it on the floor. He challenges me to use my old Kirby to clean it up. I oblige, vacuuming slowly and repeatedly. There is no trace of the baking soda.

Confidently, Jim turns on his machine. Nothing shows up on the machine’s demo pad. Surprised, he looks carefully at the floor. “Where did I dump the baking soda?”

If Jim can’t tell where it is, why should I worry? My guests never inspect my carpet as closely as Jim is doing right now.

My own cleaner’s bag has released a small amount of dust. I sneeze.

Jim pounces on this opportunity to talk about the hypoallergenic features of the new machine. Holding up a piece of filter paper, he asks, “Do you know how small a micron is?”

“Yes, I do.”

Surprised, Jim asks how I know such a technical detail.

I laugh. My daughter, preparing a snack in the kitchen, peeps around the corner to see what is so funny. Jim repeats the question.

Prisca’s expression changes as it occurs to her what is going through my mind. She collapses in laughter. “No! No! You don’t want to know!”

Jim presses for an explanation.

“I speak in local schools about sexual abstinence…”

Prisca looks frantic. “No, Mom!”

“Government standards for condoms allow holes in them up to ten microns wide. The AIDS virus is only four microns wide.”

Jim is astounded. His trivia about a million microns dancing on the head of a pin sounds dull in comparison to my revelation. “Are you serious? Is that true?”

“Mom!” Prisca warns me to stop before I launch into a discourse on sex for the benefit of this captive audience. Assuring Jim that this fact is indeed true, I heed her admonition and say no more.

With effort, Jim recalls his original purpose. He pulls out some white filter paper. “These filters have holes that are only a few microns wide to keep dust from escaping and triggering allergies.”

The dust reminds me that I need replacement bags. Can he sell me more? Jim is sorry, no, he doesn’t have any supplies in the car.

Does he know if I can wash the cloth case that covers the disposable bags? I unzip the case on my machine and snap a finger against the fabric. A cloud of dust puffs up. No, he doesn’t know if the fabric bag can be washed. Will the company invest another two million dollars developing a washable case?

Jim makes small talk. I learn that he owns a beagle, was once bitten by an alligator, and dreams of becoming a Spanish teacher. After an hour with me, Jim’s dream of a career teaching Spanish may look very attractive.

Jim at last cleans the couch with the Zipp brush. Then he packs away his equipment. I remind him about the dog’s cushion. He reattaches the flexible tube and wand. Picking up the gray dusty pillow by one corner, he holds it at arm’s length and swipes it with the Zipp brush. Will he disinfect his machine later?

When he starts putting things away again, I ask, “Aren’t you going to shampoo the couch?”

“Deep-cleaning means using the Zipp brush. Just the Zipp brush. No shampoo.” Jim has scored a point in the last minute but the game is not over.

With only seconds left to play, my daughter nimbly intercepts: Jim is hurrying out the door when Prisca comments, “This is good. He’ll be gone before the Rainbow vacuum cleaner salesman arrives at 4:30.”

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