You Do What, Exactly?



Had I not clasped the railing just in time I would have tripped 30 feet to the floor below and been splayed on the mauve tiles on the ground floor. I had stepped on the thin thermacol sheet that comes with packages of new household items, like televisions and washing machines. The sheet itself, gray and rectangle as a doormat, lay on the vacuum cleaner, resting comfily like a defeated man leery of redemption.

The vacuum cleaner was creamy white with slabs of angry orange on its sides and top. The patina of dust on it made it look weather-beaten. It was. The machine’s been with us for almost 20 years. The cobwebs that hung about the vacuum cleaner, fluttering about in the wind like drunken lovers on a ship, were the only things alive in the machine. It didn’t look angry anymore.

I walked away. I was on my way to take a leak. “Vacuum cleaner,” I thought, once inside. “Vacuum. Cleaner. That name makes no sense at all. How do you clean a vacuum? You can’t clean something that’s not there. Or does it create a vacuum by cleaning all the dust and cobwebs?”

I flushed.

“But why then is it called a vacuum cleaner, and not a vacuum creator? How do you clean vacuum? It’s vacuum because nothing’s there in the first place, isnt’ it?”

I have no idea.


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