Monday, September 15, 2003

Living in an Eternal Vacuum

Back in the days when I was a bit more impressionable than I am today, I like many a happy go lucky lad wanted a dog for a pet. Sure my myriad of stuffed animals named after baseball players was of some comfort (and exercise for the imagination) but somehow having a real live (as I defined it then if not now) faithful, tail-wagging companion in my life seemed something that was desirable. Alas my sisters were allergic to all creatures fuzzy and thus my pet options were somewhat limited. Mom and Dad did at one point buy my brother and I a pair of turtles but somehow Huey and Louie weren't exactly capable of cuddling and playing fetch and that type of thing.

So one day my friend Steve Benz and I were out at the swamp as we seemed to be most hazy afternoons and we caught ourselves a couple of Red-Bellied snakes. I wasn't going to take mine home but Steve convinced me that it was the prudent thing to do. Still sheepish I didn't exactly rush to tell anyone in my family about my new pet, the one I kept hidden in a shoe box down in the basement, the one I wasn't quite sure what to feed to keep it healthily and stealthy swiggling.

As a few days passed (more than enough time to seem like it time to move on to the next interesting thing to such a decidedly prone to that type of moving on type mindset) I opened up the top of the shoebox to where I was keeping the newest member our family only to discover that he (or maybe it was a she or maybe it was both) wasn't there. Yup my heart skipped a beat or two and my choices seemed limited to either ignoring the whole set of things and chalking it up to a learning experience; or looking around our palatial suburban estate for a snake no more than a cat tail in length; or maybe mentioning to Mom that there was a loose snake (no fault of my own naturally) in the house somewhere.

After a few days more contemplation I kind of came to the realization that I really should probably tell Mom about the loose snake. We began an immediate search that proved fruitless. As a last resort Mom, knowing she had recently vacuumed the whole house decided to look inside the vacuum cleaner. She carefully cut open the vacuum cleaner bag and began to sort, barehanded through its contents. In retrospect I think she was equally afraid of what she might find as afraid what she might have to tell me she might find. But in amongst the dust there was a wiggle waggle movement and Mom let out what may have been a sigh of relief or one let out of disappointment at the unexpected adventure her youngest child had most recently been the catalyst of. I eventually gave the snake back to Steve Benz with a certain sadness borne both out of the grief I caused Mom and the sadness that I really did still want a tail-wagging friend that somehow "belonged" to me.

This most recently passed cold cold winter I was vacuuming one of the few areas in my hardwood floored house I have to vacuum- the rug in my bedroom- when I had one of those frustrating OOPs moments when I saw a shiny object that was just too late identified to be my recently lost favorite earring just as I was running the vacuum cleaner over the recently lost piece of jewelry. Being way too cheap to immediately remove the garbage bag and retrieve the earring I decided that I'd wait until the bag was full and then deal with the lost object of my affection. So this past weekend I decided that I had gotten all I could out of this particular vacuum bag and I removed it. I grabbed a grocery bag, slit the vacuum bag and began emptying the dusty contents into the grocery bag.

So there I was sitting on the front steps of my house, hands hidden in a grocery bag, clouds of dust swirling around me like that that follows Pig-Pen in the Peanuts comic strip searching for a tiny lil green earring. I know I made quite the sight as a neighbor stopped by to ask what the hell I was doing. And on top of it all I was tearing up not so much because of the dust but because 90 percent of the contents I was shifting through was Max the Cat's sucked up fur. There was so much there that I'm sure I could sculpt a life-size replica of my much missed deceased buddy.

That same weekend my Dad told me his home voice mail went on the fritz and he dug out his last answering machine to temporarily take its place. He hit the play button airing the last tape inside and out played the voice of Mom talking to a grandchild about a school the girl had gotten into. The pride in Mom's voice rose above the accidentally erased and otherwise muffled parts of the conversation. Dad and I weren't quite sure what we should think or feel of the unexpected return of Mom's voice. The vacuum her absence continues (and will continue) to create to me remains absolute and astounding. It sucks at least as much if not much more than my now lifetime experience of combining vacuum cleaners with pets both deliberately chosen for comfort and those who were meant to be. Another explain it to me please moment in an time of that type of thing. At the very least putting in a fresh bag makes my vacuum cleaner work much better. It truly sucks. And that seems appropriate.

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