08 May 2009

roomba, RIP

It is with some sadness that I write today that me and my Roomba have parted ways.

I have something of a mania for vacuuming. Although one's dharma changes over time, for at least the past decade, vacuuming has been an important element of mine. It began when I was a newly married graduate student, yearning for a companion during my solitary hours of study, but not ready to commit to a dog. (I'm still not quite ready for that one.) So we got cats, the perfect pet for the commitment-phobe, although I am allergic to them. I adored my cats, but oh, the shedding! It was very hard for an anal neat freak to bear. But, I reasoned, as long as I took allergy medication, and kept the rugs and upholstery scrupulously clean, I'd be fine. It also seemed like the right thing to do as a hostess; who wants to see a guest rise from your couch with their ass covered in your cat's hair? So began a daily regimen of vacuuming.

I didn't really mind. It turned out, I find vacuuming enormously therapeutic. It's aerobic benefits should not be overlooked. I run cold (body temperature; not cold-hearted bitch; I hope), and in the depths of winter, when we try to resist turning the heat too high and a sweater is just not helping, I've been known to take the vacuum out for a few laps to warm myself up. Plus, the crackly sound of crumbs being sucked up by the rotating brushes and into the hose is one of those great satisfying sounds, akin to the whoosh of opening a soda can, or the pop of a champagne cork.

I've never read Joyce Carol Oates, but when I read her mention, in an interview in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, "The cleaning is something I use as a reward if I get some work done. I go into a very happy state of mind when I’m vacuuming. I think some of my male colleagues, like Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, are completely denied this pleasure," I recognized a kindred spirit, and realized I should start reading her work AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

My vacuuming habit has outlasted my cats, because not only because it is so finely ingrained, but because I now have children, and we all know the messes they generate. By the time I had children and multi-story house, the lugging of the vacuum, sometimes with a small child in one arm, up and down a flight of stairs from the broom closet, began to seem a bit hazardous, to my baby, not to mention my back. Although I don't like to duplicate appliances, it seemed like a second vacuum might be in order. When some friends mentioned they had gotten a Roomba, and it really worked, my pulse quickened with the possibilities.

The Roomba and I began dating about a year and a half ago, and like all doomed relationships, it started off swimmingly. It was a beautiful thing; I could press go, walk the kids to school, and come home to a clean floor! It was so amusing to watch it work, stumbling around like a blind dog eating your crumbs!

But once you've gotten to know one another a bit better, at about the point where you're leaving a toothbrush at each others apartment, flaws inevitably begin to emerge. At first, it's just little things -- how he never puts his clothes in the hamper on the way to bed, or consistently misses that pile of crumbs in the corner of the rug -- but you love each other, so you can live with it!

The first indication that things are doomed is when you begin to believe it's you, not him, that is the problem. Maybe I didn't arrange the chairs correctly, for maximum vacuuming efficiency? Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, and clearing the rug of the dried grains of rice was just too much to ask of a vacuum?

Or perhaps, we just had a defective model? I exchanged it for a new one, and for while, it was like that reconciliation after the breakup; we were so happy, and didn't understand why we'd ever parted. But then the same old patterns began to emerge. Either David or myself would set the Roomba to go, and then chide the other one for not running the vacuum, because the rug looked just like it did before we started. All this, despite the fact that as long as we owned the Roomba, we emptied the filter regularly, and kept the brushes as clean as possible.

So my husband and I began to have that difficult conversation about whether it was time to put the pet down. As anyone who has ever had to say good-bye to a beloved furry friend knows, this is a difficult decision to make. But after one too many nights of me running the Roomba, then David running it, the answer became clear. I brought it back for a full refund. (It turns out, as long as you save your receipt, Bed, Bath and Beyond will give you your money back. Since I'd owned the vacuum for almost a year, I would have been satisfied with store credit, so kudos, Bed, Bath and Beyond!)

And because I was so happy to have all that cash back in my pocket, I bought a new vacuum for the first floor, a Eureka Optima. It was extremely inexpensive, at $60. It weighs about 12 pounds, so I could conceivably carry it up and down stairs. It's bagless, which I like, and has a telescoping handle, which appeals to my kids, because they can shorten the handle and actually vacuum, as opposed to pretend to vacuum. So much more satisfying than the toy Dirt Devil they currently (But that Dirt Devil is still one of the best presents ever given to my kids; thanks, Sharon, you know me so well!)

I have a friend who is a devoted bread baker; every week he makes his own baguettes. When I mentioned to him how superlative No-Knead Bread is, he was interested, but not eager to try it himself; after all, kneading is part of the fun. So it is, for me and vacuuming. Sometimes, you still have to do the hard work for yourself, and you actually enjoy it.

Adieu, my vacuuming robot; I will miss you, but not too much.

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