When it comes to sales pitches, I’m a hard nut to crack. I am suspicious of all claims, think pyramid schemes are for suckers, and believe that there are no deals unless 1) you know somebody; or 2) the vendor is desperate.
That’s why it was beyond strange that, some twenty odd years ago, I allowed a Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner salesman to come to my house and give me a free demonstration. This was back in the days when answering machines were not widely deployed; when the phone rang, you answered it, even if you were, as I was and am, telephobic. You answered it not because you wanted to, but because it might be important, because, God forbid, a car might have run over your mother or someone had spotted on the roof the child you thought was having a nap.
Perhaps I agreed to the vacuum cleaner demonstration because I was lonely for adult company. After all, I was a stay-at-home mother with three pre-school kids and a collie with boundary issues.
Or maybe it was because my name had been provided the salesman by a woman I only slightly knew, but thought well of. (With age comes wisdom; it turns out that the only way to get rid of a vacuum cleaner salesman is to give him the names of five of your friends, whom you then have to call to apologize for what’s about to happen to them.)
Or maybe I was just feeling – as I sometimes inexplicably do – generous. The guy really wanted to show me his vacuum cleaner. What was I doing that was so important? I’ll tell you what I was doing – what I did every day while the kids were napping — clean goop off the walls. The goop would still be there when the vacuum cleaner salesman left. That shit doesn’t clean itself. What did I have to lose?
The next day a boy in his early twenties wearing a cheap brown suit and a clip on tie appeared on my doorstep. I will call him Joe. Harry, our ADHD collie, set upon Joe, mauling him in a friendly sort of way until he spied the sleek chrome canister portaged by the salesman. It might have been twice the size of the obviously more mundane vacuum cleaners of our acquaintance, but Harry knew a vacuum cleaner when he saw one and, like all sensible dogs, he understood that vacuum cleaners were a dog’s mortal enemy. He fled in abject terror, allowing the demonstration to proceed. This consisted of a painfully in depth exploration of all the various tubes and hoses obtruding from the gigantic vacuum cleaner to which, Joe insisted on showing me, a glittering panoply of brushes, wands and a variety of other attachments could be affixed. “Twenty-one in all,” he told me proudly. “There is nowhere that dirt can hide from the Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner.” Which made me a little sad for dirt.
And now it was time for what the marketing department of the Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner Company clearly viewed as the pièce de résistance of this obviously scripted demonstration. Joe reached into a large portfolio and pulled out a poster-sized piece of paper. On it was the picture of a giant bug, with pincers, antennae, big compound eyes and what could only be described as furry mandibles. “This is a dust mite!” he informed me triumphantly. “This is what lives in your mattress!”
“That doesn’t live in my mattress,” I told him. “I would have noticed.”
In the end, the real sticking point turned out to be the price – in excess of a thousand dollars. We couldn’t have afforded that vacuum cleaner even had the dust mites been the size they were on Joe’s poster. We would have had to surrender the bed to them and sleep on the floor.
Joe was visibly crushed when I told him we could not afford his vacuum cleaner. It was clear that selling Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners was not going well for him and I could not help but feel sorry for him – a lumpy kid, reeking of desperation, with terrible adult acne and a bad suit. “If it’s any consolation,” I told him, as gently as I could, “if I was going to buy this vacuum cleaner – and I’m not saying that I would – but, if I did, I would make sure to buy it from you. You did a good job. Really.” It was the best I could do under the circumstances and, I have to say, Joe appeared grateful.
That visit all those years ago was the inspiration for my short story, Strays, published in the Dalhousie Review in the summer of 1999. It’s about lonely people at loose ends somehow making a place for themselves.
And dogs, of course.
If you’d like to read it, just click on Strays.