These days, I pay careful attention to who and what shows up in, or disappears from, my life and if the arrivals, departures or synchronicities carry meanings. While I’ve always been attuned to symbols, it wasn’t until I started writing creative non-fiction to identify themes in my à la carte life that I began to take greater notice.
Last week, thinking I might invite a man over, I appraised the condition of my apartment. Even I, who can tolerate some dirt and disorder, was aghast. Being in an urban area, my living space magnetizes dust. It collects between sections of the cast iron radiators, in terrifying crevices fit only for spelunkers. And whenever I have a brainstorm, disorder happens: each idea manifests its own pile of papers, books or photographs. Since childhood, I’ve ricocheted between cluttered and clean. Rather than tidying on a regular basis, I reach either a nadir of disgust or overwhelm before I’m motivated to do something.
My mother, whose own mother scrubbed things until they sparkled, tried to teach me how to clean. Later, she even paid me. But the annoyance of schlepping the clunky Electrolux canister vacuum up and down stairs, its snaky cord tangling around my ankles and furniture, outweighed having dust free surfaces. And swabbing metal radiator vents with Q-tips ranked low on the fun scale, even though no heavy lifting was required. Despite her attempts to convince me of the pleasures of a shimmering tub, I couldn’t completely scour the soap residue. The supposed reward did not seem worth the elbow grease. It appeared that I had not inherited her clean gene, but rather the clutter gene of my late, Hungarian born father. He managed to solve complex problems amidst stacks of physics journals and papers piled precariously high.
Or, perhaps the clean gene had been there all along but did not begin to express itself until last week. Once I decided to confront the chaos, my intensity – if not ferocity – took me by surprise. Recalling the amazing maid of my Mexico City days, I tackled my throw rugs with the swift strokes of a stiff straw broom. Not only did I sweep them and the wood floor underneath, I took the dustiest carpet outdoors, shook it out, then whacked it across the back of the building, releasing a cloud of spores. After scrubbing the top of my stove, I lifted it to clean around the pilot lights and the base of the burners, four grimy graveyards of meals past. I swabbed my desk and the windowsills, dismantled piles and returned books to shelves. Then, for those crevices, I unearthed my vacuum, an adorable red number I’ve had for years. I had forgotten about its pathetic suction. Without shedding a tear, I ditched the cutie by the dumpster behind my building. Perhaps a neighbor would take her home.
On Facebook, I asked for recommendations for a small, powerful vacuum. Within minutes, suggestions came in, mostly for sleek machines with prices closer to $1,000 than $100. Then a friend mentioned the Electrolux Ultra Silencer. I Googled it. Compact, cheery and on sale, I didn’t mind that it was refurbished. As if it were love at first sight, I ordered it without further research. The vacuum arrived yesterday, days after I had decided to not invite this fellow over after all. This morning, after making sure it worked, I brought its box to the dumpster. As a precaution, I removed the address label and noticed a sticker next to it:
Made in Hungary. Rebuilt in Mexico.
I had to laugh that this appliance shares my peripatetic history. Maybe this Kermit-colored karmic vacuum will help me embrace regular cleaning as spiritual practice, a way of appreciating the space I inhabit. It’s definitely a keeper, even though it can’t help me with the bathtub.