A VACUUMING STORY
by John W. Hays
|There is a
saying that goes, "If a little is good, then more must be better." Most
often I bristle at the mention. (See 'salt' in a recipe, or eye shadow,
or cologne...) However, there is an instance for which I embrace the premise
wholeheartedly. Consider vacuuming.
Sometimes I wonder what vacuuming would be like as an Olympic competition. I'd really like to see the judging criteria for this event. The style aspect is easy to imagine. It's the technical merit that I need defined. I think it would take a significant amount of technology to adequately measure results that provide a panel of judges an opportunity to make truly unbiased declarations.
In the mean time, I struggle with an ongoing dilemma with respect to the fine art of vacuuming: perfectionism. If I am going to haul the noisy apparatus out and bother with the chore at all in the first place, then how do I justify overlooking the dross along the walls and under the edge of the couch? I can't seem to get myself to just do a light once-over touch-up. Unfortunately, my 'all or none' compulsion means the floor is more often than not an avant-garde pallet of detritus.
The manufacturers, or more precisely, their Marketing Departments, are sensitive to my plight. Ad campaigns tout the effectiveness of modern vacuuming vehicles at cleaning along edges. Attachments are provided to facilitate reaching under the couch.
Manuals even provide diagrams suggesting patterns to follow for optimal affectivity. Looks like an exercise in lawn mowing to me. Did you know that a recommended technique involves a 'cross-hatching' pattern? First, move in a North-South pattern of sweeps, then turn and work East-West (direction for reference only, your orientation may vary).
At least with lawn mowing, if I become distracted, I can see where I left off. What I need from the Research and Development team of the manufacturers is a way to measure the point of diminishing returns. Otherwise, left to my own, I don't know at what point more vacuuming no longer provides better results. I become the prisoner of an ordeal that can take up the better part of a day for just the family room alone.
In addition, one thing leads to the next. If I am going to hook up the hose and nozzle attachment to consume the gray mass of dust at the corners, why not reach up and take care of the cobweb dangling from the coving overhead? If I am going to move the couch to access the flotsam beneath, why neglect the accumulated crumbs petrifying within? The coins under cushion serve to further beg the worthiness of that effort.
It is hard to argue the betterment of all this 'more', so with respect to perfectionism, the task of vacuuming looms daunting in my grand scheme of things. I admit solutions abound. Clearly the simple practice of removing shoes at the door and limiting food to the dining area will reduce the major source of debris to be vacuumed in the first place. In my situation, history proves such logic inconsequential. There are teenagers to be factored in as well, so logic may never play its worth in the equation anyway. Oh, and a cat, so let the kids off the hook for another 60% of responsibility as source.
All things considered, without a new development in vacuuming appliances
or some dramatic change in daily activity around this house, I rely on
practicing the art of heedlessness. When I finally do succumb to the pressing
need for vacuuming, I practice as my mantra, the aforementioned: "More
is better, more is better."
A SUMMERTIME STORY OF PORTENT
by John W. Hays
not easy to adequately represent a true, yet unbelievable story, capturing
the extraordinary aspect and at the same time dispelling the skepticism
of the average listener. The worst thing you can do is start with the words,
"this is true"...
This is a story of a boy and a dunk-tank. It all played out under the friendly sunshine of an Upper Midwestern July 4th Independence Day celebration, one of several annual gatherings held by the collective families that make up the Wildwood Lodge Club. WWLC is a private association of seven clans that have joined forces to create a precious vacation home community in Northwestern Wisconsin.
Our tradition for celebrating Independence Day includes plenty of the classics: a parade (kids ride on hay bails in red, white, and blue decorated trailer behind the old Ford tractor); competitions of three-legged races, water balloon toss, and scavenger hunt (among many others); a pot-luck dinner; and a dramatic finish of fireworks over the lake.
What had begun decades earlier as primarily an event focussed on one generation of children, has evolved to incorporate the development of quite a number of second-generation issue. As a result, organizers consider the inclusion of new and innovative improvements to the traditional entertainment. The dunk-tank was a natural addition. Butch, the caretaker and local resident, was a member of the Lion's Club and had access to the tank, which amazingly remained uncommitted for the occasion.
This being a new game on our regular itinerary, a lot of questions were being asked regarding the actual process of whom, how and when. My son, Julian, was seven years old at the time, one of the younger members of that second generation of kids. He surprised me with what appeared to me to be an unnatural level of apprehension about how the rules of this game might develop. In my mind, it didn't really matter, because he would be more likely to participate in the fish pond event than this new dunk-tank.
One popular suggestion was to have the 'thrower' who successfully drops a heckling 'sitter' into the tank, then assume the dubious honor of claiming the seat themselves for the next round. In the end, majority rule decided the watered-down 'sitter' could pick the next victim from the crowd. This rankled my son quite a bit, being sincerely fearful of facing the fate of this tank that was easily over his head in depth, and quite a drop from a perch about three times as high as he was tall. I worked to assure him that no one would put him in such peril. Worst case, I told him, if they tried to pick him, I would volunteer to take his place. He seemed less than convinced of his safety.
It wasn't difficult to find a volunteer for first 'sitter' out of the crowd of 20-year-olds that made up the trailing number of first generation kids in the group. The challenge was maintaining order in the crowd of willing 'throwers' that jostled for position to get their hands on the tennis balls waiting to be launched. With the variety of ages participating, two lines to throw from were drawn, allowing the youngest arms better odds of success. Julian took a position toward the end of his line to give him a chance to observe the proceedings a bit before getting himself too involved.
We took turns between the younger throwers and the bigger, I use this term loosely, 'kids'. The perpetual battle of accuracy versus velocity played out over and over. The still-dry volunteer seemed to be honing his heckling skills with the protracted practice he was enjoying. Then without the slightest warning of what was about to unfold, my son reached the front of his line. He was one of the smallest kids there. I'm sure many allowed themselves to be distracted for the moment, reaching for their pop can, laughing with a friend, getting the sucker out of their daughter's hair.
Julian reached back, lifted his leg, turned, and fired a frozen rope
line drive throw that nailed that battered metal disc of a target. Without
hesitation the arrogant heckler dropped like a limp doll into the waiting
chill of the waters of our great new attraction at the Wildwood 4th-of-July
celebration. Oh the revelry that ensued! Oh the look on Julian's face.
Half pride, half fear. What had he done? What was everybody freaking out
about? What was going to happen to him now? Suddenly, I felt the rush of
everything he had been hinting toward earlier. I grew apprehensive. Was
I going to have to protect him from somebody's well-intentioned revenge?
I also wondered, "Did he have an intuition that this might actually happen?!"
You know the phenomenon that happens as a standup comedian gets on a roll? That initial laughter loosens things up to allow for greater laughs to follow, and then each subsequent punch line brings greater and greater laughter? Imagine our reaction if, as people cycle through the line taking turns throwing, Julian ended up being the one to dunk the next guy. Well, he did. Our laughter was all encompassing. This was just the half of it.
After this scene played out a third time, and the laughter began to mix with increasing wonder and amazement, I negotiated with my son to get him to move back from the little kids line.
"Why?" he asked, with genuine innocence and a measure of disappointment.
I had people coming to me to marvel over my little pitching prodigy. I think one of them wanted to negotiate rights to his contract. Sure I'd played catch with him in the driveway, but I didn't know he could do this!
Finally, it became apparent that the crowd was interested in some compensation for the success he was enjoying at their expense. I dutifully took my position on the perch. This was not a comfortable place for me. It seemed much higher from this vantage point and proved to be dramatically more stressful than I imagined, waiting for the clank of the mechanism to send me to my doom. "This must be the apprehension Julian was experiencing," I thought to myself, "I see where he gets it." I never got around to plying the craft of the heckle. I must admit, even I enjoyed the poignancy of the moment Julian stepped to the front of the line.
He dropped me into the water with aplomb. I immediately picked his mother to replace me. "You're half responsible for this!" I sprayed from the ladder. I think someone may have helped Julian sneak back to the front of the line before his rightful turn. He dropped his mother, too.
In all, Julian sent seven people into the bath that afternoon, more than all other successful throwers combined. No one else even got two. The dunk-tank event won a spot in the 4th-of-July games for several more years, eventually fading from popularity. The memories of that first time have earned a spot along side some of the greatest in the annals of WWLC lore.
Julian did go on to play some baseball. Batted left and threw right. He rose through the ranks from tee-ball to coach-pitch to machine-pitch and finally kid-pitch. His last team even made it to a championship game, facing a team outside his regular league. He had a problem with that. Another one of those premonitions. His anxiety over getting hit by this pitcher seemed illogically out of proportion to me, and to my wife, as well.
As we examined the redness on his skin at the site of impact, marveling at the detail of the stitches of the ball becoming more apparent with time, he informed us that he would never be participating in this sport again.