I deeply admire the tenacity of door-to-door vacuum sellers. Or should it be admired? This scene happened decades ago and no one since then has shown up at my house asking permission to scatter debris everywhere.

I was around 8 or 9 when the Electrolux salesman, an older gentleman dressed in a suit and tie, stopped by my house. In one hand he carried a bag of dirt and with the other, following behind him like a devoted puppy, he pulled along a gold-plated canister vacuum with a rug wand attachment. On one side of the vacuum, etched in white, was the word ELECTROLUX. Though the name reminded me of a comic book villain, ELECTROLUX turned out to be the nemesis of embedded carpet dirt.

Knowing my mom needed a lot of convincing, the well-dressed gentleman took a gallon freezer bag of grime and scattered it all over our carpet and turned the golden canister on. And just like what our own family vacuum would have done, the vacuum gobbled up the mess. After the demonstration, a vanilla scent lingered in the air. The salesman showed us a scent tube that was positioned above the vacuum’s heat exhaust vent. I was impressed. Not only could it clean, but the gold beauty could also provide a satisfying olfactory experience.

My mother adopted the puppy and for many, many years it obediently followed us around the house and marked its territory with a sweet vanilla scent whenever we took it out of the closet and invited it to play.


Humans have evolved to make cleanliness a relative quality. Take the following example when my wife asked me to clean the bathroom. I wiped, I sprayed, I scrubbed. I polished the sink. I polished the mirrors. I even polished around the toilet. So imagine my surprise when she got home from work and went into the bathroom and came out with the following impossible utterance: “I thought you were going to clean our bathroom today.”

“I did,” I said, startled by her question posed not in the form of a question.

“You did?” she said, startled by my affirmative response.

That’s when I called in my children to testify on my behalf.

“I don’t doubt you cleaned,” my wife said. “I just doubt you CLEANED.”

For the rest of the evening I tried to solve the quasi-mathematical paradox where X is X and not X at the same time but got nowhere.

Yes, cleanliness is relative and I would label myself as a solid, devoted member of the average cleanliness club.  A dust bunny or two may greet me in every room I enter, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying life’s pursuits. On the other side of the dustbin, there are people who need their home environments purged to such a degree that personal happiness remains elusive until all the dust bunnies are euthanized. I’m talking about folks who clean not only what’s in plain sight but also what lives behind the bureau and under the bed.

These poor people cannot enjoy the charms of life until the doorknob is free of fingerprints, the oven rid of grease, the chimney relieved of soot, and the archaeologically significant thick layers of dust cakes — hidden behind, below and above every piece of furniture — are exposed, expelled and totally expunged with a sponge from the entire domestic domicile.  But that domestic bliss may only be temporary. For a peek at the top of a doorsill — Why did you have to look! — can cause all that hard-earned happiness to tumble down into a grimy mire of self-accusatory slovenliness.

Such a pity.


It is starting to get dark and the million trillion glistening dust motes hovering through the fog and the filthy air have faded away.

I think I’ll light a vanilla-scented candle and reminisce about a golden mechanical puppy I used to play with.

Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”