3 out of 5 Stars

It was the first vacuum I ever bought, so I didn't really know what I was looking for. I combed the aisle, pretending to make an informed decision, before settling on the Dynamex Life-Scrubber 3000. I hoisted the box off the shelf and solemnly proffered my plastic to the red-besmocked officiant at the cash register, a secular commitment ceremony.

Once I got the Life-Scrubber unboxed and assembled (iffy instructions, it should be noted), everything seemed fine. Those first few months were all about dust bunnies under the couch, cobwebs on the windowsills―small potatoes, cleaning-wise. You could say I was naïve to the types and depths of disorder that could infiltrate a person's life. 

Three months later my girlfriend, Janice, had a living situation that had become untenable and we decided it would be more tenable for her to move in with me. At that point things got harder for the Life-Scrubber 3000. It wasn't Janice who taxed the machine so much as it was her two Maine coons. In case you're not familiar with that term, let me just say that they're a particular breed of cat. I'm also convinced they're somebody's idea of a sick joke. Maine coons weigh in around thirty pounds, and they're as friendly as bobcats. 

Janice called them Emma and Rosemary, but I privately referred to them as Butkus and C.H.U.D. Upon moving in, Butkus annexed the kitchen. I'd come home to find Cheerios or Kix littering the countertops and floors. For these messes, the Life-Scrubber's detachable extension hose made cleanups a snap.

C.H.U.D., on the other hand, took a keen interest in my houseplants, of which I used to have many. C.H.U.D. would methodically uproot them, leaving their dismembered parts all over the living room. Potting soil was dug up and flung like blood spatter at a crime scene. While these messes were more of a nuisance than Butkus's kitchen adventures, they were still well within the Life-Scrubber's wheelhouse. 

These early challenges were upsetting, but this was also back when things were still fresh between Janice and me. Back when we had the kind of sex that was so passionate, physical and raw that our bedroom smelled like a gladiator's locker room. It's easy to overlook the little things when you've got that going on. Of course, sex like that has a finite lifespan. Which turned out to be shorter than the Life-Scrubber's.

The biggest challenge, though, was the fur. My god, the fur! Another thing you may not know about Maine coons is that they are prolifically hirsute. They're covered in dense blooms of fur, which would accumulate in mounds of reddish fuzz. I'd do a pass-through with the Life-Scrubber and within minutes there'd be fresh piles waiting. If we opened a window to get some cross-ventilation going, waves of Maine coon fur would roll across the floors.

At this point I discovered the Life-Scrubber's limits. The roller brush began catching, which would cause the rubber belt to shriek and smoke. I disassembled it and found the brush clotted with hair. It took me forty minutes to clean and reassemble.

It was during one of the brush reassemblies that I recalled something on the original Life-Scrubber box. Amid the boilerplate, where it had informed unsuspecting consumers of its many features, had been the braggy slogan: "Designed to fit your lifestyle." That line now struck me as breathtakingly hubristic. What do these vacuum people know about my lifestyle? How could they claim to have designed a vacuum for it?

Then I got to thinking. What if the vacuum people were right and the Life-Scrubber was indeed designed to fit my lifestyle? Maybe my current lifestyle was out of whack with its true nature. I began to contemplate why Janice and I were living together. The trials of cohabitation can make you lose sight of the fundamentals. What first drew me to Janice was her essential mysteriousness. In her iTunes library, she always gave her playlists names that were both cryptic and louche―So Long Sly Stallone; Distant Macaroni Doodles; Hilltop Jesuit Empire; Kiss Me Marmalade Cousin―like the dream journal entries of an opium addict. They made me feel as if I could decode Janice, and I'd become a better person if and when I did.

But those goddamn Maine coons. They were a lifestyle no vacuum designer could have anticipated. 

One Friday, while I was at the coffee shop, C.H.U.D. managed to pick the lock on the door to my office, which is where I kept several of my most prized possessions. Among those would be my aquarium containing a pair of not inexpensive Angelfish and one lovely Teardrop Butterflyfish. 

I'd been gone less than an hour. By the time I returned, the massacre was over. C.H.U.D. was a thorough killer, and remorseless. My fish were scattered in ribbons around the office, julienned by C.H.U.D.'s sharp claws. And there he sat amid the carnage, licking bits of flesh from his whiskers. I chased C.H.U.D. around the apartment until Butkus came to his defense. Against one Maine coon, I believed I stood a chance. Against two, forget it.

I pulled out the Life-Scrubber, wheeled it to my office and began sucking up the remains, not caring that there was a warning in the user's guide against vacuuming wet items. I cleaned until I'd gathered every last scrap of fish and then I did something awful.

I took the canister of still-wet fish pieces, along with a good heap of Maine coon fur and sprinkled it Godfather-style on Janice's side of our bed. I then left the house and went to a bar down the street and proceeded to get blind drunk.

I don't know what Janice's immediate reaction was. I only know that she, Butkus, and C.H.U.D. were gone by the time I was coherent enough to remember anything. All that was left was a note asking me to be out of the apartment between 2 and 6 that next afternoon so her sister could collect the rest of her things.

I honored her request by going back to the bar down the street and getting slightly less blind drunk. That next day, I tried vacuuming up the remaining Maine coon fur, but the Life-Scrubber made a strange whining sound and emitted a reek of rotting fish. I tried finding a repair shop, but no one fixes vacuums anymore. So I carted the Life-Scrubber out to the alley, hoping that a flea picker might claim it. It was gone by the next morning.

So, bottom line: Is the Dynamex Life-Scrubber 3000 a decent vacuum? I suppose so. Can it handle garden-variety cleanups? Absolutely. But every life will occasionally find itself imposed on by big, all encompassing messes – the kind that can threaten to bring you to your knees. What about those situations? It is any good for those? Don't kid yourself. It's only a vacuum.

GIANO CROMLEY is the author of the novel The Last Good Halloween. He has also published his writing in The Threepenny Review, Literal Latte, and The Bygone Bureau, among others. He has won an Artists Fellowship Award from the Illinois Arts Council, and he’s an English professor with the City Colleges of Chicago.

The Adirondack Review