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Life Sucks

Bagsful of little bars of soap. My father was a trucker. He spend a majority of his time on the road or in crappy little roadside motels. The bathrooms of the motels were supplied with tiny, individually wrapped bars of soap, usually with the name of the establishment and its logo on the wrapper. One had a sleep walking bear in nightshirt and cap. You could trace my father’s journeys through the soaps. My father would scoop up the extra soaps and bring them home. I don’t know why. We never bathed with the little soaps. We used regular store bought soap like everyone else. I made good use of them though. I’d dump the bags out onto the floor and build things. The soaps were my Lincoln logs, my Lego’s, my Tinker toys. Or line them up like opposing armies and wage battle. The wrappers were of great use as uniforms. A tear in the wrapper was an injury. A broken soap was a fatality. Such were the limits of my tools and the range of my imagination.

One day we had a visitor at the door. A man holding a case in one hand and lugging a big metal tube with the other. A vacuum cleaner. A door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. My father wasn’t home. My mother invited him in. It was her nature. He could have been wielding an axe for all she cared. The salesman explained the various virtues of the vacuum cleaner. He attached a flexible proboscis like an elephant’s trunk and sucked at the living room floor. The house was always spotless so it didn’t make for a very impressive demonstration. He went into his case for a large plastic bag and, with my mother’s permission, shoved one of our sofa cushions into the bag along with the proboscis, sealed the plastic bag and activated the machine. The cushion shrank alarmingly. When the cushion was returned to the sofa It was a shade lighter than the other cushion so he had to suck on that one as well. He went into a spiel about dust mites burrowing into the cushions. Then he detached the proboscis, lifted the machine to the ceiling and turned it on to demonstrate its overwhelming suckability. The machine clung to the ceiling of its own free will, growling furiously, trying to suck the entire house into its innards. While the machine hung groaning like an alive and awkward chandelier, the salesman retrieved a brochure and price sheet from his case. I could see that my mother was impressed but we hadn’t the means for the vacuum. He thanked her for her time and attention, kissed her on the back of her hand like I’d seen in the movies. She blushed. He left.

I wanted nothing more in the world than to be a dashing, traveling, door to door vacuum cleaner salesman.

We lived down a gravel road off the Highway. Route 35. We had few neighbors. The V.’s lived to our left, at the top of the hill where the road dead-ended. The V’’s were self sufficient, childless hermits. I had been warned away from them. I had never seen a V. let alone visited them. Sometimes I would go far enough up the hill to view the house. I was disappointed that it wasn’t made of ginger bread. They didn’t own a car. Seems that they would walk down the other side of the hill which was a shorter distance to the highway where they could hitch a ride if needed.

In the other direction lived, in sequence, my paternal grandmother, the S.’s who had a litter of daughters all older than me. Then the N.’s whose bespectacled son, George, a nerd before there was such a thing, was a very occasional playmate though he spent most of his time indoors reading comic books.

I remained inspired by Mr. Vacuum. There was an old red, cardboard suitcase, with metal reinforced corners to insist on some structural integrity, in one of the closets. I filled the suitcase with little soaps and set off on the road. I skipped the V.’s and my grandmother. The N.’s weren’t interested. Mrs. S., on the other hand. A gracious and friendly type, Mrs. S. fetched a glass of cold lemonade for me. I was no doubt sweaty and flushed from lugging the satchel of soaps. I displayed my soaps and as way of demonstration, unwrapped one as if the lady had never seen a naked bar of soap before. I sniffed it. It smelled like……soap. I noticed the new vacuum cleaner parked in a corner of the room.

All the while the youngest daughter Diane was watching me, seated with her hands folded demurely in her lap. She was 13, a couple of grades ahead of me in school. An older woman. Later and for a long while I was extraordinarily fond of older women. Now I can’t find any. Anyway, when I finally looked over at Diane she wore a faint smile and a warm, soft, penetrating gaze. It would take me a few years to learn what that look meant and how to exploit it. Mrs. S. asked me the price of the soaps. The thought had never occurred to me. Smiling, she went for her pocketbook and extracted $2. She selected several soaps. I went home ecstatic.

My career as a soap salesman was short lived. My market was paltry. Mrs. S. could only absorb so much soap. I moved on to other adventures.

When school resumed after summer break, Diane was absent. Not that I was looking for her or would have noticed except for overhearing my mother, who liked to gossip on the phone. Diane was with child, having been knocked up by Mr. Vacuum. Rather than Mr. Vacuum going to jail they had been allowed to marry.

I had a succession of dreams about Diane. It was always a variation of the same dream. Diane and I were in my grandmother’s chicken coop. She had the same expression I remembered from my visit. There were no chickens in the coop. Just the two of us and nests with eggs. I was probably struggling with the concept of reproduction. I could smell the absent chickens. The floor was littered with feathers.

It needed to be vacuumed.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    I wish you had a venue for these ‘memoir’ type pieces. Not only gratifying to read, they are so tightly constructed!

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