IT'S NOT EVERY day I go shopping for a vacuum, thank God. And it's all my fault this time because I was afraid he'd give me a vacuum for Christmas. I hate appliances for special days. I like perfume or frills, you know.
So I go vacuum looking. I have saved my money for a top-of-the-line upright, self-propelled, extension handle and Walkman attachment.
Forget all those cheap vacuums we've had from early marriage that belch, spew dirt and don't pick up cat hair, mulch or nails.
I go to a discount store, one of those impersonal places where they like you to come in with the catalog and write out what you want. Then the item is schlepped onto a conveyor belt from the warehouse, resembling an airport luggage-handling system. You take it home in the box and have to figure out how to put it together.
Nobody is here to help me. So I spend 10 minutes looking at the latest in vacuumology. Then I march to "Orders" and ask, "Can I get someone to tell me about vacuums? The vacuum department is in a vacuum, ha, ha, ha," (Nice joke, I think).
She doesn't smile. She says, "You have to fill out an order form."
"But I can't fill it out until I know what kind of vacuum I want. I don't have a catalog, I need to try out some of the vacuums."
"You don't know what kind you want!" she screams, a capella.
Then over the loud speaker, she bellows for someone to "come to housewares."
But no one does. No one wants to. My torn blue jeans and a T-shirt that says "Make My Day'' don't enhance my image.
Back in vacuums, I wait. I decide to plug in a few of the uprights. A large one with two headlights takes off, zooms across the carpet and crashes into a lamp display; definitely a self-starter.
After 20 minutes I realize I am vacuuming the entire area, picking up dirt, dust balls and gum wrappers, anything that isn't tied down.
Eventually a young man appears, years later, it seems. By now I'm sweating from the heavy duty.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I don't know anything about vacuums. The man who knows isn't here today."
Then I tell him what I'd like, and he and I together get into it. He tries out the vacuums with me. The racket is deafening yet therapeutic. The one I want isn't on display, of course.
I am beginning to bond with a cheap one that is light and plastic, but by now I am light-headed and tired.
"I'll take this one," I tell him because I want to get out of there.
"You will have to go fill out a form and see if we have it in the warehouse," he says.
They don't want me to take the floor model, so we go back and wait for one to come down the belt into my aching arms.
I pay a bottom-of-the-line price and get out of there and home only to be confronted by a husband who says, "You're kidding. We have to put this thing together?"
Which he sweetly does, because I tell him if he helps I'll iron his underwear for the rest of his life.
But when we put it together, it isn't the one I'd been fooling around with. It looks cheesy and sounds like a tank.
I take it back later and plead with them -- this time wearing my best and most intimidating black suit. I must have a vacuum already assembled and I am willing to spend more money.
I fill out another order form and write another check for more money.
They should have been thrilled. They should have said "Thank you." They said, "Next time bring the catalog."
I probably will never have to spring for another vacuum, thank God. And I will never go back to a store that requires me to fill out forms than the IRS.
Life is too short. But hey, my new vacuum is tall.