“Now, Betsey, remember the balls of your feet, and streeeeetch those calves, that’s right- Lean INTO the pole- arm forty degrees and out- yes-” 

I am thirty-five and the most talented competitive vacuumer on Earth. I am kept on retainer by J.C. Penney’s. I have fallen so, so far- 

“Twist WITH it at the arm- and don’t forget to shift your hips. Now back, yes. Give me twenty repetitions of that. For the last ten, really turn your chest to the audience, perk them up-” 

— into training with QVC and infomercials. From Olympic heights I have fallen. Into deep, black, starless shag. 

It started with my mother, as many of these stories do. “Dad” split after six month’s gestation and a flash of a wedding ring, one half of someone else’s pair- that’s what I’m told. But mom supported herself well enough, and I could go to school, eat, as an only child. Summers were lonely and I was given chores to keep me occupied – and, as soon as I was tall enough, I started to care for the floors – with the vacuum cleaner. 

(My meager salary allowed me a once-a-month psychiatry visit and it was gently suggested that the narrow black head of the machine, voluminous green bag, ramrod-straight spine, dark polished contact with the earth- could it- be- my mother? The analyst was fat, unattractive and unattentive, and I stopped seeing him after he made a pass at me via clumsy Viennese analysis.) 

Back to my childhood. I loved the vacuum, its smell, its weight, the challenge of navigating tight spaces and narrow hallways – our apartment was small, and summertime forced the windows open as I was home alone- I mapped out regimented, maximum efficiency pathways, spelled my name on the carpet, performed impressionistic swirls, reached every inch of floor hopping barefooted from chair to sofa to tabletop – I was athletic, but shy. Mother found out soon enough about my tendencies at the tender age of eight, thanks to two factors – floor-wide noise complaints and electricity bills. 

Realizing a need for constructive elements outside of school, I was quickly & kindly ferried off to Miss Lundgren’s Academy of Hoover Arts, an all-woman school at the time featuring both basic day classes for department floor saleswomen and enterprising housewives, and a rotation of residents there to hone their craft – Olympic-level vacuuming. 

This was really at the start of competitive & creative cleaning, you see – originally designed as a way to keep the wayward women house-bound and in-shape, and sponsored by leading brand names- televised broadcasts nightly, the innovation being longer commercial block breaks instead of 30-second chunks- and overnight a new American sensation was born Everyone of my mother’s generation remembers clearly the first televised SPIFFY-CLEEN Dust Off of Upper New York State, in which a charming older lady swipes a five-shelf bookcase microscopically clean in a meager sixteen seconds. Of course – “Buy our SPIFFY-CLEEN handbook and YOU TOO can learn this unbelievable technique!” But something clearly fine-honed and male had gripped the nation of maids and madams everywhere- timings, charts, graphs, techniques, and competitions- of cleaning.

This was the environment in which I rapidly developed my talents. Miss Lundgren, a she-ox of a woman, was very kind and let me practice at all hours of the day – 100-Gram Dirt Dash, Balance Bagging, and my speciality – Figure Cleaning. This is when I really began my development, my melding of body and machine – In figures, in harmony. It was a custom Miele that I slept with sometimes (a delightfully greasy auto mechanic enhanced certain attributes – I’ve long since had it destroyed). My leotard as my pajamas. Other boys trickled into the Academy, allured by what we (I) through arched windows could display – but I was always the best. 

This was quickly evidenced in my rise through the state and national levels of competition. The sights and smells I drank like wine, aroused me, kept me active, creative Workmen handling huge loads of rolled carpet, ISO certified, cut into 5 ft by 5ft squares rapidamente by the sweating masses- I always attended early to see this. Next stage in the production is a gentler touch – referees with hairbrushes smooth a formulated soil into the carpet, a proprietary mixture of lint, dust, clay-rich dirt, milk, beer, and pet urine, which combined to form a surprisingly alluring mixture once set. This was the challenge made out for the sprinting-type boys, who I never appreciated, their tools modified for lightest possible weight- left their upper body development seriously lacking. 

My only rival existed at the world-class level of competition, Astolfo. I hate and miss him dearly. High German, with a quivering lip and excellent proportions. Indeed my tussles with him never lasted long on either of our parts – one of us was decided the clear victor and ran off to the next competition. As soon as one of us won Three-Persian Hurdles, another would claim Freestyle Shag. In our final competition he danced to Wagner, I used Siouxie Sioux – and I won – silver. 

(In aggregate I still achieved a higher lifetime score, and after the circuit Astolfo fell to new lows of self-pleasure via all kind of ungodly hoses and attachments to what should be a sporting-only device- Indeed, last I heard he was in rehab in California, facing a permanent early retirement. Thus my claim still stands.) 

This is all ancient history – it was over as soon as it began – Frances Tuggenoff was elected President the next year and performed a “selective” protest of international athletics – to emphasize certain “sports” over others – all the cleaning arts, banned. (Fencing and gymnastics questionably remained.) 

Now my main dalliance is using an employee discount to buy the latest model of Roomba. I take it home and put on Showgirls and turn the volume waaaaaaaaaaaay up loud. And I dance with myself – me, the robot, and a hammer.

Will was born too late to enjoy any of the above activities and too soon to perform a triple axel across shining linoleum.

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