“Vacuum’s dead,” my wife Lala calls.
“Can’t be. Just fixed it,” I yell back.
A few days before, Lala had issued the same proclamation but, being the handyman I am, I unscrewed the cover and just like Sherlock Freaking Holmes (minus the blow problem), revealed a belt as broken as a French teacher’s English. Once I replaced the oversized black rubber band, I figured a) I won that battle of the sexless and b) the Eureka would last until the heart attack I was planning to suffer after all this running around just so my daughter Poppy and her new homegirlz could watch Ben Stiller ironically flex his real muscles under the stars.
I drop the mop I’m manhandling and walk inside to see the vacuum in the middle of the living room, standing erect like an exclamation point on how right I’ll be after I expertly repair it once again.
“Told you last week,” Lala says, almost bored with my machine and me. “I had to sweep the carpet with a broom. Bet you’ve never done that.”
“Why would I? This vacuum is perfectly usable. Only got it two years ago.”
“It’s been over five, Rip Van Wrinkle. We need a new one.”
Flipping the switch, I see the brush (or “agitator assembly” to those of us in the know) isn’t moving, so I flip the unit over like a midget dance partner, extract the three screws and spot a petty problem: The belt has slipped the motor shaft. Surely not a reason to declare the carpet sweeper deceased and discuss buying a fancy Dyson as if we have more money than Donald Trump thinks he has.
“It’s fine, see!” I yell but, in my Mr. Fixit trance, I miss Lala, who has ducked out to the store to buy popcorn by the hectre. Luckily Poppy is nearby so I hand the refurbished dirt sucker to her and go back to swabbing the porch.
“Dad!” a voice beckons from inside. I started this fatherhood gig the year Cuba Gooding won an Oscar so I can tell from the tone, volume and pitch that no one is bleeding. I find Poppy in the hallway, keeping a safe distance from the Eureka like it’s an overly frisky dance partner.
“That smell.” She holds her nose with her left hand and fingers the culprit with her right. For once it’s not coming from me or her little brother.
“Probably outside,” I announce confidently. “Someone re-tarring his roof.” When I pry open the bottom plate, the tar is actually closer than I thought. The belt has melted into the odor, color and consistency of an unhealthy baby’s first bowel movement.
Poppy takes another step back. “We told you, Dad.”
“Ya-ya sisterhood, right? Go get me some scissors.”
After poking and prying with my steady hand like Dr. 90210 readying himself for the nastiest liposuction procedure he’ll ever perform, I see there is no way to salvage the beast.
“How can you stand the stink?” Poppy asks, her shirt now covering her mouth and nose.
“Grew up with three brothers. This is nothing. Take over mopping the front,” I tell her and she’s happy to oblige. As I stand there rehearsing what I’ll say to my soon-to-be-vindicated wife, Poppy beckons me again.
My daughter holds the swabber over her head like Lady Liberty if the statue was a cleaning lady and, instead of the torch, she was clutching a frayed and misshapen mop head.
“Everything we own is broken,” she says.
“God bless America,” I say right back.
Rob Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, “Daddy Needs a Drink,” appears the first Wednesday of each month in The Reporter.