Johnny America




I am averse to smelling my dog’s breath. I give him kiss­es on the nose and muz­zle and hold my breath so as not to de­tract from the com­plex tac­tile sen­sa­tion that comes from the feel­ing of his soft, del­i­cate skin and short, coarse whiskers on my lips.

When I was a small kid my fa­ther bought a vac­u­um clean­er from a door-to-door sales­man. The prin­ci­ple ad­van­tage to own­ing this par­tic­u­lar mod­el was that it did­n’t re­quire a fil­ter like all of those that one would be stuck with buy­ing from de­part­ment or dis­count stores. A basin that was housed with­in the body of the unit could be filled with wa­ter and served as a de­pos­i­to­ry for the dirt and de­bris that had been sucked out of the carpet.

As a fam­i­ly we tend­ed to pur­chase ap­pli­ances and home elec­tron­ics from dis­count re­tail­ers such as Sears or Wal-Mart. Our clothes pur­chas­es were made at JC Pen­ney, and we bought footwear from Pay­less Shoes. Gro­ceries came from the Food-4-Less, where over­head costs were kept to a min­i­mum be­cause cus­tomers were ex­pect­ed to bag their own gro­ceries. The pur­chase of this vac­u­um clean­er was a de­par­ture for us. When I was a teenag­er, many years lat­er, my fa­ther al­so pur­chased meat from a door-to-door sales­man. Cuts of meat, se­lect­ed from a Sty­ro­foam cool­er that sat in the bed of the sales­man­’s pick-up, re­mained in our deep freeze for four­teen years following.

Some­times I did the vac­u­um­ing. Most­ly, how­ev­er, it was my broth­er’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. He was not a con­sci­en­tious fol­low­er of the chores timetable, which had been au­thored by our step­moth­er, lam­i­nat­ed with a home kit and a hair dry­er, and dis­played in the kitchen. The chores were list­ed along the left­most col­umn, the chil­dren’s names along the top, and check­marks in­di­cat­ed who was as­signed to par­tic­u­lar chores dur­ing a giv­en week. Ex­pec­ta­tions re­gard­ing the day of the week by which each of the du­ties should be com­plet­ed were not­ed, then changed on a spo­radic ba­sis. Bren­da mis­tak­en­ly checked the “Vacuum/Tim” box us­ing a per­ma­nent mark­er rather than one that could be erased us­ing a moist­ened cloth.

Al­though it was ad­vised in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing vac­u­um clean­er lit­er­a­ture, in state­ments both plain and di­rec­tive in tone, he chron­i­cal­ly failed to emp­ty the basin im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter com­plet­ing the chore. The dirt­ied wa­ter would some­times stag­nate for days — or weeks —and when oc­ca­sion­al­ly he, or more of­ten my fa­ther, fi­nal­ly got around to the task the smell re­li­ably made me choke.

My dog’s breath smells faint­ly of stale vac­u­um clean­er water.

Filed under Non-Fiction on June 17th, 2007

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Reader Comments

anonymous wrote:

I find your style in­ter­est­ing, but if it was­n’t short, I would have not reached the end and I would have not un­der­stood what you were writ­ing about.
At first when I read it I was con­fused, and lost, there seemed to be no struc­ture. But I un­der­stand what you were try­ing to do in the end.
It’s en­ter­tain­ing, but not that thrilling.

Anonymous wrote:

For­get the anony­mous guy above me. I like this sto­ry, and its com­po­si­tion. The im­agery was enough to “suck me in”. Sor­ry, bad pun.

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