A rewarding Holiday Fourth (though not necessarily fun)

This weekend, I celebrated my independence from dirty floors and sloppy landscaping.

In general, I’m okay with the surface of the Earth, how it’s apportioned between land and water, how it’s sometimes mountainous and sometimes flat, how there’s fertile farmland in some areas and arid deserts in others. The topsoil, the crust, the mantle — works for me.

When it comes to my own personal patch of the globe, however, there unfortunately is maintenance that has to be done.

I spent a large part of my three-day Fourth of July holiday working the grounds of my home. On Sunday, I cleared a swath of dead leaves from under a tree near my driveway and replaced them with same-color-and-texture-but-somehow-more-acceptable bark nuggets. On Monday, I moved indoors to do a thorough vacuuming and shampooing of our carpets.

The outdoors work, even though it was done in 94-degree temperatures on what’s supposed to be a day of rest and worship (sorry, Jesus, but you should’ve thought of this when you invented deciduous trees), was more successful.

Ever since spring temperatures arrived a few months ago, we’d been plagued by indoor roaches of the giant flying variety. I was happy to grab my old badminton racket and make sport of the whole affair, but the rest of my family wanted the issue dealt with at the source.

We called an exterminator, and he did his spraying thing all around the house while our cats huddled in fear inside their carriers, wondering if they qualified as pests or pets. (It’s a borderline call some days but we generally come up short of wanting to poison them.) He noted that the small area of dead leaves near our side door was a prime breeding area for the bugs, and that we should clean it up.

So there I was on Sunday afternoon, wondering exactly where to start. I made a quick trip to Home Depot for several bags of non-rotting ground cover. I studied the offerings in their outdoor center, trying to discern the difference between mulch, nuggets and mini-nuggets, whether cedar or pine might be best, and how many 20-pound bags I might need. I settled on three sacks of pine nuggets and a two-liter bottle of Gatorade.

The work itself wasn’t that bad. I tend to enjoy mindless physical labor, the kind of work that real men do and sissy proofreader-boys like myself generally avoid at all costs. I sweated buckets during the two-hour affair but in the end, had a very presentable six-by-six-foot piece of yard.

“See how nice that looks?” I asked my wife and son as I showed off my handiwork. “Maybe we should add a gnome figurine.”

“Yeah, it looks much better,” my wife said, adding “No gnomes.”

“Is it different from what used to be there?” my son asked. I said it was, and he offered an insincere “wow, cool.”

After cleaning up and eating dinner, I went back outside several times to admire my work. I had done alright. It felt good to make a home improvement more involved than oiling a squeaky hinge. Maybe I should consider re-landscaping the other 99.9% of my yard one of these days.

My project for Monday then was to work on the ground cover inside my house, the rug. We have wall-to-wall carpet, something regarded as the ultimate luxury when my house was built some 20-odd years ago but now a remnant of the late eighties even more decrepit than Michael Dukakis.

I do vacuum periodically and spot-treat the occasional “refund” of cat food left by Taylor, our cat who thinks he’s the Joey Chestnut of Meow Mix but doesn’t quite have the stomach for it. The carpet is a beige-grey-tan mix and thus pretty forgiving of the years it’s been since we last had a thorough cleaning.

We went to the grocery store to rent a machine called the “RugDoctor,” which claims in its motto to be “Steaming Mad at Dirt!” Personally, I am at best non-committal about dirt, even when it’s tracked into my home. As long as it’s buried deep into the carpet pile and not supporting any weed growth, I’m okay with having a little of Mother Earth in my home.

We pay the rental fee and buy the necessary shampoo and heavy-traffic-area spray and pet-odor-spray, then lug the beastly contraption out to our car. We have only 24 hours before the Doctor has to be returned at precisely 5:50 p.m. the next evening. Otherwise, it’s overtime, and you do not want to be paying a healthcare professional overtime.

The next day, Beth helps me interpret huge amounts of instructions to get the thing running. “Lower restraining wire (A) and remove upper (white) dirty water tank (B); fill lower red tank (C) with water/cleaner mixture; seal tank and clear dome (D) securely,” are just a few of the thousands of words in the instruction pamphlet. We are also not supposed to “allow to be used as a toy” or “pick up anything that is burning or smoking, such as cigarettes”. Also, you could die if the plug is not properly grounded.

We follow all the instructions (even the Spanish ones) and are ready to test the machine on a small area before I begin the larger job. Everything seems to be working. I am to position the front of the machine close to a wall, then drag it backwards across the carpet while pushing a red button, releasing the button a foot or so before I stop. I am to maintain a pace of two feet per second during this operation, which gives me no idea whether I need to race across the room at breakneck speed, or maintain the pace of a turtle. I split the difference.

It’s hard labor as far as housework goes, but an hour in, I feel good about the progress I’m making. I’m working around the furniture rather than moving it, as I’m pretty certain Taylor, Tom and Harriett won’t go to the trouble of moving a couch just to find a fresh place to vomit.

Soon, I’ve finished the living room, the sunroom, the hall, and all three bedrooms. From six feet above the ground, it looks much cleaner. I bend over to touch the carpet to see how wet it is.

It’s not. Not at all.

Beth is called in to troubleshoot. After a brief investigation, it turns out there is a filter that has become clogged, preventing any cleaning solution from getting to the carpet. I quickly recheck all of my last two hours’ worth of work. Master bedroom, dry. Hallway, dry. Living room, goddam dry.

We fiddle with the filter, reload some fresh solution, and begin to start over, but my heart just isn’t in it. Within 15 minutes, I’ve tried to swivel the RugDoctor to reach a pesky corner, and as soon as I do, bunches of liquid roll out the back of the machine into a puddle on the carpet.

“Get this piece of crap,” I bellow to no one in particular, “out of this house!”

On the drive back to the grocery store, Beth tells me it still looks like some good was done to the carpet. But I barely hear her. I’ve slipped into a deep, black depression over the wasted effort that was my Fourth of July afternoon.

Maybe next time, knowing what we’ve learned, we’ll be able to do a better job. Maybe next time, I’ll call a professional carpet cleaner to do the job right.

Or maybe, I’ll just plant a few rows of corn and summer squash into my filthy flooring, and tell the RugDoctor that I’ve taken to using natural remedies.

Rug Doctor -- the new Dr. Death



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One Response to “A rewarding Holiday Fourth (though not necessarily fun)”

  1. LetUsAllUsPlayDominoes Says:

    Definitely call a professional the next time. They’re not as expensive as you might think.

    Funny article!

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