Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vaccums, British Accents, and Life Lessons

"I just think things should work properly".

These are the words that were ringing in my brain as I disassembled my Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner this afternoon. You've heard them, too. That annoying chap from across the pond repeats them every time he tries to convince us his vacuum cleaner is the most intelligent machine ever invented. I mean, come on, who doesn't want things to (add British accent here) "work properly?"

My vacuum definitely does not work properly, which I am reminded every time I carefully unscrew anything on it that has a phillips head. In my humble opinion there are blatant structural flaws. The hose that connects the collection canister to the sucking end (I am not fluent in vacuumese, forgive the terminology) is a tortuous, twisted affair that begs for clogs. Second, the "HEPA" filter that supposedly keeps dust from spewing out all over the house clogs in about three minutes, reducing suction to the equivalent of my left nostril during a severe case of rhinitis. Finally, the spinning brush-y thing on the bottom is STILL completely wound up with the plastic Easter Basket grass from the last two egg hunts. Anything remotely string-like is sucked up and so tightly wound around the brush that it takes a machete to hack it off. With five daughters and a wife, each with long, straight hair, this becomes problematic. Eva Gabor could make five wigs with the hair wound up on that thing.

The biggest problem, though, for our Dirt Devil, is the LAZY TEENAGER. You know the type. They would rather run over anything with the vacuum than bend down and pick it up, no matter how big it is. Here is a sampling of items I have pulled out of the poorly-designed hose: pencils, crayons, Lego's, bottle caps, chicken McNuggets, checkers, grapes (seedless), Oreo cookies (sans white cream), and my personal favorite, a pair of chopsticks. Dutifully I unscrew the hose attachment almost daily and at the first of several 180 degree turns pull out the unsuckable. And each time I repeat James Dyson's pithy phrase, "I just think things should work properly". With the accent.

As I am wont to do on occasion, I looked at my vacuum woes as a metaphor for life. Shouldn't things "just work properly"? Reality is, most things don't. Whether the economy, politics, family, or our own bodies, most of life is fraught with structural flaws. We have to do things carefully because if we don't they won't work properly. When we are too lazy and look for quick fixes, our proverbial "hoses" get clogged up and everything breaks down.

Case in point:

As charge nurse in the emergency room, nearly every day I have to call people to tell them they have a sexually transmitted disease. Buffalo boasts one of the highest rates of STD infections in the nation. The reality is, there is only one way to get an STD: you have to have sex with someone infected. Planned Parenthood, the Trojan company, and your local high school nurse will tell you that condoms are the answer. To me, that is the lazy teenager refusing to bend over and pick up the chopsticks. To paraphrase Reagan's famous phrase, "It's the behavior, stupid!" But addressing behavior means taking things apart and getting them back in order, and, quite frankly, our society seems a little too immature to handle it. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI discovered that when he dared to state that addressing at-risk behaviors in AIDS-stricken Africa was the solution, not flooding the continent with condoms. The media just short of beat him with a stick.

As we look at the AIDS epidemic, whether in Africa, in the gay community, or among IV drug abusers, I am reminded of a line from a song in the musical, "The Sound of Music": Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. If behaviors cause illness and death, well, the answer is clear. The Pope tried to tell us, and he'll tell us again, I'll wager. After all, I have a feeling he just thinks things should work properly.

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