Steve Eaton: 'Short visit' by vacuum salesman drives family to move out

Published: Friday, July 5 2013 3:47 p.m. MDT

We had a "short visit" from a door-to-door salesman that lasted for hours and left us feeling dirty and ashamed. It could happen to you.

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I was on my way home when my wife called me and asked me to forgive her. She said she had done a “very dumb thing.”

She was talking like I did when I had to explain why I accidentally set the microwave on 10 minutes instead of one minute and didn’t notice the smoky mistake until it was too late. The smell of a single, very burned, tortured and warped hot dog seemed to scent everything we owned, including our clothes, for more than a week.

The only “very dumb” thing my wife has ever done was marry me. She was so contrite. What could she have done to cause her to feel such remorse?

She confessed that she had invited in a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman that afternoon for a “short visit” and when he failed to close the sale after more than 90 minutes, she had agreed that he could return that night to make his pitch to me.

She had tried to explain to him that we would not be able to purchase his vacuum that cost as much and looked like it weighed a little more than a small Volkswagen. She said I would not be interested in buying one because she and I share all the money that is left over after we pay the bills and have had heated discussions over whether or not to spend all that money on a single bag of microwave popcorn or half of a Little Caesars pizza.

I was not upset at her at all because we have sort of a family standard that says we, unlike many others, try to treat even door-to-door sales people with respect. And yet Barb was concerned I would not be nice to this very persistent salesman and asked me repeatedly to be polite.

When I got home, I saw in the middle of our living room this vacuum cleaner that looked like a tank. What was more surprising was that this salesman had placed about our dining room little displays of our filth on small black felt presentation squares like one might use to showcase rare diamonds.

We learned that each square probably included a heaping helping of germs that could threaten the life of any small child who might touch our carpet and, I assume, any Harley biker friends we might have invited over to sit on the floor.

This proved to be a theme for the evening. Our guest wanted us to know that our house and mattress were loaded with so much dirt, filth and invisible dead bugs that we had only two options: one was to buy an expensive vacuum cleaner that has big suction power and the other was to have our house collapse into a wallet-sized dwelling and disappear into a malfunctioning television set like they did at the end of the movie “Poltergeist.”

While he kept returning to his theme of filth and disease, I held fast to my contention that unless he planned to sell us his bomb-proof vacuum for less than $100, he would have no deal. At one point, he tried to meet my expectations by writing a lower number on a scrap of paper and sliding the new price toward me like I was drug dealer. He did get the price down to less than $100 — a month.

When we finally reached an impasse, he told us before he could leave he would need to call his boss and let him see all of our dirty sins displayed about our house so that he could know for himself that his salesman had “done his job.” I told him if that was an excuse to bring in another person to hard sell us I would be “very angry” — and I was not kidding. I think he was worried that I might throw all our germs all over him, so he suddenly decided that he didn’t need his boss to stop by after all.

That’s when he began a lengthy process of taking apart the vacuum cleaner, one piece at a time, cleaning it, polishing it and wiping it down as if it was now radioactive. As he would carefully prepare each part for his cardboard box, he took this sad parental tone and asked us pointed questions like, “If your washing machine broke down, how long would you take to replace it?” and “If your daughter fell in a vat of boiling oil, would you save up money before you tried to pull her out?”

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