When a Door-to-Door Vacuum Salesman Has an Existential Crisis in Your Living Room

by Matthew J.X. Malady
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer Ijeoma Oluo tells us more about what happens when you let a stranger with a vacuum into your home.

No matter how much the Kirby dude compliments your hair, don’t let him in. I’m like 5 years older than I was when he knocked on my door.

— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) January 3, 2015

Ijeoma! So what happened here?

Many people believe the dreaded Kirby salesman to be a relic of the past—middle-aged men with bowler hats and worn suitcases, staying at cheap motels and lamenting failing marriages. But today’s door-to-door salesman looks a bit different. I have had experience with Kirby Salesmen before; my cousin had done a short stint after he got out of jail. The salesman who knocked on my door around 5:30 p.m. had the same desperate, slightly meth-y look to him. I knew that I needed to find a way out of this.

“Nope. No, sorry,” I said as I tried to shut the door. But before I could, another salesman, apparently the boss, appeared like magic. Horrible, dark magic.

“Oh wow, you have the best hair I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing.” There must be some sort of training manual that says if you run across a black woman, compliment her hair. Ugh, I’m such a sucker.

I let them in with the promise that there was absolutely no way I would buy a vacuum.

“Great!” the boss said as the other salesman rushed past me with the vacuum. “I’ve got to go to another appointment, and I’ll come get him when you are done.” He jumped in the van and drove off with the urgency of the getaway driver at a bank robbery.

So then I was stuck with this poor kid, as he rambled on and on about this fucking vacuum. It was hilarious because I don’t have any carpet. None. Not a single inch of carpet. I have absolutely no use for a vacuum. I thought this would make the visit go more quickly. But I was wrong. He vacuumed my chairs, my couch, my windowsills—he even offered to vacuum the cat. I should have let him vacuum the cat; it probably would have gotten the whole mess over with sooner, knowing the general disposition of my cat. I opened a bottle of wine and began to drink.

How did you get rid of him?

When he started vacuuming the kids’ beds, I’d had enough (side note: my younger son had peed the bed the night before, and it was a little hilarious to watch this dude act like he didn’t notice). I told him that I had to get the kids to bed. The kids heard that and screamed: “No! Mom it’s winter break! You said we could stay up late!”

“I don’t know what they are talking about,” I said as I tried to telepathically tell the kids to shut the fuck up. “These kids. Anyway, you have to go.”

I thought that would be it, but it wasn’t. He had to call his boss. His boss said he’d be right there. Which meant he would arrive in approximately three years. This poor salesman had run out of things to vacuum. He disassembled and reassembled the vacuum a few times. Showed me every attachment twice, and then when he ran out of things to do he sat down across from me.

“What’s it like to be an adult?” He asked.

I’m sure I looked extraordinarily confused, so he added: “I’m only nineteen. I’m scared of becoming an adult. You are an adult. What is it like?”

It was getting pretty late, and this kid was asking me the meaning of life. By then I’d drunk half a bottle of wine. I resigned myself to the fact that I was never getting out of this. He was never going to leave. He lived here now. I was either going to have to introduce him to the kids as their new father, or I’d have to just grab the kids and run out the back door barefoot. I could get a different house—start over someplace new and never answer my door again.

I was just finishing up giving this salesman/teenager some of the world’s worst life advice when his boss showed up. He took his shoes off like he lived here now as well, sat at my table without asking, wrote up an estimate, and handed it to me. I choked on my wine with laughter. $3,500. For a vacuum. A thing that sucks up dirt. For a woman who doesn’t have carpet. Then when I literally said, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” the price had dropped by half. Ok, now I was just pissed. Even if I owned all the carpet in the world and the price dropped to five dollars, I was not going to buy this vacuum.

After I said no about eighty times and literally just stood at my open door motioning for them to exit, they begrudgingly left at 9:30 p.m. That may not seem very late, but you must remember that they had arrived at the dawn of time.

Lesson learned (if any)?

Do not, under any circumstances, let a Kirby salesman into your home. In fact, if a dude you don’t know knocks on your door and starts to say any word starting with the letter “K,” shout “NO MEANS NO” and slam the door as quickly as possible. I don’t care if your name is Karen or Kyle and maybe it’s just someone delivering a package—it’s not worth the risk.

Just one more thing.

Want a little adult life advice? Ok here goes:

• At no point in your life will you look around and say, “I’m a grownup.” It never happens. You will never feel it. If you do, you are likely the world’s least interesting human.

• Do not ever take a potty-training kid to Disneyland. Wait until they have that shit (literally) down. Your kid will crap his pants on every ride that’s farthest from the restroom in order to punish you for such hubris.

• When you move in with a partner, only one of you is allowed to care about the decorating, so figure out who that person is before you cohabitate. If you both have ideas about where that rug should go or what color that wall should be—just break up now while you still like each other.

• Timeshares are never a good investment.

Photo by Erna Bouillion

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