Here are things that I have done to avoid writing: chase my recalcitrant dog around the house for an entire afternoon trying to clip his nails, read all the comments on an article I wasn't even that interested in, and although the effect would be transient at best, close my laptop to reorganize the kitchen cabinets.
Last week, as I was struggling with the same sentence for more time than is either normal or healthy, the doorbell rang. An enthusiastic man introduced himself and his assistant. 'I promise we're not here to change your religion,' he boomed, explaining they'd just come from my neighbor Curtis's home where they'd been invited in to do a vacuum demonstration.
Uh-oh, I thought.
'And if you agree to just a fifteen minute demo my assistant will deep clean one of your rugs for free — and she'll earn $50.00 from the company! And maybe a trip to Jamiaica!'
I thought of my 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'* sentence waiting for me, and then of the living room rug where my niece's Siberian Husky had shed his entire winter coat over Thanksgiving as well as the pay-off for the young woman — and the offer began to seem like a win-win-win.
I opened the door. #Dumbass.
No sooner did I say yes than the boss split (with the car) and left the young woman to unpack the monstrous gadget and lay out its many, many accessories. Finally (fifteen minutes later!) she was ready to plug in and begin her spiel.
Her energy dipped. Mine, too. Hot dust and lethargy soon filled the air. Time actually stopped as she languidly ran the machine back and forth over the same spot (think Lady Macbeth with a household appliance) and dutifully asked what I did for work, how long we'd lived in the house, and whether I thought my floors were actually clean.
Every couple of minutes she turned off the machine, slowly bent down to remove the paper filter, inched across the room to drop the sieve on the rug, gingerly peeled a sheet from a towering stack of replacements that she obviously had to use, and then baby-stepped her way back across the floor to repeat the interminable process. I think the goal of that experience was to prove dirt was actually being sucked up — something I would have taken her word for.
(In truth I was confused by the whole going over the same spot routine. Didn't that just show that the gadget wasn't working all that great the first ten times? Afraid questions would only prolong things, I didn't ask.)
Soon, (well, not really soon, but you know what I mean) dozens of filthy paper sieves covered half of the carpet, effectively shielding it from the business end of the hose. It was a pretty slick way to shrink the area to be cleaned.
And I was there for it.
About an hour in, I was seriously pining for the hellscape on my computer. But the demo continued. Weeks passed. And when I thought she was finally winding down, the presentation shifted into an interactive phase. I was asked to fetch my own device from the broom closet. I shuffled over to retrieve my upright.
'Now I'm going to show you how much better my machine is,' she explained. 'We'll compare rows.' And we commenced synchronized vacuuming. I thought of Ethel Merman and her pals in bathing caps, suddenly growing very afraid of dissolving into intractable giggles (it's been known to happen) and I prayed for self-control. I didn't want to scar the earnest young woman who was just trying to get to Jamaica.
Fortunately, she didn't seem to notice my internal struggles, and encouraged me to count my vacuum strokes. I only got to seventeen when I began to worry that the whole exercise was going to trigger a stroke of my own. It would serve me right, I thought. Death by procrastination.
She suddenly perked up, asked me to take her to the bedroom so she could use one of the attachments to illustrate the filth on our mattress.
I found my voice. 'Um, no?'
She looked tragically wounded; suggested I fill out a form with contact numbers for referrals as an alternative. On a courage roll, I said I didn't feel comfortable doing that, either.
She reiterated that if she could sell me a model she might win a trip to Jamaica.
'How much is the thing?' I asked, distractedly looking at the place on my wrist where a watch had last sat fin de siecle.
'My boss said he'd be willing to work with you.'
'Do people actually buy these things?' I asked shocked.
'Oh yes,' she eagerly assured me. Her boss was even helping someone with the loan process right then! She shared that her grandmother had bought one, too. I wondered what the older woman had done to incur such hostility. Missed birthdays? Christmases? Tricked offspring into appearing on an episode of Maury?
Mistaking my question for interest, she began offering me more deals on the bottom line. I squared my shoulders, shook my head and unplugged my upright.
'What if we knock an additional $400.00 off?'
I contemplated yelling fire. 'Look. I'm really not buying anything. Also someone is coming over,' I lied. 'And I need to get ready.'
'My boss isn't back yet,' she responded, the drop-off making more sense. 'What if you only had to pay $90 a month?'
Just when spending a couple grand to get her to leave seemed reasonable, she inexplicably said, 'Okay,' and asked for a rag and some Windex to methodically clean all six thousand parts of the vacuum. (Which was a tad insulting but whatever.)
Some two hours after arriving she finally got ready to go. Think Cat in the Hat level dejection. (And though she said no tips were supposed to change hands, I was so grateful to have my life back, I may have insisted.)
From now on, the next time I get stuck on a sentence, I'll just delete the offending words and start a new one. And I will never open the door to strangers again.
*This is from the single scariest literary scene ever -- in The Shining when the poor wife looks at her tortured-writer-husband's thick manuscript and sees that it's just that one sentence typed again and again, complete with indents for quotes and new paragraphs.