The Day I Bought My First Vacuum

Photo credit: Evan Blaser, CC BY 2.0.

You don’t care that I once trudged through 3.5 miles of snow to buy a vacuum off of Craigslist in Illinois. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway.

I once resided on the North Side of Chicago, down the street from Wrigley field and a block away from Lake Michigan. I lived alone, without a car, and — for a few months — without a vacuum. That last part changed one fateful winter night, when I decided to purchase some family’s old vacuum for $15. I had roughly $200 in my bank account at the time, so this was a big deal.

I scrounged up three $5 bills in my studio apartment and bundled myself with an army-green puffy jacket, faded blue Under Armour beanie, dad jeans, and one pitifully tattered pair of boots. A black sky calmly poured snow onto the empty sidewalk before me, as I circled the iconic ballpark’s perimeter, hands in my pockets.

Straight down Waveland. Left on Clark. Right on Addison.

You don’t forget moments like the one where I, a poor law student, climbed onto the porch of an old Chicago Greystone to find a family seated silently at their dinner table. Four unsuspecting children and two parents, just blankly staring at me. In fact, the room’s only initial movement occurred when I removed my cap as if I, for some reason, was about to take a seat at the table.

After what felt like 30 seconds but was probably more like 4, the family’s official mother and unofficial entrepreneur finally blurted out a delayed but welcome, “Oh! . . . Vacuum!” I smiled and nodded as she reached for a tall, skinny, yellow hunk of plastic with a frayed cord and a wobbly wheel.

It wasn’t the vacuum of my dreams. Not even close. It looked suspiciously older than the appliance pictured on Craigslist and sounded like one of those dog toys — you know the ones — as it rolled. I didn’t gripe. Especially given the price tag and the already awkward circumstances, I had no reason to. I just wanted a vacuum.

At this point, like any Craigslist transaction, two steps remained. First, I had to determine whether the relic even worked. Second, I had to tender the cash. In most cases, the latter step (i.e., the money hand-off) represents the more uncomfortable of the two. But not tonight. No way. On this Wednesday night-of-nights, the awkward part came courtesy of an obligatory test-run, in front of four confused children and a pair of thrifty parents.

In other words, I needed to find out whether the thing sucked.

So there I was, a scruffy 23-year old, well into my first Chicago winter, monitored by six pairs of unfamiliar eyes, vacuuming the living room floor for a family I’ve never met.

“Who in the world is this oddly dressed man in my home?” those kids must have thought, seated in awe of what was transpiring. One of the lads, ostensibly the youngest, excused himself from the table to litter the hardwood with a handful of soil from a nearby plant. A classy move on his part. I steadily (and squeakily) pressed forward, inching the beast toward the loose soil, exchanging a knowing nod with the youngster.

It worked. Astonishingly, the antique worked.

I laughed to myself, aloud even, as I traipsed back up Waveland Avenue and beneath Wrigley’s Left Field bleachers, pre-owned vacuum over my shoulder. An image worthy of a Christmas Card if there ever was one. “What, in the lord’s name, am I doing with my life?” I wondered as I gazed back up at a thousand snowflakes cascading without a peep, visible only in the light of a monstrous neon sign in centerfield. A sign that simply read: CUBS.

As I keyed into my lonely studio apartment, I thought to myself how I won’t ever watch a Cubs game the same. Not without thinking of these reclusive and unremarkable nights on the North Side — nights typically reserved for ramen noodles and casebooks by candlelight and BBC World Service Radio. Not without thinking about a poor, cold, bundled-up 23-year old law student, with a puffy coat and faded Under Armour beanie, toting a $15 dollar family vacuum up Waveland Ave.

And I haven’t. To this day, if I ever catch a Cubs game on TV or even just a quick highlight in Left Field, I always think back on that lonesome evening and smile. The day I bought my first vacuum.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.