Labor Making Devices

Well folks, it’s time for another trip down bad memory lane. In other words, this is not a writing-related post unless it counts as writing therapy to exorcise persistent devils.

We live in an old aircraft tire manufacturing building, otherwise known as a live/work loft in the glorious section of San Francisco called “Dogpatch.”  You can see a few photos of Dogpatch at the Dogpatch Writers Collective blog.

Unfinished concrete from the original building spans a 10×30 ft space inside our front door. You walk across this space and past a 12×12 inch beam footed by a rough block of concrete before reaching a living room area with short pile carpeting.

Now, I would rather chew nails than vacuum,

Yummy nails!

Yummy nails!

but we have a son who brings home sand, rubber pellets from artificial turf, rocks, dirt, and plant mulch in his shoes. When he takes them off on the concrete floor, the particulate flies everywhere. And then it piggybacks on socks over to the carpet, similar to nature’s seed dispersion strategies to ensure maximum distribution in the great outdoors. Only this is the great indoors.

A few years ago, my husband (dear sweet thoughtful person that he is) and son (always thinking about how he can improve his mother’s life, except when he’s dragging the outside world across our floors or dropping pennies down the drain of the bathroom sink, or creating smoke bombs, or….) thought they’d buy me the most fantabulous Mother’s Day present ever.

So on that day of days when we recognize and honor those unsung cooks, taxi drivers and sporting equipment schleppers around the U.S., I opened a mysterious box

What could it possibly be?

What could it possibly be?

and voila!–a dog jumped out. Well, not a real dog.

It was Roomba, the pet iRobot whose marketing motto is: “So what if it takes longer for Roomba to vacuum your floors than it would to do it yourself. It’s not your time that’s being wasted! Roomba’s got nothing else to do, unlike you!”

I politely thanked them and then put Roomba in the closet. Oh, but that little pup wasn’t happy there. He (I decided it was male) whined and scratched at the door until my son and husband couldn’t take it any longer.

“What do you say we set Roomba up for mom,” said my husband. My son needed no more prompting.

They pulled the pup out of the closet and set up the light vector towers that keep Roomba from straying into forbidden territory. They charged his battery and then off he went with a bugle call reminiscent of the “Charge” played at all major and minor sporting events.

Innocent looking, eh?

Innocent looking, eh?

That thing whirred across the floor, sweeping up every little snip of dirt, sand, popcorn, and Lego connectors in its path. BUT, it took forever. Think of having to step out of the way of a peripatetic dog that refuses to lie down for half an hour, a nuisance you’d like to banish to the back yard. The space I could have vacuumed in minutes took this thing at least a half an hour to clean, crisscrossing and retracing its path in its conscientious thoroughness. Every time it rebounded off my feet, my husband and son said “But you don’t have to vacuum the carpet yourself!”

And when Roomba was finished, he alerted us with another bugle call and docked himself in his little sleeping station. The two “boys” fell over themselves to get to the station first, each wanting to see how much detritus he’d lapped up. They opened his little dirt compartment and looked inside. Oh my! They were beside themselves in ecstasy. The compartment was full, and the was rug clean.

“I’d say Roomba works like a champ!” came their cries from the living room. I was busy sulking in the kitchen.

Then I skulked off to another part of the house where I wouldn’t have to listen to the bugle call and chipper chirping of the danged electronic super sucker as they set it to feasting on the kitchen floor.

Fast forward a couple of months.

“So, why haven’t you used Roomba since Mother’s Day,” said my husband, no small element of hurt in his voice. “There’s sand everywhere.”

“OK, OK,” I said. “I’ll put Roomba to work this afternoon while you’re out at the park and I’m getting the oil changed.”

So with everyone else out playing, I arranged Roomba’s little light towers, hit the “on” button, and left the house as the call to “charge!” rang through the living room.

When I returned, I opened the front door. That day, the concrete entranceway contained a giant teepee, glass vases filled with water and rooting vines, two floor lights, and an assortment of string toys and electronic devices inside the teepee. But something was wrong.


Something was wrong, but what?

The glass vases lay shattered across the concrete with water pooling everywhere. The teepee was lying on its side, exposing its contents: tangles of string and vines and electrical cords, more water, and Roomba mired in it all, his red “emergency” light flashing, his whirring noise silenced.

“Bad dog!!” I yelled and then spent the next hour cleaning up the mess made by my labor-saving device.

But when my husband and son came home, they refused to take my side.

“User error,” they said. “Don’t blame the dog. It’s all on you. You put Roomba’s guide towers in the wrong place.”

I fumed and haven’t used the thing since, despite the fact that the dang thing still worked once they dried it out.

Now, they’re talking about using its parts to create some other kind of robot, one that I hope I won’t have to clean up after. Stay tuned….

To be fair, the Website for iRobot Roomba says that the new models have clutter navigation, cliff detection, escape strategies, and anti-tangle technology. I’m thinking they got wind of my disaster and are trying to lure me back into the fold.

Someday, maybe. Once my Post Traumatic Roomba Flashbacks fade into the distance, along with its cheery battle cry.

25 thoughts on “Labor Making Devices

  1. FictionFan says:

    😆 Poor Roomba! After being stuck in a cupboard for months, no wonder he was a little over-enthusiastic – wouldn’t you be??

    I’ve wanted one of these for so long – not really to vacuum (I’m used to the dust-coloured carpets by now) but because I reckon it could be the ultimate cat-toy…

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Cats would LOVE Roomba, until he sucked up their tails. Or maybe the newer model with anti-tangle technology would be more discriminating. I’d offer to send out older model to you, but I’d hate to turn your household into a Manx-only domain.

  2. 4amWriter says:

    This is something my husband wanted to get me a while back, because he’s a gadget freak. But I don’t trust electronic devices with eyes and other senses that are more natural in a human being. Next time he brings up the Roomba, I’m showing him your post.

  3. heylookawriterfellow says:

    My sister, Gina, has a Roomba fetish. Years ago, when she got her first one on Christmas day, her daughter and I watched the thing putter about the room. We both wore expressions that ranged from bewilderment to disgust. Then we both said aloud, almost in unison, “How stupid.”

    Gina, her eyes sparkling, dismissed our comment with a wave; she was in Heaven. To her, the stupid ones were us.

    To this day, I think the world is divided into two types of people: Those who adore the Roomba, and those who recognize it for the near useless toy that it is.

  4. Letizia says:

    Oh dear! I think I’ll stick with my old fashioned vacuum cleaner for now…. I love the photo you chose and the caption “Something was wrong, but what?” – you really had me laughing!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, time has given me a little perspective. I now have a Miele vacuum that I love. It’s quiet and has a pivoting head that swivels and slides under furniture easily. And since a human being is always at the helm, disasters of the Roomba variety have been relegated to the “fond” memory department.

      Funny you should mention that photo. I had to convince myself to use it because it showed a TV at the center of the destruction. We don’t have a TV, and I’m pretty anti-television show, anti-commercial pablum. So anything we see is watched on Netflix on an iMac. But I told myself to “get over it, and just use the photo.” Ha! Glad you liked it!

  5. Sheila says:

    This is so funny. He sounds like a normal dog to me, complete with all the eagerness to please and the destruction that follows in his wake. I loved the dirt comparison to nature’s seed distribution techniques. Thanks for the laughs and good luck with that dog!

  6. Lady Fancifull says:

    Oh you won my heart with this:
    Now, I would rather chew nails than vacuum,

    I think the solution Jilanne, is to somehow devise a ‘competitive vaccuming game and make it boy friendly. It does mean you need to buy 2 identical vacuum cleaners, and perhaps some sort of derring do activity at some point like lifting weights or running 5k – a triathlon event perhaps, with vacumming as part of it.

    That’s my suggestion

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Brilliant! I think the investment in two vacuums would be well worth it. And I could sit in my favorite reading chair– -um, judging chair—and award or penalize competitors using “style” points during the competition. But why stop at a triathlon? I’m thinking decathlon: clutter removal, high jump, vacuuming, 10K, dusting, javelin throw, cleaning the bathroom, 100M dash, window washing, pole vault. Those still standing at the end of the day get to play video games for a certain length of time, depending on their total score.

      What do you think?

      • Lady Fancifull says:

        Attagirl! I knew all it would take would be the whisper of a creative solution and you would fly with it. I think the only thing you forgot was ‘make the judge a cup of tea’ ‘make the judge breakfast/lunch etc

        Admittedly this does need a carefully worked out handicaps structure to ensure you don’t get breakfast at 8am followed by breakfast again at 8.10 am but a woman of your creative ingenuity will sort this out easily, I’m sure

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