No Strings Attached

 

            Every morning, Mrs. G. runs over the floors with a broom, leaving dusty islands of household debris all over the place with the fair warning to me not to step in them. The dog doesn’t care, as he will often stroll right through the carefully gathered piles as if aiming for them.

          I suppose that’s one of the benefits of wood floors over carpet—the dust and schmutz of daily household traffic is visible, so the floors get cleaned more often. That doesn’t mean we don’t vacuum. The area rugs get a once over every so often, and the extension tube comes in handy to suck up the errant coffee grounds that have spilled out of the grinder onto the countertop.

          Yesterday afternoon, my wife was doing some vacuuming and was gradually running out of cord. As the cord became a low-level tightrope, I could see what was about to happen. Mrs. G. was in the throes of cleaning and didn’t notice this until the cord snapped out of the outlet, draining the life out of the machine. “That’s it then,” she said. The official end of vacuuming is often when she runs out of cord. Any debris beyond that point will have to wait for another day.cleanview_deluxe_multisurface_vacuum_2412_long_power_cord

          I was watching this from the kitchen table and thought about that as she looped the thick lifeline back onto the pegs on the vacuum cleaner before rolling it into the utility closet.

          Cords. Why do we still have them? Isn’t this the twenty-first century?

          When Apple announced that their new phone, the iPhone Every Prime Number To Infinity, would not have a hole for a headphone jack, people lost their minds, although many people (including me) said it’s about time. In about ten years, they’ll subliminally date movie flashbacks with people using corded headphones, and we’ll all look at that the same as we look at images of men wearing suits while leaning into an RCA radio to listen to a ballgame. “Oh, how quaint. Look at that. Headphone cords. It must be 2012!”

          We gave up on corded telephones years ago, and many of my carpentry tools, while still corded, have a battery-powered counterpart. Computer keyboards are cordless and their companion mice have shed their tails as well, as have every other electronic doodad. Remote controls, by definition cordless, have made the buttons on TVs practically, and in most cases literally, obsolete. We are a mobile society that doesn’t want a tether of any kind, in any form.

          For the most part, ours is a cord-free household, and the last major holdovers from our corded realm are slowly being phased out. I have arthritis in my hands, which makes grabbing and pulling starter cords difficult. My wife could never understand why these machines still had starter cords anyway, but as long as I had to pull them, she didn’t mind. Her wake-up call came while trying to start our ornery push mower, and the recoil cord ferociously snapped back into the mower and nearly ripped her shoulder out of the socket. She came in the house frustrated and in pain. Within an hour, we were talking with a John Deere salesperson about a lawn tractor with a keyed ignition.img_2664_hdr

          “This is amazing,” I said while perched up on the bright yellow seat. “I have no idea why we didn’t do this sooner.” The paperwork was completed as Mrs. G. took the machine for a test drive around the parking lot. Both of us left the tractor showroom smiling, she wearing her free John Deere baseball cap and me anxious to casually mow some lawn.

          Our snowblower also has an electric start, which makes the drudgery of clearing the driveway a little brighter. Push a button and the big machine fires right up. Why on earth should anyone have to pull cords to bring an engine to life in the 2000s? Has anyone ordered a car with a crank start since 1913? “Yeah, I’ll take that new Corolla, but only if I can get it with manual steering and a crank start because I prefer things to be as difficult as possible.”

          After the lawnmower transition, I started to look at the other yard tools hanging in the garage. Is there a person reading this who hasn’t wanted to throw a string trimmer into the backside of a garbage truck at least once? I believe I hold the personal string trimmer javelin distance record of thirty-five feet after a hot afternoon spent trying to start the thing, giving up, and launching it through the sky into the very grass I was trying to trim. I likely would have tolerated that for a little while longer if not for my hand issue, but my wife flat out refused to even try to start it. We bought a heavy-duty (as in not a toy) string trimmer with a battery pack that starts the machine with the push of a button. It does a fine job trimming around everything we need to groom on an acre of land and does so on a single charge with juice to spare. Mrs. G. has found that she will use it because it’s fun.

          After that, we bought a leaf blower with a battery, and in true ex-contractor form, it’s heavy duty. I brought it home, unpacked it, put herothe battery in the charger and had a cup of coffee. Twenty minutes later, it was fully charged and ripped through every bit of yard debris without dripping fuel all over my pants. Mrs. G. goes out and uses it without hesitation. Our driveway has never been cleaner.

          Which brings me back to the vacuum cleaner. I secretly hope that it strangles itself on its own cord and dies so I can justify it being replaced with something cordless, but until that fateful day, the house will have to be vacuumed twenty-five feet at a time. That said, there is a part of me that thinks it would work out great to open all the windows and use the new leaf blower on the floors.

             Batten down the knick-knacks, this is going to be epic.

Postscript

           Since this was written, our stable of battery tools has grown by one.

           I’ve always had a chainsaw, and truth be told, I didn’t really need one, but I justified owning one very simply: I’m a guy and guys like things with engines that are incredibly loud and massively destructive. If I’m being honest, it sat in the garage for years in between usage, but when I needed it, it was there, albeit after a fitful half-hour of fueling it, cleaning it, pulling the cord, nothing, sharpening the chain, pulling the cord again, nothing and wondering why I bothered. Still, in the great world of manly accomplishments, nothing beats felling a large tree and watching it land exactly where it was supposed to land.

           I’ve talked about our windstorm-related tree issue, and over the course of the last few rain-soaked weeks, we had a company come out and remove the bramble of broken trees in exchange for a large sum of money. When they were finished, there was a pod of ash trees still standing, the very ash trees that experts say will be killed en masse by emerald ash borers within the next five years.

           “How much to take down those trees?” my wife asked.

           Well, let’s say that the price was more than we could swallow to take down five trees that resembled telephone poles with leaves, so she said she’d do it herself.

           So the next day, bow saw in hand, she slogged through the mud and went out and had a look. Meanwhile, I was researching battery powered chainsaws and saw one made by the same company that made my gas saw for a fraction of the cost of having somebody take down those five ornery trees. It took a little convincing, but she and I went out and bought it.

           So, let’s set this stage. I have to have my left shoulder replaced with a fancy titanium and plastic device in June, so my left arm sort of dangles right now, which puts my left hand in the perfect position to hold a chainsaw handle but not much else. My right hand still works well enough to hold the other end. My wife is able to drag branches all day long, so between the two of us, we set out to remove not only five trees, but fourteen more and … and … cut everything up into firewood. This would all be done in two afternoons with a battery-powered chainsaw, in the mud, by two AARP members, one of whom only had one good arm.

           Long story short, we did it. The saw performed admirably and had to be recharged about six times over two days, which isn’t bad. My wife piled up about two cords of firewood and our curbside lawn is buried under branches. The guy from the tree company came out to grind the stumps from their last go-around, saw what we did, looked at us (specifically, looked at our ages) and said, “You guys are crazy. I mean really crazy.” That is entirely possible.

           They’ll be back once more to take down some trees that need to be roped (I can’t do that anymore) but in the end, we saved a pile of money and I have a cool chainsaw that will start with the push of a button, should the need ever arise again.

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