WHILE IT IS still too early to turn on the heat -- Thanksgiving, the traditional fire-up-the- furnace date in our homestead, is several weeks away -- it is time to get the furnace ready for winter.
Part of my readiness routine involves rolling out the vacuum cleaner, sprawling on the basement floor and vacuuming the grit that has accumulated on the bottom of the furnace. There are two reasons I do this. First, removing the grit means the gas jets in the furnace burn more efficiently. Secondly, I get to use my favorite vacuum cleaner implement, the crevice tool.
The crevice tool is a long, narrow piece of hard plastic with a tapered end. It can go where few other vacuum cleaner implements dare to journey, exploring the nether reaches of sofas, cleaning the narrow confines of car upholstery, and probing the dark underbelly of the furnace.
I have always regarded the crevice tool as the reconnaissance agent of vacuum cleaner implements, the one you use for sneak attacks. The grit sits there in the furnace, smug in the mistaken belief that, thanks to the tight quarters, it cannot be touched. Then faster than you can say "we've got suction," the vacuum cleaner motor kicks in, the crevice tool is deployed, and the grit is history.
The other day I was in a cheery mood as I gathered my forces for the annual assault on the furnace. But my mood was shattered when I realized the crevice tool was missing. I reacted to this news the way I react to any missing tool report. Namely I ran around the house frantically looking for the lost item while hurling wild accusations and hostile questions at family members. My search mission included a stop at the upstairs closet where the vacuum cleaner implements are supposed to be kept, a stop in the kitchen pantry where they sometimes wander, and a stop in a corner of the basement where the vacuum cleaner had been left after its last use.
Interrogations revealed that the crevice tool had been spotted in the basement where one of the kids had been using the vacuum cleaner to dry his football togs. Go figure. No one had seen the crevice tool since.
Moreover, no one cared.
My wife, my companion of almost 30 years, claimed that "no one ever used that thing." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My favorite vacuum cleaner implement was being disparaged.
Once I got over my feelings of loss and betrayal, I began the hunt for a replacement tool.
Our vacuum cleaner, a Kirby Dual Sanitronic 50, was older than dirt. As best we can figure, my wife's mother bought it back in the 1960s. My former vacuum cleaner repair shop, Miller's Appliances on Mulberry street in downtown Baltimore, had gone out of business a few years ago.
I had to find a new source for old parts. I ended up at a Kirby repair shop, Bragg Enterprises, in an industrial park on Rolling Road in western Baltimore County. The place had a poster on the wall, a pictorial tribute to vintage vacuum cleaners, showing Kirby models from years gone by. The place had an array of vacuum hoses. And the place had a grab box, where previously owned Kirby implements, could be fished out and bought for $2 each.
I got a replacement crevice tool. The old one was brown, the replacement was faded red. I also picked up a $2 replacement tube, a section of hard plastic that was part of the vacuum cleaner's "wand" apparatus. It too was a dull red. Once a model of light brown efficiency, our vacuum cleaner was taking on the mottled warrior look. I figured color schemes don't matter when you are battling dirt.
Then, to reward myself for driving out to the vacuum cleaner repair shop, I splurged and shelled out $7 for an extendable crevice tool. This tool, which fits on the end of a vacuum hose, is even longer and narrower than the basic crevice tool.
This weekend armed with my new extendable crevice tool, I can explore new frontiers of cracks and crevices. I can plunge even deeper into the infernal regions of the furnace, attacking those back boiler corners that for years have been eluding me.
Once I finish with the furnace, I can, according to the picture on the box, use the extendable crevice tool to clean under the refrigerator. All in all, it is sizing up as an exciting weekend.