Posted by David
on Aug 4, 2012 in Upside-down Hippo
| 6 comments
When my husband checked in on Facebook yesterday at a vacuum cleaner museum in some Midwestern state that begins with an M, I confess my first thought was along the lines of, I hope you pick up some hints for vacuuming the floors at home, which is an activity that has never happened since before our sun burned hot in space.
But then he posted this:
This might be too long for a status, but I’ll try and be concise. The Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri, was really inspiring. Like, transformationally inspiring. Of course I went because, ho ho, a vacuum cleaner museum! On my road trips, I like to seek out the oddities. Got a big ball of string? I will come see it. Take my money! This museum is attached to a warehouse/factory. It’s free … just sign the guest book. It was empty today, except for the two employees, Tom and Connie, and an intern. I wandered through (I’ll post a photo album soon) … it’s small, but well put together. The machines are organized by decade, interspersed with ads from the period. So I took pictures – especially of the ads – whoever put it together had a real sense of humor. So when I was done, I asked Connie how this place came to be – was this some kind of corporate exhibit or something? No, she said, these machines all belonged to Tom. It was his thing. So I went back to talk to Tom in his little office. Now – this guy was not what you might imagine. He was about my age – had a goatee, brush cut, some tattoos on his arms & calves. Just my guess from our conversation, I think he was gay but who knows. But he had a passion. He owns six hundred and forty two vacuum cleaners: he has restored them all – they all work. He can tell you that the machines they were using in the early 1900s are essentially the same as one you’d buy today. He knows James Dyson – in fact, bought #46 of the first fifty machines Dyson built when he was just trying to break into the world of vacuums. He knew that the “revolutionary” technology that Dyson was promoting had actually been done in the 20s in a particular kind of canister vacuum which used water to capture the coal dust and ashes that were in carpets then. He knew everything about the ads (they were his, too.) He had a spiel down for the whole place that he used when tour buses dropped by (which they occasionally do.) He could tell you why the Eureka canister was great (it can sit on a stair tread and not fall) and why some new vacuums are over-technologized (too many circuit boards, all vulnerable to heat and dust …) I would have bought a vacuum from this guy.
Amazingly, this museum has only been around for three years. Apparently, the factory where he works was building some kind of new revolving brush mechanism – he said, well, that’s like the so-and-so brush from the 1920s. They said, how do you know? And then the fact that he had six hundred working vacuum cleaners came out. So: a museum was born.
This guy has a passion. I don’t know why he particularly attached to vacuums, but he is The Guy. The love of it is palpable. It’s not strange or weird or unrelatable – he makes the connections apparent between the evolving technology and the changes in American culture – what was going on in the home – and you nod and go, of course!
I think he’s used to people barging in ready to say, haw haw, a vacuum museum, get a load of that, Francine. He was cheerful but guarded when I came in – another dude with a camera from who knows where. But when I talked to him about it at the end, he absolutely came alive.
After he kept me spellbound for about 25 minutes, the phone rang and he had to go take the call. The intern – a young Ron-Weasley-of-the-Ozarks guy – looked at me, enthralled at having seen Tom convey his passion, and said, “I’m sort of in training.”
I drove away, just thinking about Tom and that place. The passion that he pursued – which found expression – there’s something there, a great, great thing. I can still feel the aliveness – something in the heart chakra. When theater feels like a pointless pursuit, when the insanities and anxieties and pain feel overwhelming and absurd and why-do-this … I’ll think about this guy’s museum. We all have to build our museum – to create an experience that can envelop someone – somebody like me, who came in maybe looking for a fast laugh to post on Facebook – somebody like me who came away changed. Build a museum.
Yes, I choked up, a reaction that, even after eleven years, Rob has the power to provoke in me with his words and music. And the topic of passion is an important one, something I’ve spent my adult life pursing like a naturalist with a butterfly net. Is this it? I have wondered as I write or design a book, open a café, attend a graduate school, start a love affair, pick out a puppy. Unlike our friend Tom, who was struck by a very specific sort of lightning, I never had anything concrete to use as a yardstick, but I think I am coming closer and closer to a quiet understanding of passion, where I am called to aliveness and where I shut down.
In the acupuncture treatment room, I am so interested in what brings people to life because I really do believe that illness doesn’t have a chance in the presence of passion. Getting a person to recognize that area of their life—and expand its influence—is one of the most powerful things I can do to help a person heal. Even if their physical body doesn’t get better, their spirit does. You can have a symptom, even be dying, and still feel good, my mentor, Bob, will say. It depends on what you focus on. You would be surprised if I told you how many of my patients can’t name a passion in their life or don’t even recognize its potential; some can’t even say a single thing that is going well. I know how to begin to treat this with words and needles.
On the other hand, if someone announced that their passion was the six hundred forty-two functional vacuum cleaners they’ve got stashed in the basement, I would wonder where the line is between passion and mental illness. I’ve seen hoarders who are equally attracted to the stack of newspapers blocking the bathroom door, but perhaps the difference is visible in the heart. Do you possess a passion, or does a passion possess you? Do you come to life in its presence and enjoy sharing it, or does it lead you to close yourself off from the world? Is it in proportion to your life? Maybe we all have to be a little bit crazy to get by.
Tom is lucky that he was given an outlet for his vacuum cleaners. I suppose we all are.