The Alien Vacuum Cleaner


It was only a few days after I arrived that I insisted on helping Harna clean the apartment. Lanni had left the house to run some errand and he wanted to surprise her. It didn’t look dirty to me! Thorgelfaynese must be fanatics about cleanliness, because everywhere I’ve been has been incredibly clean.

Harna wanted to scour the bathrooms and the kitchen, and since I volunteered, he asked me to do the vacuuming and dusting. We got out our artillery: cleaning rags, buckets, all sorts of cleaning liquids in bottles, and a mop, a duster and a bunch of vacuum cleaner attachments. After I finished the dusting, I discovered that I could not find the vacuum cleaner. I walked into the kitchen to ask Harna about this, and found him on his knees scrubbing the floor.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you Harna,” I said, “but something appears to be missing. I have all sorts of hoses and tools here, but no vacuum cleaner to attach them to.”

“My goodness,” he exclaimed. He plunked the scrub brush into the bucket and got up from the floor, “we have a central suction system in the building. You just plug the suction cleaner hose into the wall outlet.” He then demonstrated how it’s done.

This is very interesting. Imagine, a race of people so advanced that they can transport me eleven or twelve light years to Tau Ceti without relativistic effects; yet they use ordinary mops and brooms to clean house! Oh, I’ll grant you, they look somewhat different, maybe even stylish; but I don’t think that the proverbial “man on the street” back on Earth would even give them a second look.

I started to chuckle to myself.

“What’s so funny?” Harna inquired.

“I was just thinking how peculiar this situation is,” I replied, “Here I am, twelve light years from home, actually living out the dream of every Human science-fiction fan...”

“It would be especially ironic if you weren’t a science-fiction fan yourself,” Harna admitted. He kept right on scrubbing.

“That’s not the funny part!” I explained, gesturing with the vacuum cleaner hose. “I know that no one will believe me back on Earth when I tell that I made this trip; but when I say them that I helped out with the vacuuming and dusting, they’ll think I’m deluded!” I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, and Harna gave me a funny glare.

“I don’t see what’s so funny about that.” he said, “Everybody has to clean house someday. We all live in the same universe with the same physical laws, so some things are universal.”

Harna then gave me a short dissertation on the parallel development of house cleaning equipment. Vacuum cleaners are more accurately called ‘suction cleaners’ in Thorgelfaynese, but aside from the design, the basic principle is the same. I thought there would be some other way of cleaning carpets, but Harna said he couldn’t think of one.

We had to get back to our work, but when we were finished, we relaxed with a glass of harng and discussed the topic further.

Did you know that most Thorgelfaynese don’t clean house at all for half the year? Harna told me that Hugmups take over simple housekeeping chores when they’re around. I was very surprised to hear this, because I was under the impression that having a Hugmup was a rare honor. (Apparently it is an honor, but not a rarity.) They love to do housework for their companions, which means that house cleaning tools have to be kept simple. At first I thought this Hugmup exploitation, but Harna disagreed. You abuse an animal by depriving it of something it needs, or by forcing it to do something it would not normally do. Just as it is not “horse abuse” to go riding, it isn’t Hugmup abuse to let one to clean your house. If Hugmups feel they aren’t needed, they just leave. This is detrimental for the Hugmups, since they do about as well without Homelanders as Homelanders without Hugmups.

In fact (and this is the amazing part), certain household appliances must be simple enough for Hugmups to operate or they are banned by the Society for Prevention of Hugmup Abuse!

Now I understand why Harna was so driven to get the apartment cleaned before Lanni got back. It is normally Hugmup work. On Earth, house cleaning is a drudge that everyone tries to escape. On Homeland, housework is an expression of Hugmuppish love and devotion.

This explains something very mysterious: I always wondered why Thorgelfaynese sometimes clean each others’ houses on the sly. They do it to cheer someone up. Now I know why it works.

We jumped from our chairs when we heard Lanni come in the door. Her eyes danced about the sparkling room as if she’d stumbled into a surprise birthday party! There were lots of hugs and kisses all around.

However, I have learned to leave the room discretely as soon as they start calling each other their “furry Hugmup.”

And that’s how I had time to write you this note.