The sun was shining.
The refrigerator was humming. The kids were stapling each other to the
bathroom door. It was a typical, peaceful day around our house. Until
I decided to vacuum.
"Make sure to vacuum under the bed," my wife called out.
I stopped to consider this unexpected twist in the plot. It would
require bending down, maybe even crawling on all floors and hauling
unrecognizables from the very depths of Mordor. I had planned to just
vacuum my usual cool racing stripe down the middle of the hall.
I decided not to accept the mission. "I can't."
"Why in heavens not?" my wife demanded as she came into the room.
"We have to protect the ecosystem."
"The ecosystem?" my wife asked.
"A wetland is an essential component of the ecosystem, serving as a
repository for pollutants and a safety valve to prevent flooding from
"What on earth does that have to do with vacuuming under the bed?" my
wife wanted to know.
"Just take a look. Under our bed is our household wetland."
"Nothing wet there. All I see is dust," my wife remarked with one of
those here-we-go-again looks.
"Exactly. Dust as far as the eye can see. Our bed serves a vital role
in our household ecosystem by acting as a repository for surplus dust,
thereby preventing it from recirculating onto the counters, along the
baseboards and into our three-bean casserole."
I could tell by the look on my wife's face that she finally
understood. I had convinced her that we should not vacuum under the
bed. I prepared to magnanimously accept her apology.
"Just vacuum it up," she said.
Oh, no. Another unexpected twist in the plot. I tried again. "There is
nothing under the bed but dust bunnies. You would not want me to suck
up cute little bunnies, would you?
"Those are not bunnies," she replied.
"No. Bunnies are small and cute. Those are big and ugly. They are
dust hippos," she explained.
"Yes, now suck up the dust hippos," she demanded.
"They can't be hippos."
"Bunnies live in forests and grasslands. Hippos live in rivers and
swamps. If that's a swamp, those are hippos," she declared. "Now
suck 'em up."
"I can't do that. Hippos are an endangered species."
"What makes you say that?" my wife wanted to know.
"Well, you don't see too many of them going for second helpings at
the Golden Dragon Buffet or meandering through the park on their
unicycles or hailing a cab outside the train station, do you?"
My wife looked at me as if I had just said something strange.
"That's because hippos live in Africa."
"Vacuum up the dust hippos," she added.
"But that's our swamp the dust hippos are swimming in. What about
"Swamps are wet, forests are dry," she replied.
"What on earth does that have to do with vacuuming under the bed?"
"Just take a look under there. Dry. Dry. Dry. That's not a wetland,"
"No. It's like a dry forest just before the forest fire," she
responded. "The forest fire your vacuum will create."
This was another unexpected twist in the plot. "You want me to set
fire to the forest of our household ecosystem? That would be
"Occasional forest fires are a vital element in a healthy ecosystem,
essential to the regeneration of many species of plants," she
"Yes. It's right there on page 943 of the Household Ecosystem
Analogies Management Guide."
Reluctantly, I bent down and sent the vacuum on its first sub-bed
reconnaissance mission. Sigh. Who could have known that my wife had
memorized the entire Household Ecosystem Analogies Management Guide?
Still, I wondered what the hippos were doing wading in a forest.