I am averse to smelling my dog’s breath. I give him kisses on the nose and muzzle and hold my breath so as not to detract from the complex tactile sensation that comes from the feeling of his soft, delicate skin and short, coarse whiskers on my lips.

When I was a small kid my father bought a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman. The principle advantage to owning this particular model was that it didn’t require a filter like all of those that one would be stuck with buying from department or discount stores. A basin that was housed within the body of the unit could be filled with water and served as a depository for the dirt and debris that had been sucked out of the carpet.

As a family we tended to purchase appliances and home electronics from discount retailers such as Sears or Wal-Mart. Our clothes purchases were made at JC Penney, and we bought footwear from Payless Shoes. Groceries came from the Food-4-Less, where overhead costs were kept to a minimum because customers were expected to bag their own groceries. The purchase of this vacuum cleaner was a departure for us. When I was a teenager, many years later, my father also purchased meat from a door-to-door salesman. Cuts of meat, selected from a Styrofoam cooler that sat in the bed of the salesman’s pick-up, remained in our deep freeze for fourteen years following.

Sometimes I did the vacuuming. Mostly, however, it was my brother’s responsibility. He was not a conscientious follower of the chores timetable, which had been authored by our stepmother, laminated with a home kit and a hair dryer, and displayed in the kitchen. The chores were listed along the leftmost column, the children’s names along the top, and checkmarks indicated who was assigned to particular chores during a given week. Expectations regarding the day of the week by which each of the duties should be completed were noted, then changed on a sporadic basis. Brenda mistakenly checked the “Vacuum/Tim” box using a permanent marker rather than one that could be erased using a moistened cloth.

Although it was advised in the accompanying vacuum cleaner literature, in statements both plain and directive in tone, he chronically failed to empty the basin immediately after completing the chore. The dirtied water would sometimes stagnate for days—or weeks—and when occasionally he, or more often my father, finally got around to the task the smell reliably made me choke.

My dog’s breath smells faintly of stale vacuum cleaner water.

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