Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fun with Fur

One of Harris's jobs is to deposit fur on the curtains. He is dedicated.

I vacuumed and de-furred the apartment on Sunday while my husband flew home from a conference. I did not do this for him; it was long overdue. I didn't expect him to notice; he's usually oblivious to much more dramatic changes in our tiny space. One of my favorite games is seeing how long it takes him to spot some significant alteration I made while he was working.

For example, one of our bedroom walls was bare for several weeks. We'd moved the large, heavy seascape that had hung there to the living room, to replace the landscape that had hung above the fireplace for years. You may recall that Harris licked some gold leaf off its frame in December. It's still in the repair studio in Salem.

I didn't like the bare bedroom wall and decided to put a vintage French travel poster there one day, when my husband was at school. It had been sitting behind a chair in his office. It is big and heavy, but I got it onto the hooks it without breaking anything, and room looked better. But my real reward was that it took several days for my husband to notice that the transatlantic steamer Paris was now navigating a stormy sea above the dresser where he keeps his clothes and parks his keys and wallet. There is also a direct view of it from our bed. I finally asked if he noticed anything new in the bedroom. He said no.

That cheered me up. When he saw the look on my face he paid more attention and figured it out.

So, no, I don't clean for him; I clean for me and any poor soul who visits. I keep our place fairly neat and uncluttered, even if it's a bit dusty. I am very good about laundry. The kitchen and bathroom are usually respectably clean. We always have plenty of nice things to eat. Lately I keep fresh roses (non-toxic to cats) on the bedroom mantel, where we can enjoy them but the cats don't go, because I believe every house should have flowers. I think I'm not a total loser as a housekeeper. It's dusting and vacuuming that get me down. (I'm not even going to talk about washing our ancient windows and wood floors; let's keep pretending they are self-cleaning.)

I should vacuum more often. I do it weekly, more or less. Sometimes it's the Monday of one week and the Saturday of the next. Weekly is probably fine for someone who doesn't have a lot of cats. It's not fine around here.

But vacuuming is a pain. I begin with a treasure hunt: collecting the visible cat toys, especially plastic drinking straws. The cats have lots of those since they steal every one that we leave by the sink.

When I've pulled the toys from under the sofa and so on, I use the vacuum's "crevice tool" to suck up the ones that are hiding under bookcases, the fridge, dressers, and so on. All the toys go into a big open basket on the floor. When I'm done vacuuming I have to remember to take several toys out and scatter them around, or the cats will make new toys by knocking things off of our desks. They are industrious and creative about that, but they are too — I don't know — clueless, spoiled, or passive-aggressive to take toys out of their basket.

Vacuuming less than 800 square feet takes me much more than an hour. It feels like it takes the whole afternoon. In addition to the labor of dragging heavy furniture and persuading our ratty Persian rugs to part with their coating of fur, I also spend time pulling masses of fur off the carpet attachment and feeding it into the hose by hand so the brush gets clean enough to function as a brush again. I probably do that 15 to 20 times. I once asked my husband to vacuum; he finished quickly. I asked him how many times he'd cleaned the brush and he said never. There was enough fur clinging to the brush to cloth a medium-sized dog. I vacuumed again soon afterward.

The vacuum itself gets furry as I use it — fur clings to the hose, gets wrapped around the tiny axels of its wheels, and there's a roller on the brush that gets mired in fur, too. I use tweezers to free it. I consider it to be a pretty decent machine in spite of this. I don't think anyone makes a self-cleaning one.

The cats are mostly terrified of the vacuum's noise and prying ways, which is a further incentive not to clean very often. It is the only thing some of our cats fear besides visitors and trips to the vet. I think we all need to fear something in our lives or we become smug and awful — including cats. So I provide this useful service although I feel bad about it. If I vacuum in the late afternoon, Lion might miss dinner because he's too nervous to come out. Toffee and Wendy also hide. I wish I could hide; they have the right idea. Harris and Possum are braver and will lie on the bed watching as I vacuum the bedroom. But they take off when I get too close.

So no wonder I procrastinate. Procrastination has its rewards. When I've waited long enough, it's fun to see colors and patterns emerge on the surfaces of our rugs as the gray layer of fur comes off. I exaggerate, of course, but I also telling the truth.

The real revelation of Sunday's cleaning was the amount of fur I removed from the furniture and curtains with the lint brush. I use one of these. I have worn out several over the years, eroding them from constant use to a smoothness that no longer grabs hair. I de-fur seat cushions, pillows, and our bedcover almost every day, but it had been some time since I last did everything: the entire sofa, all of the upholstery, the bedskirt (on both sides), and the curtains. I pulled off staggering amounts of fur from the lace curtains and berated myself for being such a slob. It took so long that I got a blister on my thumb from the brush. I did not do the undersides of the furniture; my hand hurt.

As a teenager I was a costumed tour guide at a history museum in my hometown. Among other things, I showed visitors how to  process sheep's wool and spin the fibers into yarn. We also worked with alpaca and the silky white hair of someone's dog. I thought of this as I collected a pile of fur from my curtain and the back of my sofa. It had been a long time since I'd held handfuls of fiber that could be spun and crocheted into a disgusting gray cap... for someone I don't like. If only I could remember how to crochet, another vanished skill from my high school years.

My apartment is much cleaner than it was, although still not as clean as I'd like it to be. I'm going to dust today. I begin with ceilings, moldings, and light fixtures; I don't just flit around with a duster.  But I will stop if any blisters develop. Then I will lie around and read... after I de-fur the cushions again.


  1. Google Lily Brush. Amazing de-furer. I keep one chairside.

  2. I do it far too infrequently because of my allergies. I recently defurred my bedside lamp, it was impressive.


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