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My wife, Gwynne, and I drove 12 hours straight to Salt Lake City to stay at my cousin Hillary’s house for my favorite aunt’s funeral that was happening just before Christmas. It would have been an entirely somber occasion but when I got up early to go downstairs and work on my computer on the kitchen table, her Roomba, a robovac, kept bumping against my feet so I bent over and pushed the button to stop the wretched noise. An hour later Hillary came into the room, and seeing the Roomba idle on the floor, said: “How did that happen?” And turned the damned thing back on. It started roaring again. Surrendering, I closed up my computer.
“I love my Roomba,” Hillary told me. “I could be a spokesman for them.”
What could I say, she was talking about a noisy robot vacuum.
“You should get one. I’ve had mine for two years and I’m going to get a new one that empties itself. It vacuums up every day and for someone with two dogs like us, it’s a lifesaver. It’s full every time.”
I didn’t even nod my head; it was a funeral after all.
When Gwynne and I were driving the 12 straight hours home, when it was my turn to be passenger, I ran out of things to say.
“What do you want for Christmas?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she answered like always.
Gwynne’s impossible to buy for. I absolutely knew she would get mad if I bought her any household appliances but I was desperate, so I came up with a plan.
“What if I got you a robot vacuum and you got me a robot mop?”
I’d never heard of a robot mop, and guessed she hadn’t either, so chances were, rather than immediately say no, she’d mention it.
“Is there a robot mop?”
Bingo. Without a definite no, I was getting Gwynne a Roomba. The only flaw in my plan was I didn’t know if there was a robomop either.
“Sure there is,” I assured her. “They got robo everything.”
She seemed satisfied with that answer and didn’t respond while I frantically Googled “robot mop.”
Bingo. As expected, there were several robot mops, but all but one just looked like a wet towel attachment you connected to your robot vacuum. Wouldn’t do anything but clean up spills, if that? I wanted a real mop because I was the mopper in our house. The mop bucket, mop, and cleaning fluid were all in my mop cupboard that no one used for anything else. It was for mopping. However, the one looked interesting, and I could get $80 just by signing up for a credit card. Seemed like a no-brainer on Gwynne’s Christmas present this year; I congratulated myself while she was busy driving.
On Christmas morning, Gwynne wasn’t very impressed by her Roomba. She didn’t even open the box; just sat it aside and gushed about the ugly t-shirt my daughter-in-law got her. I picked up the abandoned box and took the Roomba out. Seemed easy enough to use: plug & play then noise. The robo mop was more interesting; it was from Korea and the instructions were obviously by a native Korean who had taken English in school. I couldn’t even make out what some of it said, but there was a picture of pouring water in and some mop pads, plus I could see a button on top. I don’t know what the remote control was for; that seemed like overkill.
After everybody had gone, I said to Gwynne: “We need to clean up and run the Roomba and mop.”
Gwynne didn’t reply but she did help pick up the wrapping paper before going into our bedroom and shutting the door.
She wasn’t there to see it when I pushed the button on the Roomba and off it went; it’s motion reminded me of playing the videogame, Pong. After an hour it turned off, and after fiddling around a bit, I figured out how to open it. It was full of dust and dirt.
“Gwynne!” I yelled.
Gwynne came into to see what I wanted.
“Look at what this big boy did,” I held up the filled canister. “The floor was sure dirty.”
Gwynne didn’t take kindly to me implying some deficiency in her cleaning ability; she went back in her room. I then filled up the robo mop, carefully attached the pads to the velcro, and let ‘er rip. It was a clumsy looking thing. I was amazed it could even move in a straight line with its two cleaning pads rotating in opposite directions, and it always looked like it was about to fall over. It bounced around the floor even more haphazardly than the vacuum, and after about an hour, it stopped moving and beeped at me. I went over, picked it up, shook it, couldn’t hear any water; turned it over to see the pads; holy moly, they were dirty. I didn’t tell Gwynne; instead I went to the washtub sink and rinsed them off myself.
Over the next week I vacuumed and mopped every room multiple times. Gwynne could not help but notice how spic-n-span everything looked, and she seemed to be warming to the tech.
“Doesn’t that floor look sweet?” I said. “And you didn’t have to do anything; these bad boys do it all.”
I knew I’d won her over when I saw her sneak the robovac into the bathroom for a quick suck. What a great Christmas present I congratulated myself.
Gwynne took over robo duty, running them every day almost. After about a week she came into office.
“The boys are fighting,” she said.
It was a non sequitur to me.
Our boys were now men with there own families and didn’t even live in the same country. Gwynne hurried into the other room; I followed her. And there they were; the robovac and the robomop were indeed fighting. Something about their software had them bumping into each other, circling around and bumping again, over and over. It was like Robot Wars except without the sawblades, and these kids weren’t remote controlled; they were legitimately battling it out. I went over and pushed the off button on both of them.
“Stop it or you’ll get a Time Out,” I warned them.
I looked over at Gwynne wearing my stern dad face; she seemed satisfied with my disciplinarian performance.
We’re thinking of having a third: a robobuffer.
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