It’s not going to surprise anyone who knows me that my typical household purchase is one that’s going to eventually rest on a bookshelf. But every five years or so, my thoughts become more utilitarian  and I veer off into the arena of cleaning supplies, grabbing whatever’s cheapest. 

Unfortunately “cheapest” is seldom the most aesthetically pleasing option. For years I’ve hated the plastic-bristled brooms that have come home with me, not because they don’t get the job done, but because they’re so irredeemably ugly. Occasionally I’d look for the brooms of my childhood, the kind that witches ride upon, made of wood and straw, but without a lot of perseverance. Why waste time in the household sections when there were bookstores waiting for me?

The other day I found a broom in the classical mode and decided now was the time. While I was at it, a mop would be a fine idea too–but every mop I saw was made of microfiber or a sponge of dubious origins. Every last one of them came with operating instructions and a couple of moving parts–not my idea of a good time.  

I came home with my new broom, rather surprised that it cost me over twenty dollars, with tax. Next time, I decided, I’d go to a hardware store. Certainly that would be the sort of place that understood the need for a simple cotton mop with no weird mechanisms attached and with a reasonable price tag.

The people at Ace Hardware who asked if they could help me were close to my age bracket.  That’s why I was surprised when they looked a bit alarmed at my announcement, “I’m looking for a mop that’s just cotton attached to a wooden stick.” Sensing a case of looming madness, they turned me over to a strapping lad in his twenties. “If you want a cotton mop, you’re going to have to buy the head and the handle separately,” he told me, backing away as he spoke.

The mop handles all had forbidding bits of metal attached, things I wasn’t ready to tackle on my own. I made my selection and before the cashier took my money, I said, “I’ll buy this only if you put it together for me.” 

The younger man was doubtless cowering in a distant corner after his close encounter with a lunatic so it was the older gentleman who was stuck with this fresh outbreak of insanity. It took him more than a few minutes and I clutched my receipt menacingly in case he failed at the task. Finally he heaved an audible sigh of relief and muttered, “There. I wanted to be sure it was perfect for you.”

I may be the only person who’s ever carried a mop through downtown Seattle, judging by the stares that came my way. I was too busy trying  to avoid taking out a car window with the very long, very substantial wooden handle to pay much attention to the other pedestrians. It wasn’t until I got home that the cold hard truth hit me. My quest for the cleaning tools of my childhood had cost me almost fifty dollars. I could have bought a cheap vacuum cleaner for that amount of money.. But what the hell, what price do we put on past memories brought to life? 

I try not to think of the books I could have bought instead.