The best part about being married is the Roomba vacuum we bought with gift money.
Roomba is an incredible machine. He picks up the crap without choking on cords or falling down stairs. When working, he doesn’t seem to follow a specific pattern or procedure but he is thorough and completes the job to my anal-retentive satisfaction.
My wife, Katie, and I are self-employed and often work from home during the week. But the first week we had Roomba, client demands required us both to be away for the day leaving just Roomba and our dog, Eddie, to mind the homestead. Roomba is scheduled to clean every three days at 10:30 a.m. An hour later, he is back on his charging dock with a full dustbin, having successfully cleaned the apartment. On this particular Wednesday, I came home around four-thirty in the afternoon. Eddie greeted me at the door less enthusiastic and more skittish than usual. I wrote it off as my dog just being a weirdo. Or maybe the upstairs neighbors got into some raucous afternoon screwing that freaked him out.
I headed to our bedroom to switch out of client clothes and into jeans and a t-shirt, a la Mister Rogers. The door was closed, which I thought was strange. Inside I saw what had freaked Eddie out. Roomba had gone apeshit in our bedroom. The lamps on our nightstands had been yanked out of their sockets, and though Roomba is designed to not get wrapped up in cords, he can drag them along, which is how our night stands had been pulled away from the wall and bedside. He yanked my nightstand so hard that the large ashtray that I lifted from a German hotel when I visited Munich my senior year in high school and used to hold my wallet, watch and other pocket items since, was pulled off, broken into big glass chunks between the mattress and bed frame with tiny shards displaced on the floor. The rug near our bed was askew with one corner dog eared—so much for that non-slip rug pad.
The cool thing about Roomba is that when his dustbin is full or his battery runs low, he begins to search for his charging dock. If he can’t find the dock, he will search until his battery dies. That’s what happened that Wednesday morning. I’ve never watched a robot vacuum die. I don’t know if in its search for the dock, it reduces the sensitivity of its sensors as a way to conserve energy. This would cause it to bump into nightstands harder than usual and perhaps pull cords with reduced concern. I imagine this is what happened to my robot.
I found Roomba cowering underneath our bed with not enough battery life—or too afraid—to move. It reminded me of the way Eddie gets during thunderstorms. I concluded that Roomba accidentally closed the bedroom door on himself. Locked inside, he began to panic.
Ah, shit! I just closed myself in. And I’m almost full of dust and hair ties! And my battery is running low. I need to get to the dock! Now! Ah, shit! How do I get out of here? If only I had arms and thumbs, I could open that goddamn door. Wait, the dog. Maybe he can help. Eddie! Eddie! Help me! I’m locked in the bedroom. Come open the door!
It’s during the panic that Roomba pulled shit out of the wall and knocked shit over. Even if Eddie could help, there was no way he was going near that bedroom. Too much unknown and strange things were afoot behind that door.
Is this it? Is this how it ends? Me, stuffed with dead skin and dog hair and hair ties, starving for electronic juice, trapped by my own doing? This is not how I imagined my life. I wanted to be here to help David and Katie when they had kids and had even less time to vacuum. I wanted to be here to help them when they grew old and arthritis wouldn’t allow them to vacuum. I wanted to be here. I don’t want to die under this bed.
I cleaned up the mess and put Roomba back on the dock. By Friday at 10:30 a.m., his next scheduled cleaning, he was just fine. And now we always close the bedroom door before he gets started. Once a week, when I’m home, I’ll put him in the bedroom and close the door. I listen for any excessive knocking around and check on him occasionally. When I see the DOCK light blinking on his display panel, I press pause, pick him up and return him to his dock. We haven’t had any more trouble.
Until, yesterday, Friday, Jan. 20. Roomba was scheduled to run, as usual at 10:30 a.m. Katie and I weren’t home. I made sure to close the bedroom door before I left. When I returned, everything in my home seemed in order. Including the expected dour sadness shared by me and my wife that Donald J. Trump was officially our nation’s leader. As we prepared for bed, Katie couldn’t find her phone charger—an aftermarket iPhone charger with three feet of cord length. It lived plugged into the socket behind her nightstand and sometimes fell to the floor after being draped over the top of the nightstand. The charger was in the wall but the cord was gone. Katie looked in her office, checked her purse and her various work bags several times to make sure she hadn’t brought it with her. She checked between the couch cushions. It was nowhere to be found.
As I was making the umpteenth sweep through the apartment, Katie let out a shriek from the bedroom. I ran in.
“I found it,” she said. She pointed under the bed. I crouched to my knees and looked.
We didn’t even realize that Roomba wasn’t on his dock. We keep it under a bookshelf so it can rest without disruption and not make our apartment look too industrial. But there he was under our bed, turned on his back with his underbelly exposed—brushes and wheels and dustbin and sensors. Wound tightly around the brushes was Katie’s iPhone charger cord.
I must not have closed the bedroom door tight enough. Roomba pushed it open and pulled the cord out of its socket and used it to strangle itself.
The rest of the bedroom was as we left it: nightstands in place, lamps plugged in and some dust, dog hair and one of Katie’s hair ties left on the uncleaned floor. The only spastic violence was that of what Roomba did to itself. Finding it like that so unexpectedly, so traumatized, was unnerving and heartbreaking. I nearly wept as I pulled it out from under the bed and began the process of untangling the cord from its brushes.
I can’t be sure of this, but I have enough evidence to assume with strong certainty that our Roomba tried to kill himself after considering the tangible reality of a Trump presidency and the disarray in which our empire is crumbling.
Humans and our science fiction have long been enamored with the idea that our demise would come at the hands of robots, A.I. machines determined to wipe out their creators. But that won’t be the case. Science fiction is just that—fiction. The truth is that even the machines are terrified of the future designed by Trump and his ragtag gang of misfit swamp dwellers, and all of us who have allowed this future to become a possibility.
If the machines are giving up, there is little hope for any of us. We deserve our filthy floors.