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Thursday, July 24, 2003   |    What's Up with That?


by Josh Abraham

Swiffer: it’s a stick, much like a broomstick, except at the business end, where you’d expect to see a broom or mop or something with pincers, there’s just this empty non-thing that doesn’t do anything until you wrap it with a rag that resembles a thick sheet of fabric softener. The stick itself is not so amazing. It’s just your standard pole: long, skinny, sturdy, good for poking things. The rag, however, is bewitched with dark magic causing dirt to cling to it. Dirt cannot escape the force of the enchanted rag. Dirt cannot ignore the allure of its siren song. It clings to it like a newborn sloth to its mother’s fur. It does not let go. You don’t even have to put the rag directly on the floor. You can hover it a gasp above the floor and the dirt will leap into the air.

It’s freaking magical. I’ve read some of the Bible, I’ve learned some hefty physics, I’ve seen eclipses and volcanoes and Niagara Falls and earthquakes—nothing flabbergasts me as much as this enchanted rag. It looks so innocent: it’s soft and cuddly and smells nice. There’s no moving parts, no circuits, no wires, no magnets. Yet this thing effortlessly lifts dirt against gravity’s will without even breaking a sweat. I don’t really know how static electricity works, only that if you rub a balloon on your head, it sticks to the wall (the balloon, not your head; though I bet your head would stick as well). This is a pretty piss-poor parlor trick, but still I’ll admit it’s at least something. (Now your head stuck the wall—that would be cool.) The Swiffer seems to root its physics-defying might in something along the same principles, I guess, only it somehow harnesses that raw energy and magnifies it a thousand-fold. Perhaps one of those supercolliding superconductors is used in the Swiffer factory. Or, more likely, the One Ring to Rule Them All. All I know is I’ve seen nothing on this Earth more riveting than dirt removing itself from my kitchen floor.

Today’s kids, with their MTV-reduced attention spans and their Sega-honed coördinatation are probably unimpressed by the magic of the Swiffer. If, however, you took a Swiffer along in your time machine, you could materialize in virtually any period from the birth of monotheism in the Fertile Crescent to the outbreak of hippies in the 1960s, and the surrounding old-timey people would hail you a god when you swept their huts or igloos or shanties free of dust and grime. If you took a Dustbuster with you, you’d only impress older civilizations with your fraudulent wizardry for as long as the Dustbuster could retain its charge. After that, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Because ya can’t plug in the recharging cradle in old-timey times! (Even in modern-day Europe, you can’t plug that thing in! Foreigners are so damn primitive.) And you’d be exalted all the more because in old-timey times, everything was caked with soot and ash. I know this because I’ve seen Braveheart and Gladiator and every single Sergio Leone film on DVD, where you can really see the dirt crystal-clear. Yech. I’m so happy I live in 2003. I couldn’t take all the filth and muck. Also, when it gets hot in the summers I’m really upset if I’m not in the presence of air conditioning. I’d be so miserable back in olden times of yore. Even if I were a duke or a feudal lord or something, with serving wenches and spices from faraway lands available upon request, I still couldn’t manage the heat and the dirt and the cholera. Cholera really sucks.

Go Swiffer!

Josh Abraham was born in Algeria in 1913. He spent his early years in North Africa, working various jobs—in the weather bureau, in an automobile-accessory firm, in a shipping company—to help pay for his courses at the University of Algiers. As a young journalist, his report on the unhappy state of Muslims in the Kabylie region aroused the Algerian government to action and brought him public notice. From 1935 to 1938 he ran the Théâtre de l'Equipe, a theatrical company that produced plays by Malraux, Gide, Synge, and Dostoevski. During World War II he was one of the leading writers of the French Resistance and editor of Combat, then an important underground newspaper. Abraham's fiction, his philosophical essays, and his plays have assured his preëminent position in modern French letters. In 1957 Abraham was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His sudden death on January 4, 1960, cut short the career of one of the most important literary figures of the Western world when he was at the very summit of his powers. No, wait. That was Albert Camus.