‘How To With John Wilson’ Goes to the World’s Most Emotional Vacuum Convention

We all root for different teams. Some folks have a favorite sports team. Others loosely root for their home teams. A handful of people don’t watch sports—like me. The only “team” I root for in life is the green marble in marble racing videos on YouTube.HBO’s John Wilson is like me—he doesn’t watch popular sports.

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We all root for different teams. Some folks have a favorite sports team. Others loosely root for their home teams. A handful of people don’t watch sports—like me. The only “team” I root for in life is the green marble in marble racing videos on YouTube.

HBO’s John Wilson is like me—he doesn’t watch popular sports. He finds alternative competitions to watch, like pumpkin growing championships. Wilson prefers to watch middle-aged men sing high notes for elongated periods of time (trying to break the world record for longest high note) rather than see them swing bats around or toss balls into nets. But in this week’s How To with John Wilson, the creator conforms to the status quo by going to watch a “big game.”

Wilson tests out several big games, the first being one played by the New York Mets at Citi Field. A rep for the team invited him on Instagram, so he accepted—though he’s not quite sure if they meant to invite him or someone else. “Hey Josh,” the email begins. This is like last week’s HBO Emmys afterparty flub all over again.

Before Wilson heads to the big game (yes, I will call every sports event “the big game” throughout this article, as is my given right), he does a little homework. He buys a Mets hat from a store in Times Square. “This is the Mets, right?” he asks the store worker. Then, Wilson returns home to research players online. He settles on reading an article about Mike Piazza, a player who called an entire press conference to tell the world he wasn’t gay. Guys, he’s not gay. Stop asking!

John Wilson filming at Mets Stadium in the rain. Embed 3: Mets fans.

Thomas Wilson/HBO

This news article, along with the questions of masculinity and popular “guy” culture, sets a curious tone for the episode. There’s a lot of exploration. It’s not decidedly a coming out episode for Wilson, but at times it seems like it’s heading in that direction. He tries many times to understand sports culture (Why do ushers try to wipe every seat dry when it’s raining at baseball games? What’s the deal with Buffalo Bills fans?), but can’t connect with the machismo of sports, muscles, jerseys, and hot dogs in American sports culture.

Wilson meets a die hard Mets fan at the game—which is a wash, literally, because the game is canceled due to thunderstorms—who is actually pretty endearing. The man sports hundreds of Mets pins on his Mets jersey, with neon flashing signs that say “GO METS” also tacked on. It’s a miracle he didn’t get electrocuted during the rain.

He shows Wilson some old Mets games he recorded on VHS, until they come upon a tape that’s been recorded over. One of the Mets games has been erased by the infamous O.J. Simpson trial. “He was one of the best,” the Mets fan says. “Everyone thought he was a great person and a great sports player.”

In honor of O.J., Wilson heads to a Buffalo Bills game, as it’s the team Simpson spent a large chunk of his football career playing for. The fan rituals are strange and unsettling to Wilson. Men cover themselves in ketchup and mustard. People drink in parking lots. Wilson feels like he’s at a big family reunion where he doesn’t know anyone, or like he missed some sort of formative moment when he was a child.

Seeing young boys turn into their fathers at the Buffalo Bills game, Wilson starts to analyze his own relationship with his father. His only relationship to sports came from his dad, who used to buy Wilson the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. Wilson would then cut images of models out and paste them on his walls.

“You’re pretty sure your dad gave them to you to make sure you were straight,” Wilson narrates. “But they made you so horny that you ended up fooling around with one of your best male friends all throughout middle school. You were both kind of ashamed of it and never really talked about it to anyone. Maybe that all kind of had some kind of impact on the type of adult you came to be.”

Wilson undercuts this revelation with a new plotline, but that’s not to say the theme of self-exploration doesn’t come back later in the episode. After attending all the big games, Wilson is ready to host a watch party at his house. But his apartment is so dirty, so he’ll need to clean. His vacuum is broken. This sends him on a vacuum spiral that, somehow, lands Wilson at the 37th Annual Vacuum Collectors Convention, which is hosted at a Marriott Suites in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The vacuum convention has all the strange delights of similar oddities from other How To segments—license plates that read “Vac Man,” a giant Hoover, arguments over what to do if a vacuum collector is not in good standing—and feels very similar to Wilson’s famous Avatar episode. Wilson finally finds a sport he can root for at the convention: Collectors use their vacuums in a competition to suck up as much waste from the floor as possible. Whoever leaves the least grit, wins. Wilson is obsessed.

Wilson follows his new infatuation into the home of one of the vacuum collectors, who shows him the dozens and dozens of Hoovers and Orecks tucked away in a closet in his basement. The man talks about how he’s always hid his collection, but eventually came forward to his parents about the vacuum stash. In return, they supported their son by buying him a brand new Dyson to celebrate.

“How old were you when you came out?” Wilson asks. Clearly, this question is a little loaded.

“Like, as a vacuum collector?” the man asks. While talking about his relationship with his parents, the collector then gets emotional about losing his father the week prior. He finds peace in the fact that he got to tell his father everything about his life, vacuum cleaners and all.

A production still from John Wilson of Mets fans.

Thomas Wilson/HBO

When Wilson returns to his New York City apartment, he makes a beeline to his vacuum to take it out of the closet. Call it purposeful, call it a coincidence, but there’s something metaphorical about this shot: a vacuum in a closet, freed and out and about, rolling around on the floor, buzzing with energy as it scoops up Wilson’s trash.

“Maybe it’s okay if you don’t like the same games as everyone,” Wilson says in his closing monologue. “If you’re having a hard time communicating with the people you love, make sure you take the opportunity while they’re still around. Because you may only get one shot. If you do miss the chance, you can always find another way to remember them, which can keep you company a long time after they’re gone.”

Was this a coming out episode? Maybe not specifically. But the plot certainly has hints of coming out of the closet and feeling disconnected from a masculine society. More importantly, it can certainly be applied to all types of self-exploration.

“In the end, everyone has a vacuum,” Wilson concludes. “You can always just take it out whenever you’re ready.”

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