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Things that go <clunk!> in the lawn

By Deirdre Sholto-Douglas

lawn mower

          There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a house. Murphy's Law, combined with the Second Law of Thermodynamics pretty much ensure that, best intentions not withstanding, I'm going to get blindsided by something sooner or later. And life, being puckish, usually dictates that this occurs "sooner".

          In past, while I couldn't exactly claim ignorance, I was content to claim indolence. It wasn't so much that I couldn't fix them (or find someone else to fix them) as much as it was that I couldn't be arsed to pay sufficient attention to the problem. It helps, of course, that the breakdowns were discrete ... a non-functioning sump-pump while a nuisance, is hardly going to impinge much on on my life since I'm sensible enough to stay out of the crawl space even when it isn't flooded.

          Nevertheless, this past year, owing to a sudden spate of mechanically competent types, have seen things here tweaked and tuned to a fare-thee-well and, I must admit, I have noticed the difference. For one thing, it's a lot quieter when gears don't grind and doors don't squeak.

          Mind you, I've taken a lot of grief for my cavalier attitude towards the Wonder Of The Mechanical World ... so much so, that I've actually reached the point where I mention it when things break rather than working around the malfunction.

          This, of course, is a double edged sword. While I earn Brownie Points for quick response, I usually still get crap for not maintaining said doohickey in the first place. So far I've refrained from responding with "Oh, shut up and fix it, will you?" since one doesn't say such things to free help if one wants said assistance to continue. In the long run, it's easier on my chequebook to simply close my ears, look contrite and let it all wash by me without listening ... in truth, I rather think the gene for grumbling is carried on the Y chromosome.

          So far, I've survived lectures on the Joys Of Bleeding The Water Heater, The Care And Feeding of Garbage Disposals and Requirements of Cold Air Returns. Although I've undoubtedly learned something about Home Maintenance, what I've really learned is that the Household Gods are capricious. Just when things are going right enough that I'm lulled into complacency, they elect to deliver a kidney punch to my delicate sensitivities. It goes without saying I've been pretty complacent of late and, in keeping with past performances, this could not be allowed to continue.

          Today, for the second time in one season, I've managed to murder the lawn mower.

          Mind you, the first time it wasn't my fault. Even the person who had been nagging me about the length of the lawn couldn't pin it on me. Something went wrong internally and the thing gouted up a cloud of smoke and died. And, since I have a well developed sense of self-preservation, I called someone other than the Lawn Nag when it did so and it was decided beyond the facsimile of a shadow of a reasonable doubt that I Didn't Do It.

          Would that I could say the same thing today.

          In all honesty, I hadn't expected to be even mowing the lawn in late September. It's *supposed* to be brown and dead by now ... you'd think the fact that I never water it would have given it a Clue, but nooooo. Mother Nature elected to put paid to that and has dumped buttloads of rain in the past month. Which, in turn, has given the grass a new lease on life, to the point where it's growing almost as fast as it did last May. So, today found me out there shoving the wretched mower up and down the yard. I had almost finished when there was this ghod-awful <clunk!> <thud!> <screech!>.

          Well, if nothing else, the survival instincts barking "Shut the damned thing off!" managed to jolt me out of my daydreams. When I tried to pull the mower back, it didn't want to come so, throwing caution to the winds, I tipped it on its side instead.

          Hm. I don't know much about lawn mower blades since I don't make it a practice to become intimately acquainted with them, but I was pretty sure that they don't work well when bent at a 40 degree angle. I was also fairly certain that it hadn't been that way when I started, although I wouldn't be prepared to testify to that in court. For all I knew, the bent side was correct and the straight one was the problem. Whatever the case, I decided not to deal with it and instead braced myself for a lecture on the Proper Maintenance of Lawn Mowers.

          I meandered into the back yard where the sprog and Mechanical Wizard were practising casting and, after waiting to be certain I wasn't in the line of fire (getting hit with a sinker *hurts*), made my announcement.

"The mower is dead..."
"*Again*?! Jee-sus, woman, you're going to end up on Toro's "Most Wanted" list..."
"Well, not 'dead', exactly ... more like 'bent'."
"How the hell do you 'bend' a lawn mower?"
"Wasn't easy..."

          Nevertheless, the sprog was left to practice her casting alone and the Mechanic went out of meet his patient. After couple years of dealing with me and the way things around me seem to fall apart, I'd thought he'd gotten past the point of being surprised by anything. I arrived at this conclusion because, like most people who work in the sun and are a trifle far-sighted, he generally squints a bit. Wide open eyes are a sign of surprise. I haven't seen wide open eyes for a long time, hence, my assumption that nothing surprised him anymore.

          I was wrong. One look at the underside of the mower and not only did the eyes open fully, they positively bulged.

"Holy shit, how did you do *that*?!"
"I dunno."
"You hit something..."
"Did not."
"The hell you say ... where were you?"
<pointing> "Right there, Einstein, note the differential between the cut and non-cut areas..."

          While I sat on the stoop and contemplated the petrol now leaking from the machine to the lawn, an Investigation of the Area took place. And the culprit was soon discovered in the form of a large rock which I *will* swear, had not been there for the prior twelve years that I've been mowing this lawn...I don't care if it *was* half buried in the dirt, I've never hit it before, therefore it wasn't there.

          Lively discussion ensued (fine, an *argument*) which I won only by pointing out that had it been there, the way my luck operates, I'd have hit it every week. While not conceding that it wasn't there, I managed to win a grudging admission that maybe the recent rains had eroded the soil to the point where it became problematic.

"You still should have seen it..."
"In tall grass?! You think I have x-ray vision maybe?"
<male logic makes a last stand> "But the bumper of the mower had to go over..." <male logic finally notices female facial expression and gives up> "Fine. Whatever. It needs a new blade."
"Can't be fixed, huh?"
"Do I look like Vulcan, fergawdsake?"
"I thought you were supposed to be a Miracle Worker ..."
"That was before I met *you*. Get in the truck ..."

          There's something about that last phrase that always makes my blood run cold. Usually because whenever it's uttered I end up in places I'd rather not be, from rat infested Southside warehouses to suburban home improvement centres. And the main reason I'd rather not be in these places (aside from my dislike of rats) is because we can never just go in, get what's required and get out. No, we have look at tools, pick up non-related oddments and otherwise kill an hour or two inhaling lumber and paint dust.

          Protests, by this point, are more pro forma than anything else. I *know* I'm stuck for the journey, but I want it clearly understood I'm doing it under protest. Protests were met with the inarguable,

"You broke it ... you get to fix it."
"Did not. The *rock* broke it."
"Get. In. The. Damned. Truck."

          I gave up and in at that point and climbed in the truck. Somehow I wasn't surprised to end up at the local Home Despot. The replacement blade was quickly procured and the trudge around commenced. An hour and half later we finally got out of there ... total haul: One mower blade and one frazzled homeowner.

          Upon returning home, I was handed the new blade and told to put it on the machine. While arguing further might have netted me a reprieve, I decided to demonstrate incompetence instead. Mind you, given that this person knows me from me refinery days, incompetence is a really Hard Sell. On the other hand, my reputation for being mechanically lazy (when I'm not being paid) is the stuff that legends are made of. Obviously some attempt at breaking me of the latter habit was being made, equally obviously, I wasn't about to let it work ... I've spent many years cultivating an attitude which can effectively be summed up as "Phuck it." and I'm not about to jettison it just because someone else thinks that ability should be synonymous with desire.

          I approached the machine, peered underneath and made note of a large bolt holding things in place.

<straightening> "Needs a tool..."
"Imagine that."
<shrug> <starting to walk away> "Don't have a tool..."

          I was halted before I managed two paces by a grip on my upper arm which was probably illegal.

"You need a wrench."
<uncomprehending blink>
"A *spanner*."

          A close working association has educated him into putting things into terms I understand. In other words, one of my main defence mechanisms for getting out of things I don't want to do has been breached. Frankly, it's the sort of cultural exchange I can do without.

"Don't have a spanner."

          Several smart ass comments were apparently swallowed while I maintained my best Innocent Expression. In the end, a wrench of the proper dimensions was hauled out of the truck's toolbox and handed to me. Damned Boy Scout. I sometimes think that no matter how obscure the tool, it's going to emerge from that toolbox ... especially when I least want it to.

          Wrench in hand and Nag at my back, I re-approached the mower and applied The Tool to The Bolt. The Bolt, to my immense satisfaction refused to turn. In fact, the entire assembly turned instead which resulted in a lovely grating noise guaranteed to send cold shudders up the average human's spine. I turned my head slightly to gauge the reaction and saw the <wince>.

          Good.

          I gave it a couple more spins for effect. True to form, the Worshipper of Things Mechanical couldn't just sit back and let me Wantonly! Destroy! a machine ... the wrench was extracted from my Less Than Ept paw and testosterone took over. In less than a minute The Bolt and Blade were off and the lecture on Lawn Mowers was hitting its stride. I elected to be helpful in the form of removing the new blade from the cellophane sarcophagus while basically ignoring the lecture. Another minute or two and the new blade was on (I discovered in the process that the straight side was the non-screwed-up one).

          Blade on and mower upright, the exercise re-commenced and the remainder of the lawn was chopped down to manageable length without further incident. However, I've been informed, in no uncertain terms, that said rock Has To Go. Where it Has To Go has yet to be discussed, but my experience with rocks in the yard leads me to believe they're the limestone equivalent to icebergs ... 90% is below the surface.

          Whatever the case, I've done my bit by planting a little flag next to it. Eventually, I may get around to digging it out (or maybe, if I get really lucky, it will heave up a bit this winter), but in the meantime, I'm more than happy to detour around it.

          Peeve: By next spring the flag will be gone along with the memory of said hidden boulder. I'm not even going to lay odds for the likelihood of hitting it again.

Yours, considering the benefits of a tall-grass prairie,

Deirdre


© Copyright 2002 by Deirdre Sholto-Douglas
Reprinted by crimsonbird.com with the permission of the author.


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