Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lawn Care

Since I bought my house my intentions for maintaining the yard have been to hire a local kid and pay him about one tenth of the amount that I would demand to do the same job. I always felt it best to keep salaries low on lawn care personnel since once they go to college and become doctors and lawyers they aren't going to be cutting me any financial slack. Well, that two-line advertisement in the local paper for Future Dr. or Atty. needed for large yard. $1.25 per hour. Your mower/your gas. 555-1245 didn't provide any leads. I only had one call and that was from some stinking lawyer wanting me to send any kid his way if I could find one for that price.

Only one week after I'd missed about three weeks of work because I could no longer locate my car in that jungle I called a lawn I decided I’d have to do the mowing since I couldn’t find some adolescent to do it. On Independence Day, after the lawn had gone half the summer without maintenance, it had a very untamed Serengeti feel. With a renewed spirit and a sense of adventure, I could just see myself bush whacking through the grasses, weeds, and small trees like the legendary Mr. Livingston did on the African continent so many years ago.

Mowing lawn is a squeamish business where dangers lurk behind every corner and each step must be taken with extreme caution. I contemplated this as I headed for the barn to gather up the lawn mower. (I have a small area left in the barn where I store my yard equipment, the rest of the barn I use to store adhesive bandages and aspirin.)

I oiled and gassed the mower and then at the last minute decided to take it to the shop to get it ready for the season. I told him to ignore the blade sharpening as I'd already checked it out. Then, I stood behind the counter while he looked over the mower and I watched the small engine genius weave his mechanical magic. In a very short time I was home again ready to mow. The repairman had been very polite to me as he explained that any "moron" should be able to add gas and oil in the right places. Only an "idiot" would get that mixed up. Up until that point in my life I had reasoned that the words moron and idiot were reserved to describe people of low intelligence. This day I amended my dictum to include these words as a way to describe a valued customer.

Removing the prairie grasses from my lawn did present a major problem. I chased up a flock of doves, a rhinoceros, three deer, a raccoon, a mountain lion, wild turkeys, and Boy Scout troop #35. It was a thrill knowing that I could provide the ecosystem necessary to sustain these wild creatures in such harmony.

I tried my best to allow these spirited animals to remain undisturbed as I destroyed their habitat. This worked for about two minutes when the mountain lion attacked me. Now, I really like cats and soon discovered that cougars are nothing but big housecats. She could have easily killed me but she kept me alive just so she could play with me a little longer. It was kind of cute the way she would place her teeth on my neck and bite only hard enough to make me pass out. Pretty soon she would let me regain consciousness and allowed me to run a couple of stumbling steps before she would bat me down again and restart the primeval process. After a while she lost interest and decided to chase the scouts.

But, I'm afraid that once the cat finished chewing on me things started to go downhill. Just to the north of my house stands my garage. I can't park a car in it since I use most of that space to store gauze. Many years ago, a large, frigid mass moved into Michigan and during its passage deposited countless rocks just to the north of my garage. After the divorce she moved out but the rocks remained. Mowing rocks, I quickly discovered, is a good way to break your rusty mower blade in half and send it screaming at the speed of light at a passing motorist. I couldn't believe how fast a car could stop, turn around, come up my drive, get out, knock the stuffing out of me, climb back in, descend my drive and take off again in such a short period of time. It truly was impressive to behold, even through blackened, watering eyes.

But, I was not going to let a little broken blade stand in my way. However, mowing grass with only half a mower blade tends to make the machine shake a wee bit. This shaking vibrates small parts loose which fall into the blade and become missiles in their own right. Fortunately I was able to knock down the streaking 3" bolt with my forehead before it caused any property damage. The rest of that portion of the lawn was completed with few complications aside from the wasps, yellow jackets and bumblebees. My one eye didn't even swell completely shut.

After the garage comes the driveway. There is an area next to my drive where the green and the grass are actually the same thing—an odd happenstance. While I usually cannot explain this phenomenon, I do know how this one patch of green stayed so vibrant. I had a small mishap this spring when I tried to help the septic tank serviceman operate his truck without his direct supervision or permission. The 1,400 gallons of waste I accidentally showered myself with taught me a few lessons. 1) Don't mistake the words "Don't mess with that" to "Open that hatch." 2) Don't mix the cloths you are wearing during such an event with your bath towels in the wash. 3) If covered in sewage one should not expect mouth-to-mouth resuscitation--you are pretty much going to have to deal with the pulmonary restriction by yourself.

As the green patch I’d just mowed receded into the more typical thigh length weeds, the drive gently slopes to the main highway betwixt two sweeping banks at about 45-degree angles. Over the past year or two I had wondered how best to mow these banks. My first method for conquering the hill was to throw caution to the wind and take that baby head on. I lost my footing almost immediately stepping onto a mole hole up to my hip and the mower became a bit difficult to handle. As best as I can remember I went to my knees and somersaulted face first down the grade with the mower in tow. I woke up with shorter hair and a new respect for gymnasts even though they don't compete with powered up lawn machinery.

I had a slight headache after the fall but I was not going to rest until the banks were mowed-no little concussion, broken jaw and dislocated hip were going to stop me. I had a brilliant idea as to how to proceed. I hacked down my neighbor’s clothesline and tied one end of it to the mower handle, walked down the bank to a large oak that was growing on the opposite bank, circled the tree with the line and walked back up to stand by the mower. I started the mower again and yanked on the cord sending the mower careening down the bank, wiping out my small plum tree on the way. Perplexed, I had to find a way to gently persuade the mower down the hill.

Eureka! The solution came to me in a flash. I tore up my neighbor’s television cable from underground and tied it to the front of the mower. However this time I ran the cable in the opposite direction of the clothesline, and wrapped it around a second tree thereby allowing me the ability to keep tension on the handle in the opposite direction of the clothesline. I went into my neighbor’s garage and took a long extension cord and then went into his woods and removed some clear plastic line that had for some silly reason appeared between the maples. The cord I tied between my left wrist and the mower on the left side of the mower handle and plastic line was likewise tied between my right wrist and the right side of the mower handle.

Now, standing behind the mower I was ready to go. I gave the line a tug while keeping tension on the cable so that the mower moved one foot down the bank and to the left. I gave the plastic a pull and the mower jerked too far toward the right. Startled, I yanked hard at the cord but accidentally jerked the line at the same time and was unprepared to temper the mower’s descent with the cable. I overcompensated by jerking the cable and overpowered the line. I panicked as the mower went charging down the hill on its two right wheels with me being pulled behind. I lost my footing and tried to pull the cord lying on my belly with a mouth full of dirt, but the cable had too much tension on it and it continued down the hill unimpeded. However, at that moment the cable began to wind around the mower shaft and up the hill the mower came at a frightening pace and in a nasty mood. I could see the way that the mower wobbled in its tantrum from the unbalanced blade and its great momentum. It was about this time that I blacked out. I woke in the early evening tangled in a mass of cord, line, cable and plastic with my head tucked unceremoniously inside the grass discharge slot on the side of the mower. By the feel of it the mower hadn't stalled until after my head went through the slot. I hoped that the blade hadn't been too badly damaged.

Trimming is that part of a lawn care where the yard artist can express himself. I have many bushes, flowers and shrubs lining my house. These are the accent pieces that set me apart from my neighbors. I had never attempted to trim my hedges before and I had to go about it carefully. I had no weed eater, trimmer or even a good scissors. My lawyers made me get rid of that stuff after the little accident I had last year with my now estranged-neighbor's also estranged wife. (Some people just are not very forgiving.) Also, my doctor has recommended on several occasions that I remove all items from my house that could in any way harm me if they became lodged in an orifice at great speed. After asking for a clarification, the doctor also recommended the removal of objects capable of making orifices of their own accord. Needless to say, my house is pretty much vacant. I therefore felt I had only one option—using the mower as my trimmer also.

I immediately began to make some design modifications to create my newest invention—the gasoline powered mower/trimmer/juicer. It didn't take long to figure out why you don't see these babies on the shelves of the local hardware every day. Basically from the onset I was faced with difficulties, the most obvious one is how to hang on to the mower while trimming. I solved this problem by hacksawing off the first two feet of the mower handle. I then duct taped a broken broom handle to each of the ends I had just cut. At the front of the mower on its chassis I torched a hole through which I strung two yellow nylon ropes. I tied these two six-foot rope ends together making a loop attached to the mower on the front.

On the left side of the mower I torched out a hole, just the proper size so that I could slide my fingers inside and get a good grip on the mower (I could use the grass discharge shoot as a handle on the right side.) After these quick alterations I was already able to lift the mower by the grips in the side of the machine, and hoist it up with the broom handle in contact with my lower belly. I then took the looped rope and flipped it over my back. This would allow me to distribute the weight of the mower to different parts of my body rather than just having to support it with my arms alone.

I was ready to crank that sucker up! The adrenal gland was doing some serious work about this time also. The engine started on the first pull and wobbled around the floor of the garage as if possessed. I approached it with some caution but unfortunately for me, caution usually takes a back seat to impulsive behavior. I discovered almost immediately that the finger holes needed to be grasped while not extending any digits into the path of the mower blade. A little duct tape and the fingers were almost as good as new and I knew the blood would wash out of the jeans.

The first and only bush that I tried to trim was a leafy monster with thorns. I approached it slowly moving to the back and forth gyrations of the mower. I kept my feet far apart to offer me additional footing as well as to prevent my bowling shoes from being in the line of fire.

The basic problem was that the bush stood about three feet high and I could only comfortably (indeed physically) lift the mower about two and a half feet while holding it parallel with the ground. In order to lift it I had to lean forward out over the bush perhaps a little farther than what an experienced mower-converted-to-hedge-trimmer-juicer-operator would have attempted—with horrifying results. My heart stuck in my throat as the mower made contact with the first of the leaves and tugged me forward. I held my balance for what seemed like…I guess it was pretty quickly…and then I toppled over, head first onto the top of the mower.

The mower, to my surprise, did not stall, and I, to my consternation, was firmly secured, face first, to the top of it from the rope I had been using as a support. I stayed like that, mounted on the machine like a bronked cowboy, twisting and gyrating in the air for several minutes before the mower blade was able to snag my jeans and began unraveling them. Within seconds my lower half was clothed only in torn, now-soiled boxers and one belt loop.

Fortunately, within 45 minutes the mower was out of gas and my head mercifully had stopped banging against the gas tank at 2200 clunks per minute (CPM). A lump developed over my right cheekbone, its swelling farther tightening the rope’s tether to my head and I was pretty much stuck. I do have mixed feelings now about the size of my lawn mower's carburetor. On the one hand, had it been smaller it would have broken off sooner and my burns would have been of only 2nd degree nature. On the other hand, it made it much easier to find a replacement at the lawnmower shop as the technician was able to identify the exact replacement parts by simply perusing the serial number that was branded deeply on my temple.

The next day, the sheriff’s department, investigating the report of a foul smell and vultures circling, found me semi-conscious, somewhat parched and completely swollen. They wondered initially how road kill had managed to crawl so far away from the highway. However, when they discovered my remaining belt loop they booked me on an indecent exposure charge. A nostril-clenched deputy, an animal control officer and an exorcist took me to jail where alone in my cell I was able to evaluate objectively the slight failure in my plans.

Next time I would need to wear khaki shorts and briefs.

1 comment:

Tia said...

Wow. Thank God that our grass doesn't hardly grow anymore. :)