TABLE D'HOTE: Mowin’ on a Saturday afternoon
“The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow it.” - Proverb
I sat for a time Saturday afternoon, annoyed and perplexed, in the chain link cypress swing which hangs from a limb in the live oak tree in my front yard.
Dripping wet with sweat and silently cursing the push mower I used to mow the grass, which had died inexplicably, as if it had run out of gasoline, although it was full of the stuff, I found myself gradually relaxing. I sipped a cold glass of ice water, and decided the mower and I were going to part company. It was 25 years old, long overdue for scrap heap hell and, most importantly, the emotional binds between the mower and me were non-existent.
Few things give me less pleasure than pulling the starter rope on that mower, even on the days when it usually kicks off on the fifth or sixth pull. In the four years that I have pushed the thing around, I have laughed at its rusty, dented frame, kicked it like a rat when its wheels came off, and if it had been alive, would have choked it to death any number of times after the throttle wire came undone when I was three quarters of the way from finishing the yard. I feed it the cheapest oil money can buy, tape its air filter in place with Duct tape and spit on it for kicks.
We are from different worlds. It is a machine powered by a gasoline engine, a technology obsolete for nearly 75 years, that has still managed to bring us global warming. Sure, it is a cousin to a Lamborghini, just like we humans are cousins to the chimps, but I still don’t like the mower, or cars either, for that matter. When I see a Lexus, or a Porsche, or a Rolls Royce, or a shiny new riding mower, I can’t help but see beyond the outer facade, inside where the engine that powers the machine toils away. Refined over the years? Sure, but in reality, it’s a dinosaur, doomed to be eclipsed by electric solar powered motors, hydrogen vehicles or some clean new way of power not yet dreamed about.
There on the swing Saturday, wrapped up in my disdain for the gasoline and oil contraptions of the world, I think I was pretty close to coming up with a concept for a new, perfect non-gasoline burning engine, when I was interrupted by a 82-year-old man driving up on a diesel tractor. My dad, one of the great champions of the obsolete technology that built and still rules the worlds of transportation and industry.
I once asked dad what he thought was the most important invention in his lifetime and he said, “The chainsaw.”
He walked up and sat on the swing and we watched the slow, steady breeze from Tropical Storm Fay in the branches of the live oak.
I told him the mower wouldn’t start and he said, “Check the plug.”
“I’m going to buy one of those mowers without a motor,” I said.
“How does it run without a motor?”
“You know, you push it and the wheels turn the blades around.”
“We had those when we were kids. They’re no good, too hard to mow with.”
“This yard isn’t too big, it’ll be fine.”
He mounted the tractor after a while and headed home, and I went back to the mower, gritting my teeth. One thing I don’t mess with much is spark plugs, but I know what they look like and where they hide. The old mower only had one, and it was so loosely hanging in its hole, I unscrewed it by hand. I held it up to the light in the sky and there was enough dirt and grime on the tip to start a small garden.
With my pocket knife, I scraped the carbon deposits away, then stuck the plug back in.
I didn’t feel like cranking the mower any more that day, but I knew it would start the next time I did.
I gave the old bucket of bolts a friendly kick and shoved it back inside the screenhouse. Obsolete technology, like the past, can be hard to shake.