Watching the Grass Grow (and Hoping It Won’t)

Can I borrow your lawn mower?

lawn mowing break, bird houses
Break time.By c.e.b. via Flickr

This spring marks the 17th fighting season in Afghanistan, which is saying something. On the other hand, it’s about the 175th fighting season for the American lawn mower. And we’re not doing much better here than in Afghanistan.

I recently had to put down an old comrade, a self-propelled Sears 6.75hp Briggs & Stratton. Years of 10 percent ethanol had finally eaten up the rubber priming button. You could push on that thing all day and never feel the resistance of gas being pumped up to wherever it needed to go to start the damn thing. It came at a bad time, as I must be out of this house by the end of June and have already lined up use of an electric mower from my new landlord. I didn’t want to buy a new mower, so I consulted my neighbor Nick, who sharpens and straightens hospital surgical instruments of a small truck for a living. Nick’s good with machinery. “I dunno, man,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m sure it can be fixed. I just don’t know exactly what you need or how long it would take. You can probably find it online.” Let me translate that for you: “You’re screwed.” Or, more precisely: “A guy with your level of technical know-how is screwed.”

In the meantime, spring rains have accelerated the growth of my lawn like money accelerates a drug habit. Gordon Leisch was kind enough to let me borrow his mower, a Honda push model with a Troy-Bilt engine and oversize back wheels. Light and fast, it was a pleasure to use. And so I mowed. For two hours straight. It looked sort of hacked, but it was done. I’d done my duty as a tenant.

But then I had to take it back to Gordon. I hate it when people loan me stuff with the idea that I’m supposed to return it.

Lawn mowers have been a constant in my life. I thought back to my earliest memories of them: Seeing an electric hover model being shown off at the local hardware store in the ’60s, when I was 9 or 10. Even then it seemed like a terrible idea, a beast barely under control that could easily float over someone’s foot and slice it to bits. (They’re still sold, by the way, by Flymo, a British company.) I remembered the self-propelled gasoline cylinder mower my dad had around the same time. That must have been before dead-man controls were standard issue. One day, he stopped to talk to a neighbor, looked back, and saw the thing chugging happily along 20 yards away and headed for a tree well full of grapefruit-size stones. I don’t think I ever saw the old man move faster.

There’s a nice kid in my neighborhood who recently offered to mow my grass for $30. I was ambivalent about it but liked the kid, liked his sales patter. He was 14. I told him I didn’t need the edges weed-whacked or the grass bagged, just the grass cut, and got him down to $20. Dad thought it was a sin for a man to pay somebody else to cut his own lawn. But after one time, the boy, Jacob, knocked at my door. “Mr. Heavey,” he said. “I don’t think I can keep you on my roster at $20.” I told him no hard feelings and wished him well.

It now seems that I’ll be engaging him at least once more before I move out of this house just to keep the landlord off my back. Forgive me, Dad.