With the price of gasoline per gallon now costing about what many of us spend for a bottle of domestic wine, I decided to hire an expeditionary force to hack its way through my back tool shed to uncover my manual, push-along reel mower.
The price of gasoline per gallon now costs about what many of us spend for a bottle of domestic wine. Because of the stratospheric price of refined petroleum, consumers everywhere are being forced to try to find ways to reduce their dependencies on fossil fuels. I thought I would do my part and try not to use any yard tools that were fired by gasoline.
This devious plan worked for a few weeks until one morning when my wife couldn’t find the morning newspaper because it was tossed onto our lawn. With all the recent, alternating rainy and sunny days, the grass at my house has grown long enough to conceal an adult wildebeest.
So my clever plot to lie on the couch on weekends and read aloud headlines talking about the soaring price of gasoline and not venturing out there mowing the lawn was discovered to be a ruse. What to do?
I decided to hire an expeditionary force to hack its way through my back tool shed to uncover my manual, push-along reel mower. I’m sure you know the kind of lawn mower I am talking about. It was popular when Gene Autry was still king of the cowboys and Milton Berle was king of television.
It sports hard rubber wheels, a rolling-pin-like lawn tamper and a heavy metal handle. They don’t make them like this anymore because steel this thick has been diverted to the war effort to reinforce hum-vees.
After moving boxes and books, lawn chairs and window air conditioners, I managed to pilot the mower out the door and onto my overly lush lawn. I performed a quick tune-up on the mower: I oiled the wheels and axle, sharpened the reel blades with a handy sharpener that I usually use to put an edge on dull scissors and wiped off an archaeology of dust from the black rubber handles.
As they say at Indy this time of year, “drivers, start your engines.” I grabbed the mower, angled down the handle and put all my weight into it. I heard the reel spin and a spray of green grass flew into the air and then I ground to a dead stop. I had reached that part of the lawn where the grass is the thickest and I just didn’t have enough mass or velocity to push through it.
I looked down and saw the mower blades clogged with a Gordian knot of long grasses. I tried pulling them out with my fingers but couldn’t budge them. They were braided into strands so strong that they could have been used to haul sails on a square-rigger.
I retired to the tool shed to retrieve a pair of loppers to try to chomp through the web of grasses. It was tough going. At one point I considered calling the fire department to see if I could borrow the Jaws of Life, but eventually was able to machete my way through the green jungle. Once the shaft was cleared, I used enough WD-40 oil spray to draw down the level of our national oil reserves by about a foot.
I flipped the lawn mower over and used a brush to remove all the caked-on clippings. I decided that the lawn was just too deep to cut using the mower’s lowest setting, so I raised the mower wheels to giraffe-like heights. I wasn’t going to mow the lawn, I was going to trim it.
At this height, the mower didn’t exactly glide, but it didn’t feel like a tackling sled at a Patriots’ training camp either. I made a pass down the lawn and listened to the mower murmur. Grace, the pug dog, lifted her ears trying to place this in her audio memory but this sound might as well have come from inside a cave in the Paleolithic Age. Grace couldn’t classify this weird sound.
After about 10 lawn-length passes, I started seeing mirages. The lawn looked like a giant Sargasso Sea, choked with reeds. Was there no end to it? My deltoids started to bulk up like cannon balls and my back started to split as if someone had pounded a wedge in between my lower vertebrae. I simply had to stop. I left the mower in mid-path and sat on the cement steps and surveyed the scene.
My resting pulse was about 106, and my shirt was soaked through. I looked like an extra in the “Poseidon Adventure.” After ingesting two bottles of water and wrapping some paper towels underneath my baseball cap, I was ready to try to finish the last garden-size plot of green snakes.
I hit the mower at full speed and the mower threw a rooster tail of clippings over my shoulder. My next door neighbor walked over to examine the ancient artifact I was using to cut the lawn.
“Wow, I haven’t seen a push-mower since I was a kid,” he said. This comes from a man who retired 37 years ago.“Does a neat job. Is it hard to push?” he asked. “Well, a little” I said.
“I guess you don’t need to go to a gym if you have one of these,” he said.
“No, you don’t. You also don’t need an annual cardio stress test,” I said.
He walked away and I leaned into the mower for the last row to mow.
I was now ready to give up coffee for a few days to pay for a gallon of gas to fuel my engine-powered mower. I just can’t afford the chiropractor bills. Health insurance costs are just soaring. It says so here right in the paper.
Peter Costa is a senior editor with Community Newspaper Company. His book, “CostaLiving: Laughing through Life,” a collection of his humor columns, is available at amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.