Troubleshooting your lawnmower

Summer is officially over. Single-cylinder flora-munchers all over will soon issue one last puff of blue smoke.

Hyperactive use of hyperbole aside, fall doesn’t seem like a popular time to invest in landscaping implements.

The last thing I wanted to do with only a few weeks left in the lawn care season was make an investment, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Discovery of the machine’s state of disrepair occurred earlier in the summer with a pull of the ratty starter rope.

The blade on the ancient weed eater spun, but the engine did not start.

It seems the air filter cover went missing the previous season allowing snow and water to infiltrate regions of the engine they should not have.

On the second or third pull I was treated to, as the Beverly Hillbillies theme song said, “A bubblin’ crude” when the poor old machine gagged up about a pint of gasoline, oil and green water soup from the spot where the air filter once was located.

The manual said to “Troubleshoot the lawnmower.”But, in my fevered brain, it began to sound more like a question and an answer: “Trouble? Shoot the lawnmower!!!”

“Yes,” I said in the creepy zombie-like monotone voice of one under the spell of, say, Dracula or Sarah Palin, “Shoot the lawnmower.”

In spite of the machine’s gurgling death rattle, the real crudities displayed were the barbaric sentence fragments I uttered while watching the mower self-destruct on the sidewalk.

I would have made Yosemite Sam proud.

“You Pernt dangle, snickelfritzen lawnmower!” I screamed with abandon. “Filladooma, bunkalunkin, plangnoodle, fester clattin, grungbungle, mustard-eatin, pot-lickin, crapple-bastick!”

I caught a glimpse of the wife’s lips and hands moving in silence, but chose to disregard her pantomimed pleas for me to end my troglodytic display.

At the time we were living in a house with the smallest of yards—just wide enough to drive a car through and about three times as long—right next door to the nicest couple.

With unparalleled rage, I mercilessly rained fist and boot down on the contraption’s metal frame and plastic wheels—it never had a chance.

I watched all the blood, along with 15 years of marriage, drain from the wife’s face.

In hindsight, I may have overreacted.

I swore and kicked, kicked and swore.

The wife covered her face, the neighbors clutched their kids, and the mower just sat there, mocking me.

Enough was enough.

It was time to call a professional.

What could be the harm?

I reasoned my pain and suffering were worth the few extra bucks spent on lawn care service.

OK, “lawn” was being generous. As a sufferer of male pattern baldness or, as my grandfather called it, Nature’s barber, I had much empathy for the random clumps of weeds inhabiting the dirt patch in front of the house.

The blades of grass were so sparse I once considered the equivalent of an agricultural comb over.

“Grow the healthy sections of the lawn to ridiculous lengths and rake them over the bare patches,” I thought.

OK, maybe it was a cry for help on my part.

Regardless of my idiosyncrasies, I figured the lawn service would need only drop by twice a month for a trim.

Hey, two weeks may sound like an eternity in the world of grass, but last summer the lifeless two-inch strands of brown tinsel held on for dear purgatory in some sort of brown and crunchy suspended animation.

They weren’t getting any taller.

I made the call.

“$35! Are you fu—I mean, is that correct?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“But the lawn is tiny.”

“$35 is our minimum charge. Even for ‘tiny’ yards.”

“But it only takes 15 minutes to cut, and I use scissors.”

“Is that supposed to be a joke, sir?”

“I—I’m not sure.”

I surrendered my wallet and tried to relax.

Come to find out, the loss of grass was not hereditary and, with time, it did begin to regenerate.

Everything was fine until about the end of summer when simultaneously the rain came and the lawn mower man disappeared.

The grass had a sudden and uncharacteristic growth spurt which I assumed resulted from an introduction of large amounts of gamma radiation or the application of authentic voodoo magic … either way, I was in trouble.

Week one without a cut and the lawn was two hands high.

Week two, the kids lost their soccer ball in the deep end. Week three, I caught a couple hippies making crop circles in the backyard at 2 a.m.

As much as I didn’t want to give in, suffering a massive stress induced stroke at age 30 was even less appealing. I drove to town and recounted the sordid tale to a seriously disinterested salesman at the nearest lawn and garden store.

Slowly, anxiety gave way to excitement, as this would be the first new mower I ever owned—All preceding machines in my care consisted of archaic hand-me-downs and rummage sale rescues including two gas powered, one electric and a rusty manual with dull blades which didn’t cut the grass so much as smack it around a bit while it emitted a deafening screeching noise.

The salesman sold me a gray and red, four-cycle, walk behind model.

He didn’t laugh when I jokingly inquired as to the machine’s level of water resistance but merely winced and suggested I either park it in a shed or keep it covered when not in use.

If you see my lawn guy, tell him I don’t need him anymore.