Posted on | May 25, 2012 | 9 Comments
Well, I cannot tell a lie. The potatoes did it. The potatoes broke Cheap and Reliable. Two years ago we purchased Cheap and Reliable when I had several (meaning multiple, many, perhaps weekly) fits about the lawn tractor always breaking down, resulting in the lawn never getting mowed, and insisted on a lawn mower. I wanted a lawn mower because:
1: The lawn tractor was not Reliable and was never Cheap to fix.
2. I felt I could mow the lawn by hand with a lawn mower without worrying about running over a child that approached without warning. With a lawn tractor, I wasn’t so sure. And despite the fact that the kids can be annoying at times, I don’t really want to run one over with a 250 pound tractor and a sharp, quickly rotating blade. Not most days, anyway. Although there was that incident with the Slurpee in the back seat of the car….
3. Since I was afraid to use the tractor while watching the kids, and since I was always watching the kids, I was dependent upon Someone Else to mow using the tractor. Someone Else is a fickle completer of chores. Someone Else tends to be Somewhere Else doing Something Else when you need the lawn mowed. That’s just the nature of Someone Else.
4. I had already tried and failed at using those ridiculous reel mowers that are environmentally friendly and have never been known to cut off the limbs of children. You can get reel mowers through freecycle almost any day of the week. That’s because people would rather give them away for free than continue huffing and puffing around in their yard, pushing that heavy thing, and watching it just roll over the grass instead of actually cutting it. Most of the manuals make note of the fact that reel mowers are best for small yards and that you must push the mower at a relatively fast pace for effective cutting. By small they must mean as big as your kitchen table and by fast I think they mean at the speed of a freaking engine. You know, like the engine included on a real lawn mower.
So I griped and complained and carried on about the need for a lawn mower. Until it occurred to me that griping and complaining and carrying on is not as effective as driving to Lowe’s Home Improvement and calling The Other Half to meet you there if he wants to play any role in selecting a new lawn mower. Unfortunately for The Other Half, his life consists of these types of emergency family meetings at Lowe’s. Fortunately for him, I am not extravagant by nature.
“I just want something Cheap and Reliable,” I insisted to the smiling salesman who greeted us in the lawn and garden tools aisle. Who then promptly announced he would find Someone Else to help us and headed off in the direction of a well-dressed woman perusing granite counter tops. What a surprise that Someone Else never showed up. I warned you about that guy.
So we selected our own mower. And Cheap and Reliable was a good choice for us. He ran well for 2 years, despite the fact that we:
1. didn’t really have a lawn as much as an assortment of green things that grew together in clumps; resembling a lawn but actually tending to be more stemmy, woody, or blade resistant than the grass in any self-respecting lawn would be.
2. ran him over anything that didn’t move out of the way on its own; including, but not limited to, rocks, garden hoses, sticks up to 3 inches thick, and baseballs or old dog toys lost in the weeds.
3. did not attempt to add oil, change the spark plug, or clean the filter unless he refused to start 6 times in a row. Just in case he was only a bit tired or maybe kidding the first 5 times.
4. were too lazy to forgot to rinse off grass clippings or accumulated grime from under the mower deck after each use and just settled for thumping it a few good times to knock loose any debris still clinging to it before starting it in the future.
I particularly appreciated his failure to burst into flame every time I overfilled his gas tank, spilling gasoline all over him, and then just started him up anyway with only the slight precaution of rolling him 2 feet away from the huge patch of spilled gasoline on the ground underneath him. Thank you, Cheap, Reliable, and Flame Resistant.
All in all, Cheap and Reliable was well worth the $130 we spent on him. But then this happened:
Ugh. The stupid potatoes. The potatoes were growing so well that they fooled me. They tricked me into thinking that regardless of previous years of wasted effort and dashed hopes, they were a now contributing member of the garden. Flourishing. Productive. Low Maintenance. Hah! As soon as I turned my back, they threw the twine from their straw bale into the garden walkway. Under a big clump of plantain weed. Directly into the path of Cheap and Reliable.
I never even saw the twine. Only when his blades ground to a screeching halt and then he began emitting a strange clunking sound, did I realize something was terribly wrong with Cheap and Reliable. I immediately flipped him over and removed the offending twine from where it was wrapped around his blades and drive shaft.
“It’s OK”, I reassured him as I flipped him back over. “You’re OK now.”
But Cheap and Reliable was not OK. As a matter of fact, he began smoking as soon as I started him up. The smoking did not stop, even though I gave it a full 5 minutes to do so. (He really is very flame resistant. Practically flame retardant.) Also, he shut himself off. And refused to start again. Even after 8 restart attempts. I had to settle for solemnly pushing Cheap and Reliable up the driveway to rest in The Other Half’s parking spot in front of the house so The Other Half could see he had something to fix as soon as he got home from work. He likes that. It makes him feel needed.
As it turns out, flipping a mower over to remove twine from the blades is not the type of rescue conducive to lawn mower engines. It has something to do with engine oil flooding into places where there shouldn’t be any oil. Places it can only get into if you flip it completely over. Which doesn’t mean I broke Cheap and Reliable. I mean, at most, there was only a bit of contributory negligence on my part. Clearly, those nefarious potatoes were at fault.
Regardless, with the blackberries approaching harvest time, the blueberry plants being smothered by weeds, the corn row needing to be hoed and planted, and the vegetable transplants being vigorous enough to start attracting bugs if the grass in the garden walkways got much higher, the garden had to be mowed.
Enter Expensive and Borrowed.
Although my parents’ lawn mower is the same color as Cheap and Reliable, that is where the similarities end. Expensive and Borrowed had 3-in-1 capabilities which included bagging, mulching, or side discharging options, single lever deck height adjustment, increased torque, and rear wheel drive. In other words, innumerable possibilities for a careless and haphazard lawn mower driver like myself to damage or destroy it.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Expensive and Borrowed was self-propelled. Meaning he had the ability to drive himself if you simply held down a little handle. Why someone created this feature is beyond me. It’s hard enough to avoid striking a protruding rock or half-chewed tennis ball when you catch a quick glimpse of it through the weeds as you approach it. If the lawn mower is driving himself, there is absolutely no chance of circumvention. ‘Cause guess what? The lawn mower does not have eyes. He is solely dependent upon your eye and hand coordination skills. See the obstacle, let go of the handle. Which is not as simple as it sounds. My reaction time and that increased torque was bound to be a bad combination. Especially considering those naughty potatoes.
So with much trepidation, I pushed Expensive and Borrowed down to the garden. I decided to use the bagger attachment to collect the grass clippings. I decided that because the bagger attachment was already attached and I didn’t want to mess with it. As to be expected with something Expensive, he started right up. Also to be expected with something Borrowed, he stalled out after cutting just 2 rows. I stood in the garden, sweating bullets and trying not to panic. I considered claiming that The Other Half had broken him while mowing the garden. But that seemed like it would eventually come up in conversation with my parents and The Other Half would deny it. Honesty is one of his less appealing qualities. I considered blaming the potatoes. But they had a convincing habit of sitting there, looking so innocent and inanimate. Finally I considered putting him at the top of the driveway and pretending I had never even tried to mow with him. Unfortunately there were 2 noticeable, wide swaths of cut grass in the garden. No one would believe that crappy reel mower was capable of that. Finally, I did what any other reasonable person would do.
I detached the bagger in order to pour out the grass clippings over the cut areas, disguising the fact that I had actually mowed any part of the garden, and then prepared to push the mower up the driveway, claiming I never used him. But as soon as I took off the bag, the problem became clear. The garden had gotten so overgrown that cutting 2 rows was enough to fill the bag, clog the chute, and shut off the mower. I emptied the bag, unclogged the chute, and Expensive and Borrowed started right up again. Which just goes to show that while desperate men may commit desperate acts, desperate women may stumble upon simple solutions. It’s God’s way of evening out that whole less-pay-for-same-exact-job thing.
Now that we had a system, Expensive and Borrowed and I meandered through the garden, cutting at a slow and controllable pace. He provided me with grass clippings as mulch to put in between the tomatoes, thereby smothering future weeds (or providing hiding places for swarms of squash bugs, no way to tell at this point).
In return, I didn’t run him over any dangerous objects hidden in the grass. Except for that old dead guinea. That I kept forgetting was there and that had dissolved and/or dehydrated enough that it wasn’t a problem for the amount of torque in Expensive and Borrowed. Ashes to ashes, people.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. With all that torque I was tempted. Extremely tempted. As powerful as Expensive and Borrowed was, I figured he could cut down all the overgrowth in the corn row and save me hours of hand weeding.
But I didn’t do it. I thought how easy it would be to break Expensive and Borrowed by venturing into that unknown abyss of green. I thought of the look of disappointment that would be on my dad’s face when I told him that The Other Half had done it.
I didn’t even push my luck by mowing too close to the edges of the raised beds. I knew there were partially buried rocks that had been holding down the frost cover during winter waiting to dull Expensive and Borrowed’s shiny blades. Rocks can be even meaner than potatoes. Besides, I didn’t need to risk it. The lambs are excellent weedwhackers around the edges of things.
So I solemnly turned off Expensive and Borrowed, thanked him for his service, and returned him safely to the top of the driveway. Good job, Expensive and Borrowed.
Then I set to hand weeding the corn row. Daisy was in charge of kneading out any clumps that I missed.
All together, it was a good day’s work. It didn’t even take me that long to weed. And the results were pleasing.
I wasn’t even worried when my dad arrived to collect his lawn mower. He peered at it sitting at the top of the driveway.
“Where’s the discharge chute?” he asked.
“The discharge chute. It’s a little plastic piece. I had it stored in the bagger in case you needed it.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking of how many times the bagger had filled with grass clippings and I had emptied those clippings into piles between the vegetable plants. Without ever once looking to see if the piles contained a little plastic piece.
“I’m pretty sure I saw The Other Half with it,” I replied. And then I hustled out of there.
Nice knowing you, Expensive and Borrowed. I hope you’re fixed soon, Cheap and Reliable. ‘Cause I don’t think Expensive and Missing A Piece is gonna be allowed to come back and play any more.