Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Great Suburban Traditions No. 12: Learning To Love Your Lawn Mower

Travels through space, but can it cut grass?
This week’s episode of Dr Who showed the Doctor in a sentient rapport with his Tardis – an upright, oblong, time- and space-travelling police box that turns out to have feelings. I can relate to this, as I have a similar relationship with my lawn mower.

When we moved here a dozen years ago, we were advised that American suburbanites get Central American sub-suburbanites to cut their lawns for them, at a cost of around $20 to $30 a week. Being filled to the brim with Scottish blood, I went and bought a mower of my own for $140, and recouped my costs within about a month. Ever since I started calculating the ever incremental sum that I’m saving, I’ve sensed a very special bond between us.

In the instruction booklet, it said that in order to eke a longer life out of your mower, you should ‘winterise’ it every autumn so that it’ll be in top shape for the spring. I can’t recall exactly what this involved (some sort of getting on your knees and lubing and waxing and taking it to bits) because I lost the booklet, but me and my machine reached a different
understanding. I wouldn’t bother winterising it, but as compensation I promised it eternal life. Twelve years later, and we’re still going strong, based purely on mutual trust.

I’ve sharpened the blade twice, and a friend of ours who was house-sitting last summer changed a spark plug. You have to press the rubbery button that gets the petrol flowing six times now, instead of the three pushes it needed in earlier years, but we all need a bit more manual industry to get us aroused as we get older. And the first time I take it out the basement in mid-April, it generally refuses to start for about five minutes, but it’s just miffed at a lack of attention over the previous five long, cold months. A few violent tugs on the starter chord and some soothing words, such as, “Come on, you piece of fucking shit, START!” and we’re back to normal.

Once we start the actual cutting of the grass, that’s when things get sensual. Via the handle we communicate using meditative, thrumming, trance-like vibrations. As with jogging or ironing, it’s a time for exploring a few internal thought corridors to process some (usually bilious) mental detritus. There’s also still a mild but genuine thrill at seeing the grass clipped and trimmed, like I’m doing it for the first time. “Doesn’t the grass look good, kids?” I might blather in sweaty after-mow mode, proudly quaffing a beer. “Why don’t you go out and play?” Such an absurd idea doesn’t even provoke the movement required to cast a withering look.

Of course I should teach them how to cut the grass themselves and make it one of their chores. But that would almost certainly screw up the man-machine dynamic, and probably my herb and vegetable patch too (“Well, you didn’t tell me not to cut it”). And they wouldn’t bother anyway (there’s a reason that chores are called ‘chores’), and the grass would grow to waist high like it did one summer when we were abroad and I started getting e-mails from my neighbours asking when we were going to do something about our encroaching jungle. But even grass that high was no problem for my 140-buck, unwinterised, weed-mincing love machine. Like the Doctor and his Tardis, I feel like we have the power to keep going for thousands and thousands of years.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Do any housewives watch you while you and your machine in are manly communion? I'm surprised you don't have to oil it regularly.

No Good Boyo said...

I too love mowing the garden. It's a hour of guilt-free iPodding and childfree beer-drinking. Mrs Boyo points out that I ought to mow the lawn rather than the garden, but the flowers benefit from being dead-headed once in a while, albeit perhaps not on such a Caligulan scale.

Do your neighbours think you're a nut? I bet their plush womenfolk lust after your wiry Scotch frame and mastery over machinery, and care not that you've deprived a Guatemalan village of its sole source of income.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

I am not privvy to the secret thoughts of the local housewives on my wiry Scottish frame, and I'd prefer it to stay that way. The Guatemalan bloke does fine - at 30 bucks for a ten-minute scything of the lawn in his super-mower, he's way ahead of the freelance shite-talker in terms of earnings. Can't vouch for his village, though.

Teepee said...

The Doctor's relationship with the Tardis is a huge - and surprising - turn-on for me. Lucky neighbours.