Last year, I bought a new lawn mower. The old one had been slowly falling apart, with the handle held together with duct tape and the little thingee that was supposed to make the grass fly off to the side gone, so the grass just hit me in the chest. The last straw was when I hit a stick and a part of the rusty lawn mower deck went flying across the lawn.
When I bought the new mower, I hemmed and hawed and then bought the cheapest one they sold. We live in an age where things are cheap, but not cheap enough. My lawn mower cost $149. For $149, I expect a lawn mower that will work for five years if I take care of it, which I won't, so I really expect three or four years out of it. But if something goes wrong, it would cost so much to repair it that it's not worth the effort. Like so many products today, it's not worth fixing but so new that you hate to throw it away.
This summer when I took the mower out for the first time it started right up, roaring to life after being stuffed into the shed out back all winter. It cut beautifully -- for about 20 minutes -- then it simply stopped in mid lawn. I checked the gas, looked underneath at the blades, and then sat and stared at it for a few moments. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I looked it up on the Internet and found that this often happens when a carburetor is clogged.
I got out my tool box. (Not really a tool box; what I have are two old coffee cans with various tools stuck in at odd angles, some of them sort of rusted together. The cans each contain about 3 pounds of old nails and screws and, for some reason, a couple of Happy Meal toys.)
I managed to get half the mower apart, the parts spread out on the front walk, before it occurred to me -- I didn't know what a carburetor was or even what one looked like. There was something that might be a carburetor in there, but it didn't look clogged. Nevertheless, I did what you do when something is clogged: I got down on my hands and knees and blew into it. (What, like you would have known what to do?)
It took me a half-hour to put the stupid thing back together. I had to backtrack a few times when I found parts that didn't seem to go anywhere, and at one point I accidently dropped a crucial screw in the grass, a complication that required much swearing before it was solved. I finally got the entire thing re-assembled, stood over it and pulled the cord. The mower roared to life, and I smiled to myself over my mechanical prowess. I guess I do know what a carburetor is and how to fix one.
The mower stopped after only 10 seconds. I stared at it for a few more seconds. My old mower had a rubber bulb on the front of the engine that you squeezed whenever you wanted to give it more gas. I spent 15 minutes looking for the bulb on this one before realizing there wasn't one. The bulb on the newer models has been replaced by a little plastic sticker that states, with no trace of irony, "Guaranteed to start with three pulls!"
I looked at my "too cheap to throw away, too cheap to fix" mower, and I did the only other thing I thought appropriate under the circumstances. I swore at it, grabbed it by the handles, lifted it up and banged it on the ground as hard as I could. Then I did it again because it felt so good. Then I kicked it. At this point, my wife came out of the house and stood on the front stoop staring at me.
"This stupid mower," I growled, pulling the cord for emphasis, "won't START!"
But it did. And it ran for the rest of the afternoon. The next weekend when it shut off unexpectedly in mid lawn-mowing, I didn't bother with the tools. I just grabbed it by the handle, banged it up and down a few times, gave it a hard kick, and then it started it up again. I've been doing that all summer. Were my lawn mower a person, it would take out a restraining order. As fall is coming up, the wheels are about to fall off, but the grass gets cut.
Cheap lawn mowers are hard to beat, but if you do it just right, you don't need any stinkin' tools.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.