Dateline: August 2011
Location: Middle of Indiana
Subject: Lawn mowers and the male ego
The lawn mower. The great suburban equalizer. A machine steeped in mythos, ethos and pathos. What brings me to talk of such a creature? There are two converging influences, maybe three depending on how you want to look at it. Middle age and my old mower was getting, old. The third possible factor is that I’m a guy and I like machines that make noise and toss things around.
As I was pushing my ancient mower across the lawn a few months ago, I realized my valiant efforts of keeping the machine healthy would probably soon end with an engine rod coming through the case. The wheels were wobbling, smoke was eking out of the exhaust, both convincing me I would need to part with some cash and buy a new machine. Most men would relish the opportunity, once given the wifely approval, to go buy a power tool. I took a more philosophical view as I consider this a reach into the subconscious of the suburban male, and I needed a topic for my blog.
The home is likely the most expensive personal item a person will ever buy. Therefore, most sane people will put at least a token effort into taking care of it. This is only to be expected, but people cannot not help but turn this into a form of competition. We all know the embarrassment of the one house on the block that always looks unkempt with disabled cars in the street and marijuana smoke coming out of the windows (yes, even in Hamilton County Indiana USA); there is something to be said for maintaining a property in a presentable fashion. But, our home happens to be in an area populated with affluent, Republican, Patriotic, flag waving, foreign car loving, Dan Burton supporters. These folks own very nice homes, and very expensive lawn equipment, or if dutiful, have hired illegal aliens for the maintenance. I’m off topic. The point is the lawn mower has for years been an object of status, just like the Jags, Mercedes’, Volvos, Saabs, BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches, Audis, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces that are parked in the various driveways and being driven around this community. The lawn tractor, the most powerful power tool most suburban men will ever operate, has emerged as the premier piece of this status expression by being a convergence of technology and oil that provides a convenient way to pummel nature into place. No coincidence is that this need for mechanized expression arrives at the mid-point of life. There is a correlation to the expense of a man’s toys and tools, and his age and earning power. Coupled with this is, shall we say, that the libido might drift below nominal as age ingresses. As the drift starts and the belly expands, a man needs to show off something, so why not put a vibrating machine between his legs.
This need to feed the lawn care obsession remains a source of great puzzlement to me and an enormous hidden expense to others. I have a neighbor who religiously attacks his lawn at 8:00am every Saturday, whether it needs it or not. Little signs are placed in lawns where the treatment company has come by and sprayed a magic elixir to ward off dandelions and yard invaders and turn the grass uniform golf course green. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are sprayed on yards in the middle of summer, much of which evaporates before it can even soak in. Between the water and fertilizers, guess what, the grass keeps growing, so it has to be mowed more often. The clippings, perfectly good yard mulch, are bagged into waterproof bags and sent to a landfill to become the concern of future generations. People who worry about waste products and chemicals on their food and water only need to step outside and look at the grass they walk through in the front yard. These chemicals are just as dangerous, in many cases are the same ones, and much less controlled than what is on our food. While I am not a complete bohemian, I admit to one application of weedkiller/fertilizer in the spring, I even have serious doubts if this is cost effective. I wonder if anyone has really done a long-term cost analysis of spending this much money on grass, and compared this to the supposed increased value of the home. At $500 a year for ten years, that is $5000. Invested at 6% this becomes about $9000. Will the home value be increased by that much? Why not toss all this stuff on the lawn a few months before you sell it? Besides whoever moves in will do it anyway, so save yourself time and money.
As the pudgy American male triumphantly steps to the outdoors armed with machines and chemicals, he may not understand that this really is a lost battle right from the start. The weeds will always win. If you get rid of one squirrel or rabbit, there are twenty watching outside your border thanking you and preparing to move in and fill the vacancy. The condition of your lawn will not make up for your deficiencies, no matter how hard you try and will not urge people to pay respects at your funeral. “Jerry was an ass, but, god, he had a nice yard!” And, keep in mind, even dry dormant unwatered grass in the middle of August will always grow back and outlive you. Just give up.
Faced with the prospect of having my mower blow up at my feet I took a thoroughly modern approach. I did some research into brands and mail ordered a mower over the internet from Home Depot. I chose a Honda. This Japanese brand that looks to have been made in America had better ratings than the American brands that were probably made in China (I know, it is really confusing). My push mower showed up on our porch in a large cardboard box a few days later. I’ve used it once in the past couple of months since the grass is dormant in July and August due to heat and lack of rain, and I refuse to toss water on something that is supposed to be asleep in these conditions. The mower works fine and my suburban status is back to its appropriate rather low level.