I've lived in Manhattan for almost three years now, but I'm still in a long-term relationship with a lawn mower in New Hampshire. We have known each other for seven years now--and for the past three years I've gained a gradually greater appreciation for this--my personal Yoda. Who knew that a red Craftsman push mower that sometimes starts with a sputter and who smells like gasoline could share life lessons? And even more oddly, would reveal these life lessons over time--when I was ready to learn them.
Seven years ago, in the infancy of our relationship, I was a first-time homeowner. I did what many people do these days in a new courtship--I read a how-to-manual before our first date. I wrote down the operating instructions and followed them to the letter. I remember filling up my plastic gas jug at the Citgo station. The customer behind me in line tapped his foot, and said "Are you finished?" I remember driving home with the window open, and the smell of gas on my hands. It took me at least two and a half hours to mow the yard that summer. I did it two or three times, and then my neighbor, Mike, offered to cut the grass on his riding mower. "It is easy for me to do," he explained. "Especially since your yard runs into my mother's and I cut her grass anyway." I put the lawnmower in the basement.
Several summers went by and Mike's mother got sick. I took a new job as a recruiter for a start-up that was in rapid expansion mode. I had never worked in HR before, and the mower hadn't started the last time I tried. "Put your work first," I told myself. My then-boyfriend suggested that I borrow his push mower. I looked at my three-quarter acre yard, and hired a landscaping company. I traveled frequently for my job. The mower stayed in the basement, behind my tires.
A too-good to be true work opportunity presented itself in New York--a job working with students and international travel. I rented my house out to a female engineer. "You can use the lawn mower if you want. It didn't start the last time I used it, but maybe it will work for you."
The lawnmower worked for my tenant; the job didn't work for me. I decided to start my own new venture. I stayed in Manhattan. There was no need for a lawn mowers and well kept parks within a seven minute walk. The house in New Hampshire was three miles from the "Little Store" which closed after dark. In New York I was block away from a 24-hour-diner, a drugstore, a bodega, and a hardware store.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to house sit in my own house for a month. I was trying to write and couldn't find the right words, and I took out the lawnmower for a spin. It started up immediately, and didn't stop. I decided that the lawn mower was trying to teach me a lesson in time management: If I stopped--even for a minute, it choked, and wouldn't start again. The lesson, I deduced was this one: I needed to keep going. If I started to write, I couldn't stop until I was finished. That was the lawn mower lesson for the summer of 2009.
I went back to New York. I was presented with a wonderful opportunity to co-author a book on Twitter with colleagues. We finished it in less than four months, it came out in March. I slept very little.
My tenant moved out in June, enabling me to spend a significant amount of time at the house this summer. I canceled the lawn service. The first time I mowed the grass, the lawn mower stopped after ten minutes. I pumped the primer three times. I held the handle down, pulled back the throttle and heard no sign of a motor. The lawn mower was broken. I went inside, got a glass of water, and asked myself, "why? Why can't I hear a motor?" My mind did a flashback to seventh grade science class, and I formed a hypothesis, "this must be stuck on something."
I turned the motor over on its side. There were big clumps of wet grass and dirt under the rotating blades of the mower, one of them was preventing the blade from turning. I used my hands to clear the grass from the underbelly of the motor. The lawnmower started again. I went inside, my shoes were green, my hands were green, my thumbs were green. I was covered in grass clippings and required a shower and a post-scrub to rid myself of all the grass. Then I had to clean the shower drain, the floor and the sink. There was grass everywhere. I returned to New York with fingers that were still stained green, but there were fewer circles under my eyes. I was afraid to go for a manicure, but I had learned that I could sleep in the midst of writing.
When I came back later in the summer, my mower and I met again--and again. I explored new strategies for staying "unstuck." I lifted a side door and propped it open with a stick, sending the clippings everywhere and resulting in more Cat-in-the-Hat like cleanings inside the house, but resulting in an interruption-free mow. I mowed the yard more frequently, and discovered the mower was less likely to stall.
Today, I unpropped my stick and mowed the yard, gently lifting the mower up so it could disperse clippings on the grass without sending them all over me. It worked.
When I finished, I cleaned the underbelly of the mower. I wiped down the top with a fresh cloth. And I stored the mower in the front side of the basement.
The next one to use the lawn mower will be a new tenant. This will be her first experience. I look forward to hearing her lawn mower lessons...and what--if anything--they teach her about life.
Did you miss these other lawn mower installments?