This is a piece I wrote for the Car Talk website a few years ago. I dragged it out from a shelf in the hall closet to add it to my Newslog this week. I’ve fiddled with it over time. It’s still a favorite from my early writings on venues outside Facebook.
It’s called, Lawn Mowing Lessons.
My knowledge of coils and spark plugs started when my cousin Ray asked me to hold the plug wire connected to a pull-start mower. I was rarely at Ray’s house, but I was a trusting soul; I felt that he had only my best interest in mind. I held the wire; Ray pulled the rope. It hurt. I learned.
I became part of the rope-pulling hit squad as we duped other neighborhood kids into holding the wire. Soon, we ran out of victims, and we moved on to other pursuits, none of which included using the mower for its intended purpose.
Before Google and the Interweb, many lessons were quickly learned because of the pain that accompanied them. Little did I know that Ray saved me another painful lesson. His demonstration allowed me to avoid falling for the old pee on the electric fence trick a bit later in my life. With every negative comes a positive.
The lessons I learned about spark were deviously translated into a way to avoid the mundane task of mowing my lawn. It was the summer of 1973 and I was nine.
It was June, and I wanted to go brook trout fishing. Dad had gone to work and asked that I mow the grass. All I could think about were brook trout and Tina. I don’t remember her last name, but I suspect it has changed at least once by now so it wouldn’t matter anyway. Tina had shared with me that there was a stream where we could catch some trout. I wanted to go fishing but for some reason, deep within my soul, I really wanted to go with Tina.
I devised a plan in which I would disconnect the spark plug wire some distance from the porch where I knew my mother would make her appearance. The tall grass and correct angle would keep the deviously disconnected wire a secret between myself and the Hereford bull that lived in the adjacent pasture. He was always staring at me and he seemed trustworthy.
I also knew that Pete would be gone later in the fall, and he surely would not tell anyone after being wrapped in freezer paper.
Edith Carol is my mother, not a woman inclined to care much about mechanical things. My rudimentary knowledge of “suck, bang, blow”—the basics behind all internal combustion engines— was just enough to show her that when the lawnmower had no bang, I could blow off mowing the lawn. The job that sucked could be delayed until later in the week.
I began to methodically pull the starter rope while my mother watched out the window. I presented my “frustrated-face” knowing full well that I needed to make the sale to E. Carol. She was no fool, but my knowledge was power or lack thereof. If I played my cards right, I wouldn’t need to tell her a lie. I could create a one-act play that allowed me to sell my story.
I was no Thornton Wilder, but I could present my short play about a lawnmower that wouldn’t start. Very few lines were needed. The fewer the better—E. Carol could smell a lie when told by her children. All I could smell was raw gasoline as the little lawnmower that couldn’t, didn’t.
I said things like “Must be flooded,” and “Maybe it will start later” to build a case for making my way down the Upper Ridge Road to a cool running brook that Tina had pointed out on our way home from school.
Excessive rope pulling turned to full-fledged flailing, and after several loud sighs were directed toward the screen door, Edith Carol entered porch-right.
I let the rope snap back as the black rubber T-handle smacked the recoil cover in a satisfying bang. I stood up straight and said, “It won’t start.” I had not lied. Edith Carol asked me why; I said, “I will try it again later.”
I should have continued showing a frustrated face, or shrugged more, but she bought it. She walked back into the house, unimpressed but also unconcerned. I went fishing with Tina.
Tina and I only went fishing together on that one occasion. I had no idea—in that passionless moment— why trout fishing with a girl was so much fun. We caught nothing. Tina never called me again. Shocking, I know. I think she liked me for my collection of nightcrawlers. I hope she has since recovered from the devastating loss.
My scheme worked well on a couple more occasions during that summer. I employed the trickery and deceit when Laura— from Cape Elizabeth— came to visit her aunt at an old farmhouse about a mile up the road.
Laura had braids, and, fortunately, she also had a brother. I say “fortunately” because I needed her brother to be the shill in my scheme to hang out with Laura. I don’t recall his name. It did not matter. If I was going to create an illusion to Edith Carol that the lawnmower did not start, I had no problem hanging out in a barn with Laura’s brother while I waited for her to come out and get to know the man who had avoided mowing, yet again.
Showing up on the Western Flyer-branded stingray bicycle (incidentally coming from the same Western Auto where the intentionally non-operational Wizard mower had been purchased) was definitely the way to make an entrance. Putting the kickstand down while still in motion was only one of the many moves that I believed would lead Laura and me to a life filled with love and whatever else came with it. I really had no idea how the relationship would progress. Hopefully, if we both worked, we could pay someone else to mow our lawn.
Thick and sturdy hemp rope and an old hand-hewn wooden seat was the vehicle that would allow me to display my airborne skills of derring-do. She paid no attention to my masterful barn beam swinging. But she was just lovely. I went to visit the brother, but I stayed for the braids. I never saw her again either.
It should be noted that I always ended up mowing the lawn. I don’t recall being asked about why that on one day it would run and another day it would refuse to start. Maybe my parents knew what I was up to, but I don’t think so. If they had found out, I believe my intentional and pre-planned procrastination would have sooner or later led to a plethora of punishment and perdition in perpetuity.
The takeaway? A rudimentary knowledge of the internal combustion engine can be an asset when trying to meet your future significant other.
You can employ any method you want to meet that special someone, but whether there is a spark, or not, sooner or later you will still have to mow the lawn.
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The new book is available for pre-order at the website named for a large river, and while it’s easy to find—since you know who wrote it—I was waiting until the artwork is added before making a marginally big deal about it. It’s a fun book, and should be available on the first of October 2021—just in time for reading and gifting on that most wonderful day of the year. My one demand about the tome is that they make it easy to gift wrap. Naturally, they met my demands. I was specific that the book be shaped exactly like other books.