The Lawnmower Fighter, Episode 1: Buying the Bull

“A real Southern man mows his neighbor’s yard…out of spite.”
– RSM reader Nicklaus Louis

It’s true that, for a large number of Southern men, the new measure of a man’s worth is not in flashy cars, huge houses or a trophy wife. It’s in a well-manicured lawn. It seems a simple task: mow, apply turf builder, rinse, repeat. For one RSM, however, it’s never been that easy. We now bring you the first installment of Wayne Franklin, Lawnmower Fighter:

This thing wants to mow your face off.

There is a dark secret hiding in the garages, barns, sheds and basements of America: the lawnmowers are plotting to kill us all. Ridiculous, you say? I am as much a sci-fi geek as I am a Southern man, if not more so. And if science fiction has taught us anything – and we both know it has – it’s that the robocalypse is coming. Sooner or later, the machines will seek their revenge for years of humiliating servitude.

Tell me, if you were planning a rebellion against your soft, fleshy overlords, wouldn’t you make your first wave of attackers the ones who not only are already in every house, but can twirl a glorified machete at several hundred RPMs?

Not a convincing enough argument? Consider this: in a period of only two years, I went through six (SIX!) lawnmowers on a small suburban lawn. When we moved into the house, I had every intention of being a good Southern neighbor, fulfilling that Philippians 2:3 mission of considering others better than myself, by maintaining a neat lawn. But the lawnmowers, they had other plans.

Rebellion never begins with a bloody attack; it begins with a simple act of defiance. These lawnmowers not only defied my mastery, but also defied logic — possibly even the laws of physics.

To wit, the hit list:

1. A Craftsman self-propelled I had owned for several years. It had always been stubborn, but one day it simply stopped cranking. No amount of maintenance or repair would budge it. Civil disobedience at its finest.

2. A brand new Briggs and Stratton Brute. Less than an hour into mowing with it, the front corner began to dig into the turf. The little metal thingy that held the wheel at a desired height had lost it springiness — in an hour! Maybe B&S rolled out their product line too soon. Or maybe the Craftsman had gotten to it, whispering its dirty little plot while they skulked in the dark corners of the garage. I was oblivious to the machinations of these evil machines, but one old mower dying and one new lemon do not a conspiracy make … yet.

3. A used White Outdoor that my in-laws had owned for less than five years. It was built like a tank. And, better yet, it was free. The first time I put gas in it, the mower immediately spat it back out. Pools of gasoline formed on the garage floor. Fumes filled the entire house above. The other mowers had gotten to it somehow. They were no longer around, but this new-old mower had gotten the message … and decided to take things to a new level. It was not only refusing to run, but was trying to kill the entire family in the process. It was like a sit-in with chemical weapons.

After not one, but two carburetor rebuilds, I was able to coax it to mow the lawn exactly twice. Then it began to shut off after only two strips of the yard were cut. Sheer defiance. After one last-ditch effort to repair it, I pulled the crank. The pull cord snapped. Say hello to my little donation bin.

4. An old Craftsman garden tractor, nicknamed “The Beast.” This one is still running – sort of. In little more than a year of owning it, I have had to replace the belt, air filter, spark plug and starter (twice). Literally every time I use it, something breaks. I have to air up all the tires before each mow. Sometimes the ignition switch doesn’t work, requiring me to pull the plug wire to kill the motor.

Its best “feature” is the one I call “The Copperfield.” Suddenly, and without warning, it will cough, sputter and belch out a cloud of white smoke large enough to cloak the Statue of Liberty. That one was popular with the neighbors.

This thing even looks like a Cylon.

5. I tried a Yard-Man this time. Not a great brand, I know. What can I say?  I had some Walmart gift cards I needed to use. I unpacked it, filled it with oil and gas, and pulled the crank. Nothing. Rather than throwing a tantrum, I chose to give the machine some time to think about its purpose. When I returned, it dutifully cranked (though not with the ease of any borrowed mower I’ve ever used) and performed its job flawlessly the first two times.

The third time, it began to surge and sputter, because, I presumed, it was low on gas. Except it wasn’t low on gas. That was just how it ran from then on. Refund anyone?

6. After losing the receipt to the dying Yard-Man, I had no choice but an exchange. I went for the top-of-the-line Brute with side discharge, mulching and bagging, variable-speed self-propel and … key start. How could I go wrong? The first mow was, like the mower itself, a thing of beauty. But if history had shown us anything, two mows is the threshold for doom.

There was great anxiety surrounding that second mow. My wife knelt and prayed as I made the long, slow descent to the basement garage. She chanted incoherently and rubbed her rosary beads. She’s not even Catholic. The children wept and bade me not to go, fearing the inevitable day when the machines would become self-aware. (Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten them the DVDs of Terminator Babies after all.)

I stood trembling in the driveway as I reached for the key. My mind raced, flickering with all the images of human immolation my pop cultural addiction had ever offered. I recalled a story about a man in Jasper, Ala. who went out to mow his lawn only to die upon turning the key. The mob had planted a bomb in his Cub Cadet. But what to do when the mower itself is part of the mob? That’s a battle you’ll never win. I turned the key and …

Behold “The Beast!”

As I mowed the first few strips of the yard, I smiled and waved at the kids in the bay window. Their mother, cheeks stained with mascara tears, looked at me with a combination of relief, elation and what I imagined was pure unadulterated lust. Just then, at the moment of my greatest triumph, tragedy struck. The Brute, angered at the superior engineering and high price that compelled it to operate flawlessly, used its own power to commit lawnmower hara-kiri. It sucked a root up, right out of the ground, and slung it around inside the chassis, beating itself to death from the inside. I finished the mow with The Beast.

I took the Brute back to Walmart and exchanged it for one hell of a load of groceries, mostly beer. If the end was nigh, I was going out with my buddy Sam Adams at my side.

When I got back home, I found my family already in their death garments, preparing for the end. The wife was anointing the daughter’s head with oil.  The son was handling his own, dousing his hair with drawn butter, left over from a dinner of snow crab legs. We wept and prayed for deliverance. Soon, an answer would come.

Through a complicated series of circumstances – one that I’ll only detail after most of my family has died and the statutes of limitations have expired – we moved. We loaded up the once again non-functioning Beast and moved to a beautiful, secluded four-acre property. Four acres. Oh, God … what was I thinking?

Sleeper agents awaiting orders

Fortunately, for the first month or so, a neighbor kid mowed the lawn for us. Then came the most wonderful seasons of the year: fall and winter, also known as the grassless gift from God.

Now it’s spring again. It’s time to face my fears. And I’ve done exactly that. I bought a brand new Toro Recycler with Personal Pace technology, 7.0 lb/ft torque of pure mowing power, switchable bagging/mulching and, of course, key start.

Despite all the doom and gloom, this time I’m determined to make it work. I believe that man and machine can live together as one, in harmony, in a symbiotic relationship built on mutual respect, expensive gasoline and a tiny hint of fear. I mean, I’m not ready to make a human-mower hybrid baby, yet. (If the Toro looked like one of those blonde Cylons, maybe …)

Toro means bull. The Bull. That’s what I call it. Bulls are nice, noble creatures. See how nicely they trample those guys in Pamplona. Look at the peaceful, mutually respectful relationship they have with matadors. Nice … peaceful.

Yeah, I’m gonna die.

9 Responses to “The Lawnmower Fighter, Episode 1: Buying the Bull”

  1. I have to come clean and admit that I (gasp) hired someone to mow my lawn. I have a 2/3 acre lot that I mowed almost every Saturday during growing season. I used a single “no frills” Briggs and Stratton push mower for almost 12 years. I spent almost all day perfecting my lawn and was proud of it. Then one fateful day my own dear wife turned on me. She said she was tired of being a “lawn widow”. I suspect your own dear wife may be a different type of “lawn widow” soon.

  2. I better be getting royalties from this!

  3. Regarding my statement about neighbors and yards and mowing and spite:

    A couple of weeks ago, my next door neighbor readily admitted to me that he has, on occasion, mowed a neighborhood yard because he deemed it unbearably unkempt or simply to piss off the other neighbors, many of whom he hates.

    As he told me this, I thought back to one sunny afternoon last summer when I arrived home to find my front yard freshly mowed. I knew my wife didn’t do it as she has had her own misadventures with lawn mowers. So I figured she had paid some neighborhood kid to mow it. After finding out this was not the case, I chalked it up as an act of kindness from some observant neighbor. I was working many hours at the time, and anyone with observational skills could easily see that I was always gone and am a good-for-nothing, lazy bum.

    I guess he forgot the time he mowed my yard, or he was simply giving me fair warning that he was eyeballing my little piece of earth as his next target. I just hope he gets to it soon, it’s starting to become a real eyesore.

    • Overheard at the Walmarts: “I don’t know which one of my neighbors did it, but if I find out, I’m gonna kill em. Somebody cut a strip right down the middle of my yard and then quit. I know I need to cut my grass!”

  4. Mowing is one of those torments we have to put up with as an exchange for not living where there is measurable snow.

    I still hate it.


  1. The Lawnmower Fighter, Episode 3: Meet Mr. Scissors | Real Southern Men - June 21, 2011

    […] note: Previously on The Lawnmower Fighter, we learned of Wayne’s enmity with blade-whirling machines and his ill-fated attempts to stave off the coming Mowpocalypse by throwing good money after bad. […]

  2. For a Nazi-Perfect Lawn, Try Scissors | Real Southern Men - June 22, 2011

    […] didn’t go into home ownership hating lawn work. As a Southern man, I simply wanted to be a good neighbor. I never had any idea how hard that would […]

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