May 12, 2001

Par for a Saturday Morn

horoscopeThis is a momentous day! First, it’s Le Premier Fauchage de Pelouse du Festival de Saison, a holiday celebrated throughout the known suburban world this time each year (at least in the northern hemisphere). It’s also the fanciest way of saying I mowed the lawn for the first time this season! I never knew that translating mundane tasks using Babblefish could make my life seem so rewarding. But more on that in a minute.

Part I

The day started early. I got up at 5:30 am (on a Saturday I’d like noted) to get to the county’s aquatic center to register my children for swim lessons. Registration began at 8:30. Knowing parents as I do (and knowing to what lengths we’ll go to do something of importance for our children), I was sure I had to get there as early as possible. There were, after all, only 10 slots and only one class we were interested in.

And I was right. I arrived to a crowded parking lot at about 6:40. One man dawdled, trying to figure out if this was the right place. I expertly drove around him, parked, and walked as quickly as I could to what I hoped was the front door (without drawing attention to myself).

I saw a group of parents sitting quietly, facing a picture window through which was the longest pool I had ever seen (NBC Olympic coverage not included). I asked which was the end of the line, found a chair, and unwrapped my paraphernalia. I had come prepared. CD player/FM radio to play the latest from Destiny’s Child (too early for NPR), morning paper, two books (appropriate!) I’m presently reading, and my Palm. If I could have stopped at Starbucks I would have, but time was of the essence.

I was twelfth in line. Rules stipulated that no one could hold a place for another parent and that you could only sign up one additional child not of your immediate family. I had two but how many did the others have and what classes were they interested in? With only ten places in a class I didn’t feel I had this locked up. But I would have to wait, so I relaxed.

Time moved slowly. The woman in front of me was reading Tony Morrison’s latest and the man just behind me was reading something in Japanese. Considering he was Caucasian, I wanted to strike up a conversation but decided against it. The line grew longer behind me. As it got close to the appointed time my entertainment focused on watching arriving parents’ faces as they realized how long the line truly was. I kept my smugness to myself for I didn’t want to tempt the Swimming Lessons gods.

With about 20 minutes to go I called my wife to go over all last minute contingencies (if we could only get one child in the class were any other classes our second or third choices?). The time had arrived and we were told to line up by the door. I did finally turn to the man in back of me to tell him I felt I was lining up for a lottery. He smiled but there was something about it that told me that flexing my severely limited, if expertly voiced, Japanese would not have yielded a lasting relationship. Finally it was my turn. I felt like I was ordering from the Soup Nazi, not that the man behind the desk’s attitude was bad. I just had been warned to be prepared with my order: class number clearly stated, proof of residency in hand along with my checkbook.

As he pulled the two class holders from his file I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I noticed two numbers on each of the pieces of paper he gave me: 9 and 10. My kids had just made it and, of course, it was all worth it (my coffee sacrifice included!). I’m sure this will not be the last time I scurry for them. But it was my first and something I will cherish.

Part II

As soon as I got home it was time to celebrate and time to get out the old lawn mower. The first mow of the year is really fun. The tension waiting to see if your children will get into a swim class is nothing compared to wondering whether the mower will start up after sitting through the long cold winter. In addition, I had to remember the whole pre-mow routine. Dress: old everything (made a mistake by wearing my “good” sneakers —it took forever to get the grass stains off of them); face mask for the pollen, old reading glasses to protect my eyes, and my portable CD player. The mask redirects my exhale, steams my glasses, and makes it hard to see where I’m going but my lawn is festooned with boulders (ok, rocks) and branches which have been known to fly up and hit me.

I then had to find where we last placed the key to the mower shed. It took my wife and I 15 minutes to remember when we discovered the lock had rusted over the winter and it wouldn’t open. Then another 10 minutes to hacksaw it off and I was ready to go. Almost.

Of course, they tell you to drain the gas out of the machine at the end of the season (while I have typically ignored this advice in the past, I did try to use up everything in the gas tank this past October). And, of course, don’t use gasoline stored over the winter. I thought about this as I poured the gas stored over the winter into the machine. As I set the choke and pulled the cord, it coughed but started like a dream! I was set to go.

One more thing about our lawn mower. Like most big purchases I researched this one to make sure we got the features and reliability we needed. Since this was the first mower I’d ever bought it took a while to pick just the right make. Because we’ve got a lotta lawn, with some nice little nooks and crannies, we felt a self-propelling model would be best. And, when it works, it does make the mowing experience a pleasure. Problem is, the belt keeps coming off so I generally have to stop at least twice a mow for both my wife and I to put it back on (yes, it takes two of us!). This gets tiring and a pain. The machine is so heavy that it’s a bear to push it up even the mildest incline. And, despite my insistence that the hardware store fix the thing, year after year, the story’s the same.

This premier fauchage was no different. Three times the belt slipped off. I think it’s time for a new mower. Maybe one without self-propulsion (which, of course, would make the thing a lot lighter and, therefore, easier to push).

In years past I’ve thought about doing something creative with my mowing, like blocking out ironic, postmodern sayings in the grass. But my wife nixed the idea. As a compromise, this year I created a simple rectangle of unsheared lawn on the side of the house. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season progresses.

Ok, equipment problems aside, mowing the lawn the first time is an anal-retentive’s dream. By now the dandelions and wild onion grasses are high. The pressure’s on to keep up with your neighbors (thankfully, we were not the last one’s to mow this year). When you complete the task, you’re hot, you’ve exercised, and you feel like you live in a picture perfect house, right out of Metropolitan Home. And of course, three weeks later you get to do it all over again!

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