Last year I bought the riding mower from the man who lived in our house before us. After I read the instructions from cover to cover, I blasted around the yard feeling a bit more like a man than normal. (The riding mower plus the chainsaw I bought after Hurricane Sandy brought me right to the brink of actual masculinity.)
I’m generally aware that including oil in an engine is a good thing. But knowing something, and living one’s life consistent with that knowledge are two separate things. And so, 10 days ago, I took the mower out for its weekly tour of duty.
Having added oil to the tank earlier this summer, I decided to skip “oil check” before firing up the beast. After spending some time surveying my increasingly well-manicured kingdom atop my grass cutting throne, I noticed, much to my consternation, the engine starting to slow down in an unsettling way. I cut the motor immediately and popped the hood to reveal smoke pouring out of the engine and, tellingly (once I removed the oil cap), the oil tank as well.
Unburdened by much knowledge of how engines actually work – beyond the aforementioned fact that they require both oil and gas (the former requirement looming particularly large in my mind at this exact moment in time – I walked to my shed, grabbed an unopened quart of oil and poured it into the tank. The smoke soon dissipated and, now talking to my lawn mower, pleading for her to work, I turned the ignition. She responded with a sinister – albeit brief – sound that resembled nothing that I would normally associate with a functional engine.
I left the machine in the backyard, walked into the kitchen and announced to Cara that I might have fried the engine.
“What are you going to do?”, she asked. I then laid out my detailed, sophisticated strategy.
“I’m going to go to sleep, walk into the backyard tomorrow morning, turn the key and hope that it magically repairs itself overnight. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Remarkably (from my perspective), this strategy failed to pay off. Concerned that my holistic efforts in power mower self-healing hadn’t panned out, I called the local power tool shop, which picked it up the next day for professional examination. Shortly thereafter, I received The Phone Call informing me that, “Unfortunately, it appears that the engine was run with no oil,” and further, that I’d thrown a piston, making any repairs nearly as costly as buying a new machine.
My mower riding days had come to a sudden and final end.
* * *
I may be a horrendous heavy machinery user, but I’m a brilliant optimist. I informed Cara that the riding mower had made me soft. Wouldn’t it be much better to get a push mower and enjoy the benefits of an hour or two of walking around my yard? Wouldn’t this constitute yet another form of exercise to keep me from lapsing into middle-aged sloth?
And so, Sunday afternoon, I sat on my couch catching up on the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad while ordering our new Honda push mower off the Home Depot website. We received an email less than an hour later telling us that it was sitting at our local store for pickup. Cara and I drove there and walked in to Customer Service, where a friendly lady in her 50’s (who doesn’t use a push mower herself, she informed us, because she had recently undergone heart surgery), wheeled out the box containing our silver and red grass cutting baby.
Boxes typically consist of 4 walls, a top, and a bottom. This box arguably had those elements, but it looked like it had gotten into a fight with a cougar somewhere between Honda’s factory and this store. Heart Surgery looked at us and said, “Don’t worry, our guys looked at the mower to make sure everything’s ok. They took it out of the box and everything’s perfect, but they damaged the box getting it in and out, so that’s why it looks like this. If you have any problems, obviously, bring it right back here with the receipt and we’ll replace it.”
I’m an easy-going guy. Heart Surgery seemed to be telling me the truth. What the hell. I wheeled the mower to my car, leveraged the “box” into my trunk (while Cara chatted up Heart Surgery inside the store), and drove back home.
* * *
“You need help getting that out of the back?”, asked Cara.
“Yes please,” I answered. “On the count of 3.” And on 3, Cara and I lifted the box up.
Let me emphasize: the box went up. The lawn mower didn’t. It plunged straight through the bottom. Onto my foot.
The one that isn’t made of carbon fiber.
* * *
After screaming (very quietly) the obligatory obscenities that immediately leapt into my mind upon impact, I took stock of the situation. My foot hurt, but I could move all my toes. I didn’t hear any disturbing noises (like bones crunching). And, I thought to myself, did I want to visit the ER on my new high-deductible health plan and explain this pathetic series of events to a doctor? (If you’re confused as to why I wouldn’t want to do that, please stop reading, scroll to the top, and start over again.) Angry but resolute in my decision, I got back to the business of assembling the mower, which, despite its unsuccessful effort to fly, appeared to be in pristine condition and roared to life with a turn of the electric ignition key.
As I walked back and forth across my yard, restoring order to the sprawling overgrowth, a few thoughts went through my mind. And this is really the point of the whole story.
- Between my achilles issues and this latest near-fiasco, the mortality of my sound limb suddenly looms large in my mind. (This, after 17 years of Cara pointedly telling me, “Stop hopping around the house and use those damn crutches!”)
- The fact that I choose an active life today necessarily increases the stress on and risks to my right leg.
- Virtually everything I could do to protect my good leg today requires me to become more sedentary (and miserable), an option I refuse to exercise.
- As a result, I’m knowingly making choices that may lead to me becoming more “disabled” by age 60 than I’d otherwise be. (Absent profound medical breakthroughs, always the wildcard in this equation.)
I don’t have a profound insight about or solution to any of this. But I’m sure that this dialogue will become more prevalent over the next 17 years than it has been in my first 17 years as an amputee.
In the meantime, my yard looks good.