Back during the Nixon administration, we lived on a naval base next to the federal prison. The house faced away from the tall, grey, castle-like walls of the penitentiary, and instead it looked directly over a small lake that lay between the yard and the heart of the shipyard.
On a warm, spring mid-morning I sat out on the large entry steps and watched, with moderate amusement, as my grandfather set to work mowing the lawn. My grandparents were visiting from my father’s home state in the west, and it was against their religion to really relax and take anything easy. So letting the grass get long while visiting town was out of the question.
To say my granddad, Oscar
, was a quiet or reserved soul, would have been a bold faced lie. He was a character of the first order, with a pointed, booming voice, a “screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke” sense of humor, and he loved to be part of the action. He wasn’t really tall, but he was broad and his personality loomed large.
One fine spring day I watched as Oscar hauled our large lawnmower down the driveway and set to work getting the machine to start. Referring neither to directions or any help, Oscar twiddled with all the controls of the mower, heaved on the pull cord a few hundred times, and eventually willed the curious machine to come to life. Now I say ‘curious machine’ because it looked like some sort of a mutant muscle mower a la Big Daddy Roth and Ratfink
. Overpowered with an 7.5 horsepower motor, dubiously large rear wheels and horrid baby blue stripes, I wasn
’t sure it was a great piece of equipment, but I did know it was great fun to watch with my granddad at the controls.
Once Oscar’d brutalized the machine to the point where it decided to run, the real fun began. With wry grin on his face, the sun on his white BrylCreemed
head, and the machine belching clouds of acrid blue toned smoke, Oscar fought the mower the entire length of the driveway. I sat and watched, bewitched by his ability to control this spinning, puking, devil dog of dead grass. As his course began to take him horizontally up the hill, away from the pond and towards the back yard and the prison, the big blue grass belching bastard of a machine began to sputter, yet Oscar stayed the course pouring on more gas.
Fighting gravity’s pull down the slope of the hill and keeping a straight run across the face of the grass was no walk in the park. As he continued onward, perspiring through his gingham
long sleeve, he remained smiling, but all the time I could have sworn he was muttering something. Something really harsh in a Norse tongue.
Eventually on the high slope, the machine began to wither and rebound. Then it began to wither and barely rebound. Oscar hurriedly twiddled with knobs and levers, and occasionally it seemed as if he had been successful. The mower held on for another two runs down the entire length of the driveway, and when the mower finally gave in, it did so quickly, and without mistake. It let off a bang that nobody could have mistaken for anything other than a death knell. If the bang didn
’t get the idea of the mowers passing across, the black smoke did.
I knew the machine was dead, and in my young mind I knew it metaphysically, as well as literally. I could see doom approaching the smoking mower in a BrylCreem
matted, sweat drenched, red gingham fury. If Oscar’s beet red face didn
’t display his dissatisfaction for the dead mower well enough, perhaps the torrent of umlaut laden word
s and spittle coming from his mouth did.
He stopped abruptly, turned to me and asked me to excuse him for a moment. He paused and then asked that I go inside and “Perhaps take a nap.” I did so without being asked twice, because the tension was palpable. As I turned to go inside he was rolling up his sleeves.
The next day there was a brand new mower in our garage that everybody noticed, but few of the adults said anything about. In an aside to me specifically, Oscar quietly mentioned that the old blue mower was of no use to anybody anymore. Nobody could argue with that. I know I wasn’t about to.
As planned, Oscar and my grandmother, Betty-Gail, were on their way back west within a week. Something as mundane as “what happened to the mower?” was never mentioned again. As far as MANVIL
is concerned, though, the replacement to the old blue beast is the mower pictured above, and unless you’re itching for a work-out, scuffle or impromptu hammer toss, that might be all you’d need for a lawn in the city. Remember, you break it, you bought it, and if you throw it in a lake in a fit of rage, rainbow colored rings will rise from the fuel tank until the fuel has dissipated.