You could say machinery is my Achilles’ Heel. So not surprisingly, by the time my wife and I huffed and puffed our first lawn mower out of its box, it already looked like a monster emerging from its lair.
I skimmed through the assembly instructions nonchalantly, not wanting my wife to know that I had no clue about which way what part went. The problem with instruction manuals these days is that the pictures pertain not just to your particular machine, but to the entire class of your product in general. So you look for parts that you don’t find and find parts you are not looking for, in something that vaguely resembles a lawn mower but could, in all possibility, be a snow blower!
Well, I managed to get the gas and the oil into the seemingly right places very quickly, despite the doubtful look on my wife’s face. I also got the handles fixed though they somehow faced nowhere in particular. I didn’t know how to turn the thing around without physically lifting it, so I finally let it stand aimed in the general direction of the lawn. I moved manfully behind the machine, held the bar under the handle and tugged expertly at the starting cord. The thing wouldn’t as much as mew leave alone roar!
The silly thing about lawnmowers is that they have Chokes like those ancient cars. Of course, I didn’t know about that and I went on tugging, oblivious to the fact that the choke was nestling serenely in the OFF position.
My wife was watching, I knew, and her hands were moving progressively towards her hips, which is usually a sign of impending trouble. I ignored her completely, instead fidgeting around with some part or the other, as though I knew perfectly well what each meant.
This was fast becoming a prestige issue and I decided that it was either my arm or my mower. One of them had to give. So I kept tugging. I must have been in my twentieth tug when I espied the Choke and with an attempted roar of anger that sounded suspiciously like a sob, I moved it to the ON position.
With a pull that almost wrenched my shoulder out of its socket, I managed to get the machine to start. But it still wouldn’t move. I tried pushing it, gently at first and then with force, but even to me, it seemed ridiculous to push a self-propelled mower!
By this time, temperatures in my general vicinity were heading skywards, and my wife was saying something or the other, suggesting that I do this or that. The moment she stepped away for a minute, I lunged for the user manual that I had strategically placed within grabbing distance and discovered the function of a little red lever, the accelerator.
“Ha! Done!” I said aloud for my wife’s benefit, manoeuvred the machine into battle position, minutely adjusted my stance, started it and with a triumphant smile squeezed the red lever with all my might.
What happened next is difficult to narrate.
The darn mower sprang up like a disturbed snake, looked around like a startled pigeon, shuddered for an instant in shock, and then just took off like a bat out of hell, with me running behind it, hanging on to everything for dear life. My wife came charging after all of us, trying to keep an eye on our general trajectory, read the manual, give me instructions, and point out relevant parts of the mower, all at the same time!
I had not adjusted the cutting height properly, so the mower was taking off all the grass, and some of the earth and the combination was spewing all over the place like a horizontal fountain! I could have run like that all night, but the thing had crossed my yard into my neighbour’s and was presently headed straight for his dining room window!
I shouted something stern and unintelligible at it and my wife hollered something stern and unprintable at me as if I was enjoying a joy ride atop a snow sledge pulled by her favourite poodle. In my panic, I didn’t realize that all I had to do was to let go and it would automatically stop. Instead, I went haring like a foot soldier behind a tank, at my neighbour’s window!
Finally, my wife decided enough was enough. With a yell that could have shattered the window even before we reached it, she ordered me and my flying machine to stop or else. Usually, when my wife calls me like that, I drop everything and take to my heels. Survival instincts came to the fore. I dropped everything, the bar, the handle and everything else that looked even remotely droppable. The machine stopped inches from calamity.
I sheepishly turned back to survey my wake. I had left a nice jagged slash of bald brown across my lawn and my neighbour’s, like a new punk hairstyle of green and brown. The screws on the handle of my mower had loosened and one of them had departed on a hastily undertaken flight, destination unknown. The mower just sat there, giving me its most mournful look, its handles drooping like the ears of a guilty dog, its wires between its rear wheels.
My wife’s hands were on her hips and she glowered intently at well-spaced meaningful intervals, first at the grass, willing it to grow and then at me, willing me to wither. With a final laser beam glare that could have saved me the expense of a weed eater, she turned and stormed into the house.
Like a prisoner on his last walk to the gallows, I followed her, dragging my lawn mower behind me, sliding on its wheels like a reluctant dog about to be punished. I stood it in a corner of the garage, facing the wall.