Monday, September 20, 2010

I Thought I Could, I Thought I Could...

On the third trip to ACE Hardware on Saturday morning, little Juliana, standing behind her cash register, asked, "Are you back again, Miss Linda?" She advised that I find "a guy to start your engine." Hmmm.... She's a sweet young girl from, I think, Jamaica so I refrained from making a quip about finding a man to get my motor running. But I was sorely tempted since I almost never waste an opportunity to be knee-slapping hilarious and can usually come up with a clever one-liner. This time I just let it alone.

I was living in a MasterCard commercial:

Additional Spark plug: $2.99
Blaster: $4.99
New Gas can: $3.49
Fresh Gas: $2.69
Fresh Motor Oil: $5.00
Engine Starter: $3.59
Siphon: $5.99
Fine sandpaper: $0.69
Liz Claiborne jeans: $64.00 (when bottle of motor oil slipped out of greasy hands, hit patio and bounced back up.)
Conquering Combustion Engine: Priceless

If I had to diagnose what was wrong with the lawn mower, I would make a stab that the carburetor and fuel line needed to be cleaned. It wasn't the spark plug and it wasn't the air flow. However, I admit I am not at all certain. After my third trip to ACE I came home armed with product called Blaster, a pink liquid that gets sprayed into the spark plug housing. (I forgot to put the spark plug back on first time around and it all spurted out, but now I know better.)

From 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., I tinkered with Sparky. I sanded out the inside of the spark plug cap. I tried to adjust the throttle. I stared into the carburetor. I siphoned out the gas and oil and replaced both. After the second dose of Blaster "the Sparkster" started up with a great smoking growl...only to die within seconds. I held down the throttle, pulled the cord, and he roared to life. Once again he fizzled. Again and again we engaged in that dance, Sparky and I, for what seemed like hours. The sun rose higher and warmer. At last, hot, grimy, and exhausted I sat on the patio steps and murmured calmly, "I hate you." And then I did what one does with machines when all else fails. I pulled myself up and kicked him. Swift and hard.

Was it the Blaster? Did Sparky get bored with the game? Or was it genuine fear of injury to movable parts? Who can say. But on Saturday Sparky acquiesced. On the very next attempt he sputtered, then belched and began to hum.

In triumphant joy I pushed him toward the lawn. He putt-putted happily. He did a mighty fine job when all was said and done. We'll have to have another go at it later in the week, however, since I was too exhausted to do more than attack the worst parts of the lawn.

Afterward I let him rest in the cool shade of a Magnolia tree before putting him away. I felt proud of myself and happy Sparky won't be thrown into a landfill any time soon. I think he must be happy about that as well. I'm not certain but as I wheeled him into the garage I do believe I saw him wink at the new edger. She's a new model and is quite good looking, if a little too thin. With any luck, she might be just what he needs to keep his motor running.


  1. Oh Grad, your mower adventure is indeed priceless! And just think, after all you have learned you could have a second career in lawn mower repair and be very good at it. I also admire you restraint at the huge opening for the joke that Juliana provided you.

  2. Stefanie, I have new found admiration for people who can fix things. The whole time I was terrified that the thing would exlode or that I would set everything in the vicinity on fire. As it turns out, an engine is a remarkable and beautiful thing. I really do hate that I had to waste that joke opportunity, though.

  3. I am SO impressed with you. Never, ever could I have done that (although I love pink things so I like the sound of your Blaster).

    I hope when you get to know Juliana better you'll have an opportunity to dazzle her with a joke.....

  4. Tinky, really you could have done exactly the same thing I did. I had to watch several videos on the internet to learn how to change a spark plug, where to look for it, and what an air filter looked like. I knew what a spark plug looked like, but had never come into close contact with one. I learned I needed a socket wrench to get it off. I bought the wrong size first time around; I bought a lot of stuff that didn't fit, or didn't work, or wasn't right. The folks at ACE were determined to see me succeed; I think I became a cause celebre. One small step for Grad. One giant leap for people who like pink!

  5. I am not worthy!! Really, I can't even change a fuse, so I am mightily impressed by your fixing a whole lawn mower - AND giving it the makeover it needed to believe in love again. By the way, my husband says the first law of engineering is: kick it. This seems only to apply to him, though, as he makes the most incredible fuss when either I, or our son, takes that approach. But really, there's nothing like it for retrieving your change from a machine.

  6. Litlove, I truly can't believe I actually did it. I called my brother in Chicago and got some practical tips...guys just seem to know these things. The fellows at ACE had a few suggestions as well. But in the final analysis, it was just me against machine. Me! Who hates to break a nail much less a sweat! I went out to the garage a few times on Sunday just to start it. Was it a dream or did it really happen? The only explanation: There must be a combustion fairy living in my garden.

  7. Although I write about a woman who loves fixing her tractor, I have zero competence with cars/machines, so your shopping list alone arouses my admiration!

  8. Grad, you are my hero. I am the designated Fixer of Stuff in my parents' house and my own (only in my family could I be the technical genius) but I'd have baulked at a combustion engine.
    I do love that it was the calm, "I hate you" kick that solved it, though. We read the instructions, we try the logical stuff, but secretly we're all about the percussive maintenance - a little light assault and battery, and if that doesn't work, call a professional. After crying, obviously.
    Next time my car dies, though, please express me the Combustion Fairy.

  9. Shelley, Riah would certainly have known how to make things work right. My favorite "ingredient" was Blaster! Just the name alone instills confidence!

    Fugitive, little Juliana actually shoved a business card in my hand with the name and number of a fellow who fixes small engines. When I got home I pulled it out of my jeans pocket and was sorely tempted, but I simply couldn't stand the thought of giving up. Long distance, my brother assured me they don't sell things for lawn mowers which would cause them to blow up. It would be very bad for business. Once assured I wouldn't be a threat to myself or the neighborhood, it was just a matter of figuring it out. The Combustion Fairy announced she loves travel.

  10. Hahaha I love the calm 'I hate you.', that makes this story for me :) Comedians Mitchell and Webb have a sketch about special lessons that boys get in secret when they get seperated out from girls for PE or sex ed, where the boys are taught how to draw penis grafitti, then told to never mention the lesson to anyone (I really hope that makes it through the spam filter). And voila it's like they were born knowing how to do it. I suspect there are similar classes about motors and then they fool us into thinking there aren't by giving that one practical lesson to everyone in Physics on how to earth a plug. Well done for beating the system of mechanical ignorance ;)

  11. I'm grinning like a crazy person at this post. I'm so impressed at your persistence and skill (and the "I hate you" kick was inspired)! And your descriptions are priceless. (By the way, your letter arrived in Cape Town and L is bringing it this Sat so thanks!)

  12. I am speechless with admiration.

  13. Very cool. I don't think i could have done that :)

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