NUTS & BOLTS

It really isn’t that difficult to meet a mechanic and my first run in with this class of workman was fairly typical. Our car broke down. One minute we were chugging along (I say « chugging » because, contrary to the vehement arguments of my dad, that car was a piece of junk) and then BLAM!!! something broke. Being absolutely illiterate when it came to cars I could only watch and wait as the tow truck dragged poor « Old Faithful » (an antonym of the reality) away.

We lived in Descanso at the time, a few wee miles away from Alpine. These names probably mean nothing to you, but to me they mean home. Forty miles east of San Diego, in a tiny nook of the Cleveland Forest, a couple of brave souls had made their dwelling in the « wilderness. » Alpine, the neighboring town, was steadily growing, and just showing signs of civilization’s advance, marked by the latest edition to modern architecture: a Carl’s Jr’s. Descanso had one store, one gas pump, a miniscule library (proudly the second smallest nationwide), and a post office.

Like most small towns, Descanso’s main charm was its delightful community politics. Please understand that I am being highly sarcastic. An eccentric guru who stereotypically claimed to « understand it all » was at the peak of his reign when we moved into our new cozy neighborhood. His group of followers were as devoted to him as any zealots, which made our skepticism of his ideas completely out of place, but despite a few confrontations we lived relatively peacefully.

Well, back to the story: so our car broke down. I was completely disgusted, after spending the entire morning standing in an overcrowded church. I wanted to go home! But no such luck. The manager of the Texaco station we had been pulled into came out to the car as my dad walked to meet him. He was only twenty five or so.

« Sorry about your car, sir, » he said, shrugging apologetically, « but we have no room here. We’re backed up for days. The best I can offer is for you to leave your car here and we’ll look at it when we have time. »

Dad cast Mom a weary look. It had been a long day.

« And when do you think I could get it back? » Dad asked (he was very emotionally attached to his car).

« At the least several days. »

« Several days?! I need to go to work tomorrow!! »

The manager, obviously embarrassed with his present predicament, shifted his feet.

« That’s the absolute best I can do, » he replied, reluctantly.

Frustrated, my Dad turned away. Great! This was just great! We had completely blown the next couple of days.

Dad turned back to the manager, « Is there anywhere else we can take it? »

« Yeah! » (a way out!) « About five miles from here in Flinn Springs there’s a mechanic. His name’s Bob Rowsell. He mostly does classics, but I’m sure he could help you out. »

« Fantastic! If you give me his address we’ll give him a try. »

So back into the tow truck we hopped and followed the gracious manager’s directions into Flinn Springs. As we drove closer to Bob Rowsell’s shop, I couldn’t help but notice that this was a residential district. There were no gas stations, restaurants, or such–just houses. I wondered how you could drop a mechanic’s shop in the middle of this.

« OK, this should be it, » my dad said. The tow truck driver obliged by pulling into the long driveway.

We drove past a big house with a huge back lawn, and turned into a gravel lot. The change from a living residence to a place of work was startling. Cars littered the edges of the lot, old rusty cars (which, I joked, looked like our car in its glory days). Big busses and RVs were lined up along a chain link fence, and in the middle of it all was a towering mechanic’s shop. It was a sight to behold. If you have any notions that this remotely resembled the Sears Auto Center, toss ’em. This structure was a virtually pokka-dotted with car parts. They were on the walls, the floor, the ceiling, everywhere!

A bit awed at the strangeness of the structure, I jumped out of the tow truck, following Dad’s lead. Stepping back to get a more panoramic view of the shop, I wondered at this infinitely fascinating edifice. The interior boasted every tool, contraption, and part I had ever thought existed, and on top of it all this shop was genuinely filthy. Iron filling, grease, gasoline, and paint dust were far and wide, but that didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Its unique quality was captivating. Oldies blared out of two ancient speakers messed with wire to the walls.

As Dad started towards the little office adjacent the building, the shop’s owner rolled out from underneath one of the decrepit automobiles he was working on and came over to meet us. He was relatively short, with streaky gray hair. Like most mechanics, grease and oil were the most common decorations on his navy blue work clothes. I couldn’t help wondering if any belt would support that paunch.

« How ya’ all doin’ today? My name’s Bob. How can I help ya? » he asked, in a clear Massachusetts accent.

« Our car just broke down and the Texaco station back in Alpine is backed up for days. A guy up there sent us here, » my dad added with a grin. « They said you guys are the best! »

The old mechanic smiled, « We try our best. »

We mozied over to the car, which the tow truck had gracelessly dumped in the middle of the lot, and Bob opened the hood. By the look on his face what he saw was not good. Shaking his head he put the hood back in place and turned back to his customers.

« Well, this car has a few problems, to state the obvious. You’ll have to wait until I can get it on the lift for me to tell you what’s really wrong with it. At best you’re looking two days for me to identify the problem and fix it. »

« It doesn’t sound like we have much of a choice, » my dad said with a sigh, « I’ll leave it in your hands. »

I knew this caused a lot of emotional strain on him. He loved his car. For him this was like leaving one of his children unattended. To me, I secretly hoped that that piece of junk was done for good, and we could get a real car! As I would find out later, Bob had a way of breathing life into any piece of machinery.

The days passed slowly as Dad anxiously paced the floor in wait of his beloved Old Faithful. Finally we got a call that our « member of the family » was still breathing and could be picked up that afternoon. I cursed my luck, but about twenty minutes later Dad was blissfully chugging back home in that cursed pile of junk, except that now it didn’t chug quite as badly.

Several months passed before we were in need of Bob’s services again. This time it was our Isuzu Trooper. After ten years any car has problems, but we had the unique experience of having lived on a dirt road was so full of potholes that the pumps literally bounced loose every nut and bolt in the whole car. So in one six month period everything started to come apart and we were frequent visitors to Bob’s shop. We got to know both Bob and his charming wife, Alice, who had a little hair salon in her house, much to my mother’s delight.d

Bob and Alice had been part of the whole Harley movement, owning one themselves, and loved any biker rally or get together. They had several at their house to which we were invited. Unlike all those movies with the bikers in black spiked leather, shaved heads, and chains, these were just a bunch of forty to sixty year old guys who loved beer and a good time. They sat around and told stories of their biker tours around the country or their work on cars, meanwhile downing coffee and beer in rounds. The wives all sat together and chattered about this or that (I really didn’t care to find out).

But anyway, I’m drifting again. About a year after we had first met Bob, my dad decided it would be a great idea if I got a job. I, on the other hand, being the lazy, self indulgent teenager, would rather have played Playstation for seven hours straight. So one day Dad and I dropped by the shop to pay a visit and during the conversation my name and the word « work » were linked, something that was a hated subject for me. Bob replied that he could use a little help around the shop, you know, like sweeping (which I hated), weed whacking (which I hated more), and other odd jobs.

« Sure! » my dad replied, much to my dismay, « He’ll be here…How about Tuesday afternoon? »

« Sounds great, » he replied, then turning to me: « See ya then, guy. »

What was I supposed to say? No? I don’t want to work here? I managed a stiff smile and then crawled off to the car in despair. Work! What a horrible word! Why God? Why? I pleaded to the heavens to make it a dream! Meanwhile my dad was happily telling me how great it was that I would finally get some real work done. I gazed out the window, and let out a long, suffering sigh.

I have to be honest: I was an absolute amateur at mechanics. Just recently I tried connecting the transmission to the stick shift. It was the first time I’d ever attempted such a feat, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Anyway, after spending about twenty minutes collecting the proper tools from around the shop I got to work. Luis, my adopted teacher, was overseeing the whole mess. He’d demonstrate by finishing the work himself! It was very frustrating for me, especially with his broken down English. I was constantly imploring him to « let me try. » The thing was, once I had my try I usually got it wrong and then he’d show me how to do it right. Such incidents were not isolated, and because he didn’t speak the King’s English he couldn’t walk me through it. We repaired the clutch, but in the process I hadn’t learned half of what I wanted to learn.

Irritated, I was forced to ask Junior what I had unwittingly done to the car. The childlike mechanic was in one of his « happy » moods, which meant he was extra punchy with his jokes and singing at the top of his lungs, completely off key, to the radio. He knew that I hated his singing with a vengeance. Doubly annoyed already, I was really p.o.’d when he intentionally gave me the answer in technical-mechanical terms. Without further ado I grabbed a hammer, marched out back, and started smacking piles of sheet metal. (Let me tell you, that cacophony sounded better than Junior’s oldie arias!)

My anger slightly appeased, I mozied back into the shop only to find that Luis had vanished (all in the name of « good-natured » fun), leaving me the job that he didn’t want to do. I had to drill two holes through a sheet metal brace at impossible angles. Once this was done, Luis just « happened » to appear. He and Junior were having a splendid time. Angrily, I snarled that if they said one word — ONE WORD! — the next thing they’d be seeing would be the head of a sledge hammer.x

Disgruntled, I started making a brace that would keep the radiator in place, but we were completely out of 1×1/8 flat bar, which meant I had to cut a piece out of the thicker stuff with the plasma cutter. Now, if you have never seen a plasma cutter in action, let me tell you, that baby cuts through inch thick metal as if it were butter. This thing is the mother of all cutting machines. There is one set back. You cannot, and I mean cannot, make a straight cut. It took me six tries to finally cut the stupid piece!!!

Oh, this was a day from hell! So help me God, if there is ever a day like that again Junior is going to lose his vocal cords and I’m going to take down the shop like Samson taking out the temple!

One morning I arrived and was stunned by the sudden change in the shop’s atmosphere. It felt dark and morose. There wasn’t any laughter or idle chatter, just a sullen stillness. The workers were doing their jobs mechanically, as if their minds were elsewhere. Since no one was barking orders at me I started cleaning up, like I always did, putting away tools, rolling up wires, and sweeping the floors.

Usually after doing this I would be ordered to do the lawn mowing or to sand a car frame, but not this time. I asked Junior what he wanted me to do and he said: « Just do the usual, kid. » Just do the usual? Now, at that stage of my shop work I was still trying to figure out what « the usual » was since I never followed a set schedule–I just did what I was told. Completely lost, I spent the day doing odd jobs that popped up. I organized the little parts attic that was above the office, straightened out the metal racks in the back, and cleaned off the tables in the shop.

When I finally left, I still hadn’t figured out what was wrong. Junior and Luis were strangely introverted and Bob wasn’t there most of the time. I discussed the puzzling situation with Mom and she immediately dispensed her eyes and ears, calling the required people and squeezing them for info. About an hour later she came to the dinner table with a grave look on her face. She had just gotten off the phone with Alice, Bob’s wife.

« Bob has cancer, » she said straight out. « I just found out from Alice. She’s sick with worry. »

« You’re kidding, » my dad said, unbelieving.

Shaking her head Mom answered, « He went in for a check up and they found a tumor in his kidney. »

I was stunned. Bob, the full of life, always-in-control mechanic-salesman had cancer. That explained why the shop had been so dismal.

The next time I went to the shop I could sense what a profound effect Bob’s situation had had on everyone. Nicholas, Luis, and Junior were all there, doing this or that, but the expressions on their faces said it all: deep concern. It must have been especially hard on Junior. After all, he had worked for Bob for nearly thirty years. Bob was once again absent. I managed to find out that he would be operated on within a month. We all geared up for the worst.

Bob, for the most part, was depressed. He didn’t even yell at me when I nearly totalled the lawnmower. With only a week pending before the operation, the stress was getting to him. Apparently, he had had cancer before, that time in his throat. They removed a tumor and the surgery had left him scared of doctors. Bob kept his stirring emotions to himself and forced himself to talk casually about the subject.

The day came and went. We called the hospital and found out that the surgery had gone well. Bob would be off his feet for about a month, which would leave the shop short-handed. I offered to come twice a week and Junior thought it was a good idea. Still, for the next couple of weeks the shop was not up to its regular efficiency. I began to realize how much each member of the shop depended on the other. This was like a car without a steering column. Bob, who usually had the final word on how, when, where, and why something was done, wasn’t there, so the burden fell to Junior. Junior was a worker, not an organizer, so for the next few weeks things got done in haphazard fashion.

Then one day, as I was being dropped off, I noticed a familiar figure striding around the shop. Bob was back! Instantly he yelled at me: « What the hell are you doing?! Hurry up! You’ve got work to do! »

Yep, it was the same old Bob. Regardless of what everyone said, his traumatic experience didn’t seem to have affected him in the least; he was right back into the swing of things. However, I do think that he saw life in a far brighter light now.

So far I’ve recounted only several of the myriad events which have occurred in my one year at Honest Bob’s Mechanics Shop. Truly it has been a wonderful experience.

I learned to work and have fun doing it. As I wrote at the beginning of this narrative, I hated work when I first started. Now the two days a week I work there are some of the best of the month.

This has to do with a change in my perception. If you’d ask someone: « Hey, would you like to come down to a run-down, oil-slickened, dust-coated structure, get covered with grease and brake fluid, and work on some rusty cars? » the person would surely answer: « Are you kidding, man?! » In reality, the shop isn’t run-down and is only moderately grease and dust covered, but that misses the point. The point is that one man’s hell is another man’s heaven.

But back to perception. I really like working on cars, getting covered with grease, straining to pry out some rogue bolt. A year ago the idea would have revolted me. Now I relish tearing apart an old Mercury, and I bask in the satisfaction of finally figuring out how to weld. The work itself hasn’t changed, but my perception of it has. It’s no longer drudgery, it’s a grand opportunity.

m

School ends tomorrow and I’ll be leaving for an excursion to Italy in a couple weeks. College starts in August, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have to work at the shop. I asked Junior and Luis if they’d help me build a car for myself and they said they’d be happy to, so consider this an intermission instead of an ending. I’m sure that the next time I write about the ‘Grand Old Shop’ there’ll be plenty more tales to tell!

Having resigned myself to my fate, I awaited the dreaded day. Work?! What did I know about work? Sure, I was great at school and a terror at computer games, but manual labor was not on my list of abilities. My idea of physical work was doing the dishes! So now I was stuck with a completely alien task awaiting me and I’d be working with a bunch of biker mechanics.

Regardless of my desperation, Tuesday arrived right on schedule and at promptly twelve o’clock I was requested to attire myself in the worst rags we had about the house and march out to the car. I must have looked really comical, but that wasn’t the thought on my mind. Clothed in an old pair of my dad’s pants, which were about twice my size, in essence resembling a pair of potato sacks that had been laced together, and an old T-shirt, I felt like an idiot (looked like one too, I may add).

Anyway, we drove to the shop and I was dropped off. Now, like a complete imbecile, I waited there for a few minutes just staring at the chaos, until Bob strode over and demanded what I was doing taking up space in his driveway. I replied that I had no idea what to do. Reproachfully, he tossed me a broom and told me in no pretty words to « get my ass in gear and do some work. »

« I don’t care what you do! » he yelled, « As long as it resembles work. Sweep, clean, pick stuff up, put tools away, break something, whatever! Just work! »

Slightly taken aback, I began idly sweeping my way through a pile of metal shaving, along the way nearly colliding with Luis, the Mexican mechanic. The fact that I was taller than he didn’t say much. The guy was about as wide as I was tall, but he wasn’t fat.

« You the new boy? » he asked in broken English.

« Yeah, » I replied uneasily, « I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, though. Does the boss man always yell like that? »

« Who, Bob? Oh, yes. All the time. I started working for Bob just like you and I didn’t know anything about cars. He used to yell at me all the time. »

I would have chatted with Luis some more, but Bob screamed at me to get back to work and I had no choice but to comply.

That first day was a total disaster. Every five minutes I’d look at the clock, hoping that it was time for me to leave, only to discover that exactly two minutes had passed since I had looked at it the time last. I was miserable. Having no idea where any of the tools or parts went, and being too intimidated to ask, I tossed the forespoken items haphazardly in any place they would go.

d

The third mechanic was Junior (above), or at least that’s what everyone called him. According to Luis, the jovial biker had been working for Bob for more than thirty years. Junior sported a mustache and a pony tail that didn’t seem quite right next to his glasses. He was always smiling and laughing at the jokes he would crack (most often he was the only one who laughed). That first day, though, he had a blast picking on me. It was all in good humor, but it was really annoying. He’d give me a part to put away, knowing full well that I had no idea where I was supposed to put it, and when I’d ask him, he gave a vague gesture that would throw me off course completely.

What I just described was the first hour and a half. Then Junior actually went and did some real work, but, of course, I had no idea what anyone was doing due to utter illiteracy in the world of automobiles. Now the boredom set in. I was terrified of the Boss Man and his yelling sprees (if I was caught doing something other than work), but the problem was, I still didn’t know what to do. I even began taking out tools, putting them different places in the shop, and then putting them back so it looked as if I had done something.

The hours ticked by and after seeming ages of Bob-dodging (not to mention work-dodging) Mom’s car rolled into the driveway. The relief of finally being able to go home was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. It took me a while to restrain the urge to break into a dead run for the car.

« Ok, kid, thanks for your work today. I’ll pay ya’. » I had forgotten that I was being paid. The afternoon wasn’t looking so dark after all. Bob scrounged around in his pockets and brought out a wad of bills. « Here’s twenty five bucks. I’ll see you next week. »

That hellish prospect was dulled by my new acquisition: money. If there is one thing that will make me work, it’s the mulla, also known as cash, greenbacks, denaro, etc. I stuffed the bills in my pocket and turned back to Mom.

« So how was work today? » she inquired as we walked to the car.

« It was all right, I guess, » I replied, half-heartedly.

« Well, you better get used to it, because you’ll be working the rest of your life. »

Those first few weeks were hell, literally. I hated my work. I hated working on menial jobs, I hated the long periods of boredom when there was nothing for me to do, I hated being covered with grease, oil, gasoline, and all other sorts of slime. I was absolutely miserable at that stupid shop. The only, mind you, the absolute only thing that kept me going back was the money. It was kind of cool having my own cash and not having to borrow any or having to wash the car or mow the lawn for a buck or two (which, in essence, I was doing at Bob’s anyway; it just paid better there).

A general work day was as follows: I’d arrive at the shop. Junior and I would call each other names until Bob yelled at us to « get our sorry asses to work. » Next I’d screw around with a few tools, eventually break something, get yelled at some more, help Luis (who took pity on my pathetic work ethic), wander around doing virtually nothing until it was five-thirty, and then set a record for the twenty-yard-dash-to-the-getaway-car that would make any master bank robber proud.

q

The change didn’t really come until one freezing day that kept everyone holed up inside the shop. We had a couple of old cars (I had no idea what they were) that were getting new engines or something installed that had to be finished « today! » That meant that everyone had to help. The shop was suddenly filled with sound: the welder was going, the grinder screeched as it shredded metal, the electric wire brush was buzzing, drills, saws, cutters, paint guns, were all running. The place became alive with sounds and lights, sparks flying everywhere in a cascade of orange glare. The blue welder flame cast a strange glow on the walls.

We were working as a team, together conquering both time and the project at hand. I was running everywhere as Bob yelled instructions:

« Wire brush those engine parts! Need them now! »

« Sand that rust off!

« There needs to be a clean contact surface for the welder! »

« Grind that metal smooth! »

« Grab me a gasket that’ll fit this carburetor! »

I finally felt as if I were doing something. Time flew by and before I knew it, it was dark outside. The glow from the shop cast long shadows into the lot, covering the old car skeletons outside with a flickering reddish gleam. Time to leave. Dazed, I got paid as usual and stumbled to the car.

« Did you have a good time at work today? » Mom asked, as we pulled out of the driveway.

Still stunned I replied, »Yeah, I did. » The funny thing was that, unlike all the other times I had answered that exact question, this time I really meant it.

From that time forth, everything changed. I started to appreciate the work experience much more. The boredom slowly disappeared as I learned my way around the shop and started to find projects to do without asking. My manual skills must have improved, too, because soon I was working with grinders and sanders, cutter and drills, doing odd jobs, and finally working on cars. I had the sensation that I had at long last earned my place. Tuesdays didn’t seem so dreary anymore, and (this is always a good sign) I even started bragging about my « awesome job » to friends.

Now that my mind wasn’t clouded with self pity and I wasn’t so preoccupied with looking at the clock, I got to know the people. Aside from Bob, Junior, and Luis, other common faces around the shop were those of Nicholas and Pinky. Obviously, the most outstanding name in this list is the last one. His name was not the only strange thing about the guy. In fact, I’m not even sure if that is his real name.

Pinky was the paint man. He would come now and again and paint cars for Bob. A tall, forty-fiveish dude, Pinky had hair resembling a stark white Afro mop. He always had a yellow Afro pick in his pocket which he made constant use of while mumbling to himself, with a cigarette butt between his teeth, that his hair never stayed in place. You couldn’t understand a word he said. I asked Junior what this odd habit was all about and Junior, laughing and shaking his head, replied that the old fart had fried his brains on LSD in the Sixties.

Junior and Pinky got along pretty well, though I have no idea how Junior could understand the other’s rambling. Apparently, they had known each other for years, been biker buddies or something. When I asked Luis about Pinky, he only chuckled and said, « Pinky’s a great painter. »

Nicholas was the other worker who frequented the shop. He was an older Mexican whom Bob called in when he needed some puzzle figured out. Nicholas, a mechanical genius who also dabbled in electrical, possessed an eery knack for solving any problem. One time, he set his mind to fixing a steering column. Ordinarily one would just toss the column and pay a few hundred dollars for a new one. Nicholas spent six hours dismantling and reassembling it. He ended up saving the customer nearly $180.

Nicholas also worked at Bill’s shop. Now Bill was Bob’s friend, and kind of a rival as well. They both loved and owned classic cars, they ran their own shops, and popped in on each other to not only see how the other was doing, but also to get a glimpse of the other’s financial gains. Nicholas, though, didn’t care who he worked for, having been in the business of fixing things for more than twenty five years. Apparently he had jumped back and forth from Mexico to America, riding his Green Card to its limit.

s

On the whole, everyone who hung around the shop had lived a colorful life. I looked upon the customers as your basic, hardcore Americans. They loved cars, bikes, beer, « girly magazines, » and each had his own personal rivalry with the other, but the interesting thing was that they all got along perfectly. I guess when you have so much in common it’s easy, but it was refreshing for me to finally see it. The business atmosphere was laid back. There was no pressure if you did your work. Pinky would come in and chat with Junior for about 15 minutes before starting work and that was no big deal. Neither was Nicholas’ joking around with Luis in Spanish for a while.

Bob was the one who planned everything, advertised, organized, and led the shop to success. One might think that a little backcountry mechanic’s facility wouldn’t make much money, but let me tell you, there was more mulla there than one would imagine. The busses Bob fixed up must have sold for well over $75,000, and rebuilds of older model cars were not cheap. This all fit Bob’s character. Unlike Junior, he was a salesman. If there was one thing Bob loved it was showing his wares and selling them at a solid profit.

The standing relationships with everyone in the shop were also something that interested me. According to Luis, Junior had worked for Bob for over 30 years. 30 years! I was complaining about 5 hours! Luis (above) himself had been Bob’s everyday worker for 7 years. In fact, Junior had taught Luis everything about mechanics. One of the reassurances Luis gave me was that when he had first taken up mechanics he hadn’t known squat either. That made me feel better.

I first thought that I would upset the shop’s balance. After all, everyone knew each other pretty well and I was sort of an intruder, but that idea wore off, as did my fear of work. I discovered that work drowns out thought, and after a while you just accept things as they are and live with them. I was not thinking about the merits of physical labor at the time because I had just been introduced to the bane of my work life: the lawnmower.

I look back at that one moment with the bitter taste of disgust and dread in my mouth. EEWW! The lawnmower. What a timid sounding word, but one that inspires fear and hatred in me. It brings to life the single most horrific creation of all mankind!

d

One day Bob said he had a « special » job for me. Like some gullible twerp set to walk into a perfectly visible bear trap, I was delighted. Wow! A special job! That must mean that I had finally broken the barrier between the-kid-who-comes-around-to-pick-up-a-few-tools and a full-fledged mechanic! I beamed with pride. Oh, the naivete of youth!

As we walked around the side of the shop something just didn’t seem right, and there it stood in all its glory. The lawnmower was an ancient John Deere ride-a-mower (you know, the ones you sit on and drive), caked with rust and what looked like pale green lichen. Anyway, I knew at that moment I was done in. Bob smiled expansively, put a hand on my shoulder and then gestured toward the immense lawn. Inwardly I groaned.

« Alice likes it all nice and cut in rows, no little circles, » and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he added: « Then you can weed-wack all around the edges. »

EEWW! The lawn was absolutely huge, like a field in the middle of Kansas! To weed-wack around the entire lawn would take me the remainder of the year. If I started running around the lawn I wouldn’t reach the starting place for two weeks! (Of course, you understand, this is a gross overstatement, a play of words designed to reveal my absolute despair at the fate that awaited me.)

I tried to be optimistic: at least it wasn’t a push mower! I sat down, gunned the engine, and promptly heard a very familiar « putt, putt, gurgle, gurgle » from the engine.

« Great, just freaking great! » I screamed in rage and kicked the stupid machine, which rewarded me with a bruised toe and extra « chug. »

Now, thoroughly enraged, I started around the green expanse. Two and a half hours later as I putt-putted back to the shop I suddenly realized to my dismay that the lawnmower had more than one speed setting!

But my pain was far from over; now there was weed-whacking to do. So after several more hours slaving away on that ghastly machine, I was finally done.

The episode of the lawnmower, however, lived on. Every other week I was required to cut the lawn down to size. Being in its advanced state of decomposition, each time I used the lawnmower something would break: a tire would pop, the carburetor would rust, the blade would freeze — but no matter what, we’d breathe life back into it. And though I hoped to be saved by some odd lawnmower screw up, Bob or Luis would be more than obliged to fix it — just in time for me to mow the lawn, of course!