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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Neighbor, My Deere


I’d planned the afternoon with the precision of a military unit, albeit one where the stereotypical sexuality of the troops wasn’t really an issue.

GI Joe is never ordered to run out and get the eggs. But that was my first mission.

Fetching eggs may sound like lady’s work to some hombres. Not me.

See, we go organic. That meant driving by the local farmer’s market and getting for $1.75 a dozen delicious brown eggs. Had I not been on the clock, I’d have asked the farmer why the shells of healthy organic eggs are light brown.

I know the chickens that lay these brown eggs are treated far better than the factory ones that, perhaps out of subtle protest, lay ivory white ones. Why that is so is a mystery to me. But I like to support the people who treat their employees with dignity and respect, one handy exception being the suicidally prone Chinese drones responsible for making the Apple computer upon which I’m typing this bit of silliness.

But I had no time for chat. Next up was picking up The Outlaw Josie Rodell with the gals at the bus stop, another female job that falls to me while my wife is out at a real job bringing home the proverbial bacon.

(Is this post starting to make anyone else hungry for a really big breakfast?)

Mission accomplished. Next up was a true man’s job. I needed to get the John Deere tractor out and mow the lawn. I had one hour to do a job that takes about 57 minutes.

The reward for all this commotion was a night at the bar with the boys watching the historic debut of Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg. Experts say he is one of the best ever.

I love climbing aboard the ol’ John Deere. First, it’s one of the most iconic brands in all American manufacturing. And it’s just one hell of a machine. My yard is strewn with rocks, deadfall and the odd beer can. It has dangerous elevation changes, tree obstacles and hidden gopher holes deep enough to upend the mower in less experienced hands.

My J.D. has four speeds, a reverse and a mowing deck that has 15 precise levels. Given the yard’s challenges, I’m constantly regulating the mower deck height to prevent dinging the dual blades.

I treat cutting the grass the way race car drivers treat the Daytona 500. I dispatch all the risks with skill, daring and speed.

So climbing into the big yellow seat finally let me feel manly behavior, an emotion that persisted even as I put on the big clunky ear muffs to protect my hearing so I can still enjoy “Mamma Mia” when I’m retired.

I turned the key in the ignition, eager to hear the behemoth rumble to life.

Nothing.

I tried again.

Again nothing.

Once more.

A clicking sound.

I was crestfallen. The whole operation was now in jeopardy.

Again.

More clicking.

This was disconcerting because it strikes at the core of my fears about being unmanly.

Because if this didn’t work, I’d have to go knock on Greg’s door for help, an exercise that always leaves me feeling small.

Greg builds interstate highways for a living. I feel manly driving a machine that goes by the name Deere, a moniker that sounds like an animal named Bambi.

He goes all over the country to drive million dollar machines that look like the ones that maneuver space shuttles around the launch pad.
I’ve never seen him without a lit, unfiltered Camel in either his mouth or his hand. I imagine him smoking in places like church and during dental procedures.

Calling him gruff trivializes gruffness. Andy Rooney is gruff. Greg is armed and gruff. He’s so gruff he makes Dick Cheney look as gentle and friendly as a neighborhood carpenter. Karen Carpenter.

He’s profane and has a tankful of hate.

He hates politicians, lawyers, golf and he really hates the people who used to own our house. The hatred’s never far from the surface.

I’ll give you an example but because I’ve vowed to make this a family friendly blog, I’m going to substitute various fruits for when he swears when talking about his old neighbor.

“That grape was the biggest peachy banana I’ve ever seen. A plum-sucking tangerine like that wouldn’t know his cantaloupe from a hole in the ground.”

I fear the day I shank a golf ball through one of his windows and he retaliates by firing a bazooka through my solar plexus.

I tried again.

Nothing.

I checked the oil. It looked oily. I pulled on some wires and checked some connections -- not because I knew what I was doing. I do that whenever it seems to make more sense than chanting something like, “Abracadabra!” or “Tuscarora!”

I’ve never felt the need to know how my John Deere works to love it. It’s the same with my family. I love them, but knowing that they have spleens or how a spleen works isn’t going to make me love them any more.

I tried again.

Nothing.

At this point, I don’t remember if I resorted to prayer. I may have. I know in this world of hurt and woe, it’s pathetic to pray for things like mechanical assistance so I don’t have to ask my scary neighbor for help to ensure I get to the bar to watch some young millionaire toss a baseball to another millionaire.

But it’s such a reflexive reaction I can only hope God has a spam filter that just sends my silly little prayers straight to his junk prayer file for convenient disposal.

Either way, on the seventh try, the mower came roaring to life in a great big gust of manly pollution.

The grass got cut and I settled into my bar stool in time to watch baseball history. And I spent the rest of the night relieved I didn’t have to ask Greg for help.

We get along great and as a neighbor he’s a lifesaver.

But I can’t help but wonder what he makes of me. He’s true blue collar, a salt of the earth kind of guy who doesn’t understand someone like me earning a living telling stories.

He probably thinks I’m some kind of fruit.

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