I once took an essay-writing workshop from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara. She said that if your readers don't like you, you're sunk, and therefore some subjects just don't work, like being a size 6, or having an entourage.
Well, God knows I'm not a size 6, and my entourage is feline, which doesn't count, but I did win a prize the other day. Before you write me off, though, let me add that it was a poetry prize, and therefore marginal - along the lines of winning a spelling bee in Latvian or a recipe contest using only plums and Velveeta. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled. But it's not something to dislike me for.
Adair also said that the fastest way into readers' hearts is to admit something embarrassing about yourself. Which brings me to the subject of riding lawn mowers.
Last summer, trying to cope with almost an acre of long grass, I bought a ride mower. I wanted to call it a tractor, which has a charming, Wendell Berry-like, rural cachet, but it was just a totally suburban ride mower. For an amazingly long time I was able to Tom-Sawyer other people into riding this thing. But yesterday the grass was knee-high and no gullible friends were around to save me.
Since the operating instructions were printed on the fender, I was able to turn the darn thing on and drive it around in circles quite successfully. I even figured out how to engage the blade so actual mowing took place. I tootled along, cutting a wide swath, as they say, until most of the grass was cut. There was just this one little inconvenient hill I had been avoiding, where I had to disobey the instructions and mow from side to side instead of uphill and down, due to three maple trees and the septic tank.
The first two passes across this hill were terrifying but accomplished without incident. Travelling at about the speed of grass growing, my non-size-6 person listing perilously to starboard, I made the final approach.
You think I fell off, don't you? Well, I didn't. I would never fall off a ride mower. Instead, there was a small cracking sound and the steering wheel came off in my hands. Unphased by this development, the mower kept going, heading straight for the largest maple.
That was when, with the speed and agility of a bareback stunt rider, I swung one leg over the saddle and slid gracefully to the ground (still gripping the wheel). No, I didn't break anything, and the mower cleverly stopped all by itself. With regal dignity, I jammed the steering wheel back on its column and walked up to the house.
The mower is still out on the lawn. It looks kind of sweet there, red body, black tires, against the green of the grass. Since I'm never going to touch it again, I'm thinking of planting some petunias around the base and calling it yard art.
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