Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Grass Is Riz (Again)

I hate cutting the grass

It takes ages, makes me have to breathe carbon-monoxide from the damn infernal combustion engines of the mower and the weed-whacker, takes huge chunks of valuable time, fires up my hay-fever something rotten and takes forever. However, for the fourth of July I try and get the property looking halfway decent so my worthless next door neighbour, Don Calzone, can invite his friends to dump beer cans, bottles, the contents of their car ash trays, bags of urine and so forth all over it, then he can season it with the razor-sharp plastic liners that his illegal fireworks seem to have packed inside them. It makes it all so worth while.

The mower has been getting louder and louder. I suspect two possible causes: 1) the shear-collar assembly on the rotary cutter is wearing out causing it to rattle and B) the muffler packing is burning through. Last Saturday it sounded almost as bad as Troll, the Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, which I think I've mentioned is earsplittingly loud. Something Must Be Done. But it must be done later, 'cos I'm not in the mood for screwing around with mower parts.

My weed-whacker is also due for some replacement parts. The knob on the bottom of the cord reel is almost worn completely down. This is because it is not only the securing bolt for the cord reel, it is the wearing surface when the reel is "bumped" to extend the nylon whacking cord.

You look puzzled. Obviously, you have never used a weed-whacker. The thing has a reel on which nylon cord is wrapped. The reel is then mounted on the drive shaft and each end of the cord fed through a hole in the outer rotor casing, and secured by a plastic knob. As the reel spins, the cord is drawn into two stiff radial lines. These form the cutting tool, and they wear down during the process. To counteract this, the reel has a ratchet built into it such that by bumping the knob on the ground while it is running it will feed more cord from the reel through the holes and extend the cutting radius once more. In order to prevent the line getting overly long, resulting in the strong possibility of a shin-whacking1, a razor-sharp blade is fastened to the crap-guard, a rather ineffective shield that is supposed to prevent debris being hurled back at the weilder's legs. If the cord gets too long it will hit the blade and be cut off.

So anyway, I set off with the mower, watched as usual by a half-dozen neighbours who have nothing better to do than cheer every time the mower hits a hidden beer bottle in the grass verge and showers me with broken glass or laugh when I run over my sprinklers and chop the spray head off. In quite a long time, all things considered, I had run over a bottle and a Taco Bell disposable cup (left for me by some thoughtful kid) and been showered with broken glass and sticky, root-beer flavoured wax-backed paper. I managed to not use the muffler for a handrest when I reset the wheel height2 and I didn't destroy the sprinklers so the neighbours were a little disappointed, but I did fall over a huge chunk of punked tree trunk that had fallen from my Job Tree3. Mr Brain had switched off the "notice bloody great bit of tree in your path" routines while I wasn't paying attention, obviously.

Then it was on to the weed whacking.

First off, the chain that fastens the gas cap to the tank so it doesn't get lost when filling the tank had become detached and was now lost in the one-third full tank. I reasoned that the gas was a year old and should be dumped anyway so I broke state laws on gas disposal by pouring the remaining cupful of gas over some weeds I'm trying to kill and the end of the chain popped out of the tank ready for the gas cap to be clipped back on.

If I could find it.

There followed a ten minute search with increasing levels of profanity for the gas cap I had removed not one minute before pouring out the gas. Another triumph for Mr Brain. Once the cap had been located and clipped back onto the retaining chain, I gassed up the weed whacker and got gas all over my hands as usual. Once that had been achieved I attempted to start the bloody thing.

Mr Weed Whacker has a two-stroke engine, requiring a fiddly bit of decanting oil into the gas. Not only that, two stroke engines are sometimes infested with anti-handiman demons who prevent the damn things from starting at all. One day they won't start no matter what you do. The next they fire up with only three or four minutes of cursing and swearing.

I have a technique with the weed whacker: I set the choke to "winter", pump the carburretor primer until it fills with gas, then give it three more pumps to get lots of gas in the carb throat, then I wedge the whirly bit in a convenient crevice, switch the engine electrical system on, squeeze the throttle to "maximum wellie" and pull the string with as much force as I can muster without dislocating my shoulder4. This will, if the anti-handyman spirits are not paying attention, cause the thing to burst into about one second of life then die. I then switch the choke to "nippy" and pull the string again. This usually starts engine, albeit running rather roughly, and it is a matter of about thirty seconds before I can dechoke the carburretor and get on with the business at hand.

As usual, I got about three minutes into the wacking of weeds when I ran out of cord. Then came the obligatory ten minute infuriating search for one of the two reels of cord I keep in the garage but never can find when I need some. Then the faffing about cutting and spooling the cord and putting the whole spool/cord assembly back onto the flexible drive shaft. Which refused to advance the cord when bumped two minutes later, necessitating redismantling the spool to find out what was wrong (weed bits in the spool) and attempting a restart.

It was all very tiresome.

During the whacking of the vines that were attempting to rule my chainlink fence at the front of my property, I spotted a vine wrapped around the drive shaft. By this point I was tired, fed-up and bored stupid. Perfect conditions for Mr Brain to perpetrate perfidious perfidy. I inverted the weed whacker and inspected the problem. Yes, a vine was wound around the shaft, but it wasn't wrapped tightly, like on other occasions. I could just reach in and pull it free. So I did.

The backs of my fingers were whacked by stout nylon cord, stiffened by centrifugal effects into steel like rods of destruction, about three thousand eight hundred and forty two times.

Cognisant of the fact some of the more determined neighbours were gleefully watching (the others having left in disgust after I didn't destroy the sprinklers or run myself over with the mower) I didn't follow my first instinct, which was to hurl the weed whacker into the road, clutch my right-hand fingers under my left armpit, double over and hop about screaming the most efficacious words of power in my vocabulary. No, I contented myself with casually resting the weed whacker against the fence5 and biting down upon my left hand until the overwhelming agony had subsided to a manageable level.

Another triumph for Mr Brain, who had decisively taken the field this day.

  1. Something to be avoided at all costs as it can produce the most neighbour-attracting shrieks from the whackee
  2. I cut the grass along the sidewalk much shorter than I cut my front lawn. The mower has several height settings for the wheels, but I just use two different settings for the back wheels now since it is far too easy to unthinkingly rest the left hand on the hot muffler while trying to get the leverage needed to reset the height of the left-side front wheel. I got a second-degree burn on my hand the last time I did that, and everyone in a three-mile radius knew I did
  3. California has Joshua Trees. I have a Job Tree. It has been cursed with an untreatable fungus desease (not that I didn't try. It cost me a grand and a half in root injections to lose that tree), boring insects (they have absolutely no good annecdotes), woodpeckers and I don't know what else. Bits fall off it every now and again. Paradoxically, it usually survives un(further)damaged in the very windy storms we've had of late, but there was a lightning strike very nearby last night and bits of the tree look burned. The bit that fell off was light as foamcore insulation owing to massive loss of actual wood to freeloading fauna and flora, but big enough to trip over - about four feet long and the thickness of your thigh
  4. The reason for this is to get as much angular velocity into the driveshaft of the engine as possible and thence to that of the magneto. A magneto produces electricity for the ignition, rather like the coil on a car does, but the voltage is proportional to the rpm you turn it at. To get the engine to start you need a good hot spark, which comes with a high voltage. Shoulder damage ensues
  5. It promptly fell over and went for my shins

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