Where there’s smoke, there’s fire… and a lawn mower

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(Joe Hobby)

If you drive by my house and see me cutting grass on a raggedy riding mower that looks like it came from Fred Sanford’s junk yard, please don’t laugh. It didn’t always look that way.  Once it was a beautiful Cub Cadet lawn mower that would’ve been the envy of any homeowner. But there was an incident that changed all that – the kind that always seems to happen to me.   

I don’t think this one was all my fault. That being said, I can face the facts. The truth is that I have a penchant for accidents and screw ups. Everybody knows it.  My wife Carol’s Dad, a master of dry wit, once said when I walked in his house, “Come on in, Joe. Make yourself at home. Break something.”  That’s a hard reputation to overcome.   

The lawnmower still runs, although it looks awful. Now the plastic hood cowl isn’t attached to the body.  It’s sitting under my deck in a contorted, twisted shape that would look perfect in a Picasso painting. The front is burned. Both headlights are staring in different directions, which reminds me of Marty Feldman.  The vinyl seat is peppered with pock marks made from burning embers. Once a sleek mowing machine, now it looks like a jalopy some shade tree mechanic tried to build. It’s so embarrassing that my boys refuse to be seen on it.   

And all of this happened because I was just innocently mulching leaves in my backyard.  It was a nice, dry autumn afternoon – a perfect time to do this kind of thing.  The mower even has an attachment to help you with the task.  You just clip a heavy piece of plastic over the exhaust.  The leaves don’t blow out and chop, chop, chop – you’re mulching!  

At first, things were going smoothly. I was cruising along, making big piles of leaves into little piles of leaflets.  I loved it! It was a manly kind of job, creating order out of chaos. Slowly, the yard began to clear.  However, some of the drifts of leaves were so large that they began to accumulate in front of the mower.  That’s an easy fix, I thought.  I backed up, turned the wheels, and went in another direction. Problem solved.   

What I didn’t realize was that dry leaves were also accumulating underneath the mower.  And with each pass I made, more of them packed in, essentially forming a huge tinder box that began pressing against the hot engine block.  

Soon I smelled smoke.  It had to be some irresponsible neighbor burning leaves, I said to myself. Why can’t everyone be like me? I’m so much more environmentally conscious than they are.  

That arrogant thought had barely passed through my mind when I discovered who was doing the burning.  It was me!  To my horror, smoke and fire was erupting from beneath the mower, and had ignited the pile of leaves in front of me.  In a few seconds, fire was everywhere. My wife, watching helplessly from the house, said I looked like I was straddling a jet engine.  

I jumped off the seat and ran in and around in a frantic circle.  What to do?  What to do? For a split second, I considered hopping back on the mower and trying to back up.  But if the fire burns thru the fuel line and gets to the gas tank, then I’m gonna be a story on the 6 o’clock news that people try not to laugh about. 

 I would surely hate to be standing before the gates of heaven and hear St. Peter say, “Oh, you were the guy who got back on the burning lawn mower!  It was pretty funny.  Moses was laughing so hard that wine shot out of his nose. Come on in. Take off those burnt clothes and put on a robe.” 

Instead, I headed to the house, quickly filled a bucket with water, and doused the engine. It seemed to help.  After another couple of buckets, I nervously tried to back the mower up. Surprisingly, it started and ran. I quickly moved it away.  Since the possibility of me being injured by a fireball of stupidity had apparently passed, I dumped more water on the leaves.  They continued to angrily hiss and smoke, but the flames vanished.   

I stepped back and looked at the wet, smoky mess.  The sickly smell of the molten plastic hood wafted in the air. At least on this day, I wasn’t as environmentally friendly as I thought I was.  

The next day, I loaded the mower on my truck and delivered it to the local small engine mechanic, who didn’t seem to be at all surprised. He looked at it and said, “You’ve been mulching leaves, haven’t you?” 

“How in the world did you know that?” I asked.  

“It’s not the first one I’ve seen, and it won’t be the last.” 

I suppose it made me feel a bit better knowing I’m not the only idiot in the area.   

Maybe it’s time to pay somebody to do my yard work.  

Find more of my stories on my blog: www.mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com. Also, follow me on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian- Writer.