Parts Is Parts

June 12, 2009


I believe the General may have reached his Little Big Horn.
†† Not the original Gen. George Armstrong Custer, scourge of the Red Man and bottom of his class at West Point. No, Iím talking about my riding lawn mower, which I affectionately have called the General for much of its miserable life.
†† Not long ago, I had to replace all the tires. Now back in the old days, when men was men and women was glad of it, I could change a set of lawn mower tires in a bit less than the time it takes me to eat supper. I went and bought four new tires and told them I was going to mount them myself.
†† They gave me a really worried look, as if they feared I might injure myself. ďAre you sure?Ē the asked.
†† ďSure as shootiní,Ē I said. ďDone it many times before.
†† Well.
†† They donít make tires like they used to, I can tell you that much, sure as shootiní. Used to be, my pappy taught me, you just put the rim on the ground with a couple of tire irons on each side, stand on the tire irons, and stomp that tire right on there, lickety-split.
†† No more. I worked on a single tire for more than four hours and when Suzie found me under the garage, covered from head to toe with that carbon black residue that comes off tires, especially new ones, I was sobbing like a baby and babbling on and on about my wasted youth and something about how the Indians always lose to the damn Cavalry.
†† So I had to shamefully bring my tires back the next day and have them mounted on the rims. For a grand total of fifteen bucks. Thatís $3.75 for each hour I beat, pried, leveraged, cussed, fussed, skinít knuckles and bruised forearms. Tires, it seems, donít stretch any more, unless you can apply 4,000 psi of pressure to them with a machine.
†† With a new pair of shiny black boots, the General started suddenly spitting teeth. As in flywheel teeth, and before I knew it, the old reprobate didnít have enough enamel in his mug for the starter to grab on to and start it rolling. I ordered a new set of dentures Ė otherwise known as a ring gear Ė and installed it. This seemed to pacify the old malcontent, and it fired up loudly, proud of its new chompers and stompers, proudly declaring yet again, ďThere are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Cavalry!Ē
†† Cut our yard and my momís exactly twice each, and all of a sudden I couldnít rouse the General. I checked his battery connections, dropping a jigger of rye whisky into the cells for good measure, but to no avail. I checked all the electrical connections, but he wouldnít turn over, just snored loudly and abruptly every time I turned the key. Feeling foolish, I checked the oil and kicked the tires, thinking maybe something else had changed while I was squandering away my youth fishing. But no, the General was comatose.
†† I finally realized it wasnít that the starter wasnít kicking in, it was that the flywheel was locked up. Fearing the old goat had gone into rigor mortis, I pulled the flywheel and found that one of the magnets inside it had fallen loose, jammed into the alternator stator ring and busted it to pieces.
†† If you donít understand small engine speak, let me translate: The Generalís appendix had ruptured and he had a kidney stone at the same time.
†† So I did the only thing rational left to me at that point. I kicked the tires hard as I could, hit it with a crescent wrench and yelled at the General that he was about as reliable as a treaty in the Black Hills.
†† Well, the parts have been ordered, even though I canít decide if it would be cheaper to keep repairing the General or to just put him in fifth gear, aim him at the bayou and jump off at the last minute. I guess if I had the money for a brand new zero-turn mower like they sell nowadays, Iíd take the General out and shoot him, like they do horses. But those things cost a minimum three grand, and listen, the entire Little Big Horn offensive cost six deer for vittles, a wagon load of Winchesters and a couple dozen bottles of sour mash for the celebration. Not to mention, Iíve never paid more than $600 for a riding lawnmower. I went shopping the other day and saw nothing less than a thousand dollars, and those were plain as a settler woman the Indians left behind.
†† All this, to cut grass I donít even want to cut anyway. Makes no sense at all. Itís a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war. We might have beat Georgie at Little Big Horn, but in the end, we lost the war and now we have to cut our grass with minimum thousand dollar lawn mowers that we try to get every last exhalation out of, like the General, who is 11 years old now, and in dog years, thatís 77.