Last weekend, I went on strike. From grass-cutting.

For two months I have cut grass every single weekend, often both mine and my momís. With this incessant rain, the grass is practically growing before my eyes. People used to joke about "watching the grass grow" intending it to mean being utterly bored and useless. Now itís true: You can almost watch the grass grow!

I got an old Snapper mower I call the General because it reminds me of a certain literary figure in Native American history, that being Gen. George Armstrong Custer. As Iíve said before, the General cuts the grass very well, but like the infamous U.S. Cavalry commander himself, it is sneaky, dishonest and cowardly about it. The General will approach a patch of grass and, if finding itís taller than it can chew, chokes up, sputters, coughs and shuts down in terror. The General is so much like its namesake that I often have to coax it into moving at all when it realizes itís on an Indian reservation and completely surrounded.

I had another mower, a larger Murray which I called Beelzebub because I am certain I know exactly where it was manufactured. Beelzebub cuts a wider swath which makes the chore less time-consuming, but it rarely cuts level. It usually leaves lines on one side or the other, and thereís no rhyme or reason to it. Once it caught itself actually cutting a perfectly, silky-smooth level and blew out an inner tube in the back tire out of sheer meanness.

Well Beelzebubís starter went out last spring, and I refuse to spend $100 for a starter for a lawn mower. I remember when starters for my 1965 Mustang (this was in the 1980s) were fifty bucks, why on Godís green earth should a starter for a lawn mower be twice that? So I tuned up the General and have been using it every since.

It is not without its quirks. It needs a carb job, and every now and then some little chunk of grit or varnish or whatever loosens up and the General sputters, gags, coughs, spits, hacks, chokes and finally sneezes then goes along nicely for a bit until another bit of debris works loose and the whole process repeats itself.

It also has the throttle in the most unfortunate of places, low on the left side of the frame, so if you pass too close to a shrub or something the limbs of the plant will actually push the lever back as you pass and the engine kills. The first time this happened to me I didnít know what caused it. I tried and tried to restart the dadgum thing, choked it, sprayed starter fluid in it, kicked the tires, changed the oil, inflated the tires evenly, everything I could think of and I was coming out of the house with a shotgun to finally put the olí girl down when I glanced down at the throttle lever and saw what the problem was.

Now, letís be fair about this, the throttle control was designed for an idiot, and contrary to what some people around here may claim, I am no idiot. It is not labeled FAST and SLOW. No, since idiots will be operating 10-horsepower lawnmowers with razor-sharp blades spinning hundreds of RPMs while a hydrostatic transmission propels them 20 miles per hour in fifth gear around the yard making hair-pin turnsÖbecause of all this, the throttle is marked with an outline of a turtle at one side and a picture of a speeding rabbit at the other.

Not only can Johnny not read, but heís all grown up now and making lawnmowers and automobiles. Think about it, thereís very little writing in your car anymore because we, American people, canít read, or at best, donít want to. Your power window buttons are marked with arrows, as are your power locks. You donít have gauges marked "fuel" or "temperature" or "oil" anymore, you have pictures of a gasoline pump, a thermometer and something that looks suspiciously like Aladdinís lamp. Your headlight control has a headlight picture on it, your windshield wipers have a picture of windshield wipers, and you canít operate your radio because you canít figure out what all the little numbers mean. You can pass a written driving test, though.

In America, weíre getting where we canít warm up a pizza without pictographs. We canít operate a toaster without a mouse.

So anyway, I was talking about grass cutting. My neighbor cut his grass this weekend, and after that mine was a good three inches taller. We had cut it the same afternoon the week before. Three inches, from one weekís growth! I put my arms across my chest and shook my head vigorously, my upper lip stiff.

"Nope," I said, "I ainít doing it." Then promptly went into the house, closed all the blinds, locked all the doors and collapsed on the sofa to watch fishing shows until a nap overcame me.

But about the General. As lawn mowers go, itís kinda small. About 30 inches to the cut. Takes me awhile. Beelzebub had a 42 inch cut, and that was nice, didnít take as long, but the yard ended up looking like a cornfield when I was done. The General does a nicer job, kinda near and silky like the marching field at West Point, where George Armstrong Custer finished 34th in Ė I kid you not Ė a class of 34. Hero, my eye.

But next weekend Iíll have to buckle down and get it done, because the grass will be six inches high by then, and the General will have to set its throttle lever to (insert picture of a RABBIT here) to generate enough power to (insert picture of SCISSORS here) its way through all that (insert picture of GRASS here.)


You know they found pictographs at Little Big Horn, donít you? Sure enough, near the scene of the battle, scratched into a rock were rudimentary pictures of a cross, a fish, a pair of eyes, a pile of sticks clogging a river, and two stick-figures wearing feathers.

It took years to decipher, but finally it turned out to be a message from the General himself, and translates thusly:


(Insert picture of ME BEING SUED BY THE ACLU here.)