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Wednesday, 03 May 2006 00:00

Frank may be gone, but not frugality

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Some people say I can be cheap, or at the very least, my priorities are out of whack. They say, “You’ll spend $30 for a bottle of wine, but won’t spend 30 to get that dent in your car fixed.” That may be true, but that dent in my car doesn’t go nearly as well with a good steak as an excellent bottle of Shiraz does. I figure I will get around to fixing the dent in the car, but that steak has got to be eaten now — there is an expiration date on it. If you ask SOME people, I guess I should just eat it with tap water or cherry Kool Aid.

I’m not the kind of guy that thinks he needs a new lawnmower, if I may cut to the chase. We have a yard roughly the size of three beach towels laid end to end, so I just do not believe that we need to shell out hundreds of dollars for a new, top-of-the-line lawnmower. In my heart of hearts, I am not convinced we need anything other than a good-size pair of clippers — we could do the whole thing by hand in a couple or three hours. But I’m lazy in addition to being cheap, so there’s that.

I have had the same lawnmower for 12 years, and it was a reconditioned little mutt of a lawnmower to begin with, a kind of Frankenstein mower assembled from used parts from other mowers and brought to life by some mad lawnmower scientist in his laboratory/garage. He sold it to me for $25 and told me that while he could not guarantee it would work for very long, that he would fix it “free of charge” for the remainder of that same summer if anything happened to it. If I recall correctly, I bought it in late August, so the warranty really wasn’t that impressive.

I expected to mow the yard once, maybe twice, and the thing would start spitting nuts and bolts at me like a kid spitting watermelon seeds into the yard on the Fourth of July. I figured even if I could finish mowing the rest of the summer, I would more than get my money’s worth, since the going rate for an industrious kid to mow your yard was around 20 bucks or so. I would use the mower the rest of that year, and then set it out to be hauled away when it inevitably died on me in a few weeks. That was 12 years ago. My little mutt lawnmower made it through that summer and 10 more summers before it finally balked on me last year and refused to start one balmy June evening. I don’t know for sure that is the best $25 I ever spent — there is a bottle of Pinot Noir I remember fondly, and a pristine copy of Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” goes in there somewhere — but it surely ranks right up there.

I thought of setting it out to be hauled away, but that didn’t seem right. The mower was like an old friend to me. Hey, 11 years is 11 years. We’d been through a lot of dandelions together, Frankie and me. On top of that, there was the issue of replacement. I couldn’t see getting a new one, and it appeared that the original Doctor Frankenstein of the lawnmowers had closed down his lab. I could no longer find a listing in the book.

So, I did what I always do when I need something — a car, an oven, a can-opener, you name it — and do not want to pay full price for it. I bought an “Iwanna” and turned to the section on lawn care. Soon, I found a number for a guy selling “reconditioned” mowers at discount prices. “Eureka, the doctor has a brother!” I said excitedly. Sure enough, when I called, he answered the phone and listened patiently to my story, the inexplicable but thrilling tale of Frankie the Mutt lawnmower.

“Believe I can fix her,” he said. “Bring her on by in about an hour and we’ll have a look at her.”

In about an hour, I put the lawnmower in the van and took it over, and in a few minutes, we were standing there in his yard on either side of her with our hands on our hips, looking at the mower with an expression of disappointment, I guess, as if we were its parents and it had run away from school. He dropped to a knee and turned the mower over to its side and fiddled with the blade. Then he turned it upright again and twisted a couple of knobs and pulled a couple of levers.

“Yeah, I can fix her,” he said, finally. “Be about $25. Can’t guarantee she’ll run like a new one, but if anything happens, bring her back and I’ll see what I can do.”

She did, in fact, run as good as new — until last week, when Tammy ran over a stump or something hidden in the yard, and the mower seized up. We called the guy, but he no longer works on mowers and has closed down his shop. So, if you know of another mad lawnmower scientist with a laboratory in his garage, please give us a call. I just cannot bring myself to buy a new one. We’re grilling out next week, and there’s a bottle of Syrah I’ve had my eye on for some time now.

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