Last weekend was an exciting one around the Tyner house. We had a death in the family, a near-death experience, and a Mariner victory over the Yankees, all within 24 hours of each other.
First, the death. After many years of faithful service, I finally had to put down my old lawnmower. It was a mercy killing really – the old girl was on her last legs and suffering horribly. She was a side-throw model where all the cut grass was blown out the side through a plastic sleeve that laid the cut grass in neat little rows. Some years ago, the plastic sleeve fell off.
I jerry-rigged an assortment of temporary replacements, each attempt clumsier and less successful than the previous one, until finally the bracket that held the vent to the mower also fell off. After that, the lawn mower uncontrollably sprayed the cut grass into the air where it would cling to any nearby wet surface such as a sweaty face or damp T-shirt. By the time I finished cutting the lawn over the last couple of years, I looked like a sad Hawaiian clown wearing the tattered remains of an exploding grass hula skirt.
I managed to get by for several years with the relatively minor inconvenience of having a mower that randomly distributed cut grass, an inconvenience that elevated to the level of a life-threatening hazard when I’d run over a rock or some gravel, which would be launched from the side of the mower like shrapnel. This year, the right front wheel started to come off.
I tried to tighten it up and then realized that the metal body of the mower itself was rusted through, and was ready to break off entirely, so there was nothing to tighten the wheel to. The result was like pushing a shopping cart through a grocery store where the right front wheel becomes frozen at an angle perpendicular to the other three wheels halfway down each aisle. After every 20 feet or so of mowing, I’d have to stop and manually straighten the errant wheel back into temporary alignment.
Efficient it was not. I eventually figured out that if I lowered the blade setting and pushed down on the left side of the mower handle I could raise up the entire right front end of the mower so that I was essentially mowing on only three wheels, meaning I didn’t have to stop and straighten the bad wheel so often. Of course, after several hours of pushing down on the handle while simultaneously pushing the mower uphill and around the yard, I’d begin to lose feeling in my hands and lower back.
The final indignity occurred when I ran the mower under some bushes and tore off the oil cap and dipstick. I found the cap, but only after I had run over it. I have not yet located the dipstick. For all I know, it may have been ejected from the engine with sufficient velocity to place it into some kind of a low-level orbit.
Faced with the loss of an 89-cent oil cap, I did what most guys I know would do. Rather than run to the hardware store for a new one, I replaced the shredded cap with a wad of aluminum foil that I wedged into the oil spout and kept on going. This past Saturday, after a ceremonial moment of silence, I finally put the old girl out to pasture.
The near-death experience occurred on the preceding Friday night. I was on my way to Safeco Field to watch the Mariners battle the Yankees. I had stopped to enjoy a pregame snack of a quarter-pound grilled kielbasa dog from Al’s Gourmet Sausage stand on Occidental Avenue. I took a bite of my kielbasa, and a large chunk lodged in my throat. I tried unsuccessfully to swallow it several times. Then I realized I couldn’t breathe.
I had just decided to start panicking when I involuntarily doubled over and horked up the stuck kielbasa. The whole sorry episode lasted only a minute or so, but it was truly frightening. I immediately thanked God that I had not ordered the shorter but thicker beer brat as I often do. During my brush with death, I confess I did not see any bright light or any celestial bodies bidding me welcome, and the Grim Reaper did not appear to me.
My life did not pass before my eyes, although I did have a fleeting but vivid image of myself lying in the middle of Occidental Avenue unconscious while a team of hot dog vendors and peanut salesmen alternatively performed variations of the Heimlich maneuver on me while attempting to open my chest with a plastic relish knife.
I’m fine now, but I can’t help but worry that somewhere out there is a kielbasa with my name on it.
Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from his “Classics File.”