The arrival of a leaf blower in one’s garage is a sure marker of two demographics: middle age and middle class.
You’re too weary and decrepit to rake that half-acre of suburbia yourself any longer, but you can’t quite justify spending the cash to hire the landscaping pro with the big 37-horsepower shoulder-mounted jetpack blower that drives your neighbors batty, producing more decibels than a NASA liftoff.
So you go out and rent a leaf blower and drive them batty yourself. That’s what they get for painting their house that greenish-orange color.
This is what was on the to-do list one Saturday morning last fall when I went down to the local hardware place to face Grumpy Guy at the rental counter, way in the back of the store. He used to be the grumpy landfill attendant in town until his position, mostly horizontal anyway, was cut out of the town budget. He was the grumpy school janitor for a while in the ‘90s. Curmudgeons often find themselves on the move.
Grumpy Guy presides over a potpourri of abuse-‘em-by-the-hour shop vacs, chainsaws, posthole diggers, masonry saws, floor waxers, paint sprayers and other heavy detritus, all lined up like shabby metal soldiers in his Sovereign Hardware State.
The thing I wanted to rent from him was the only shiny object on the shelf: a brand-new, gas-powered leaf blower he had just gotten in that day. He looked me over with a squint, photocopied my license and credit card as if I was renting a BMW from Hertz, and handed the thing over for three hours.
With – and this is important if you are to believe my side of the story – no instruction of any kind.
The first hour was great. The machine started right up and put out more air than a Nor’easter. I was moving maple leaves over rooftops to strangers’ yards two, three blocks away.
Then it ran out of gas, and, since none was provided – and again, with no instructions – I refilled it with gas from the container I use with our lawn mower. And went back to work.
Soon the engine began to cough. I got it going for a while, but it finally died. Eventually, the pull-start cord was frozen in place.
I took it back to Grumpy Guy.
As Grumpy Guy examined the thing his face turned the color of, well, autumn foliage.
“You didn’t mix oil with the gas?!” he blurted out. “You froze the engine!”
“You didn’t tell me I needed to!” I replied. At which point the manager intervened, listened to my story, and eventually let me off the hook.
I had turned a shiny new machine into a paperweight. I learned that it has (had) a 2-stroke engine, the kind that requires oil be mixed with the gas for lubrication. My mower has a 4-stroke engine, so there was no oil in the gas. No oil, no go, no more, no how, no way.
I imagine my picture is on Grumpy Guy’s wall now, with a red diagonal line through it. So the other day I went down to Sears and bought a leaf blower of my own. A real beauty.
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