© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2002
SHINY AND RED, it sat in my driveway, four tires ready to roll.
My friend Becky had helped me bring it home. We both stared, mesmerized by the cutting edge technology.
"It's beautiful," she sighed.
Thus began my relationship with the Toro Personal Pace recycling lawn mower.
Once, I had weekends. Then I bought a house.
LAST SUNDAY was a lovely day, perfect for a long bike ride or the beach.
Naturally, I pressure-washed the siding.
I suppose I could have cleaned the garage, or finished painting the living room baseboards, or replaced a living room curtain, worn to threads by a dog who watches for my car. The dogs. Oh, yes. They need a bath again.
I might rather have cut the grass but it still reeled from the week before, when Toro and I got too close, administering a buzz cut. ("Toro" is an anagram for "root." I must remember this for Scrabble, but when is there time to play?)
The grass grows best in the gardens, where it smothers daisies. I could have weeded, I suppose.
I pressure-washed, trying to avoid the wasp nests.
THERE MUST SOON be a day of reckoning with the wasps, who have taken up occupancy not only in the eaves but in the long hollow tubes of the Woodstock Gregorian wind chimes, now slightly out of tune.
How do they sleep at night?
Accidentally, I blasted the chimes with the pressure washer. Stone-deaf wasps charged me.
BENEATH THE DUST, the house is a beautiful sea-foam blue with stained mahogany columns.
I remember how it got that way.
I came home one day with a brand-new angle grinder, determined to sand away the beige, alligatored paint. My resolve melted in the heat. The house had more than shingles; its condition was akin to psoriasis.
Commercial painters shunned it. The job demanded a paleontologist.
But I enlisted a parade of itinerant workers to join me on weekends, wielding grinders and respirators and face shields, until we found bare cypress beneath the lumpy paint.
I traded movies for nights at www.oldhousejournal.com, absorbing the wisdom of oil-based primers.
OF COURSE, that was before Toro.
Back then, my free-standing garage, the Leaning Tower of Palma Ceia, was fast becoming an outpost of Home Depot, complete with shop vac, three grinders, a power saw, a pressure washer and a borrowed paint sprayer.
They vied for space with a leaf blower, weed trimmer and an old mower, one I could no longer trust.
Yes, there were other mowers in my past. It would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. But none was so red, so sharp.
MY FIRST WORKER, all-American, clean cut and friendly, turned out to be the crack addict. He disappeared after a week, taking two grinders and a heat gun. Miffed, I traced his trail to a Tampa pawn shop, where I reclaimed my tools.
The Mexicans came next, speaking only Spanish. The first, who sang while he worked, kept telling me I should get married. He had a weathered face and teeth that were angled like live oak branches. He quit to get fitted for dentures in Mexico, before again crossing the Rio Grande, this time with a smile.
One day his nephew knocked on my door, ready to take over. Then came another nephew.
Near the end, they straightened my garage for free -- my state of disrepair was that obvious.
A PERSONAL PACE lawn mower. I like that. Not too fast, not too slow. Did I mention Toro's "Atomic Blade"? He doesn't brag about it, but we both know it's there.
STILL AHEAD: The wallpaper in the bathroom is inching down. I remember putting it up. Foot-long links of a towering cactus overtake my porte-cochere like a vine in The Little Shop of Horrors. I duck to avoid them.
The brass mailbox flap needs repair.
Do movie theaters still exist?
Are we at war?
ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOM. There's a peace about being with Toro. No dogs nagging for walks. No doors squeaking for oil. Just us and the open lawn, a blur of weeds rushing past us as we make our get-away.
- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.