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The other day, while I was mowing the lawn, backing up on the side of a steep hill, trying to avoid the stones being shot out at my bare feet while balancing my grandkids on my shoulders, I thought to myself: I wonder if there’s a safer way to do this?

No, just kidding, I wouldn’t do most of those things. Well, not at the same time, anyway.

Still, how dangerous could it be? I mean, I’ve run into burning buildings. I’ve been the lookout man for my brother’s fireworks experiments. I’ve braved the Wal-Mart parking lot on payday. I once ran into a burning Wal-Mart to save my brother’s fireworks. How dangerous could a rapidly spinning, sharpened metal blade be?

Turns out, pretty dangerous.

68,000 people are hurt by power mowers every year, 9,000 of them under 18. That doesn’t even count the injuries from those non-powered push mowers, one of which once fell on my head while I was trying to store it in the garage attic. At least I never set one of those on fire.

As for power mowers, I’ve suffered cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, and smoke inhalation – and that was just the one incident. The ER doctor claims it’s some kind of record. The neighbors, who spent days pulling shrapnel out of their walls, didn’t see any humor in it at all. Neither did the former owners of that airplane, but if you ask me they were flying way too low.

I love summer, so this isn’t something I ordinarily complain about – after all, even I’ve never gotten frostbite while mowing. I’d rather die of heat exhaustion while pushing a bellowing lawn mower than lose the tips of my ears after shoveling snow drifts. Still, as a public service, I researched some of the ways in which my readers can be safer while cutting that grass:

Use a mower with one of those controls that shuts it down if you release the handle. Sure, it might be a pain now, but if your mower goes rolling down the hill without you, would you rather it be on or off? I mean, unless the hill needs mowed.

Wear sturdy shoes. I use hand me downs – day to day shoes that have deteriorated to such a point that they’re now only good for yard work. The only problem with that is that I tend to push my shoes to the limit: By the time they’re replaced, the soles look like a rather disgusting ice skating rink. Does anyone have an extra pair of those golf spikes to give me?

Before changing the blade settings, turn the mower off and disconnect the spark plug. Huh. The spark plug can be disconnected? Knowing that would have saved me three months on a heart monitor. No worries: I always changed the settings with a well aimed pistol shot.

Clear the lawn of anything that could become a projectile, such as stones, toys, and small animals. Learn from me, someone who once took out his own car window while mowing. Oddly enough, the cat escaped injury.

Either cover the mower’s opening, or use a collection bag for grass clippings. People collect grass clippings? Wow. Next you’ll be telling me they rake leaves.

Wear hearing and eye protection. Two words: iPod. I listen to podcasts, which are essentially talk radio without the annoying callers. However, when wearing ear protection keep careful watch for hazards, such as low flying airplanes.

Do not allow children as passengers on riding mowers. Well, of course not! If they’re old enough to ride, they’re old enough to mow themselves, while Dad checks his e-mail and has a nice bowl of ice cream.

Young children should not be allowed to use mowers. Oh. Disregard that previous comment.

Always turn off the mower before unclogging the discharge chute. This is good advice I originally got from my buddy, “Lefty” Liebowitz.

Do not start or fuel mowers indoors. Okay, is this really a problem? I mean, do guys get in trouble for firing up the John Deere while the wife is trying to watch her soaps? There must be a better way to de-clutter shag carpeting.

Finally: Never pull the mower backward unless absolutely necessary.

Heh. They’ve obviously never tried to mow my yard.

A few weeks ago I was pushing the mower under one of the lilac bushes behind my house (this is where I get most of my puncture wounds) when I caught a glimpse of something as I started to move limbs out of my way. There, at eye level maybe three feet in front of me, a cat crouched on a limb, eyes fixed on -- me. It was giving me this glare as if trying to say, “You so-and-so … you once cannonballed my uncle through your car window!”

Sure, I came back and made friends with it later, just to make sure it wasn’t planning to puncture my tires, slash the phone lines or write nasty graffiti on my house. (Sadly, it’s passed away since then – car windows were not involved.) But at that moment?

I’ve never backed up a mower so fast in my life. Luckily, a later toe count came out in the double digits.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)
Absolutely! Just about a month ago the lawn service man for next door shot a big piece of metal (that he'd lost from his mower last year) at our dining room window and just missed Petzi Sis who was sitting at the dining room table. Luckily for her those expensive windows I bought actually prevented the iron hunk from going through the window but it tore the daylights out of the screen and scared her pretty good.

When I showed it to him it was the bag clip from his other mower and was quite heavy in our hands.
Jun. 5th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
I'll bet it did scare her! Talk about a close call.

I once noticed a block of metal on the ground while I was mowing, and when I picked it up my hand got burned -- I never did figure out what it was supposed to do, but it had apparently *just* fallen off my mower.
Jun. 5th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
"I’ve never backed up a mower so fast in my life. Luckily, a later toe count came out in the double digits."

It's just a shame you had 14 beforehand, now you're down to twelve.

On the bright side, you've still got a couple of spares! :D
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
Laugh as you will, but my lucky number is 14 -- that makes it quite a trauma!
Jun. 6th, 2009 07:24 am (UTC)
Jun. 5th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
I’ve never backed up a mower so fast in my life. Luckily, a later toe count came out in the double digits.

A friend of mine wasn't so lucky. He learned you should never mow bare footed. He now leaves eight-toed foot prints.
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:17 pm (UTC)
I was mowing my mom's yard for her one day. It was going smashingly untill I hear the curb across the street EXPLODE! The concrete curb just shattered in a hailstorm of dust and shrapnel. I had launched a random piece of stone from my lawn mower so hard it broke the opposite curb prolly 20 feet away... I still imagine what would have happened if it hit my shin instead... ((shudder))
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
It was actually a stone I sent through my car window, from a distance of about 15 feet, and I've gotten myself a few cuts and bruises on the shins from picking up small objects, too -- nothing with that kind of force, though! That kind of impact would have certainly broken your tibia.
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
I had a feeling I'd be hearing stories like that once this was posted, considering the statistics on lawn mower related accidents ...
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
It is easy to disconnect the spark plug--that is how I turn my mower off.
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
I know it is, I disconnect it every fall when I put the mower away for winter -- although I did once get shocked by unthinkingly touching the plug while pulling the starter. But I'm glad I haven't gotten to the point of needing to turn the mower off that way!
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC)
Hmm - I am glad that I own not one square inch of lawn!
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
I like having a lawn, but there are definite advantages to doing without!
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
you don't even want to know how many feet I've had to reconstruct after lawn boys came in from mowing in flip flops or canvas sneakers
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
I don't understand why people wear flip flops even when they're not mowing! I had a bad experience with a door and bare feet when I was a kid, and ever since then I can't stand to be barefoot (even though I'm in a family of hillbillies).

We pulled up at a scene once where a mower had backed over a kid, only to discover the blade had pulled his lung partially through his chest wall and it was still inflating. How the heck to you bandage that? Every time we talk about critical incident stress, I instantly flash back to the moment we turned the corner and I saw him. (He recovered completely, by the way.)
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
I'm a diabetic who won't wear her shoes.I remember every lecture I gave MY patients about that.

Holy heck, that reminds me of why teaching is much less stressful than medicine! My grandfather cut off all his fingers with a mower (the blade broke off and scythed out probably while he was doing something stupid like pulling out a branch). THey did reattach them
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC)
Reaching down around the deck while the mower's running is one thing I will *not* do ... the thought of losing fingers just terrifies me, as someone who wants to be a full time novelist -- not to mention every one of my present jobs demands constant keyboarding.
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
no kidding. it's hard enough to type with this stiff painful thumb i have no but at least it's THERE.
Jun. 5th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
You are altogether too funny for me to be reading for free!!! I love your stuff, Mark.
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
Just keep that in mind when I've got a book on the shelves and you have a few bucks in your pocket!
Jun. 5th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
LOL, this was great.

And almost made me fearful of mowing our lawn. But now, after thinking about it, I'm more determined. I don't care if I have to use the push mower, since my grandfather won't let me use the riding mower (because I'm a girl). This is the same one who wouldn't help prepare my speech because WVU was playing. He really does like me, honest.

Heh. Anyway, always fun to read your columns!
Jun. 6th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
And how long has it been 1850 where he is?

Actually, I prefer the push mower -- it's great exercise, while also accomplishing something. And a chance to listen to my podcasts. :-) But lawn mowing really is safe, as long as you follow the *real* safety rules.
Jun. 5th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
I absolutely loathed and despised mowing the lawn growing up. My husband had it worse. He was forced to mow the lawn at the mercy of his screaming 2-year-old brother, because that was the only thing that would quiet him down and his parents never believed in disciplining the holy offspring of the step-father.

As a result, we refuse to ever live in a place where we are responsible for keeping up a yard.

Jun. 6th, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
Parents who don't believe in disciplining their kids should be forced to sit through whatever punishment those kids eventually get for whatever bad thing they do as adults ...

I actually got a job mowing lawns when I was a teenager; I was up to 17 or 18 lawns for a couple of years, and the truth is I kind of liked it. I had the step-father from hell, and it got me away from him, outside doing something that allowed me to dream up stories while working, and a bit of money besides. I was overworked, but I didn't realize it at the time.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
As I've said before, any day when I can get some people to smile is a good day!
Jun. 5th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
Whoa! No wonder The Husband uses a lawn service....
Jun. 6th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
I actually like mowing the lawn, it's a nice change from the desk work I usually do -- but yes, it can be a bit hazardous!
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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