Welders are a quiet sort focused in general on two things: the clock and the pain. The intense heat is a by-product; knee-jerk reactions to the “business” and, well most of us are just searching for another sensation besides heat. The act of being on fire is actually a warming, pleasant sensation at the onset that I somehow equate with vague notions of birth and purification. At first you feel something and feeling something is good. The fire finds a hole and as it crawls up the bottom cuffs of your frayed denims, it’s like a warm embrace from a Gaboon viper. I mean you can’t even whistle while you work in this place… the oxygen has been sucked out and is being ransomed off somewhere for a value that far exceeds our wages. It’s oppressive and ought be forbidden that one’s entire body be enveloped in layers of last year’s bum cattle leather. The finality of it all is the final insult; the one that strikes the adjectives from your mouth when you ask yourself, “What is it that I made today?” Well, you know that piece of metal that sits between the wood and the eraser on a pencil? That’s right, that’s all me baby… all – day – long.
But these are good people, most of them anyway… the rest are poor, gene-deficient litters, beagle puppies with shit on their noses anxious for more shit, too dumb to realize what every old dog/factory worker knows best: Shit runs downhill and so you don’t have to go looking for it besides, every factory looks like shit anyway, reveals the same color spectrum- that of black, dirty white, orange, more black and beagle-shit brown rainbow-less tones.
That is why I jumped at a chance meeting, away from this metal nest inferno and accepted a charitable, generous invitation from a co-worker who led me to his farm in rural Belmont, Wisconsin. He gave me an air-conditioner after hearing I was living without. I politely accepted his quick invitation for an early morning tour of the premises. As we walked toward an old dairy barn he asked if I was looking for a lawnmower… he asked me in that matter of fact tone that you get from most Cracker Barrel waitresses’ when they ask you to pick a “side” to go with your burger. “Well a… a hem… I rent and well the landlord is supposed to…” And BOOM it hit me in eyes like a snowball fired somewhere outta the fields of sweet corn. I had not expected this. This was a passion spanning years and there were just so many of the bastards.
We stood in an open doorway to a dilapidated barn. I’m positive at one time this structural behemoth produced vast amounts of Wisconsin pride (milk to cheese to butter to yogurt etc.) But now it was a surreal domicile for collection, no… rather a dealership for antique riding lawnmowers. The floor was concrete and on each side of the barn an old gutted trench ran the floor length of the barn, about 225 feet. As sparrows dive-bombed and Recluse spiders took up sentry positions against me, I could only utter a couple of words, “How many?” I took a fast count and he had what I estimated to be about 100. As we walked between the rows of mowers he started to recite riding lawn mower histories, calling out brand names, serial numbers, engine configurations, lawn-mower corporate take-overs… He wasn’t bragging… just talking as if in a trance. I felt like a missionary to a Rebel tribesman from Papua, New Guinea ramble on about Indonesian political history. He knew every single one of them, what they had been through, which one’s he rode in the parade and the one’s he wouldn’t be caught dead in… corporate mower take-overs. He’s an ex-Toro employee which probably started this whole infection. My head was spinning; I was stumbling around this barn and could only take in bizarre shapes, names, notions and their colors.
He had a few Simplicity mowers from the late 40’s, a mustard-yellow Mustang, ancient John Deere’s, Cub Cadets from the 60’s, Colt’s from the early 60’s; some of these riders had only a stick for a steering wheel. A good third of them looked to me like a cross between a blow-dryer and flying saucer, others looked like angry metal bears, some had fangs, some were zombies but they all cut the grass. I don’t know why I found the collection so dumbfounding and surreal; perhaps it was the sheer number of them tucked away in this old dairy barn in the middle of nowhere. The nice thing for me was that the whole experience wasn’t contrived; I wasn’t led to these beasts… Hell, I could have just grabbed the air-conditioner and left. I was being polite and it’s a rare time now that politeness leads to an discovery of this sort. I guess the whole experience was compounded in a way because I’ve worked with this gentleman for quite some time and nary a word about this stuff. You never know what the quiet entity next to you at work goes home to or what is being tinkered with. What’s in their barn? What’s in your barn? Fingernails from the Roman Empire you say… I don’t care… I just want to see it, more so now than ever. Passion is passion.
At the Riding Mower God’s request I have withheld his name. He told me that he needed to take a peek at my blog before I wrote anything because he’s had theft issues. I’ve honored the request. All of the riders are for sale. If you wanna be the coolest grass killer in your neighborhood, shoot me an email and I will pass it on. He would appreciate that.