Gearing up to take down the growing menace

April 13, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

AS EVERY AMERICAN male homeowner knows, the sweetest ritual of spring is firing up the weed-whacker and defoliating vast expanses of one's yard.

Running a heavy, cumbersome power tool along an uneven sidewalk, sparks flying everywhere, dirt and gravel spraying dangerously into the eyes of passers-by, the machine's unearthly wail disturbing every neighbor within a two-block radius -- it just doesn't get any better than that.

Sadly, women, as a general rule, don't appreciate the joys of weed-whacking.

They don't appreciate the weed-whacker's ultimate goal: where once there was disorder -- scraggly weeds, stubborn roots, tall, overhanging crabgrass -- now there is, well, nothing.

Nor do they appreciate the subtle art that goes into, say, trimming a long border of lush, green grass -- lush, that is, except for the seared patches of earth where you dug the weed-whacker in a bit too low.

But hasn't every artist made a mistake at some point in his career?

Didn't Picasso ever dab too much paint on the canvas and cry: "Oops?"

Didn't Baryshnikov ever leap into the air during a pas de deux and land with all the grace of a drunken Baltic sailor?

Didn't the great De Niro ever blank out on a line during filming and resort, complete with goofy, scrunched up features, to a desperate imitation of a sputtering Yosemite Sam?

Of course they did.

And so the creative weed-whacker is not overly concerned about the occasional crater gouged cruelly around an otherwise pristine flower bed.

No, for the proud man wielding this marvelous tool, the true satisfaction lies in this: He has beaten back nature once again.

Armed only with, say, a bulky 10-year-old Sears Craftsman model, his tendinitis-riddled elbows screaming from the machine's vibrations, he has tamed the vast expanse of vegetation that continually threatens to engulf him and his family.

It's war out there in the yard.

And this is something women, God love 'em, just don't get.

I feel sorry for them.

I really do.

Nor do women seem to understand that, while a man might age, he never outgrows his need for toys.

When I was a boy, the best present you could ever give me was a baseball glove.

Every Saturday, I'd go to the sporting goods store in our small town and stare longingly at the Rawlings Mickey Mantle model with its "Customized Deep Pocket" or the Spalding Harmon Killebrew model made from "Genuine Cowhide."

Now I wander the aisles of hardware stores and gaze with lust at premium weed-whackers such as the Echo G-200, with its fiberglass cylinder-muffler housing, high-volume felt air filter and tap-to-advance dual-line head.

Now I thumb through shiny tool catalogs and leer at pictures of the high-performance Stihl FS-46 (with nylon line!), which, as every clear-thinking American male with at least a quarter-acre of property knows, is a steal at $149.95.

(Father's Day is just around the corner, isn't it? Oh, well. A man can always dream.)

Over the years, the weed-whacking community has pretty much divided itself along these lines: gas or electric.

I'm a gas man myself.

Look, if you're into those prissy, low-decibel electric weed-whackers, 50-foot orange extension cords snaking everywhere and getting caught on bushes and wrapped around tree trunks, hey, knock yourself out.

Me, I need the roar of a 21-cc engine, baby.

I need the noise, and I need the stomach-turning smell of burning gasoline mixed with the sweet aroma of dirt, gravel and a yard full of freshly murdered thistle.

(Oh, look at me. I'm getting so excited I can hardly type here.)

But the good news for weed-whackers everywhere is this: After months of boring dormancy, the weeds are back.

Oh, they're out there, all right.

The dandelions are out there, and so is the ragweed, dodder, crabgrass and all the other filthy green intruders.

Sometimes, I swear I can almost hear them laughing.

On warm evenings, if the breeze is right, I can almost hear their taunts: "We're coming for your yard next, fat boy."

I say: Bring it on.

Let's get ready to rumble.

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