There is an enticing moment before any potential disaster when we could dial back all of life's misfortunes, and draw back inside a protective shell, like a turtle ... or a tape measure.
Unfortunately, and for the most part, when we are at that moment we are often talking ourselves through some other problem; or yelling at some poor slob who might have cut us off in traffic; or not have been paying attention at all. Not seeing the forest for the trees, that kind of thing.
In my case, it's not seeing the lawn for all the grass.
And that's why, on a Wednesday morning with the temperatures climbing, I decided to tackle the mower.
You know what I mean, right?
It's that thing in your garage that might start if you stand on your head and rotate your arms clockwise four times in succession. Not to worry, though. Its engine will roar to a start once your shoulder has torn from its socket.
Ours is a riding mower I assume was made by some alien life-force -- as it looks like an unwanted robotic pet; half beetle, half tortoise -- cast off like so much space junk.
It had seen better days. Days when if you had the levers in a neutral position, pushed down on a pedal and turned a key the thing would start up.
These days, the thing only roars to life with the help of a hot wire and holding interpretive dance positions perfectly still.
Well ... There I was, standing on top of the open contraption, holding the clutch down with one foot while trying to touch one end of the wire to a terminal and the other end to the thing I think of as the CELL ANNOYED.
Crap! I forgot to have the key turned in the "ON" position.
I start again.
Foot. Wire. Key.
The motor rumbles and catches, spinning the cutting blade. I feel the air from its fan; a cold chill on my other foot, which I had wedged rather painfully into the grass in order to stabilize my precarious balance.
Crap! I think to myself. I forgot to check the position of the mower blade. That could have been a disaster.
Even so, with a lump in my throat and my heart racing, I took off on the machine, trying to cut a series of ever-narrowing ovals onto our lawn as one might attempt to peel an apple in one single, elegant strip. I'm not trying to be artsy, the machine's reverse feature hasn't functioned in years.
And all was going well, until the fifth circle when a rattling noise developed. The mower slowed a little, seemed to choke as it listed to one side. No matter how far I pushed the accelerator, it merely inched along.
"What now?" I said to the air, with disbelief. The humidity, so early in the day, was already conspiring to vacuum-seal my mind.
I looked back to see a tiny front tire still rolling along.
A perfect end to an imperfect chore.
For a moment, I think about kicking it across the yard before it circles around itself like a coin and settles into a nest of still-uncut grass.
Miraculously, I am able to stop myself from coming unhinged.
I don't want to break anything else.
So instead, I take out my cell phone and record the breakdown for my husband. I send the picture off into the ethosphere with an audible swoosh.
A few minutes later a reply dings, and I open the missive to find a return image of what is to be my new best friend: A cobalt blue electric mower, with a whisper quiet motor and push-button start.
“Better to push a new mower than push your luck.”