Why can't men confess to their yard crimes? We abuse our lawn mowers, rototillers and other garden equipment. We attempt to mow over large rocks. We foul our gas tanks with dirt. We leave tools to rust in the rain. Yet every trip to the repair shop starts with the same lame excuse.
It wasn't our fault.
Someone else must have maimed our machinery. Whatever the problem, we're as innocent as Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor. At least, that's what we tell the repairman.
I have terrible luck with mowers. Last year, I wrecked one by running over the heavy metal cap of the septic tank. The mower stopped in its tracks. I knew at once what had happened. The crankshaft and blade were bent, possibly beyond repair.
Could the mower be saved? I sought professional help from a man dressed in coveralls.
"Problem?" the mechanic asked.
I froze. Do I mention the run-in with the septic cap? Should I admit I'm a lunkhead, or try to save face?
I did what most men would do. I frowned, scratched my head and ventured a guess.
"It won't start," I said.
Well, it wasn't a lie. Nor was it the first time I'd used that subtle ploy to avoid embarrassment.
Years ago, I appeared at the shop with a blackened mower, burned to a crisp. I'd spilled gas on the deck of the machine, which caught fire when I tried to start it. Flames shot 3 feet in the air; I'm lucky the mower didn't explode.
Of course, I shared none of these details with the bemused repairman.
"Problem?" he asked, eyeing the charred remains.
"It needs a tuneup," I said.
I couldn't bear to tell the truth. Could you?
I've wrecked other garden equipment as well. Once, while I was rototilling the garden, the machine simply stopped. The engine seemed to seize up and grind to a halt.
I cursed and kicked the tiller, then took it to the shop.
"Let me guess," the serviceman said. "It won't start?"
He checked the dipstick. It was bone-dry.
"See? No oil," he said.
"Impossible," I said, sputtering in self-defense. "It worked fine yesterday."
The serviceman smiled. "Yesterday, you had oil," he said.
He had me there.
Repair shops say they deal often with guys like me, people who try to hide their mower mistakes. Servicemen say they understand such behavior and never make us feel like boobs.
"It's the macho image. Guys don't want to admit they've done something wrong," says Graham Horner, a repairman at Eldersburg Sales & Repair Service in Carroll County. "Men know exactly what's happened, but they don't want to look stupid."
Women clients are different, say repairmen. They are more likely to admit their gardening goofs in public.
"Women are generally more truthful than men," says Mitch Belcher, owner of the Eldersburg facility. "Guys come in with their mower blades all bent and gouged, but won't admit they hit something. Women come in and say, 'I ran over my well cap. How much will it cost?' "
Belcher recently repaired the lawn tractor of a man who swore the mower worked fine last year, and only needed a tuneup.
"That tractor had water in the gas tank, a mouse nest in the engine and a rusty carburetor," he says. "It had been sitting a loooong time."
When Belcher tactfully listed the extensive repairs to the owner, "the man's story started to change," he says.
Repair shops are also handling more second-hand lawn equipment, says Belcher. Many mowers, tillers, trimmers and shredders are bought at yard sales, and most homeowners cannot believe what they've purchased is junk.
"The problem with a lot of that stuff is that the sellers will make temporary repairs just to get it off their property," he says.
One man was proud of the fact that, for less than $50, he'd bought a riding tractor and a spare engine. Until the repair shop informed him that neither engine worked.
Belcher's recommendations for purchasing hand-me-downs: "If you can't try it out [on the premises], don't buy it. Take someone who knows mechanics. And always ask why the person is selling it. Sometimes you can tell if they're making up stories."