On Father's Day, I visited my twice destroyed house. I went to cut the grass.
By "twice destroyed," I mean first destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and then by fire.
By "cut the grass," I mean I wanted to mow down the overgrown grass, weeds and other vegetation that has enjoyed unbridled liberty in my yard for going on 10 months.
My lawnmower had been trapped in our shed when we evacuated New Orleans ahead of the storm. It sat under water for two or more weeks and remained in the waterlogged shed for several months before I finally pulled it out into the daylight sometime in January.
It was not a pretty sight. My trusty stallion of motorized efficiency had been transformed into a rusty reminder of watery destruction. My first instinct was to ditch it and I left it out in the backyard, exposed to the weather and easy pickings for looters and thieves.
But some days later, I began to think that perhaps there was still some life in that machine. It’s not that old, and it always started up with one or two pulls.
About three weeks ago, I had gone to the house with a purpose: start that mower.
Not an easy task, as you can imagine.
I started out by dousing every exposed moving part with 3-in-1 oil. Wheels, kill cable, choke, pulley and flywheel were all thoroughly drowned. At first the pull chord was stiff and did not retract on its own. But repeated operation and more oil and I worked it loose so that it almost worked like before the storm.
I drained the oil and gas tank, refilled them and put in a new spark plug. I removed the air filter but I did not have a replacement for it.
I figured that was enough, so I started to pull the chord purposefully. I pulled it about 20 times, and then I pulled it about 20 times more.
So I used the “old school” fix: I pulled out the spark plug and poured gas directly into the cylinder. I put it back together and pulled the chord again. This time, gasoline and water sputtered from the muffler. The more I pulled, the more it sputtered.
But nothing ignited. Not a single chug. I pulled the chord until I was out of enthusiasm for the job, and then I pulled it some more.
That was earlier this month. I finally relented and put it back in our shed.
I went back on Father’s Day, hopeful that I could get that mower started, hopeful that I would be able to cut the grass.
Again, I pulled and pulled the chord. I took out the plug and could definitely smell the gas. But it did not budge. It did not crank or fire even one rotation. I put it back in the shed for another try on another day.
I’m not ready to give up.
I know that mower is just a rusted heap now. Why do I care if it ever runs again? And my lawn, my overgrown, weed-riddled lawn in front of my flooded, burned, and hopeless house on my decimated street just a short walk from the London Avenue Canal breach—why do I worry about how it looks?
Cutting the grass is a chore, a sweaty, mindless job I should be glad I don’t have to do right now.
But, damn it, I do care. That’s still my house, even if Katrina killed it, even if fire trashed its remains. That’s my neighborhood, too. I don’t want people passing by my house and saying, “What a dump.”
And I’m feeling like I’m still not in control of my destiny. Coming up on 10 months, and I’m still living at the whim of nature, government bureaucracy and insurance companies. I can’t even get my own lawnmower to start when I want it to!
This is life in post-K New Orleans, I suppose. We’re all in crazy motion, but who’s at the wheel? Who’s really in charge? We’re speeding forward through time, but to what destination?
And because I haven’t been able to get that lawnmower started, nature rules my yard. Heartless, indifferent nature destroyed our city, and almost 10 months later, we remain in her grip.
I will try again tomorrow.