Confrontation on the manse lawn - the riding mower loses

Technologically simple tools - such as a hoe or rake - I can cope with. But a riding lawnmower? A machine that whirs, whines, coughs, and belches smoke - and with a purported mind of its own, a riding lawnmower was simply out of the question, I thought.

On the other hand, I live in a home in the country with three acres of lawn. Too, being a homeowner who is obliged to project a ''with it'' image, ready to explore the gadget-strewn high-tech frontier - if I could ever find the frontier , that is - I didn't feel I could dismiss a riding mower out of hand.

After learning of my yard's immense size, the first salesman I encountered said unequivocally that a small riding mower of 5 to 8 horsepower, which cost about $1,000, would not cut the grass, mustard, or much of anything else. He then pressed me for all of the details about the yard.

Finally, deciding not to level with him anymore, I refused to discuss the terrain problem, including a community of moles out front. If there was a problem with a slope, it was limited to a voracious grubworm or two rippling the sod now and then.

When the salesman turned to lovingly caress the engine cover, I decided I had had enough and sought a fast exit, but not before he made one final drive by extolling the virtues of the deluxe model - 15 hp., complete with dethatcher (those poor grubs), racing stripes, and a lawn machine that is well suited to the open road with a speed limit of 55 mph.

Can it tow a mobile home, I wondered to myself?

Mistakingly sensing a huge commission, the salesman upped the ante by insisting that a garden tractor for the 30-by-70-foot vegetable patch was a strategic addition.

I could imagine the required support system, including a gigantic equipment garage, a cluster of underground fuel tanks, and a full-time mechanic.

To this day I detour around riding-mower centers.

An uneasy standoff lasted until a friend from the suburbs stopped by. After admiring the vast sweep of the yard, he searched frantically for a telltale mower shed.

Not finding one, he blurted out: ''You don't own a riding mower?''

''No,'' I shot back matter-of-factly, ''but we're thinking of renting a few sheep.''

Icy quiet prevailed for the remainder of the outside tour. You could almost hear the grubs feasting. Stepping inside the house, my suburban friend was caught off guard by the sight of furniture. Assuredly, he anticipated instead a pile of rags in a corner on which we slept when not cutting the grass with that ridiculous walk-behind mower or foraging for nuts and berries in the woods.

But the elegance and grace of the parlor and dining room of our early-19 th-century manor raised a counterpoint to ''that lawn problem.''

Indeed, this nonconformist burden has produced its sad moments, but nothing is as nightmarish as the specter of shopping in the mall with a sandwich board over my shoulders that says, ''Here slinks a homeowner, with lawn that's large and fair, who does not own a riding mower.''

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