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Lawnmowers Of The World, Unite

To free up space in the garage, people are going to need to begin sharing tools—starting with my neighbors.

Illustration by Ryan Snook

Now that it’s May and spring has firmly arrived, I’ve returned to my garage and the contents therein, mostly yard equipment and motorcycles. Last fall, my sister and I sold our respective lawn mowers and went halves on a Kubota zero-turn mower. She and her husband live up the street from me, so the plan is for me to mow my yard, then ride to her house and mow theirs. I don’t know why more people don’t share mowers. Most of them sit unused in garages except for an hour a week, so there’s no reason three or four neighbors couldn’t own one together and share it. Of course, there’s always the chance one of the owners would run over roots and rocks, then forget to check the oil and ruin it for everyone else, so you’d have to be able to kick people out of your lawn mower club if they turned out to be stupid. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know whether someone is stupid just by looking at them. This past winter, I spent six hours trying to start a motorcycle before realizing it was out of gas. I would probably be the first guy kicked out of a lawn mower club.

My wife gets half the garage for her car and I use the other side for my motorcycles. Her half doesn’t take up an entire side, so we store the mower on hers, but our new mower is so big I had to get rid of my band saw to make room for it. I hadn’t used my band saw in several years, and my neighbor Bill will let me use his band saw if I need to, so it made no sense to keep mine. Except now I’ll have to stay on Bill’s good side so I can have access to his saw, which means I can’t make snarky comments about a certain political party in his presence. This restraint isn’t a bad thing and makes me think members of Congress should be made to share home implements with one another so they would be more careful with their words. When Al Franken was a senator, he probably wouldn’t have called Ted Cruz “the Dwight Schrute of the Senate” if he had to borrow Cruz’s lawn mower that weekend.

If the missus and I ever shuffle off to a retirement home, the thing I’ll miss most is our garage. Growing up, I had a barn, then I moved out and went barn-less and garage-less for 10 years before having a one-car garage. A one-car garage is worthless. By the time you put a mower and a few bicycles in it, there’s no room for a car, so you leave your car outside and fill the rest of the garage with junk you’ll never use, but feel obligated to keep. A two-car garage imposes discipline by offering just enough space for a vehicle or two, but only if you carefully limit the other contents. If a lawn mower comes in, a band saw goes out. It’s counterintuitive to think a two-car garage would better discourage hoarding than a one-car garage, but there you go.

I don’t like bragging, but I might have the best garage in Central Indiana. In addition to my motorcycles and car, I have two workbenches, a lawn mower, air compressor, snow blower, drill press, a rolling tool cabinet, motorcycle lift, and a carpeted area with two chairs my neighbor Bill (of the band saw) gave me for conducting his mother’s funeral. My garage is a workshop, living room, paint booth, clubhouse, gardening center, and transportation museum, rolled into one. Sometimes during long church meetings, I think of quitting my pastoral job and becoming a garage organizer.

But I didn’t write this essay to boast about my garage, amazing as it is. I’m writing to encourage the sharing and borrowing of tools so we can get our cars back in our garages where they belong. This became a preoccupation of mine when Bill moved in last year and I noticed he had every tool known to man. No matter what I needed, Bill had it. A basin wrench, yes. A portable generator, you bet. An enclosed trailer, of course. A lathe, not one but two. Tire irons, all types and sizes. An extension ladder, 24 feet with rubber caps. A plumber’s snake, certainly. Several buckets of assorted nuts and bolts, without a doubt. Plus, he has a pickup truck, saving me the trouble and expense of buying my own. Bill moving in next door was the best thing that ever happened to me, tool-wise.

With Bill having all those tools, it won’t surprise you to learn there’s not any room for cars in their garage, even though Bill has a barn, a garden shed, and a basement. A man who has so many tools that he can’t fit his cars in the garage had better have an understanding wife, which Bill does. I know Bill’s wife pretty well, because we dated for two years in high school before she came to her senses and began dating Bill.

Sometimes when you have a good friend, you might not spend much time with them because your spouses don’t enjoy one another’s company, but my wife and Bill’s wife have become friends, bonding over gardens, cooking, and the mutual challenge of difficult husbands. They’re not quite at the point where my wife feels free to ask Bill’s wife if she can borrow her rototiller, but they’re getting close. My wife has been hinting for several years that she would like a rototiller, which would require selling one of my motorcycles to free up space, so I’m delighted by their budding friendship. With both of us borrowing from Bill and his wife, I’ll have even more room in my garage.

After years of careful pruning, I managed to carve out a free corner in my garage, but then my mom and dad died, and quite a few of their things ended up there. If you’ve ever had a parent die, you know it’s next to impossible to get rid of their things without feeling guilty. What do people without garages do when their parents die? A man in our town has made a fortune building hundreds of self-storage sheds, which filled immediately with old family junk people will never use or need. I wish I had thought to build self-storage sheds.

My wife and I did buy a rental house not long ago, which we will eventually live in when my knees go bad and I can’t climb stairs. The house came with nine acres and a pole barn. Before I could move any of my parents’ stuff to the barn, my son filled the barn with hay and a boat trailer. I love my son, but if he keeps putting his stuff in my barn before I do, he might be the next member of our family to expire.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. "Back Home Again" chronicles his views on life in Indiana.
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