Blade Runner 

The hazards of yard work.

In my whole life, I've seen two lawn-mower injuries and read about one.

When I was a teenager, I saw where Timmy Poole's big toe used to be, before he ran over his own foot with a lawn mower.

A few years back, in the course of my usual work, I had a little talk with a man who was all covered in bandages and angry red marks. Curious sort that I am, I asked him what happened. He told me that he was cutting the side of a hill with his riding mower, and the mower flipped over. After that, he and the mower rolled down the hill together, playing an ugly game of tag. From the look of the man, the mower did all the tagging, sometimes leaving a little bruise, sometimes taking out a fair-size chunk of flesh.

Two years ago, I read about a man who was blown up by a lawn-mower bomb. Poor old James Larry McAnnally, of Jasper, Alabama, straddled his riding mower, turned the key, and got blown right into the hereafter. The blast also killed the loyal McAnnally dog, who was standing near the mower when the deal went down. A few months ago, I called the Jasper sheriff's office and asked if the crime had ever been solved. Nope, they told me, the lawn-mower bomber walks free.

I don't mean to be harsh, but I'm pretty sure that the first two injuries were foreseeable and preventable. All Timmy had to do was just not pull the lawn mower over his own bare foot. That's pretty basic stuff, like not hitting yourself in the head with a tire iron.

The second guy could've done a little mental calculation. Something like, Lessee, if I sit on top of this little tractor and ride it sideways on this steep hill, there might be a problem with gravity.

Unlike the other two, McAnnally had an enemy worse than himself.

All of which brings me to this amazing factoid: Careless lawn-mower use causes more than 55,000 injuries and about 75 deaths every year. Children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 65 constitute 65 percent of the fatalities. So says the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS).

"In some cases, adults allow children to stand on the lawn mower while the adult mows the lawn," says the AOFAS.

I know, some people just like to do funny things with children and vehicles. My daddy used to haul me around in the bed of a pickup truck, where the spare tire was strapped down, but I slid around like a hockey puck. That was just Jabo Jowers' way. When we went to Charleston on vacation, Jabo told me that if he had any gunpowder, he'd stuff me into one of those cannons on the battery and shoot me out into the harbor, just to see if I could swim back. To this day, I'm not sure if he was joking.

Anyhow, back to the lawn mowers. The AOFAS offers some suggestions on how to prevent lawn-mower injuries. Most of them are simple, commonsense things, such as make sure the lawn mower is not missing any critical blade guards; heed the manufacturer's warnings; pick up rocks and sticks (projectiles) before you mow; and, for cryin' out loud, don't turn the riding mower into some hellish kiddie ride.

These all make sense.

But here's my favorite, straight from the AOFAS official position statement on preventing lawn-mower injuries:

"Wear protective eye gear, hand gear, and footwear such as goggles, gloves, and heavy rubber sole boots. (Hiking shoes with double wall leather and cleats are good. Golf shoes are even better.)"

What? No hard hat with a shatter-resistant full face shield? No hockey-goalie gear? No bomb-sniffing dog? (Y'know, if the McAnnally dog had been a bomb-sniffing dog, he and his master might still be alive today.)

Call me quirky, but I'm proud of the fact that I've made it this far in life without owning a business suit or any golf equipment. Before I'd run out and buy any golf shoes, I'd just get myself one of those robot lawn mowers, like the Friendly Robotics RL500. All a mowing man has to do is ring his lawn with wires (like one of those dog-zapping electric fences), then set the turtle-shaped RL500 free. Sure, it costs $800, takes half the day to cut the grass, and misses spots. But if you can keep the yard clear of humans while the RL500 is doing its work, nobody will get hurt.

If I had a giant yard and a trust fund, I'd get the Wolf Zero, a $30,000 mower that cuts the grass with laser beams. That means no nasty blades to cut you up or throw rocks at innocent bystanders. I know, $30,000 is a bunch of money for a lawn mower, but you have to consider that the Zero is also a two-seater car, good to go on the street. If a man could figure out how to re-aim those lasers to get Winnebagos out of the fast lane on the Interstate, I figure it would be worth every penny.

E-mail Helter Shelter at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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