Ben and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance


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The average American spends 70 hours per year, the equivalent of nearly two full work weeks, on lawn and garden care. For some, lawn care is an onerous task, grudgingly accomplished, and for others it is a source of personal pride and accomplishment. Over the past four decades, author John B. Marek has variously and intermittently fallen into both camps. In Ben and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance, he weaves humorous personal anecdotes with fascinating historical facts, and recounts his father's homespun wisdom alongside insight gained from his own suburban homesteading experiences. 

 Paperback, 146 pages, ISBN: 9781387423859 

Signed and personalized by author.



Every artist needs a mentor or two, and for my father, who aspired to the blue collar art of lawnmower maintenance, those mentors were the “Sawkeys." The Sawkeys (who I would later deduce were actually named Esalke) were German-born brothers who ran a small engine repair shop out of a detached garage behind their house in the village of Gypsum, Ohio in the years following World War II. Gypsum was a thriving company town back then, with nearly the entire population employed at the U.S. Gypsum plant a half-mile down the road. Since everyone worked together during the day, there was a lot neighborly familiarity and a good bit of neighborly competition; and nowhere was that more apparent than in the meticulous way families kept their lawns. I don't really know how my father became interested in small engine repair, but I'd guess it was originally out of a necessity which later grew into an interest and eventually into a passion.

My father's name was Bennie Marek. It was not Bernard Marek, as I had long assumed because Bernard is my middle name, and almost no one called him Ben. That's why the title of this book is maybe a little imprecise, but I think Dad would understand. After all, my sense of humor comes largely from him and he would definitely have appreciated the pun. The title Ben and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance is a nod to the 1974 work by Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is itself a play on Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In the introduction to his book, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either." 

In the same vein, while the personal anecdotes shared and mechanical and lawn care advice given in this book are all legitimate and based on both my father's homespun wisdom and my subsequent experience as a homeowner and suburban homesteader, I am, at best, a shade tree mechanic who knows just enough not to screw things up too badly. The techniques discussed in this book demonstrate general principles which may or may not be applicable to specific situations; soil, grass types and environmental conditions vary widely. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions included with products and use good judgement. When in doubt, consult a local professional. And certainly, any insights you might gain about the great mysteries of life and the human condition are purely coincidental.