Reel Mowers And More For Retirees

Every so often my wife, Sena, tries to help me decide what I’m going to do with my free time when I retire. She even found a Vanguard Boglehead discussion thread with an obvious hint about mowing the lawn–with a Fiskar’s reel (real) lawn mower. The Boglehead site is supposed to be about investment advice. It’s often difficult to see the connection of some of the topics with investing.

What does a Fiskar’s Reel Lawn Mower have to do with retirement investing?

Anyway, I did a little yard work this past weekend and one of the chores was to haul out our own Fiskar’s mower. It’s not an antique; they’re still making these things.

Jim Amos mows the lawn

My impression of the Fiskar is that it gets the job done, it’s quiet, and I don’t have to mess with gasoline and oil. My wife, Sena, usually mows the lawn. I can hear you groaning already, but let me tell you, she’s pretty particular about how she wants it done. We also have a lawn care service because our yard is too big to manage with a Fiskar alone.

OK, so I did a couple of other yard-oriented chores. These are what I have to look forward to in my retirement. I had to go pick up 15 bags of mulch. Not just any mulch, mind you, but a special mulch with weed retardant in it–Chestnut Brown Mulch. There are dozens of mulch flavors, by the way, differing mainly by color. The bags weigh from 20-40 lbs, heavier if the mulch is dyed.

I debated about whether I should identify the home and garden by name, but I finally decided, what the heck, Lowe’s is big enough to take a little criticism.

I don’t do this often and there’s apparently a system with hidden assumptions about mulch acquisition of which I was unaware. I knew enough to go inside the store to buy my mulch first and get a receipt from the cashier. I did not know that I should wait until she called the guys outside letting them know I was coming. She didn’t act like she was going to do anything other than ring up my purchase, so I headed out to the lot where everything under the sun having to go with gardens filled the huge parking lot. It was divided into a large lot on the north side of the store and a much smaller lot full of mainly mulch and dirt (OK, I should call it “soil”) on the south side.

There were a couple of friendly guys out there with a pallet lifter truck (I don’t know the exact name of this vehicle but it looks fun to drive) helping someone else, or so it looked. They were actually hauling a load of what looked like retaining wall blocks back into the store. They were gone a few minutes and I got a sense of the etiquette of shoppers who realize they are in line, competing for attention. I fiddled with my receipt. She edged toward the large entrance where the Lowe’s workers had disappeared. This was evidently a signal that she was first, which I had no problem with and I tried to signal that I was not in any hurry and that I barely knew what kind of store Lowe’s is (which is almost true). Whistling “Camptown Races” had the opposite effect.

The two guys returned. One of them obviously was having a lot of fun driving the truck. The other guy looked like he had a low back problem. It kind of hurt just watching him walk, his torso bent to one side and almost limping. The woman ahead of me was getting (what else?) mulch and told them how she wanted it loaded in her pickup because she wanted to cover the box. I clearly heard the truck driver ask her if she wanted the pallet as well.

I think he was serious and so did she. “I don’t know what I would do with a pallet” she stammered, clearly trying to be polite while probably wondering why the guy was even making the offer. I tried to think of what I would do with a pallet other than just have it in our garage, giving it that “I like guy stuff in my garage, even if it’s useless” appearance. I was pretty sure I could make room for a pallet in the back of our SUV.

Anyway, the low back guy started tossing the mulch bags in the truck and he evidently needed a little coaching from the woman about how to properly stack them so that she could get the cover back on the box. I was reminded of how inexpert I am at packing bags in the back of our SUV when Sena and I go on vacation. I am always astonished at how she gets everything in there without crushing anything. The driver seemed to be reluctant at getting down off the truck, which looked really fun to drive. He finally did and almost immediately damaged one of the bags of mulch, putting a hole in it big enough for him to apologize as loose mulch spilled out. She was very patient. The low back guy had a little trouble figuring out the cover, but she helped him.

Then it was my turn. I showed the low back guy my receipt and said I needed 15 bags of the stuff they call “mulch.” He pointed to the south and said, “It’ll be way over there, right by the Lowe’s sign.” I asked him if he would be over there soon to load my SUV and he sort of hemmed and hawed and snorted and grabbed his back. I guessed that was a “yes.”

I drove over there and–no Chestnut Brown Mulch and no help. It looked like everyone was helping themselves. I drove back over to the north lot and didn’t find the Lowe’s duo there either. I just looked around myself and found it. They either sent me on a wild goose chase to get rid of me or they were clueless about their own inventory.

The mulch was stacked neatly on a pallet and the pile was almost as tall as I am. The trouble was that it was surrounded by other garden-type stuff including potted plants, trees, pipes, pallets, fencing, thermonuclear powered filth spreaders, and a livestock truck full of bleating goats. The driver was gone, probably looking for help and likely lost.

I also found the Lowe’s duo’s pallet lifter truck…running. Huh. I wondered why they left it unattended. It looked fun to drive.  There was too much stuff in front of the mulch I needed and moving it was necessary. I thought I could manage the truck so I swung into the driver’s seat and pressed a button I thought might lift the pallet skids. It was the horn.

One of the goats jumped out of the livestock truck and then just lay there in a sort of paralyzed posture, not moving at all but awake and bleating really loudly. After about a minute, it got back up and starting chewing on one of the Hostas. I was curious, so I pressed the horn again. What do you know, the rest of the goats (there were 3 others) fell out of the truck and looked momentarily paralyzed, then nonchalantly got back up and and started going for the Chestnut Brown Mulch. I’d seen this before, maybe on TV. I’m fairly sure they were myotonic fainting goats. I’ve since discovered that people raise them somewhere in central Iowa. I guess they came here for the mulch.

This was getting serious. If I didn’t get the mulch now, the goats might eat all of it. I blew the horn a couple of times and they “fainted.” I tried what I thought was the accelerator pedal and it took off on me. Not only was steering a little tricky, the accelerator pedal got stuck to the floor. I didn’t see a brake pedal so I just tried to turn the key to the off position–which didn’t work for some reason. I managed to just miss colliding with a lady who apparently also wanted Chestnut Brown Mulch. She called out after me, “What on earth are doing to those poor goats?”

I didn’t have time to reply because I was now on two wheels at a precarious angle and sideswiped what might have been a flowering crabapple, although it could have been a hawthorn, they’re so similar. I was able to circle back with some minor difficulty and removed the obstacles in front of the Chestnut Brown Mulch, though not in the conventional way. The goats were fainting and this made it easier to dodge them at times. I went careering out by the topsoil bags and managed to scatter them making it a little easier for customers to see the labels, ensuring other customers got proper exercise by sprinting out of the ways, and also enabling the woman looking for a just a few bags of mulch to snatch them as quickly as she could before I could get turned around.

By now I was getting used to driving the pallet truck and did a fair job of rounding up the goats after I mastered the skid controls, and dropped them gently back in the livestock truck before the owner returned. He may be there yet.

I loaded my 15 bags of Chestnut Brown Mulch after running the pallet truck into a pile of sod, executing a perfectly safe stop after which the gears whined for only 5 minutes before the bearings burned out. There wasn’t as much smoke as you’d think. Sena was pretty excited by the time I got back home, going on about some TV breaking news report on a bizarre incident at Lowe’s. She needs to calm down; it’s bad for her blood pressure.

I’m looking forward to retirement.