Yesterday I spent seven hours with two-stroke engines, those noisy drivers of landscaping tools such as, in my case, a lawnmower and a leaf blower. Two-stroke engines often combine combustion and lubrication by burning a mixture of gasoline and oil at a ratio of, say, 50:1. Their inescapable by-products include noise and exhaust fumes, the latter accented by the heavy aromatic residue of burnt oil. It’s not the noxious unbreathable cloud one experience’s driving behind a badly-tuned automobile but a musk that says “I just spent an hour in the woods operating a chain saw.” I usually consider it a pleasant grace note to working outside on a cold fall day.
Usually. A heavy back-mounted leaf blower–just like the ones suburban landscapers use at 7:00 am on Saturday–places its screaming engine a foot from the wearer’s head. I wore hearing protectors that look like drugstore-version sound-canceling headphones, except less comfortable, and safety glasses, but there’s no protection from the fumes. I followed my yard-maintenance marathon by throwing everything I wore into the washer and a long hot shower during which I scrubbed every inch of my body, like the post-contamination shower scene in Silkwood. (Watch it if you’ve never seen it.) Yet despite using a loofah and two kinds of soap I detected exhaust fumes for the rest of the day. I washed my hands and face in water as hot as I could stand but the scent lingered. It conjured no pleasant feelings about outdoor labor on a brisk November day. I smelled like I’d just finished an 18-hour shift at Jiffy Lube.
It’s gone today. I’ll take another long hot shower, just in case.