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Recessionary Crisis? How about mid-life crisis in a recession?

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The routine is so common it is cliche. Man turns 50. Man has mid-life crisis. Man makes irrational, impulsive, expensive purchase. Man rues the day he hits the mid-century mark.

And so I was no exception. Before the ink dried on my AARP application (wait until I get my hands on those maniacs who lowered the retirement age from 65) I was figuring out the monthly payments. I checked motor sizes on all the web-sites (fuel efficiency be damned). And I wrote out the script to explain to my wife why I couldn't live without a new set of wheels.

Push-button starter. Recessed front tires. T-Win engine. Red, of course. A real heart-pounder. Old man, my arse. Wait until the punks from the neighborhood see me when I bring it home!

So when I pulled into the driveway my kids were more curious than stunned. After all, they had never been so close to a lawn mower.

While the convertible is the customary vehicle to usher in male mid-life crisis, who, during these economics doldrums, can afford such an extravagance? The lawn mower provides the balding class with a more affordable and perhaps more useful way of celebrating the change of life.

Thanks to my new toy I'm embracing the middle years. With a dozen years of apartment life followed by home ownership and years and years of landscaping dues I figured there was no better way to reconnect to my youth than by mowing the lawn. What can beat the fragrant smell of newly opened bag of fertilizer? Or the sound of scampering chipmunks as I mowed over their nest? Or the feel of fresh earth under your fingernails? (That ER doctor who said that he'd have to amputate if the infection was any deeper was a real side-splitter.)

Besides allowing me to reconnect to nature, my new avocation has allowed me to bond with other neighborhood dads who are out on weekend afternoons tending to their lawns. In fact, we've formed a king of gang. We meet weekly the local tavern to yak about who makes the best hedger and how to deal with earwigs. We've ordered specially made black leather vests festooned with pictures of lawn mower blades. And we've each gotten hennas on our hynies that bear the name of our gang - the Choppers.

Which is not to say that my landscaping life has been a bed of roses. There are my persnickety neighbors complaining about the time I inadvertently ran over their newly planted azaleas. (Not really my fault as I hadn't yet learned how to use the self-propel drive.) My kids aren't exactly pleased with my 6 a.m. start time. Any my wife can't stop complaining about what I call my grub scrubs: an admittedly ill-fitting pair of shorts that are held together with a safety pin - three actually clipped together - a pair of purple, grass-stained Chuck Taylors and a wife-beater that no longer completely covers my mid-section. Hey, I know when I look good!

My wife also worries that the din of the motor may be causing some hearing loss, a problem she says is more apparent when she goes through her weekend honey-do list. My back has been killing me. And there is that small matter regarding the lawsuit brought by the local Women's Auxiliary and Horticulture Society seeking a cease and desist order, as they claim that the Choppers name infringes on the trade name of their organization - the Clippers. Our lawyer jokes that is your garden-variety litigation and that our chances look good. And for this we're paying $300 per hour?

It is not that I'm discouraged but I'm thinking that maybe it is time to retire from the grass-cutting business and hand over the keys - and the vest - to my teenage son.

In the meantime I'm already thinking about next year's birthday gift: a new Camaro. Red, of course.