Sunday, April 20, 2014

The constantly complaining gardener

There comes a point when you decide you're not going to get ripped off purchasing organic produce anymore, and that you'd prefer to get ripped off even worse growing your own.

“I had no idea dirt was so expensive,” I said, throwing one more ten-dollar bag into the cart. 

Apparently, if you call it soil instead of dirt, it's much more valuable, like when Jaguar used to put its hood ornaments on Fords.

“It's an investment.  We can use it for several years,” my wife Kara replied.

We've been organic farmers for about three days now, and in order for us to break even on our investments so far, the little seedlings that Kara just planted would need to grow tall enough that when you climbed to the top of the plant and your head poked through the clouds, you could hear someone yelling, “Fee fi fo fum” at you.

Of course, we're not really doing this to save money.  Our four-year-old son Evan is very interested in caring for plants, so we're using this opportunity to teach him about natural cycles, especially the cycle that removes your money and cycles it to other people.

Kara and Evan have been planning their new little garden for months.  It was a coping mechanism to survive the terrible winter from which we've just unburied ourselves.

“Ooooh, what  about strawberries, or carrots?” Kara would say, flipping through her gardening book to show Evan the pictures while the subzero wind whipped tiny spears of ice against the windows.

“Strawberries!” Evan would reply, his voice nearly drowned out by the salt trucks rumbling down our street. 

Back then, the only things that could be grown outdoors were icicles and a bitter resentment of our geographic station in life.  We had to work harder to earn this spring than any other that I can remember, and now that it's finally here, Kara and Evan are determined to grow some fruit, herbs and vegetables, the latter primarily serving as a vehicle for distribution of ranch dressing. 

After I'd pushed the cart full of dirt from Home Depot out to our car, Kara scanned the barcode on the bags with her phone to read Amazon user reviews.

“Ooh, wait, this dirt only got three stars,” she said.

“People probably gave it bad reviews after they realized they'd paid ten bucks for a bag of dirt,” I suggested.

“I'm so sorry, would you mind returning these?  We'll just get whatever they recommend at the nursery down the street,” she said.

Turns out, at the nursery down the street, they recommended twenty-three-dollar bags of dirt.  Excuse me, soil.  Yes, that makes it go down easier.

I'm finally beginning to understand why organic produce costs so much more than the regular stuff.  I'd always thought that organic produce should be cheaper, since organic farmers don't need to waste money on pesticides with which to drench their crops, they just need to yell, “Shoo!” at the fruit every so often.  But now I see how difficult and expensive it is to grow your own food, especially when a four-year-old is helping you.

“It's snowing!” Evan yelled, throwing a fistful of soil into the air.

“Hey, if you're going to throw dirt, go throw some of the free stuff out in the yard, where the grass is supposed to be,” I said.

Despite the challenges, though, Kara (and Evan, sort of) did successfully plant three boxes with six seedlings each.  In just a few short months, we'll be well on our way to having enough food to tide us over for a few more minutes until the pizza gets here. 

I hope I don't sound unenthusiastic about this project.  I'm actually excited about it, and it's great that for the first time, we actually have green thumbs in our family.  I think it's from the ink on all the dollar bills we've been forking over.

You can spray pesticide on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short live the king

I was just minding my own business, unaware that I was about to get pounced upon, becoming a part of the great circle of life.

“Lion King!  Lion King!  Can we get it?” my son Evan screeched, pointing at the shelf of movies. 

“Shhhhh, library voice,” I replied.  We'd just started visiting the library again because our house can't hold anything else.  Every corner is crammed with mismatched wooden puzzle pieces and Happy Meal toys based on cartoon characters that our kids have never heard of.  The library allows us to wrench cherished possessions out of our kids' hands and drop them into the Return Slot of No Return, never to clutter our house again.  It's perfect.

“Can we get it?  Pleeeeese?” Evan whispered.

“How did you even recognize that movie?” I asked.  He's a very smart kid, but he's also, at the moment, rather illiterate.

“I just recognize it,” he said.

“How do you know about Lion King, though?  We've never talked about it,” I said.

“I don't know but I really need to see it,” he replied.

He had no idea how he knew about Lion King, or why he needed to see it so badly, but both fibers of his four-year-old being told him that it was extremely important.  Disney has somehow genetically modified children so that they're born craving Disney entertainment. 

I hesitated.  If you don't remember The Lion King, its plot revolves in large part around – spoiler alert! – the daddy lion getting killed.  Just kidding.  That's not really a spoiler.  The main job of Disney parents is to die expeditious deaths.  The last Disney movie we watched was Frozen, which – spoiler alert! – also had dead parents.  Before that, Cinderella, in which – spoiler alert! – the mom is dead before the story starts, and the dad barely outlives the opening credits.  The magic Disney formula seems to be: singing, dancing, true love, cute animal sidekicks and dead parents. 

Incidentally, when Cinderella rushes out of the ball at midnight, and her gown turns back into rags and the horses turn back into mice, why don't her glass slippers change back, too?  I'm a little ashamed it took me thirty-six years to recognize a plot hole so big you could drive a giant pumpkin through it.

“Lion King?” my wife Kara asked, looking at me as if I'd brought home Nightmare on Elm Street.  Evan held the DVD case with both hands over his head, presenting it to the world. 

“I warned him.  He still wanted to see it,” I replied. 

“There are scary hyenas in that movie.  And other bad things happen, too,” she said.

“What bad things?” Evan asked. 

Kara and I looked at each other, deciding how much we wanted to tell him.  I was sixteen years old when that movie came out in 1994, and I'm still a little scarred from it, mostly because it's not socially acceptable for sixteen-year-old boys to cry in public about things that happen to cartoon lions, no matter how horrible.

We needn't have worried about Evan, though.  Upon the third viewing, he recognized Mufasa's death scene as the prelude to cute animal sidekicks Pumbaa and Timon coming out to sing Hakuna Matata.

“Pumbaa's coming up soon!” Evan yelled as a young Simba nudged Mufasa's lifeless body.

“Dude, this part's really sad,” I said, reminding Evan to be traumatized.  He seemed to be taking the death of the father figure a little too well.

“Evan, your father just got trampled by a herd of wildebeests,” someone would tell him, in my imagination.

“Hakuna matata!” Evan would reply. 

The real trauma is likely to set in next week, when he has to drop the DVD into the Return Slot of No Return.   

You can join Mike Todd in the circle of life at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The imminent nephew

“I failed bed rest.  Twice,” my sister reported from her hospital bed in San Diego last week.  Amy has always been a mover and a shaker, but she'd recently found herself under doctor's orders to keep the moving and shaking to a minimum, lest she encourage her unborn son to move and shake into the world ahead of schedule. 

After her first bed rest failure, the doctors told Amy that they'd be inducing labor that evening, which happened to be on my wife Kara's birthday.

“Tell Kara I'm sorry, but I may not get a chance to call and sing 'Happy Birthday' tonight,” Amy said on the phone that afternoon. 

She was joking, but the fact that she was even thinking about singing goes to show the importance my family places on calling to croon annual off-key birthday wishes.  Imminent childbirth is about the only excuse good enough to get you out of it. 

Not that my family made me think of this, of course, but isn't it odd that so many people can't sing?  We all have these beautiful musical instruments in our throats, but only Carrie Underwood and like three other people ever took the time to learn to play them.  It's like we were all born with clarinets strapped to our faces, but we couldn't be bothered to practice.

“Hey, let's hear you play some clarinet!” someone would say to me.

“Oh, you mean this clarinet strapped to my face?  I never had time to learn.  Too busy,” I'd reply, returning to my iPhone to deal with the marauding orcs that were attacking my castle.

Anyway, it would have been a really memorable rendition if Amy had called Kara to sing “Happy Birthday” while she was in labor.  She probably would have nailed the high notes.

“Do you feel like you're slowly clicking up the hill on a roller coaster?” I asked Amy as she mentally prepared herself for the evening's scheduled events. 

A year-and-a-half ago, Amy witnessed her wife, Jaime, giving birth to their first child, so she had a pretty good idea of what to expect, which may not have been all that reassuring.  I've witnessed Kara going through childbirth twice, and while both experiences triggered a flood of thoughts and emotions, “Get me in on this action!” is not one of the thoughts I remember having.       

“It feels exactly like a roller coaster,” Amy replied.  “I've been clicking up the hill all week.  I know I signed up for this, but we're getting to the one part of the process that I have really not been looking forward to.  I hope the part where it goes downhill will be nice and quick.”

“Well, once the roller coaster gets to the top, there's really nothing left for you to do but put your hands in the air and scream,” I offered.  Then I winced, wondering if perhaps we'd taken the roller coaster analogy one step too far.

“Yeah, that's pretty much what I'll be doing,” Amy laughed.

Soon after that conversation, the doctors changed the schedule again, recommending that Amy stay on bed rest for another week before they'd consider inducing labor.  Since the bed rest at home hadn't been working, she wouldn't be allowed to leave the hospital again without first producing a tiny little bundle of joy.  Her son will be her ticket out of there.  It's like how they let you into New Jersey for free, but you have to pay to get back out.

So that's where Amy is right now, still waiting for the doctors to give the signal, which could happen at any moment.  We're looking forward to meeting the newest rider when the roller coaster stops. 
   
You can make a special delivery to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

A wife with all the trimmings

Note: Rerun alert!  If it weren't for this alert, though, you probably wouldn't have realized that this column was actually from 2009, right?  Well, maybe the John Edwards reference would have tipped you off.  In any event, back to original programming next week!

Last Saturday night, as my wife Kara approached me with the trimmer buzzing in her hand, I began to have some serious second thoughts.

“Are you sure you can do this?” I asked again.

“How hard can it be?” she said. “Now sit still.”

She was about to give me the first free haircut I’d had since college. Back then, my buddy Tim used to give free haircuts on Saturday mornings, which usually began just before dusk. Tim could easily cut twenty heads in one session, though he only ever gave one haircut. We all looked exactly the same, which was fine by us. A free haircut was a free haircut, even if it came with more verbal abuse than one would receive at a paying establishment.

“Man, you’re starting to thin out,” Tim would say. “Better get married young if you can.”

Tim’s military consistency meant we never had to go to the barber shop down the street, where the barber had hung a price list on the wall that included this item: “Fix Me Man, $5.00.”

A friend of mine inquired one day about what exactly constituted a Fix Me Man.  The barber replied, “It’s when your roommate tries to cut your hair, then you come in here and say, ‘Fix me, Man!’”

My thoughts drifted to the Fix Me Man as Kara closed in with the trimmers.

“Here we go!” she said as she made contact with the back of my head. A clump of hair fell onto my shoulder; we were crossing the Rubicon with a scissor-wielding Kara leading the charge.

We’d embarked on this adventure without really planning to do so. The sideburn trimmer I’d bought for fifteen bucks came with all the attachments to cut a whole head, so we started joking that Kara could be my barber. Then all of a sudden I was sitting on a stool in the bathroom with a tarp on the floor, which we’d spread out to catch any falling hair and blood spatters.

I wouldn’t have been so amenable to the idea if I hadn’t had the experience of trying out a new upscale barbershop about a month prior. I should have known something was awry when I saw the flatscreen TVs mounted on the wall and the sinks in the corner. Real barbershops have dusty radios with bad reception tuned to sports talk, and they certainly don’t have sinks, except maybe in the bathroom that you’re not allowed to use.

Halfway through the cut, the barber asked, “Would you like your eyebrows trimmed?”

Never having been asked this question before, I wasn’t sure whether the appropriate response was, “No,” or “God, no.” I’ve known guys who have spent a lot of time on their eyebrows before, and the result is always a little disconcerting. When it comes to eyebrows, I think most people could benefit from this guiding principle: If you have two, that’ll do.

The bill for the cut came out to $25, which is as close to John Edwards territory as I ever plan to get. Kara didn’t think that sounded like too much, but that’s coming from someone who gets her hair cut once a lunar eclipse.

So that’s how I came to be sitting on the stool in the bathroom as Kara orbited me, alternating between the scissors and the trimmers and mumbling quietly, “That’ll probably grow out.”

As far as I know, the last head of hair Kara had styled belonged to her childhood doll Baby, which, from the pictures, looked like one of the bad kid’s toys from Toy Story. As she snipped across my bangs, I’d already begun mentally composing a letter to Salman Rushdie asking for tips on laying low for a while.

The final result, though, actually came out looking pretty good, surprising us both. But I’m still waiting for my lollipop.

You can lower Mike Todd’s ears at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This isn't working

When you're abandoning your four-year-old child, it's important to leave him with the tools he'll need for survival in your absence: a sippy cup of water, a bowl of Cheez-Its, the remote control, etc.

“Daddy has an important meeting in five minutes.  It will only last thirty minutes, but I won't be able to help or talk to you while I'm upstairs,” I explained to our son Evan, who leaned to the side to make sure his episode of Blue's Clues was paused while I droned on about something. 

“Evan, this episode of Blue's Clues is going to end before I get back.  You'll have to start the next episode without my help.  Do you remember how to do that?” I asked.

“Yes, I know how to do it.  When this one ends, I just press up and then play,” he said, pointing to the correct buttons on the remote and parroting the advice we'd gone over several times.

“Very good.  Daddy's going away now.  I'll be right upstairs if there's an emergency.  Otherwise, stay on the couch, and please don't call for me until I come back,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied, popping another fluorescent orange cracker into his mouth.  He pressed play, and though I hadn't left the room yet, I had already disappeared.

Last week, our youngest son Zack was sick for two days, taking his turn at his daycare's favorite game: Whisper the Highly Contagious Pathogen down the Lane.  My wife Kara and I rearranged our schedules, taking turns working from home to look after him and take him to the doctor.  On the third night, his fever was down, his symptoms gone. 

“Finally, life can get back to normal,” Kara said, exhausted.

Then our older son Evan walked up and said, “My throat hurts.”

It was Evan's turn to play the game.  Like any good player, he put his own spin on what Zack passed to him, tossing a little strep throat in there for good measure.  So we spent the next few days rearranging our schedules and taking turns working from home to look after Evan and take him to the doctor.

On the afternoon of the second day, I had a teleconference with my boss and my boss' boss while Kara had to be in the office.  Fortunately, we had a babysitter in the house, one with a plasma screen and unlimited streaming episodes of Evan's favorite show.

“The dynamic synergy of the stakeholders...,” I began upstairs, speaking in work language, which is like normal language, except it uses more words to make less sense.

“Daaaaaaaad-eeeeeee!  My show's not working!” came the screaming from downstairs, muffled through the door that I immediately swung shut.  I disconnected my ears from my brain so that I could keep talking.

“...shows that our current implementation is yielding strategic...,” I continued.

“Daaaaaaaad-EEEEEE!!!” Evan screamed.  I walked to the far side of the room, putting as much distance between me and Evan as possible.

“...action items which require due diligence...” I said.

“DAAAAAAD-EEEEEE!!!”

I ended the sentence, and as someone else on the call spoke, I put the phone on mute, opened the door and yelled, “Daddy can't help right now!” and shut the door again. 

Amazingly, that didn't solve the problem.

“DAAAAAD-EEEEEE!!!” he yelled, louder than last time.  If I had pressed the mute button again, everyone on the call would have been greeted by the sound of a four-year-old mourning the momentary loss of his favorite blue cartoon dog.

I took the stairs three-at-a-time, trying to fix the problem and escape back upstairs before I had to speak again.

“Evan, I told you that I can't talk...Dude, it's playing just fine,” I said.  On the screen, the little blue dog cooed and rolled over.

“It's not the right episode.  I just watched this one,” he replied.

Hopefully, in a forthcoming episode, Blue will help explain what constitutes an emergency.

You can scream down the lane to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring us outta here

“But we were gonna play that game where everyone pretends the clocks are different!” my son Evan protested, throwing out his opening gambit for the evening’s bedtime-delay strategy.

“It’s not really a game.  It’s just something everybody does,” I said.  It’s tough to explain Daylights Saving Time to a four-year-old when you’re not really certain about it yourself. 

“You said that the days aren’t really longer, but the sun will go down later because everyone pretends something with the clocks.  I want to play,” he said.   

I wasn’t surprised that he wanted to play a game that magically makes an hour disappear.  Most nights, he has to work a lot harder to make that hour vanish, usually by sitting on the potty with his head resting on his hands, saying “No, not yet” every few minutes. 

On Facebook this year, I saw a record number of parents springing forward to their keyboards to complain about the hour shift.  Non-parents might find this behavior somewhat whiny, but that’s because they might not understand that a daily routine is the only thing separating a family with small children from a complete societal collapse, where chaos and anarchy reign supreme and Duplo blocks become deadly projectiles.  

Without a dependable routine, children would be running naked around the house, drawing in non-washable marker on the walls and each other, subsisting entirely on Cheez-its and shutting their fingers in the dishwasher door, all while their parents lay helpless on the living room floor, hogtied with Rainbow Loom bracelets.

So I usually greet any change to our routine with a sense of dread, the slight shift sending us one step closer to careening into the abyss.  It’s already a very thin line that keeps our living room from turning into a post-apocalyptic hellscape. 

But this year, I’m just happy to have survived to reach this milestone on the calendar.  Anything to put this winter and its polar vortices behind us.  Over the past several months, “polar vortex” easily topped “norovirus” on the list of vocabulary I’d prefer to have never learned.     

Most winters, I bundle up and walk the dog every evening.  This winter, I gave up sometime in mid-November. 

“Sorry, animal, we’ll just have to get fat together,” I said to Memphis as she sat at my feet, the bitter wind blowing tiny spears of ice across our yard-turned-tundra.   

To survive this winter, many of us turned to increasingly desperate measures.  We’re not proud of it, but for a few days there, we all cared about ice dancing.  We were already not so sure about devoting a few days each quadrennium to caring about figure skating, but there we went, losing our minds over figure skating without jumps, which is like basketball without slam dunks, or football without concussions.

“How bad was the winter of ’14?” our grandchildren will ask us.

“It was so bad, we cared about ice dancing,” we’ll say.

“Noooooo,” they’ll reply in hushed tones, before looking back down at their phones, ignoring us again.

As the forecast starts to show a few days that aren’t guaranteed to be absent of any redeeming qualities, I’m wondering if my imagination made this winter worse in my mind than it actually was.  Was it really that much colder?  Did we really get that much more snow?  Or was it Facebook’s fault, since we’ve been listening to each other whine about it so much more?

Turns out, the National Weather Service recently released a “Winter Misery Index,” confirming this winter as a top-five performer among the most miserable winters we’ve ever endured.  At least we got to skip an hour of it.

You can wait six months until your clocks are right again with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The lights aren’t on, but somebody’s home

**If your Rerun Sense is tingling right now, that means you have been reading this column since 2009 (which also means you are probably my mom).  I didn't have time to crank out a fresh column last week, but hopefully you don't remember reading this old column, just like I don't remember writing it.**

“Don’t you think it would be fun to learn to dip our own candles?” I asked my wife Kara last week.

“Not especially,” she replied.

“What about churning our own butter?” I said.

“I don’t think we even use butter. Is Country Crock butter?” she asked. Upon opening the fridge and inspecting the container, I learned that Country Crock makes no claim at all as to what it actually is. The words “butter” and “margarine” are nowhere to be found, just “Country Fresh Taste,” which could signify that the plastic tub contains any number of country-related flavors, like ham, banjo bits or gravel.

“I just thought it might be fun to pick up some pioneer-style hobbies,” I said, “since the power company is going to shut off our electricity in two weeks anyway.”

Recently, I’d noticed an increase in the ratio of letters from the power company in the piles of mail that I’d been throwing away without opening. The vast majority of our mail doesn’t warrant reading; it’s always credit card companies trying to trick me into looking. They dress up the envelopes so that even the most wary person will be tempted to peek inside. The envelopes bear messages in bright red ink that say things like: “IMPORTANT ACCOUNT DOCUMENTS: OPEN IMMEDIATELY OR THE PUPPY GETS IT!”

Each time I open a piece of junk mail thinking I’m about to see an actual important account document, only to find a useless credit card offer inside, I hear, somewhere off in the distance, a credit card CEO yelling from the top of a skyscraper, “Made you look!”

If federal regulations would allow, I’d get a coal-fired mailbox, or perhaps an eco-friendly shredding/composting combo unit. So it was completely on a whim that I opened a letter from our power company to find a friendly reminder, which they’d cordially labeled “FINAL TERMINATION NOTICE.”

“Oh, man,” I thought. “That would be an awesome title for an action movie.”

Actually, I immediately worried about telling Kara. Very few things irritate her as much as delinquent bills, especially ones that are the responsibility of her delinquent husband. In our house, we refer to late fees as either “lazy taxes” or “stupid taxes,” depending on the reason they were incurred. In general, the world is fine with letting you be lazy or stupid, but you have to pay for the privilege, usually by the day.

I stood at the end of the driveway, holding the letter and wondering whether it was worth disturbing our domestic tranquility to inform Kara of its contents. Whenever I find myself thinking, “Life would be easier if I didn’t tell Kara about this,” that’s when I make a point to talk to her. A good marriage is based on open communication, and also on the continuing possibility that, if you just hang in there long enough, you will be rewarded by your spouse’s inability to finish her chicken sandwich. Ooh, and maybe an onion ring or two.

As it turned out, during the course of a web upgrade, the power company had deleted the entries of several autopay customers, causing us to miss our first electric bill in the eight years we’ve lived around here.

“You mean you just deleted us out of the system?” I asked the customer service representative during my call that was important to them.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said cheerily.

“On purpose?” I asked.

“I’m not sure about that part, but it definitely happened during the upgrade,” she replied.

So now that we’re back in the system, Kara and I will have to forego for now the adventure of living in a house with no electricity. But this experience has taught us many valuable lessons, not the least of which is that our power company throws around the term “upgrade” very loosely.

You can send Mike Todd some compost at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Feel the (second-degree) burn

“Don’t touch the frying pan.  The whole thing just came out of the oven, so it’s really hot,” my wife Kara warned me, foreshadowing the evening’s soon-to-be-forthcoming excitement.

I had no intention of touching the frying pan.  When I cook things, they spin around on the carousel for a minute and go beep when they’re done.  We’ve divided the responsibilities in our household to minimize the amount of contact I have with hot things and sharp things.  My job is to scrub the pots and pans after the meal, when the risk of injury is low, then shove them into the cabinet and slam the door before they fall back out.

Kara grabbed the pan’s handle with an oven mitt, stirring the garlic shrimp with a wooden spoon.  Our two young sons sat a few feet away in the dining room, awaiting the newest culinary sensation to grace their mature and diverse palates. 

“I detect some hints of minced kale in the air!  And is that, wait, don’t tell me, do I smell a mild blend of turmeric and cumin?  Delightful!” our son Evan called into the kitchen.

“Smashing!” his brother Zack added from his high chair, adjusting his bib in anticipation of the succulent crustaceans.

Just kidding.  Evan and Zack were already devouring the last few chicken nuggets from the five-pound Cotsco bag we’d bought about three days prior.  These days, we’re pretty pleased with ourselves for just keeping everyone alive.  We’ll tackle their Epicurean sophistication some other time.

Kara took off her oven mitt, dropped the wooden spoon into the sink, then turned back around and grabbed the frying pan handle with her newly bare hand.  You might recall that not so long ago, she had issued a warning against the very course of action that she had just taken.  Some people just want to hog all the medical emergencies for themselves.

As Kara held the handle, the pain signal traversed her nervous system, shooting across her arm and up her spine, letting her brain know that it was time to stop wondering if she should say something about her husband’s back hair situation, and time to start dealing with more immediate concerns.  Her brain, in turn, dispatched two urgent signals: one to her hand, to tell it to let go as promptly as possible, since it wasn’t figuring that out on its own; the other to her mouth, to tell it to teach the kids as many new words as possible in a five-second interval.

I was torn.  Clearly, Kara needed help.  Also, though momentarily distracted, the kids were almost done eating, which meant the window for the adults to eat dinner was closing. 

“Wow, you’re right, these really are hot,” I said, plucking a shrimp out of the pan and blowing on it. 

“This one’s hot, too,” I said, munching the next one.    

No, in reality, I did not consider eating dinner while Kara ran her hand under cold water.  I did what any quick-thinking husband would do, which is to take out my phone and search on “first-degree burn.”

“I can’t believe I just did that.  I got my entire hand,” Kara said, holding the burn out for me to see. 

“Whoa,” I replied, scrolling down to the second-degree burn information.

I’m not saying I’m a hero, but someday, they’ll invent a medal for people who successfully navigate a crisis from the information they gather off their phone.  It will come inscribed like so: For unwavering Googling in the face of danger.

In all seriousness, Kara’s hand just needed some gauze and a couple of days, and it’s almost back to normal now.  But I can’t take all the credit.  Wikipedia helped, too.

You can wrap Mike Todd in gauze at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Home is where the frozen wasteland is

In retrospect, I should have known that the quickly approaching man was angry with me. 

“Oh, sorry, is this your coat?” I asked, removing the napkins I’d set on top of it.  I’d thought it was my wife’s coat in the seat next to me.  We were psyching ourselves up to board a plane with our two small kids, so I wasn’t paying much attention to anything that didn’t directly relate to keeping them from making a scene.  When you’re traveling with kids, any second that they’re not screaming is a second that you are winning. 

“It’s a jacket on a seat.  This isn’t brain surgery,” the guy replied, yanking his coat off the seat and grabbing his roller-suitcase that sat on the other side of me.  As he stormed off, I realized that his jacket and suitcase were social cues stating, “This is my seat.”  Though he was nasty about it, in his defense, without urinating on the legs of the chairs, he probably couldn’t have marked his territory any more obviously.  What I did with those social cues, after returning with the overpriced bagels I’d procured for my family, was sit on them.

“Neither is being a nice person,” I called after him.  He looked back and started to say something, then realized I was right, shook his head at himself, reevaluated his life, and left the airport to join a monastery, the kind where they flagellate themselves often and with vigor.

Not really.  Our brief altercation occurred at 11:15am, and I thought of my comeback at around 8:30pm, just a few beats too late.

“You think that guy is from Florida or home?” I asked my wife Kara.

“Probably home,” she said.

“Yeah, probably.  I want to blame him on Florida, though,” I said.

After a week of eighty-degree days, palm trees and white sand, I needed something to knock Florida down a couple notches.  We’d been visiting Kara’s parents, who picked a great year to become fledgling snowbirds, at their new place near the beach. 

“I don’t wanna go home!” our four year-old-son Evan had wailed that morning as we packed our suitcases, a sentiment shared by us all, in part because we knew what awaited us at home. 

We’d spent the previous week washing sand out of our children’s nooks and crannies, watching skinny birds with cowlicks strut by and eating ice cream as if the world’s supply was melting.


















Then we’d sit in the warm evening breeze on the porch, scrolling through our Facebook news feeds, watching updates from our friends back home as they weathered a blizzard that the Weather Channel had decided to name Trixie or Max Power or something.


“Guess the dog’s not going out until I shovel,” one friend wrote, posting a picture of the snow piled halfway up her screen door.

Earlier in the week, as I’d sipped coffee in the morning light, I checked the temperature back home.  Negative eight degrees.  Just thinking about it chilled me all the way down to my sun-dappled sandals.

“Time to head back to the tundra,” I said to Kara as we hoisted our children and headed down the jetway to our plane, which would be landing at a different airport than we’d intended, on account of the horrible weather that we’d chosen to live in.

Kara and I looked at each other and considered bolting back past security, into the Florida sunshine.  Sure, we couldn’t live with Kara’s folks indefinitely, but there were plenty of coconuts down there.  We’d get by.

But we decided to tough it out and fly back where we belonged, avoiding eye contact with the new friend I’d made out at the gate.

When we arrived home that evening, exhausted and hours behind schedule, we found a path that our neighbors had dug to our garage for us as a welcome-home present.  Sometimes, even in two feet of snow, you can find a ray of sunshine.



You can stomp on Mike Todd’s snow fort at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A couch divided

The poor thing had to be put out of its misery.

“You’ve been good to us.  I’m so sorry it has to end this way,” I said, flicking out the blade on my pocketknife, pausing for a second to evaluate all of the unworkable alternatives once again, then plunging the knife in, right up to the hilt.  I ripped sideways as I pulled the blade back out, inflicting as much damage as possible. 

“No going back now,” I said.  Indeed, the time for second thoughts was behind me.  So was my four-year-old son, Evan, who witnessed the carnage wide-eyed.

“Why’re you doin’ that to the couch?” he asked.

The regular reader(s) of this column might recall that several years ago, I had to saw a couch in half to remove it from the basement of our old house.  It had taken six guys to get it down there; it took only me and a Black & Decker reciprocating saw to get it back out.  At the time, I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’ll ever have to do that.”

Then, last week, I found myself once again playing the role of the Grim Recliner, sending yet another piece of furniture to the Great Transfer Station on the Other Side of Town.  I never expected to make a habit out of sawing couches in half, but it seems that life has a way of making my couches too big and my doorways too small.  And my bald spot(s) too prominent, which is perhaps irrelevant, but still annoying.

My most recent victim had spent several years sitting under exposed insulation in our unfinished basement, so even though we finished the basement a few years back, you could never sit on that couch again without feeling like you’d just rolled around on an Owens-Corning factory floor.  When a friend offered us her very nice couch as a replacement, we jumped at the chance, even though we knew that our old couch would have to go live on a farm with a nice family and lots of open space to lounge around.

I kept stabbing and ripping at the upholstery, exposing the wooden skeleton underneath.  When you’ve been in the couch-dismembering business long enough, you learn that it’s easier to cut the back off the couch, rather than trying to saw the whole thing straight down the middle.  This way, you avoid having to cut through metal.  Of course, normal humans will probably never need to put that advice into practice, but this week marks the ninth anniversary of this column, so it’s probably time to start sprinkling in an occasional a fact or two.

“Treasures!” Evan yelled as I rolled the couch onto its front, exposing the long-forgotten items that had fallen inside.   

“Dude, it’s gross in there.  Don’t breathe in any fungus or anything,” I said to Evan as he reached through the torn fabric to pull out a pebble, a nickel and a hacky sack.

“A ball!” he said.

“Actually, it’s a hacky sack.  You spend years of your life learning to kick it into the air so that the stoners in high school will respect you,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Never mind.  By the time you get to high school, none of my experiences will be helpful to you in any way,” I said.

“A ball!” he replied, waving the hacky sack around. 

He sat on the coffee table playing with the hacky sack as I sawed the back off the couch.  A few minutes later, we’d gotten the ship out of the bottle, one piece at a time.  

I still feel a little bad about destroying a piece of furniture like that.  On the plus side, though, ever since that day, I’ve been getting much more respect from the coffee table.

You can drop off Mike Todd at the transfer station at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monsters Pre-K

“What kind of monsters?  Like, Cookie Monsters?” I asked my four-year-old son Evan as he peered over the edge of his Toy Story comforter, which was, at the moment, not providing much comfort. 

He was clearly scared, but I couldn’t imagine that Evan knew enough to conjure up anything actually scary in his imagination.  The only monsters he’d seen on TV were the fuzzy ones from Sesame Street, where even Elmo qualifies as a monster.   

“No, not Cookie Monsters.  Eat-people monsters,” Evan replied, explaining why he’d spent the previous minute wailing for parental protection.

“Oh,” I said, impressed.  They don’t have eat-people monsters on Sesame Street, which is probably for the best.

“Today’s episode of Sesame Street was brought to you by the letter AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” Ernie would scream as the eat-people monster devoured him.  Probably a little too educational.  

“I know monsters aren’t real, but I’m still scared they’re going to get me.  What can I do?” Evan asked.

It was the kind of parenting moment you look forward to when you’re not even a parent yet, when you’re just a dude on a couch playing Call of Duty, picturing this distant future when you’d get the opportunity to impart your wisdom to help a young child navigate a confusing and sometimes scary world.   

“Did you try pulling your blanket over your head?” I offered.

“How does that help?” Evan asked.

“Monsters can’t see you when you’re under your blankets,” I said.

“I thought monsters weren’t real!” he shrieked.

Yes, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as imparting your wisdom to your child, further terrifying him.  That went exactly as I’d always pictured it.

“No no no, they’re not real.  But if you’re still scared of them even though they’re not real, it might make you feel better to pull your covers up so high that they couldn’t see you even if they were real, which they’re not,” I said.

After considering this for a moment, Evan replied, “They could still see me.  Then they’d just lift up the covers and climb in.”

Now he was starting to scare me a little.  The first rule of monsters is that monsters aren't allowed to look under the covers.  I thought we were all in agreement on that point.

If monsters are allowed to just peek in on us with no rules, like the NSA, then I sure wasted a lot of sweat as a kid.  My parents didn’t install central air until after I left for college.  On summer nights, if I left a Pop Tart on my bedside table, by morning it would be burnt.  (Of course, I’m just making that up.  We weren’t allowed to have Pop Tarts.  Not even the unfrosted kind.  That deprivation is why I’m so messed up now.)

Still, no matter how hot it got, I’d spend the night wrapped in my cocoon of magic monster-deflecting blankets, sweating puddles through the mattress.  If Evan is right, all I was doing was making myself extra pungent and delectable, like a nice Roquefort cheese to a monster.  I’m lucky I got out of there alive.

I turned back to Evan and saw his sad eyes imploring for comforting guidance.  With the blanket trick nullified, and Evan already admitting that monsters are not real, (though still bloodthirsty), I was out of ideas.   

“What are you doing?” Evan asked as I stood in his doorway, tapping on my phone.

“Googling ‘How to make your kid feel better about monsters’,” I replied, practicing parenting by search engine.   

I scrolled past the first few hits, finding nothing.  When I looked up, Evan had pulled the covers over his head. 

“Hey, you disappeared!” I said.  A monster wouldn’t have noticed, but just under the covers, you could see a little smile poking out.
   
You can pull the blankets over your head so Mike Todd won’t see you at mikectodd@gmail.com.