Monday, October 20, 2014

Cape Todd

The ocean inched closer.  Soon, we’d have no choice but to flee.

“A pincher!” my son Evan said, holding up a crab claw.  He deposited the claw into his bucket, which was close to overflowing with the soon-to-be-stinking parts of dead marine animals, the perfect souvenirs.

“Dead cwab!” his brother Zack agreed.

The rain, relentless, dripped off the brims of our hoods.  Underneath my drenched wind pants, my damp thermal underwear clung to my goosebumps.

“C’mon, ocean, get here already,” I thought, watching as each lapping wave moved the sea a little bit closer.

Our family recently learned this one weird trick about vacation: If you go to a place when nobody else wants to be there, it’s a lot cheaper.  This is how we found ourselves visiting Cape Cod last weekend, when we probably should have been doing something more seasonally appropriate, like carving pumpkins or purchasing the first batch of Halloween candy that wouldn’t last until Halloween. 

At this time of year, though, at least you don’t have to battle the crowds at Cape Cod, because the crowds know better.

“How long ‘til we’re there?” Evan had asked every five minutes during the drive, starting before we’d gotten past our mailbox, undaunted by the prospect of frolicking in the surf wearing galoshes and a jacket.

When he got his answer, he’d reply, “Are hours the long ones, or minutes?”

So once we got within striking distance, I tried a different method: “We’re about one Frozen away, buddy.”

He knows that length of time quite well, since it’s the only programming that his little brother will allow in our household.  We’ve tried to interest Zack in other shows and movies, but somehow, despite all the encouragement, he just can’t let it go.

Sunset?  Can't look now.  Watchin' Frozen.
“Awwww, a whole Frozen?  I thought we were close!  I just want to be there!” Evan yelled. 

“Evan, if you want a road trip to be fun, you need to focus on something else.  Sleep, listen to music, play a game.  If you want to be as miserable as possible, focus on how long it’s taking to get there,” I said.

Evan paused, and I could see my fatherly wisdom sinking in.

“How long ‘til we’re there?” he asked.

Once we finally got there, though, a little thing like horrible weather wasn’t going to keep our kids off the beach, which is just as well, since all those rotting crab parts weren’t going to collect themselves.

 My wife Kara had found a cottage just above a beach that became, at low tide, a child’s paradise, an endless tidal flat, just sand and shells all the way to the horizon.  Hours later, the tide would come rushing back in, sliding across the flats until they disappeared.  The sea would continue to rise until the beach itself vanished, and the first five steps of the staircases, the only escape over the dunes, became submerged.  If the sea didn’t reclaim the beach daily, forcing all land-based life to find refuge elsewhere, we’d still be out there.

“Okay, kids, the ocean’s just about here,” I said, shivering. 

“What’s taking it so long?” Kara whispered.

“But we need more shells to bring home,” Evan replied, just as Zack dropped another crab part into the bucket, briefly upsetting the flies. 

When the sea finally forced us back to the cottage, the kids were purple and chattering, and all the sand made their skin a medium grit.  As soon as they were warm and dry, they were pressing their noses against the glass, waiting for the beach to reappear.

We’re already looking forward to going back at the same time next year.

You can put on your jacket and go for a swim with Mike Todd at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Getting there is half the terror

“Isn’t there an easy way up?” I asked, staring at the sheer cliff face upon which, it seemed fairly clear, I was about to die.

“This is the easy way,” my brother-in-law Kris replied, pointing to the little crack in the face of the cliff as if it was the escalator outside JC Penney.  Just take that thing to the top, no problem.

My wife Kara stood at the base of the cliff, looking at the rope that connected her to Kris, who stood ten feet to her left.  Rather than making a straight line between them, though, the rope took a much sillier route, traveling from the harness around Kara’s waist, up through the carabiner fifty feet up the cliff face, then back down to Kris.  That route, much like rock climbing itself, was rather illogical.

“This looks impossible,” Kara said, wiping her hands across the smooth rock, looking for something to grab onto.

“Just put your shoe into the crack.  You’ll be amazed at how much traction they give you,” said Kara’s sister, Jill. 

Ah, the magic climbing shoes.  We’d heard much about their powers, but hadn’t yet experienced them for ourselves. 

That morning, when we were renting the shoes from the outdoor store, I sat in the chair, grimacing and stuffing my foot into the rubber-and-leather ballet slipper, feeling like Cinderella’s step-sister.

“How do I know if it’s the right size?” I asked the clerk.

“When it’s right, it should feel pretty uncomfortable,” he replied, leading one to wonder how one would tell when it was wrong. 

“Man, these kinda hurt, don’t they?” Kara asked, limping around the room.   

“I think these ones must fit,” I said, sucking in my lips and slapping the chair, hoping that the prince would be fooled.

We’d found ourselves in this predicament by trying to keep up with Jill and Kris, who picked up rock climbing several years ago, first as a hobby, then as a lifestyle.  For vacation this year, they’re going to Vietnam, where they can partake in an activity called “deep water solo.”  If you’ve never heard of this variant of rock climbing (which you wouldn’t have, unless you live in a Mountain Dew commercial), it’s when you step off a boat, grabbing directly onto a cliff face.  Then you climb as high as you can, without ropes.  When you’re done, you jump (or fall) into the water, ideally after the boat has moved out of the way.     

When Kara and I go on vacation, our idea of adventure is getting Oreo mixed into our soft serve.  We live in a Friendly’s commercial.

“You’re doing great, Kara!” Jill called up the cliff.  Kara had managed to pull herself right up to the top of the climb, avoiding the shame of having the day turn into a family story for the next few decades.

“That was fun!” Kara said when her feet touched the ground again, though I might have detected some verbal air quotes around the word “fun.”

As I took my turn, cramming my rubber shoes into the crack and dangling from my fingertips, pretending that the ground was not becoming an unsafe distance away, I started to feel like perhaps I was not so bad at rock climbing after all.  Then, thirty feet to my left, on a different rope, an eight-year-old boy scampered up the cliff, then rappelled back down, leaving me alone with my thoughts and my bald spot.  I had the same feeling you get when you’re snowplowing down a black diamond trail, feeling pretty good about yourself, when a four-year-old with no ski poles zips past you.  Except, you know, in reverse.

The day, which we survived with only minor aches and pains in our rarely used clinging-for-your-life muscles, gave me and Kara a great appreciation for the skills that Jill and Kris have acquired over the years, and also gave us a heightened sense of adventure.  Next time, we might mix in some crumbled peanut butter cups, too.

You can scale Mike Todd at

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The forbidden fruitie

“NOOOOO!” my son Evan screamed from inside the car.  I spun around, looking through the open window to find a gruesome scene unfolding in the backseat. 

Evan’s little brother, Zack, sat on Evan’s legs, blocking him from the fruit snacks that Evan had poured out for both of them to share.  With glee and haste, Zack shoveled the gummy fruits into his mouth.

“My fruities!” Evan screamed, pinned, helpless.   

 A few minutes earlier, when we’d pulled into the garage, the kids had lobbied to explore the car.  They love getting turned loose in there, climbing around, turning on the hazard lights and setting the windshield wipers to fire at monsoon-dissipating speeds the next time the car starts.  I don’t complain, because the kids are contained in there, so I can lean against the outside of the car and spend a few quiet moments paying attention to the thing that really matters in life: my phone.

“Fruities!” Evan had said when he’d found a packet on the floorboard in the third row.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I’d replied.  “If you’re going to open those, you need to share them with your brother.”

Evan dutifully poured them into the center cup holder so that they could share, which is when Zack crawled back to thank his brother for, and then take advantage of, his generosity.

I yanked the door open and caught Zack with the last fruitie in his hand.  I could have just taken it from him and given it to Evan, but I needed Zack to understand and correct the error of his ways.     
“You give that fruitie to your brother.  Right now,” I whispered, pointing at his chest.  I’d debated about leading with a good fatherly bellow, but those need to be used sparingly to be effective, and I’d already spent my fatherly bellow tokens the previous day.

“Cackers!” Zack had been screaming on our way home from work and daycare.

“We don’t have any crackers, Zack.  You can have some when we get home,” my wife Kara had replied.

“CACKERS!” Zack screamed, for ten minutes straight.  Finally, he broke me, and I unleashed the bellow. 


“Cackers,” Zack replied.

Back at the fruitie showdown, Zack looked at my outstretched finger, then at me. 

“Don’t you dare eat that fruitie.  You share it with your brother,” I said.

He looked me in the eyes as he deposited the fruitie into his open mouth.  His little cheeks broke into a grin as he chewed, never taking his eyes off of mine.

“MY FRUITIES!” Evan screamed, flopping backwards in that special convulsion of grief that children reserve for lost high fructose corn syrup.

Zack had tasted the forbidden fruitie, and I could see in his eyes the knowledge he was gaining with each chew.  Sharing is for suckers.  Stealing pays delicious dividends.  Authority exists to be flouted.  If someone’s in your way, sit on them and take their stuff.     

Children will test their boundaries, and if they don’t find any, they’ll careen into the abyss.  At that moment, if uncorrected, Zack’s path forward became very clear, and it was leading to horrible places, like prison or Congress.

“That’s it.  Straight to timeout,” I said, grabbing him by the armpits.  Bo Duke never exited a car so quickly.

Sitting on our front step, it was Zack’s turn to bellow as he served his two-minute sentence. 

Afterwards, he approached the aggrieved party.

“Sorry, Brudder,” Zack said as he hugged Evan.

Evan returned his hug, and then they were off running, side-by-side, to the backyard.  I joined them after locking the car doors, relieved they didn’t notice the granola bar on the floorboard.
You can steal Mike Todd’s fruities at

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Democracy takes a good licking

The lady on our front porch hugged her clipboard and waited for the lashing to stop.

“She’s friendly, she’s friendly.  Sorry.  No, Memphis, down,” I said.  The dog greeted our new guest as if she was made of beef jerky, running circles around her, sniffing and licking with a rather presumptuous lack of inhibition.

“It’s okay,” the lady replied, grimacing as the inspection and tail-flogging proceeded.  She may have been especially leery because a moment prior, Memphis had erupted into an insane barking frenzy, skidding into the front door like she was conducting a canine crash test.

Having a dog that barks when someone rings the doorbell is like having an app that rings your phone to let you know that your phone is ringing.  It’s all rather redundant, but Memphis doesn’t let our perfectly serviceable visitor-alerting device put her out of a job.  To her credit, the professional dedication she applies to freaking out gives our family great peace of mind against burglars who may try to sneak in after ringing our doorbell.

Behind me, my two sons played with their wooden train tracks in the entryway. 

“There, at least this stranger can see that some members of this family are capable of behaving themselves,” I thought, beaming with fatherly pride.

“Mah train,” two-year-old Zack said, grabbing the locomotive.

“No, MY train!” five-year-old Evan yelled.

“NO MAH TRAIN!” Zack rebutted.  Evan’s reply, as you might imagine, echoed similar sentiments to both of their earlier arguments, but with more volume. 

Most of the time, our sons go together like peas and carrots.  Other times, more like Mentos and Diet Coke. 

“Sorry, you caught us right before dinner,” I said, since it seemed like our family needed an excuse, though I was banking on it being common knowledge that hungry children are crazy children.

“Sorry for catching you at a bad time.  I’m a volunteer for what’s-his-face’s campaign.  Do you have a moment for a quick survey?” she asked. 

Of course I didn’t.  My wife Kara was in the kitchen slapping together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because we didn’t have the three minutes it would take to cook Kraft Mac & Cheese-like Substance.  The kids needed to be fed immediately, or civilization as we knew it would collapse.

“Sure,” I said as Memphis finally sat down and waited to see if this situation would produce anything in the way of treats.

The timing was inconvenient, but this lady was volunteering her time, so couldn’t I spare a moment of mine?  This is the basis of our democracy: people reaching out to their fellow citizens to annoy them.  We do it with our yard signs, our bumper stickers, our Facebook posts, our doorbells.  The gears of the republic are greased with irritation, and I needed to do my part to keep them lubed.

“Okay, great.  Will what’s-his-face have your vote on November something-or-other?” she asked as Zack picked up the miniature Golden Gate Bridge and tucked it into his body like a linebacker holding onto a fumble recovery. 

“NOOOOO, ZACK!” Evan yelled.

“Zack, put the bridge back.  Sure, absolutely,” I said, pretty sure that I sounded like I was lying, even though I might not have been.

“Dinner time!” Kara yelled. 

“Are you aware that what’s-his-face is on your side and cares about stuff?” the lady asked, in essence.

“DINNER!” the kids screamed, exiting stage left, followed by the dog, who could subsist entirely on what she’s able to lick off of Zack’s hands.

“Sure am!” I said.

“Great, thank you,” she said, “That’s it.”

The survey probably had more than two questions on it, but I wasn’t going to question its mercifully quick completion. 

I made a note to come back and hang some ear plugs on the doorbell button after dinner, though.  The next person to ring it would understand soon enough.

You can vote for whoever’s running against Mike Todd at

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cheap man walking

“You need to stop reading that, immediately.  It’s going to ruin your life,” my buddy Chunks told me over the phone.

“Dude, I can handle it,” I assured him.

I’ve been reconnecting with old friends over the last few weeks, calling them in the evenings when I walk our dog, Memphis, who politely invited me, in her own quiet way, to reinstate our nightly constitutionals, by destroying our house if I don’t. 

“It’s cool.  We don’t have to walk tonight.  I’ll just shred the wool carpet in the dining room while you’re at work tomorrow.  I’ll have plenty of energy for it, after all,” she says, every night.

So I have free time each evening when my legs are engaged in the preservation of our household flooring materials and my head is doing nothing productive at all.  It’s just perched there in the cool night air, watching houses go slowly by, freeloading on the rest of my body. 

Some people do their best thinking at times like these, when they can step away from the demands of the world and have a few moments for quiet reflection.  For me, this is the time I use to repeat the only words I can remember from that Lady Gaga song I heard on the way home, spinning over-and-over for forty-five minutes.

“My my my poker face.  My my poker face.” 

“Honestly, brain, can’t we think about the mid-term elections, or how we’re going to insulate the attic better this winter, or how I can be a more effective parent?”

“My my my poker face.  My my poker face,” comes the reply.  This is when I’ll pop in the earphones and start dialing. 

I’d just explained to Chunks that I’d happened upon a very interesting blog called Mr. Money Mustache, written by a guy in Colorado who retired at the age thirty, with a wife and son, after working for nine years as a software engineer and saving almost everything he made. 

“No, no, no,” Chunks replied.

“What?  You don’t think it’s empowering that a normal person can retire very early just by being mindful about wasting money?  Even if early retirement isn’t realistic, you can remove some anxiety out of your life just by doing some simple things,” I said.

“You’re already the cheapest person I know.  Reading stuff like this is going to create a cheapness vortex, where every dollar is stretched to infinity and fun can never escape,” he said.

He had a point.  At that moment, on my kitchen table, sat one of my two-year-old son’s blinky Superman sneakers, crunched by two C-clamps to hold it in place while the glue dried.  Does a normal person attempt to glue his son’s cheap sneakers back together?  From there, it’s probably just a hop-and-a-skip until you’re asking your fellow McDonald’s patrons if they’re done with their fries. 

Incidentally, I used to have some qualms about buying blinky shoes for my sons, since they put unnecessary batteries and lights into landfills when your kids outgrow them in three weeks.  But blinky shoes appear to be quite environmentally friendly, especially ones that have pictures of superheroes where the brand name is supposed to go, since they start to biodegrade almost immediately after going on your kids’ feet.

“Seriously, for your own good, stop reading that stuff,” Chunks said, and I appreciated his concern. 

After we hung up, I started to think about how, as a kid, I’d stash Halloween candy behind my laundry basket, saving each piece so that it would last until St. Patrick’s Day.  I began to wonder if some habits start at so young an age that your adult behavior is predetermined in elementary school, but then, instead, I thought: “My my my poker face.  My my poker face.” 

You can locate Mike Todd by his blinky shoes at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Left to our own devices

“Nice sandals, man,” my buddy Jeff said during his visit last weekend, and something in his tone told me that my insecurities were about to be laid as bare as my toes.

“Is something wrong with them?” I asked, looking down at the only footwear that might allow a grown man to maintain his self-respect while strapping things to himself with Velcro.  

“No, not at all.  Those are very sensible dad sandals,” he replied.  Dad sandals.  They’re like mom jeans you wear on your feet.

“Dude, these are not dad sandals.  They’re hiking sandals,” I replied.

“Hiking sandals?  That’s an oxymoron,” he said.  He had a point.  I’d never actually worn them hiking, on account of them being sandals.

“Whatever.  These are not dad sandals,” I said, taking a moment to craft a mental defense that would highlight the newness and coolness of my stylish five-year-old hiking sandals, but it was already too late.  Jeff had taken his phone out of his pocket and his thumb was swimming Facebook laps up and down the screen.

While I may get defensive when criticized by, well, anyone, I also appreciate the value of shame in a close friendship.  Without being shamed by my friends, I’d probably still be wearing tightrolled stonewash jeans and Big Johnson T-shirts. 

“Did you know we’re not allowed to wear cargo shorts anymore?  Someone decided that,” I said, offering the only piece of fashion advice I could think of to lure Jeff back to our current time and place.  I’d recently learned about the prohibition on cargo shorts when a distant friend shared a local news story on Facebook about an armed robbery captured on camera, in which the robber looked amazingly like my friend.

My friend’s defense?  “It can’t be me robbing that store, because the robber is wearing cargo shorts, and it’s 2014.”

In response, I immediately changed out of my cargo shorts, never to put them on again.

“Oh, yes, that’s right.  We can’t wear those anymore,” Jeff responded, briefly looking up.  Jeff is the most recent practitioner of a trend we’ve noticed in our house, wherein visitors travel great distances to stare at their phones in the company of friends and family.

While it’s easy to malign people for forsaking their actual, real-life friends for virtual candy-crushing, acquaintance-stalking and farming activities, I find myself doing it, too.   

“Maybe a high school acquaintance had another baby.  Why don’t you check?” my phone will say from my pocket.

“No.  People I actually care about are right here in this room,” I will reply.

“But maybe someone liked the photos you posted last night!” it will say.

“Well, okay, just for a moment,” I’ll reply, flicking through pictures of people I’ll never see again as my son takes his first steps in the next room.

Sometimes, though, our devices can bring us together with people we would have never otherwise met. 

Shortly after wishing Jeff a good night in the guest room, and warning him to prepare himself for being awoken in the morning by a two-year-old jumping on his head, I was jolted awake by the house phone ringing.

“Hello?” I mumbled, trying to sound awake, so as to impress the person calling at 1am with my alertness.

“Someone from this number just called me twice.  Can you tell me why?” a lady asked.  I couldn’t. 

After five minutes of interrogation, we left on better terms than we’d started, but we still didn’t have any answers.

The next morning, we found out that Jeff had used our house phone to call his cell phone to locate it, like Linus trying to find his blanket.  He hadn’t dialed a 1 first, so it called a local number instead.

“You have to dial a 1 first?  What is this, 1995?” he asked.

According to my sandals, yes.

You can pay half-attention to Mike Todd at

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The bus stops for thee

“I can’t talk about it right now,” my wife Kara said, and just like that, the list of verboten topics in our household grew by one.  I already knew that I’d never convince her that the toilet paper roll should pull from the front, or that we could burn less oil in the wintertime by wearing thermal underwear in the house, or that mouse-trap-emptying duties can be gender-neutral.  I’ve learned better than to talk about these things. 

But the newest addition to the list would be much tougher not to discuss, since it was going to change all of our lives very soon, and in a big way.  In just a few short days, a big, rectangular door will fold in half and slide to one side, our oldest son will step through it, and he and his childhood, along with the very fabric of our family, will be swallowed up inside. 

“Munch, munch, munch.  This childhood tastes delicious!” the school bus will say, and then it will rumble away, leaving us with our pictures, our tears and a cloud of diesel fumes. 

“Brother!” our youngest son Zack will yell when the cloud clears and he realizes that Evan has left him behind.

Then we’ll drive to daycare in silence, except for Zack, who will scream at us for letting this happen.  I’ll make mental notes of the tiniest details of that day, so that Zack can relate them in greater detail, forty years later, to his therapist.  I’ll glance into the rearview mirror to see Evan’s empty car seat, and regret all the times I yelled, “You’ll have to wait until a stoplight!” when he dropped his sippy cup on the floorboard for the seventh time, wailing as if he’d just seen an episode where Dora the Explorer catches Ebola. 

“It’s okay, buddy,” we’ll tell Zack as we drop him off at daycare, alone, for the first time in his life.   
“You and Evan will be in the same school again in three years, which is really not that long, even though it’s longer than you’ve been alive,” we’ll say, which won’t help.  Meanwhile, a bully will be dumping out the contents of Evan’s new Avengers backpack and stealing his chocolate chip bunny-shaped snacks.

This is the scenario that Kara fears, so kindergarten is a topic upon which we’ve been treading lightly.  Of course, I share these fears, but I’m a guy, which allows me to express my emotions by reading do-it-yourself articles on improving our attic insulation. 

Almost five years ago, when Evan started daycare, and we paid the first monthly bill that, at first glance, looked like we’d mistakenly assumed the mortgage on another house, I couldn’t have imagined anything other than elation at his graduation to public school.  The reality, though, has been decidedly more of a mixed bag, as we gradually come to understand that change for our kids is scary for us, too.

“You’re growing up.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  You’ll have fun!  You’ll make new friends!” Evan will say as he pats us on the head.

I’ve heard it said that the best two days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.  Perhaps a similar saying applies to daycare: The worst two days of daycare are the day you start and the day you finish.  (Oh, and also the day you catch pinkeye.) 

We’ll get a chance to find out about the last day very soon, when Evan cleans out his cubby for the last time, and his parents pretend like they’re holding themselves together.

But really, we’re excited for Evan and his new adventures.  Just don’t talk to us about it quite yet.

You can wait with Mike Todd at the bus stop at

Monday, September 01, 2014

Two wheels, no clue

“That sounds like a really dangerous thing to do,” my wife Kara said, ending the sentence without expressly forbidding me to do it, so I naturally assumed that we’d just reached an agreement.

“She’s letting me do it!  Glad that’s settled,” I thought.  Rather than test our fledgling accord by risking additional verbalization, I went back upstairs, satisfied that my husbandly communication skills had once again won the day, like that time that I, well, I’m sure there are many other great examples.

A few minutes later, I came downstairs, toting my big hiking backpack.

“Okay, I’m off to the grocery store now.  Text me if you think of anything else we need,” I said.

“You’re bringing your backpack?  Are you seriously still thinking about riding your bike there after we just agreed that you weren’t?” she asked.

Apparently, she hadn’t been paying attention to the part where we’d stopped the prior conversation just before it had gotten to that inevitable point.

I’d spent the prior two weeks staring at Google Maps, charting a bike path from our house to the grocery store, toying with the idea of actually doing it.  Not the grocery store right down the street, with the annoying customer loyalty card, wilting produce and six-dollar ice cream, but the good one, a few miles further, with the shorter checkout lines, happier employees and enhanced wife-angering capabilities.

Back in college, I’d bike everywhere, which was perfectly safe, because drivers back then hadn’t yet realized how much more efficient their lives would be if they texted while they drove.  A few weeks ago, we dusted off our bikes for our tenth-anniversary trip to Block Island, and rediscovered how much fun it can be to locomote like ten-year-olds.

Shortly afterwards, I hatched my bold plan to actually accomplish something useful while riding my bike.  I’d be like a caveman, venturing forth from our dwelling and returning with sustenance, using nothing but my cunning and my club (or its modern-day equivalent, the credit card).  I’d go at night to avoid traffic, and return with tired legs and frozen pancakes.  I’d use my new bike headlight, which was bright enough, if pointed upward, to summon Batman.  It was a great plan.

“This is a terrible plan,” Kara said.

We discussed it for a few more minutes.  After ten years of marriage, during which Kara and I have successfully negotiated at least two or three minor disagreements, it’s possible that I may have failed to learn a few obvious lessons.  For instance, when your significant other says, “Well, since you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well just go ahead and do it,” that doesn’t actually mean, “Just go ahead and do it.”  That means, “For the love of all that is good and/or chocolatey in this world, DO NOT do it!"

But since I was going to do it anyway, I went ahead and did it.

Biking at night gives you the chance to notice so many things you’d miss if you were in your car.  The chirping crickets.  The reflection of the moonlight off the pond in the distance.  The feeling that every approaching vehicle might be driven by a teenager playing Angry Birds, and that maybe wearing a Styrofoam hat doesn’t make you invincible.

After locking my bike to a signpost in front of the store, I pulled out my phone and texted Kara: “Sorry you married a stubborn person.  I am at the grocery store, alive.  Hopefully that’s good news.”

She reluctantly agreed that this was good news.  In general, though, if you’re going to do something after your partner says, “Since you’re going to do it anyway, just go ahead and do it,” it’s probably best if you keep a helmet handy.

You can pass Mike Todd on the left at

Monday, August 25, 2014

Play it again, Samsung

“We are family now, you and I,” I said, watching the blood drip from my finger, forming an unbreakable bond with my silent compatriot. 

“What are you doing?” my wife Kara asked from the doorway behind me.

“Just having a moment with the laundry machine,” I replied.  I’d never felt closer to an appliance than I did at that moment, with our washer’s bare frame in front of me and its parts spread all over the room.  The machine was at its most vulnerable, and it was depending on me, my Phillips screwdriver and all the king’s horses to get it back together again.

Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea

“Dude, is that blood?” Kara asked.

“There are some sharp spots in there,” I noted.  I hadn’t noticed the cut on my finger until blood smears started appearing on the pump housing.  When you’re a big, tough, appliance-fixing person like me, boo-boos are a part of the deal. 

Earlier that day, back when I knew nothing about appliance repair, our washing machine decided that rather than wash our clothes, it would prefer to sit there blinking the letters “ND.”  From some quick online searches, I found that “ND” is an error code, short for “Not Doin’ your laundry anymore.”

Some web searches showed a few easy things to try that would probably fix the problem.  None of them worked, but they still provided a nice respite from watching videos of people dumping buckets of ice on their heads.  (Which, by the way, I fully support, but would enjoy some variation to keep things interesting.  Buckets of spiders, perhaps?)

I called the manufacturer, Samsung, to see what they had to say, which was: “Unplug it.  Now plug it back in.  Still doesn’t work?  Huh.”

They generously offered to let me pay them to pay someone else to come fix it, but I needed to do more research first.  After talking to a local appliance guy, I found that a housecall would cost $110 for him to change out of his jammy pants, then another $135 to diagnose and possibly fix the problem, plus parts.  But I’d have to unstack the washer and dryer before he’d even look at it, which was the part that had the most cussing, grunting and toe-smashing potential in the first place. 
So I turned to the world’s most trusted source of reliable information: YouTube.

“Look, the guy in this video fixes it in eight minutes,” I told Kara.  I was feeling confident from my earlier success at patching our roof leak.  I was so good at it, I got to patch the same leak three times.  

As the video progressed, the guy took the top off the washer, then removed the panel of buttons, then the big rubber seal, then the entire front panel, and then he started playing with the innards.  The color drained from Kara’s face, the first time that day that anything in our house had drained properly. 

“You can’t break something that’s already broken,” my dad said over the phone, which was encouraging.  Not true, really, but encouraging. 

So I dug in, armed with nothing but a screwdriver, an iPad and a misdirected sense of self-esteem.  (I should also give credit to Kara here, because I wouldn’t have been able to drop the dryer on myself by myself.)

To my amazement, after following the eight-minute video for three hours, the washing machine worked.  It was the best fix-it job I’d ever performed, but I won’t call myself a hero, because people expect modesty from a hero.

The next day, I found a little rubber flange on the counter that had previously kept the flow of water going one-way into the machine’s pump.  Or maybe out of it.  So not only had I fixed the machine, I'd upgraded one of the pipes from one-way to two-way.  You don’t get that kind of service from someone trained and knowledgeable.

Anyway, Dad’s advice turned out to be good.  I gained confidence, skills and at least $235.  And possibly tetanus.

You can try to fix Mike Todd at

Monday, August 18, 2014

Newly kidless on the Block

“Wait, wait, wait.  It might bite you,” my wife Kara said.  I paused in the ankle-deep water, weighing the relative importance of getting this photograph versus keeping all of my fingers.

“I don't think horseshoe crabs can bite, can they?” I asked.  It was a question a person could only ask while on vacation, like: “Do my feet look sunburned to you?” or,

“What day of the week is it again?”

“Maybe not, but it sure looks like they could pinch or sting,” she said.

The crab scooted a little deeper into the sand while it waited for us to sort this out.

For our tenth anniversary, Kara and I were exploring Block Island, Rhode Island, which sounds redundant, until you realize that the people who named Rhode Island clearly had no idea what the word “island” meant.  Or maybe they did.

“By the time the tourists realize there's only water on one side, they'll be in Connecticut.  Forsooth!”

But unlike Rhode Island, Block Island is actually an island, and its miles of beaches proved to be a wonderful place to pretend that we didn’t have kids for five days.

“You’re at the beach?  Without me?” our five-year-old son Evan wailed into our videoconference on our third night there.

“Should have stuck with plain old phone calls,” I whispered.

“We found some pretty shells for you today, buddy!” Kara said, trying to pull the conversation out of the fire, holding her phone closer to her face so that Evan couldn’t see the sand behind her.

 “I wanna be at the beach!” he wailed.

We’d been rather vague about this trip with our two sons, telling them that Mommy and Daddy were going on a date for a few days.  With Grandma and Grandpa in town to babysit and the ice cream flowing freely, they didn’t ask questions.  It was okay that we were gone, just not okay that we were gone and having fun.

“We’ll all go to the beach together soon, I promise,” Kara said, and Evan calmed down, locking that promise into his memory banks.

A few moments later, we all said “good night” and “I love you,” and Kara hung up.  Even the red-orange sunset, glistening off of our wine glasses as the waves gently lapped on the shore just a short distance from our semi-reclined beach chairs, couldn’t alleviate our guilt.  But, you know.  It didn’t hurt, either.

On top of celebrating ten years of married life together and acting like the preceding four non-married years didn’t count, we were also location-scouting Block Island as a potential place for our wider family to gather next summer, including my sister’s family with their two small children.  

“Look at all the kid-friendly stuff there is to do here!” we wanted our photos to say.  Since we’d ditched our own kids, though, we had to demonstrate the kid-friendliness of Block Island in a more hypothetical context.

“Look!  There are little horseshoe crabs here that small children could harass, assuming these children had parents who hadn’t ditched them!” was the message we settled on, which is how I found myself crouched over a little horseshoe crab, debating the prudence of posing with it.

A caveman pondering an interaction with an unknown creature would just have to take his best guess (“Throg think tiger look tasty!”), which is why cavemen had an average life expectancy of about four decisions.  Too bad cavemen didn’t have iPhones in their backpacks.

“Nope, it’s safe.  They just use their tails for balance, and they can’t pinch,” I said, grabbing the crab for a quick photo op. 

Look!  A horeshoe crab!

Hang on a minute.  This one's dead.

 Look!  A different horeshoe crab!

Back in the water, the crab dug himself into the sand again, where there’d be less chance for an encounter with the paparazzi.

If we make it back with the kids next year, he might want to stay hidden.

You can take a relaxing vacation away from Mike Todd at  

Monday, August 11, 2014

You say tomato, I say Dorito

The regular reader(s) of this column might recognize this column from 2008.  Sorry for the rerun - didn't have a chance to crank out a fresh column for this week.  But now that we've kicked all five seasons of Fringe, our Netflix queue officially has nothing worthwhile in it, so I should have more time from here on out.  Back to original programming next week!
As my wife Kara and I cruised the aisles of the grocery store in preparation for a visit from some out-of-town friends, I looked down into the cart and beheld a menagerie of items that surely must have belonged to somebody else: diet root beer, low-fat cheddar cheese, no-taste sour cream, joyless cream cheese and soul-crushing baked potato chips.

“I think we accidentally grabbed Richard Simmons’ cart,” I said. Back home, we’d already stashed some cases of light beer for the big weekend. Light beer. It was almost too depressing to contemplate. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be partying with V-8 juice and those carrot shavings that have the raisins mixed in.

For the first thirty years of life, I knew that most food came with nutritional information printed on the back, but it was one of those facts that never seemed to have any bearing on me personally, like knowing that male seahorses are the ones that give birth and that Tulsa is the capital of Nebraska. But as the years have sped up and the metabolisms have slowed down, the back of food packaging has become more interesting than the front.

“This bag of Smartfood has 45% of my daily fat intake,” I told my dad on vacation recently as he drove us back from a hike. We’d rewarded ourselves for a day of tromping through the woods by stopping at a tiny general store and cleaning the place out of anything that contained cheese or cheese-like substances. I thought I’d made a responsible choice by choosing Smartfood popcorn over Doritos, but apparently Smartfood is only the smartest choice if you’re an underweight sumo wrestler.

Dad reluctantly handed me his bag of Cheetos like a bad cop turning in his badge.

“I don’t really want to know, but tell me anyway,” he said.

“Let’s see…looks like 60% of your daily fat intake,” I said as Dad winced. “This bag was supposed to have four servings in it.”

He took the bag back and turned it upside-down, dumping the remaining crumbs into this mouth.

“Well, there must have been a mistake, because this bag only had one serving in it,” he replied.

Food was much easier to purchase when the only food-related issues that really mattered were whether or not your slice of pizza had enough pepperoni on it and whether you could scarf down the entire cone before it started to melt. Once you have to start worrying about calories and fat grams, things get way too complicated. I want my food simple, the way nature intended: partially hydrogenated.

Trolling through the grocery store to finish up our trip, Kara lamented not being able to find the last few items on our list. Healthy things are harder to find because they don’t have neon packaging and mascots, just pictures of smiling farmers beside the higher price tags.

By far the most difficult item to find in every grocery store I’ve ever visited is a can of sliced black olives. It won’t be with the jars of olives, and it won’t be with the cans of vegetables. You will wander through the aisles, wondering why you married the only person who enjoys putting sliced black olives on everything short of cereal, until you find them stuffed under a sack of rice in the storeroom.

“Okay, all we need now is a cucumber,” Kara said. “Why is it so impossible to find anything here? I don’t think they have cucumbers.”

“There’s a whole pile of them right there,” I said, pointing to a tray filled with oblong green things.

“Those are zucchinis,” she replied.

“Aren’t those the same thing?” I asked. I still think she was trying to trick me; nobody can tell me that zucchinis and cucumbers aren’t the same thing. I didn’t just fall off the radish truck.

You can steam Mike Todd (he’s healthier that way) at