Monday, July 28, 2014

Lepers by the lake

“What?” my wife Kara asked, turning off the blow dryer.  She could tell something was wrong because the blow dryer normally doubles as a husband repeller, if only because when she’s using it, somebody needs to be downstairs, making sure that our sons are not creating crayon murals or experimenting with the aerodynamics of our cutlery.    

“One of us is not going to work today,” I replied, holding a thermometer in the air and pointing at our son Zack.

“Oh, no,” she said.

This routine has become sadly familiar to us.  Every day after daycare, our kids bring home wonderful art projects, often accompanied by a wide variety of colorful diseases, featuring pink eyes, red throats and green faces.

This year has been worse than most.  Remember at the end of War of the Worlds, when the aliens keeled over due to their lack of immunity to Earth’s diseases? 

“Go get ‘em, microbes!” I said at the time, before realizing that someday, we would be the aliens.

Also, my apologies for not putting a spoiler alert on the ending there, but the book is over a hundred years old (according to Wikipedia, which also notes that the original story was written by King Tut), and the movie has Tom Cruise in it, which means that you either saw it back when he was still cool, or you’re never going to see it anyway. 

So Kara and I began one of our regular horse-trading sessions, when we compare our schedules to see who can go to work, who stays home, and how often we’ll need to commute to switch places.  We ask important questions during these sessions, like, “You have a meeting?  Is it with your boss?  Are you leading it?  Is anybody bringing donuts?” and we sort it out from there, hoping that we don’t hit any serious conflicts.  Sometimes, when both parents work, it doesn’t really work. 

Complicating matters, Zack’s fever occurred on the Monday before our vacation to Rangeley, Maine.  We were to leave in six days. 

“It’s probably Coxsackievirus.  He’s going to be miserable this week.  And you’re going to be miserable, too,” the doctor said, smiling broadly as if he couldn’t hear the words coming out of his mouth.  

That evening, Zack briefly spiked a fever of a 104.5, putting us minutes from a trip to the ER.  Sibling rivalry being what it is, Zack’s big brother Evan hit 104.6 two days later.  Then Kara hit a paltry 100.  I also barely cracked triple digits, a shameful performance.

On Saturday, when we were supposed to leave, the kids bounced downstairs.

“Can we go today?  Pleeeease?” Evan said, bright-eyed, feverless.  Both kids were the picture of health.  Kara and I were feeling fine, too.

“Why not?” we said, taking a few hours to stuff the entire contents of our house into the car.
Somewhere around Vermont, I noticed the blisters on my hand, a symptom of Coxsackievirus that the kids had thankfully avoided.   

“Dude, these weren’t there this morning,” I said, looking at my hand as if it had been bitten by a zombie.

“Oh, man, I’ve got one on my ankle.  I thought it was a bug bite,” Kara replied. 

We’d gone from War of the Worlds to Walking Dead.  Too late to turn back, we continued toward the lake, where we‘d see lots of beloved family members who would be getting air-fives from us.

The waves gently lap against the shore and the loons call to each other across the lake as I type this, as quickly as possible, before my fingers fall off.       

But really, Maine is as good a place to convalesce as any.  Hopefully, it’s okay that we spraypainted a skull and crossbones on our cabin.

You can give Mike Todd a wide berth at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A ride of passage

“Want to go on a boat ride, buddy?” I asked my two-year-old son Zack, not being entirely forthright about the nature of our upcoming nautical adventure.

“No,” he replied. 

You know how kids will just say whatever they think their parents want to hear?  Me neither.

“But don’t those little boats look like fun?  We can all fit in one,” I said.  By that point, we were nearing the front of the sweaty, snaking line, so I had to close the sale fast.  I pictured my dad trying to stuff our old family cat into the crate before a trip to vet, then pictured myself trying to cram our youngest child into the log flume boat at Hersheypark as he yowled, scratched and fought his way back out. 

“Brother?” he asked.  He idolizes his older brother, but can’t pronounce the “v” in Evan yet, so the word “brother” is the first thing he says in the morning, the last thing he says at night and the loudest thing he screams when expressing mutual interest in whatever Evan happens to be playing with. 

“Yes, your brother is going, too,” I said.

Zack nodded, sale closed.  If his brother would ride a boat over a fifty-foot cliff, then Zack would, too.  It would have been a very brave decision, if either of them had had any idea that that’s what we were doing.

Evan actually understood, on an intellectual level, that he was going to ride a boat over a waterfall, but he couldn’t really know what that meant without experiencing it.  To that point, the wildest ride he’d ever taken had been the time I didn’t notice the speed bump in the Babies R’ Us parking lot.   

Zack had no idea, though.  Bringing an unsuspecting two-year-old on a scary amusement park ride might sound like poor parenting, but my wife Kara and I had done our research the previous evening.  Hersheypark gives you a free three-hour pass for the evening before the date on your admission tickets, which more than makes up for the fact that Hersheypark should definitely be two words. 

So we ditched the kids with their grandparents and visited the park by ourselves, free for the first time in over five years to hop in line for rides that didn’t have cars shaped like ladybugs. 

“We can finally ride roller coasters again!” Kara said.  When we got there, none of the rides had lines longer than ten minutes.  We were soon to learn that roller coaster lines have obscene wait times to protect you from yourself.  The human brain needs an hour-long cool-off period before it can happily handle sloshing against your cranium again.   

“No more roller coasters,” we agreed after an hour, woozily.

That’s when we investigated the log flume as a potential family ride for the following day.   

“No way, that would terrify the kids,” we agreed, laughing as the boat skimmed to a splashy stop. 

Then, in front of us, a family disembarked from a boat holding a smiling baby who looked newer than the latest iPhone model.

“Do little kids usually come out of the boat screaming?” I asked the teenaged attendant.

“Nah, they love it!” he said.

About fifteen hours later, our family’s boat bounced its way toward the big drop, both according to and against our better judgment.

“Are you holding Zack?” Kara asked.

“Yes, of course!  Over my head, so he can get a better view,” I replied.

“Not fuuuun-nnnnyyy!” she said, wrapping her arms around Evan as the boat plunged down the hill. 


Afterward, the kids were quiet. 

“Did you have fun?” I asked Evan as we walked across the big rotating floor.    

“Yes.  Can we not do that again?” he replied. 

Zack agreed.  That was fun, let’s never do it again.

Next time, it might be tougher to stuff the cats into the crate.

You can go over the edge with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, July 14, 2014

S’more pain, no gain

Until the moment when our five-year-old son Evan wailed that he’d accidentally killed our dog, the camping expedition had been a great success.

Our original intention had been to go camping at a public campground about twenty minutes from our house, because our lives were not difficult enough already.  Our youngest son, Zack, finally started sleeping through the night shortly after his second birthday a couple of months ago, so we were on the lookout for some fresh new hardship to endure. 

“Let’s take the kids camping!” my wife Kara said, excited about the prospect of giving our children
the classic Norman Rockwell experience of tormenting their parents in the woods.

“That’s a great idea.  Let’s go this weekend!” I replied, ignoring everything I’d ever learned about life and parenthood.

So we made grand plans.  I pulled the big tent out of the closet under the stairs.  We gathered the sleeping bags and portable crib.  We picked up marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers.  Then we started thinking about what we were doing.

“You know, if this goes south, we’re in for a long night,” I said.

“I just checked.  The campground has a two-night minimum.  This is starting to sound like a commitment,” Kara said.

We’d already sold the kids on the idea, though, so we couldn’t retreat without taking casualties.

“You know what’d be even better than going to a campground?  Setting the tent up in the backyard, like we’re having a big slumber party!” I said.  Parenting involves a certain amount of salesmanship.

“Will there still be marshmallows?” Evan asked, and I realized that “quality family time” and “communing with nature” were a little further down his priority list, below each of the ingredients for s’mores.

So we pitched the tent, bought a fire pit and had a campfire in our backyard, living just like frontiersmen, with most conveniences more than ten feet away.  Like a modern-day Daniel Boone, my Wi-Fi signal was perceptibly weaker that far from the router.

While Evan fixated on cooking marshmallows, Zack wandered around the fire pit, trying to figure out how he could most efficiently cook Zack roast, barbecued Zack or Zack flambĂ©.       

“Look, buddy, your very own little camp chair!” Kara said, directing Zack to sit down.

He did sit down, and as Kara helped Evan brown his marshmallow to perfection, it was a wonderful family moment. 

Then, as Evan assembled his very first campfire s’more, Zack dumped over sideways in his chair, shrieking.  In the excitement, our dog Memphis sensed a window of opportunity, quietly tugging the s’more out of Evan’s hand and wandering off.   

“My s’more!” Evan wailed as we righted Zack’s chair.

Zack, now upright, wailed in unison with Evan.  Kara and I looked at each other, relieved that we’d kept this show off the road. 

“Dogs can’t eat chocolate!  It’s poison!  It’s going to kill her!” Evan wailed.  We were touched that he felt any sympathy for the thief who’d just eaten his entire reason for camping. 

“Well, that’s called karma,” I replied.  The dog, for her part, did not pretend to be nearly repentant enough.     

“Babe, not helpful,” Kara said, assuring Evan that Memphis would be fine as she loaded his stick with another marshmallow. 

Shortly thereafter, we noticed that we were offering up our sons as sacrifices to the mosquitoes.

“Are we really going to sleep outside tonight?  We can’t go to bed yet, and the bugs are out in full force,” Kara said, smacking her arm.   

“The kids could always play in the tent tomorrow.  That’d be fun,” I replied.

In the end, the boys deemed our camping expedition to be a great success.  Maybe next time, we’ll actually sleep outside.   

You can skewer Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The great indoors

Note: This week, I celebrated my independence from creating original content.  This column is from 2011, way back when Nintendo was still a thing.  Back with new stuff next week!

“Use the Razor Wind, not the Zen Headbutt!” my little cousin John yelled, looking over the shoulder of our cousin Ryan.

Ryan held a Nintendo DS in his hands, a device that has a similar effect on my little cousins that the One Ring had on Gollum.

“My turn! It’s my turn now!” one of my cousins will yell.

“My precioussssss,” the other will hiss, diving into a nearby pond.

No, they actually behaved quite well as they coached each other through various battles with their Pokemon characters. For those who aren’t familiar, a Pokemon is apparently a small Japanese creature with the power to trap children indoors on perfectly beautiful days.

“Anyone want to throw sticks into the pond with me? Memphis is itching to play fetch,” I said last weekend, during the small family reunion that my parents were hosting at their house.

A couple of heads turned my way as the kids decided who would be their spokesperson. Finally, an indeterminate voice from the other side of the couch said, “We’re good.”

At that moment, I had a flashback to me sitting on that very same couch twenty years ago, back when it had upholstery the color of Snuffaluffagus.

“Michael, you’ve been playing Nintendo all day. Go outside,” Mom said as the birds chirped in the afternoon sunlight.

“I’m almost done this level,” I’d reply, guiding my superspy down elevator after elevator. I’d continue being almost done that level until dusk, when the comedies came on, keeping me entertained while, just outside, the lightning bugs probably danced and twinkled against the night sky.

There I stood, twenty years later, the roles reversed. You know you’ve gotten old when you have the urge to tell someone younger than you to go outside for no reason.

“Hey, kid, go outside,” you say, not exactly sure what you expect to happen on the off chance that the kid complies.

The idea seems to be that kids are guaranteed to have magical experiences just because they’re on the other side of the sliding glass door, but they’ll probably just end up back on the couch in a few hours with sunburn and Lyme disease.

To their credit, my cousins actually did fend off the lure of the Pokemon for a much bigger chunk of the weekend than I would have done at their age, and the dog spent each evening slumped on the floor, recovering from a full day of fetching sticks. With five kids standing on the shore winging sticks over her head, Memphis was like Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyor belt. As the unfetched sticks piled up in the water, the kids came very close to building their own beaver dam out there.

While I felt like one of the kids standing at the edge of the pond, cheering on the dog while holding my son Evan in my arms, I found myself proving even more that I’d become an old person.
As a rain of sticks splashed down in the distance, I looked down at Evan and noticed a fleck of dried yogurt on his cheek. I held Evan tight, licked my thumb and started squeegeeing his face. Evan squirmed, determined not to lose the yogurt he’d rightfully accessorized, but I persisted, working my thumb up-and-down like I was challenging him to a thumb wrestling match.

The point I’m trying to make here is that old people love licking their fingers and scraping things off of kids’ faces. We don’t really know why we do it, but it passes the time if we can’t find any kids to force outside. Until we learn how to land a Comet Punch in Pokemon, it’ll have to do.

You can dodge Mike Todd’s Zen Headbutt at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Technology’s in the toilet

For that brief moment, when your iPhone is hurtling downward through the artificially freshened restroom air, from the privacy of your stall, you will think, “Please, when you land, go clackety-clack-skitter, not sploosh.”

You may even have a chance to lean your head to one side, like the bad guys have just tossed a three-point buzzer-beater toward the basket, and maybe, just maybe, you could bend its arc with your will, making it bounce off the rim.

I found myself in this position at work last week, watching the device falling toward its date with porcelain destiny.

“This is what you get,” I thought.

The previous day, as I walked past the row of stalls in our work bathroom, a door flung open and a new guy walked right toward me, ignoring the bathroom traffic laws and merging recklessly, so engrossed in his phone that other organic life forms did not exist to him.  I was like a squirrel in the street trying to guess which way the car would go.  This way, then that, I stutter-stepped to get out of his way as he plowed forward to the sinks, never seeming to notice me.

That was a close call.  You do not make eye contact in the men’s room, and you especially do not make actual contact.

“Put your phones down and act like people, people,” I thought, shaking my head.  Also, everyone, we can hear when you don't use the soap dispenser.  You're not fooling anyone with that little spritz of water.  If you're going to take the charade that far, why not just actually wash your hands? 

That night, my buddy Josh posted a picture to Facebook with this caption: “After seeing this picture, I've decided to never buy my son a cell phone. Ever.” 

In the picture, two little boys sat side-by-side on a carnival ride, whipping around a turn with their hands and feet outstretched, glee and wonder on their faces.  In the car behind them, two teenage girls sat, glum-faced, one with a phone to her ear, the other tapping at her phone like a lab rat wondering when the treat was finally going to roll out. 


I used to think people looked busy or important when they tapped on their phones in public.  Now it just seems sadder than if they were actually paying attention to the world around them.

It was against this backdrop that I decided my email must be checked at the same time my trou was dropped, lest my trip to the bathroom be only productive in the way nature intended.  As I prepared to sit, a clumsy fumble sent the phone tumbling out of my hands.

If an old woman in a dark cloak had stopped me in the parking lot on my way into work that morning and said, "You.  Yes, you're the one.  You're going to stick your hand into the toilet today," poking me in the chest with her bony finger, I would have gone inside immediately and called security.

Alas, she would have been right.

“Sploosh!” went the iPhone.   

In that moment, decisive action had to be taken.  I don't like to throw around the word “hero” too loosely, but just like the guy who jumps into the raging river after the child who got swept into the current, I did not hesitate.  When you’re a hero, you do what the situation requires, whether it’s saving a kid’s life, or dunking your hand into the john while wearing your best button-down. 

While I didn’t do any wonders for my dignity that morning, I actually did manage to save my phone, which somehow still works just fine.  If this ever happens to you, there is hope for a happy ending.  Just be sure to do better than a spritz on your way out.

You can decline to borrow Mike Todd’s iPhone at mikectodd@gmail.com. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting my beans in a grind

Once the words came out, there could be no putting them back in.  My wife Kara would know the full extent of my betrayal.

“There’s a pretty good chance you’re about be angry with me,” I told her.

“Oh, really?” she laughed, then she saw the look on my face. 

“Wait, really?  What’s going on?” she asked.

To that point, the morning had been pleasant.  We’d just dropped off the kids at daycare.  The sun shone through the leaves as they fluttered in the late spring breeze.  I wondered if the weather would be this nice again tomorrow, and if so, would I be alive to see it? 

“Still enjoying your coffee?” I asked her.

“The coffee’s fine.  What’s going on?” she asked, giving me a key argument for the defense I was about to need.

A few months prior, we’d stood in front of the giant bags of ground coffee at Costco. 

“Hey, the Costco brand is only twelve bucks for a two-and-a-half-pound bag.  That’s five bucks cheaper than the Dunkin’ Donuts bag,” I pointed out, helpfully, I thought.

Kara rolled her eyes.  I was cheap when she married me, which makes it a preexisting condition, but as my age advances, my frugalitarian tendencies are getting worse (or better, depending on your point of view).  She signed up for a certain level of cheapness, but she did not agree to spend her life with the guy who separates two-ply toilet paper into two rolls of one-ply, or the guy who washes paper towels and hangs them out to dry, so I’ve tried to funnel my natural cheapness into pursuits that won’t draw too much attention.

Perhaps emboldened by our recent cutting of the TV cable, I looked for other monthly bills to slay, since they have the gall to show up every month.  As luck would have it, we go through about one bag of coffee every month, which creates an opportunity to streamline our operations.

“Please don’t mess with my coffee.  It’s already cheap because we make it at home.  This is the kind I like,” Kara implored as she dropped the Dunkin’ Donuts bag into the cart. 

Less than three years ago, Kara didn’t even like coffee.  Then we had our second son, Zack, who went 750 consecutive days without sleeping through the night, a streak that would have made Cal Ripken, Jr. envious.  During that streak, Kara decided that perhaps survival without coffee was not possible, and we both started drinking it every day. 

So I agreed not to mess with her coffee, with the implied understanding that the next time I came to Costco by myself, I could buy the cheap stuff, stick it under the kitchen counter, brew a pot without mentioning anything and try to pass it off as Dunkin’ Donuts.  At least that’s what I took away from the conversation.

I’d intentionally waited until the kids were gone to start this confession, so that they wouldn’t have to see Daddy’s blood spatter on the windshield.  A solid marriage is built on trust (and also on compatible Netflix tastes), but as I sat there next to my wife of nearly ten years, she was drinking a big cup of lies.

“That coffee you’re drinking.  It’s the Costco kind,” I said, wincing.  Really, the coffee does taste different.  Not worse, just different.  I’d expected her to spew her first sip across the kitchen.

“Dude, I thought you’d just made it too strong!  But you’re drinking the rest of that bag.  Don’t mess with my coffee,” she said.

Her response was so relatively consequence-free, a lesser husband might have felt emboldened to experiment with other forms of subterfuge, perhaps going online later that day to casually peruse user reviews on water-saving shower heads.

In any event, if you’d like to come over and have a nice cup of coffee, we have plenty.  You just can’t watch me brew it. 

You can filter Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Free money! No, really

“Wait, but I’m not dead,” I explained to the customer support representative.  She didn’t seem quite convinced. 

“I’m sorry Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity,” she explained again, deftly using the passive voice to assign blame to no one.  Who closed the account?  Let’s not get bogged down in the details.  It was closed.  Accounts close all the time.  Who are we to say who closes them?

“It’s just, if I’m not dead, why would you close my account and give away my money?  Seems like, if your customers are still alive, you should leave their accounts open,” I suggested.

“I’m sorry Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity, and the funds in it were given to the state.  You can go online to unclaimed.org to request the funds back, if you’d like,” she said.

“I’d like very much to have those funds back,” I said, realizing that I was more likely to recover the lunch money I’d lent to Jimmy Gallagher in fifth grade.

Last year, I signed up for a high-deductible “Don’t Get Sick and We’ll Give You $500” medical plan through my employer.  If you signed up for that plan, it was your responsibility to make sure you had a health savings account (HSA, if you’re still awake) set up to receive the funds.  Last week, during that phone call, I discovered that my HSA provider closed my account in 2012 due to inactivity, even though I was, by most accounts, still alive.  So I did not receive my $500 for not getting sick in 2013, and I also lost $145 that was already in the account. 

“Duuuuuude,” I said to myself after hanging up, realizing that not only had I lost $645, but, even worse, I’d have to tell my wife that I lost $645.  (Kara was actually quite understanding when I told her, though we agreed that since there was nothing in my HSA because nobody in particular had closed it, it might be best if I didn’t severely sprain my ankle this summer like I’d been planning.) 

There was clearly no point in trying to retrieve money that had been turned over to the state two years ago, but just to follow up, I visited unclaimed.org that afternoon.  It took me about twenty seconds to select my state, search for my name, find the record of my lost funds, provide my social security number and request that a check be sent to my current address. 

The check arrived about ten days later.  Also in the mailbox was an identical envelope addressed to Kara.  I’d also searched for her name that fateful afternoon, and found that she had some unclaimed funds from ING Direct.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I found some old ING account that you used to have and requested the funds.  It’s probably a check for twenty-three cents,” I told Kara, handing her the envelope.

“I don’t remember having an ING account.  Must have been a long time ago,” she said.

We opened our envelopes.  My check was for $145.  Her check was for $1,600. 

“Dude!  I just made us money by losing five-hundred bucks!” I said as we high-fived.  It’s not a strategy I would recommend, but sometimes, it pays to be a degenerate.

Since discovering unclaimed.org, we’ve made a sport of looking up friends and family members so that we can tell them to go spend twenty seconds to pull the arm on the slot machine and see how many cherries show up.  We’ve found several people in the database: My mother-in-law, Kara’s aunt, my mom’s friend, my buddy’s dad.  Our success rate is around 10%, but it’s still way more than we would have expected.

If you’re the kind of degenerate who might have forgotten about an old account somewhere, you should visit unclaimed.org to see if your name shows up.  You might luck out and find that nobody in particular just assumed you were dead. 
   
The drinks are on Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The time is meow

“Dude, there could be hornets’ nests in there, or poison ivy, or rusty nails sticking out all over the place,” I told our four-year-old son Evan, and his eyes grew wide. 

“Please can I go in there?  Pleeeease?” he said again, and I realized that I might as well have told him that Dora the Explorer was handing out lollipops in there.   

Kids will keep you guessing.  I’d just warned Evan of a high probability of very real danger, and it only served to turn him into Intrepid Explorer Man.  The previous evening, he’d refused to walk to our kitchen pantry by himself for fear of a monster intercepting him, which is just silly.  The monsters live in the laundry room.

“You’ll have to ask Sergey.  It’s not my barn,” I said.

Evan ran up to the grill, where Sergey was just removing the last of the hot dogs. 

“Sure, I’ll take you on a tour of the barn,” Sergey replied to Evan’s shirt-tugging entreaties.

Sergey’s wife, Julie, is a horse person.  They don’t have any horses at their house, but the little barn in their backyard lets them keep their options open, just in case they decide they’d like to have some grazing beasts wandering around their house, and having their friends over for barbecues isn’t doing the trick anymore.

“The last time any horses lived here was two owners ago,” Sergey said as we approached the open door.  The entire structure was about the size of a two-car garage.  Like most two-car garages, though, you wouldn’t have been able to fit any cars in it, on account of all the stuff. 

After sidling past their lawnmower, I held Evan up so that he could see into the first of four horse stalls.  He grabbed the top of the dusty door and peered in at the pile of discarded drywall, broken glass, fence posts and rusted wire.  You needed a tetanus shot just for looking at it.  The other three stalls looked ready for a horse to move in tomorrow, but this one had made itself useful by agreeing to house decades’ worth of stuff that wouldn’t fit in the trash can.

“What’s all that stuff?” Evan asked.  Before Sergey could reply, the pile answered for him. 

“Mew,” the pile said.

“Dude, I think that pile just meowed,” I said.

“No, there’s a bird outside that sounds like a cat,” Sergey said.

“Mew,” the pile replied.

“Mew,” it agreed.  All of a sudden, a chorus of mews started coming out from under the pile. 

“Kitties!” Evan squealed, running outside to tell everyone of the discovery.

“Aw, man,” Sergey said, locating the tunnel against the side of the barn where a critter had burrowed into the stall.  A pregnant critter, apparently.

As the party moved from the backyard to the barn, everyone got on their knees to peer under the rubble. 

“Awwwwww,” was the collective response as four tiny, blinking kittens emerged into the sunlight. 

Julie whispered, “Oh, dear.  There was a dead cat on the side of the road a few days ago.”

“Did it look like these kittens?” I asked.

She nodded, wincing.  Word spread quickly that these kittens needed a good home.  From that point forward, Sergey and Julie were no longer hosting a backyard barbecue.  It was Kittenpalooza.

 “Get ya kittens heee-yah!  Who wants a kitten?  Get ‘em while they’re cute!”

Someone brought a paper plate of wet cat food outside and set it on the ground.  A couple of the kittens approached, taking cautious nibbles.


A third ran from behind and bellyflopped into the food, determined to eat the entire pile from underneath itself.

In the end, a couple of Sergey and Julie’s friends agreed to take all the kittens home, keeping some and bringing the rest to a no-kill shelter. 

Evan, for his part, is off to an auspicious start of his exploring career, though he’s disappointed when he doesn’t find litters of kittens in the pantry.
   
You can bellyflop into your food with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Doesn’t taste like chicken

“Come on, try it,” I said to my wife Kara, nudging the little cube of who-knows-what toward her. 

“Uh uh,” she said, shaking her head.

“Oh, try something new, Evan,” I said, reminding her of the phrase we employ twenty-seven times a day in our vain attempts to get our four-year-old son, who is 90% chicken-nugget-powered, to eat something that can’t be dunked in ketchup. 

“The whole idea is freaking me out a little,” she replied.  That’s exactly the effect the little cube was meant to have. 

I’d first heard about this chicken substitute in a 2012 Slate.com article by Farhad Manjoo, titled, “Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out.”  In that article, Manjoo said that a new company called Beyond Meat had created the best fake meat yet, so good that it even fooled a New York Times food writer. 

The article stuck with me, even two years later, because I am a vegetarian sympathizer, which means that I lack the willpower to be an actual vegetarian, but I’d like all the animals that I eat to know that I like them a lot, even before they’re covered in melted cheese. 

Over the years, I’ve fed my brain a steady, growing diet of cognitive dissonance.  I’ll dive over the couch to keep Kara from squishing a spider, then go back to dipping my bacon in au jus (which, translated from the French, means “what happens when you wring out a cow.”)  While I know that eating meat is bad for the planet and not such a great deal for the animals, either, its deliciousness makes it awfully easy to rationalize.  Bacon, after all, is just a tiny sliver.  The pig will hardly miss it.

In the movie “Interview with the Vampire,” Brad Pitt’s character becomes a vampire consumed with guilt at the idea of killing people for food.  He tries to tame his hunger by feeding on rats, but it’s ultimately not enough.

“Oh, come on, it’s not that hard to not kill people.  I do it all the time,” I remember thinking.

When I attempt to make a meal out of squash, though, I get a little more sympathy for vampires.  Gourds are my rats -- I might survive, but I refuse to enjoy it. 

So when we went out for lunch recently and the restaurant had a little sign proclaiming, “All chicken dishes available with Beyond Meat chicken-free strips,” I thought, well, today’s my clucky day.

“Can I try that with the fake chicken?” I asked, surprised to hear my voice saying those words.

Back at our table, Kara watched me take the first bite of a buffalo not-chicken wrap.   

“How is it?  Can you tell?” she asked.

On the one hand, it felt good knowing that the only thing that had to die to make this lunch was my sense of apprehension.  On the other hand, my hesitant hopes may have been a little too high.  I was expecting fool-a-food-critic fake chicken.  What I got was closer to fool-a-food-critic-who’s-still-recovering-from-a-root-canal fake chicken. 

“No, it’s fine.  I mean, the texture actually feels like chicken.  It just seems like they had to cram some spices in there to keep my soy radar from going off,” I said.

I took out a cube of the chicken-like substance and put it in Kara’s plate, nudging it toward her.

She wasn’t as curious to try it, but when she could tell we were headed toward “here comes the airplane, into the hangar” territory, she relented.

“Yeah, I mean, pretty close, I guess,” she said, chewing and shrugging.

So while we may not be ready to move beyond meat quite yet, it seems hopeful that perhaps we’re closing in on it.  Maybe someday we’ll even sneak a soy nugget past Evan.

You can grill Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Neighborhood gone loony

“It can’t be,” I said, stopping in the middle of the street somewhere between my double- and triple-takes.  I pulled Memphis’ leash tight, keeping her close to my leg.  Zack, the two-year-old freeloader riding in my backpack, leaned over to see what was going on.

“Whassat?” he asked. 

Just down the street, a crowd was starting to form at the epicenter of the spectacle.  Two of my neighbors stood at the end of their driveway, looking down, joined by the UPS driver who’d hopped out of his truck.  He also stood in the middle of the street, box in hand, motionless.

“You probably don’t remember seeing one last summer, but that,” I said to Zack, “is a loon.”

It was actually a common loon, though it seems insulting to associate the circumstances, or the bird itself, with that adjective.  At this time of year, loons should be bobbing on a lake in Maine or Canada, not plopping down next to our neighbors’ mailbox, at least 200 miles from any place it might rightfully call home.  A flamingo strutting around the yard might have been less out-of-place. 

“Duck,” Zack said as we approached the bird.  With each step, its unmistakable white speckles on black feathers became more obvious, its red eyes watching its new audience with distrust. 


 When our family goes on vacation to Rangeley Lake in Maine each summer, as we’ve done since I was not much older than Zack, you’re lucky to get within one-hundred yards of a loon before it slips under the water, reemerging several minutes later as a dot in the distance, which is when you sigh and put your lens cap back on.  These birds know how to play hard-to-get, which is part of their allure. 

If you’ll forgive me, my family is a little loony when it comes to these birds.  We spend a week each year listening to their haunting calls across the lake, then swearing when we can’t get a half-decent picture of one.  We make up for the lack of photographs by supporting the loon-based economy.  If this bird had waddled a few more feet over to our house, he would have seen our kids’ stuffed-animal loons in the living room.  My mom has loon earrings.  My parents have a full-size wooden loon carving on their hearth.  This family, as the regular reader(s) of this column probably know by now, appreciates a good loon.   

“Well, it kind of looks like a duck, but it’s definitely a loon, buddy,” I said. 

“Duck,” Zack corrected me.  It’s tough arguing with someone who has the vocabulary of a parrot.
Our neighbor, Kim, walked around the yard on her cell phone, trying to locate someone who could take the bird and care for it.  A larger crowd had begun to form, conjecturing about how the bird had ended up here.  The loon didn’t look injured, but wouldn’t otherwise have attended an impromptu block party, and certainly not as the guest of honor.  During his migration north, something must have gone south.

Kim and her husband dragged their kids’ toys out to set up a barricade, keeping the loon from wandering into the street.  I waved goodbye and tried calling some local animal rescues as well.  When I walked by a few minutes later, the barricade was long and high enough to host a performance of Les MisĂ©rables. 

In the end, a local zoo agreed to take the loon and try to nurse it back to health.  As I found out the next day, the bird hadn’t suffered any injuries, but it was skinny and had some treatable parasites.  The hope is that it can be returned to the wild or live out a nice retirement at the zoo.  Which, incidentally, is the only place you’d be able to get a decent picture of him.
   
You can visit Mike Todd in the loony bin at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Update:  This story has a happy ending!  Check out this post from the very awesome Trevor Zoo for some more information and pictures of the loon's release.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moving couches, stealing babies


The regular reader(s) of this column might recognize this one from 2008.  Had to take a break last week to deal with a sick kid (all better now), snapping our record-setting whole-family-healthy streak of ten days.  I don't remember writing this one, so hopefully it'll be new to you, too!  Back with new programming next week.

When you have kids, besides signing up for a lifetime of being a caregiver, mentor and science-fair-project-completer, you also, as a reward for surviving their teens, get to carry their couches every year from one apartment to another. Your kids won’t have their own couches, though, so you’ll actually just be picking up the couches that used to be yours and lugging them to an apartment where the shower rod falls down when you turn on the fan.

My parents probably thought they’d gotten out of the business of moving my stuff around the country many years ago, but last weekend they started the enterprise up again, driving nearly four hours each way to deliver their pre-owned couches to our house. They did this because, besides being exceptionally generous people who pass along only the finest of furniture and genes, they saw the state of our previous couch, which was of course also their previous couch, and which had served for many years as a ferret burrow for our late varmint Chopper, making it rattier than a scratching post and holier than the Pope.

So when my folks ordered their own new couches, they volunteered to rent a trailer and bring their old couches up to us. Incidentally, did you know that U-Haul won’t let you hitch one of their trailers to a Ford Explorer?  The problem is apparently a legal remnant of the Explorer’s issues with exploding Firestone tires in the 90s.  You’ll probably never need to know that, but you also don’t need to know what Beyonce’s baby’s name is, which makes it even worse that little Blue Ivy now occupies the shelf space in your brain where the quadratic equation used to be.

My wife Kara recently became a bit of an expert on hauling things herself. Before going to her cousin’s wedding a couple of weeks ago, Kara decided that we should go purse shopping, which is my favorite thing to do when I can’t find a grease trap to clean out.

“Ooh, what do you think about this one?” Kara said, holding up a large black bag with buckles or something on it. I can’t really say for sure what it looked like because I was staring off over the racks, wondering which video games my single friends were playing. There’s only so much purse shopping a man can be expected to handle. It’s like looking through someone’s photo album when you know there aren’t any pictures of you. One can only stay engaged for so long.

“You don’t like it?” she asked.

“Oh, no. It looks like it could hold stuff,” I said.

She ended up purchasing a purse so big that our friend Anna dubbed it a “baby-stealing bag.” The theory was that Kara could put her wedding flip-flops in the purse to carry around until the reception. Apparently, the shoes that women wear to wedding services are just the starting pitchers. They have a whole lineup of middle relief that they call in after the reception begins.

As we drove to a recent wedding with Kara’s family, she set her new purse in her lap.

“Oh, can I put these in there?” her sister Jill asked, holding up her own flip flops. Her other sister Sarah and her mom looked at the bag and their eyes grew bigger. Pretty soon, every female member of Kara’s family began producing flip-flops that had been hidden in jackets and, presumably, ankle holsters and throwing them into Kara’s bag. By the time we got there, Kara looked like she had enough provisions in her bag for a through hike of the Appalachian Trail. At least she had comfy couches to rest on once we got home.
 

You can hitch your email to Mike Todd’s inbox at mikectodd@gmail.com.