Monday, December 25, 2006

Jack Frost’s cold shoulder

I can’t believe Christmas is almost here. It seems like just last weekend that I was out in my T-shirt mowing the yard, mainly because last weekend, I was actually out in my T-shirt mowing the yard. Last Saturday was beautiful, sunny and almost sixty degrees despite being less than a week shy of the winter solstice. Hearing a lawn mower awakened from its hibernation in the middle of December is incongruous, like seeing pictures of clothed people on the internet.

My original intent with the mower was to chop up the stubborn leaves that had refused to blow into the neighbor’s yard over the past couple of months. As I pushed the mower along, though, I noticed that the grass had actually grown taller since the beginning of November, when it was last mowed. Maybe global warming isn’t as bad as every reputable scientist in the world seems to think, but from the looks of things, Frosty’s silk hat is going to be spending the vast majority of this winter sopping up a jolly old puddle.

While I was outside mowing, my wife Kara was inside painting the bathroom. We’re trying to make our house look presentable so that we can sucker someone into buying it. I hope it sells quickly so that we can go back to being slobs. Being clean takes way too much energy. The universe wants entropy, and entropy is what I aim to give it.

As I hopped into bed on Saturday night and pulled the covers up, a wave of sickly wintergreen scent smacked me right in my olfactory epithelium. Or in both of my olfactory epitheliums, if I have two of them. Wikipedia is somewhat unclear on this point.

Kara saw the look on my face and laughed. I knew right away what she’d done: she’d busted out the Icy Hot.

“Ew, dude, did you roll around in Pepto Bismol?” I asked.

“It’s Icy Hot. It makes my muscles feel better. I’m all sore from painting today,” she said.

If you’re not familiar with Icy Hot, it’s a cream that is manufactured entirely from Pepto and wintergreen gum, then it’s enriched into an isotope that, when applied to the skin, emits odors so powerful that muscle pain suddenly drops way down on the list of things that are bothering you. If you’re sitting in the same room with someone who has just put on some Icy Hot, you can actually watch the vapors ruffling the curtains.

At least I assume that’s how it works. I’ve never tried the stuff before. I’m a lotion-phobe. Even as a kid, my parents would chase me around with suntan lotion at the beach as I ran and cried, my face turning red to match my shoulders. If I’d been one of the people in Buffalo Bill’s basement in Silence of the Lambs, the scene would have gone like this: “It rubs the lotion on its skin.”

“Oh no, it doesn’t!”

Bringing up Silence of the Lambs in the context of what honestly started out many paragraphs ago to be a discussion of the holidays may seem a little strange, but I’m not the first to make such a connection. Have you taken a good listen to the lyrics of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” lately? I just noticed this line as the song was playing on the radio a couple of days ago: “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” Scary ghost stories? Really? That must be a tradition my family’s been missing out on: everyone sitting around on Christmas Eve by the fire, eating cookies, as Dad tells us our favorite story, Rudolph the Vengeful Reindeer.

It sends emails to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Getting housed

The news these days is littered with stories about the impending crash of the real estate market, which is why my wife Kara and I are going to move into a different house as soon as possible: we want to make absolutely sure that we don’t miss out on the opportunity to lose our life savings. So tomorrow, we’re going to drive one town over to meet with a seller’s real estate agent, where we’ll sign a piece of paper that says that we’re all allowed to stop lying to each other. Until you sign the paper signifying that everyone has agreed on a price, the lies just fly around from all sides like we think we’re running for office.

“We don’t want to play back-and-forth over this like a game of tennis, so here’s the lowest we can possibly go,” their agent told us recently.

“That’s refreshing,” my wife Kara replied. “We don’t want to play tennis either, so here’s the highest we can possibly go,” throwing out a much lower number and leaving us all staring into the vast void in between the two. If you had dropped a rock into that void, you could have fixed yourself a cup of hot tea before it hit bottom.

Fortunately, everybody was lying, so after several grueling sets of tennis, we finally arrived at a number with which we were all mutually unhappy.

Kara has been our chief negotiator over the past couple of weeks. I don’t have the stomach for it. She’s our Simon Cowell; I’m our Paula Abdul. This much was obvious even as we took our first walk-through of the house, when you’re supposed to pretend that you would sooner challenge a porcupine to a Greco-Roman wrestling match than live there. Even though you don’t want the real estate agent to smell enthusiasm on you, I still just can’t muster up the guts to say anything bad about a perfect stranger’s house. “Good job, house. You came out here and you did your thing. I’m proud of you,” I’d say, standing up and clapping using only my palms, seeming vaguely inebriated.

Then Kara would chime in: “Oh, this is terrible, simply dreadful. If this house was a lifeguard, a lot of people would be drowning.”

Kara’s strategy was of course the better one, so I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. Besides, it’s just a house. It’s not like it’s a video game or anything, where one false move could be responsible for the destruction of entire civilizations. You need to keep these things in perspective.

So now that we’ve agreed on a price, we just have to worry about what the market’s going to do, which of course nobody can really predict. Several years ago, I was convinced that I had psychic abilities, which would certainly be useful now. Like all the great clairvoyants, my original psychic inspiration came from the old Fox show Joe Millionaire. See, I guessed on the first episode that Joe would end up with Zora, which he eventually did, thereby convincing me of my great powers, which I then used to predict that we were just bluffing about the whole Iraq thing.

So while my powers might be lacking in the realm of the consequential, I can still divine that the next reality show you watch on Fox will go like this: recap of last week, five minutes of new show, Taco Bell commercials featuring people who seem inordinately surprised that they’re full after consuming a 730-calorie burrito, ten minutes of recap of the previous five minutes of new show, GEICO commercials that are better than the show you’re watching, attractive woman’s emotional breakdown, recap of the emotional breakdown for anyone who suffered a severe head trauma in the past ten seconds but is still watching the remainder of the show, then a teaser for next week, which will be a recap of this week.

You can share your chalupa with Mike Todd online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ferret rustling

My favorite thing about this time of year is going into the basement, brushing the fuzz off of the Christmas decorations and bringing them up to the living room, where our ferret Chopper will romp through all of the plastic bags filled with fake pine things and red candles that we’ll never burn, spreading his fuzzy little holiday cheer and scratching his left cornea on a glittered ornament.

Actually, that last part is a trick he just picked up this year. I don’t suppose we’ll turn it into an annual tradition.

If we had waited to name Chopper until he was a little older, we probably would have named him Russell after his favorite thing in the world to do: rustle. I guess if we’re still thinking that the onomatopoeia thing is cool in a couple of years, we can name our first kid Buzz or Kerplunk.

But a few days ago Chopper embarked on one rustle too many, opening the ornament box with his nose and putting an eyeball, literally, onto one of the glittering globes.

When he came romping across the floor a little while later, he only had one eye open, which I attributed to him just waking up. Every time you see him, he’s just woken up. He could beat a teenage koala in a sleeping contest.

“What are you, a pirate now?” I asked him. Then I held him up towards my wife Kara. “Arrrr, matey, I be makin’ me poop deck wherever I dern well please. Yar!”

“Baby, I think his eye is bothering him,” she said, simultaneously proving her viability as a candidate for Household Pet Optometrist while knocking me out of the race altogether.

I’m a big wimp about taking our ferret to the vet. We’ve been very fortunate over his five years that he hasn’t required very many visits. The first time I took him there, it was just for a little bug bite that turned out not to need any treatment, but the vet took Chopper’s temperature anyway, which didn’t really go over very well. You should have seen his little legs churning when he realized what was going on back there. He looked like Scooby Doo when he and Shaggy see the phantom coming towards them.

Eventually, Chopper gave up, standing there on the metal table and looking up at me like, “You’re just going to stand there? Why don’t you DO something about this?”

So that trip cost us forty dollars to find out that our ferret doesn’t like to have metal things shoved up his rear end, something I’m guessing I could easily have discovered at home for free.

But this time, sitting in the waiting room, I felt relieved that a professional was going to check our little varmint out and help make him better. As I sat on the bench, a guy with a large plastic crate next to him leaned towards me and said, “I found these little black flecks all over my house. Turned out they were falling off of my cat. So I picked up one of the flecks and looked at it under a magnifying glass, and it looked like some kind of insect larva. You believe that?”

“That’s very interesting,” I said, shoving Choppy’s crate away from the infested Larval Cat so fast that the crate left burning tracks on the bench like the Delorean in Back to the Future.

It turns out that Chopper is going to be just fine. We just have to give him some eye drops for the next couple of days. Incidentally, we’ve recently found that giving eye drops to a squirming ferret is every bit as easy as painting a self-portrait on the blades of a spinning windmill.

You can send your 1.21 jigowatts to Mike Todd’s flux capacitor online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Some good grass

This is what whole grain looks like in its natural environment:

Cute, right? That's why you should eat pork chops instead.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The state of the reunion

Last weekend, some friends and I mustered up the courage to attend our ten-year high school reunion. I still don’t exactly understand why this took any courage at all, but somehow just thinking about high school brings all the inherent social anxiety rushing right back at you, and instead of all the good times, you can suddenly only remember the time you watched your date making out with your ex-friend at the Homecoming Dance. But one good thing about getting ready to hang around with former classmates when you’re pushing thirty is that you don’t really have to worry about zits anymore, which works out nicely because you need the extra time to focus on your bald spots.

Everyone knew roughly who would be in attendance at our reunion thanks to eVite, the ubiquitous internet invitation site that lets people post whether or not they plan to attend. My favorite eVite response was from my buddy Gimp, who let everyone in our class know: “I’m coming and I’m available.” Perhaps he’d be better able to capitalize on his availability if his buddies stopped calling him Gimp. But we’ve been friends since the first grade, so at this point, I think we’re all a little embarrassed to ask what his real name is.

Another classmate made the trenchant eVite observation that “10 years ago, they didn't have eVites.” Which got me to thinking, ten years ago I’d never even been on the internet, which means I hadn’t yet received that fateful email from Bill Gates asking me to help him beta test his new email tracking program, a favor for which he was willing to reward me handsomely. I’m still living off the residual income from the first time I forwarded that email to ten friends; I just work because I like complaining and fluorescent light bulbs.

It was almost exactly ten years ago when my college roommate demonstrated the power of the internet when he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his duffel bag and taped it to the inside of his closet door. That paper was a photo printout of Jenny McCarthy, who at that moment was so enthralled with the bubbles floating around at the car wash that she apparently forgot several important pieces of clothing.

“Where did you get that?” I asked him.

“On the internet,” he said.

“They have pictures like THAT on the internet?” I asked, as Ed McMahon burst through the door to give me the giant novelty check accompanying my Most Na├»ve Question Ever award.

But as I found last Saturday night, even though much can change in ten years (most prominently the collective girth of the class of ’96), much also stays the same. Walking into that room filled with familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in a decade was so surreal that it felt like a dream, a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that about halfway through the reunion, I realized that I’d shown up wearing only my underwear.

I also discovered that even though a picture is worth a thousand words, a baby picture normally comes accompanied by the thousand words anyway.

After we’d been there for a few minutes, Gimp tapped me on the arm and pointed across the room with his eyes.

“Dude, check out Lawrence over there,” he said. Lawrence was the first kid in our grade to have armpit hair, a fact many of us noticed while he was administering headlocks to us in front of the girls’ gym class. Lawrence brought bullying to a high art form; his armpits were his brushes and our heads were his canvas.

While I’ve been greatly anticipating letting myself get fat and bald after the reunion, it does seem to indicate some degree of justice in the universe to have seen that Lawrence, once again, has a head start on the rest of us.

You can ask Mike Todd to help beta test your new email tracking program online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting Rob'd

Here's a shot my buddy Rob took in Australia:

Rob's shooting a behind-the-scenes jaunt for some movie over there. I only mention that so that you'll think I'm a little cooler by association. Did it work?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Giving thanks and wedgies

It’s that time of year again for cranberry sauce, unbridled gluttony and finally getting a chance to use that awl on your Swiss Army Knife for poking new holes in your belt. Oh, and for high school reunions. If you’re a geezer like me, that last one might apply to you. I’m still in denial about the whole thing. “I can’t believe I’m old enough to be having a ten-year high school reunion this weekend,” I said to myself this morning as I poured cream and Geritol into my Metamucil.

People plan their high school reunions for this time of year because all the scattered ex-high schoolers migrate home for Thanksgiving, much like geese, which is why geese are so much more deserving than turkeys to be the mascot for this holiday. I think it’s time we gave the turkeys a break and started chowing down on some good ol’ down home American Canadian geese.

I came up with this idea earlier today on my out to my car from work, as I carefully navigated through the minefield of sundry goose-related debris. If you haven’t noticed, the geese are taking over. They already have our golf courses, parks and Wawa signs. Now they want our parking lots. Who do they think they are, sea gulls?

A few years back, my wife Kara and I lived in an apartment complex that featured a rather large and quite algified pond, a verdant lagoon that stirred romance in the heart of every mosquito and was rivaled in beauty only by the Love Canal. Every morning around three o’clock, the resident geese would begin their enthusiastic and cacophonous honking; they were either fighting or making down-covered romance, but either way they kept us up all night. On beautiful, breezy Spring nights our closed windows would rattle in their frames.

“Make them stop,” my wife Kara would say, pulling her pillow over her head.

“Please stop it, geese,” I’d mutter, making a mental note to pick up a pellet gun on the way to work in the morning.

Not that I’d actually shoot a goose from an apartment window, but I’m pretty sure I’d have no problem putting goose meat right at the top of my personal food pyramid. Or at the bottom. I don’t understand the food pyramid anymore since they turned it into a rainbow and put a little stick person walking up the stairs on the side of it. It looks like a cross between a Skittles commercial and an M.C. Escher painting now.

I feel bad about eating most animals; it’s not their fault they’re so delicious. But I could go on an all-goose diet with no qualms at all. Goose flakes for breakfast. Peanut butter and goose sandwiches for lunch. And snacking on some Goose Combos would really honk one’s hunger away.

Regardless, there’s no time to convince the rest of my family about the merits of eating goose for Thanksgiving. Mom starts cooking three days before big gatherings like this, though I also do my fair share by carrying the dirty dishes ten feet from the dining room table to the kitchen, where Dad washes them. It’s quite the equitable system we’ve worked out.

And I only have a few more days to fret before my ten-year reunion. I hope everyone who didn’t give me a wedgie in high school is doing well.

“Hey, how’s my bald spot looking back there?” I asked Kara today. I haven’t held up a mirror to look at the back of my head since I was about twelve. I don’t want to know what’s going on back there. I’ll just assume that the back of my head still looks as lush and hirsute as Pierce Brosnan’s chest.

“Babe, it looks fine. You don’t have a bald spot,” she said. She always knows how to make me feel better.

Then she said, “But don’t get your hopes up for your twenty-year reunion.”

You can fight Mike Todd for the last slice of pecan pie online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Missing the estrogen train

My wife Kara left me this afternoon for a woman. Incidentally, the previous sentence will probably be the title of my first country song, if I ever write one. And if I ever get around to writing a second one, I think it should be about salvation and the benefits of aluminum recycling, because “Redemption Song (got my five-cent deposit back)” is a really good title for a country song, too.

But the truth is that Kara left me for not just one woman, but several. Fortunately for me, the situation is only temporary; she’ll be back tomorrow after her big girls’ night out in the city, an event to which my invitation was neither proffered nor desired. Kara and her friends have dealt me the terrible fate of having to stay home playing video games instead of spending the evening in front of better-dressed people showing off both of my signature dance moves: “Bounce up and down, with the beat if possible” and “Blend in, blend in, oh man I hope I’m blending in.” The world will be deprived of these innovations in modern dance because this evening’s party train is to be powered entirely by estrogen. In any event, it’s safe to say that there won’t be a toilet flushed or a tooth brushed around here for at least another twenty-four hours.

It’s interesting to me that a group of girls can go out in the city without any male accompaniment and plan to dance just with each other. This is, of course, roughly analogous to dumping chum into a shark tank. Which is why, just before she leaves for girls’ night out, you should tell your wife, “Hey babe, you’ve got a little makeup smudge on your cheek.” Then as you’re gently wiping her cheek off with one finger, write “BACK OFF I’M MARRIED!” on her forehead in permanent marker. Magicians call that misdirection.

Guys cannot dance by themselves in a big group. A circle of dancing guys is universally a pathetic sight, unless the guys really know what they’re doing and also they’re part of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof.

When I went to a bachelor party in Atlantic City a couple of years ago, we were all having a fine time hydrating ourselves in an Irish Pub when some of the single guys got the fine idea to drag everyone to the night club next door. Fortunately for us, no self-respecting club even allows a bunch of guys to come in without any women in their group. The bouncers saved us from ourselves, though a couple of my buddies pleaded their cases enough to ensure that we still got to shed some dignity before we left.

But now that I’ve got some quality alone time this evening, I finally have a chance to sit down, relax, listen and really get to know The Battle for Middle Earth II while the radio plays in the background. I’ve started listening to the pop station lately. If you don’t listen to pop music, you might not have been informed that Justin Timberlake is single-handedly bringing sexy back. That should be a major relief to those of you who thought you were going to have to bring sexy back all by yourselves. You have to admit: even if you decide to continue laboring over your sexy back-bringing efforts, it will be good to have some star power behind your cause.

Some people might be asking themselves, “Where did sexy go, anyway?”

This is a valid question, and if you had to pinpoint the exact moment when sexy left, it would probably be about the time that Bob Dylan showed up in those Victoria’s Secret commercials, which were less sexy than your average episode of the 700 Club. Still, those commercials did beg the question: “How many butts must a thong ride up, before you call it a thong?”

You can show Mike Todd how to do the worm online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Other people's pictures

It's been a while since I've posted any Guatemala pics. Here's another shot from the Jeff Hofer archive:

I think this shot should be on the cover of a magazine, like maybe National Geographic or Masonry Modeling for Kids.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Down for the count

A few nights ago, I sat on the couch in the living room, minding my own lack of business with my laptop located in what I thought was a perfectly sensible place: atop my lap.

My wife Kara walked into the room and pointed at me. “You should put your computer on the dining room table and go work in there,” she said. “Some people at work today were talking about how typing with your laptop on your lap messes with your physiology.”

“My physiology?” I asked.

“Well, they said it lowers your sperm count,” she replied.

I stopped clacking on the keyboard and looked up at her, scooching the computer towards my knees. Even though I’d never heard any such thing in my life, and I sincerely doubted that there could possibly be any truth to what she was saying, better safe than sterile.

Back when I was single and living in my own place, the only female influence in my apartment was Mama Celeste, and she hardly ever strolled into the room to randomly start discussions about male fertility. She was too busy providing dinner seven nights a week. Since getting married, though, I’ve found that reproductive conversations will just pounce on you, like Hobbes greeting Calvin at the front door. Not that Kara was necessarily bringing up reproduction as it pertained to the two of us, but her concern for my gametes sure seemed to be heading in that direction.

To find out if there was any real reason for her concern, I did a quick Google search from the safety of the dining room table. It turns out that some researchers did recently reach the very conclusion that Kara passed along to me. I was relieved to discover, though, that the problem wasn’t due to any sort of radiation. Electric things kind of freak me out like that. I don’t even like sleeping with the alarm clock too close to my head.

It seems that computers’ prophylactic effects are related to the heat that comes off the bottom of the laptop, so there’s no need to fashion any radiation-blocking aluminum foil underpants for your loved ones. Those would probably just make the problem worse, anyway, like you were preparing them to be a baked potato. If anything, asbestos underpants would most likely be the best investment, if you can find any; check with your local fire department.

Computer use does seem to be getting awfully hazardous lately. Not only do computers turn perfectly normal people into infertile, orc-slaying nerds, but some laptop batteries can catch fire rather spontaneously. You may have caught that news item on your way to the emergency room. The article I read regarding laptop use and its effects on fertility didn’t mention what happens if one’s laptop bursts into flames while resting on one’s lap (probably because they couldn’t get anyone to sign up for that study), but I think, regardless, it might be time to turn the laptop into a tabletop.

Kara continued, “Not that it’s any big deal now, but, you know, someday. We might as well not take any chances.”

I said, “You know what the people in my office were talking about today? The best way to change diapers and the semantic differences between spit-up and throw-up. Apparently, spit-up is the good kind.”

The most disturbing thing out of all of this is that Kara apparently has much more interesting conversations at work than I do. Even if I’d known the little tidbit about male fertility and laptops, I just can’t imagine how I would have broached that particular topic with my co-workers.

“So, Vernon, did you notice that the boss seemed a little testy today? Speaking of testy, guess what my wife told me?”

You can shoot Mike Todd with a fire extinguisher online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Popping an election

Have you caught '06 midterm election fever? Here are some of the early results:


*75% of precincts reporting. (Image source here. Update: Image ain't accessible there anymore. Much respect to whoever came up with it, though. Word.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Big Scary Real World

My wife Kara and I decided to host a little get-together for some of our work friends last Saturday night. We do this every so often just to prove to ourselves that people will still voluntarily hang out with us even though we’re married and boring. Also, the bathroom will never get cleaned if the threat of a co-worker forever associating us with toilet scum doesn’t loom near.

When you’re an adult and you have people over, guests bring stuff with them: chips, beer, wine, even homemade salsa. I’m still getting used to this idea. When friends used to come over in high school, they’d head straight for the kitchen, calling over their shoulders: “Your folks got anything good in the fridge?” Mom had to bury our good food in the backyard.

A couple of interns joined our regular crew this time. These guys are taking a semester off from college to see what life is like in the Real World, a term that I find myself using occasionally even though it’s awfully condescending. “Ooh, you have no idea what it’s like in the Big Scary Real World, little college children,” we say, holding flashlights under our chins and waving our adjustable-rate mortgage statements in their faces.

In many ways, the Real World is actually a lot nicer than school. In the Real World, nobody forces you to stay up until three in the morning trying to figure out what a Bernoulli equation is or why Avogadro’s number isn’t 867-5309. And you never have to use Bookman Old Style font to make your papers look half a page longer, mainly because you don’t have to write any more papers.

As far as I can tell, though, the biggest difference between college and the Real World is that in the Real World you get paid for doing things you don’t want to do. This helps you to afford the things you couldn’t in school, like pepperoni on your pizza. And when you decide that maybe Milwaukee’s Best just isn’t good enough anymore, you can usually upgrade to a better six-pack for less than 50% of your net worth.

As those interns sat in our living room on Saturday night, I wondered what our lives looked like to them. I pictured myself at nineteen, looking through our living room window, watching the goings-on inside like Scrooge watching the Cratchits eat dinner.

“They’re just sitting around telling stories. Only one person is talking at a time. Wait a minute, what’s that big red box they’re taking out?” I’d ask, my nose pressed against the glass.

“Oh, please, no. Merciful Heaven, what is this? It’s…it’s…Scattergories! On a Saturday night!”

Turning to the Ghost of Saturday Nights Yet to Come, I’d ask, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Actually, the Scattergories game was kind of fun. That’s a good game for anyone considering a run at law school, as it was designed with the sole purpose of making people argue with each other. Days later, I’m still making my case to Kara, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Scattergories Court, that some of my answers should have been counted.

“K, of the Special variety, is a perfectly good answer for breakfast foods that start with the letter K, you know,” I told her.

“No way,” she said. “That’s worse than kumquat omelettes.”

“Well, I think it should have counted. And everyone else came up with regular old personality traits that started with the letter M, like moody and melancholy. I think I should have gotten extra points for coming up with something as original as make-friendy.”

“Make-friendy? That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Sure it does. Hey, everybody really likes the new guy at work. He’s very make-friendy.”

Kara replied, “You’re about to feel very got-punchedy.”

You can write something make-friendy to Mike Todd online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Purple sky nurple

My buddy Rob's in Australia right now, so that means I can steal his pictures and put them on the internet and there's nothing he can do about it.

Check this one out:



I hope he brings back a wombat.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cinema juvenile

My wife and I finally went to see Jackass: Number Two. This was completely her idea, of course. I wanted to see Marie Antoinette, but Kara insisted on watching grown men hurtle projectiles into each others’ crotches for an hour and a half instead.

Before we decided to go see it, I read a review that said, “Ask yourself this: Did the title make you laugh? If so, you’re probably the target audience.”

I hadn’t realized that the title was a joke at all. But when I went back and looked, yes, I did laugh. But I stopped laughing when I realized that I had just placed myself in the most unenviable of all categories: people who find toilet humor funny, but only when it’s explained to them. So I was indeed the target audience, only dumber.

I wouldn’t say that watching the movie has made me any smarter, but I will say that I look at life a little differently now. Being a homeowner for the past few years has made the world seem like such a fragile place. Everything breaks. Nothing withstands the test of time. Doorknobs fall off. Pipes transport water only when they feel like it. Nietzsche was probably a cheerful guy before he bought his first house. I bet he came up with the whole “God is dead” thing very soon after his roof sprung its first leak.

But Jackass has proven to me that the world is not nearly so fragile. You can stand blindfolded while a Siberian yak hits you in the shins so hard that you flip through the air and land on your face, and then do you know what happens? Nothing. You have a hearty laugh and then cut to the next scene, which probably involves getting attacked by a shark or being stuffed into a grocery cart and having your friends slingshot you into a closed garage door. But still, the people don’t die, like they obviously should. They don’t even seem to get seriously injured.

Darwin did not predict these people. The laws of nature do not apply. I can’t for the life of me figure out how the Jackass folks are all still alive. Chipping an occasional tooth seems to be the worst thing that ever happens to them. Requiring minor dental work after giving the Grim Reaper a wedgie seems a fairly small price to pay.

In reality, stupidity is not treated so charitably. When I was at summer camp as a kid, my friend Chris and I were hitting rocks into the woods with broom handles. We’d pitch the rocks to ourselves and swing away.

“Oh, there’s a perfect one,” Chris said, walking over closer to me and picking up a rock right by my feet.

At that moment, as Chris knelt down to pick up that rock, I thought we had an implicit understanding: I wouldn’t wait for him to get out of the way before hitting my next rock, and he wouldn’t stand up. To me, that seemed to be an agreement we could both be happy with.

Unfortunately, Chris didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. He stood up just as I started swinging, putting his head where nobody’s head ever wants to be: somebody else’s wheelhouse.

Most people go through their whole lives not knowing what it feels like to hit someone in the head with a broom handle as hard as they possibly can. But I found out exactly what it feels like, and it’s not good, though it’s probably a good measure better than being on the receiving end. I sure didn’t appreciate people laying all the blame at my feet, though, when Chris was clearly the one who reneged on our unspoken contract. It made his funeral really awkward for me.

Actually, after a brief bout with a medical condition commonly known as “being knocked senseless,” Chris enjoyed a full recovery, even graciously offering to help knock some sense into me.

You can strap Mike Todd to a rocket and fire him over a lake online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Respect the bovine bandana

On my way into the hardware store the other day, a guy stopped me in the parking lot to talk cars. Nobody ever stops me to talk cars. That’s like stopping Tucker Carlson to talk foxtrot. I can change a tire, refill the windshield washer fluid and rotate the radio stations, and that’s about it.

Thankfully, this guy asked the only three questions about my car (a Toyota “Don’t Call Me a Station Wagon” Matrix) that I could answer: what kind of mileage did it get, how old was it and how did I like it. It was nice of him to lob me some softballs. I’m glad he didn’t ask more difficult car questions, like why the letter V is used to signify how many cylinders a car has, because that just doesn’t make any sense. A cylinder looks nothing like a V. My car should be an O4, or maybe an I4 if you’re looking at it from the side.

I usually don’t do conversations with strangers very well. I never know how much I’m supposed to pry. Not prying enough makes it look like you don’t care, but too much prying makes it look like you’re interviewing the person to be a congressional page. Luckily for me, this guy did most of the talking. But his son finally indicated that our boring adult conversation had gone on long enough by aiming his space man action figure at me and going, “Pyoo, pyoo pyoo!”

“You got me!” I said. If I were in a sitcom, I would have clutched my chest and acted like John Wayne during a protracted death scene, perhaps tripping backwards over a pile of garden hoses or something, but you have to be careful when you’re hamming it up for a little kid in the presence of other adults. If the kid doesn’t laugh, you don’t get back the dignity you just spent. That’s a little more power than I’m going to give a kid who just murdered me in his imagination.

Now I’m tempted to go out and get one of those action figures for myself. Every time I want a conversation to end, I could just take it out of my pocket and go “Pyoo, pyoo pyoo!” and that would be that.

“Baby, would you mind rinsing off those dishes and…”

“Pyoo! Pyoo pyoo!” I’d reply.

“Mike, I didn’t see the report you were supposed to turn in last…”

“Pyoo pyoo pyoo!”

The applications of this technology are limitless. It mustn’t fall into the wrong hands.

I’ve noticed that people are much more likely to chat me up on the rare occasions when I’m wearing my ridiculous cow bandana, as I was on that day. People are really nice to me when I’m wearing that thing, perhaps because it makes me look deserving of sympathy. It’s just a black-and-white bandana with cows printed all over it, but it seems to have magical powers, like the Great Tiger’s turban from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, except that instead of telling you when I’m going to fly around the ring and punch you in the face, it makes you be nicer to me.

Still, I don’t wear it that often because it pushes my hair back like baseball caps do, and people have told me that baseball caps are the number one cause of baldness. People have also told me that slicing through fingers in the attempt to slice through bagels is the number one cause of trips to the emergency room. All of this information seems slightly suspect to me. In my personal experience, the number one cause of trips to the emergency room is igniting model rocket engines in one’s bare hands, and I’m pretty sure that baldness is the number one cause of baseball caps.

You can borrow Mike Todd’s cow bandana before your court date online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Spring back, fall face forward

The end of daylight savings time is one of my favorite days of the year. It should be called The Clock in the Dashboard is Right Again Day. For six months, many of us have been mentally subtracting an hour from the clocks that we were too lazy to adjust back in April. But all that hard laziness is finally about to pay off. As a bonus, you get an extra hour of sleep, and it magically becomes okay that you left the snow tires on all summer. What an awesome day.

In case you’re thinking that The Clock in the Dashboard is Right Again Day isn’t happening this week, you’re probably right. I have no idea when it is. Every year, people like me depend on people like Mom to call and inform us that it’s time to change the clocks, hopefully before we accidentally get out of bed before noon on a weekend.

This fall is an especially significant one for me, as my fifth service anniversary at work is coming up (the Ergonomic Mouse Pad Anniversary). I think it’s true what they say: you’ll never forget your first half-decade of servitude.

Five years ago, right after I started working, a couple of my college buddies came up to visit me in my new apartment. On Saturday night, some of my co-workers joined us, we all walked across the grocery store parking lot that was right next to the apartment complex, ending up at the corner bar and grill, where we performed the public service of ensuring that none of the restaurant’s ice went to waste in any non-margarita applications.

On the walk home, my buddy Rory crawled into an abandoned shopping cart, squatted down and said, “Push me!”

Never being one to turn down a friend in need of locomotion, I obliged. “Faster!” Rory said, smacking the sides of the cart. So I pushed faster.

Before long, we were tearing across the parking lot, the wheels of the cart madly clacking back and forth, my co-workers wondering who the heck had interviewed me in the first place.

“Faster!” Rory said, clapping, but my RPMs were already maxed out.

And then we both saw it: the curb. There was still plenty of time to stop, or to go around it, but it sure looked to me like the curb was shaped, fatefully, like a ramp. The last thought (and I use the term loosely) that I remember having was this: “We’ll be fine if we just hit it fast enough.”

“Oh, man,” Rory said, ducking lower into the cart, but I knew that his misgivings were unfounded. Anyone who’s seen Bo and Luke Duke ramp over rivers and construction vehicles knows that they didn’t leave Roscoe P. Coltrane in the dust by slowing down right before the ramp. No, they hit the gas. Fast = yee-haw. It was simple physics.

I remembered later that physics was one of my worst classes. Applied physics turned out to be even more painful, which I learned the moment I physically applied my face to the handlebar on that grocery cart.

From the official accounts, Rory sailed through the air far enough to clear two school buses and a helicopter end-to-end. Somehow, he managed not to even skin his hands. I, however, hit the trifecta of minor facial injuries – black eye, bloody nose and fat lip. Lady Luck graciously allowed me to keep my teeth, even though we both knew I didn’t deserve them.

On Monday morning, I stealthily darted past my boss’s open door.

“Good lord, what happened to your face?” she called after me. Legend has it that even to this day, if you listen closely enough on some of our conference calls, you can still hear co-workers saying “shopping cart” when they cough.

You can take Mike Todd through the express checkout lane online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Biffed it big time

Hey McFly, here's a video that makes Youtube worth $1.6 billion all by itself:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Organic panic

You might think that becoming a hippie would cost a lot of money, what with the investments you’d need to make in hacky sacks, bongos and patchouli oil, but my wife Kara and I just discovered that you can transform yourself into a hippie down at the grocery store for only a buck. We recently did just that by paying a whole extra dollar for organic milk. Buying organic things automatically makes you a hippie, like how adding McGee to the end of a nickname automatically makes it funnier.

We decided to become hippies shortly after we heard a news report on the radio that linked growth hormones injected into milk cows with twinning rates in Americans that have nearly quintupled. The hormones are banned in Britain, where twinning rates are much lower. But in the U.S., we shoot up our cows like we think they’re going to play Major League baseball, even though we know full well that most cows perform their best on the baseball diamond as mitts.

Kara looked at me and said, “I’m never drinking milk again.” Seeing as how we eat cereal for dinner several nights a week, this news report was clearly going to pose a problem for us. There’s just not a good way to prepare cereal without using milk; it’s really tough to get the Rice Krispies onto the skewer without breaking them.

So we decided to go the organic route. It’s worth a buck for the peace of mind. We’ve seen what happens to people when they have twins. My cousin Dana had twins a few years ago, and her two children are spectacular, a pleasure to be around and splendid in every way. But about two months after they were born, we visited Dana and her husband Dave, and they were green. I don’t mean that they were really pale-looking, or that they had a slight tinge of green about them. They were green and they were beat up, like they had gone ten rounds in a bare-knuckle bout with the Jolly Green Giant.

“We’re in Survival Mode right now,” Dana said. They hadn’t slept in months. They didn’t even have the benefit of outnumbering their babies. Survival Mode didn’t look like much fun. Given the choice, I think I’ll stick with Sleep ‘Til Noon on Saturday Mode.

Kara and I would still be buying regular old milk if having twins was more like how it looks on Everybody Loves Raymond. I never watched that show when it was on prime time TV, but now that it’s on syndication, you can actually change channels and watch Everybody Loves Raymond during the commercials for Everybody Loves Raymond. You have to flip to the Food Network to find something that isn’t Raymond or Law and Order.

Now that I’ve finally seen a few episodes, I might suggest that more appropriate title for the show would be: Everybody Occasionally Chuckles at Raymond When They’re Not Marveling at What a Terrific Harpy He Married. Man, she’s mean. The grumble bunny never goes back in the hole in that house.

During about the fourth episode Kara and I watched together, a kid wandered onto the screen and referred to Ray as “Dad.”

“Where’d that kid come from? They don’t have kids in this show, do they?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen any kids before. That’s weird,” Kara said.

Then another kid came hopping down the stairs. Then another.

“They’re supposed to have three kids? No way.”

Then Ray referred to two of the kids as twins. I could get used to having twins like that. They come downstairs every fourth episode to move the plot along, then they go back upstairs and play silently for a month.

You can fortify Mike Todd with Vitamin D online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Getting Lost

Okay, you can talk about “Lost” around me now. I was worried that you were going to spill the mangos and ruin the whole thing before I got a chance to catch up to you, but my wife Kara and I finally watched the second season on DVD, so we’re all spoiler-proof now.

I can’t believe we made it until now without anybody ruining it for us. Back when I was the only person in the world who hadn’t seen the movie “Scream,” I dodged conversations about it for years until I finally broke down and rented the videotape. Just as I was popping it into the VCR, I pointed to this guy on the cover and said to my roommate, “I didn’t know this dude was in the movie.”

“Oh, you mean the guy who kills everybody?” he asked. I learned a very important lesson that day: if you don’t have any better options available, a VCR tape makes a passable blunt instrument.

But Kara and I successfully avoided everyone’s conversations about “Lost” until we finally got to see it for ourselves, and we’re lucky we did. The show is definitely worth donating many hours of your life to, hours that you might have wasted in meaningful conversations with your family or reconnecting with old friends. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s safe to say that there’s never been a more perfect amalgam of Gilligan’s Island and The X-Files.

In one of my favorite scenes from the second season, the character named John Locke told this other character named Thurston Howell III that the only way to find something is to quit looking for it. This might be a good first step, but I think that the only foolproof way to find something that you’ve lost is to accuse someone of stealing it from you. And that’s only after you ransack your bedroom, of course.

“Why would I want your iPod charger, Dude? I don’t even have an iPod,” your friend will say.

“Yeah, of course,” you say, but then you give them a look so that they know you’re on to them. If you don’t have to apologize to several people after you find your iPod charger in the freezer, then you just weren’t looking hard enough.

If you’ve accused friends and loved ones of stealing from you and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, the next step is to give up and go buy a new one. Once you lose the receipt, you’ll find the one you already had.

Kara recently lost a book that she was dying to read. After searching around for a while, she decided that she’d better bulldoze everything off the coffee table onto the floor. It didn’t qualify as a proper ransacking, but it was a good first step.

“Maybe it got thrown out,” she said, eyeing my suspiciously. This was not quite as effective of a finding technique as accusing me of stealing it directly, but at least we were headed in the right direction.

I said, “Yeah, I was playing Throw Random Items in the Trash all day yesterday. I hope you didn’t want our spatula anymore, either.”

But eventually I pitched in, going into the other room and calling out, “What’s it called again? There’s one in here called ‘The Maiden’s Voyage.’”

“No, no, that’s not it,” she said.

“Oh, wait! Did you say it was called ‘Heart of a Warrior’?”

“Yes! That’s it!”

“Okay, it’s definitely not in here,” I said.

Also, if you want to sound smart, name a character in your TV show after a philosopher like John Locke, even if you have absolutely no idea what he philosophized about. If I don’t get my own TV show soon, I think I’ll name my next pet Voltaire. That’ll make me sound smart, even though I know far more about Voltron.

You can reach between your couch cushions and pull out Mike Todd online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rhymes with puds n' liver

Here's a shot along the Hudson River, near the town of Cold Spring:



As far as I can tell, Hudson River shots are best taken when there's not too much light, so you don't catch reflections off the beer cans and the dead mobsters' watches.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dancing with tractors

Halfway through my commute home a couple of days ago, I realized that I had no idea how I’d gotten there. Not in the philosophical “How did I get here?” sense, but more in the “Has the car been driving itself for the past fifteen minutes?” sense. The same phenomenon happens most mornings in the shower, when I’m staring groggily at the shampoo bottle, trying my best to remember whether or not I washed my hair ten seconds ago.

The car seemed to be doing a fine job getting us home all by itself, with nary a phone pole collided into, but I had no recollection of turning onto the main road, stopping at stoplights, switching into the left lane or pulling behind the guy with the “Your proctologist called -- he found your head” bumper sticker.

You have to appreciate a good bumper sticker. The serious ones can be so persuasive, can’t they? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed political affiliations and religious beliefs based on the bumpers stickers I’ve driven behind on the way home from work. Really, if you have a strong opinion, it’s your responsibility to sum it up in seven words or less and stick it on the back of your car. The people who have their minds changed by driving behind you for two minutes, those are the people you want on your side.

I realized that I’d been driving on autopilot when my designated lifetime passenger/wife Kara shook me out of my stupor by yelling, “Ooh, there’s Blockbuster! Let’s stop and see if they have that Antonio Banderas dancing movie!” Though I’m pretty sure Kara has dragged me to every dancing movie that has ever been made, somehow we missed “Take the Lead” in the theater, a breach for which Kara has only recently begun to forgive me.

I was in such a zombie-like state from my day at work, though, that I could only reply, “URRRRGH! NEED BRAINS!” as we sailed past the video store.

Kara hates driving, so her specialty from the shotgun position is announcing her desire to stop at a store once we’re less than three feet from its entrance doing sixty miles per hour, leaving us entering most places of business after half a blink of the turn signal, on two wheels and with pedestrians diving into the bushes. Lucky for me, Antonio Banderas would remain unwatched in our household that night, as the thought of watching him twirl around our TV screen provided me insufficient motivation to pull any death-defying maneuvers to get into the parking lot.

But I’m sure he won’t go unwatched for long. Kara loves dancing movies as much as I loved tractors when I was a little kid. At three years old, life held no greater thrill than driving by the tractor dealership that was a few miles down the road, which had tractors of all different sizes and colors parked out front.

“Twactor! Twactor!” I would shout, pointing to make sure nobody missed out on getting a glimpse of the magnificent machinery. As we passed, I’d twist around in my seat to get one last fleeting look. Those moments were so precious, just like the two seconds of NFL cheerleaders dancing and jiggling about before the cut to commercials.

The look I gave those tractors is the same look Kara gives to movie theaters and video stores that have dancing movies in them. “Dancing movie! Dancing movie!” she’ll shout, pointing as we pass. She’s like a moth to light with those things, especially if that light is a projector beam that is transporting the visuals for a poorly plotted movie in which whole crowds of attractive people spontaneously dance choreographed routines in unison.

You can tell Mike Todd that nobody puts Baby in the corner online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

She Java me crazy

My friends sometimes ask me, “How did you get a girl to marry you?”

They usually ask this when I’m sitting on a couch with one hand down my pants, shirtless, covered in flecks of popcorn, waiting for my buddies to get eaten by zombies so that I can get the PlayStation2 controller back.

The short answer is that I discovered my wife Kara in much the same way that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin: one day, completely by chance, I noticed that Kara, when smeared on a Petri dish, had an inhibiting effect on staphylococci bacteria.

Actually, Kara and I do largely have nasty microorganisms to thank for bringing us together, as we met in the waiting room of the student health services building at Penn State, hacking up pieces of our respective lungs. This was quite an unexpected meeting for both of us, as good things rarely happen in waiting rooms, other than getting extended chances to catch up on the September 1995 issue of People Magazine.

As I was strolling through the room on my way out the door, I recognized this girl from my computer science class sitting there. I knew that she should have been in class right then, because I was skipping it, too. Our computer architecture class, in which we learned to build gothic cathedrals using only discarded motherboards, was at 1:30 in the afternoon. Though this was awfully early to drag myself out of bed, somehow I usually made it anyway, missing only the first half hour or so.

Back in college, I took computer science classes for the same obvious reason that all the other guys did: to pick up chicks. Then I found out the hard way that your average computer science class usually had about as many females in it as the men’s room at Augusta National.

But in this one class, there was a girl who always sat a few rows in front of me. She was perfect in every way. It didn’t work out between us, though, and shortly thereafter I met Kara in the waiting room. Wait, no, the first girl was Kara, too. Yeah, that’s right.

So when I saw her in the waiting room, I thought about all the catchy computer-themed pick-up lines I could use, like, “Can’t you C++ us together?” or “Baby, you’ve already one over this zero.”

In the end, I went with, “Shouldn’t you be in class right now?” That’s the first thing I ever said to my wife. The most recent thing I ever said was, “I’ll crack my toes if I want to crack my toes, Woman!”

I’d been sitting about five feet behind Kara every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for several months, so it made perfect sense for her to be elated that the stud muffin from her computer architecture class finally said something to her. Sure enough, she gazed up at me that day with a look that said it all. The look said, “Who the heck are you?”

I explained that I was in her 1:30 class, and that’s how I knew who she was. She still looked a little suspicious, like I was just feeling her out before trying to close the deal on an Amway sale.

The next time we had class, Kara came over and sat next to me. Then we started doing our homework together. Then we forgot about the homework altogether.

So really, phlegm was what kicked off our marriage. The best advice I can give to my single friends who are looking for love is that, if they can’t develop any decent infirmities naturally, they should probably lick a nursery school doorknob or stick their heads in used biohazard bags. Sometimes a bug isn’t all you’ll catch.

You can tell Mike Todd about exciting Amway opportunities online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The boxer rebellion

There comes a time in every man's life when he must hang up his underwear on a pot rack in the kitchen.

For me, this time came at about the same time the dryer broke.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The scrapple experience

A little while back, I described my wife’s first experiences with scrapple, the meat (and I use the term loosely) product that makes SPAM seem like filet mignon. As if any reason were necessary, I offered that one might do well to steer clear of scrapple solely because I’d never seen my dad eat the stuff.

Nothing fazes the man, culinarily speaking. The nasty yellow stuff inside crabs? Tasty. Caesar salads at fancy restaurants where they sneak in anchovies without even asking you first? His favorite. He can make an entire meal out of the gristle that Mom leaves on her discarded chicken wings. The bones are so clean afterwards that natural history museums buy them to make exhibits. But I honestly believed that the hunt to find something that Dad wouldn’t eat had reached its exciting conclusion with scrapple.

Well, Dad took that as a challenge, of course. He got up early one morning and headed down to the local diner, by himself, for his date with pig scrap destiny. The date went well. They’ve been seeing each other ever since. Dad is now an avid scrappler; he even makes special trips on Saturday mornings to get his eggs and scrapple breakfast. Mom rarely joins him. Laugh and the world laughs with you; eat pig nostrils and you dine alone.

During my most recent visit home, Dad couldn’t wait to take me out to breakfast. I reluctantly agreed, knowing that I’d probably regret it. Mom came along this time, if for nothing else than the spectacle.

“I don’t see why you two keep talking about scrapple,” she said. “You’re just trying to gross me out.” She was right, of course.

Before we ordered, Dad explained, “Scrapple’s like cornbread, but it’s meat. It’s just a slice of meaty cornbread, and it’s kind of crispy.” He said this as if he had just given me a reason to try it.

When the server came to take our order, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I got French toast.

“You can try some of mine,” Dad offered graciously.

When our meals came out, I finally came face-to-loaf with the legendary comestible for the first time. It was actually pretty unassuming, with the ingredients prudently chopped so tiny that you couldn’t make out which pieces came from hooves. The slab on Dad’s plate looked like meat particleboard. Scrapple is the IKEA furniture of breakfast foods. They should serve it with an Allen wrench.

Dad immediately cut off a piece the size of a brick and put it on my plate. I looked down at it and shook my head.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said. “I’m having trouble shutting off my brain.”

“Oh, it’s just a little piece,” Dad said. I realized then that Dad had become the bad kid in the ABC After School Special, pressuring me into trying something I shouldn’t be doing. “Go ahead. Try it. You’ll like it. First taste’s on me.”

I submitted, cutting off a small piece and, fork shaking, biting into it. It wasn’t bad, really, but I couldn’t shake the notion that I’d just put something unspeakably wrong into my mouth, like a kid who’d been talked into eating a slug.

My sister-in-law Jill recently became a vegetarian. I’m pretty sure that I could never be one myself, but I am a vegetarian sympathizer, which means that I respect them, and I try to sit next to them at weddings in case they get served prime rib or something. I can just picture the look of horror on her face if Dad were to order scrapple in front of her.

“What is he eating?” she would whisper to me.

“Um, that’s eggplant, Jill,” I would tell her. “Every last blessed part of the eggplant.”

You can make arrangements to join Mike Todd’s dad for breakfast online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stronger than Kryptonite

As autumn quickly crinkles our way, I can’t help but feel fortunate that I don’t have to pack up all of my earthly belongings and lug them to someplace far across town like I did for five years at Penn State. Besides a few grain silos and the Hooters that they put up after I graduated (wouldn’t you know it?), there’s likely not a structure in central Pennsylvania that didn’t house me and my duct-taped couch for at least a semester.

My poor parents. After helping me and my sister to move for more than a cumulative decade, they have probably logged enough hours to become honorary Sherpas. When I have kids that age, I’m going to make sure that all of their furniture is inflatable.

I lived in a fairly small apartment during my junior year with five other guys and a Chocolate Lab. The dog was by far the best-behaved tenant; he never ate anyone’s food but his own, which is much more than can be said for the rest of us. Also, he got an occasional bath and his breath wasn’t that bad.

The most important lesson I learned that year is to never leave your grocery cart unattended while you’re in the store with your roommates. Otherwise, you’ll end up at the checkout, trying to explain to the clerk why there is a small bounty of hemorrhoid cream and home enema kits hiding under your frozen pizza.

Whenever one roommate returned from the grocery store, put his food away and left it unattended, one could easily have lost a finger in the resulting feeding frenzy. Five Tasmanian Devil-like tornadoes would whirl through the kitchen, spewing chicken bones, pizza crust and empty Gatorade bottles into the air. If you didn’t want your food to become community property, the only way to protect it was to bury it under a shrub by the front steps.

Before I gave up on the enterprise altogether, I took a black permanent marker to the pitcher in which I tried to keep a supply of orange juice and wrote: “Before drinking the contents of this pitcher, stop and ask yourself, ‘Is my name Mike?’ If you answer ‘No’ to this question, put this pitcher back in the fridge, turn around and enjoy some free thirst-quenching goodness from the faucet.”

My buddy Derek, who won the lottery and received me as a random roommate our freshman year, had an unfortunate craving for nacho cheese Doritos. All Derek wanted in the world was to be able to maintain a stash of Doritos in his cabinet, but the evening was truly rare in which at least one of the apartment’s occupants didn’t launch a raid with the objective of commandeering Derek’s Doritos. His cabinet was plundered so often that he finally used a Kryptonite bike lock to secure the handles of the cabinet doors together.

If Derek were to rank the days of his life from his most favorite to his least favorite, somewhere near the bottom of that list would probably be the day he came home to find both of his cabinet doors on the kitchen floor, still locked together, leaning against the trash can, which contained, of course, an empty Doritos bag. The cabinets’ manufacturers obviously didn’t have security in mind when they designed hinges that could be removed from the outside with a Phillips-head screwdriver, a flaw that my fellow roommates were quick to exploit.

When I recently told my dad the story about Derek and his Doritos, Dad asked, “So does Dorito have a girlfriend now? Sorry, I mean Derek. Does Derek have a girlfriend?”

I think I like the name Dorito better. I’m going to try to get it to stick. And yes, Dorito does have a girlfriend. She finds him crunchy and flavorful.

You can put embarrassing health products in Mike Todd’s shopping cart online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Forget about it

Whenever my wife Kara and I venture into conversations about the expensive and stinky world of child-having, people who have already taken the sippy-cup plunge inevitably offer us some variation of this advice: “Go see movies. Go out to dinner. Go to the Eiffel Tower. Do everything you ever hoped to do before you die, and do it all before you have kids.”

This might sound like reasonable advice, but you have to keep in mind that it’s usually coming from people who have throw up on their shoulders. Besides, I don’t really understand why having kids has to keep you from doing the things you enjoy. Our ferret easily takes care of himself for long weekends when we’re away, and he doesn’t even have thumbs or Dora the Explorer DVDs. I just can’t imagine how a baby with a full water dish, a remote control and a big salad bowl full of apple sauce wouldn’t be good to go until at least Sunday afternoon.

Also, if you give a ferret a raisin and run out the door while he’s still chewing, he won’t even notice that you’re leaving. When taking off for the weekend, you’d probably have to do something like that with a baby, too, if you’re going to be a responsible parent.

I think people are advising us to do all of these things because there’s just no point in taking kids on vacation. They won’t remember any of it. When my sister Amy recently told my parents that she was finally going on her first trip to Hawaii, Mom said, “But we took you to Hawaii when you were a kid. Don’t you remember?”

“I was two!” Amy said.

“Well, you had fun,” Mom replied. I can kind of see Amy’s point, though. I bet a luau is much more fun when you can handle solid foods.

Not being a parent myself, I can only imagine the frustration of shelling out copious amounts of money for trips that, as far as your children are concerned, barely even happened. Kara’s family took a couple of Disney cruises when she was little, and she can’t even tell me anything about what they did or saw while they were there. All she remembers is her younger sister Sarah fleeing in terror from Mickey Mouse, which, to a three year-old, must appear to be the logical thing to do.

Traumatic events like that seem to be the most memorable, so I’ll have to be sure to work them into our future family itineraries. Kara may not remember meeting Goofy, but she sure recollects her cousin Doug stomping on toads in the Poconos, or the time she proudly held up a garter snake to show her parents, insisting that she had just discovered a really big worm.

If you’re unable to schedule in trauma to make sure that your vacations get remembered, sometimes fellow travelers will pitch in to supply it. While I just vaguely remember the scenes of natural beauty from our family trip to the Grand Canyon when I was little, I can still vividly recall this one man with a camera around his neck offering his infant a better view by picking the child up under the armpits and dangling him over the railing, with nothing under the infant’s bottom but a diaper and about a thousand feet of desert air.

Everyone in our group froze, watching, stunned, until the infant was safely back on our side of the railing, blissfully unaware of his father’s casual experimentation with Darwinism. My memory is a little spotty, so I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure that the kid’s father later went on to write several hit songs, invent the moonwalk and become an androgynous punch line.

You can cancel your babysitting appointment with Mike Todd online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Friday, August 25, 2006

About me

Since February of 2005, I've been writing a weekly column for some small newspapers in the Philadelphia area, near where I grew up. It's a hobby that helps subsidize my lavish extra value meal habit.

I use this blog mainly as a repository for the column, posting new ones every Sunday night. This has become a weekly ritual for me, like brushing my teeth.

The column is called "Just Humor Me" in most of the papers, though the Chestnut Hill Local calls it "Over the Top," perhaps in reference to my third-favorite arm-wrestling movie of all time. "Just Humor Me" has won first-place Keystone Press Awards in 2006, 2008 and 2009, which are given every year to the 14th caller.

My wife Kara shows up in just about every column. I always call her "my wife Kara" the first time I mention her, 'cause I have to assume that newspaper readers are reading the column for the first time. And probably the last.

The cast of characters also includes our dog Memphis, our son Evan (born June 15, 2009) and assorted other family, friends and unsuspecting passersby.

Here's a picture of our little family, right after Evan was born (eight weeks early):

And here's Evan a couple months later:

And of course the pooch:


And Don Rickles:

So that's pretty much the story. If you know of any newspapers that would like to pay me for stuff I put on the Internet for free, that would be awesome. You can reach me at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Otherwise, thanks for dropping by, and I hope you enjoy the columns!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I ain't afraid of no 80's reference

A few weeks ago, I posted a guy's picture that won the Ghost Photo Contest put on by the SciFi channel. For reference, new folks and pot heads, here's the winning picture again:

I suppose there is a face-like thing going on up there in the corner window, but if you'll pardon my cynicism, methinks I may detect a wee bit o' the Photoshopping in that ring of light surrounding the ghost/curtain.

My Aunt Sister (yes, that name does rock) wrote me shortly after that posting and said, "Have you not seen the photo at Uncle Gene's place with the Confederate soldier reflected in the window of the old kitchen?" Mary Eleanor, my Mom's first cousin, had apparently snapped a pretty good ghost shot several years ago.

Uncle Gene's place is an old plantation house in North Carolina where my cousins still live. A couple, two three years back it served as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. I hadn't ever seen the picture that Mary Eleanor took, and I honestly wasn't expecting too much, especially given the pictures in the photo contest that looked a whole lot like, well, not much.

So Aunt Sister graciously dug up the photo and gave it to my mom, who scanned it and sent it over. See if this ghost photo doesn't kick the Casper out of the ones in that contest:


The mofo's still wearing his hat! See it? This picture kinda gives me the willies. He looks like a pissed-off Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it's just a funky reflection. Still, I'm bringing my blankie with me next time we go to Uncle Gene's house.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

For whom the toll tolls

To get from his place to mine, my buddy Gimp needs to hop on the PA turnpike for about two exits. I am referring to Gimp by his nickname, which he’s had for a good ten years, in part to protect his identity, and in part because I can’t for the life of me remember what his real name is. That is, of course, the mark of a quality nickname, though still short of the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a nickname, which is to get the person’s mother to start using it. Gimp has been a tough sell in this regard, perhaps because his mother has seen Pulp Fiction, but I think we’re getting close to sealing the deal with Eyeball’s mom.

On Gimp’s first visit here, he called from the turnpike and said, “Was I supposed to do something at that toll booth? There was nobody there to take my money. I just drove right through.”

“Do you have EZ-Pass?” I asked him.

“No. But I purposely didn’t go through the EZ-Pass lane,” he said.

“Was there a ticket hanging out of the machine?” I asked.

“A ticket?” he said, as if I’d just asked him something completely off topic, like the best way to make tartar sauce from scratch or how to train a cat to flush the toilet.

“Dude, did you just get on the turnpike without taking a ticket?” I asked. There was silence on the other end.

Gimp is still holding out on getting an EZ-Pass, a device that could have averted the situation altogether. I can certainly respect his obstinance. I used to pride myself on going through the full-service lane at toll booths. I thought EZ-Pass was for people who had so lost perspective on life that they thought they couldn’t afford the extra few seconds to interact, however briefly, with an actual human being. A grumpy, wrong-change-giving human being, but a human being nonetheless.

I’d do the same thing at gas stations, never using pay-at-the-pump, instead hoofing it inside to pay the cashier. Besides allowing for one more small personal interaction instead of dealing with a machine, it helped to keep me up-to-date with the latest trends in jerky-flavoring. Teriyaki’s doing big things.

But eventually I got to thinking. No, seriously. How many toll booth attendants did I invite to my wedding? How many gas station cashiers leave messages on my answering machine saying only, “Dude, call me back,” knowing that I can tell from their voice who called? Despite many years of interacting with toll booth attendants and gas station cashiers, I had not made lasting relationships with any of them, prompting me to rethink all the time I’d been wasting by not just surrendering to the Matrix and letting the machines win.

Besides, if you were to make the attempt to start a relationship with a toll booth attendant, here’s probably how that would go:

Toll Booth Attendant: Seventy-five cents, please.

You: You look like a nice person. Want to come camping with me?

Toll Booth Attendant: Seventy-five cents, please. You’re holding up the line.

You: Forget about all of them for a moment. Let’s get to know each other. I could be the “exact change” you need in your life.

Toll Booth Attendant: I’m radioing the cops.

So it’s probably just as well to zip on through in the EZ-Pass lane, like Gimp should be doing by now. That day on the phone, I said, “You might as well turn around and drive to Ohio, man, because you’re about to pay like you did.”

“No way,” he said. “I’ll be able to sweet talk ‘em.”

When he finally showed up at my place, I asked Gimp how much the trip had ended up costing him. He didn’t want to talk about it. The turnpike had really taken its toll on him.

You can tell Mike Todd why your nickname is Stinky online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The fabric of our lives

The second wedding anniversary is the cotton one. I know this because Kara just sneak-attacked me with a beautiful new cotton shirt. She is thoughtful and wonderful, though she is also two days early, so of course I haven’t gotten her anything yet. As soon as she gets in the shower, I’m going to jump in the car, run down to the drugstore and buy her the finest Q-tips in the whole place.

Earlier last year, I found out that the first anniversary is the paper one, so I decided to get Kara a cool paper present. This decision led to most lopsided gift exchange in which I’ve ever taken part.

I got Kara these cute little paper flowers from the stationery store. The flowers were the same colors as the bouquets that Kara had picked for her bridesmaids a year earlier, so I was hoping that the fact that I actually remembered this would score me some extra points, and she honestly did appreciate the gesture. The flowers are still in a vase in our living room. They’re still there because all you have to do to keep paper flowers alive is to try your best not to set them on fire, making them the only plants we’ve ever owned that will live to see their first birthday. Maybe we’ll take them to Chuck E. Cheese’s to celebrate, though we probably won’t let them play in the ball pit, ‘cause it’s always wet in there for some reason and I don’t want to find out why.

Then Kara gave me an iPod. Can you believe what a lopsided gift exchange that was? An iPod doesn’t consist of paper at all, except for maybe the warranty card. I definitely gave her the better present. The more technically savvy reader may be tempted to point out that iPods hold way more songs than a bunch of flowers made of 10% post-consumer product, but then you’re also much less likely to get mugged for your paper flowers. I’m always looking out for her safety.

Arbitrarily buying presents based on the material that is supposed to represent each year’s anniversary is kind of fun, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Stuff You Have No Choice But to Buy for Your Spouse industry is trying to get us hooked in early with the cheap ones. Paper. Cotton. Cardboard. It’s only a matter of time before they hit us with the Faberge Egg Anniversary or the Diamond Paperweight Anniversary. I hope next year is the Bacon Anniversary. That sounds tasty. For now, though, cotton will do. It seems appropriate for us in our second married year – nice and comfortable, and not wrinkly yet.

When you’re a kid, two years is an eternity. For a marriage, though, two years means that the gates are open but the horses haven’t even started running yet. Or maybe, instead of starting gates, it means that the bathroom door is open even if somebody’s in there, because without even thinking about it, I’ve been taking some questionable liberties with the Open Door Policy. Perhaps it is possible to get too comfortable around someone. Funny what can happen to one’s sense of propriety in just two years.

But we’re still really just getting started. People like my parents, who have been married for almost forty years, are probably reading this and thinking: “Two years? That’s nothing. I could do two years standing on my head.”

At weddings, when they do that thing where all the married couples come out on the dance floor and the DJ keeps having the most recently married people sit down until somebody’s grandparents who have been married since Appomattox are the only ones still out there, Kara and I are back in our seats before Louis Armstrong can even tell us what he thinks to himself.

You can tell Mike Todd what you think to yourself online at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Plumbing the depths

A couple of weeks ago, I sauntered into our local plumbing supply store and swung my plastic grocery bag full of crusty, fifty-year-old valve stems onto the counter. St. George did not have to work as hard to remove the dragon’s head as I did to remove those valve stems from our shower.

“It took me a lot of swear words to get this far,” I told the guy behind the counter.

He glanced down at the contents of the bag, looked at me and said, “I bet it did.” I’m still trying to figure out exactly what he meant by that.

Of all the things I’ve learned to do through trial-and-error (heavy on the error) around the house, plumbing scares me the most. If you mess up painting a room or installing a new ceiling fan, you don’t have to call the fire department to come drain out your basement. My specialty around our house is more along the lines of light bulb changery, a task that can ordinarily be accomplished by just one of me.

But I fear that I may have inherited my plumbing acumen from my mom. About fifteen years ago, she took a brief but eventful foray into the world of household plumbing. She had been asking Dad to fix the loose handle on the kitchen sink for ages. Their conversations went something like this: “Maurice, when are you going to fix the handle on the kitchen sink?”

“This weekend,” Dad would reply every week.

I love that my dad’s name is Maurice. That’s a strong name. Steve Miller made it even cooler in his song “The Joker,” with that little “wow woooww” on the guitar after he sang, “Some people call me Maurice.” It may surprise you to learn, though, that my dad rarely, if ever, speaks of the pompitous of love.

Anyway, in Dad’s defense, he did buy the replacement parts for the kitchen sink, and he told Mom that all he had left to do was remove the old handle with his wrench and replace it with a new one. In retrospect, he probably should have mentioned something about shutting the water off first.

One day, when Dad was going to be coming home late from work, Mom decided that there was no good reason that she couldn’t just fix the sink herself. The good reason would present itself shortly. She grabbed Dad’s wrench out of the garage and went to town on the faucet handle. After a couple of turns, the handle shot into the air, propelled by a geyser the likes of which are normally not seen outside of Wyoming.

I was downstairs watching “What’s Happenin’?” reruns (and Rerun) when I heard the shrieking from the kitchen.

“Get towels! How do you turn it off? Get towels! Aaaaaahhh!”

The water was shooting hard into the ceiling, spraying in every direction, puddling on the floor and running down the steps into the living room. At thirteen, I had absolutely no idea how to turn off the water without the handle, which was last photographed soaring over rural Maryland. While I was little help to resolve that particular situation, if Mom had needed me to supply her with the cheat codes to get thirty lives in the Nintendo game Contra, she would have been all set.

Eventually, we piled enough towels on the geyser that the water started flowing down the sink for the most part, until the neighbor’s teenage kid came over, went straight to the basement and shut off the main water valve. Showoff.

Plumbing is just one of those things that works out great in theory but doesn’t always pan out in the execution, like those fake wooden gardeners’ behinds that people put in their lawns or the strategic missile defense system.

You can send Mike Todd your wrenching stories online at mikectodd@gmail.com.