Monday, March 27, 2006

Poor man’s Cranium

It gives me great peace of mind to know that the pipes in our basement can withstand high-velocity impacts. I know this because when I’m doing laundry, I regularly test their structural integrity with my forehead.

My inspections will usually start with my wife Kara yelling something like this down the stairs: “The commercials are over -- 24’s back on!”

Upon hearing this, I rush to get my laundry turned over and hustle back up the stairs, because there are only about two main characters on the show that haven’t been killed off yet this season, and the clock is still beeping. The only characters with any longevity in the 24 time slot are Jack Bauer and Jared from the Subway commercials. Still, if I were Jared, and I knew that my commercial would be playing during 24, I’d let somebody else take a bite of the sandwich first, especially if I’d seen what happened to the Allstate guy.

The writers for 24 have absolutely no problem killing off the characters that helped to make the show popular. If the same writers had gotten their hands on a season of The Brady Bunch, Alice probably would have careened off a cliff in the Brady’s station wagon while Marcia simultaneously flatlined in the ICU on the opposite side of the split screen. Also, Greg would have gotten his first pimple.

So it’s imperative that I get back upstairs quickly, as nothing helps me unwind after a long day of work like watching my favorite TV characters inhale nerve gas and die a flopping, drooling death on the floor. It’s like chamomile tea for your soul.

I shovel handfuls of socks into the dryer with one hand, smack the dial with the other, kick the dryer door shut and turn to run towards the stairs, not once thinking about the low-hanging obstacles between my head and my destination.

You see, our house was built in the mid-1930s, at a time when a race of Hobbit-like creatures controlled vast swaths of what is now the northeastern United States. Four-foot tall basements were considered spacious and roomy back then; these creatures could freely go about their laundering needs in their tiny basements without fear of cranial collisions. For human-sized creatures, though, the situation is not nearly as forgiving.

The familiar sound of my skull connecting with a lead pipe, from the inside, is reminiscent of a soft melon dropping on a tile floor, except much more painful, and not nearly as good with breakfast. What Kara hears from the living room sounds something more like this: DONK! “Oh, sweet, sweet, Yosemite Sam on a popsicle stick! Ow!”

Clutching my head and lurching toward the stairs, I am tempted to unleash a torrent of expletives, but I don’t, mainly because I’ll be quoting myself in a family newspaper later. By the time I stumble back into the living room, Jack Bauer has already shot seven people in the thigh, and is torturing Jared from the Subway commercials with some sort of electrocution device.

“If I put two slices of American cheese on my sub, does it still have six grams of fat or less?” Jack says. “Tell me!”

“You don’t want to know what I know,” Jared replies. “Yee-oowww!” he howls as Jack cranks on the voltage momentarily.

Jack gets right in Jared’s face and says, “I haven’t eaten in five years. You do not want to mess with me.”

Jared is a quivering mess. “I don’t want it toasted. Oh, I don’t want it toasted,” he cries.

My head trauma makes it difficult to concentrate on the rest of the show, but I’m pretty sure that both Jack and Jared survive until the Ten O’Clock News, which is a pretty impressive feat
these days.

You can attempt to get a message through Mike Todd’s thick skull online at

Monday, March 20, 2006

Seattle for a dummy

Seattlites take their traffic control devices very seriously. I found this out last week while I was there for a job-related (i.e., non-Star Trek) convention. Being from the Northeast, I consider “WALK” and “DONT WALK” to be less like commands and more like friendly suggestions. But as I wandered around the streets of Seattle, I noticed that even with no sign of a motor vehicle for blocks in either direction, people in that city will obediently stand on the curb, waiting for the light to change.

It can’t be good to voluntarily let computers override our ability to make simple decisions for ourselves. That’s the first step towards letting the machines win. Jaywalking is a way to fight back, like Neo diving headfirst into Agent Smith and ripping him apart from the inside.

“You know, my cab driver told me that the cops in Seattle will ticket you for jaywalking,” a co-worker said as I started to walk across a completely deserted street against the signal.

“Whatever, Copper Top. No machine’s going to tell me how to live,” I said, crossing the street, striking a blow for humanity and getting hit by a delivery truck.

When I finally made it to the convention center, I ran into a couple of guys who were about my age, and we got to talking about our wives back home, all of whom had started taking grad school classes recently.

“My wife’s been so busy studying, so doesn’t even do my laundry anymore,” one guy said.
I stared at him, open-mouthed.

“Yeah, mine’s been the same way. She stopped doing my laundry, and when she does cook, it’s just not as good as it used to be,” said the other.

I stood there, waiting for the punch line that never came. These guys were serious. Did they also get daily pedicures? Did their wives cut their food into bite-size morsels for them? When they went to the grocery store, did their wives let them sit in the cart that looks like a little red car and make “vroom, vroom!” noises?

The cooking is one thing, but I thought laundry-doing wives went out with the Eisenhower administration. Occasionally, my wife Kara will accidentally wash an errant T-shirt that strays into her laundry pile, but otherwise, we pretty much clean up after ourselves, when we clean up at all. I don’t expect her to do my laundry, and she doesn’t expect me not to sit on the couch with my hand down my pants. It’s a fair system.

Also, on the plus side, it seems that I have been mercifully spared from any period of adjustment resulting from Kara’s educational pursuits. Not like those suckers with the laundry-doing wives. Poor saps.

Now that my rain-soaked week in Seattle has wrapped up and I’m making my way back home, I wonder how things are going back at the house without me. I have a mental image of Kara strolling around the living room in her bathing suit, with every light in the house blazing, the thermostat cranked up to eighty-seven and HGTV blaring from every room.

I should have more to say about Seattle, but when you’re traveling for work and trying to look busy, it’s hard to actually experience the place you’re visiting. It did seem like a very nice city, full of friendly people who didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the lack of urinal dividers in their convention center. Note to anyone considering opening their own convention center: a dollar spent on urinal dividers is never a dollar wasted.

So it was a successful trip, and I’m looking forward to being home. My only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to start a grunge band while I was there. But I did open a Starbucks. And then I threw a chair through the window.

You can tell Mike Todd whether to take the blue pill or the red pill online at

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ferret Man

My wife Kara and I finally got around to watching the documentary “Grizzly Man” a couple of days ago. It came with our subscription to Poor Man’s Netflixx, which is completely free to join and has no monthly fees. To subscribe to Poor Man’s Netflixx, just wait until my parents buy a DVD that you want to watch, then ask them to send it to you. After you’ve watched your selection, you can return it for free simply by waiting until they come to visit. Then ask them to buy “Batman Begins” next.

I’m actually excited that my parents find any use for their DVD player at all; they were a little slow on the uptake with this particular technology. My sister Amy and I gave them the DVD player for Mom’s birthday several years ago, and until very recently, every time I’d come home, it would be in a different corner of the house, unplugged and buried in a blanket of dust, with two footprints on top of it from Mom using it as a stepstool to get to the top cupboard.

My parents were very reluctant to stop using the VCR-o-saurus that had treated them just fine for so many years. The first time we hooked up their DVD player, I still couldn’t wait to show them how superior their new toy was.

“How do I rewind it?” Mom asked.

“You don’t rewind DVDs,” I said.

“But I want to go back to the beginning,” she said.

“Just hit the menu button, Mom.”

“There are too many buttons on this remote. Where are my glasses?” she said, holding the remote control in her outstretched arm like she was trying to take a picture of herself with it.

“These buttons don’t make any sense. Which one do I push to record my shows off the TV?” she asked.

“Oh, man. You can’t do that.” I said.

Which is why, three months later, I came home to find the DVD player on the floor in the basement. “Why couldn’t you just leave it plugged in and pretend like you’re using it?” I asked.

“I didn’t like the red light on it blinking at me all the time,” Mom replied.

But my folks have finally started to come around, and the DVD player, at last check, was actually plugged into both the TV and the wall, which was a huge improvement, even though Mom has also affixed a pink Post-it note over the blinking red light.

So when they finished watching “Grizzly Man,” they kindly rewound the DVD and shipped it over our way. Though I found parts of the movie to be a little slow, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s one of those movies that sticks with you, like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Life is Beautiful” and “White Chicks.”

For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s about Timothy Treadwell, a rather unhinged nature enthusiast who lived with grizzly bears in Alaska every summer for thirteen years. Thirteen was not Timothy’s lucky number. At the end of that final summer, a grizzly finally figured out that Timothy and his girlfriend were both, as I recently heard someone turn the phrase, “made of bear food.” (For the record, you find out in the first five minutes of the film that Treadwell died, so it’s not like I just told you that Kevin Spacey was Kaiser Soze.)

Before his death, though, Timothy captured some of the most unbelievable footage I’ve ever seen. In one scene, he turned back a charging grizzly by slapping it on the muzzle and saying, “Go away!” He also recorded himself petting wild foxes like they were cocker spaniels, except not as slobbery. His control over animals was incredible. I bet he could’ve gotten my ferret to stop leaving me presents two inches to the left of the litter box.

You can step on Mike Todd to reach the top cupboard online at

Monday, March 06, 2006

You just might be a bedneck

Jeff Foxworthy has a famous comedy bit in which he suggests that, as a method for keeping Jehovah’s Witnesses from knocking on your door and waking you up on a weekend morning, you should draw a chalk outline of a body on your front porch, and then sprinkle some religious leaflets around it.

After you have done this, he declares, “You can sleep ‘til noon if y’ount to.”

That punch line always grabbed me, because until very recently in my life, sleeping ‘til noon meant getting up early, at least on days with no work or school. Noon is just an awfully early time for a joke about waking up late. Most teenagers would probably identify better with, “You can sleep ‘til Mom gets home from work and drops her purse on your head.”

One summer evening many years ago, when my parents had some friends over for dinner on a Friday night, my mom’s friend Barbara asked me what time I’d gotten up that day.

“It was definitely before three o’clock,” I told her. I knew this because Mom used to get home from work around 3:30, and if I hadn’t showered and eaten breakfast by then, our house was like a scene from the show “24” that ends with Jack Bauer covered in soot and pieces of people.

Barbara stared at me in disbelief. “Don’t you have to go to the bathroom? Even if I wanted to sleep past ten, my bladder wouldn’t let me.”

She had a point. Only someone with the holding capacity of an oil tanker could sleep too far past noon without a pit stop. It’s more like sleep ‘til noon, nap ‘til three.

But those days are long gone. Mr. Foxworthy was actually right on the money, because once you’re an adult, noon becomes an impossibly late time to start the day, especially if you’re married to my wife Kara.

Incidentally, I know that I’m an adult now because when I was eating a bowl of cereal for dinner the other night, I actually had the thought: “These Lucky Charms just have too many marshmallows in them.” A kid would never think something like that. Also, I have to shave my back occasionally. Kids don’t do that, either.

Anyway, Kara has one of those internal clocks that I have always lacked. It tells her to wake up at a respectable time on a Saturday, even though the sun has barely been up for five hours.
“Baby, it’s time to get up,” she says, nudging me on the shoulder.

I squint one eye open, reach out and poke her on the forehead.

“Hey, what was that for?” she asks.

“I’m hitting the snooze button,” I reply.

But that approach never works for very long. Once Kara’s awake, it’s only a matter of time before the Grumblebunny attacks. The Grumblebunny is Kara’s alter ego; he comes out of his hole when she hasn’t been fed. The only way to make the Grumblebunny go back into his hole is to find something to eat, pronto. I actually have my own inner-Grumblebunny as well, but Kara doesn’t feel the need to assign nicknames to my moods so that she can safely make fun of them.

“What are we gonna eat?” she asks me. By this point, she’s been reading for two hours, and the Grumblebunny has been inching out of his hole the entire time.

“I think we still have milk. Let’s just have some cereal.”

“I don’t want cereal. We just had that for dinner. I want something good.”

So we wander into the kitchen and take stock of the fridge.

“OK, all we have is beer, ketchup, a mushy cucumber and an egg. Want me to whip up an omelette?” I ask.

The Grumblebunny requests pepperoni and black olives on the pizza that I’m about to order.

If you send Mike Todd an email at, you just might be a bedneck.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Time for another Good Frickin' Jeff Hofer pic from Guatemala:

Looks like they have some sort of oddly-shaped rain repelling devices down there. Kind of reminds me of my parasol, but not as lacy. Or fabulous.