Monday, May 29, 2006

Microwavin’ MacGyver

Earlier today, I walked by an acquaintance at work as he was standing at the copier machine in the hallway. “Hey, Steve, makin’ cop-ies,” I said, trying to imitate Rob Schneider’s Richmeister character from the old Saturday Night Live skits (“Steeeeve. Steve-o-rama. Baron von Stevenheimer. Makin’ cop-ies. Ste-e-e-ve.”) Either my impression was so bad as to be unrecognizable, or Steve had never seen those skits before. He was like, “Yeah, I just fixed a paper jam.”

As I turned the corner and proceeded to the place where I do my best work (third stall from the left), Steve must have been marveling at my exceptionally keen powers of observation. I have the amazing ability to tell, just by somebody’s juxtaposition to the copier machine, whether or not they happen to be making copies. I can just see what people are doing, like John Edward from “Crossing Over,” but with alive people.

After almost five years of working as a semi-productive professional something-or-other, I can’t help but wonder if everyone else in my office has the same stupid kinds of thoughts that I do. Like, does anyone else play MacGyver with the microwave? When I put my tea in the microwave, I set the timer for one minute, and then I go look out the window. Then I try to time it, without looking back, so that I get back to the microwave and open the door with one second left, just before it detonates and the beeper goes off. The funny thing is that it didn’t seem pathetic at all until I wrote it down just now.

Plus, everybody always remembers MacGyver for building cool things, like when he made a Gatling gun using only a paper clip and a bag of kitty litter, but nobody ever talks about the last seasons of the show, when they ran out of things for MacGyver to make, and all he did every episode was disarm bombs and make volcanoes out of vinegar and baking soda.

Anyway, the other day I passed someone in the hall who asked, “How you doin’?” Ordinarily, this would be a pretty easy one to answer, but this time I choked. “Just trying to stay out of trouble,” I said.

I tried to stop the words before they came out, but it was too late. Only a person who’s been wholly institutionalized, whose soul has been completely entombed in a cubicle with no door hole, would ever utter that phrase.

Nobody exercising their own free will ever says, “Just trying to stay out of trouble.” What exactly is this statement trying to imply, anyway? Oh yes, I get in trouble at work all the time. I’m such a bad boy, it’s nearly impossible for me to stay out of trouble. I roll packs of cigarettes into the sleeves of my Polo shirts. When a higher-up is giving a PowerPoint presentation about our organizational strategy, I’m like, “Whatever, Dude. Don’t get your wrinkle-free khakis in a bunch about it.” That’s right. When you’re a rebel like me, trouble knows where to find you. That’s why I have to try so hard to stay out of it.

Also, if you come to work earlier in the morning than some people, it is your paramount duty to alert everyone else to this fact. You must say things like, “I stopped by your office at 7am, but I guess you weren’t here yet.” Otherwise, you might as well just sleep in. Not mentioning your early arrival time would be like emptying the dishwasher at home without clanking the dishes together. If you don’t make a lot of noise, you might never get credit for it.

After you build an email for Mike Todd using only keystrokes and electrons, you can send it to him at

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bad Frickin' Ferret Wednesday

Here's the wild Guatemalan ferret that Jeff Hofer sent me a while back:

Sure, he looks cute here, but you'd get a much more accurate idea of what life with a ferret is like if this was a scratch-n-sniff picture. So here's to The Mighty Destroyer of Couches, Chewer of Purses and Poop-Onner of Carpets.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A little too sappy

While rummaging through my old jar of coins recently, I came across an ancient token to a Franklin Institute arcade game. I hadn’t seen one of those tokens since I was probably about twelve years old, when we spent more time on field trips to the Franklin Institute than we did at school.

The token is an old bronze coin, and on one side there are two silhouetted Benjamin Franklin heads looking at each other, which form an optical illusion that, when you look at it one way, looks like a vase, but when you look at it another way, looks like a submerged David Blaine signaling for rescue divers.

The arcade machines at the Franklin Institute were all educational, and not in the same way that today’s video games teach kids things, which is probably why I had leftover tokens. The games at the Franklin Institute taught you how gravity worked by making you change trajectories to hit little targets with arrows; the games on a PlayStation2 teach you how to make Sponge Bob SquarePants accurately shoot rival gang members after stealing their sea horses in titles like “Grand Theft Auto: Pineapple Under the Sea.”

The things you can see and do in video games now truly boggle the portions of the mind that are not actively engaged in blowing off zombies’ heads. When I was a kid, the worst thing you could do in a video game was to make Mario commit fungicide by jumping on a mushroom. Some games even taught valuable life skills -- everything I needed to know about firearm safety I learned from playing Duck Hunt. For instance, ten-year-olds should never leave their pistols on the living room couch, because Mom might trip over the cord. Also, when a dog pops out of the bushes to laugh at you after you miss both of the ducks, it doesn’t matter how many times you shoot him, toting a Nintendo ‘Lil Tyke’s First Firearm does not make you immune to derision from bulletproof dogs.

I remember when my sister and I got a big hoot when we discovered that you could actually steer the ducks in Duck Hunt if you plugged in a controller along with the pistol. But today’s kids don’t even get big hoots anymore. They settle for nothing less than rushes of pure adrenaline. Hoots are for old people.

It would be nice to think that the inappropriate subject matter in video games just sails over little kids’ heads, but I remember doing some pretty boneheaded things based on things I’d seen and read. When I was about eleven, I read a book about a kid fending for himself in the wild who learned that pine sap made for a wonderful, minty chewing gum.

“Wow,” I thought, “A never-ending supply of free bubble gum, just waiting for me out in the yard.”

Dad had recently pruned the old white pine out front, and where one of the branches had connected to the trunk of the tree, there was a sticky white oval, oozing a stream of sap. Without hesitation, I scooped up a finger full of the stuff and enthusiastically stuck it in my mouth, expecting the sap to be indistinguishable from a stick of Wrigley’s spearmint.

I immediately felt as if I’d licked a freshly-mopped floor, and the slimy consistency made the sap impossible to chew or to get out of my mouth. I ended up swallowing a good deal of it, which certainly didn’t double my pleasure, but it did double me over. I didn’t end up discovering an endless supply of chewing gum that day, but if you’re ever in the market for an all-natural, superbly effective laxative, I know just the tree for you.

You can reach Mike Todd online at Absorbent and yellow and porous is he.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

And Betty, you can call me barb

Here's another Good Frickin' picture that Jeff Hofer took in Guatemala:

Psyche! He took this one in El Salvador. I just totally punk'd you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Stealing from Paul

As I inhaled a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips earlier today, I noticed with some wonderment that there was a small “ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED” disclaimer camouflaged on the front of the bag. Of all the flavors that would seem easy to reproduce without the wonders of modern science, you’d think salt and vinegar would be right up there with “your own saliva.”

It reminded me of the tiny print that says “cheese food” on packets of processed cheese slices. Surely, there is a distinction between regular cheese and cheese food that I am just not catching. The industry definition of cheese food is probably something like this: “Cheese was tangentially related to the manufacturing of this food-like treat,” which then translates to: “The guy in the factory was eating real cheese when he pushed the button to make this stuff.”

These are the kinds of thoughts that can occupy your mind when you don’t have children. After you have a baby, I imagine, it’s all you can do just to keep their little fingers out of your eyes. There’s no time to think about stuff like why Corn Pops and Apple Jacks are the only cereals that come in foil bags instead of plastic ones.

I bring this up because we just found out that another one of our friends is pregnant. I know they don’t mean to do it, but all these pregnant people are really applying some serious peer pressure to their not-currently-reproductively-inclined friends. Peer pressure was much easier to handle when your buddies were just trying to get you to smoke.

For now, though, until we have kids of our own, we’ll devote our energy to looking after our little Paul. He’s growing up so big and strong. I remember the day we brought him home from the nursery, all wrapped up in his little burlap sack. Come to think of it, that sack may have been a wee bit scratchy, but it worked out fine because Paul’s roots were safely buried in a big ball of dirt. We still had to be very gentle with him, though, because he turned into a little fussbudget when we accidentally snapped off a few of his branches.

My wife Kara and I spent over an hour choosing the best Japanese maple tree from a huge garden center. As soon as we saw Paul, we knew he was the one we wanted to take home. We carted him over to the cash register, then carefully loaded him into our car and strapped him in.

According to the white plastic card that came with Paul, you should always dig a five-dollar hole for a fifty-cent plant. A hipper person would probably be able to make a comment about 50 Cent here, and maybe mention his gardening proclivities, but I don’t know anything about 50 Cent except that he raps and people shoot him a lot. Regardless, Paul was much bigger than a fifty-cent plant, and he required a herniated-disk hole.

When we finally rolled Paul across the driveway and plunked him into the hole, I reached into his branches to remove the tags. One of them said, “Japanese maple: Acer palmatum.” Another one contained a small ad for the garden center. Then I noticed a pink tag hidden away inside the tree that I hadn’t noticed before. I ripped the tag off, held it in my hand and winced as I read these words: “SOLD: Hold for Paul Wishner.”

The last Google search I did took .06 seconds to execute, which was much longer than my moral dilemma lasted as I surveyed Paul’s enormous root ball and pictured trying to pull him out of the ground to bring him back to the store. You could tell he’d kind of gotten attached to us, anyway. I bet Paul Wishner would be happy to know that we dedicated a memorial tree to him in our front yard, though he probably wishners that he had the tree instead.

You can comment on this column-like paper product online at

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Degrees of awesomeness

Of all the things I never seem to be able to successfully coin, phrases must be somewhere near the top of the list. My buddy Jeff doesn’t have the same problem. He recently coined one that I can’t seem to stop using.

“It’s Awesome degrees outside right now,” he said to me and my wife Kara last weekend, as we stood in his new front yard on a beautiful Spring day. The yard has actually been there for quite some time, but it is new in the sense that it has only recently come under Jeff’s ownership.

“Awesome degrees?” I asked.

“It’s when room temperature happens outside,” he explained. “When you wouldn’t change the temperature a single degree in either direction even if you could, it’s Awesome degrees outside.”

And with that, Jeff joined Lord Kelvin, Anton von Celsius and Jim Fahrenheit as the founder of his own temperature scale. Jeff’s makes a lot more sense than the Fahrenheit one, too, which is based entirely on the boiling point of some old king’s feet.

Earlier that day, I’d left a message on Jeff’s cell phone to warn him that we were going to be in the neighborhood and might be stopping by. After he got the message, he ran outside, put on big gray manly-looking work gloves and started digging holes in the front yard, just so he could pretend that that’s the kind of thing he does on a Saturday afternoon, instead of watching the Wiggles.

“Message? Oh, no, I didn’t get it. I just always hang out in the yard, digging holes and grunting and what not,” he insisted.

He bought that house because, like the old adage says, apartments may give you enough free time to watch Law & Order reruns and conquer video games on your PlayStation2, but they can’t give you the satisfaction of back-breaking manual labor on a Saturday afternoon. If that’s not an adage, it should be.

After we left Jeff’s new house, which he is fixing up to a high degree of awesomeness, Kara and I took a stroll around some of the nearby neighborhoods. I got the greatest home improvement idea from one of the houses on our walk. A wooden sign hanging from a pole in the front yard proclaimed the house to be the abode of “The Richard Millers.”

“That sign rocks!” I said. “We should get one like that.”

“Yeah, we should,” Kara agreed. “The Kara Todds. That sounds nice.” So maybe the sign idea can wait for a while.

During our wanderings, we popped into a little Thai restaurant that we’d never been to before. I ordered the “spicy basil chicken,” and the waitress asked if I’d like it medium, hot or very hot.

“Umm, I’ll try it hot,” I said.

You’ll learn the hard way in life that “spicy” can mean many different things. If you go to Wendy’s, for instance, and they ask you if you’d like to make your chicken sandwich spicy, it’s pretty safe to say okay. Those things are about as spicy as a Golden Girls rerun. At the Thai place, though, if you’re going to ask for spicy, you’d better have a high threshold for pain. Also, if you’re ever going to open up a Thai bar, you should call it Thai One On.

After I took my first bite, Kara asked, “How is it?”

“Oh, it’s not even that…” I said, but then the spice started making my brain give off those things that runners get all the time. What are those things called again? Oh, yes, screams of pain. There may have been some endorphins in there, too. My face felt like it was on the nose cone of the shuttle at re-entry. Which was, I would estimate, about +300 degrees Awesome.

If you send an email to, one of the Kara Todds will get back to you shortly.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Pickup lines

Truck commercials these days are so full of testosterone, after I watch one in my living room, I have to shave the armpit hair out from under our TV’s antennae. A jagged mountain peak off in the distance gives way to the gaping grill of a truck bouncing wildly, driving straight at the screen as the electric guitar kicks in, then the camera zooms out so you can see mud flying in all directions, splattering against Toby Keith, who is ripping a stump out of the ground with his teeth.

Then the voiceover comes on: “The all-new Dodge Seminal Vesicle. You’re lucky it has tires instead of feet, or else it would kick your butt. There’s so much testosterone in this vehicle that it comes with its own pituitary gland, standard. And with twelve cylinders more than you’ll ever need, you can really peel out of the gas station, which works out well, because you’ll be spending a lot of time there.”

My wife Kara and I recently watched a contestant on “Who Still Watches Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” quit because she was stumped on this question: “What type of automobile was the top-seller in the U.S. in 2005?” The choices were SUVs, sedans, pickup trucks and minivans.
“SUVs! SUVs!” we yelled at the screen as the woman dithered and then gave up without answering. “Man, she’s so dumb. It’s SUVs.”

It’s a good thing the lady didn’t use a lifeline to call us. She walked away with $15,000 more than I would have, and after she gave up, the answer was revealed to be the Treaty of Versailles. No wait, it was pickup trucks.

That blows my mind. Sure, there are plenty of people who actually use them for what they’re intended, but there’s just no way that so many people really need pickup trucks. If truck commercials were honest, they’d probably go something more like this:

Guy #1: That thing got a hemi?
Guy #2: You bet it does!
Guy #1: Why on earth would you possibly need one of those? You’re an accountant.
Guy #2: Because truck commercials have so addled my brain that I actually thought getting eleven miles to the gallon was a fair tradeoff for being able to tow my house to work in the morning if I wanted to.
Guy #1: Whatever. Can you help me move this weekend?

And that’s why, as much as a pickup truck may not be the best decision for most people, it is certainly the best decision for most people’s friends. My buddies who have trucks spend at least a weekend per month helping somebody they knew in second grade move to a new apartment.

I hear those same buddies complaining pretty loudly about the recent rise in gas prices. I feel their pain, too, but personally, I think it’s fair to pay more for a product that is clearly superior than what the oil companies were offering us just a few short years ago. If you think back, can you even remember how long it used to take to pump a dollar’s worth of gas? Ages. By the time you spent a dollar, you’d have stood there beside the car like a doofus forever, waiting endlessly for dang near a whole gallon to come out.

With the way the oil companies have improved their services, a dollar’s worth of gas takes about a nanosecond to go through the pump, and I only have to wait for a tiny fraction of a gallon to come out. I appreciate that the oil companies are spending their untold billions in profit to help me get on with my day, which gives me more time to spend with my loved ones. And Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

You can tell Mike Todd where you’d like to park your pickup truck online at