Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Freaky Frickin' Picture Wednesday

Last week, a local paranormal investigator was on the morning radio between Kelly Clarkson songs talking about winning a contest put on by the SciFi Channel. He apparently took the best picture of a ghost. I am refraining from putting double quotes around the words paranormal investigator and ghost, but I think we all see them there anyway.

Regardless, I find this stuff interesting enough to Google and steal from the internet, so here's the winning picture, taken at an old abandoned girls' college:

I think that's the ghost in the upper-left window. She looks a little curtain-y to me, but you can kinda make out a face. The legend is that she's still wandering the halls of the old girls' dorm, waiting for her roommate to come back and finally fill the damn Brita.

If you want to see the other ghost pics, the contest blog is here: Make sure your Depends are tightly secured before clicking that link, especially if you become incontinent when looking at pictures of screen doors.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The jaws of summer

As my wife Kara and I headed deeper out into the ocean, I couldn’t help but scan the foamy brown water for any signs of creatures higher on the aquatic food chain than ourselves. I know that the odds say that my time would be better spent scanning the sky for any incoming meteors that might knock a winning lottery ticket out of my hand while a Nigerian prince is moving a large sum of money into the domestic checking account that I have graciously provided for him, but I still just can’t get comfortable when I’ve put myself in the position of potentially becoming reverse sushi.

Kara and I were swimming with my family off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the place that received national media attention several years back for an unlikely string of shark attacks. This was back in the time when shark attacks were the most important thing for us to know about, mostly because Brad Pitt hadn’t gotten together with Angelina Jolie yet.

I couldn’t shake that uneasy feeling the whole time we were in the water, improbable as a shark attack may be. A fresh reminder of sharks’ presence in the area had washed up on shore earlier that day, about a mile down the beach from us, in the form of a nine-foot carcass. By the time I happened upon it -- “There’s a stinking, rotting shark carcass on the beach? Let’s go check it out!” -- all of its teeth had been removed. The following day, its head and tail had been sawed cleanly off. I never get any good souvenirs like dead shark heads. Mostly I just bring home sand in my body crevices. Here is how that gift-giving scene must have gone:

“Thanks for the shark head, Cletus! I’ll set it on the mantle by our wedding picture. Oh, you got the tail, too -- we’re gonna be eatin’ good tonight!”

Anyway, after we swam back to shore, my cousin-in-law Dave smiled and said, “I’m glad the sharks didn’t feel like Italian today.” It was nice to hear that I wasn’t the only one worried about becoming a razor-toothed creature’s meatball.

While we were there on vacation, I found that the Outer Banks is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to justify your SUV purchase. It’s the only place I’ve ever been to where I didn’t automatically think, “I guarantee that the person driving that thing is a jerk,” every time a Hummer H2 went by.

Many places in the Outer Banks simply don’t have access roads at all, and the only way to get to some spots is to drive down the beach in an SUV with slightly deflated tires, jumping over huge sandy ruts and splashing through small tidal pools, and occasionally running over small children’s sand castles. I’ve never seen a place in real life that looked more like an SUV commercial. None of these activities would have been possible riding in my wife’s Honda Civic, unless it was being dragged across the sand by a large tow truck or Barry Bonds.

The most important lesson I learned on vacation was this: Always tie your bathing suit on tight. I can’t think of a single situation in which this could ever be a bad idea. And as I found out the hard way, you never know when your three-year old cousin is going to mistake you for a maple tree and try to climb up you. He will do this by grabbing a fistful of your pants and pulling as hard as he can. Also, he will wait until you are holding a glass of water and standing in front of several family members, so that you only have one hand with which to attempt to recover your swimsuit and your dignity.

You can show Mike Todd how to tie a double knot online at

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Doggie doughnuts

The other day, I started my very first diet, completely by accident. A lot of people talk about how tough it is to start a diet, but I just developed a simple method that seems to work pretty well. The first step is to order the two cheeseburger extra value meal. When you sit down with your tray, if you notice that they’ve accidentally given you two hamburgers instead of two cheeseburgers, don’t get back up and complain. Just eat everything edible on your tray. Voila. Diet started, and finished. I completed this diet recently, and I feel healthier already. If they get your order right, though, you’ll have to start your diet some other day. You can also create an international variation to the diet if they forget to put sour cream on your tacos.

Sometimes I also diet by holding a slice of pepperoni pizza by the crust and letting the grease drip onto the plate. The more you let the grease drip, the healthier the pizza becomes. If you let the pizza drip for more than a minute, it’s the same as eating a rice cake.

I’m a much better dieter than the old golden retriever my family had when I was kid. Ginger, who had always been a pretty hefty dog, got enormous one summer. Corporate sponsors started trying to fly her over sports stadiums. People in wetsuits tried to surf on her in front of crowds, but Ginger wasn’t a big fan of the dead herrings.

Perplexed by her sudden weight gain, my parents tried everything to get the old dog out to exercise more. Then they started feeding her Science Diet. Then they continually cut back the portions, but nothing seemed to be working. Ginger just kept getting fatter.

My buddy Mark and I tried to help the situation by dressing Ginger up in Dad’s wristbands, Nike T-shirt and running shorts and putting a dog biscuit at the base of the treadmill, which was cranked up to jogging speed. Ginger would run along on the treadmill, trying desperately to grab the dog biscuit with her mouth. I’m not sure it did much for her fatness, but the “Gingercise” tape by the TV in the basement has provided entertainment for over a decade now.

One day, Dad decided to surreptitiously follow Ginger around on her wanderings. This was back in the days when dogs just roamed free around neighborhoods, without any high-voltage equipment strapped to their necks. We knew all the dogs in the neighborhood, and everyone knew ours. Dogs were like caribou, wandering the suburban plains. This was also, I believe, before carrying dog droppings around in one’s pocket became fashionable. Sometime around the mid-90s, plastic baggie manufacturers figured out a way to make carrying dog doo around a stylish thing to do. Nowadays, people can’t wait to get their hands on the stuff, which is probably why there hasn’t been a Ginger V2.0.

Anyway, Dad noticed that Ginger’s route always seemed to include going through the woods, up to the back neighbor’s house. When he followed her up there, he stood amazed as he watched Ginger walk up to a huge mound of doughnuts and scarf down three or four with each bite. Chocolate, glazed, powdered, jelly – for that entire summer, Ginger had been eating a buffet of doughnuts, in addition to her Science Diet.

The neighbor lady worked at Wawa, and every day, they had a pile of stale Dunkin’ Donuts to throw out. Rather than letting them go to waste, she’d bag them up and dump them in her backyard, because, for some reason, she wanted to feed Boston crèmes and frosted bear claws to the raccoons. Probably because they needed something to go with their double espressos.

You can follow Mike Todd around with a plastic baggie in your pocket online at

Monday, June 12, 2006

A man’s home is his hassle

A few years ago, when my wife Kara and I first started looking at houses with the insane intention of buying one, I remember the painful period of adjustment to the reality of how pathetically far a dollar goes in the real estate market. Back in the nineties, ten bucks would get you a matinee ticket, a large Coke and a two-bathroom Cape Cod. But that ship has sailed, leaving in its wake a housing market in which the only affordable houses are ones that have copious amounts of chicken wire and rusted staples holding things together.

When we first started looking, Kara would find houses for sale (but not on sale) on the internet, and we’d go track them down in the wild.

“It’s a little out of our price range, but let’s just look at it to get a feel for what things cost,” she’d tell me.

The first house we pulled up in front of looked like it might possibly have had severe fire damage. I looked back over to the printout on Kara’s lap and pointed at the asking price.

“Where’s the moat?” I asked.

“I don’t think this one has a moat,” she said. “Not on purpose, anyway.”

I said, “Anything that costs this much should have a moat. And a drawbridge. And it should probably include a neutered moat dragon that already has all of its shots.”

In the end, we managed to find a place for what seemed like a fair price, mostly because everything in the house was two months from breaking, leaking, exploding, imploding, fizzing out, burning up, or otherwise finding inventive ways to go kaput. The sturdiest thing in the house was the pink wallpaper, which clung to the drywall with such tenacity that we had to boil the entire house to remove it.

Until a couple of weeks ago, we thought that after almost three years of home ownership, we’d gotten all of the nasty surprises out of the way. But that was before we found out that towns pay people to send you letters telling you how awesome your house is. These people are called assessors. An assessor gives you a statement that tells you that your house could fund a medium-size NASA mission, not the kind where they have astronauts on board, but the kind where they shoot asparagus sprouts into space just to see what will happen, and that you will be taxed accordingly.

So last week we got to witness first-hand the bizarre spectacle of town grievance day, when the entire population descends on town hall to tell the assessment board that they live in a hovel. We also found out that the wheels of small town bureaucracy turn exactly as quickly as you’d expect them to. While we were waiting to see the assessment board, we actually graduated into a new demographic. One day, you’re crowd surfing at a Green Day concert, the next day you’re in town hall, sitting in a folding chair, scratching your belly, complaining to anyone who will listen about how they’re trying to run you out of town with these taxes.

We finally got the go-ahead to leave the waiting area and face our tormentors down in the dungeon of town hall. As we descended the stairs, we heard the lady in line ahead of us telling the assessment board in a sweet little voice, “The sewage plant is right next door. It always stinks. Our kids won’t even play in the yard.”

“Ooh, that’s a good one. We should use that,” I told Kara.

When our turn came, Kara told the assessor, “Our garage isn’t even attached to the house.”

“Attached garages are more of a fire hazard. You’re lucky to have a detached one,” the assessor said.

“Tell me that when it’s snowing,” Kara said.

“Our sewage stinks,” I interjected. That’s why Kara usually does the talking for us.

You can tell Mike Todd how bad he stinks online at

Monday, June 05, 2006

Philling me in

About a month ago, an observant reader (we’ll call him Phil, because that’s his name) wrote: “Does Kara, that being your wife, Kara, receive a royalty every time you mention her name, Kara?”

I was shocked by Phil’s question because, up until that point, I was pretty sure that only my Mom read this column. But Phil raised an interesting point, to which I responded: “Phil, my wife's name is not Kara. I don't know what you're talking about. Oh, oh, wait, yeah, Kara, you're right. I remember now. Sorry. Yes, her name is Kara. And I just made another buck by saying Kara four more times.”

Then I went on about my business, wondering about things like how old people can remember during which year events occurred. “I saw the most beautiful sunset back in the summer of 1951. I’ll never forget it.” I have no idea what year things happened in. I was born in 1977 and graduated high school in 1996; college is a little fuzzier because I’m pretty sure it took me a really long time to graduate. So if something didn’t happen in either of 1977 or 1996, I have to bust out some serious math to figure out when it happened.

For an ice-breaker at work recently, we had to pick a coin out of our pockets and say something that happened in our lives during the year that the coin was minted. The dime in my pocket said 1992. After five minutes of working out the subtraction on a napkin, I figured that I’d been in eighth grade that year. The big milestone during my eighth grade year was the time after gym class that Kirk Mulligan almost stuck my head in the toilet. That sure was a proud moment for me. I say he “almost” stuck my head in the toilet because, just as he was pushing the back of my head towards the welcoming meniscus below, ‘ol Kirk took a ride on the Mike’s Knuckles Express. Just kidding. I think he started wailing on some other kid or something.

But that event precipitated me and my Dad enrolling in the Dragon Gym, where we took karate classes for three years and earned our black belts together, so I suppose I owe Kirk some measure of gratitude. Not every kid gets the chance to kick his dad in that most private of places: the basement, where we used to practice. I hadn’t thought about those karate classes in so long, it was nice of that dime to remind me. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people could still beat me up, but if I ever get attacked by a 12” x 12” pine board, I’m totally taking that thing out.

So I hadn’t put any more thought into mentioning Kara’s name in my column until yesterday, when I received this letter from a concerned reader (okay, it was Phil again): “Just noticed that the ‘Kara Kount’ in your last column is ZERO. Hope things are OK with you two.”

I appreciate Phil’s concern, but things are actually great with me and Kara right now, mainly because in her eyes, I have become cooler than Tom Cruise. This is not because of anything I have done, but Tom has been pretty busy for the past couple of years lowering the bar for the rest of us.

A preview for Mission: Impossible 3 came on TV the other night, and Kara said, “What happened to him? He’s not even cool anymore.”

I thought back to the old Top Gun poster that used to hang in her dorm room, of Tom Cruise as Maverick, sitting half-out of the cockpit, giving the thumbs up. Man, he used to be so cool.

“Requesting permission for flyby,” I’d say to Kara.

“That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern is full,” she’d reply, pushing me away.

Also, Phil, I mentioned your name eight times this week. I accept cash and home-cooked meals.

You can send Mike Todd an email or lose him forever at