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

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

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

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

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