Board games mess with your head. Last Saturday night, for a brief moment, I actually felt cool because I was the only one in the room who could hum the tune to “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Only a powerful hallucinogen should be able to make a twenty-eight year-old man be proud of something like that, yet the game Cranium seems to have the same effect.
I was like, “Hmmm HMMMM hm hmmmm hm hmmmm – Yeah, that’s right. In your face! Boo-yah! Nobody messes with my Snow White skills.”
The stupidity of getting competitive over a board game only becomes apparent in retrospect. At the time, the only thing that matters in the world is that you are the fastest person to get your partner to guess “let the cat out of the bag” without using any verbal communication. Strategy note: Keeping actual cats in bags near the game-playing area makes that one much easier.
Of course, spending Saturday night playing board games is probably not something one should be talking about at all. If we had even a shred of coolness left, we wouldn’t have been playing board games in the first place; we would have been out at the bars spending five bucks for the same beer that costs fifty cents to drink in our living room. A couple of my buddies had driven up from a few hours away to hang out with me and my wife Kara for the weekend, and our idea of showing them a wild and debauched time was busting out Cranium instead of Trivial Pursuit.
Having friends over is not as simple as it used to be. Feeding them is much more of an issue when you’re a grown-up. Back in the day, my friends would just walk into the house, make a beeline for the kitchen and plow through whatever they could find in the pantry or the fridge, and all I’d have to do is run and hide the next day when I heard Mom shriek, “What happened to all of our leftovers?” The following weekend, the food would have magically regenerated, my friends would come back over and the process would repeat.
Now, though, Kara and I actually have to think ahead about what we can possibly feed people when all we have in the house is cereal in the cupboard and ranch dressing in the fridge that is probably old enough to apply for a driver’s license. Compounding the difficulty, Kara has this crazy notion that eating pizza for breakfast and then eating pizza for lunch somehow rules out eating pizza for dinner.
Plus, my buddy Jered (who cheats at Cranium, by the way) just eats one huge meal a day, like a large predator. He shovels that meal down as if he’s afraid somebody’s going to try to take it from him. The only person who really needs to be concerned about food theft is Kara, as I regularly impose a slow-eating tax on her. Once I finish my meal, I have no choice but to gaze longingly at whatever she has left on her plate. “The slow-eating tax collector is coming, isn’t he?” she’ll ask. I nod, and she surrenders some of her fries. I don’t know how I ever got enough to eat before I had Kara’s food to steal.
Jered doesn’t have to worry about the tax collector coming to his plate. He eats with one arm guarding his food, and he gives off the same vibe as a strange dog at a food bowl; you don’t want to put your hands near his face for fear that they might become part of the meal. When he’s done eating, Jered drags his leftovers under a bush in the yard and covers them with some dirt, sleeping nearby to fend off any wandering coyotes.
You can smack Mike Todd’s hand off your plate at email@example.com.
As I watch the drips of water glide across the mud room ceiling and drop onto the towels that are waiting for them on the floor, it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that the bedraggled old purple tent that my dad and I used to take camping when I was a Boy Scout was far more waterproof than the house I'm living in now. That tent survived many years of twelve-year-old boys running around it, wielding three-pound Swiss Army knives and setting random things ablaze right next to it. Through all that time, the tent spoiled me into thinking that it is actually possible to keep water out when it wants in. Being a homeowner has taught me that water is like a five-year-old: It can't be controlled; it can only be only temporarily diverted. But you can't make water be quiet by giving it a GameBoy.
My house never had to face any knife-wielding preteens, yet it holds back water as well as a cheese grater, which, incidentally, comes as an option on Swiss Army knives now. My wife Kara and I made the unpleasant discovery about the seive-like nature of our roof after we'd lived here for two days.
A torrential rainfall blew through on our second night in the house. All of our belongings were still packed away in garbage bags, because boxes are for snobs. Actually, two years later, much of our very important stuff is still in those garbage bags, which will hopefully save us a few minutes when we decide to chuck it all in ten years.
That night, the sound of water pattering on the roof suddenly began to sound a little too close. Kara and I sat there, frozen, straining our ears to hear where the dripping noise was coming from. When we finally realized what was going on, it was like a scene from a horror movie. "The drip – It's coming from inside the house! Get out! Get out!"
That wasn't supposed to happen. We paid/wasted $500 for a certified building inspector to come look at the house before we bought it. He was highly skilled at poking things with a screwdriver. He carried his screwdriver in a leather holster like Wyatt Earp, and we he saw something of interest, like a wall or the neighbor's cat, he'd give it a little jab, twirl the screwdriver around his finger, and stick it back in the holster, satisfied. I figure we paid about fifty bucks per jab.
"This is a well-built house," he told us before jabbing us with his screwdriver and leaving. "I don't see anything too wrong with it." He made no mention of the impending water features that came with the place.
After moving in, I spent more time on top of the house than inside it. I was a house cowboy, riding high on my shingled horse, straddling the roofline and yelling, "Yee-haw! I got me a hankerin' for mah old apartment!"
I actually did manage to patch the roof (seventeenth try was the charm), and all was well, until a couple of days ago, when a new leak sprung in our mud room. I can just picture the first little bead of water as it moved back and forth across the ceiling, like a Skill Crane at an arcade, looking for the best place to drop. Kara's watercolors on her little drafting table made a perfect target. Her most recent piece is now entitled "Still life on wrinkly paper with several rust-colored splotches."
We're seriously considering just punching out the windows and letting nature have the mud room back. Or maybe we'll just pitch Dad's old tent out there.
You can jab Mike Todd with a screwdriver online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Dad finally picked up one sorely needed ally in his never-ending battle to keep squirrels off the bird feeder. While his banging on the windows, hollering, “Get! Get!” keeps the squirrels away for about the same amount of time as it takes to execute a Google search, the clamping jaws of death of the neighborhood fox seem to be slightly more persuasive.
The red bushy-tailed fox started lurking around my parents’ house a few seasons ago; it doesn’t come around all that often, but every now and again, when I’m home for the weekend, I’ll hear a cry of “Look out the window! Foxy Loxy’s here! Look, look, look!”
Long ago, my parents used to run to the windows even when we had deer in the yard – to me, that’s just not worth standing up for. It’s like getting excited about someone cutting you off on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s weirder if it doesn’t happen. There are so many deer where my parents live that, after they finish gnoshing on the rhododendron in front of the house, the deer just waltz inside to see if there’s any leftover pizza in the fridge. They like it with extra cheese and azalea.
But when the fox is running around outside, it’s much more exciting, like Wild America is in the backyard. Marty Stouffer should be out there, pleasantly describing the fox’s activities while making some of his famous French bread pizzas.
Last winter, Dad went out in the backyard and shot the fox. With a camera, of course. He wouldn’t ever shoot it with anything else, because Dad is the kind of guy who catches groundhogs in have-a-heart traps, drives them outside of town and drops them off by the river. Sometimes you’ll see those groundhogs on the side of the road, wearing backpacks and doo-rags, hitchhiking back to my parents’ house so that they can continue the excavation project they started under the deck.
When Dad took the fateful picture of the fox, he caught a magical moment at just the perfect time, as the fox ran out on the melting ice of a frozen pond, stalking a flock of geese. At the moment the shutter made that classic sound --BEEP!-- the two geese closest to the fox were beginning to flap their wings to take off, while the others anxiously strolled away in the other direction, nervously whistling to themselves, exactly like I did in ninth grade when Brian Kiernan from the football team put my buddy Jeff in the trash can outside the girls’ room.
While the fox didn’t have any luck on that particular occasion, Dad scored a great photograph, which ran on the front page of the local paper the next week. I even have a framed copy hanging up in my house, which works out well, because I’m getting too old for Phish posters.
For Christmas this year, Mom gave Dad a huge, wrapped rectangle. When he first pulled the wrapping off, I thought she’d given him an enormous blown-up copy of the photograph. Upon closer inspection, you could see it was all done in pastel, which is artist-talk for fancy crayons. Mom had commissioned a friend of the family, who somehow managed to be an extremely talented artist without the requisite craziness, to reimagine Dad’s photograph as a pastel painting. That was a way cooler present than the sweater I gave him.
So now Foxy Loxy is immortalized on my parents’ living room wall, and Dad is the new Ansel Adams of the house, only cooler. I mean, if you had to guess who was going to win in a fist fight, and all you knew was that the two guys duking it out were named Ansel and Maurice, seriously, who’s picking Ansel to win it? Nobody. Also, my mom’s name is Clara, so if she ever makes a hip-hop album, she should definitely call it Clarafication.
When you’re done chasing geese around the yard, you can drop Mike Todd a line at email@example.com.
I joined the Involuntary Polar Bear Club in my neighbor’s pond when I was eight years old. My membership was expedited by the inflatable donut sled that I was riding at the time, which proved very difficult to dismount at high speed. Once the sled inadvertently turned into an amphibious vehicle, I fell into the icy slush water and was, as you might imagine, very invigorated. The pond was only waist-deep near the shore, so I waded to the water’s edge and plunked myself onto the bank like a frozen trout. Being eight years old, I was already well-versed in the arts of crying and screaming, both of which I commenced with great enthusiasm.
Fortunately for me, my buddy Johnny was there to see the whole thing. He promptly recognized the gravity of the situation and took off running like a Baywatch lifeguard, except that he wasn’t jiggling or running in slow motion, and also he wasn’t running towards me or towards my parents’ house, but off over the horizon to some unknown destination, presumably hoping that wherever he ended up, they’d have candy. By the time my parents heard the shrieking and came down to get me, Johnny had wandered into a different time zone.
This is the story that Johnny still has to suffer through on at least an annual basis. Sure, he was a groomsman at my wedding, and we’ve had innumerable other adventures in the twenty years since that day at the pond, but that is the one that sticks. If you’re going to do something embarrassing around my family, and you don’t want to hear about it for the next several decades, you should set off lively firecrackers next to your ears every time you pull into our driveway.
If you ask him now why he couldn’t find my house, which was about a hundred yards away, and which we’d come from about fifteen minutes earlier, and which had our own tracks in the snow leading directly to it, Johnny will tell you that he’d only been to my house a couple of times before that day, and that he’s not the one who rode a sled into a frozen pond anyway, so who’s really the stupid one in this story?
The bottom line is that Johnny is a good friend and a good person, and I’m fortunate to have had a friend like him over so many years. It’s just a bonus that the river of “Johnny stories” never runs dry. He is even beginning to write his own dictionary.
Johnny recently explained to me that he had just “rooftopped” his new iPod. Rooftopping is a term that should never have needed to exist, but since my friends rooftop so many of their earthly possessions, they needed a term for it, like how the Inuit need lots of words to describe snow.
Rooftopping occurs when you put something on the roof of your car, forget about it and drive off. My buddies have lost several wallets and entire CD collections to rooftopping. Here’s the best advice you’ll ever get: Never set something temporarily on top of your car. No good can come of it.
A perfect example: A couple of years ago, Johnny taught a class to college students at the University of Colorado. He collected the students’ final exams, put them in a box and promptly rooftopped them. The next day, when he asked the students to send him an email with a copy of their final exams attached, a student asked, “Why do we need to do that? You already have the printed copies.”
“I just like to have a backup,” Johnny replied, and quickly changed the subject.
I tell you this so that you’ll know that if you ever see Johnny at a gas station, you should follow him to see what goodies will fall your way. Also, if you are sending your children to the University of Colorado, maybe you can still get your money back.
You can put Mike Todd on your roof and speed away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If all has gone according to plan, your gut is hanging pendulously over your belt right now, just like mine is doing. If not, go see what’s left in the fridge. Those extra notches on your belt are there for a reason.
I always forget how much I love this time of year. Through all the stress of running around, buying presents and wrapping them poorly, I never think about the post-holiday slowdown. It’s just pleasant to have some time to be with family and to eat twice my body weight of stuff that other people cooked.
And even though we don’t have new hobbit movies to keep us company at this time of year anymore, I love having enough time to catch up on all those movies that I never have time to see when life is moving at its normal pace.
Just before leaving to be with my wife Kara’s family, we had a night where we finally got to watch The Aviator, which gave me some great new movie quotes to annoy Kara with.
There’s a scene in the movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio (playing the great aviator Howard the Duck) can’t stop saying, “It’s the wave of the future.” He was referring to jet engines, but I’ve found that you can apply the phrase to so many other things, especially if you’re looking to annoy the person you just saw the movie with. That night, Kara and I went out to dinner. Here’s how our conversation went:
“I wish our waitress would stop hiding in the kitchen. I’m about to die of thirst,” Kara said, pushing her empty Coke glass to the edge of the table.
“Free refills are the wave of the future,” I replied. On the way to the restaurant, pedestrian crosswalks and blinking street lights were also correctly identified as waves of the future.
“Stop saying that,” she said.
“Okay, okay. Sorry. It’s just that saying it is the wave of the future.”
“Seriously, I’m going to kill you. Stop it.”
“But stopping saying this is clearly not the wave of the future.”
“You not having a future is about to be the wave of the future.”
It has been my experience that men are very fascinated with quoting movies, much to the annoyance of the females in their lives. I regularly have hours-long conversations with guy friends in which not one original thought is exchanged. (“PC Loadletter? What does that mean?” “Just gimme some uh them french fried potaters. Put a little mustard on ‘em. Mmmm-hmmmm. I reckon.” “Dang! You got shocks, pegs... Lucky! You ever take it off any sweet jumps?”)
Kara prefers to watch movies in which, from start to finish, people are telling her to exercise. I came into the living room the other day to find her watching a lady in tights doing stomach crunches. Not a bad way to pass the time, I suppose.
One of the exercises involved lying on your back with your legs bent, placing a three-pound weight between your knees, then doing stomach crunches while bringing your knees up over your stomach.
“You’d like yoga,” Kara told me. “Come try it.”
I had a hearty laugh, then proceeded to perform about ten crunches, because that’s how many times you have to chew Cheetos before you can swallow them. Then I went back to playing video games.
There’s no way I’m doing any exercise that involves a three-pound weight hovering precariously two feet above my crotch. A smart person just doesn’t give an object that sort of potential energy. Potential energy has a way of turning into kinetic energy, and objects with kinetic energy being propelled into crotches is what kept America’s Funniest Home Videos on the air for fifteen years.
When you get done taping your five-year-old driving a golf ball into your groin, you can reach Mike Todd online at email@example.com.