Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rhymes with puds n' liver

Here's a shot along the Hudson River, near the town of Cold Spring:

As far as I can tell, Hudson River shots are best taken when there's not too much light, so you don't catch reflections off the beer cans and the dead mobsters' watches.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dancing with tractors

Halfway through my commute home a couple of days ago, I realized that I had no idea how I’d gotten there. Not in the philosophical “How did I get here?” sense, but more in the “Has the car been driving itself for the past fifteen minutes?” sense. The same phenomenon happens most mornings in the shower, when I’m staring groggily at the shampoo bottle, trying my best to remember whether or not I washed my hair ten seconds ago.

The car seemed to be doing a fine job getting us home all by itself, with nary a phone pole collided into, but I had no recollection of turning onto the main road, stopping at stoplights, switching into the left lane or pulling behind the guy with the “Your proctologist called -- he found your head” bumper sticker.

You have to appreciate a good bumper sticker. The serious ones can be so persuasive, can’t they? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed political affiliations and religious beliefs based on the bumpers stickers I’ve driven behind on the way home from work. Really, if you have a strong opinion, it’s your responsibility to sum it up in seven words or less and stick it on the back of your car. The people who have their minds changed by driving behind you for two minutes, those are the people you want on your side.

I realized that I’d been driving on autopilot when my designated lifetime passenger/wife Kara shook me out of my stupor by yelling, “Ooh, there’s Blockbuster! Let’s stop and see if they have that Antonio Banderas dancing movie!” Though I’m pretty sure Kara has dragged me to every dancing movie that has ever been made, somehow we missed “Take the Lead” in the theater, a breach for which Kara has only recently begun to forgive me.

I was in such a zombie-like state from my day at work, though, that I could only reply, “URRRRGH! NEED BRAINS!” as we sailed past the video store.

Kara hates driving, so her specialty from the shotgun position is announcing her desire to stop at a store once we’re less than three feet from its entrance doing sixty miles per hour, leaving us entering most places of business after half a blink of the turn signal, on two wheels and with pedestrians diving into the bushes. Lucky for me, Antonio Banderas would remain unwatched in our household that night, as the thought of watching him twirl around our TV screen provided me insufficient motivation to pull any death-defying maneuvers to get into the parking lot.

But I’m sure he won’t go unwatched for long. Kara loves dancing movies as much as I loved tractors when I was a little kid. At three years old, life held no greater thrill than driving by the tractor dealership that was a few miles down the road, which had tractors of all different sizes and colors parked out front.

“Twactor! Twactor!” I would shout, pointing to make sure nobody missed out on getting a glimpse of the magnificent machinery. As we passed, I’d twist around in my seat to get one last fleeting look. Those moments were so precious, just like the two seconds of NFL cheerleaders dancing and jiggling about before the cut to commercials.

The look I gave those tractors is the same look Kara gives to movie theaters and video stores that have dancing movies in them. “Dancing movie! Dancing movie!” she’ll shout, pointing as we pass. She’s like a moth to light with those things, especially if that light is a projector beam that is transporting the visuals for a poorly plotted movie in which whole crowds of attractive people spontaneously dance choreographed routines in unison.

You can tell Mike Todd that nobody puts Baby in the corner online at

Sunday, September 17, 2006

She Java me crazy

My friends sometimes ask me, “How did you get a girl to marry you?”

They usually ask this when I’m sitting on a couch with one hand down my pants, shirtless, covered in flecks of popcorn, waiting for my buddies to get eaten by zombies so that I can get the PlayStation2 controller back.

The short answer is that I discovered my wife Kara in much the same way that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin: one day, completely by chance, I noticed that Kara, when smeared on a Petri dish, had an inhibiting effect on staphylococci bacteria.

Actually, Kara and I do largely have nasty microorganisms to thank for bringing us together, as we met in the waiting room of the student health services building at Penn State, hacking up pieces of our respective lungs. This was quite an unexpected meeting for both of us, as good things rarely happen in waiting rooms, other than getting extended chances to catch up on the September 1995 issue of People Magazine.

As I was strolling through the room on my way out the door, I recognized this girl from my computer science class sitting there. I knew that she should have been in class right then, because I was skipping it, too. Our computer architecture class, in which we learned to build gothic cathedrals using only discarded motherboards, was at 1:30 in the afternoon. Though this was awfully early to drag myself out of bed, somehow I usually made it anyway, missing only the first half hour or so.

Back in college, I took computer science classes for the same obvious reason that all the other guys did: to pick up chicks. Then I found out the hard way that your average computer science class usually had about as many females in it as the men’s room at Augusta National.

But in this one class, there was a girl who always sat a few rows in front of me. She was perfect in every way. It didn’t work out between us, though, and shortly thereafter I met Kara in the waiting room. Wait, no, the first girl was Kara, too. Yeah, that’s right.

So when I saw her in the waiting room, I thought about all the catchy computer-themed pick-up lines I could use, like, “Can’t you C++ us together?” or “Baby, you’ve already one over this zero.”

In the end, I went with, “Shouldn’t you be in class right now?” That’s the first thing I ever said to my wife. The most recent thing I ever said was, “I’ll crack my toes if I want to crack my toes, Woman!”

I’d been sitting about five feet behind Kara every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for several months, so it made perfect sense for her to be elated that the stud muffin from her computer architecture class finally said something to her. Sure enough, she gazed up at me that day with a look that said it all. The look said, “Who the heck are you?”

I explained that I was in her 1:30 class, and that’s how I knew who she was. She still looked a little suspicious, like I was just feeling her out before trying to close the deal on an Amway sale.

The next time we had class, Kara came over and sat next to me. Then we started doing our homework together. Then we forgot about the homework altogether.

So really, phlegm was what kicked off our marriage. The best advice I can give to my single friends who are looking for love is that, if they can’t develop any decent infirmities naturally, they should probably lick a nursery school doorknob or stick their heads in used biohazard bags. Sometimes a bug isn’t all you’ll catch.

You can tell Mike Todd about exciting Amway opportunities online at

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The boxer rebellion

There comes a time in every man's life when he must hang up his underwear on a pot rack in the kitchen.

For me, this time came at about the same time the dryer broke.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The scrapple experience

A little while back, I described my wife’s first experiences with scrapple, the meat (and I use the term loosely) product that makes SPAM seem like filet mignon. As if any reason were necessary, I offered that one might do well to steer clear of scrapple solely because I’d never seen my dad eat the stuff.

Nothing fazes the man, culinarily speaking. The nasty yellow stuff inside crabs? Tasty. Caesar salads at fancy restaurants where they sneak in anchovies without even asking you first? His favorite. He can make an entire meal out of the gristle that Mom leaves on her discarded chicken wings. The bones are so clean afterwards that natural history museums buy them to make exhibits. But I honestly believed that the hunt to find something that Dad wouldn’t eat had reached its exciting conclusion with scrapple.

Well, Dad took that as a challenge, of course. He got up early one morning and headed down to the local diner, by himself, for his date with pig scrap destiny. The date went well. They’ve been seeing each other ever since. Dad is now an avid scrappler; he even makes special trips on Saturday mornings to get his eggs and scrapple breakfast. Mom rarely joins him. Laugh and the world laughs with you; eat pig nostrils and you dine alone.

During my most recent visit home, Dad couldn’t wait to take me out to breakfast. I reluctantly agreed, knowing that I’d probably regret it. Mom came along this time, if for nothing else than the spectacle.

“I don’t see why you two keep talking about scrapple,” she said. “You’re just trying to gross me out.” She was right, of course.

Before we ordered, Dad explained, “Scrapple’s like cornbread, but it’s meat. It’s just a slice of meaty cornbread, and it’s kind of crispy.” He said this as if he had just given me a reason to try it.

When the server came to take our order, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I got French toast.

“You can try some of mine,” Dad offered graciously.

When our meals came out, I finally came face-to-loaf with the legendary comestible for the first time. It was actually pretty unassuming, with the ingredients prudently chopped so tiny that you couldn’t make out which pieces came from hooves. The slab on Dad’s plate looked like meat particleboard. Scrapple is the IKEA furniture of breakfast foods. They should serve it with an Allen wrench.

Dad immediately cut off a piece the size of a brick and put it on my plate. I looked down at it and shook my head.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said. “I’m having trouble shutting off my brain.”

“Oh, it’s just a little piece,” Dad said. I realized then that Dad had become the bad kid in the ABC After School Special, pressuring me into trying something I shouldn’t be doing. “Go ahead. Try it. You’ll like it. First taste’s on me.”

I submitted, cutting off a small piece and, fork shaking, biting into it. It wasn’t bad, really, but I couldn’t shake the notion that I’d just put something unspeakably wrong into my mouth, like a kid who’d been talked into eating a slug.

My sister-in-law Jill recently became a vegetarian. I’m pretty sure that I could never be one myself, but I am a vegetarian sympathizer, which means that I respect them, and I try to sit next to them at weddings in case they get served prime rib or something. I can just picture the look of horror on her face if Dad were to order scrapple in front of her.

“What is he eating?” she would whisper to me.

“Um, that’s eggplant, Jill,” I would tell her. “Every last blessed part of the eggplant.”

You can make arrangements to join Mike Todd’s dad for breakfast online at

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stronger than Kryptonite

As autumn quickly crinkles our way, I can’t help but feel fortunate that I don’t have to pack up all of my earthly belongings and lug them to someplace far across town like I did for five years at Penn State. Besides a few grain silos and the Hooters that they put up after I graduated (wouldn’t you know it?), there’s likely not a structure in central Pennsylvania that didn’t house me and my duct-taped couch for at least a semester.

My poor parents. After helping me and my sister to move for more than a cumulative decade, they have probably logged enough hours to become honorary Sherpas. When I have kids that age, I’m going to make sure that all of their furniture is inflatable.

I lived in a fairly small apartment during my junior year with five other guys and a Chocolate Lab. The dog was by far the best-behaved tenant; he never ate anyone’s food but his own, which is much more than can be said for the rest of us. Also, he got an occasional bath and his breath wasn’t that bad.

The most important lesson I learned that year is to never leave your grocery cart unattended while you’re in the store with your roommates. Otherwise, you’ll end up at the checkout, trying to explain to the clerk why there is a small bounty of hemorrhoid cream and home enema kits hiding under your frozen pizza.

Whenever one roommate returned from the grocery store, put his food away and left it unattended, one could easily have lost a finger in the resulting feeding frenzy. Five Tasmanian Devil-like tornadoes would whirl through the kitchen, spewing chicken bones, pizza crust and empty Gatorade bottles into the air. If you didn’t want your food to become community property, the only way to protect it was to bury it under a shrub by the front steps.

Before I gave up on the enterprise altogether, I took a black permanent marker to the pitcher in which I tried to keep a supply of orange juice and wrote: “Before drinking the contents of this pitcher, stop and ask yourself, ‘Is my name Mike?’ If you answer ‘No’ to this question, put this pitcher back in the fridge, turn around and enjoy some free thirst-quenching goodness from the faucet.”

My buddy Derek, who won the lottery and received me as a random roommate our freshman year, had an unfortunate craving for nacho cheese Doritos. All Derek wanted in the world was to be able to maintain a stash of Doritos in his cabinet, but the evening was truly rare in which at least one of the apartment’s occupants didn’t launch a raid with the objective of commandeering Derek’s Doritos. His cabinet was plundered so often that he finally used a Kryptonite bike lock to secure the handles of the cabinet doors together.

If Derek were to rank the days of his life from his most favorite to his least favorite, somewhere near the bottom of that list would probably be the day he came home to find both of his cabinet doors on the kitchen floor, still locked together, leaning against the trash can, which contained, of course, an empty Doritos bag. The cabinets’ manufacturers obviously didn’t have security in mind when they designed hinges that could be removed from the outside with a Phillips-head screwdriver, a flaw that my fellow roommates were quick to exploit.

When I recently told my dad the story about Derek and his Doritos, Dad asked, “So does Dorito have a girlfriend now? Sorry, I mean Derek. Does Derek have a girlfriend?”

I think I like the name Dorito better. I’m going to try to get it to stick. And yes, Dorito does have a girlfriend. She finds him crunchy and flavorful.

You can put embarrassing health products in Mike Todd’s shopping cart online at