Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I’ve learned some important lessons this holiday season. For instance, if you see the back half of a good parking space at Home Depot on a Saturday, that’s because there’s a big orange shopping cart in the front half. I think I also learned something about caring for your fellow man by giving him a prize turkey, but I can’t recall the details.

This Christmas was much more relaxing than I’m used to, as my wife Kara has finally trained me to get our Christmas shopping done early enough to forego the usual ritual of calling stores on Christmas Eve to find out what time they close. That’s a bad feeling, walking through the mall frantically, knowing that you can’t leave without finding a present for some important family member, when suddenly the metal grates start to come down over the store entrances one-by-one, trapping you in the middle of the mall and narrowing your gift-giving options down to the Piercing Pagoda, the Verizon booth and Dippin’ Dots.

The Dippin’ Dots stand must be the saddest place in the mall, besides maybe the dark labyrinth of hallways leading to the restrooms. I’ve never seen anyone actually buying Dippin’ Dots. The sign reads, wishfully: “Dippin’ Dots: Ice Cream of the Future.” This sign hangs over the lone dude behind the register, who dutifully tries his best to stay awake, patiently waiting for the future to arrive. Every now and again, curiosity will get the better of me, and I’ll peer over the glass to see various vats of colorful beads. Each flavor looks, in its own special way, like the filling of a bean bag chair. Perhaps it’s due to my lack of business acumen, but it seems to me that ice cream is much more likely to be the Ice Cream of the Future.

Now that Christmas is over, it’ll be a while before I have a need to head back to the mall, though I think I might already be experiencing withdrawal. My eyes have become used to the twinkling displays of Christmas spirit, a spirit that can be measured in good will towards men and/or kilowatt-hours. And it’s tough to fight the urge to give my credit card to strangers, or to keep myself from walking on dawdling people’s heels, waiting for the cue from Kara to spring around either side of them and reunite on the far side. The worst part is knowing that I’ll have to wait a full three months before the Christmas displays are rolled back out.

While there are many things I’ll miss about the mall, I certainly won’t miss Kara saying, “Hold this. I’ll be back in a minute,” as she hands me her purse and disappears into the dressing room, ostensibly trying on clothes to make sure they’ll look good on somebody else. If I was a smart person, I’d run out at that moment and plant some corn by the shrubs at the mall entrance, entertaining myself with some subsistence farming as the seasons rolled by in her absence. After the harvest, I’d have plenty of time to sit back with some fresh corn on the cob, picking my teeth and pondering the continued existence of wool sweaters.

You never hear anybody say: “I love itchy wool sweaters. The more itch, the better. If you can’t find any itchy enough, just cut three holes in a burlap sack and give that to me for Christmas.” Yet the mall is filled with wool sweaters. Who is buying them? It’s almost like the stores think that wool is the Sweater of the Future.

In any event, it’s nice to slow down and spend time with family instead of throngs of shoppers, even though Kara and I end up driving all over the Eastern Seaboard to see everybody. During the holiday break, if you took a picture of me and Kara, we’d show up as animated red arrows stretching our way across a road atlas. Still, it beats being the Dippin’ Dots guy.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, you can still email Mike Todd at

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rubbing elbows, flossing noses

The bottom of the invitation to our neighbors’ Christmas party read like this: “We ask that each person please bring a fun activity to share: a joke, a song, a game, a skit, a story.”

Of course, my wife Kara and I figured that this part of the invitation didn’t really apply to us. We’re special. We also don’t feel like we should have to stop when new stop signs are installed. Once you’re used to driving on a road without stopping, you should be grandfathered in.

Instead, we decided to bring a bottle of wine, thinking that it could, in a stretch, count as a game. “It’s a little game we like to call ‘Social Lubrication,’” we’d say.

As we got up to leave for the party, I walked to the front door while Kara headed for the garage.

“You seriously want to drive there?” I asked. “We’re only going two houses up.”

“You’re not the one wearing heels. It’ll feel like three miles in these things,” she said. It’s true that her heels were tall enough that, had they been made of wood and hidden under flashy silk trousers, they would have been excellent props for a Cirque de Soleil performance. Unfortunately, neither one of us can juggle flaming objects, except for the occasional failed batch of garlic toast.

“But we haven’t even left yet. You could still put on shoes that allow you to wear them and walk at the same time,” I suggested.

Eventually, I “won” the discussion, but winning is a relative term when your wife is angrily clopping ahead of you down the driveway. Over the past few years of marriage, we’ve found that the important thing isn’t THAT you argue, but HOW you argue. We argue so well that we made up before we got to the mailbox.

The party turned out to be an intimate gathering of very friendly people, wonderful for getting to know our neighbors but terrible for hiding one’s lack of preparation. After a few minutes, the discussion turned to the activities everyone had brought, with the judges all agreeing that a bottle of wine was very thoughtful but that we’d have to come up with something else. Slowly, we began going around the circle, with Kara and I left to go last.

One couple brought a Christmas trivia game. Here’s one for you: “In the Little Drummer Boy, what kept time?” If you thought “a metronome,” too, it’s a good thing we weren’t on the same team. I still don’t understand how “ox and lamb” are supposed to be musically inclined, but that’s less surprising to me than the fact that somebody actually knew the answer.

The host of the party whipped out a banjo and played a medley of holiday songs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. He played it like a pro, like he’d just come back from a gig played behind chicken wire.

I sat there wondering how I’d gotten to be thirty years old without developing a single useful talent. We didn’t have time for everyone to watch me play Elder Scrolls IV for five straight hours without taking a single bathroom break.

Kara and I had to come up with a party trick, and fast. I was imagining future conversations between our neighbors: “Whatever happened to that couple down the street?”

“Oh, you mean the talentless buffoons?”

I seriously considered the trick I’d seen on the Late Show where the guy snorted dental floss and brought it back through his mouth. Could a nasal floss be executed successfully on the first try? It seemed worth a shot.

In the end, we printed off one of my old columns and Kara performed a dramatic reading, which, despite the source material, she pulled off quite well, really nailing the “my wife Kara” parts and getting us both off the hook. In retrospect, they probably would have preferred the nasal floss.

Your email can jingle all the way to Mike Todd’s inbox at

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A stressful chapter finally closes

There are many things I would have preferred to do rather than trying to sell our house through the wintertime, such as hiking the Appalachian Trail in my wife’s “going out” heels or being a gladiator with a losing record.

Everyone knows you can’t sell a house in the winter. That’s because, even when it comes to a tough buyers’ market like the one we have right now, every real estate agent knows the secret to making a sale: balloons. Balloons, especially when tied to roadside signs, hypnotize buyers with their gentle bobbing, compelling purchases that otherwise never would have occurred. Used car salesmen know this secret as well, though they diversify their offerings with plastic flags and giant inflatable men with waggling arms. The concept is the same: mesmerize the buyer with colorful moving objects so that they don’t notice the water damage or the cracked headlight.

When the weather turns cold, though, real estate agents’ most powerful weapon is neutralized. Balloons hang limply, if at all, signifying a long, bitter stretch until St. Patrick’s Day, when the homebuyer drunkenly crawls out of its hole, seeing its shadow and waiting another six weeks before getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

Fortunately, my wife and I narrowly avoided this fate, with a closing scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, two weeks short of a year from when we began selling. If everything goes according to plan, our long-vacant albatross will finally be hung around somebody else’s neck. I mean that in the nicest way, of course, and honestly, I don’t even know how you hang an albatross, what with all the wing flapping and carrying on that would likely ensue. Regardless, if everything doesn’t go according to plan, please be advised that my next column may be a Caps Locked expletive repeated 650 times.

They call it “closing” because “closing the most stressful chapter of your life” takes up too much space on the paperwork. This will likely be the last closing I’ll ever attend, because if we ever have to move again, I think we’ll just peel out of the driveway in the moving truck with the house ablaze behind us.

If you’ve never been to a closing, it’s really an interesting display of civic pride. Pretty much the entire community shows up to ensure, in the spirit of brotherhood and fellowship, that every last cent has been whittled off your hide. You could walk through the monkey cage at the zoo with bunches of bananas in your pants and you would have fewer hands in your pockets than you do at a closing. Representatives of the real estate companies, the title company, the lending companies, Uncle Sam, Danny Bonaduce and his mom all show up to get their cut. Even so, we’re thrilled to have gotten this far along in what has been a gut-wrenching process, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to jinx it all by writing about it before the deed, as it were, is done.

When one of my co-workers found out that we had finally gotten a closing date, she asked, “Do you have any pointers on selling a house? We’ve been trying for a few months now.”

You’d think that with nearly a year of experience, I might have had something worthwhile to tell her. After all, while selling a house in this market is difficult, selling a house with only one bathroom is even more difficult, especially when that bathroom would easily lose a playground fight with a broom closet.

After mulling over every lesson I’d learned in the past year, I said, “Is burning it down an option?” OK, not really. My real advice was to drop the price, whatever it was.

“What about refinishing the floors?” she asked.

“Drop the price.”

“Baking cookies before an open house?”

“Drop the price.”

Of course, even dropping the price doesn’t always help. Until balloon season rolls around again, though, the best option is probably the inflatable dude with the waggling arms.

You can pop Mike Todd’s balloon at

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday electricity in the air (but not the bulbs)

As my wife Kara and I pulled our musty Christmas decorations out of their giant Tupperware sarcophagus last week, we found light strands so tangled that they resembled the way, given a piece of construction paper and a crayon, a small child might depict a plate of spaghetti. It reminded me of the old adage about wrestling with pigs: when you wrestle with Christmas lights, you both get knotted up, but the Christmas lights enjoy it.

Just as I was about to ask Kara if she had given up halfway through an attempt to knit me a sweater out of the lights, I remembered the last time I had seen them, about a year ago, when I indiscriminately balled up the cords and chucked them into the storage crate, rushing to get back to making absolutely sure that, as the man of the house, all the zombies in the PlayStation2 had been properly beheaded, thinking, “Eh well, I’ll deal with the lights next year.”

Last Year Me is always doing things to make life harder for This Year Me, like making little to no effort to solve the ever-worsening Bald Spot Dilemma and buying stock in companies whose executive leadership now spends much of its time making license plates and trying not to drop the soap.

As Kara worked to untangle the lights, I set about the much easier task of assembling our artificial pre-lit Christmas tree. Fresh cut trees have some things going for them, but you have to buy a new one every year. An artificial tree stays with you forever, like your first kiss or your creditors.

When I plugged our tree in, about three percent of the lights came on. If the world was a fair place, the overhead lights at the factory where they make Christmas light strands would work just like the strands themselves. A bulb would burn out in the second floor men's room, plunging the whole factory into darkness. The workers would go around with flashlights in their teeth, testing every bulb in the place until they ultimately concluded that the entire factory needed to be replaced.

After countless attempts to reason with the lights, we decided that the only way to get the tree working again would be to replace every non-working bulb. We went out and bought a cheap strand, intending to rip out its parts and patch up our tree like Frankenstein’s monster. As I removed the new lights from the box, I noticed this warning attached to the cord: “Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”

Nothing gets me more in the Christmas spirit than exposure to known carcinogens. Luckily, I don’t live in California, so I’m probably immune, but it just seems a little rude that California wouldn’t tell all the other states. You’d think it would be neighborly to at least mention it to Nevada.

Even though the other states haven’t quite made up their minds about whether or not lead should be sprinkled over your breakfast cereal, it might be a good idea to go ahead and take bacon, lead chip and tomato sandwiches off the menu. Besides, we really shouldn’t be wasting all that lead when Mattel still has so many more toys to make. It wouldn’t be fair to the kids.

In the end, our tree refused to light up even after we’d spent an hour transplanting bulbs over from the new cord. The tree just sat there, dark and glum, taunting us with its few functional lights. The good news is that it is now even more obvious that Kara is the light of my life. None of the other ones work.

You can play reindeer games (like Monopoly) with Mike Todd at

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dodging the Christmas Cat

Over Thanksgiving dinner last week, my wife Kara got caught giving me the Signal.

The Signal is a special smile that she reserves just for me, a smile that she sneaks across crowded dinner tables to deliver a message that is to be received discreetly, lest some unsuspecting diner intercept the communication and conclude that Kara is improperly signaling to someone other than her husband the desire to have answered that most intimate of questions: “Do I have anything in my teeth?”

We’ve developed a system that allows me to reply using a series of hand signals, like I’m her third base coach. I’ll point to my left to let her know that she should start her search to the right of center. Before I could wave Kara home last week, though, my sister-in-law’s boyfriend Brad said, “What are you guys doing?”

Brad is in his first year of dental school, so he’s especially attuned to matters of the mouth. We shouldn’t have been so careless. It’s like we were trying to embezzle in front of an accounting major.

While Brad’s official dental education has just begun, he can already throw around words like buccal and occlude, making him the most knowledgeable dental person I’ve ever seen without an appointment. He spent a good chunk of the weekend rotating around a 3-D model of the human mouth on his laptop, presumably because he didn’t have Warcraft III installed.

A perk of being in dental school, besides getting to participate in spirited debates with proctology students over which end is better, is that industry reps shower budding dentists with free oral care products. Brad gets all sorts of free stuff from dental industry reps, making him a really good person to know if you, like many people I know, use toothpaste.

The dental theme also makes Christmas presents from Brad way less scary than presents from my sister, Lindsay Lohan* (name changed to generate more web hits). She recently moved into a Manhattan apartment with her significant other, with each of them bringing enough cats to start a feline Brady Bunch. The kitty territory wars began shortly thereafter. Lindsay Lohan has been trying to unload her field general on various family members ever since.

“Hey, Buddy, can I ask you something?” she’ll ask.

“Dude, I don’t want the cat,” I’ll respond.

“Think it over. I have to go call Mom now,” she’ll say. Lindsay Lohan’s a lawyer, so it’s only a matter of time before she cracks one of us. Until then, the joke around the family is that Lindsay Lohan is going to show up for Christmas bearing a large meowing gift box with airholes in the side.

With Brad, though, you don’t have to worry that his presents will shred your couch and soak your carpet. It is much more likely that they will leave you feeling minty fresh.

When he intercepted the Signal, I said, “Sorry, we were trying to be sneaky. Kara wanted me to check her teeth.”

My sister-in-law Sarah said, “I can’t understand Brad’s directions when I have something in my teeth. He’s always like, ‘You have something stuck between numbers six and seven.’ I don’t know what numbers my teeth are.”

Brad said, “You can count them with your tongue. They go from one to sixteen on top and seventeen to thirty-two on the bottom,” confirming my previously held suspicion that the average human head contained somewhere between twenty and forty teeth.

Really, Brad’s system was much better than the hunt-and-pick method Kara and I had developed, and it was nice to hang around with someone who was learning actual useful skills. If I were Brad, though, I’d be spending a lot of sleepless nights deciding what I’d do when the time finally came and I had to make a yes or no call on Trident. If you voted your conscience and went the wrong way, would the other 80% of dentists still hang out with you?

You can punch Mike Todd right in the number eight at

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Way off baseboard

As the furnace man packed up to leave yesterday after a routine maintenance appointment, I asked him if there was anything he might be able to do about the baseboards clanking in our bedroom. Since the weather turned cold, my wife Kara and I have been trying to sleep in the acoustic equivalent of a steel mill.

“Oh, that’s just thermal expansion,” he said, shrugging. It was the same way a doctor might say, “Oh, that’s just a little cold,” indicating that you’ll be doing without the fistful of antibiotics you’d been hoping for.

I guess thermal expansion is just something you have to learn to live with, like bunions and neoconservatives. Kara and I are both light sleepers, by virtue of the fact that she is a light sleeper and an adept shin kicker. The clanking of the baseboards never fails to wake her, reflexively launching her heat-seeking foot in my direction and ending my recurring dream of being an apprentice blacksmith. If we keep going on like this, it could be ages before I get my own anvil.

I guess if we had to look at the bright side, you never know when baseboards are going to start making a racket in the middle of the night, which probably makes them excellent training for having kids.

We spent sixty bucks on a sound machine at Brookstone, the store in the mall where currency is converted into vibrating chairs, tiny useless sandboxes and CD-playing golf bags. The box said that the machine was designed for infants by a real live doctor with a stethoscope and everything. Of all the sounds it made, Kara’s favorite was the one that simulated riding in a car. That sealed the deal for us. Automobile engines are like Valium to her. I haven’t taken a road trip with a conscious passenger in four years.

Now when we go to sleep, it sounds like we’re driving through a steel mill. My dreams usually involve swerving to avoid falling girders. It’s all very relaxing.

Of course, none of this will matter over the Thanksgiving holiday, as we’ll be taking our show on the road, spending time with family, reaching new heights of gluttony and contributing to the whole affair with the best thing we know how to cook, which is a bottle of wine.

It’s important to pick the right wine for a large family gathering. Oenophiles (which are people who like wine, not people who shouldn’t be left alone with your oens) already know that there are two basic kinds of wine: bottled and boxed. Sure, bottles are classier and don’t require Dixie cups since you can drink directly out of the container, but a lot of people don’t realize that once a box of wine is about halfway kicked, you can rip it open and drink directly from the foil pouch inside like it’s a giant Capri Sun.

Nobody even drank wine until the movie ‘Sideways” came out a few years ago. It’s pretty silly that the movie had any influence at all, considering that it romantically paired Paul Giamatti with Virginia Madsen. In the real world, you’d be more likely to see a hobbit fleeing a horde of Uruk-hai through Bed, Bath and Beyond than a pairing with a point spread like that.

For this Thanksgiving, one in which we’re fortunate enough to have both of our families getting together, we’ll probably bring a bottle of Cabernet, though we’re not fancy enough to know the proper way to swish it around and declare that is has a nutty bouquet with a floral, almost bodacious finish. Besides, we know my parents like that kind, since they’re the ones who gave us the bottle in the first place.

You can help Mike Todd get the cranberry sauce out of the can at

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The highlights of winter

Last week, my mom highlighted her hair, then decided to exercise some futility by sitting at the dinner table with Dad, waiting to see how long it would take him to notice. Of course, the man was more likely to spontaneously combust.

After a few minutes of polite conversation, Mom finally gave up and said, “My hair was brown this morning and now it’s blonde.”

“Oh, and it looks good!” he said, realizing he’d failed an exam he didn’t know he was taking.

“Would you even notice if I was sitting here naked?” Mom asked.

“Sounds like an interesting experiment,” Dad replied.

I know about this conversation because they described it to me after I called to tell them that I’d just returned from purchasing the best snowblower in the universe. I can always count on my parents to feign interest when I feel the need to regale someone with tales of exploits in lawn and gardenry. Of course, you wouldn’t normally apply a snowblower to either your lawn or your garden, at least not on purpose, but that’s still the section of the store where you find them.

Standing there with my hands on the controls of the floor model, a machine that had enough horsepower to send the snow back from whence it came, I wanted to make that simian “Arrr Arrrh Arrrh” sound Tim Allen used to make in the show “Home Improvement,” before he headed off to a useful career of warning people about which movies were terrible by being in them.

“Dude, it has a headlight,” my wife Kara said approvingly. She was already having visions of drinking hot cocoa by the window, watching the snow magically disappear off the driveway as the three-year-old price tag dangled from her snow shovel in the garage.

Kara would tell you that the previous sentence is a gross misrepresentation of the truth, that she has done plenty of snow shoveling, especially that time that it snowed a foot while I was away on business and she shoveled for hours just to clear me a parking spot. That is, if she had a newspaper column. But she doesn’t, so we’ll just have to take my word.

Now that we’re prepared with a machine that will probably remove at least one of my digits during its lifetime, we probably won’t get any snow at all this winter. Who knows about the weather anymore? At least it’s already gotten a little chilly out. Last year, our Thanksgiving gravy needed to be SPF 15.

As excited as I am about ending the relationship with my snow shovel (I just felt like I was doing all the work), I do have reservations about bringing another piece of complicated doodaddery into my life. The other ones already constitute enough of a destabilizing force in our house.

Since moving to our new place, we’ve noticed that our cellphone coverage hearkens to a simpler time, before the invention of cell towers, back when gas was cheap and you could drive around flipping people the bird all day long without a thought to your personal safety. Our house is where cell signals go to die, if they show up at all.

Sitting with my phone beside me, silent, all day, it will buzz all of a sudden to alert me that I have a new voicemail.

“That’s funny, I would have expected perhaps some sort of ringing sound to signify an incoming call,” I will say.

But the service will be too poor to pick up the voicemail. The phone will say this: “You have one new voicemail. Message one: ‘Hey, Mike, this is crrkrkrkrk, I juscrkkrkrr important that you knew crkrcrrckr is dead.”

Several minutes later, Kara will walk by the doorway to find me kneeling over the phone, trying to find a neck on it to strangle.

“Your hair looks nice,” I will say, just to be safe.

You can pass the gravy to Mike Todd at

Sunday, November 11, 2007

When real estate gets too real

The regular reader(s) of this column might remember that my wife Kara and I have been maintaining an involuntary weekend home since July, when we moved into a new place under the starry-eyed notion that selling our first house couldn’t possibly be that hard. People on HGTV never failed to do it within thirty minutes.

We found the reality of home selling to be much more grueling, a months-long roller coaster ride that turned us upside down, making us nauseous and shaking a good deal of change out of our pockets.

If Donald Rumsfeld had gone into real estate, he might have noted that you sell your house in the market you have, not the market you might want or wish to have. And so it had been with us. The Market turned into a big hairy beast that lurked in the basement, lunging out at prospective buyers.

“Aaaah!” they screamed as they ran out the door. “The Market almost got us!”

So we did what we had to do, lowering the price every month or so while embarking on a strict regimen of blaming our real estate agent for the economy.

After countless iterations of this process, we seem to have finally dropped the price low enough to mute the howls of the basement-dwelling Market. We’re now moving towards a closing date with a buyer who seems like an agreeable person. I say this without ever having met her, of course. While real estate transactions involve so much back-and-forth that they stop just short of putting the sellers and buyers in a jar and shaking them up to see if they’ll fight, they also require all communications to go through more middlemen than the announcement of a middle school crush.

“Ohmigod, Paula told her agent to tell your agent to tell you that your living room is, like, sooo cute. Also, you need to knock another 15k off your asking price.”

So after seemingly infinite near misses, it looks like we might finally be relinquishing our status as a single-family double-house household, though discussing this topic before the closing date seems a bit like talking to the pitcher during a no-hitter. Still, it’s tough to think about anything else when you’ve had two mortgages bearing down on you every month, coming in from the right and the left like charging sumo wrestlers, sandwiching your bank account between sweat and jiggles.

It’ll be nice to worry about normal things for this time of year, like whether to change all the clocks in the house or just wait five months for them to be right again. Or whether it’s good enough just to chop up all of the leaves in the yard with the lawnmower rather than busting out a rake, even though it seems like all I’m doing out there is making a giant leaf margarita. Or how a leaf blower turns an average guy into Magneto, commanding the leaves to do his bidding with a flick of his wrist. (If you don’t know who Magneto is, you can find some consolation in the fact that you probably had dates in high school.)

When you don’t have to pay two mortgages, I bet when the new Jordin Sparks song comes on the radio, continually singing the lyrics, “You’re on my heart just like a tattoo,” you’re not too preoccupied with interest rates to think, “Really? A tattoo on your heart? I’d think your average cardiothoracic surgeon would advise against such a procedure.”

But that’s all hypothetical for now. There’s still a fair chance that the looming specter of shoveling two driveways could become a reality. Not much to do now but sit back, wait and drop hints that Guitar Hero III would make an excellent Christmas present.

You can offer Mike Todd a top shelf leaf margarita online at

Monday, November 05, 2007

No cover charge at the Bada Bing

Did you know that libraries still exist? I had no idea. Most suburban roadsides consist entirely of endless strings of Borders and Barnes and Noble stores, punctuated by the occasional Starbucks or dead opossum, so I just figured that the library system collapsed after I forgot to return my copy of “Hardy Boys: Mystery of the Aztec Warrior” in the fifth grade.

But libraries are still holding on strong, despite the fact that, given the choice between free and not free, we have, as a society, apparently chosen not free.

My interest in the library system was recently renewed when my wife Kara brought home season four of the Sopranos on DVD. For free. The whole season. If you’ve ever seen the DVD sets for sale, you know that they’re normally so expensive that a normal person, in order to raise enough capital to make a purchase possible, has to embark on a strict schedule of extorting small business owners.

We’ve since discovered that the local library is just like a free version of Blockbuster, but without the palpable sense of impending corporate doom. Poor Blockbuster. It’s like the neighbor’s arthritic old dog. You feel kind of bad for it, but what can you do? You have to cling to those old memories of paying five bucks to keep “Minority Report” for an extra few hours to make you feel better about its imminent demise.

When I told my buddy Rob that Kara and I had kicked season four of the Sopranos in a fevered and slothful bid to finish every episode before the due date, and that we’d just received notification that season five was ready to be picked up, he said, “Aw, man, you’re so lucky. You guys are about to watch some of the best TV ever created. I wish I could go back and watch it for the first time again.”

You’d be forgiven for expecting the most meaningful television show ever filmed to contain Elizabethan costumes or philosophical dissertations from people sitting in leather chairs. Luckily for us all, though, it appears that the ultimate cultural experience of our generation is mostly comprised of people in nylon jumpsuits wailing on other people with shovels.

I especially empathized with a scene in season four in which one of the characters accidentally sat on a dog and smothered it to death. Except for the heroin-induced stupor that caused the accident, I could identify.

A couple of years ago, I joined Kara on the couch to watch a Law and Order rerun ripped straight from the headlines of 1994. I plunked down on a pile of blankets at her feet. After a couple of minutes, I noticed some movement underneath me.

“Babe, am I sitting on your toes?” I asked.

“No,” she said, wiggling her feet under the blanket next to me.

I shot off the couch and reached into the quilt I’d been sitting on, pulling out a mussed-up and exhausted ferret.

Chopper looked at me with eyes that said, “Dude, seriously, that was so uncool.”

I had broken the central tenet of pet ownership: pets freely offer you all of their unconditional love and bowel movements, and in return, all they ask is that you give them food and water, and that you do your very best not to smother them with your derriere.

To make amends, I gave him a fingerful of peanut butter, to which he responded in the same way Popeye would have responded to a can of spinach, returning immediately to his charming and semi-continent self. You could almost hear the “Popeye the Sailor Man” theme song playing as he finished the peanut butter and started running around the house again. I haven’t sat on a blanket since, and Chopper seems to have forgiven me. At the very least, he hasn’t gotten me whacked yet.

Your email can sleep with the fishes in Mike Todd’s inbox at

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Something fishy in Philadelphia

Last Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to head out for our buddy Iball’s bachelor party in Philly, my friend Josh called me to say, “You’re the cheapest guy I know, and tonight we’re going to the most expensive restaurant I know. I wonder if the world will explode when you walk through the doors.”

“Wait a minute, I thought this was just a little sushi place,” I said.

“We’re going to Morimoto, not Long John Silver’s. You might want to stop at Wawa on the way and get a meatball shorti so you don’t starve.”

It had all seemed innocent enough, clicking the “Yes” button on the Evite for the party. We weren’t flying to Vegas, just having a simple night out on the town in Philly. For the record, if you think “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” when you see the word “Evite,” you probably don’t get invited to too many events via the internet.

That evening, twelve of us descended on Morimoto, with those traveling in my car taking an enjoyable, if obscenity-filled, detour into New Jersey first.

“Why are we on the bridge? Who said to take 76 East? Oh, man, why does this always happen?” I moaned. Stadiums have been built in Philly with the toll dollars collected from our accidental forays into Jersey. The earliest settlers in New Jersey probably got lost on their way to a concert and just didn’t feel like paying the three bucks to get back into Philly.

When we finally got to the restaurant, we found that it was stylish and carefully lit, the kind of place where you’d expect to see famous people that you wouldn’t really care about seeing, like Nick Nolte or Louis Anderson. I quietly stared at the menu, pretending that I was considering ordering something other than a California roll, the second-cheapest thing on the menu behind salted beans. Then one of Iball’s friends said, “Hey, this omakase dish sounds really good.”

I glanced at the menu and saw the description for omakase: “Blah fish something blah. $80, $100 or $120 and up per person.”

When I looked back up to share a good laugh with the guy, I realized with horror that he was serious. I leaned over to Josh and said, “Dude, 80 to 120 bucks? I hope ‘omakase’ is Japanese for ‘Eagles tickets.’”

After we’d had enough food and drink to outspend the Defense Department for the evening, the waitress brought out a small plate with a single candle and a marble-sized black thing on it, setting it in front of Iball.

“This is a red snapper eye,” she said. “It’s considered a delicacy.” The use of passive voice allowed her to avoid the issue altogether of who, exactly, considers fish eyeballs to be nature’s Bon-Bons. The word “delicacy” is often applied to things that other people seem to be trying to get rid of.

Alanis Morisette ruined the word ironic many years ago, but if she hadn’t, that might have been a decent word with which to describe the scene of Iball looking down at the eyeball on his plate looking back up at him. It should be noted that Iball’s nickname gets its derivation not from any particular affinity for eyeballs themselves, but because his initials are I.B., and Iball sounds cooler than Ibuprofen. In any event, we’ll probably pick a different restaurant when our buddy Lower Intestine gets married.

When the bill came, we all threw in enough cash to pomp a homecoming float. The mountain of twenties grew on top of the table, its avalanches making entire dinner plates disappear. After counting our contributions, our elected accountant looked up and uttered words I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime: “Dudes, we’re still $700 short.”

Our table briefly turned into a reasonable approximation of the New York Stock Exchange. We eventually made it out of there alive and in relatively good spirits, though we all carried freshly filleted wallets.

You can join Mike Todd for an extra value meal at

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thirty and full of hot air

Sure, I may have turned thirty last Saturday, but if you subtract all the time I've spent sleeping or playing Warcraft III, I'm really only about four years old. Even so, the round birthdays are the most traumatic, a tradition that begins with birthday number zero, when you have to learn how to breathe air and your gills stop working.

Thirty is a sneaky little birthday. It takes forever to turn twenty-one, then you watch a few Seinfeld reruns and BANG! Thirty catches you. Time to buy some sensible shoes.

Some of my buddies are having a tough time getting their heads around the idea of turning thirty. We’ve all felt the weight, real or imagined, of other people’s expectations of us at this point in our lives. In regards to measuring up, though, things should be pretty smooth from here on out. Nobody expects anything more of a thirty-six year-old than they do of a thirty year-old, except maybe longer nose hair.

My wife Kara did her best to put me in the clouds on this daunting birthday. At about 5:45am, a time that previously existed to me only in folk tales, she shook my shoulder and said, “I’m going to take a shower and get dressed now.”

“Mmph. Whatever,” I said, relieved that the news didn’t affect me.

“Then you’re going to get up, take a shower and put on some warm clothes,” she replied.

“That’s a good one,” I mumbled. An hour later, we were taking our first hot air balloon ride. When you’re on the ground watching a balloon, you don’t quite get the same sense of how powerful those burners really are. Man, what I could have done with one of those things when I was twelve.

Floating above the countryside at sunrise is really much more peaceful than it should be, given that your life is depending on the tensile strength of cables thinner than your shoelaces.

“See those big round hay bails down there? Those are illegal now,” our balloonist told us. We’d never met a balloonist before, but if this one was any indication, they are very pleasant people. He had an excellent balloonside manner.

“Why’s that?” Kara asked.

“The cows weren’t getting square meals,” he replied. We’d drifted another mile before we got the joke. Our senses of humor don’t click on until about noon.

So now that I’ve climbed a good deal higher up the Great Pyramid of Geezer, I feel that it’s my duty to share everything that I’ve learned so far in life with our younger readers. Here is the list, in its entirety:

1. "Quart" is short for "quarter of a gallon."

2. If you walk around the mall wearing a Bluetooth earpiece when you’re not even talking to anyone, there may very well be no hope for you.

So there it is, the accumulated wisdom of thirty years. In case there is any doubt, I’m qualified to share this knowledge by the dozens of gray hairs multiplying just above my ears. Everyone loves to say that gray hair makes a man look distinguished, but I really don’t have a problem with remaining as indistinguished as possible. At least my forehead is still charitable enough to offer me the occasional zit.

As I ponder the finer points of growing older, like the most effective way to shake one’s fist when hollering, “Get off my lawn!”, it makes me feel a little better to know that the milk I put in the fridge when I was in my twenties will still be good on the cereal I eat for dinner tonight.

My thirties have gotten off to a good start, thanks in no small part to support of friends and family. For example, here is a birthday email I just received from my sister-in-law Sarah: “HAPPPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR MIIIIIIIIIIIIKE, I’M SOOOOO MUCH YOUNGER THAN YOU.”

You can chug Metamucil with Mike Todd at

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A pick-your-own adventure

There may come a time in your life when your significant other decides that you need to buy a wheelbarrow’s worth of apples, and that you should spend a weekend afternoon picking these apples yourself. Never mind that, ordinarily, you eat about an apple a month, and that the grocery store very nearby tends to stock plenty of exotic fruits, often including the rare and elusive apple itself.

If you have any sense at all, you will agree to this plan enthusiastically, because you learned long ago that maintaining marital harmony regularly involves the subjugation of logic.

This is how my wife Kara and I ended up heading out to the country last weekend on an apple-picking expedition, from which only one of us returned. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We both returned, but our cash didn’t.

Apple picking sounded like such a peaceful thing to do. I pictured a quiet country orchard with birds chirping overhead as a farmer in a straw hat greeted us with a friendly wave from his rocking chair. The countryside would be bucolic, also, because that’s how countrysides have to be described, even though bucolic to me sounds more like a breed of plow animal or something babies catch.

As we pulled into the dusty driveway, instead of a farmer, we were greeted by a parking lot attendant in an orange reflector vest waving at us with air-traffic-controller glowsticks. This place was like Six Flags Apple Adventure. As we made our way around the cars and wandered up to the front gate, we saw a huge snaking line stretching back from a multi-windowed ticket booth. Before entering the orchard, you had to buy a general admission ticket.

“Dude, there’s a cover charge?” I asked.

Cover charges give me hives. I can think of lots of things I’d rather do with my money than pay a cover charge, like running it through a food processor or donating it to pediatric Botox research.

One Saturday night at Penn State many years back, my buddy Derek and I waited in line for half an hour to get into a crowded bar. When we finally got to the front of the line, the bouncer announced that there was a five-dollar cover. In the Land of the Poor College Student, cover charges were rarely more than a couple of bucks.

Derek looked at the bouncer incredulously.

“Who’s playing in there, the Beatles?” he asked.

The Beatles weren’t playing at the orchard that day, but it did have a band, a corn maze, a petting zoo, a theme park, a haunted house and, as an afterthought, apples. After forking over the cover charge, we proceeded with the throngs to the bag-purchasing hut, where we paid twelve bucks for an empty bag. That felt kind of strange. Usually, when you pay twelve dollars for a plastic bag, it has twelve dollars worth of stuff in it.

Once we got away from the crowds and strolled among the apple trees, though, I began to understand why apple picking attracts so many people. It’s just pleasant to wander through the orchard, tasting the different kinds of apples and trying not to think about the fact that you had, just moments ago, been petting a donkey with the same hands that you were now eating out of.

On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some ingredients to make apple crisp. As we walked through the produce aisle, it didn’t escape my notice that the store had a giant display of pre-bagged apples for ninety-nine cents a bag. Sure, apples may have been a tenth of the cost at the grocery store, but you didn’t have to earn those apples. You only truly appreciate your produce when you’ve paid for the privilege of picking it.

You can run Mike Todd through your cider press at

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Forming the perfect solution

As my wife’s cousin Shawn and his new wife Funda emerged from the church last weekend to bubbles, bell ringing and cheering, they graciously obliged the crowd by posing next to the church sign for a few pictures. After several clicks and beeps, they realized that people were laughing at a joke that they didn’t understand. Slowly, Shawn and Funda looked over their shoulders to see these words written on the board behind them: “Will I still be happy tomorrow with the decisions I’ve made today?”

Given their remarkable ability to put a wedding together in two months without a single charge of aggravated assault, I think they’re certainly off to a good start. In case you’ve never seen one, a wedding that’s planned in two months looks nearly identical to a wedding that’s planned over the course of a year, except everyone involved has this sly look like they just pulled an all-nighter and aced the test.

The wedding was held in the town of North East, Pennsylvania, which is, of course, in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, just outside of Erie and beside Lake Misleadingly Named, which, as the locals will tell you, is a mountain. Northwest PA is much further away than northeast PA. Until you have to drive lengthwise across Pennsylvania, you’d be forgiven for thinking of it as a fairly small state, like Delaware’s big brother. Six hours in, though, Pennsylvania feels a lot more like Nebraska’s obese cousin. I think Pennsylvania stole half of Ohio when nobody was looking.

I did my best to become Shawn’s obese cousin-in-law at the reception, as I parked myself beside the dessert table and wolfed down handfuls of peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s Kisses plunked on top.

“Dude, these cookies are money,” I said to a passing cousin.

“You mean the Mongolian hats?” he said.

I’d never heard them called that before. Those cookies really do look like little Mongolian hats. At least as far as I know. If I’m being completely honest, my knowledge of far-Eastern haberdashery probably isn’t what it should be.

The maid of honor kicked off the toast-giving. “The man is the head of the household,” she said, confirming my long-held belief that she has never been to my house. Then she continued, “But the woman is the neck. And she turns the head whichever way she wants.”

Shawn then did something completely crazy: he got up to give a toast himself. He didn’t realize that a groom’s only job at the wedding is to provide a body to hold the tux up.

“In the song Hearts and Bones, which we quoted on the invitation to this wedding, Paul Simon sang, ‘You take two bodies and you twirl them into one. Their hearts and their bones. And they won't come undone,’” Shawn said. “But Paul Simon isn’t a polymer scientist. In order for two materials to remain bonded permanently in a homogeneous solution, they must be perfectly miscible.”

Shawn and Funda are both doctoral polymer scientists, which means that only they truly know whether their bonds of marriage are ionic or covalent. Either way, Shawn is most definitely the first person I’ve ever seen describe the union with his spouse via the Gibbs free energy equation. He deserves special credit for tying the temperature variable in the equation to his wife’s hotness. Shortly after that, he started ruminating on enthalpy and Delta H, which as far as I know is an ointment for a very personal condition.

“Is there going to be a test?” someone called out. Shawn’s new wife grabbed the microphone, telling a quick story of her own and ending the toast-giving portion of the proceedings.

Kara doesn’t like it when I ruminate in public, either. “Will you please go to the bathroom if you’re going to ruminate like that?” she tells me.

You can email Mike Todd in sickness and in health at

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Those who live by the paddle…

In my vast three years of marital experience, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you must consider your partner’s daily victories and losses to be no different from your own, which is why it’s always a little bittersweet for me when I cream my wife Kara in ping pong. After each game, I always make a special point to empathize with her, gently inquiring to see how she’s feeling. “Boo-yah! How’d you like that, Woman?” I’ll ask, sensitively.

Ever since her parents graciously gave us a ping pong table to celebrate our emancipation from grad school, Kara and I have spent the better part of our waking lives down in our unfinished basement, smacking a little ball at each other and inhaling massive quantities of fiberglass insulation particles. The air down there is so thick with insulation that, after a few games, your nose and throat begin to feel as if you’ve just snorted an entire Pink Panther.

Before we got the table, which came in a box so large that I thought Kara had gone online and ordered us a mid-market condominium, the most meaningful rivalry of my life had been against my buddy Josh on Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for Super Nintendo. We’d yell and scream and throw our controllers on the floor and at each other. Of course it was a stupid thing to get so excited about, but you shouldn’t judge us unless you’ve experienced for yourself the joy of ripping off your friend’s head with his spine still attached.

While Kara and I haven’t achieved quite the same level of violence on the ping pong table, the scores of our games are getting uncomfortably close.

“I’m really sick of losing,” she complained last night after I delivered one of my patented topspin Dream Crushers™. But she’s getting better so quickly that I can feel my days as household ping pong champ coming to a close. I tried to encourage her, telling her that if our ping-pong rivalry was made into a movie, we wouldn’t be at the end yet; the synthesizer music would just be cuing up for the training montage.

“If this was Rocky IV, you’d be in Siberia chopping down trees and running through knee-deep snow right now,” I told her. “We haven’t gotten to the part where you come from behind and knock me senseless in the fifteenth round while the Soviet crowd chants your name.”

I didn’t dampen her hopes by telling her that her euphoria will turn out to be short-lived, as during our fight she will have sustained such massive brain injuries that she will decide making Rocky V sounds like a good idea.

For now, though, her training goes on and our scores continue to converge. Our rivalry is likely to soon become one for the history books, like Red Sox vs. Yankees or Autobots vs. Decepticons. Before too long, we might even be able to start a game on a point that I win. Score keeping officially begins (retroactively) after Kara wins a point, and we have to keep playing until she slams one in my face, preferably leaving a welt. These have become the house rules, though I sure don’t remember ratifying them.

We have become especially good at delivering welts to one another. I’ve found that when it comes to minor skin contusions, it is far better to give than to receive.

Last night, Kara said, “Nine to thirteen,” just before she served, and I was thrown off for a moment. After I thought about it briefly, I realized what had happened. It turns out that she was just reciting the score, not estimating the number of toilet paper rolls she goes through in a week.

You can send a ping-pong paddle up a creek to Mike Todd at

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The call of the semi-wild

My wife Kara and I are camping posers. We talk a good game, but when it comes right down to it, we spend less time in the woods than your average rhinestone-collared Chihuahua. The problem is that we have a bed with our very own toilet nearby. When you have a sweet arrangement like that, you sometimes lose track of how much you enjoy strapping a flashlight to your head and sleeping on roots.

When our buddy Jeff invited us to go camping at a local state park with some of his friends from college last weekend, we realized just how long it had been since we’d shaken the dust off of the tent, which, in all seriousness, is not a euphemism.

So we scrounged around the basement to find all our old camping stuff and rediscovered that we actually still qualify as bona fide campers, if only on the basis of the sheer quantity of Nalgene bottles that we own. The ubiquitous and bulletproof Nalgene water bottle can actually be run over with a car and remain unscathed, which gives campers the peace of mind that they could be identified by their Nalgene bottles if their dental records don’t work out. When you go camping, each Nalgene bottle you bring is a member of your entourage. The bigger the entourage you command, the more respect you get in the “club,” where the “club” is the area around the outdoor sink in which you wash the marshmallow off your face.

You might not know this if you’ve never experienced it for yourself, but camping in a state park on a Saturday night near a major metropolitan area is every bit as relaxing and serene as pitching a tent, crawling into your sleeping bag and curling up to sleep on the shoulder of I-95. Every campsite was filled with drunken partiers, screaming children or some combination thereof. Medium-sized carnivals have traveled with fewer tents than most of those families. At night, as the tiki torches came out, the chatter echoed off the tress and the fires blazed in all directions, it felt as though we’d wandered into an Ewok village on the eve of some great festival.

Of course, none of that really matters when you’re concentrating on making the perfect s’more. Kara takes great pride in her marshmallow craftsmanship. If she ever hosted “30 Minute Meals,” her episode on cooking s’mores would end with a “to be continued…” Really, I think people who spend that much time cooking their marshmallows are just looking for a socially acceptable way to manifest their exhibitionist tendencies.

“Oooh, look at this one, all perfect and golden-brown” they say, waving their marshmallows around for the whole world to see.

I just don’t have that kind of patience. I prefer to employ the “sugary ball of fire” method to cooking marshmallows. It’s more of a S’mores Foster approach. In the seconds before I scarf them down, you could use my flaming marshmallows to spelunk or, should the opportunity arise, weld bridge joints.

Going camping again also afforded us the opportunity to bust out our trusty old Therm-a-Rest inflatable camping mattresses. I’ve had the same pair of orange Therm-a-Rests since I was twelve, and they have seen tougher duty than most pro wrestlers’ underpants. They’ve never even needed a patch. After the apocalypse, all that will be left in the world are Therm-a-Rests, cockroaches and Dick Cheney. You know, because he was expecting it.

Despite the multi-lingual fight that broke out inches from our tent at two in the morning, the night’s rest was actually quite pleasant, thanks in no small part to the dedication of the park staff in leaving the “No Alcohol” policy completely unenforced. Sometimes, the only way to sleep through all-night whiskey-soaked hollering is to wear your own Miller Lite earmuffs.

It was good to get out in the woods again, even if we didn’t exactly commune with nature. And say what you will about state parks, but the bathrooms are always freshly stocked. At no point in the weekend did we even come close to running out of daddy longlegs.

You can smoosh Mike Todd between some graham crackers at

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Serendipity ain't just a movie my wife hates

About a month ago, somebody littered a sauna in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, with a paper that runs my column. An editor from the Chestnut Hill Local came in to catch a steam and, due to the disorienting effects of the heat and the foggy conditions that made it difficult to actually read the words on the page, he liked what he saw. They've run a few of my columns so far, but this one is by far the coolest (it has pictures and what not):

So thank you, inconsiderate litterbug at LA Fitness. And the Chesnut Hill Local folks, of course. You guys are cool on purpose.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Couches of Fire

Last Saturday, I survived my first marathon. It took nearly all day to reach the finish line, but the important thing about getting through a marathon isn’t really getting to the end first, but getting there at all. Any true marathoner will tell you that your only real competition is yourself, which works out well, because there’s no way you’re catching those dudes from Kenya.

In fairness to the people who run the full 26.2-mile events, I should probably mention that this particular marathon wasn’t a traditional “race” involving things like “running” and “loss of bladder control,” but more of a day-long marathon of America’s Next Top Model on MTV. Still, that didn’t make it any less grueling.

My wife Kara had one of her friends and her little sister up to our place for the weekend, and our plans to go hiking had been foiled by the weather forecast. We quickly adapted, parking ourselves on the couch for so long that we had to call the neighbors occasionally to come in and roll us over to help keep the bedsores at bay. We became so useless that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we showed up in the next Pottery Barn catalog. At one point, a three-toed sloth climbed up a tree outside the living room window, looked in and said, “Dang, they move so slowly. I’d hardly be able to tell that they’re alive if it weren’t for the blinking and the pretzels.”

The marathon lasted from early afternoon until midnight. One hour led right into the next nearly identical hour. It was like Groundhog Day. You’d think a show about gorgeous women trying to prove their sexiness would be entertaining, and for the majority of the people in our house that day it sure seemed to be, but somehow it just gave me the feeling that the Cretaceous Period would have been easier to sit through.

One of the judges on the show was Janice Dickinson, a former supermodel whose face has seen more injection molding than your average Hasbro factory. The only expression she can still make is one of complete surprise, like that’s the kabuki mask they gave her. In her defense, though, after all the work she’s had done, she still looks surprisingly reminiscent of a humanoid.

At one point during the show, she cut off the other judges to go off on a tangent about how, “I was Versace's muse, I was Valentino's muse, I was Alaia's muse.” It was nice to see that self-esteem issues weren’t slowing her down. Still, you have to have some serious gall to call yourself an artist’s muse, unless you are Helen of Troy or opium.

At the end of each episode, Tyra Banks kicked off one of the models for not “knowing herself” or some similar offense. Apparently, self-knowledge can be displayed through the proper puckering of one’s face while one is dressed like an ostrich and sitting on a sedated crocodile.

Fortunately for my remaining brain cells, I didn’t really sit through all of the episodes, as I had prepared an escape pod upstairs complete with a PlayStation2 and Fight Night 2004. There’s nothing like pummeling Rocky Marciano in four rounds to make you feel like a man again, even if it is on the little TV.

Honestly, I can’t complain about sitting around watching TV and playing video games all day. It’s good for your soul to be gluttonous and slovenly every now and again, just so long as you don’t make too much of a habit out of it. And programming choices aside, I had fun hanging out with the ladies last weekend. I guess in the end I also learned an important lesson from America’s Next Top Model about how to look your best. Just be yourself. Minus ten pounds.

You can hand Mike Todd a cup of water as he runs by at

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Support Janelle of the Commas!

Dudes -- Janelle (reader(s) of this page will remember her for her grammatical smackdown skills) had a frickin' good idea to create daily story cards for her kids. Each day, the little anklebiters got another card in their lunch to move the story along. It became so popular with the kids in the lunchroom that she had the idea to print up the cards and create a website for them. Check it out at if you have kids or if your own Knight Rider lunchbox is missing that little something special. Much respect to Janelle for the follow-through on a cool idea -- I'll keep a link in the sidebar. Word.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Getting mowed down

When my buddy Don found out that my wife Kara and I were moving to a new house, he decided to get us a second-hand tractor as a housewarming present. “It’s from a friend of mine who lives up in the hills. He has all sorts of tractors sitting beside one of his sheds. I’ll grab one of them for you,” he said.

Having some experience receiving hand-me-down machinery, I was hesitant. A couple of years ago, my father-in-law inadvertently handed us down a snowblower that functioned excellently as a gasoline squirter. Now that I think about it, maybe I was supposed to burn the snow off the driveway.

The next week, Don smiled with satisfaction as he said, “I got a couple of nice tractors from my buddy last weekend. One of them doesn’t have any blades, and the other one doesn’t have any brakes. I saved you the one with no brakes. I gave the one with no blades to my buddy so his kid can ride it around the yard.”

I stared at him blankly, my spider-sense tingling.

“Oh, don’t worry. It runs nice and smooth. It came from Montgomery Ward’s,” he said.

“Don, I don’t know about this. I’m sure your friend Montgomery means well, but aren’t brakes kind of important?” I asked.

“Oh, no. You don’t really need them on a tractor. Just don’t take it on any hills,” he said.

I pictured myself slaloming around the neighborhood, children diving into the bushes as I tried to steer to where the anchor could grab hold of a tree. At the very least, I’d need to put a bumper sticker on the seat reading: “This Vehicle Does Not Stop. At All.”

When I told Kara about the snazzy piece of equipment that Don had retrieved for us, she said, “Please don’t take a tractor with no brakes. We don’t need another project.” This may sound like reasonable advice, but Kara doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility when it comes to lawn-related issues. Just about every person who gets stuck with mowing the lawn attempts to develop some semblance of an algorithm to keep grass going under the blades. Back-and-forth. Ever-shrinking concentric circles. Here is Kara’s mowing algorithm:

1. Aim for tallest clump of grass

2. Repeat for five minutes

3. Return mower to garage

When Kara gets done mowing, the lawn looks like a Gremlin’s haircut. But still, she was right about Don’s tractor. I just wasn’t sure how to best handle the situation, as he’d already gone through so much effort to do something nice for us. It was like when your cat offers you a dead bird.

Luckily, fate smiled on all of us, reaching down with its wispy fingers and snapping the front axle as Don was trying to put brakes on. If it had to die, at least it died with someone who truly loved it. The tractor is dead. Long live the push mower!

Since we still haven’t sold the house that we vacated earlier this summer, I’m now mowing both of our lawns with my trusty old push mower. I don’t go anywhere without it. It’s the Silver to my Lone Ranger, except Silver probably required less pushing and, I would suspect, preferred a less invasive refueling procedure.

With so much of my time spent mowing, I fear that I may be slowly and irreversibly turning into Groundskeeper Willie. It’s only a matter of time before I start pushing a cart around the neighborhood yelling, “Get your haggis, right here! Chopped heart and lungs boiled in a wee sheep's stomach. Tastes as good as it sounds!”

Until then, if you need me for anything, try looking on the lawn. I’m the one in the kilt.

You can hit Mike Todd with a tractor beam at

Monday, September 03, 2007

Float like a canoe, sting like a bee

After I wrote last week’s column about planning to remove the above-ground pool in my backyard, a reader (we’ll call her “Anne,” because that’s her name), wrote to say that she had a similar situation in her own backyard, and likewise found the work/fun ratio of owning a pool to be just slightly better than the work/fun ratio of mining salt. Anne found herself dreading both spring and fall, two otherwise pleasant seasons that prominently feature trees dressing and undressing themselves while Gap tries to figure out how it can possibly persuade you to buy more khakis. Of course, you don’t notice these things if you own a pool, mostly because you’re too busy trying to tell if the underwater vacuum is sucking anything other than the joy out of your life.

Faced with the toil of opening and closing the pool each season, Anne would have been driven completely off the deep end, saved only by the fact that above-ground pools don’t have deep ends. Circles don’t really have ends at all, actually. Perhaps she would have just been driven to an area of uniform depth within the confines of the pool walls. Regardless, things had gotten so bad that Anne, moved to desperation, considered solving her temporary problem with a permanent solution: real estate. “I have thought about moving just to get away from the pool,” she wrote.

Luckily, the internet offers an easier solution. If you removed whatever you have right now in your bellybutton and offered it for free on Craigslist, somebody would come and take it from you. You probably wouldn’t want to invite them in for cookies, though.

I don’t mean to generalize too much; pools are great for some families, mainly other people’s. But if you’re thinking about getting an above-ground pool, you might want to pause and consider Anne’s story. There are many things in the world that would be more fun to get than a pool, like a Nintendo Wii or typhoid fever.

Our new friend Steve from Craigslist was as excited to get the pool as we were to give it to him. It was a joyous, cathartic demolition, like taking down a mean kid’s sandcastle or the Berlin Wall. As Steve was taking pieces of the pool around the house and loading them onto his trailer, my wife Kara and I raked over the crater where the pool had been. Just as we were finishing smoothing out the dirt, I noticed a bumblebee flying around Kara’s shirt sleeve. All of a sudden, the bee disappeared.

I should interject here that when my dad and I used to take canoeing trips with the Boy Scouts, there was a kid named Chris who gained fame over the years for his prowess at navigating through the more difficult rapids. Instead of yelling useful information back to his dad, such as “There’s a rock coming up on the left!” or “We’re about to go over a waterfall!” Chris would just yell, “Rock!” Every night at camp, his dad would say, “Chris, when we’re in the rapids, you need to tell me more than just ‘rock.’ Try to tell me where the rock is, or which way we should go to avoid the rock.” The next day, you’d see them colliding with half-submerged boulders as Chris yelled, “Rock!”

I was every bit as helpful as Chris when I pointed at Kara’s sleeve and said, “Bee!”

Kara suddenly looked as though she had a bee in her bonnet, and by bonnet I mean T-shirt. She ripped off her shirt and ran around the yard yowling in her bra, the first bee sting of her life fresh on her shoulder. Steve suddenly remembered that he’d left something in his truck, retreating from Kara’s impromptu exhibition.

“Ow! That really stings,” she said later, fully clothed.

“Yeah, that’s why they’re called that,” I said.

Now, whenever a bee comes within twenty yards, Kara runs around in circles yelling, “Babe! Babe!” as if I’m somehow responsible for the goings on. It’s not like I’m the one chasing her. I caught her years ago.

You can remove Mike Todd from your backyard at

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Craigslist and Mikespool

Apparently, savvy homebuyers these days just don’t have an appreciation for leaking, algaefied monstrosities that fill up the whole backyard and suck the cash out of your wallet and the leisure time out of your life with equal vigor. My wife Kara and I arrived at this conclusion after receiving a raft of negative feedback about our above-ground albatross from people who otherwise seemed interested in buying the house that we vacated earlier this summer. Now that buyers are holding the cards and sellers are holding the bag, it seems that folks are much less willing to inherit oversized bowls of chlorine and misery than we were four years ago.

If I had a Delorean and 1.21 Jigowatts, I’d go back to the day we closed on the house and tell myself, “Start getting rid of the pool today! You’re going to spend the next four years scooping unbelievable amounts of leaves out of it and you’re only going to swim in it twice. Also, don’t try to pick individual stocks for your retirement plan. Please.”

But how were we to know at the time? A pool seemed like a fun thing to have. I guess you have to experience things for yourself before you ever really know. Now I know that I don’t like differential equations, I hate it when eggplant disguises itself as chicken and swimming pools are much more fun when owned by friends.

Paying two mortgages at the beginning of each month has also started to give us an interesting and not entirely pleasant sensation, one that under normal circumstances could only be achieved with the aid of a sigmoidoscope. For all of these reasons, we decided that it was finally time to do the humane thing and put the pool down.

Though my dad had offered to come spend a weekend crawling in the dirt to help remove the pool and the adjoining deck, I thought I’d first try to find an unsuspecting rube somewhere on the internet to take it off our hands. I’d never sold anything on Craigslist before, but it seemed to be the place the world goes to shift junk from one person to another.

I created an ad that said, “If you’ll help take down the pool and haul off my deck too, you can have them both for FREE. Heck, you can even have the noodles.” You can tell I took a marketing class by the way I put the word “FREE” in caps.

I’d hoped to hear back from maybe one or two people. Within an hour, I had thirty responses in my inbox. I quickly amended the ad to say, “I have accidentally kicked off a pool-wanting stampede with this ad. You’re welcome to respond still, but please be aware that you might have a better chance at being the next American Idol.”

I should have just deleted the ad right then. Unfortunately, the disclaimer only served to kick up the desperation level in the emails.

“We’re praying to the good Lord that you’ll choose us for the pool.”

“Hi my name is kevin and i’m twelve years old and dad says if I write this email insted of him that maybe you’ll pick us. Please can we have your pool I like swimming and it would make me happy.”

“My sister just had hip surgery. The doctor says she needs to swim to recuperate…”

And so on. The bane of the backyard had suddenly turned into the toast of the town. The ad garnered seventy-five responses in the few hours it remained online. After much dithering and guilt over having to crush the chlorine-drenched dreams of seventy-four families, we picked Steve, a guy who had all the attributes you look for in a guy who wants to adopt your pool: a box truck and a trailer.

You can fish Mike Todd out of the skimmer box at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good day and good luck

The new guy on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” segment in the morning signs off his portion of the broadcast with “In Los Angeles, I'm Doug Krizner. Make it a good day.” That last part always catches me a little off guard. It’s not enough to just have a good day plopped in your lap; Doug thinks you should go out and make one for yourself. It’s a nice sentiment, but what if we’re not up to the challenge? Sometimes the world confounds your best efforts to make it a good day. You never know when you’re going to spill scalding hot tea on your crotch or invade a Middle Eastern country without an exit plan.

Edward R. Murrow came up with, “Good night and good luck.” Walter Cronkite had, “And that’s the way it is.” Bob Barker said, “Don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets.” If I had my own newscast and earned the privilege to inform everyone of all the terrible things that had happened that day, I’d sign off every broadcast like this: “Well, that’s enough of that.”

Despite the best wishes of a morning anchor person, sometimes a good day can be very tough to make. For instance, you might be minding your own business one day, pushing your fingers to the very limits of human ability trying to get five stars on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on Guitar Hero II, when out of the blue your phone vibrates with a text message, letting you know that somebody wants to pass along a piece of information to you, but would prefer to spend ten minutes punching a keypad with their thumbs than actually have to talk to you. This text might not only break your string of notes and make you lose your multiplier, but it just might shatter your notions of all that is good and pure in the world.

I had just such a day recently when my buddy Derek texted me the following message: “Too bad your boy Bear Grylls is a phony. He’d be cool if he was real.” Derek was referring to the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Man vs. Wild” show and inspiration for my “What would Bear do?” tattoo.

A little exploring on the internet turned up what Derek was talking about. When Bear was supposedly sleeping in a rain forest, ostensibly trying to find his way back to civilization, he was actually sleeping in a hotel and then pretending to wake up in the woods. And it wasn’t even a Motel 6, which technically still counts as wilderness. Bear also pretended to build a raft that experts had already built for him, and used smoke machines to make volcanic gas look more threatening. Still, there are certain aspects of the show that can’t be faked, such as when he quenched his thirst by squeezing a big ball of elephant dung over his mouth or when he jumped into a frozen lake and dried himself off with snow. Clearly, the man is earning his paycheck.

Derek didn’t have to tell me the news about Bear. He could have let me live the rest of my life thinking that there are more heroes in the world than just my parents and Cal Ripken, Jr. I bet Derek goes around the mall at Christmastime telling kids the truth about Santa Claus, too. Don’t worry, young readers. Santa Claus exists every bit as much as Congressional oversight authority. What I mean by “the truth about Santa” is that the Big Guy just turned Russian.

You may have seen the news about Vladimir Putin planting a flag in the North Pole to claim the Big Slushee for Russia, which means that the North Pole’s citizens are now Russian. Da, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And this year, if you’re a good girl, you’ll get vodka and 80’s-era fissile material in your stocking.

Well, that’s enough of that.

You can spay and neuter Mike Todd online at

Sunday, August 12, 2007

To Colbert is human

They say that fame can turn you into a different person and make you expose your nether regions inadvertently while disembarking from SUVs, but I haven’t had too much of a problem with that so far. Most of the time, it’s been advertent.

I’ve tried to stay as down-to-earth as possible since my big debut on the “Colbert Report” last week, though it’s not always easy to deal with the temptations of stardom. I’m thinking about skipping all the intermediate steps and just going straight to rehab.

In case you missed it, I was the guy going “Yeah!” at the beginning of last Thursday’s episode of the “Colbert Report.” Also, I purposefully kept clapping a little bit longer than most of the other people. It seemed to me that the other clappers in the studio were just phoning it in; they clearly hadn’t spent countless hours honing their craft in front of the mirror like some of us had. After we got home and watched the DVR recording, I was hoping I’d made enough of an impact to qualify as “clapping person #87” in the closing credits, but, like so many great artists, it appears that I will go unrecognized in my time.

When my cousin Erin asked my wife Kara and I if we were interested in accompanying her and a friend to a taping of the Report in New York City, we were thrilled. Erin instantaneously jumped way up on the Best Cousin in the Universe list, supplanting my cousin Todd (whose name isn’t Todd Todd, though that would be awesome), who took me for a ride in a Corvette when I was six. Sitting there in the studio among one hundred other budding TV personalities, the air crackled with possibility and my knuckles.

“Stop cracking your knuckles!” Kara said.

“That crack was brought to you by a member of a live studio audience,” I replied.

I had to make sure my ligaments were limber for the big moment. When Stephen came out to start the show, we had a sacred obligation as members to clap like we’d never clapped before, or to clap like we’d clapped many times before, whichever way meant that we were taking our clapping seriously. When you’re a member of a live studio audience, it is also your responsibility to yell your esophagus off, making high-pitched “Wooooooo!” sounds over and over again, no matter how feminine that sound might be. Also, if you ever spent the time to learn how to do that whistle that involves sticking two fingers in your mouth, this is your time to shine.

After yelling “Wooooooo!” over and over again, I began to feel that an expansion of my repertoire was in order. I mixed it up with a few “Yeahs!”, because “Yeah!” is a sound you can make without trying to hit C above high C.

Incidentally, there were no light-up “APPLAUSE” signs to be found in the studio. When they wanted you to cheer, a guy just waved a rolled-up piece of paper over his head like he was considering bopping us all over our heads for peeing on the carpet, which I assure you we did not, mainly because there was no carpet.

The whole experience was really very cool, and Stephen Colbert is a genuinely nice guy. I can say this with confidence because I sat within fifty feet of him.

Watching the recording the next day, we slowed down the half-second camera sweep of the audience to go frame-by-frame.

“Oh, look, there I am!” Kara said.

“I think that’s a camera man,” I said, squinting.

“Really? No, I think that’s me,” she said. But really, for all we could tell from the recording, everyone in the audience that day had been built entirely of Duplo blocks.

You can say something truthy to Mike Todd online at