Sunday, January 28, 2007

Something to fret about

My wife Kara and I have been taking our minds off of selling our house by taking turns thrashing on the game Guitar Hero II. If you’re not either a complete loser or twelve years old, you’re probably not aware that Guitar Hero II is a video game that uses a PlayStation2 and a fake plastic guitar to simulate the experience, for those who have no chance of ever doing it themselves, of being cool. I’ve come to terms that this is the closest I will ever get to being a rock star, but I’m still looking forward to the next game in the series: Heroin Overdose.

Guitar Hero II replicates the feeling of playing the guitar in front of a fickle but easily excitable crowd, requiring you to become embarrassingly proficient at punching the big colorful buttons that represent a guitar’s frets while you strum a switch that serves as the strings and pull down the blinds that serve to keep the neighbors from seeing you.

While it’s awfully fun, there’s something about wailing away on that plastic guitar that seems eerily reminiscent of the little plastic Fisher Price lawn mower that I had when I was a kid, the one that went poppity-pop-pop when pushed across the kitchen floor.

“Wook at me, Daddy! I’m mowing the wawn! And shwedding out some ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Woses. Wock on, dude.”

But now I can add “Pretty good at playing a pretend guitar” to my resume of useless skills, right under “Can sometimes catch things behind my back” and “Used to know how to play Chinese checkers.” Incidentally, in China, they call that game “Marble Receptacle.”

The saddest thing about being a wannabe fake guitarist is that there’s a very real guitar sitting in my basement, its case acting as more of a sarcophagus. That guitar has seen less sunlight in the past two years than Dracula or Dick Cheney. I swear I’m going to start playing that thing again one of these days, but really, what’s the point of playing the guitar after you’re married? All the motivation is gone. You’ve already got a groupie for life.

My groupie is also quite a talented fake guitarist. This is the first video game she’s ever really enjoyed. Now I’m regularly greeted by riffs from the Allman Brothers and Black Sabbath when I walk into the living room, as Kara rocks back and forth and says things like, “Aw, yeah, who’s the man?”

It’s odd to find her playing video games of her own accord. I’m not sure quite how to react to this behavior. She’d probably feel the same way if I suddenly picked up an interest in, say, painting toenails. We’d certainly have more common experiences to talk about, but would she have to worry that I’d start hogging all the little foam toe separator thingies?

Regardless, it’s too bad kids don’t learn how to play guitar in school. Rocking out is much more useful than fractions. When I was in the fourth grade, I chose to learn the trumpet because it seemed like the coolest choice. I pictured myself playing in a Dixieland band on a riverboat somewhere. But there aren’t that many riverboats in suburban Philadelphia, at least none that I could bike to. And the world just doesn’t need that many bad trumpeters. Ska isn’t even cool anymore, and I never once scored a date because I could play the theme song to Indiana Jones at a volume that would knock books off a shelf.

I should have at least picked the drums. Choosing an instrument is just too big a decision to place with someone who consumes Jell-o through a straw just because it sounds funnier that way.

You can trash a hotel room with Mike Todd online at

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cleanliness is next to impossible

Note: The following column makes a few jokes at the expense of our house. Kara thinks that making fun of one's house on the internet is not necessarily the most prudent thing to do when one is trying to sell said house. Of course, she's right. So I'd just like to make absolutely clear that our house has nothing wrong with it that couldn't be solved by removing the current occupants. Seriously. We've taken excellent care of this place, and I'd sell it to my own mother (if she came close enough to our asking price).

I’ve developed an appreciation for clean people. Involuntarily, of course. As my wife Kara and I continue trying to trick some unsuspecting, loaded soul into buying our house, we actually have to clean up our messes directly after we make them. Otherwise, somebody will show up at our front door unannounced and say, “Here, let me give you this check for your asking price – wait, do I see a pair of jeans slung over a chair? Never mind. I guess I’ll go buy a Ferrari instead.”

Our home used to be this awesome obstacle course, like the last event in American Gladiators, except with less steroid-addled androgynous woman-like creatures hurling medicine balls at you. Walking to the bathroom in the dark without mashing your toes into anything gave you a real sense of accomplishment. But now our place is a total fun vacuum, where cereal bowls that once contained dinner are only allowed to stay on the coffee table until the next commercial break and the floor is sterile enough to perform surgery upon.

Still, no matter how much you try to stay on top of things, there’s always dust settling, mildew procreating and ferrets excreting just a couple of rooms over. It’s not good enough just to clean up after yourself; entropy is constantly on the attack. You know those old dilapidated buildings on the side of the road with caved-in roofs and holes where windows use to be? Those happen in like six months. Somebody just says, “You know, I don’t think I’m going to clean up around here anymore,” and a few weeks later the first wall collapses.

It’s strange living in this state of suspended habitation, where the house doesn’t really feel like ours anymore, but it isn’t anyone else’s yet, either. As we sat on the couch last weekend during our first open house, we turned on the TV to distract ourselves from the lack of bidding wars occurring in our living room.

“Oh, sweet, zombie movie!” I said, switching the channel to arrive at something far more ghastly: a Sandra Bullock romance. I still hadn’t fully recuperated from the suffering endured during a recent rental of The Lake House, a movie in which the viewing experience would benefit greatly from the audience being as inebriated as the screenwriters. The lesson to be learned from the whole experience is that there is an enormous difference between 28 Days and 28 Days Later, even though one could argue that both movies involve heads from which brains have been removed.

We finally did have some people come for a walkthrough of the house, and as I walked a small family around, the mother took to calling me Todd. If I had a dollar for every time somebody thought my first name was Todd, we wouldn’t even have to sell the house; we could just airlift it onto our private island.

So I let her keep calling me Todd, figuring that we had a sort of sports team relationship thing going on, like, “Hey Todd, you just scored on the wrong goal!” or “Yo, Todd, I just left a surprise in your gym bag!”

But then Kara joined our tour and called me Mike.

The lady looked confused. “Oh, I’ve been calling you Todd all this time.”

Then she looked at me as though I’d lied to her, which I really hadn’t, except for every word that had come out of my mouth regarding the condition of the house. Now I’m just kidding, of course. The house really is in excellent condition, and you’d be silly not to offer at least the asking price for it. Oh, that bucket under the skylight? That’s there to catch rays of sunshine.

You can remind Mike Todd not to leave his underwear on the stairs at

Monday, January 15, 2007

Half the couch it used to be

Back when we moved into the house that we’re now trying to sell, my wife Kara and I made the inexplicable decision to keep her decrepit old couch from college despite the fact that it would have been far more compassionate to have taken that thing out behind the dumpster to quietly put it out of its misery. Besides the threadbare floral print that had yellowed to a hue reminiscent of the BEFORE picture in a Polident commercial, the couch was so worn out that once you settled into it, you needed a Land Rover with a winch to pull you back out.

Our thinking at the time was that we could put the couch in our unfinished basement so that, in a pinch, we could have B-list guests sleep down there.

“Don’t think of it as a nasty, dank basement,” we’d tell them. “Think of it as a really awesome crawlspace with all the amenities. You’ll find ample water in the dehumidifier tray, and if you need us for anything, just tap Morse code on the pipe that goes up to the toilet.”

Of course we never made anybody sleep on that couch. But we did torment our friends by having them help us move it into the basement in the first place. It took six grown men driving that couch like a battering ram down the tiny basement stairwell to finally get it down there, with much cracking of railings and uttering of cuss words accompanying the proceedings. When it finally turned the last corner and we set the couch on the floor in the basement, I realized that we’d just added a permanent fixture to the house. And there it sat for three years like a ship in a bottle.

We should have just left that couch on the sidewalk in State College, where it would have only had to wait until Penn State won (or lost) a football game before rioting students would have set it ablaze. I don’t know if they’re still doing the rioting thing at colleges, but the trend sure seemed to be catching like couch fire when I was in school five years ago. College kids were probably just rioting all the time to seem more cosmopolitan, like French people. But nobody can truly riot like the French, who make the best Camembert, Bordeaux and La-Z-boy flambĂ©.

When we decided that we were going to try to sell our house, though, it dawned on me that the couch was somehow going to have to come back out of the dungeon. It had become even more of an eyesore, as the mildew and floral print had combined into a tie-dye gone horribly wrong. We’d also need to get that couch out of there without help from our friends, so that we could save our moving tokens to spend on them later.

At about this time, my thoughts turned to the reciprocating saw sitting out in the garage. Sure, our stairwell was too small to maneuver a big couch. But why not two smaller couches?

As I passed Kara in the living room on my way to the basement with the saw in my hand, she asked “What are you doing?”

“We’re going to give that couch downstairs to a nice family,” I said. “They live on a farm. They’ll take really good care of it, and it will have lots of room to sit around all day long.”

If you’ve never cut a couch in half before, you’re really missing out on quite an experience. It’s actually easier than you might think, as long as you let Black and Decker do all the work for you. And moving those two halves out of the basement was a dream. We could have drop-kicked them up the stairs. Man, I love that saw. And it reciprocates.

You can offer Mike Todd a sip from your dehumidifier tray online at

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Washing my hands of the whole thing

A buddy of mine recently told me a cautionary tale that I feel compelled, in the public interest, to pass along. You probably haven’t heard this story yet because, unlike most cautionary tales, this one doesn’t involve Taco Bell, spinach or Mel Gibson.

At a recent rock concert, the band stopped playing mid-song as a spotlight suddenly beamed down onto a poor young soul coming out of the men’s restroom.

The lead singer pointed at him and asked, “What color is the soap in the men’s bathroom?”

Frozen like an unhygienic deer in a single giant headlight, the kid couldn’t come up with an answer, revealing to the entire concert-going crowd that his grooming habits left a wee bit to be desired. The merriment enjoyed by the audience at this kid’s expense will likely live on through years of intensive therapy.

So now you have a great question to ask, say, your father-in-law the next time he comes back from the restroom. And if anyone ever nails you with that question, you should probably guess pink, unless you actually know the answer, which of course you wouldn’t unless there was another person in the bathroom for whom you were showing off.

More people would know the correct answer if public bathrooms were entirely foot-operated. Unless you happen to be in a restroom on the turnpike with magical, sometimes-functional sensing devices, you are still faced with the issue of touching the sink again to turn the water off after you wash your hands. We can stage putting a man on the moon, but we can’t invent a foot-operated sink? People have already proven themselves ready for such a technology. We’ve mastered flushing and even putting the seat up and down using a technique similar to the one employed by the Karate Kid to knock out the blond dude from Cobra Kai.

I guess I’ve been thinking about hand washing more than usual lately, as I just spent the holidays hanging out with family. To say that our families are a bunch of sick individuals was even truer than usual this time. Disease was the gift that kept on giving this Christmas. Giving phlegm, I mean. Just as I was considering renting scuba equipment so that I wouldn’t have to keep sharing air with those people, my immune system finally surrendered. As I walked into the kitchen and sneezed, there was a moment straight out of a zombie movie.

“Oh, no. He’s been infected, too. Get away! Get away!”

Colds weren’t even the worst thing going around. The snifflers were the lucky ones. Both my dad and mother-in-law came down with what we suspect to be a norovirus, a particularly nasty little gastrointestinal bug named after the location of one of its first known outbreaks: Norwalk, Ohio (Welcome to Norwalk! Keep a clean trash can by the john.) It’s never a good thing to have a malady like that named after your town. Just ask the residents of Old Lyme, Connecticut or Diarrhea, Nebraska.

My mom was about the only one who never came down with anything. She attributed her good fortune to a vitamin supplement called Airborne, which looks exactly like what would happen if scientists successfully got algae and an Alka Seltzer pill to fall in love. Airborne claims to help keep you from getting sick if you just drink a cup of green nasty froth every day.

As I watched Mom down a glass, I cringed and said, “I’d rather just be sick.” I got my wish. But my wife Kara also took Airborne every day, and she was one of the first among us to get zombified. So I still don’t know whether the stuff works or not. But I suspect it’s at least as effective as Dumbo’s magic feather.

You can try to catch Mike Todd with chopsticks online at

Friday, January 05, 2007

What are you stairin' at?

Here's a shot Jeff Hofer took in Guatemala:
I just now noticed the person's feet on the top step. She's probably bringing down the giant chess pieces.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Toasted New Year’s

I love this time of year because the constellation Orion is back in the sky and our cabinet doors shut again. But it’s also time to bid adios to another year, which is always a tough thing to do. I don’t know about you, but I was just getting used to 2006. It seems like years always end just when you’re getting settled into them. Now we have to go and get used to a whole ‘nother year. It just doesn’t feel like 2007 outside yet, does it? I think it feels more like 2004 out there, tops. Mike Tyson hasn’t even done anything insane yet this year. He’s only got a few days left. Somebody give the man a welding torch.

The important thing is that we all concentrate really hard when we’re writing down the date for the next couple of months, because a 6 is really hard to turn into a 7. We got spoiled last year; 5’s and 6’s are so closely related that they can only marry in certain parts of Appalachia. This year will be much less forgiving. You put down 2006 in pen, that check is toast.

Speaking of toast, the most mind-blowing realization I had in 2006 occurred while I was standing in line at Subway, waiting for my sandwich to come out of the toaster. That newly purchased toaster, by the way, was not at all there due to any sort of copying of ideas from any other corporate sandwich chains, if that’s what you’re thinking. True sandwich artists would never plagiarize.

I turned to my wife Kara and asked, “Why is a sub sandwich called a sub, anyway?”

“Because it’s shaped like a submarine,” she said.

That’s the answer most rational people would give, not that Kara is any indication. But doesn’t that imply that the submarine was invented before the sub sandwich? And I’m no engineer, but isn’t a giant metal contraption that can swim around underwater with people inside of it, firing torpedoes and fending off giant squid, a whole lot more difficult to design than a couple slabs of bread with cold cuts in between?

I just can’t imagine what took us so long with the sandwich. The oblong bread must have had something to do with the delay. But still, it’s pretty amazing that humanity came up with a piloted submersible craft before it thought to use an entire loaf of bread to make a single sandwich. Our priorities must be completely out of whack. At the very least, they are nowhere near being into whack.

In many ways, 2006 was pretty much indistinguishable from most other years. Famous people did stupid things, often while not wearing underwear. Politicians got caught doing things they weren’t supposed to do (judging from the transcripts, also without wearing underwear). The stock market went up and down, inspiring many line graphs along the way. Vice presidents taught inadvertent lessons in firearm safety.

I’m guessing that this New Year’s Eve will be much like the others as well. This holiday used to be one of my favorites because it was the only day of the year that I was allowed to stay up until midnight. I still enjoy it for the fact that it marks the one-week point in my stuffing-my-gullet-with-food-that-other-people-cooked year-end extravaganza, but now it’s the only day of the year that I have no choice but to stay up until midnight. I no longer get all fired up about the notion of running into the driveway at midnight, clanging pots and pans together. If I actually make it all the way until the ball drops without falling asleep on the couch, I feel all proud of myself, like when I pawn off a Canadian quarter on someone without them noticing.

Should old email address be forgot, you can reach Mike Todd online at