Sunday, February 25, 2007

Just the right accent

My buddy Josh used to be deathly afraid of spiders. To conquer his fear, he bought two pet tarantulas. When we lived together in college, I’d come home to Josh sitting on the couch, shirtless, with a big, hairy tarantula crawling around on his shoulder.

“Hey man. You want to let Xenia crawl on you?” he’d ask.

Even if that spider was radioactive and its bite would have enabled me to hang upside-down by my ankles while making out with Kirsten Dunst, I still don’t think I would have said yes. Luckily, I wasn’t crazy in the first place, so I could just have a normal person’s healthy fear of gigantic spiders that have mandibles big enough to pop the cap off a Heineken bottle, and I didn’t have to let them use me as a jungle gym to get over it.

When Josh came to visit at my house, my dad asked a question that to Josh sounded something like this: “Josh, hour yir spah dirs?”

“Excuse me?” Josh asked.

“I said, ‘hour yir spah dirs?’”

This exchange continued similarly for a couple more volleys, until Josh had spent all of his “I’m sorry, I still didn’t catch that” tokens without understanding yet what my dad was saying to him. Rather than asking Dad to repeat it again, Josh paused a moment, I believe to contemplate his chances of a successful dash out the front door.

“Josh, he’s asking how your spiders are,” my mom finally said.

I don’t even notice my parents’ Southern accents. They’ve lived in Pennsylvania for over thirty years now, but they brought some parts of North Carolina and Florida with them that haven’t ever left. Josh could understand Mom because Florida is barely even in the South; it’s like Maryland with Disney World and old people. The South kind of stops at Georgia and heads west, dying somewhere out in the Texas desert because that’s where Dick Cheney shot it in the face.

“Oh, oh, they’re fine. Thank you for asking,” Josh replied. Later, he said to me, “Dude, I need subtitles to talk to your dad.” He should hear my dad when we visit family down South. Every mile traveled on I-95 thickens the accent just a little bit more. By the time we get there, “split” is very nearly a two-syllable word. When people up North inquire about the origins of Dad’s accent, his favorite answer is: “it’s from Southern Pennsylvania.”

I thought of all this recently as I traveled down South for work. Besides being surrounded by my favorite accent in the world, I was pleased to find that Southern people don’t relish running down pedestrians like we do in the North. In the North, we have to play real-life Frogger to get to the other side of the street. You can actually hear cars revving their engines when you step into a crosswalk, like all drivers see when they look at you is a waving checkered flag.

I think a diploma from Penn State carries just a little more weight when employers consider the Darwinian implications of a graduate successfully crossing College Avenue every day for several years. This is one of the reasons that Penn State diplomas carry the Latin phrase “E veritas destinas childus” at the bottom, which translates to: “I’m a survivor, not gon’ give up. Not gon’ stop (what). Keep on survivin’.”

When you’re walking on a sidewalk in the South, if you have the thought, “I might just venture over to that crosswalk here in the next couple of minutes,” traffic will come to a screeching halt, the smell of burnt brake pads wafting into the air.

Southern parents probably just tell their kids, “It’s a big waste of time to look both ways before you cross the street, so don’t even bother.”

Y’all can email Mike Todd at

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Enhanced for your pleasure

A little while back, I posted this picture of a ghost that my awesome Aunt Sister sent to me. See it in the upper right-hand pane?

I think this shot deserves another posting since it's been floating around in my family for a while and I'm pretty sure it's the most convincing ghost picture I've ever seen.

In fact, I acquired some fancy new software with which to digitally enhance the image. If you thought the ghost was obvious in the original picture, check out how easy it is to spot in the new and improved version:

Chloe on "24" makes image enhancement look all difficult, but don't believe the hype. It's easy and what not.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A tisket, a casket

This week is fixing to be full of four-clickers. I rate the impending stressfulness of my days by the number of estimated deodorant clicks it will take to get through an entire day without looking at any point like I just swapped shirts with Ruben Studdard after he went through a carwash with the windows down.

Saturdays are usually two-clickers. Regular work days are three-clickers. Days where I have to stand up and speak in front of an audience bigger than my bathroom mirror are four-clickers. That’s the maximum on the click scale. I don’t know what would constitute a five-clicker, but it would probably have to be a day something like the kind Jack Bauer has about once a year.

Speaking of which, why isn’t Jack doing deodorant commercials? “When I’m methodically shocking somebody I was friends with three minutes ago with a stripped wire from a hotel lamp, I need to make sure I’m dry. And it doesn’t hurt if I smell like a Mountain Breeze, too. ZZZZZAP!”

The click scale is per-armpit, of course, so a four-clicker is really a total of eight clicks, for those who might be thinking of trying this at home. Sometimes I accidentally click too many times on a side, in which case I try to do the majority of my sweating on the side that has more deodorant, which would be easier to do if I wasn’t so dang bilaterally symmetrical.

I’m traveling for work this week, attending a conference that requires me not only to extract my shampoo from tiny little bottles, but also to overcome my irrational fear of speaking at the front of a room while a bunch of people stare at me. Public speaking is something that I look forward to almost as much as I look forward to Eddie Murphy fat suit movies. That is to say, I do not look forward to it all that much.

When people find out that you’re traveling for work, they like to say things like, “Oh, the company’s paying for you to take a little vacation, huh?”

They’re right. Traveling for work really is almost exactly like a regular vacation, except that your friends and family can’t come with you and you have to do work the entire time, and occasionally you have to do things that terrify you.

I’m reminded of the old Seinfeld bit in which he notes that most people are more scared of public speaking than of death, which means that at a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy. I don’t think I’d take it that far, but if there’s one thing that can be said for Seinfeld, it’s that he’s never driven across the country wearing diapers to pepper spray an astronaut. I love that about him.

I’ve found that the key to surviving public speaking is just to practice as many times as possible beforehand, and also to give away free T-shirts if you can. If I have to speak extemporaneously, the sensation is similar to driving off the road into a cornfield, with ears of corn bonking into the windshield as I desperately try to find my way back onto the road without saying some boneheaded thing that spectators might later describe as “Oedipal.” Practice is always of the utmost importance, unless you’re a really famous professional athlete, in which case skipping practice will just make you more famous.

When I have to leave for these trips every now and again, my wife Kara and I like to make a big deal out of saying goodbye, like it’s the last scene in Casablanca. That only problem is that I’m the one getting on the plane, so I think that makes me Ingrid Bergman.

You can picture Mike Todd wearing only black socks online at

Monday, February 12, 2007

Can reading this column increase your virility?

Several perfectly good commercials were interrupted last weekend by the Super Bowl, a game which pitted the Not the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Also Not the Philadelphia Eagles. One of those teams probably won, though the big winner of the night in my eyes was most definitely the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. How cool is that guy? He’s almost old enough to get movie tickets at a discount and he’s short enough to get cut from the Shire’s basketball team, yet everything he touches turns to cool. Teal suits? Cool. Dude wearing a bonnet? Cool. Mick Jagger couldn’t even pull that off.

The biggest disappointment of the game came when the final whistle blew without Gillette introducing a razor with six blades. How long are they going to make us wait? I’m not going to make the jump from my Mach 3 just to buy a razor with a measly five blades. If they sweetened the pot just a little, so that my razor started to resemble a wheat threshing implement, I’d be in there like swimwear. In any case, the day can’t be far off that we’ll be spending more on razor refills than we do on gas or mocha choca latte yayas.

I’m still hoping that Gillette will step up to the plate, as the Great Hair Migration from the top of my head to the rest of my body is causing me to have to shave more than twice a week. Five o’clock shadow used to be two days late, but now it’s starting to show up on time. I still haven’t gotten any better at shaving since I was thirteen, though, and my morning forays in front of the bathroom mirror usually result in unspeakable carnage. Incidentally, Hamburger Helper makes an excellent aftershave. The women can’t resist the Cheddar Cheese Melt.

I have a decent electric shaver that allows me to mow my face, but it doesn’t really get all the stubble, plus I remember an old news story asking the question, “Can radiation from electric shavers raise your risk of cancer?” Of course the answer is no, but the thought still sticks in my head, even though a quick Google search finds that the only people who lend any credence to such a story also think that wearing a hunk of quartz around their necks improves the mental well-being of anyone other than the person who sold it to them.

Besides, when the title of a news story ends with a question mark, the answer will never be given in the story. A question mark at the end of a news story title means, “We were jus’ wonderin’. We dunno, either.”

The most important thing I learned during the Super Bowl is that Grissom is coming back to CSI, which means, as you probably have already figured out, that he left it at some point. Anyway, it will be good to have him back. Judging from the commercials, he took some time off to either be a mall Santa or to enter a Hemingway look-alike contest. In any event, someone should get that guy a six-bladed razor.

Did you see the Snickers commercial where two dudes kissed Lady-and-the-Tramp style? The implication seems to be that Snickers is so good that it has the power to temporarily alter your sexual orientation. If this is true, you would be well-advised to seriously consider your company before consuming your next Snickers bar.

The most heartfelt moment of the Super Bowl came after the game ended, when Cadillac donated a car to the MVP. If there’s anyone who could use some free wheels, it’s definitely the richest guy in the stadium. I bet he’ll be glad to not have to take the bus to practice anymore.

Mike Todd is open! You can hit him with an email at

Monday, February 05, 2007

Don’t just stand there, bust a myth

I recently stood in the kitchen, holding the refrigerator door open with my knee, staring mournfully at the items therein while contemplating the paradox of our times: the fridge is full but there’s nothing to eat.

Even so, I like to consider myself a survivor. Come dinner time, even when we haven’t been grocery shopping in weeks, I can almost always scrounge a meal together as long as I can find something from one of the four main non-perishable food groups: peanut butter, popcorn, Bavarian pretzels or Lucky Charms.

Bear Grylls, my new hero, wouldn’t need any of these things to survive. For those who haven’t seen him, Bear is the star of the Discovery Channel show “Man vs. Wild,” a series that stacks the odds in favor of “Man” by bringing a Mt. Everest-climbing British Special Forces commander to the fight. This hardly seems fair, as “Wild” would have a much better chance of winning against your average clean-fingernailed humor columnist. In each episode, Bear skydives into a different remote location and has to survive, carrying only a canteen and a knife, until he can find his way back to civilization or Wal-Mart, whichever comes first.

What’s striking about the show is how quickly man must remember to act like an animal when he’s no longer in the vicinity of his TiVo. Bear climbs up to birds’ nests so that he can steal the eggs and eat them raw. He catches fish with his bare hands and kills them with his teeth, eating a very graphic sushi lunch that my wife Kara and I could only watch through our fingers.

Bear also goes the extra mile, flinging himself into quicksand pits and icy lakes on purpose, just to show you what to do if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation, like when you can’t find your car in the mall parking lot.

Tough as he may be, I still suspect that if he ever accidentally skydives through the skylight into our house, Bear will probably starve to death.

In any case, it’s tough to find Bear on TV lately because the Discovery Channel plays “MythBusters” twenty-three hours a day. MythBusters is a show that carefully and methodically attempts to shatter the myth that tough guys shouldn’t wear berets, continuing Rerun’s ground-breaking work from “What’s Happening!!”

Actually, the MythBusters do perform some interesting experiments. In the most recent episode, they proved, by building a gelatin mold of an average-sized human male and welding coat hangers to a SCUBA tank on its back, that Achilles’s heel was actually his crotch. They have also proven that Zeus did not throw thunderbolts, because there’s no such thing as a bolt of thunder. Those guys know how to bust a myth.

Also, if you were just puttering along like I was, wondering how Howie Mandel got back on TV again, you may not have noticed that they changed the rules about punctuating the possessive form of words that end with the letter S. When I was a kid, we learned about Achilles’ heel. Now it’s Achilles’s heel. I didn’t know that grammar was allowed to change, and it’s frankly a little unsettling. The second comma in a list of three items has also met its demise. I think that one is the fault of the British woman who wrote a book about panda bears called “Eats, shoots and leaves.”

You don’t see physicists running around changing the laws of thermodynamics on us. “Okay, everybody, we changed our minds. Energy can be destroyed now.” That just wouldn’t be fair. It’s tough enough to learn things once. If you learn it in second grade, it should be true forever. Also, it would be cool if ice cream cones were still be thirty-five cents.

You can start a fire using only birch bark, Mike Todd and a lighter online at

[Note: Apparently, there's still some disagreement about the apostrophe thing, so there's no need to rap my knuckles with your APA handbook. Some sources say it's okay to say it like Achilles's, while others suggest that I'm a complete tool for even bringing it up.]