Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saying yes to crack

**Update 4/30/07** Jered Earl finally responded to my lame challenge. Kara whooped him pretty good with the stick picture, but it's worth stopping by Jered's Life at Actually 30 to see the best picture of Mao Zedong gleeking that you're likely to see all day. We now return to your regularly scheduled and intermittently diverting column.

One of the few joys of having the house to myself for a couple of days, besides being able to crack my knuckles with unscolded abandon, is the freedom to leave a copious and varied array of hairs in the bathroom sink without fear of having to talk about it later. Other than that, being here without my wife Kara is not all that exciting. Contrary to what Hollywood may tell you, staying home alone has very little to do with swinging paint cans into Joe Pesci’s head, and much more to do with wondering if anyone else in the world could possibly be enjoying this episode of “According to Jim,” because somebody must be enjoying the show or they would just stop making it. The people who keep “According to Jim” on the air must be the same people who keep the store shelves stocked with black licorice.

On normal days, when Kara is not in Atlanta whooping it up at her sister’s bachelorette party, my knuckle-cracking drives her to the brink. I never realized what a cracky person I was until I married someone who would rather listen to a pickup truck’s door slamming into the side of her Civic than the joint on my pinky finger popping. I can also crack my toes repeatedly without touching them, which is not as impressive a skill as belching on command, but it still gets quite a response if performed to the right audience.

Last week, after a particularly robust round of cracking, Kara said, “Stop cracking! Seriously. I can’t take it anymore.”

So I asked her the question that makes it impossible for someone to stay mad at you, no matter how badly they might want to: “How much do you love me? On a scale of 1 to 10, I mean.” If you’re in a serious relationship, then you already know that true love is all about quantification.

After a brief hesitation, she asked, “You mean right at this moment?”

“No, just in general,” I said.

Of course she said ten. My Jedi mind tricks were too powerful for her; it was out of her control. Also, if you ask your partner this question and the reply you get is “10,” which of course it has to be, don’t be upset that you didn’t get an eleven. Coaches and deodorant commercials have poisoned our minds to believe that we can give 110%. That’s just not possible. We all need to learn to be happy with giving and receiving 100% again. Otherwise, after accounting for expectation inflation, soon we’ll have to give 130% just to keep up. Honestly, any reasonable person should be happy to get even 95%, because you need to save at least 5% to play WarCraft later.

Left to my own remote-control devices for the past couple of days, though, I’m beginning to worry that my cracking problem is getting out of hand. There’s just nobody to enforce any discipline around here, and I’m totally taking advantage of my own leniency. The thing I fear most in life is that all of this investment in knuckle-cracking today is going to pay vast arthritic dividends in the future. And also that a yellow jacket is going to crawl into my Coke can while I’m not paying attention.

Before she left for her trip, Kara spent three says deciding whether or not to pack everything in a carry-on bag. As she stood staring at the big suitcase and the little suitcase that she’d put side-by-side on the bed, she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to be the matron of honor at Jill’s wedding. Why can’t I still be a maid? Matron makes me sound so old.”

“Aw, c’mon, you’ve earned it,” I said. “Besides, you’re, like, one of the hottest matrons I know.”

You can offer matronly advice to Mike Todd online at

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Take only pictures, leave only beer bottles

Here are some shots from a hike my sister Amy and I took last weekend at one of the coolest places in the universe: Sam's Point, a nature preserve at the southern end of the Shawangunk Ridge near Ellenville, NY.

Looking at this creek flowing through the woods and over the edge of the cliff last Saturday, I couldn't help but wonder, "Am I missing any good Law and Order reruns right now?" What a stupid thing to think. Of course I was. Probably one where Lenny had to chase a dude.

Here's some natural Jenga:

Here's a shot from the money spot overlooking Verglockenspiel Verdonkadonk Verkeerderkill Falls:

And my sister Amy chillin' on Wile E. Coyote Rock:

Remember, if you like nature, you have to drink water directly out of a big blue straw attached to your shoulder. Water bottles are so 1997.

Here's a look back at the Scha-winnnnngunk Ridge. Party on.

Sam's Point is a preserve for endangered dwarf pines. They're endangered because poachers prize them for their needles, which can be mashed into a tea that totally settles one's tum-tum. Actually, I have no idea why they're endangered, but you may recognize the famous Seven Dwarf Pines in this picture (from left to right): Needly, Piney, Pokey, Coney, Sticky, Sappy and Doc.

That's all I got. Have a great weekend, homeperson.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Comma chameleon

Did you know that the correct punctuation differs between the phrases “my cousin Rachel” and “my wife Kara”? An astute reader recently pointed out that the phrase “my wife Kara,” which readers of this column (including, and sometimes limited to, my mom) might recognize as appearing in this space with the same frequency that severed limbs appear in Quentin Tarantino movies, really requires a comma between the words “wife” and “Kara.”

After several salvos in a grammatical battle that could only be described as epic (by me) or unbelievably dorky (by Kara), my defeat became impossible to ignore, though I intend to do so anyway. Defeat only matters if you pay attention to it, much like door dings.

The difference between cousins and wives, while largely ignored in some remote mountain areas, is that a person can have multiple cousins but not multiple wives. This difference makes “my wife, Kara” a non-restrictive appositive phrase, which requires a comma, while “my cousin Rachel” is a restrictive appositive phrase, which does not require a comma. If you’d like further explanation, which of course you don’t, consult Google. Or I could refer you to Janelle, who started this whole kerfuffle, but if you argue with her, you will lose. She’s like a sixth-degree Kerfuffle Master.

Still, at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, I’m feeling a little too set in my ways to change. I love my wife Kara. I’m not so sure how I feel about my wife, Kara, though. That comma reminds me of the speed bumps they put down in the park that make you go so slow that you couldn’t even run over a little kid if you wanted to. Plus, it’s only wrong to write poorly if you do it by accident. If you do it on purpose, that makes you literary.

While we’re on the subject of grammar, if there’s ever a game show called “Celebrity Spelling Bee,” I’d bet a lot of money that Fergie would win the whole thing. She’s like a musical Speak & Spell. By the way, if you’re thinking of the Duchess of York Fergie right now, you might want to double check that you put the cap back on your Geritol this morning. I’m talking about Black Eyed Peas Fergie, a pioneer in the field of Fergaliciousness, who capitalizes heavily on the fact that the letters of the alphabet often rhyme with one another.

“Fergie, spell Euonym,” the mean British judge would say. If your show doesn’t have a mean British judge, it’ll get cancelled faster than “Deal or No Deal” should have been, but for some reason hasn’t.

Then Fergie would lean toward the microphone nervously and say, “Euonym. E to the U to the O to the N to the Y to the M. Euonym.”

“That’s correct. Woopty doo. Now bugger off.”

This is the kind of thing you think about in your spare time, when you’re not worrying that your bald spot might soon be large enough to pick up DIRECTV.

Whatever your thoughts about grammar may be, though, the important thing is that you can discuss the finer points of grammar all day long without mentioning Don “’t have a job” Imus once. This is a very important quality for a conversation topic to have, and one that has been altogether lacking over the past couple of weeks. So even while Janelle is quietly sneaking up like a ninja, ready to pounce on you with the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive appositives, which you, at first glance, thought were different kinds of safety harnesses, you can relax with the knowledge that your views on Imus needn’t be aired, much like his show. And that works out well, because even my wife Kara is sick of hearing about that.

You can pelt Mike Todd with your APA handbook online at

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sticking it

**UPDATE 4/23/07** The First Annual Pic-of-a-Stick Off is off to a rather slow start. I hope that's not too terribly disappointing. Post hate comments at Jered's I'm Actually 30 blog.

Here's a shot my wife comma Kara took two weeks ago, about halfway up Mt. Stissing in Pine Plains, NY. I think this shot is especially relevant because it answers the question, once and for all:

What's icy and brown and sticky all over?

This stick! It's the stickiest. How come I'm the only one who thinks the brown and sticky joke is funny? Oh, that's right. The terrible sense of humor.

And here's our buddy Chunks taking a picture of the same frickin' stick:

Chunks, how'd that shot come out? Send it to me and I'll post it. You and K-Dog can have a Pic-of-a-Stick Off. Or you can post it on your blog, the one where you pretend you're still 28. Let's see what you got. Bring the stick! Loser has to wash the winner's blog for a week.

Also, what's red and sticky? That bloody stick again. Woo hoo! That joke might play better in England, 'cause they say "bloody" all the time over there, usually while throwing scones at wickets and watching Coldplay videos.

And I think we all know what's red and sitting on the head of the dude who's about to lose a stick picture competition.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Answering the casting call

Each year, my buddy Don, who is the kind of outdoorsman who meets with other outdoorsmen to hold raffles and cook pancake breakfasts, takes me and my wife Kara for a little fishing trip down the creek near his house. Before Don started taking us on these trips, the last time I’d held a fishing rod was at Penn State, where I’d taken a fly fishing class to complete my gym credits.

Did you know that you still have to take gym classes in college? I suppose it helps prepare college students for the real world, where it’s been my experience that at any moment, a PowerPoint presentation can turn into a pick-up kickball game. At any rate, learning to fly fish is a relaxing way to spend a gym period, not like in middle school, where the majority of my time was spent scurrying into the corner behind the bleachers to keep the pubertorily advanced kids, who showed off their new armpit hair in the same way an adult would show off a new Lexus, from concussively pelting me in the head with volleyballs.

Don takes us fishing in his old rectangular aluminum rowboat, which weighs roughly the same as an Abrams tank and maneuvers exactly as well as three-wheeled shopping cart filled with bags of asphalt. We don’t so much hit rocks with that boat as we do pulverize them. The boat’s so big that when we turn it over in the tall river grass for its first run of the season, entire ecosystems flee out of it, except for the spiders, which prefer to make their presence known hours later, on your neck.

The first time Don took us out, I said, “Hey man, do you mind if I flatten the barbs on this lure with some pliers so the fish will be easier to take off the hook?”

Taking fish off the hook is the worst part of fishing. It wouldn’t be so bad if a fish would give you a little heads-up as to when it would decide to start violently flapping about in your hand, but you just never know when that fish is going to turn from Seinfeld Kramer into YouTube Kramer. My biggest fear of having kids is that I will be the last line of defense for hook removal, especially for that surgical situation in which the hook gets swallowed, which is the fishing version of the Blue of Screen of Death.

“You don’t need to flatten the barbs. They don’t feel it,” Don said. And he’s probably right. To a fish, getting impaled through your face and then having your entire body weight hanging from your lips is probably just a minor inconvenience, the human equivalent of getting toothpaste on your shirt.

The biggest surprise of these fishing trips has been Kara’s enthusiasm for them. Once she gets a hold of that fishing rod, she’s like a different person: a person who actually likes to fish. After she caught her first one, she got so excited that she started swinging the fish around through the air, repeatedly smacking it off my back.

“I caught one! I caught one!” she said, as she made the sound of one fish clapping off of one ducking husband’s back.

“Dude, my back! Quit hitting me with the fish!” I said. Luckily, we had a man in the boat with us; Don grabbed the fish and let it go.

A couple of years ago, we came around a bend in the river to a drowning fawn, which was slowly losing its struggle to climb a steep, muddy riverbank, its little nose barely above the waterline. Before anyone could talk, Don was out of the boat, waist deep in the water. He gently cradled the fawn in his arms and set it down in the grass beside the creek. It was pretty cool to see my best supplier of homemade venison jerky coming to the rescue like that. I’ve never seen any of my other friends who hunt save a deer, though to be fair, they do all of their deer hunting using nothing but their Hondas.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

My furnace just beat it

As the For Sale sign in the front yard gently swayed in the new spring breeze a couple of weeks ago, I noticed an unfamiliar scent hanging in the air inside the house. I turned to my wife Kara, who had also noticed it. She put her book down and sniffed the air, trying to figure out whether or not to accuse me of having something to do with it.

One might expect, just a couple of days into spring, that the air would be filled with the promise of new life, something along the lines of jonquils, honeysuckle or scented candles floating around in a flooded basement. But our house was filled with an entirely different, much worse aroma.

“Why does our house smell like an Exxon tanker crashed into it last night?” I asked. The smell of oil was becoming so strong, you could taste it.

“Oh, man. This smells expensive,” Kara said.

Turns out that our furnace, which had been cranking along without issue since the release of the movie “Footloose,” decided that our last springtime in this house would be a perfect time to putter out to a stinky death. Of course, this timing made perfect sense, because Kevin Bacon, who starred in “Footloose,” later on appeared in “Apollo 13” with Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks starred in “The Money Pit,” a movie about why Shelley Long shouldn’t have left “Cheers,” but also about how stuff breaks all the time. Yes, you can make an entire movie about that. You can also write a newspaper column about it every week, if you have nothing better to do.

“It’s the heat exchanger,” the heat doctor said, using a tone that let me know that his patient was terminally ill. “Must be a crack in it. Even if I could fix it, it’d cost about the same as a new furnace.”

If your heat exchanger has never cracked, you might not be aware of this, but the smell of burning oil is nearly indistinguishable from the smell of burning money.

That night, as I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, alarming thoughts raced through my head. A furnace is no cheap thing to replace, especially as you’re trying to scrimp together everything you have to move into a new place.

“Babe,” I said, gently rousting Kara.

“Mmph, what? I was asleep,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said quietly. “I was just wondering what would happen, you know? I mean, what would happen if Sanjaya won the whole thing?”

“Did you seriously just wake me up to ask me that?” she said.

“But if he wins, will they have to cancel the show?” I asked.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.

And she was right. You need to have perspective. Some things just can’t be helped by worrying about them, even though you might think, in your heart of hearts, that the chubby guy was a better singer.

Besides, there are much more pertinent issues to worry about, things that are happening in the real world. For instance, did you know that Michael Jackson is pursuing the construction of a fifty-foot-tall Michael Jackson robot that will roam the Las Vegas desert, shooting laser beams out of some unspecified body parts? A buddy of mine sent me the link to that story, and it was actually a real story, not something from the Onion or Fox News.

I’m not sure we, as a society, can fully comprehend the ramifications of having a giant Michael Jackson robot roaming the desert until it actually happens, but one thing I do know: if it ever invites any of my young, impressionable appliances over to play, there’s no way that’s happening. But I do have an old furnace that it might like to meet.

You can send emails and condolences to Mike Todd at

Friday, April 06, 2007

A good phlogging

My buddy Rob always knows where to find the best flying penguins:

Check out his photo blog for more excellent pics. Oh, and then there's this, compliments of my sister Amy's forwarding prowess:

Enjoy smoking again, Lent people.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Welcome to the Hotel Amy

My sister Amy, much like the Muppets, has taken Manhattan. We haven’t lived in the same time zone for eight years, so it’s pretty exciting to be able to call her without having to go through the exhausting mental gymnastics of subtracting three hours. Also, the only female to ever properly execute a simultaneous headlock and wedgie maneuver on me is now just a short train ride away, and that is most excellent for many reasons, not the least of which being that her proclivity for applying said maneuver seems to have diminished greatly ever since she became a lawyer. Lawyers can give people headlocks and wedgies with words.

So now when my wife Kara and I visit Amy in the Big City, we don’t have to worry about carry-on luggage and putting on our prettiest socks for the security people. We just hop on a train and relax for a couple of hours, listening to the surrounding cell phone conversations and letting them lull us gently to sleep like sweet lullabies, sweet, cacophonous lullabies about the merits of piercings vs. tattoos, punctuated liberally by laughter that could wake road kill.

Since we know we’re going to be doing a lot of walking in the city, we pack in our old camping backpacks like we’re attempting a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Somehow during the packing process, Kara stops looking at me as her husband and starts viewing me as her own personal burro.

“Oh, can you fit my boots in there, too?” she asks, looking at the cascade of tampons, purses, hair dryers and Gap jackets overflowing out of the top of my bag.

“Hee-haw,” I reply, adjusting my saddle blanket.

Last weekend, Amy was traveling away from the city, so Kara and I selflessly volunteered to keep her vacant apartment from getting all lonely and dusty in her absence. This is a service which we provided (perhaps a little too generously) completely free of charge. Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices for family.

We also enlisted the help of several of our friends, just to make doubly sure that Amy’s bed, couch and floor were properly slept upon while she was away, keeping them nice and broken in for when she got back. If you’re going to do a job right, you need good help. Besides, Kara and I couldn’t be expected to go out on a Saturday night in New York City and drink enough alcohol to get ten people drunk all by ourselves -- that would have been totally irresponsible. You need at least five people to do that.

When my buddy Josh and his wife Jaime arrived at Amy’s building, I met them in the lobby, gave them a high-five and a hug, respectively, and strolled over to the elevator with them, not paying any attention to the man who came up behind us. Had I been more alert, I would have let him get on the elevator first and then quickly come up with a reason why we needed to wait for the next one. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this foresight, and I paid the price for it.

Josh’s favorite game to play, besides Fill up the Hard Drive with Illegal Material, is a pastime most aptly described as Embarrass Mike in the Elevator. Whenever we’re on an elevator with a stranger, properly observing elevator etiquette by standing in silence that is only mildly awkward, Josh likes to turn to me and say things like, “Oh, I hope there’s a view. It’s going to be so romantic up there.”

Last weekend, as we stood in the elevator with the stranger, watching the digital number beep upward towards Amy’s floor, Josh looked at me and asked, “So has that rash cleared up yet or what?”

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