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.

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