Sunday, June 24, 2007

When the kiddies go marching home

It’s amazing how much quieter the world gets when vacation ends and the four year-olds go home. My ears don’t quite know what to do with themselves. I have the same feeling I get when my wife clicks off the blow dryer, allowing all the other sounds to come rushing in, which are usually the sounds of PlayStation2 zombie heads exploding.

I’m finding that quieter isn’t really better. Everything is just a little bit more boring without five kids from two families tearing around the place. Now when I wake up in the morning, I can make it all the way to the bathroom without a four year-old latching onto my shin, sitting on my foot and yelling, “Go!”

Of course, when this happens, you have to encourage the child to say “please,” or the next thing you know they’ll be knocking over liquor stores without even thanking the proprietors.

“What’s the magic word?” I’d say.

“Go NOW!”

“I mean the other magic word.”

“Go FAST!”

“The other one.”

“Go, please?”

Forty pounds might not sound like that much, but when you’re dragging it around from your ankles, you learn very quickly that children do not make comfortable footwear, except maybe at Nike plants. Also, as long as they’re not the ones doing the work, kids don’t mind that it takes forty minutes to ride your leg to the kitchen. They’re too busy pinching out your leg hair. And when a six year-old grabs onto your other leg and yells “giddyup!” you could easily lose a footrace to a one-legged glacier.

As the week at the beach progressed, I was fascinated to learn that the hot commodity with people in the single-digit age bracket was other people’s litter. Kids all up and down the beach were pushing perfectly good sea shells out of the way to look for “sea glass,” which adults normally refer to as “broken beer bottles.” Sea glass has all the edges worn smooth, rendering it completely ineffectual in even the most rudimentary of bar fights.

To me, hunting for sea glass seems a lot like strolling along a meadow full of wildflowers and saying, “Aw, yes! Check out this cigarette butt I just found. Oh, smell it. Menthol! I bet whoever smoked this one had minty fresh breath. Do menthol smokers even need to brush their teeth? I’m saving this one for my butt-and-macaroni collage.”

But I suppose making little kids happy is about the best way to make use of other people’s slovenliness. If you’re the kind of person who hurls beer bottles into the sea, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve probably made some little girl’s day, assuming she avoided getting lacerated. If only we could get kids interested in “sea broken snowblowers,” I might finally get my garage cleared out.

As we walked with the kids down the beach looking for sea glass, the father of three of the kids said to me, “The transition from two kids to three is the hardest. When you have two kids, you can play man-to-man. When the third one comes along, you have to move to a zone defense.” The kids worked diligently on punching holes in that defense, driving hard to the basket all week long. They were just like little cookie-powered LeBron Jameses.

An ankle-deep wave came along and somehow managed to knock over all three kids, causing a Loony-Tunes-like dustup.

Their mother offered this: “Don’t kill your sister! I’m not making another one.”

But the kids quickly became distracted when their dad found a piece of blue sea glass, which is the Holy Grail of sea glass finds, and probably the most entertaining piece of trash not found in an E! True Hollywood Story. If those kids knew who Elvis was, they would have thought their dad was even cooler. Or at least as cool as the yellow Wiggle.

You missed Mike, you missed Mike, now you have to kiss Mike online at

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dispatches from the Outer Banks

I don’t ask for much. Just a roof over my head, food to eat and, where appropriate, urinal dividers. But this week, life has kindly afforded me the brief opportunity to live under a really large roof right beside the ocean, all while having Oreos and beer for dinner and staying in bed ‘til noon on a Monday. Yes, it is vacation time, and my family has gathered for a beach week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of the few places in the world where you can get run over by an SUV without leaving the comfort of your beach chair.

My first cousins, who lag in the procreation department only behind the Old Lady in the Shoe, brought all their little kids along, which is really excellent news, because if they didn’t, I have no idea who would eat all these cans of Spaghetti-O’s.

When you only get a chance to visit with your little cousins once a year, they turn into different little wonderful people every time you see them. Since last summer, some of them have learned how to dress themselves, speak proper English and use the toilet, which is already better than most of my friends from college.

As good as they’ve gotten at becoming functioning little people, these kids sorely need to develop an appreciation for sleeping in. Every dawn in this house has been marked by a thundering herd of children tearing through the hallways. Marshall University should put pictures of my little cousins on their football helmets. For the past few days, these kids have gotten up so early that nearby roosters have been pulling their pillows over their heads and saying, “Dudes, just a few more minutes. Please.”

Yesterday, my little cousin Johnny reached down into the sand and picked up something that had attracted his attention. He turned to his Uncle Dave and said, “Look, I found mini coconuts!”

Uncle Dave was busy sweeping out his Ford Explorer, which, after being in the Outer Banks for a couple days, had enough sand in it to host a beach volleyball tournament.

“That’s neat,” said Dave, not turning around. Then the realization dawned on him that there couldn’t possibly be mini coconuts in the driveway of the beach house; there wasn’t a tree in sight. There were, though, several wild horses roaming nearby.

Dave turned to see Johnny proudly waving around his new toys, which were not actually in the fruit family at all, unless you count horse apples. I’m not sure what exactly transpired next, but the number of high-fives in this household has dropped precipitously since that story started going around.

While we only had to drive through a few states to come down here, there are some readily apparent cultural differences. Even though I have exclusively Southern blood pumping through my Arby’s-clogged veins, I’m just not used to seeing Confederate flags on anything other than the occasional rusted-out pickup truck. The house next door has one casually flying off the deck, causing me to wonder if we are vacationing next to the Confederate Embassy. They probably hammer out important diplomatic issues over there, like how to confront the growing threat of ketchup-based BBQ sauce over vinegar-based BBQ sauce, and whether Wal-mart counts as the South rising again.

I don’t have too much time to worry about the Stars and Bars, though, when I’m still trying to figure out if I need to be offended that my cousins made me be the Pink Ranger. And while I know next-to-nothing about how to keep little kids under control, I have learned over the past few days that it can never be a good thing when you hear, from some distant corner of the house, a five year-old yell, “Timmmmm-ber!”

You can share your best rebel yell with Mike Todd online at

Monday, June 11, 2007

Something to chirp about

My wife Kara has a special connection with nature. She’s like one of those animal whisperers who get their own shows on the Discovery Channel. Just this morning, as several birds were enthusiastically chirping in the maple tree outside our window before the sun came up, I witnessed the beauty of Kara speaking directly with the natural world.

“Shut up!” she said to nature.

“Caw! Caw! Chirp chirp chirp,” nature replied.

“I can’t sleep. They never shut up. Can you sleep?” she asked me.

“Not anymore,” I said. Even if the birds perched on my forehead, pecked at my cheeks and cooked Belgian waffles with canned whipped cream on my nightstand, I could probably still sleep through it. They’d have to start a death metal band in our maple tree to wake me up. Incidentally, a really good death metal band name for them would be “Cardinal Sin.”

But Kara can’t ignore the birds because she’s so attuned to nature that she just lies there in bed interpreting birdsong. Apparently, they’re saying, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! And wake your husband up, too.”

Several years ago, my buddy Josh gave us a bird feeder as a housewarming present, which I left in the basement until just before his next visit a year later. On that Friday, he called from the road to say: “We’re going to be there in fifteen minutes, and if that bird feeder isn’t out of the box yet, I’m taking it and cramming it up the first orifice I find.”

“Dude, I told you already. I hung it in the backyard months ago,” I replied. Then I dusted off the box from the basement, ran out to the backyard and hung that thing from a branch just in time to avert an invasive anterior birdfeederoplasty. That’s where the feeder has stayed ever since, and it’s been empty since about that Sunday evening. As it turns out, Josh didn’t get us a bird feeder at all; he accidentally got us a squirrel feeder. To turn a squirrel feeder into a bird feeder, you need booby traps and laser beams and axle grease, and I just haven’t put in the time to formulate a proper strategy for doing so, mainly because it seems like the birds out there are doing just fine without our help, especially around 4am, when they begin to gather for their conversation with my wife, the bird screamer.

My parents have successfully converted a couple squirrel feeders into bird feeders in their front yard, using techniques that they’ve perfected over the last couple of decades. There are more trap doors and obstacles around those feeders than there were in the last event of American Gladiators. Still, the squirrels never give up, trying the same unsuccessful tactics over and over again like they think they’ve been elected president.

My parents’ success at creating a happening place for cute little birdies to hang out hasn’t gone unnoticed a little higher up the food chain. As Mom ate breakfast recently, a hawk swooped down and snatched a bird off the feeder. Mom did the only thing a moderately sane person could do, which is to go out in the yard and yell at the hawk as it enjoyed its breakfast high up in a tree. As someone who has received a fair amount of discipline from Mom, the only advice I might offer is that next time she try the “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed in you” talk. That hawk would never touch another bird again, at least not until it went to college.

Anyway, be sensitive about the bird situation when you visit my folks. Mom doesn’t think it’s funny when you ask how her hawk feeders are doing.

You can push Mike Todd out of the nest online at

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Wiener arithmetic from the lowest common denominator

It’s been sixteen years since Steve Martin made his daring exposé of the wiener industry in the movie “Father of the Bride,” but still we’ve made alarmingly little progress in our wiener-related pursuits since. My wife Kara and I were doing our Memorial Day duties last weekend by buying hot dogs, which come in packs of ten, and buns, which, infuriatingly to those of us who have little to no perspective on what’s actually worth getting angry about in life, come in packs of eight.

Steve Martin’s famous grocery store tirade went like this: “I'll tell you what I'm doing. I want to buy eight hot dogs and eight hot dog buns to go with them. But no one sells eight hot dog buns. They only sell twelve hot dog buns. So I end up paying for four buns I don't need. So I am removing the superfluous buns. Yeah. And you want to know why? Because some big-shot over at the wiener company got together with some big-shot over at the bun company and decided to rip off the American public.”

This scene came out way back in the time when gas was cheap and rock stars were androgynous, but we’re still being ripped off. In the interim, the bun makers have apparently acquiesced, removing the four superfluous buns, but in a cruel twist, the hot dogs folks added two more dogs. All this bun-and-wiener shuffling accomplished was raising the least common multiple of wieners and buns from 24 to 40. Also, I hope my third grade math teacher reads this. I think she’d be proud that I took a break from rolling booger balls out of rubber cement long enough to retain something she taught us other than “rulers are meant for measuring, not swashbuckling,” though I still think she was looking at me just a little too much during the unit on lowest common denominators.

Kara and I have enough trouble feeding ourselves without food companies making us remember our multiplication tables. Every night, we sit around at dinnertime staring at each other, seeing who will crack first and just pour a bowl of cereal. Kara will invariably say something like this: “We should just go and buy stuff to make a salad.” How this addresses the issue of dinner is still rather unclear.

My buddy Gimp eats steamed vegetables and rice for dinner every single night. I’m not sure how he has enough strength left to answer the phone when I call, but the point is that he never deviates from the one meal he likes to cook. Actually, most of my guy friends eat the same thing every single day, just like I did before Kara came along and started rocking the culinary boat until Mama Celeste fell overboard.

It’s against the natural order of the world to eat different things every day. Cavemen, back before they started selling insurance and going all metrosexual, didn’t complain about not having a varied menu to eat every day.

I bet you’d never hear a caveman say, “Aw, man, gazelle again?”

It probably went more like this: “Sweet merciful heavens -- gazelle again! I can’t believe our good fortune to have something to eat day after day. I hope we never run out of gazelle. Also, I hope someone invents toilet paper soon.”

I’m lucky I don’t have to catch my food out in the wild. Here’s how good my instincts are: when I’m walking around the house in the dark and I see a shape on the floor that is either a leaf or a “present” from our ferret, I poke it to find out which it is. Someone who does that could probably find a way to get eaten by a woodchuck.

You can tell Mike Todd that a salad is a meal online at