Sunday, August 26, 2007

Craigslist and Mikespool

Apparently, savvy homebuyers these days just don’t have an appreciation for leaking, algaefied monstrosities that fill up the whole backyard and suck the cash out of your wallet and the leisure time out of your life with equal vigor. My wife Kara and I arrived at this conclusion after receiving a raft of negative feedback about our above-ground albatross from people who otherwise seemed interested in buying the house that we vacated earlier this summer. Now that buyers are holding the cards and sellers are holding the bag, it seems that folks are much less willing to inherit oversized bowls of chlorine and misery than we were four years ago.

If I had a Delorean and 1.21 Jigowatts, I’d go back to the day we closed on the house and tell myself, “Start getting rid of the pool today! You’re going to spend the next four years scooping unbelievable amounts of leaves out of it and you’re only going to swim in it twice. Also, don’t try to pick individual stocks for your retirement plan. Please.”

But how were we to know at the time? A pool seemed like a fun thing to have. I guess you have to experience things for yourself before you ever really know. Now I know that I don’t like differential equations, I hate it when eggplant disguises itself as chicken and swimming pools are much more fun when owned by friends.

Paying two mortgages at the beginning of each month has also started to give us an interesting and not entirely pleasant sensation, one that under normal circumstances could only be achieved with the aid of a sigmoidoscope. For all of these reasons, we decided that it was finally time to do the humane thing and put the pool down.

Though my dad had offered to come spend a weekend crawling in the dirt to help remove the pool and the adjoining deck, I thought I’d first try to find an unsuspecting rube somewhere on the internet to take it off our hands. I’d never sold anything on Craigslist before, but it seemed to be the place the world goes to shift junk from one person to another.

I created an ad that said, “If you’ll help take down the pool and haul off my deck too, you can have them both for FREE. Heck, you can even have the noodles.” You can tell I took a marketing class by the way I put the word “FREE” in caps.

I’d hoped to hear back from maybe one or two people. Within an hour, I had thirty responses in my inbox. I quickly amended the ad to say, “I have accidentally kicked off a pool-wanting stampede with this ad. You’re welcome to respond still, but please be aware that you might have a better chance at being the next American Idol.”

I should have just deleted the ad right then. Unfortunately, the disclaimer only served to kick up the desperation level in the emails.

“We’re praying to the good Lord that you’ll choose us for the pool.”

“Hi my name is kevin and i’m twelve years old and dad says if I write this email insted of him that maybe you’ll pick us. Please can we have your pool I like swimming and it would make me happy.”

“My sister just had hip surgery. The doctor says she needs to swim to recuperate…”

And so on. The bane of the backyard had suddenly turned into the toast of the town. The ad garnered seventy-five responses in the few hours it remained online. After much dithering and guilt over having to crush the chlorine-drenched dreams of seventy-four families, we picked Steve, a guy who had all the attributes you look for in a guy who wants to adopt your pool: a box truck and a trailer.

You can fish Mike Todd out of the skimmer box at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good day and good luck

The new guy on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” segment in the morning signs off his portion of the broadcast with “In Los Angeles, I'm Doug Krizner. Make it a good day.” That last part always catches me a little off guard. It’s not enough to just have a good day plopped in your lap; Doug thinks you should go out and make one for yourself. It’s a nice sentiment, but what if we’re not up to the challenge? Sometimes the world confounds your best efforts to make it a good day. You never know when you’re going to spill scalding hot tea on your crotch or invade a Middle Eastern country without an exit plan.

Edward R. Murrow came up with, “Good night and good luck.” Walter Cronkite had, “And that’s the way it is.” Bob Barker said, “Don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets.” If I had my own newscast and earned the privilege to inform everyone of all the terrible things that had happened that day, I’d sign off every broadcast like this: “Well, that’s enough of that.”

Despite the best wishes of a morning anchor person, sometimes a good day can be very tough to make. For instance, you might be minding your own business one day, pushing your fingers to the very limits of human ability trying to get five stars on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on Guitar Hero II, when out of the blue your phone vibrates with a text message, letting you know that somebody wants to pass along a piece of information to you, but would prefer to spend ten minutes punching a keypad with their thumbs than actually have to talk to you. This text might not only break your string of notes and make you lose your multiplier, but it just might shatter your notions of all that is good and pure in the world.

I had just such a day recently when my buddy Derek texted me the following message: “Too bad your boy Bear Grylls is a phony. He’d be cool if he was real.” Derek was referring to the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Man vs. Wild” show and inspiration for my “What would Bear do?” tattoo.

A little exploring on the internet turned up what Derek was talking about. When Bear was supposedly sleeping in a rain forest, ostensibly trying to find his way back to civilization, he was actually sleeping in a hotel and then pretending to wake up in the woods. And it wasn’t even a Motel 6, which technically still counts as wilderness. Bear also pretended to build a raft that experts had already built for him, and used smoke machines to make volcanic gas look more threatening. Still, there are certain aspects of the show that can’t be faked, such as when he quenched his thirst by squeezing a big ball of elephant dung over his mouth or when he jumped into a frozen lake and dried himself off with snow. Clearly, the man is earning his paycheck.

Derek didn’t have to tell me the news about Bear. He could have let me live the rest of my life thinking that there are more heroes in the world than just my parents and Cal Ripken, Jr. I bet Derek goes around the mall at Christmastime telling kids the truth about Santa Claus, too. Don’t worry, young readers. Santa Claus exists every bit as much as Congressional oversight authority. What I mean by “the truth about Santa” is that the Big Guy just turned Russian.

You may have seen the news about Vladimir Putin planting a flag in the North Pole to claim the Big Slushee for Russia, which means that the North Pole’s citizens are now Russian. Da, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And this year, if you’re a good girl, you’ll get vodka and 80’s-era fissile material in your stocking.

Well, that’s enough of that.

You can spay and neuter Mike Todd online at

Sunday, August 12, 2007

To Colbert is human

They say that fame can turn you into a different person and make you expose your nether regions inadvertently while disembarking from SUVs, but I haven’t had too much of a problem with that so far. Most of the time, it’s been advertent.

I’ve tried to stay as down-to-earth as possible since my big debut on the “Colbert Report” last week, though it’s not always easy to deal with the temptations of stardom. I’m thinking about skipping all the intermediate steps and just going straight to rehab.

In case you missed it, I was the guy going “Yeah!” at the beginning of last Thursday’s episode of the “Colbert Report.” Also, I purposefully kept clapping a little bit longer than most of the other people. It seemed to me that the other clappers in the studio were just phoning it in; they clearly hadn’t spent countless hours honing their craft in front of the mirror like some of us had. After we got home and watched the DVR recording, I was hoping I’d made enough of an impact to qualify as “clapping person #87” in the closing credits, but, like so many great artists, it appears that I will go unrecognized in my time.

When my cousin Erin asked my wife Kara and I if we were interested in accompanying her and a friend to a taping of the Report in New York City, we were thrilled. Erin instantaneously jumped way up on the Best Cousin in the Universe list, supplanting my cousin Todd (whose name isn’t Todd Todd, though that would be awesome), who took me for a ride in a Corvette when I was six. Sitting there in the studio among one hundred other budding TV personalities, the air crackled with possibility and my knuckles.

“Stop cracking your knuckles!” Kara said.

“That crack was brought to you by a member of a live studio audience,” I replied.

I had to make sure my ligaments were limber for the big moment. When Stephen came out to start the show, we had a sacred obligation as members to clap like we’d never clapped before, or to clap like we’d clapped many times before, whichever way meant that we were taking our clapping seriously. When you’re a member of a live studio audience, it is also your responsibility to yell your esophagus off, making high-pitched “Wooooooo!” sounds over and over again, no matter how feminine that sound might be. Also, if you ever spent the time to learn how to do that whistle that involves sticking two fingers in your mouth, this is your time to shine.

After yelling “Wooooooo!” over and over again, I began to feel that an expansion of my repertoire was in order. I mixed it up with a few “Yeahs!”, because “Yeah!” is a sound you can make without trying to hit C above high C.

Incidentally, there were no light-up “APPLAUSE” signs to be found in the studio. When they wanted you to cheer, a guy just waved a rolled-up piece of paper over his head like he was considering bopping us all over our heads for peeing on the carpet, which I assure you we did not, mainly because there was no carpet.

The whole experience was really very cool, and Stephen Colbert is a genuinely nice guy. I can say this with confidence because I sat within fifty feet of him.

Watching the recording the next day, we slowed down the half-second camera sweep of the audience to go frame-by-frame.

“Oh, look, there I am!” Kara said.

“I think that’s a camera man,” I said, squinting.

“Really? No, I think that’s me,” she said. But really, for all we could tell from the recording, everyone in the audience that day had been built entirely of Duplo blocks.

You can say something truthy to Mike Todd online at

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Oh Brother, there thou art

Growing up without any brothers, I probably missed out on many things, most of them bruises. Luckily, my older sister Amy was there to pick up the slack, and as a bonus she spent the majority of her teenage years wearing down my parents’ resolve, thereby ensuring my birthright as the youngest child: relaxed disciplinary standards. This was the greatest gift she could have ever given me, and it made up entirely for her weakness in the hand-me-down department. While I appreciated the Violent Femmes and Hooters tapes she passed along, her blouses never did quite fit me right.

Last weekend, though, when my sister-in-law Jill got married, I came within a technicality’s breadth of picking up my first brother. Actually, I was pretty sure that Kris and I were officially brothers-in-law until I consulted stupid Wikipedia, which informed me that the term brother-in-law “is often misapplied to the husband of a person's sister-in-law.” Whatever, Wikipedia, you home wrecker. Who says, “brother-in-law by marriage,” anyway? That’s just lame.

So I’m still going to count it. Now that I have a little brother, I should probably do something big brotherly, like kick him out of my room or give him some nudie magazines from 1983.

Before their wedding, Kris asked some of his musically inclined friends to write a song to be performed during the reception. After he began to worry about what his friends were going to sing about him in front of his new mother-in-law, who, from what I’m told, can knock a raccoon off a trash can with her Evil Eye, he had them run the lyrics by me, which just goes to show you how hard up Kris is for a voice of reason. Kris’ friends actually showed remarkable forbearance, writing an original tune that was not nearly as innuendo-laden as Kris had feared. If you’re so inclined, you can watch the world premier of “Daddy Met Mommy on Spring Break” by searching for it on YouTube.

Kris and Jill really did meet over spring break, proving that true love can be found on or about the beer pong table. Their mutual friend’s car broke down on the way to North Carolina, stranding Kris and their buddy at Jill’s sorority house in Virginia, turning a one-night stopover into a bride-snagging extravaganza. What kind of luck is that? I’ve never had a car that had the good sense to break down at a sorority house. Mine usually wait to putter and die until I’m driving after midnight in Dueling Banjos territory.

Fortunately, being the good brother that he is, Kris asked me to be a groomsman, so I didn’t even have to dress myself for the wedding. Bridesmaids have to worry about coordinating shoes and hair and whether or not they can reach a chest size consensus to properly resolve the strap vs. no strap issue. All a groomsman has to do is call the tux rental place and tell them how tall and fat he is, and boom, he’s all set. Just add socks.

An important lesson that the other groomsman taught me is that it never gets old to call the groom “Groomzilla” in the hours before he gets married. Seriously, try it if you get the chance. A standard conversation would go something like this: “Hey Kris, can I take this beer out to the ceremony? I don’t want to leave a floater in the hotel room. No? Whatever you say, Groomzilla.”

Regardless, the world is now a better place that Jill and Kris are married, as they goad each other into becoming bigger hippies every day that they are together. Not only have they kept up the vegetarian thing for years now, but they buy organic cotton T-shirts and use vinegar in spray bottles instead of household cleanser because it’s not as abrasive to the environment. Also, vinegar tastes better on potato chips than Tilex.

You can measure Mike Todd’s inseam online at