Monday, December 29, 2008

Yes, we Cancún

As my wife Kara and I discussed our upcoming “can’t-carry-over-our-vacation-to-2009” trip to Cancún, Mexico, with a group of friends last week over dinner, our friend Anna warned us against bringing anything over the Transportation Security Administration-regulated 3.5 ounces of sunscreen.

“My friend had a half-full four-ounce container, and they made her throw the whole thing away,” she said.

We all gasped in horror. Sunscreen protects all of us, but who will protect the sunscreen?

Eventually, the conversation made its way to more esoteric regulatory issues.

“Are you allowed to wear gel inserts in your shoes when you fly?” someone asked. “What if they have too much gel in them?”

This brought the mental image of a TSA agent holding up his hand before allowing you through the X-ray machine. “Hold on. Federal aviation regulations require me to ask,” the agent would say. “Are you gellin’?”

If you didn’t get that joke because you haven’t seen the annoying-by-design Dr. Scholl’s commercials for gel inserts, then you can consider yourself on the winning end of that particular bargain.

Before Kara settled on Cancún as a destination, thanks to one of those elusive last-minute travel deals, I’d been thinking that maybe we’d go somewhere closer, like a nearby truck stop to check out the jerky selection. The only thing I knew about Cancún was that we, as a nation, sent all of our obnoxious college students there every spring to get rid of them for a week.

Apparently, though, people plan vacations to Cancún for reasons other than a proclivity towards wet T-shirt contests. Kara signed us up for tours to various natural and manmade attractions, including the ancient Mayan temple Chichen Itza, which I had heard of before, but always thought was some kind of snack cracker, like a distant relative of the Cheez-It.

So we pulled the trigger, and shortly after landing in Cancún, we found ourselves in an endlessly snaking line of tourists trying to sneak in a vacation before the holidays, creaking along with our roller bags and waiting to show our passports. Beside the line hung a huge and strategically placed billboard, which I had time to memorize down to the pixel, advertising the local Outback Steakhouse. Really, that’s why most people come to Mexico in the first place: to eat the authentic faux-Australian American food. Then they go to Switzerland to see if they can find any decent Hershey bars.

As of this writing (deadline: hours ago, but an editor’s physical threats are not nearly as scary when viewed from behind a margarita glass), we’ve been in Cancún for just over 24 hours, and it didn’t take nearly that long to understand why so many people come here. The weather has been perfect, the people we’ve met have been welcoming and the natural surroundings are beautiful to the point of approaching surrealism. When travelling, though, I always try to find something to whine about, so that I can feel better about where I live after returning home. It’s a defense mechanism, like rationalization or a catapult.

If you need a reason to justify living in the Northeast, to keep scraping your windshield when people in warmer climates are scraping the bottom of their piña coladas and worrying about whether they’ve evenly applied their sunscreen, let me offer you this phrase: year ‘round mosquitoes. Today, I’m pretty sure that I picked up a nice new mug for the kitchen and malaria.

Even so, a little yellow fever might be worth it. We’ve never tried to fit a vacation in before the whirlwind of Christmas with our families, but so far this one has been a great success. But I still think I deserved to place higher in the wet T-shirt contest.

You can drink the worm before Mike Todd gets to it at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some fiddles are fitter than others

This Christmas season, my wife Kara and I decided to be socially conscious and do our best to buy locally, so we headed over to do some shopping at a nearby bookseller, Barnes and Noble, one of our local corporate behemoths.

To our surprise, there was a good deal of very local activity going on in there; our next-door neighbors’ teenage son, Brian, was playing in a concert with his fiddle group in a roped-off area next to the café, where currency is converted into coffee mixed with sundae toppings. The young musicians had clearly not been paying attention in math class; they seemed to have been playing their instruments for longer than they had been alive.

“This is a song that I composed last summer,” Brian announced into the microphone, before heading into a performance that Mr. Holland would have gladly traded for his opus. During the song, three teenage kids played musical chairs with their musical instruments, switching between a piano, an electric guitar, acoustic guitars and fiddles (you could tell they were fiddles, not violins, because the people playing them were not wearing tuxedos). I half-expected Bugs Bunny to march across the stage wearing his one-man-band outfit, playing a trombone while swinging mallets into a bass drum with his ears.

I don’t come anywhere close to matching Brian’s success when I compose my own songs, which are generally improvisational message songs intended for much smaller audiences, with titles like, “The Itsy-Bitsy Husband Doesn’t Feel Like Emptying the Dishwasher.”

Regardless, standing among the toe-tapping, head-bobbing audience there beside the biscotti jars, I felt a certain camaraderie with those talented kids because -- and I don’t mean to brag, but -- in certain musical circles, I’m very highly regarded, especially and exclusively in the circles that are familiar with the high scores on our copy of Guitar Hero II.

For those unfamiliar with the Guitar Hero franchise, it’s a series of video games that makes players feel like Jimi Hendrix for the intrinsically nerdy act of being able to punch large plastic buttons on a guitar-shaped controller. I once overheard a guy at a party who, in the saddest boast I’ve ever heard, claimed to be the 24th-best Guitar Hero player in the world, which might be slightly more impressive to women than having the 24th-hairiest shoulders. A true Guitar Hero aficionado will do well not to spend too much time thinking about the real instruments they could have learned in the same amount of time.

We never upgraded to Guitar Hero III in our house, mainly because the pursuit of musical excellence on a pretend guitar began to seem somewhat counterproductive, especially when a very real guitar sat biodegrading in its case twenty feet away, gently weeping from neglect.

A couple of weeks ago, spurred by post-Grand-Theft-Auto-IV-conquering boredom, I pulled my old acoustic guitar out of the corner it had been occupying since before Tom Cruise was crazy. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that it doesn’t do the best things for your musical confidence when the first chords you strum on your chosen instrument send your dog into a barking frenzy, the same way the trash truck’s brakes do.

Her musical criticism aside, I realized that our puppy Memphis was barking because she’d never heard me play the guitar in the eight months she’d lived with us. After watching Brian and his fellow musicians calm and delight the harried crowd that had assembled mainly to throw elbows at its fellow shoppers, it became clear that all those days I heard Brian practicing through the windows, creating a disproportionately beautiful soundtrack for walking the dog, were paying great dividends.

In any event, Memphis is really going to freak out when she hears what our vacuum cleaner sounds like.

You can locate the exit door before Mike Todd’s encore begins at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Getting some class at the mall

You know the economy’s not going well when the people who stashed their money in pickle jars are feeling smug. But still, as I read the news about the Obama administration’s proposals to alleviate our problems by raining money upon our nation’s infrastructure, my heart swells with hope that, besides the nicety of having bridges that don’t fall down, we may soon build more of what makes this country great, namely urinal dividers. Sure, bridges connect us, but I think most guys would agree that a country can’t be truly united until its urinals are divided.

And say what you will about our current economic difficulties, but you can’t blame my household. My wife Kara has done her part to help spend our way out of this crisis by attending a decorating class at Pottery Barn with some of her friends. For those not familiar with Pottery Barn, it’s the store in the mall where, if you have forty-nine bucks burning a hole in your Dooney and Bourke money-dispensing device, you can come home with a truly stunning fake stick.

To be fair, I just checked online, and the fake stick I saw in the store with Kara a few weeks ago, when I held my breath until she stopped looking at it, is not really a fake stick at all. It’s a Bittersweet Statement Branch. The Statement: I obviously live somewhere with no trees. The branch is actually on sale at the time of this writing (about three minutes after my deadline) for only thirty-four bucks. Still, even though it’s on sale, I think I’ll pass on purchasing one for now, since I’m pretty sure buying one would only make me feel the first part of bittersweet.

When Kara told me that she’d signed up for the class, I was impressed. If there’s one thing that’s difficult to find in the mall, it’s a commitment to higher education. And also the bathroom that’s tucked down the corridor to the loading docks. Oh, and a security guard to haul away the person from the lotion pagoda who tries to break your stride by asking, “Can I ask you a question?” as if they haven’t already done so.

I was surprised to learn that the admissions process for the Pottery Barn class wasn’t more stringent; Kara and her friends didn’t need to provide transcripts or references, or take standardized tests with questions like “colon:semicolon::Colin Powell: ?”. You’d expect that sort of free pass from the store with the vibrating footstools, but not Pottery Barn.

“What are you going to learn at this class?” I asked.

“We’re going to learn some holiday decorating tips,” Kara said. Sensing that she hadn’t quite convinced me of the academic merit yet, she added, “And the things they show us are all 10% off.”

This, of course, sent a shiver down my joint checking account. When Kara hears 10% off, I hear 90% on.

“Are you sure you’ve thought this through?” I asked. “There are so many questions you need to consider before matriculating in a Pottery Barn program. For instance, can the credits you earn in this class be carried over if you decide you want to transfer to Crate and Barrel? Maybe you should take a year off to find yourself before jumping into this.”

But Kara went on ahead to school with her friends, leaving me at home with an empty nest that was, for the moment, not built out of fake sticks. Left behind with the dog, I quickly developed my own home school curriculum devoted largely to the scientific method; specifically, I spent the afternoon testing hypotheses relating to how long the dog could hold it between presses of the pause button on the PlayStation 3.

You can feng Mike Todd’s shui at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Wren things go awry

When my buddy Derek recently opened our front door to leave after a weekend visit, a small brown bird shot into the house, flying right for my wife Kara like she was made of suet.

She saw the look on my face before she saw the bird.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, followed immediately by, “Aaaaaah! Is that a bat? Is that a bat?” as she flung herself off the couch and scuttled across the floor.

The aptly named house wren alighted on the lampshade that had been just over Kara’s head, then quickly made itself at home, conducting an impromptu self-guided tour of every lampshade and curtain rod in the house, mistaking each for a guest bathroom and returning the number of incontinent animals in our house to one. Apparently, housebreaking our puppy Memphis had thrown the universe out of balance. We were due for a correction.

As it turned out, Kara brought this upon us. The bird had built a nest in the wreath on our front door, and it wasn’t even our Christmas wreath yet. Kara buys wreaths like rappers buy Cadillac Escalades.

“Oooh, this one would make a nice summer wreath,” she’ll say, pointing at an overpriced bundle of sticks and berries that will soon be riding home in our backseat.

Derek, Kara and I ran around the house picking up tools that we thought might be helpful for corralling the wren. Kara grabbed a blanket. Derek snagged a broom. After frantically scanning the pantry for a helpful bird-catching implement, I came back with the best thing I could find: an empty Honey Nut Cheerios box.

“Babe, a cereal box. Seriously?” Kara asked.

Unfortunately, I skimmed over the part of the Guy Handbook that explained how to remove flying animals from the house. It must have been right next to the chapter that explained why you’d ever want to change your own motor oil.

The three of us ran around the house, chasing the wren to a scene that should have been accompanied by Benny Hill music. I helped Kara toss the blanket at the bird a few times, but a moving target is really hard to hit with microfleece. In any event, if I’m ever forced to be a gladiator, remind me not to pick that throwable net as a weapon. If the blanket is any indication, I couldn’t incapacitate the broad side of a barn with one of those things.

After several passes, Derek stuck the broom right into the wren’s flight path, and the bird, dazed, flopped to floor. At that moment, Memphis, who had been altitudinally challenged enough not to have been an issue until just then, shot across the room, the thought bubble over her head clearly showing a rawhide chew with flapping wings.

“No, no, no!” we all screamed together as the bird hopped to its feet and ran towards the couch, with Memphis closing quickly behind.

With a head-first slide under the couch, the bird narrowly avoided the shared and shredded fate of every dog toy we’ve ever bought.

Moments later, with Memphis locked howling in the bedroom, Derek and Kara gently rocked the couch back as I crawled under with the cereal box.

“Hey!” I said.

“Did you catch it?” Kara asked.

“No, but did you know that the Honey Nut Cheerios bee is named ‘Buzz’? I don’t think I ever knew that.”

As a team, we were eventually able to coax the bird into the box, perhaps due to the large print that promised lower cholesterol. Out on the deck, the bird hopped out of the box and flew into a nearby tree, where it probably swore off wreaths forever. If only I could get Kara to do the same.

You can smack Mike Todd with your broom at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Administrivial pursuit

A couple weeks ago, I started a new blogroll (the list of links in the sidebar to other people's blogs, for the blilliterate) using the shiny new Blogger tools. The new blogroll is the one with the heading "Blogjammin'" on the right-hand side of the page. Incidentally, if you caught the reference in that heading title, then you win the Karl Hungus Award for Obscure Movie Reference Catching. (It's from The Big Lebowski, for non-Karl-Hungus-Award-winners.)

Anyway, in another couple-two-tree weeks, I'm going to delete my old blogroll (the one labeled "Your time would be better spent at:"), which has grown all long and out of control like that one crazy eyebrow hair.

Some of the blogs in the old blogroll haven't been updated since before the Internet was invented. Some of them once linked here before their owners came to their senses, and now they leave me with painful, unrequited linkage. But some of them are still active and updated by very cool people, so I hope that if those very cool people are reading this, they'll drop me a comment or an email to let me know that they'd like to be added to the new blogroll.

I couldn't think of a better way to decide which links to move to the new blogroll, and this will help me keep the new one neatly trimmed and current with awesome dudes who actually give somewhat of a Shatner that I'm linking to their blogs. Awesome? Awesome. Thanks, homepeople.

Oh, and if you click the new link in the sidebar to be added as a follower of this blog, all the awful things from the bottom of your chain emails will not happen to you. At least I hope not. I'll be pulling for you, is my point.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Catching Thanksgiving fever

With all the planning and preparation to do for having both of our families here for Thanksgiving, my wife Kara and I had no time for downtime, which of course means that we’ve been engaged in unintentional germ warfare for the past two weeks. Well, really, Kara’s been engaging in germ warfare against me, the innocent bystander in all of this.

“You shouldn’t use that straw. I’m sick,” she said last week, pulling her soda away from me.

“I have the immune system of an ox. I don’t get sick,” I replied.

“You shouldn’t say that. You’ll jinx yourself,” she said.

“I never get sick, ever, ever, ever,” I said, grabbing her soda and swigging heartily.

About two days later, I was wearing thermal underwear, a hooded sweatshirt and my winter jacket, shivering and sweating on the living room floor, wondering how Kara could have done this to me. She clearly should have reminded me to knock on wood, which might have shaken the germs off the straw.

People will tell you that dogs have a special ability to sense when people are in distress. As I lay on the floor with a pillow from the couch under my head, moaning and begging subtly for sympathy, our puppy Memphis came over to me and quietly, with an almost human-like empathy, vomited on my pillow.

Perhaps as a sign of how writing this column has damaged my brain, my first thought was actually, “That would have been funnier if she’d done it right on my head.” Then she stepped squarely on my eyeball as she wandered away. Dogs have such a special way about them.

My mom would have advised me to take Airborne tablets, the Wonder Placebo that my family swears by, to avoid getting sick, despite the fact that Airborne has never been proven to do anything other than consume dollars, and that the company that produces it has lost multiple lawsuits this year, at least according to Wikipedia, the internet’s best source for quasi-reliable pseudo-information. In any event, once you have a cold, everyone knows that the only thing that really provides relief is a strict regimen of Dayquil and whining, with the Dayquil being optional.

But with our house soon to be converted into a makeshift Airbed City, full of eleven family members and two dogs, the time for whining about microbial mischief is drawing to a close, and the time for figuring out how to turn on the oven is upon us.

Having both of our families together for Thanksgiving sounded, and still sounds, like a wonderful idea, but we’re butting up against the cold reality that Kara and I have absolutely no idea how to put a Thanksgiving meal together. I suspect that the reality will seem even starker once we fully understand how, exactly, the stuffing gets in there.

When she realized the enormity of the task at hand, Kara wrote down everything that needed to be done and emailed it to her mom for guidance.

“Did you just send me a Thanksgiving spreadsheet?” her mom asked.

Apparently, ours is the first generation to employ Microsoft Office in the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing an opening, I tried to work the PlayStation 3 into the mix as well, but Kara doesn’t share my technological vision. My destiny appears to be much more intertwined with that of the vacuum cleaner.

Thankfully, Kara’s parents are coming a day early to help us prepare, and all of our parents are bringing their own homemade dishes, so there is yet hope for pulling this thing off. Now we just need to clear enough space on our kitchen counter for all of those airbeds.

You can give thanks that you’ve reached the bottom of this column at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Barry special evening

While idol is a strong word to apply to anybody but your parents or, for eleven-year-olds, inexplicably, the Jonas Brothers, I’m comfortable using it to describe Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor writer who came to town recently to give a lecture, and who demonstrated to the assembled crowd that once you’ve won a Pulitzer, you can make hand farts into the microphone and people will still call what you’re doing “lecturing.”

My wife Kara accompanied me to the event even though her interest in humor writers doesn’t really extend past the one she married, and sometimes not even that far, especially when he’s thumbs-deep into his fifth consecutive hour of Grand Theft Auto IV on the PlayStation 3 and complaining about the unfair onset of carpel tunnels syndrome.

As we sat in the auditorium waiting for the lecture to begin, we saw several of our fellow audience members clutching Dave Barry books, which must be the literary equivalent of wearing your team’s jersey to the game. Authors don’t really lend themselves to wearable merchandising opportunities; you never hear anybody say, “Dude, check out my Steven King sweatshirt. It’s dyed with real pig’s blood.”

I nodded towards the front of the room and said, “Maybe that guy is getting ready to introduce Dave Barry now.”

“Baby, that’s a woman,” Kara replied, looking around to see if anyone had heard me.

It turned out that we were talking about different people, but still, I was offended. I can almost always correctly identify someone’s gender persuasion just by looking at them. I call it my gen-dar.

When Dave finally stepped up to the podium, I felt like a little leaguer watching Babe Ruth step up to the plate, except Dave was wearing a sport coat instead of spilling out of a Yankees uniform. In fact, he looked exactly the same as he did on the covers of books he’d written twenty years ago. The man is ageless, like Bilbo Baggins or Heather Locklear, despite his jokes about turning sixty-one and being tracked for years by something called AARP, which, he imagined, is the last sound you make before you die.

“AARP!” he yelped, clutching his chest and staggering backwards.

Writers often have the oratorical skills of sedated tree sloths or outgoing presidents, but Dave was indistinguishable from a stand-up comedian. At one point, he mentioned his author friend who has two girls named Page and Story, then he paused for a moment and gagged himself with his finger. Naming your kids based on your own interests does invite some level of ridicule. An architect would never name her kids Blueprint and Protractor, although Incinerator and Airbrake would be pretty awesome names for a garbage collector’s kids.

As Dave recounted some of his most popular columns and stories from over the years to an enthralled audience, it occurred to me that we were watching a performance from an increasingly rare phenomenon: the newspaper celebrity. As the medium finds its place in an electronic world, I, for one, hope newspapers will attract readers and survive for a long, long time, not least of all because, without them, it would be much more difficult to prove to awakening coma patients and time travelers what the date is.

It so happened that, after Dave concluded and the crowd started filing out, our seats dumped out through the same exit door that Dave had just used, and another fan held him up just long enough for me to reach him before he could get to his escape pod.

Kara waited two steps away with the camera as I pushed out the words, “Dave, I’ve been writing a humor column for four years. Can I get a picture with you?”

And his response, if I can squeeze it in here without going too far over my word count, was, “Yes.” It was like catching a home run ball.

He's funnier, but I could probably out-rebound him. And yes, I'll stop posting this picture now.

You can call your shot to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The corniest controversy of all

If the reader(s) of this column have come to expect anything, it’s probably regular disappointment. But after that, it’s probably white-hot controversy, stirred up by my special brand of hard-hitting journalism that’s not afraid to shake up the establishment with daring exposes on the cuteness of my puppy.

Last week, though, I’m afraid that even by this column’s semblance of standards, I took things a little too far, and one line in particular drew the attention of that vigilant media watchdog, the Corn Refiners Association. Some people will tell you that, as a pretend journalist, you’re not really doing your job unless you’re occasionally getting under the husk of Big Corn, but I can’t help but feel that there might be a kernel of misunderstanding on the cob of this dispute.

Here’s the statement from last week’s column that perked up the ears of Corn: “This [the allure of Swedish Fish] is either due to the lasting appeal of an age-old recipe, or the fact that high fructose corn syrup can turn your average child into a less-discerning gourmand than your average goat.”

As you might have guessed, the main purpose of that sentence was to show off that I could use the word “gourmand” in context, once I’d looked it up on dictionary.com to make sure it didn’t mean some kind of fancy gourd.

But a short time after the column ran, I got an email from my editor on a non-deadline day, which didn’t seem right. Emails from my editor usually go like this: “Mike, I needed your column three hours ago. Please send me whatever you have.”

To which I’ll respond, “It will be there momentarily. I’m very close to starting it.”

But this time, he was forwarding me a letter from Audrae Erickson, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, who was worried that my column “may mislead consumers about high fructose corn syrup,” which is the last thing in the world I’d ever want to do, besides watching another episode of America’s Next Top Model, no matter how much my wife insists that I’ll like this one.

As a lifelong aficionado of high fructose corn syrup, mostly in Skittle form, it was never my intention to mislead anyone into thinking that the consumption of this delicious (and nutritionally equivalent to sugar!) sweetener could be harmful, or should be moderated, in any way.

Due to my carelessness, casual readers may have arrived at the conclusion that high fructose corn syrup could, in some instances, turn children into goats. To my knowledge, this usually does not occur, though I have seen it turn them into raving lunatics who can’t seem to stop spinning in circles while singing the only two words they know to “La Cucaracha.”

If I have learned anything from this experience, it is to finally heed the advice of the wise folks who told me to stay away from sensitive topics in this column, topics that people may very well never agree upon, like the death penalty, abortion and Swedish Fish. Some people just won’t see the humor in jokes about Swedish Fish, especially people who make a living by not seeing the humor in jokes about Swedish Fish. These people apparently live in Washington, D.C., not Sweden, as you might have expected. They are also probably having dinner with your senator right now.

So I hope you, as a consumer, are now more educated about high fructose corn syrup, and will start demanding it in keg form at every opportunity. For me to believe that high fructose corn syrup is anything other than an enhancer of life’s simple joys, I’d have to be dumber than ethanol subsidies.

In the interest of drumming up more controversy for next week, let me just add that soybeans are kind of gross.

You can lead Mike Todd through the maize at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Standing next to famous people: Dave (Frickin!) Barry

Kara and I just got back from seeing Dave Barry (AKA the rich man's Dave Barry) perform as the inaugural guest of SUNY New Paltz's Distinguished Speaker series a few hours ago. I'm sure I'll squeeze a column out of the evening soon, but I couldn't wait to post this picture:

Famous people just love standing next to me and smiling. What can I do? Actually, we had a special moment there, as Kara and I accosted him in the hallway. Here's our conversation, in its entirety:

Me: Dave, I've been writing a humor column for four years. Can I get a picture with you?
Dave: Yes.

In any event, I hope I absorbed some of his funniness, like Peter Petrelli from Heroes or Rogue from X-Men or Bounty from the paper goods aisle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Banana Laffy Taffy as family heirloom

All that’s left of Halloween now is memories and Jolly Ranchers, the candy made of fruit-flavored glass. The little zombies and gangsters took all of our good candy, like the peanut M&M’s and the Reese’s cups, leaving us with a bowl full of petrified candy that only organisms with shark-like rows of expendable teeth could ever possibly enjoy.

Last year, our hard-sell candy was banana-flavored Laffy Taffy, a large mound of which still sits, calcifying, in a basket in our laundry room, celebrating its first birthday and serving as a testament to our inner twelve-year-olds, who recoil in horror at the thought of throwing away perfectly good somewhat-edible candy. Somehow, banana candy, like coffee soda, just doesn’t quite work. I imagine we’ll pass the Laffy Taffy on to future generations of our family, along with our drawer full of near-dead batteries in the kitchen.

On Halloween night, I was amazed at how the words, “Go ahead and take a small handful,” could turn a small child’s hand into one of those magnets that pick up cars at the dump. Several of the five-year-olds in our neighborhood could probably palm regulation-szied basketballs.

I was most surprised, though, at the enduring popularity of Swedish fish, a candy that was coveted when I was a kid, but which I figured had probably been supplanted over the years by some sort of futuristic sweets with LEDs that lit up when you chewed them. When we mixed the packets of Swedish fish into our big bowl of attention-deficit enhancers, I thought the first kid would come to the door and say, “Swedish fish? Hey, guys, get a load of these old fogies! They think Swedish fish are still cool!”

But the Swedish fish were the first to go. This is either due to the lasting appeal of an age-old recipe, or the fact that high fructose corn syrup can turn your average child into a less-discerning gourmand than your average goat.

Our puppy Memphis didn’t know what to make of her first Halloween. The bursts of excitement at the door, during which she wriggled with glee and smacked pillowcases full of candy with her tail like they were piñatas, would end quickly, and then she’d be stuck with her boring old housemates again. The door would shut and she’d look at us with eyes that said, “How could you let those little pirates leave?”

At least she didn’t have to suffer the indignity of being dressed up in a doggie costume, if only because the little red lobster outfit we bought for her had a manufacturer’s defect that accidentally transformed her into a bucking rodeo bronco instead. Besides, Memphis can effectively portray a magician without any costume at all; she can just walk into a room, say, “Gaaaaaaack,” and make a wet tube of Chapstick appear out of thin air.

My wife Kara and I briefly joked about the idea of resuscitating the Laffy Taffy to give away this year, but then figured that if we did that, we might as well run around the yard toilet-papering our own trees. Little ghoulies, especially teenaged ones strapped with eggs in their ankle holsters, are not to be trifled with on confectionary issues, lest punitive measures be faced.

As we drove through the neighborhood the following day, we saw a few of our neighbors’ trees that had been toilet-papered.

“I guess we know who was giving away Necco wafers last night,” Kara said.

We also noted that our mailbox had been spared the shaving cream treatment it had received last year, which, while making our cleanup a little easier, also made it that much harder to shave that little hard-to-reach spot under its flag.

You can make Mike Todd smell your feet or give you something good to eat at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Yip Yip Yip Drink Yip Yip Yip

Here's a shot from an upcoming episode of "Sesame Street Goes to College":

Much respect to Jeff Bisti for the best old person's Halloween costume last weekend.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Keeping things in perspective

Here's an email I received shortly after the column below ran in print. I found it touching and thought I'd share it...

hi mike,

you don't know me, but i read your column all of the time in the roxborough review. i love it! it is the one column i repeatedly turn to when i get my new paper each week. i always find them interesting and often find myself laughing out loud. i literally just finished your column,"20,000 beers over the sea" and i loved it as usual.

but this time it really struck a chord with me. what i got out of your column this week was a great lesson for everyone, life is short! don't put off anything and make the memories and life experiences now. this is a lesson i have learned very well this past year, you see almost a year ago - nov. 20, 2007 my husband was killed in a car accident. only 34 yrs old, married just shy of 9 years, 2 days before thanksgiving. then only 4 short months later my dad died after battling ALS- Lou Gehrigs Disease for 4 1/2 years. only 57yrs old, married just shy of 25 yrs, 2 days after easter. it has been a life changing year to say the least and i have learned sooooo many things and lessons from my experiences.

but the biggest lesson i have learned and maybe the most important is that life is short and very surprising! i try to pass this lesson to everyone i know and everyone i meet. i believe it is that important! i fortunately was able to spend lots of time with my dad before he died and was with him when he passed. my husband and i talked briefly a couple of minutes before his crash ending our conversation with the usual " I love you!". i am confident in the love my husband and father and i all shared in our individual relationships. however, they both missed out on things they always wanted to do. my father because he was diagnosed with a dibilitating disease that prevented him from doing so much for 4 1/2 long years. my husband because his life ended in an instant. both of these events prompted me to think about the things i knew they had wanted to do in life and never would.

i realized then how precious our days on earth are and how grateful i am for the ones i am given. i began to write my "life list" then finishing it with 97 things i want to do in my life. with small things like learning to eat crab legs by myself without the help of my husband to larger things like doing the polar bear plunge (which i did in february in sea isle) to really big like visiting italy and ireland which i will do soon!

anyway i now live my life with the attitude that each day is a gift! i really want to share moments with my family and friends as much as possible, as well as accomplish as much of my life list as possible. no regrets. so if going to a family dinner at my grandmothers with all of the craziness and little kids running around and people shouting over each other doesn't seem fun i remember that it is moments like those that i will cherish in years to come. well you get the idea..... and when i read what your friend grampy said,"if not us, who? if not now, when?" i smiled. because he is soooo right and he's got it! it's an important lesson everyone should learn. before they are forced to learn it. thanks for that column today, i really appreciated it and i am so happy you got to learn the lesson too.

thanks for "humoring me" and reading my ramblings. i really just thought you should know that some of us out here really appreciate your column. it really is great! thanks again! have a great day and keep making those memories and life experiences!

sincerely,
christy williams
roxborough, pa

Sunday, November 02, 2008

20,000 beers over the sea

“Ahoy, Cap’n Grampy! Don’t forget to pack your sextant,” I emailed to my friend Johnny, two days before our group of five high school buddies was to reunite at the Jersey shore for a weekend of beer drinking, coincident with a fishing trip.

Johnny’s nickname has been “Grampy” since high school, due partially to his lifelong love of golf, but primarily due to the sheer number of times he’s fallen asleep on the couch two hours before the end of the party. What else do you need to be a grandpa, really, besides two generations of offspring and a bowl of Werther’s Originals?

Inspired by too many episodes of “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery Channel, the show in which the toughest and facial-hairiest of fishermen pit themselves against the Arctic seas to try to haul in the bounty destined to supply the next Red Lobster ‘Fest, Grampy decided to organize a trip to let us test our own mettle on the open seas, generating responses such as: “Dude, I can get fish cheaper at Pathmark,” and, “Am I going to have to touch worms?”

Grampy then fired off the email that would launch a thousand dollars out of our collective pockets. The email began like this: “I guess you guys didn't realize that this trip is really about hanging out with your friends and doing a guys’ trip, and was not meant to start a cost benefit analysis on the price per pound of fish.” It ended with this inspiring note: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

We realized that he was right. If not us, who would overpay to charter a boat to catch fish that none of us have ever even bothered to order in a restaurant, preferring chicken parmesan instead? If not now, in late fall in the Northeast, when would we get a chance to go, besides in the spring or early summer when the weather might actually be amenable?

In the end, the spirit of adventure and Grampy’s electronic eloquence got the better of us, and we found ourselves at the Belmar Marina last Sunday morning, where I witnessed the first post-sleep sunrise I’ve seen since my family went to the Grand Canyon twenty-five years ago.

Never having been on a chartered fishing boat before, I didn’t realize that the main expense of a charter doesn’t go towards the Strategic-Petroleum-Reserve-dwarfing amount of gas that a large boat goes through in a day, but for the services of the Boat Dad who does all of the undesirable and gross stuff for you, just like a dad might do on a trip to the local pond with his five-year-old.

Wes, our Boat Dad, wore rubber overalls and performed nearly every act of what one might refer to as “fishing” for us, except for the reeling-in part, which was just fine by us. We turned out to be pretty good reeler-inners for the first couple of hours, until our hands got tired and our backs started acting up.


“Fish on!” Wes would yell, holding onto the wildly bending rod and looking for a volunteer to come to reel it in.

“Dude, I just cracked a beer. It’s your turn,” one of us would say.

“What? I just started eating my hoagie. Why don’t you go do it?”

By this point, Wes would be shaking his head, wondering how any of us had survived into our thirties.

Over the course of the day, we (and by “we” I mean Wes) threw most of the fish back, keeping enough for dinner and a few take-home freezer bags. In the end, you’re paying for the life experience and the camaraderie, not the fish. Which is good, because the fish cost about $63 per pound.

You can throw Mike Todd back at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

All you need is love. And ventilation.

When it comes to helping my dad with home improvement projects, nobody holds a candle to my skill at holding the flashlight. After spending the better part of my life helping him with projects, I’ve become something of a Jedi, and my light saber takes double-As.

“Shine the light over here,” he said last weekend as he knelt on the joists in my attic, ripping out insulation and straddling the bathroom fan that we were installing together, equally, using his skill, hard work and craftsmanship and my flashlight. OK, it was his flashlight. It’s a good thing he lost the headlamp we gave him for Christmas three years ago, or I’d be totally obsolete.

Dad’s good with things like drills, keyhole saws and needle-nose pliers, while I excel in the softer skills, like environmental illumination and choosing the right tunes to play on the nearby iPod. I don’t know how Dad gets by at home; there’s no way that he can count on Mom to put on the new Coldplay album while he’s staining the deck.

My folks were motivated to drive four hours to help us get some projects done around the house mostly because they couldn’t work their way through a mental image of me holding three bare wires in one hand and scratching my head with the other hand without soon after picturing the Eastern seaboard enshrouded in darkness.

For just over a year, my wife Kara and I have lived in our house without benefit of a bathroom fan. What can I say? We’re survivors. Life can get rough in the suburbs, and sometimes you have to adapt. But we’d begun to grow tired of the routine, after Kara’s marathon showers at earth-core temperatures, of wandering around blindly in the tropical steam and shooing toucans out the window while hacking our way to the mirror that wouldn’t be visible until we’d stood there sweating for so long that it would be time to take a shower again.

To remedy the situation, Dad and I ventured with a bucket of tools into the attic, being careful not to impale ourselves on the ceiling. There must be some imperative that requires roofers to use two-inch nails on wood that’s half-an-inch thick, resulting in attics that resemble iron maidens. Or the iron maiden’s poor cousin, the plywood maiden.

After Dad was able to complete the wiring on the new fan, thanks almost entirely to his expertly illuminated hands, we headed down to the bathroom to find that the fan worked on the first flick of the switch. I’d never seen such a thing. When I’d wired the ceiling fan in our old place, after my first attempt, the only way to get it to stop was with a thrown fuse or a broomstick.

As Kara happily marveled at the new fan, imagining scenes of using her hair dryer on her actual hair instead of her mirror, I started coughing.

“I have that pink insulation all down my throat. I can’t breathe,” I said. “But on the plus side, I’m probably much more energy efficient now.”

“We have dust masks. Why didn’t you put one on?” she said.

She’s so silly sometimes. Didn’t she realize I was looking for sympathy, not sound advice?

As Mom and Dad packed up to leave the next day, I asked for recommendations on how to run electrical wire out to a new lamp post in the yard.

“You have to bury the line at least six inches deep,” Dad said, apparently not realizing that this sounded like hard work.

“Can’t I just lay the wire on the ground and kick some dirt on top?” I asked.

“That probably wouldn’t be up to code,” he replied.

My dad’s generation is so cute with its fondness for codes, like chivalry and municipal electrical ordinances.

You can offer to fix Mike Todd’s wiring at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For whom the lobster rolls

As we drove north on the interstate last weekend, whipping through states like we were campaigning, my wife Kara asked, “Don’t you want to know where we’re going?”

Cape Cod? Vermont? The North Pole?” I guessed. Truthfully, I didn’t want to know. We’d just unloaded our puppy for a long weekend with our friends Julie and Sergey, whose Rottweiler met the news, and the constant nips on the face, with an impressive, if resigned, stoicism. All I needed to know was that, for just one weekend, responsibility was something that other chumps (namely Julie and Sergey) had to worry about.

Kara surprised me on my thirty-first birthday with an announcement that we were going on an adventure, which was perfect, because a thirty-first birthday needs a little spicing up. Some birthdays don’t need any help. For instance, the twenty-first birthday provides its own fun, as society turns over the keys to everything but its rental cars. A decade later, though, the thirty-first birthday does little more than bring you one year closer to your first colonoscopy.

It wasn’t until we’d crossed the Maine state line that Kara revealed that she’d booked us at a bed and breakfast in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, a beautiful little coastal town that happened to be one of the few places in the world where lobster was a verb.

Upon our arrival, Kara and I quickly set to work expressing our appreciation to the locals for all the lobsters they’d lobstered. At our first dinner, where a lobster dinner with two sides cost $12.99 each, we realized that not being as gluttonous as possible would have been a sin.

Over the next two days, we divided our time evenly between exploring the rough coastline, taking pictures of lighthouses and stuffing down as many unfortunate crustaceans as we could get our claws on.

Driving through a small town called Wiscasset, we passed a roadside stand called “Red’s Eats” and decided to stop for a quick bite, as it was getting late for lunch and we didn’t want to waste daylight sitting in a restaurant. We hesitated as we walked up, though; the line for Red’s wrapped around the stand and down the sidewalk like they were giving out last year’s 401(k) balances.

“Is this place good?” I asked the last man in line.

“It’s an institution. They have the best lobster rolls in Maine,” he said.

The guy in front of him turned around and said, “I came 3,500 miles to eat one of these. I read a newspaper article in Los Angeles about this place, and decided I had to have one.”

The two people in front of them nodded and said they had come from Colorado and Nova Scotia. Red’s Eats, it seemed, had inspired more expeditions than Antarctica.

Kara and I decided we couldn’t miss out and quietly stepped into line, which scuffled along almost imperceptibly. We looked at our watches and worried about wasting the day. Across the street, a nearly identical lobster roll shack sat lonely and unloved, a high school kid propped up on his elbows in the window, waiting to take the orders that never came.

“Maybe we’re involved in a sociology experiment right now,” I whispered to Kara. “They’re seeing how long we’ll stand here.”

“Yeah, maybe they don’t even have lobster rolls here,” she said. “We’ll get to the window, and there’ll just be a couple of grad students with clipboards and stopwatches.”

But sure enough, they did have lobster rolls at Red’s Eats. When they handed us our tray, it looked like they’d used a backhoe to drop a mountain of lobster meat on top of two poor, defenseless hot dog buns.

I’m still not sure whether those lobster rolls would have justified a pan-continental odyssey, but I’d gladly stand around and complain for forty-five minutes for another one.

You can serve Mike Todd with mixed greens and a baked potato at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't Point at my Pemaquids

There will be a semi-coherent column about it next week, but Kara took me to Boothbay Harbor, Maine for my birthday last weekend. Question: How cool is that? Answer: Pretty darn.

Here's a shot of the woman at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse:

I'd post more, but I'm still in a lobster coma.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Surviving acts of puppies and Congress

It can be hard to discuss your puppy when all anyone wants to talk about is the economy.

“We taught her to roll over!” I might tell somebody.

“I’m worth $5,000 less than I was yesterday!” they might reply.

It’s tough to appreciate the little things in life when a graph of your net worth resembles a ride at a water park, the kind that sends screaming kids skipping across a pool of water at the bottom.

Still, you should see how cute our puppy Memphis has become, with her big floppy ears and her perpetual-motion tail. When we first adopted her about six months ago, we tried to teach her to play fetch, but the only game she has really developed a knack for is “run circles around your owner,” the rules of which are fairly self-explanatory. She plays with such zeal that we actually have to replace divots in the yard afterwards; Memphis digs in so hard when she rounds corners that she kicks up dirt like a little galloping Seabiscuit.

When I tried explaining this to my friend Johnny, he replied, “Dude, what do you think of the bailout deal?”

Nothing good can be happening when my friends want to talk about acts of Congress.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It seems like a terrible way to spend our money, but maybe not spending it would have been worse. Does anybody really understand what’s going on right now? And did I mention that Memphis snores when she sleeps? It’s like she’s a little person sometimes.”

In any event, the bailout will have been successful if it at least keeps the phrase “too big to fail” out of the news for a little while, even though it’s kind of exciting that the government keeps buying all these really big companies for us. But it would be even better if we, as taxpayers, could get into the business of bailing out companies that aren’t stupefyingly boring. What are we supposed to do with a bunch of insurance companies and investment banks? Underwrite ourselves?

We should get our hands on some businesses like Rita’s Water Ice or Eastern Mountain Sports. Ooh, or a hibachi place, where they flip the shrimp right into your mouth. Is that too much to ask?

Even with the economy crashing like my sister for the first five years of owning a driver’s license, it’s still possible to find some people who are in the market for discussing puppies.

A co-worker I hadn’t seen in a couple of years stopped by to see me last week. He’d heard that my wife and I recently adopted a pooch, and he couldn’t decide if he really wanted a dog, too, or if he was just telling his wife that so she’d stop talking about getting a cat.

“I’ve never had a puppy before. Would you recommend the experience?” he asked.

“Oh, no. It’s awful,” I said.

In truth, I love having a young dog, but I hated having a tiny puppy. I mean, perhaps it’s impossible to actually HATE having a puppy. That would be like hating vanilla or Miley Cyrus or bubbles. But having a little excrement-producing machine running loose on your new carpet, chewing the power cord on your laptop and waking you up three times a night to go stand in the backyard in your underwear, shivering and swatting mosquitoes as the suddenly non-excrement-producing machine pounces on leaves and taste-tests every stick under the big maple tree, that part definitely took a little getting used to.

“But you do it out of love,” I explained to my co-worker, “And also so you don’t end up with a pixilated face as they raid your house on an episode of Animal Cops.”

You can bail Mike Todd out at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Invention is the mother of excuses

Ordinarily, the purchase of a six-pack of socks wouldn’t warrant further discussion, but the pack I just bought came in a re-sealable plastic bag, which raised issues too important to ignore. I could understand the usefulness of re-sealing a bag of socks if the socks were made out of, say, crab bisque. But this was not the case. These particular socks were made of New England clam chowder; I could tell because they were white.

To the sock-packaging professional, a re-sealable bag must have seemed like quite the innovation, but I just can’t fathom a single situation under which a person would need to re-seal a bag of socks. Socks have never gone stale before I got a chance to wear them. I’ve never heard of anybody using a bag of socks to hide a jar of honey from a sniffing bear. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d feel just as comfortable keeping socks in an unsealed bag, or even – and perhaps this is because I wasn’t raised correctly – not in a bag at all.

Not every innovation is destined to be a winner. I learned this the hard way, after inventing the self-drilling screw while mangling a household project a few months ago. “Why don’t they just put tiny drill bits onto screws so you don’t have to pre-drill all the holes?” I thought.

It was the greatest idea I’ve ever had, besides attaching a generator to an exercise bike so that you can run your house off your own energy, which, in retrospect, would never work, not least of all because your average exercise bike sees less playing time than your average bread maker. In fact, the idea was so good, you can go onto Google right now, search on “self-drilling screws,” and buy my awesome invention from a wide variety of jerks who preemptively stole it by unfairly inventing it first.

The discovery of the existence of self-drilling screws wasn’t nearly as crushing for me as it must have been for my visionary friend Johnny to see other people getting credit for his two inventions, Facebook and the iPhone.

“I totally invented those first,” he complained recently. “I was like, ‘How come nobody has a site where you can post pictures of yourself and connect with old friends? And also, why don’t they put an iPod into a cell phone?’ The Man is always sticking it to me. I deserve royalties.”

My old college roommate had an invention idea about which he swore me to a pinky-swear level of secrecy. It’s been ten years, though, so I think the statue of limitations has expired. Either that, or I’m a terrible friend. Nonetheless, he invented a pencil that wouldn’t have to be turned over to switch into eraser mode. Never mind that if flipping a pencil ranks as one of your day’s most onerous tasks, your life is already pretty awesome, but I’m fairly certain that pencil sales these days are dwarfed by sales of Kerry ’04 bumper stickers.

For one of her college classes, my wife Kara invented a microwave that comes equipped with a barcode reader, so that you’d just have to scan the UPC on your food to have it nuked to perfection. Some jerk stole this idea, too, and preemptively invented it, saving Kara the hassle of losing her own life savings on it.

I wish someone would steal this idea: let’s solve the energy crisis by putting exercise bikes connected to the power grid all over metropolitan areas. If you ride the bike until eleven cents worth of electricity gets created, a dime comes out. Forgot your subway fare? Just ride the bike until you have enough dough. Of course, it might be exponentially quicker just to walk home. If that’s the case, you’re welcome to borrow some of my fresh socks.

After you invent email, send one to Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My best sister's wedding

I suppose, if you’re going to get all misty-eyed in front of people, that only your sister’s wedding is as good a time as any. Still, there’s no quicker way to have your Man Card rescinded than to tear up in public. And if you have to pause to compose yourself while speaking during the ceremony, and then you STILL have trouble getting the words to crawl over the lump in your throat, then you should probably brace yourself to get kicked out of the Man Club entirely.

This is the situation I found myself in last weekend, as my family came together in San Diego (where the weather can, as we found out the hard way, jarringly swing between 71 and 73 degrees), to celebrate my sister Amy’s wedding. In my defense, the majority of the ceremony was a full-out sobfest, with enough blubbering to power all of the oil lamps in a Charles Dickens novel.

Much like how yawns can be passed to innocent bystanders, I must have caught the tears from somebody in the audience. That’s the only logical explanation available, and it’s the one I will be bringing forward to the Man Board at my hearing.

Amy and Jaime had decided to have their ceremony on a boat floating in the bay, with just their immediate family members present to witness their most special of occasions. The ceremony was probably so emotional because there was no groom to stand there, ashen-faced, staring at the EXIT sign (or in this case, the dinghy) and thinking hard about his remaining options. Of course, when I was a groom, I was so psyched to get married that those kinds of thoughts never came close to passing through my mind, and I in no way wanted to do anything that would have caused my wife Kara to get as angry at me as she did when she read the first draft of this column, before I added this sentence.

If you’ve never attended a wedding that featured two brides, you might not have realized just how vestigial grooms really are. At my own wedding, I doubt anyone besides my then-fiancée-for-a-few-more-seconds Kara would have noticed if they’d have wheeled a scarecrow out to take my place. After the kiss at the end, Kara would have picked the hay out of her mouth and the party would have gone along as planned, with the only other noticeable difference being that the scarecrow would have made a much better dance partner.

Delivering a short speech during nautical nuptials presents challenges that land-lubbing speech givers might not appreciate, and where the danger of going overboard during one’s speech is quite literal. All of the family members who spoke last weekend, though, managed to hang onto their sea legs, if not their dry eyes.

Kara ended the ceremony by reading a poem to accompany a Celtic stone-tossing ceremony, during which each family member made a wish for the couple and threw a stone into the bay. Earlier in the day, we’d helped Amy and Jaime collect rocks for the ceremony from under the bushes in the front yard of Jaime’s brother and my co-best-man, Steve.

After the ceremony, as the two families relaxed and laughed together, and Jaime’s five-year-old cousin Kyler hammed it up for the cameras, posing in her flower girl dress like she was the week’s winning contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” Jaime told Steve that we’d gathered rocks from his yard.

“Dude, I collected those rocks from all over the world!” Steve said.

And I thought, or maybe hoped, just for a moment, that he might get publicly upset enough to have to join me at the next Man Board hearing.

As providence would have it, we’d stopped at the beach and picked up smoother rocks for the ceremony, bringing Steve’s rocks back and dumping them under his bushes. Apparently, except for the occasional man tear, fate was smiling upon all of us that day.

You can throw stones at Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Til next summer...

Photobucket
Here's a shot my mom took about a month ago in Rangeley, Maine. If we tried to do that today, we'd probably land on an iceberg.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When hadrons and puppies collide

Last week, for the first time, I saw my buddy Josh burping. Of course, all through college, I’d seen him belch plenty, but this Sunday, as we sat in his living room, I watched in amazement as he gently patted the back of his month-old son, Isaac.

Whenever I see a buddy of mine with a newborn baby, it gives me the feeling of standing in the back of the plane with the wind whipping, watching all the other paratroopers disappearing into the night air, knowing that my turn can’t be far behind.

But last weekend, my wife Kara and I were excited just to have the chance to visit; since Isaac was born, scheduling a tee time with the Pope would have been easier than catching up with Josh and Jaime. New parents are rich in many things, but time is not one of them.

Of course, upon our arrival, the scene lost whatever serenity it may have previously had. As soon as Jaime opened the door to greet us, our rocket-propelled puppy, Memphis, bolted inside towards their pug, Lou. The two dogs met with a force unseen outside of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator that was plugged in for the first time last week and which, as you may or may not have noticed, did not create a black hole and suck the earth into oblivion last week as some had predicted, much to the dismay of all the kids who didn’t do their homework the night before. You can never trust the forecasters to deliver a black hole day when you need one.

With the two dogs racing around the floor, tackling each other into various home electronics devices and sloshing drool across the room as if it was being tossed from buckets, I watched as Josh calmly cradled Isaac against his shoulder.

“Hey, buddy. Are you about to spit up on m…Yeah, saw that one coming,” he said, deftly toweling off his shoulder.

“Is it bad, dealing with all of the spit-up and the diapers?” I asked, grabbing for Memphis and catching a handful of air as she streaked by.

“It’s really not a big deal,” he replied. “You get used to it pretty fast.”

Last year, I read about a scientific study in which various mothers smelled a row of dirty diapers, one of which belonged to their own child, and ranked them from most (relatively) pleasant to most foul. Invariably, though they had no way to know which diaper was from their own baby, they ranked their child’s as the best-smelling. Which leads to the question: how did they get anyone to sign up for that study? Still, the notion that nature has some tricks to help you deal with the more unsavory aspects of child-rearing is comforting, especially for those of us who would rather dig ditches than change diapers.

After gently wiping off Isaac’s face, Josh pointed him towards me and said, “Look! It’s Tall Uncle Mike!”

Historically, height has really run through Josh’s family. So fast, in fact, that nobody has been able to catch it.

Isaac stared at me, or at least in my general direction, and gurgled. I held up a finger up to his hand, and there was just something surreal about the way his little fingers wrapped around mine. It was so cute that, for a moment, I stopped feeling guilty that you could have put three of him and a St. Bernard in the moose-print pajamas we’d just given him.

Luckily, Josh didn’t ruin the moment by trying to pass Isaac off on me. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to baby holding, and it seems unfair to practice on a baby that has no say in the matter. I’m sure I’ll figure it out someday, but for now, if we’re hanging out and you need to set a baby down, I hope you won’t mind if disappear into a black hole.

You can swaddle Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Married without reservations

“When’s the last time we went out to dinner?” my wife Kara asked last week.

“Two days ago,” I said.

“When’s the last time we went out to a place that didn’t have extra value combos?” she asked.

I was stumped. Technically, Wendy’s doesn’t call them “extra value combos,” but somehow I sensed that bringing that up wouldn’t get to the root of her question.

The last time we’d been out to a non-paper-napkin dinner had been about a month prior, on our fourth anniversary. Depending on which source you believe, the fourth anniversary is either the fruit, flowers, linen, silk or appliances anniversary. The “appliances anniversary” suggestion must have been a joke, because anybody who would choose to get their spouse an appliance on their anniversary clearly would never have made it to see the fourth one.

When I reminded Kara about that dinner, she parried my thrust, saying that while that dinner was nice, everyone goes out for their anniversary, so it wasn’t the same as going out spontaneously. Apparently, anniversary dinners are like preseason games: they don’t count towards your record, but you get in trouble if you try to skip them.

“I hope you’re not saying that we’re not as romantic as we used to be. There’s plenty of romance going on around here,” I said as I continued romantically scrubbing the dog vomit off the arm of the couch.

Later that night, I decided that maybe she was right: what’s the point of having money if you’re just going to tuck it into a well-diversified portfolio with long-term growth prospects when you could be blowing it on frivolous meals that will be forgotten as soon as the chewable Rolaids start working?

I marched over to our phone and made a reservation for that coming Friday night at an Italian restaurant that we’d been meaning to try for the better part of a decade and for which we’d just never found the right occasion. Incidentally, if you’ve never dialed 1-800-GOOG-411 to find a phone listing for a business, your life is about to dramatically improve. It’s a free service from Google that further relegates phone books to the world of impromptu booster seats. Full disclosure: in return for my endorsement, Google allows me use of its web searching software free of charge.

As Kara and I sat at the table with a small tea candle between us, I asked her what I was going to order. She always knows what I’m going to order. While I’d once been impressed, I was beginning to think that her uncanny ability was closely correlated with my stunning predictability. But this time, she couldn’t possibly have known that I’d been eyeing up the rigatoni.

“The rigatoni,” she said.

“But it has ham in it!” I replied. I’d been reluctant to order anything with ham in it ever since we’d watched a Discovery Channel special on pigs. The pigs in the show were able to master a simple video game, using their snouts to maneuver a large red joystick, the kind you’d see on an old Pac-Man machine. When the pig moved a ball on the screen to the correct position, it would receive a treat. A Jack Russell terrier couldn’t master the game after years of training, but the pig just picked it up intuitively.

I watched the show feeling a growing sense of guilt. Something about eating a fellow video gamer just seemed so wrong. The pig was better at video games than many human players, and it had a better complexion, too.

But Kara knew that my empathy for my compatriots would only go so far when they were mixed with pasta and béchamel sauce and topped with Gorgonzola cheese.

You can discuss your reservations about Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

You say tomato, I say Dorito

As my wife Kara and I cruised the aisles of the grocery store in preparation for a visit from some out-of-town friends, I looked down into the cart and beheld a menagerie of items that surely must have belonged to somebody else: diet root beer, low-fat cheddar cheese, no-taste sour cream, joyless cream cheese and soul-crushing baked potato chips.

“I think we accidentally grabbed Richard Simmons’ cart,” I said. Back home, we’d already stashed some cases of light beer for the big weekend. Light beer. It was almost too depressing to contemplate. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be partying with V-8 juice and those carrot shavings that have the raisins mixed in.

For the first thirty years of life, I knew that most food came with nutritional information printed on the back, but it was one of those facts that never seemed to have any bearing on me personally, like knowing that male seahorses are the ones that give birth and that Tulsa is the capital of Nebraska. But as the years have sped up and the metabolisms have slowed down, the back of food packaging has become more interesting than the front.

“This bag of Smartfood has 45% of my daily fat intake,” I told my dad on vacation recently as he drove us back from a hike. We’d rewarded ourselves for a day of tromping through the woods by stopping at a tiny general store and cleaning the place out of anything that contained cheese or cheese-like substances. I thought I’d made a responsible choice by choosing Smartfood popcorn over Doritos, but apparently Smartfood is only the smartest choice if you’re an underweight sumo wrestler.

Dad reluctantly handed me his bag of Cheetos like a bad cop turning in his badge.

“I don’t really want to know, but tell me anyway,” he said.

“Let’s see…looks like 60% of your daily fat intake,” I said as Dad winced. “This bag was supposed to have four servings in it.”

He took the bag back and turned it upside-down, dumping the remaining crumbs into this mouth. “Well, there must have been a mistake, because this bag clearly only had one serving in it,” he replied.

Food was much easier to purchase when the only food-related issues that really mattered were whether or not your slice of pizza had enough pepperoni on it and whether you could scarf down the entire cone before it started to melt. Once you have to start worrying about calories and fat grams, things get way too complicated. I want my food simple, the way nature intended: partially hydrogenated.

Trolling through the grocery store to finish up our trip, Kara lamented not being able to find the last few items on our list. Healthy things are harder to find because they don’t have neon packaging and mascots, just pictures of smiling farmers beside the higher price tags.

By far the most difficult item to find in every grocery store I’ve ever visited is a can of sliced black olives. It won’t be with the jars of olives, and it won’t be with the cans of vegetables. You will wander through the aisles, wondering why you married the only person who enjoys putting sliced black olives on everything short of cereal, until you find them stuffed under a sack of rice in the storeroom.

“Okay, all we need now is a cucumber,” Kara said. “Why is it so impossible to find anything here? I don’t think they have cucumbers.”

“There’s a whole pile of them right there,” I said, pointing to a tray filled with oblong green things.

“Those are zucchinis,” she replied.

“Aren’t those the same thing?” I asked. I still think she was trying to trick me; nobody can tell me that zucchinis and cucumbers aren’t the same thing. I didn’t just fall off the radish truck.

You can steam Mike Todd (he’s healthier that way) at mikectodd@gmail.com.