Thursday, July 31, 2008


Last week, after I posted the only angry letter to the editor I've ever received, an astute reader, whom we'll call "my mom," asked why I've never posted any of the nice ones I've gotten. I guess I was hoping someone would start a Mike Todd shrine and do that kind of stuff for me. Until I attract a stalker with some HTML skills, I suppose the dirty work is left to me:


Thanks to the astute reader whom we'll call "my dad" for scanning this and sending it to me.

This time I won't redact the letter writer's name. I hope Dick Goldberg of Chestnut Hill Googles himself and ends up here so that he can read what a cool dude I think he is. Dick, this is a little late in coming, but you're a cool dude. Thanks for being awesome.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The couple that tazes together, stays together

In our office building, the air conditioning has become so cold that several people have taken to turning on space heaters in their offices, pitting AC versus heater in an exhibition of inefficiency so profound that it makes me feel better about running an underground humidifier vs. dehumidifier fighting ring in my garage. Still, the scene is so wasteful that I’m pretty sure every time one of those space heaters is turned on, somewhere, a hippie loses a bongo.

I’ve also noticed a trend in which many stores are cranking up the AC with both front doors propped open, the idea being to pull in customers with the enticement of cold air, causing an effect similar to the one that happens to cartoon characters when they float on the scent of an apple pie cooling on a window sill. Perhaps customers should start boycotting stores that flagrantly waste energy like that, unless the store has something really cool on sale, which is usually when my personal boycotts break down. So far, the only store I’ve been able to successfully boycott is Talbot’s, except when I have to buy presents for my mom. In any event, it seems like cartoon characters could easily improve their apple pie retention ratios by just cooling their pies on their kitchen counters instead.

My wife Kara and I used to wage seasonal battles over the thermostat settings in our house, but since we moved into a place that came with central air last year, we can now hone our debate skills year-round. Kara likes to keep the AC at a level that would allow you to preserve an ice sculpture long enough to show it to your eventual children’s prom dates. In the winter, though, she prefers the house to double as a pizza oven.

We maintain a delicate peace through a sunshine policy; neither of us is allowed to change the temperature without announcing it to the other person. We adhere to this policy because we both know that noncompliance would touch off an escalation unlikely to end without tazers becoming somehow involved.

“It’s funny how our internal thermostats are different,” she said to me a couple of days ago, as I sat shivering under a down comforter, tucking my hands under my armpits and reciting state capitals to fight off the early stages of hypothermia. It just seems like maybe, in July, a person should occasionally be hot. When I was a kid, we just stayed in bed and sweated from June until September, spending our days waiting for the oscillating fan to come back our way. That was back when people appreciated needless suffering. These days, with people all comfortable inside their homes, offices and cars, the only chance we get to commune with nature happens in parking lots, which we don’t even appreciate because we’re too busy squeezing into the tiny spot beside the jerk who tried to take two spaces.

I have a certain level of eco-guilt that, coupled with my cheapness, always leads me to crank the temperature closer to whatever it happens to be outside. This guilt doesn’t extend to the car, though. I recently read an article that explained how rolling down the windows doesn’t necessarily increase fuel efficiency over running the AC, due to the increased drag of opening up your car. At low speeds, rolling the windows down is much better, but depending on the type of car you drive, the break-even point can be between 45 mph and 75 mph, above which it’s more efficient to run the AC. Personally, this is all moot, because the point at which hair you’ve placed carefully over your bald spots begins to dislodge when the windows are rolled down occurs at approximately 7 mph, eliminating this option entirely for any driving not taking place on the Jersey Turnpike.

You can give Mike Todd the artificially cooled shoulder at

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm like Howard Stern without the naked ladies

In the 3+ years I've been writing this column, I've received nice words I didn't deserve from lots of nice people. I also got this one nasty letter to the editor back in April, which I'm finally putting down the PS3 controller long enough to post.

The letter refers to the column that I submitted to the paper as "Doggedly determined." The editor at the Chestnut Hill Local changed some text in that column from "Our dummies are numerous" to "Dummy Americans are as numerous as fat Americans," then he changed the title of the column to read, "Doggedly determined not to be a 'Dummy American.'" There were some other small changes, mostly attempting to make my writing comprehensible, but those were the two that set this guy off.

As you'll see in the letter, my column is called "Over the Top" in the Local, which is really a funny coincidence, because "Over the Top" with Sylvester Stallone happens to be my third-favorite arm wrestling movie of all time.



Who knew a column about puppies and bunnies would be so controversial?

For the record, I have nothing against Americans. Many of my best friends are Americans. I also I also have a soft spot (several, in fact) for fat people, and though I'd never consort with an actual fat person, I generally accept their friend requests on Facebook. I jest, of course. Nobody sends me friend requests.

I blacked out the good doctor's name 'cause I didn't want him to be able to get here by Googling himself, in case somebody mentioned his name in the comments. He's more than welcome to Google himself, among other things, but I just thought it would be better this way. Sorry to be all "Bush administration with a global warming report" about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Going to the vet, ordering the usual

Our puppy Memphis is turning the vet’s office into her own personal version of the old TV show “Cheers,” where she stars as perma-patron Norm Peterson.

Memphis!” they say when she comes through the front door to the animal hospital, where everybody knows her name.

Back when we had a ferret, you could watch the summer Olympics take place in different cities between vet visits. Presidential administrations would come and go. Potholes would be fixed.

But with a puppy, you’re lucky if the milk in the fridge has time to go bad before she has to go back, or, in the case of our fridge, if the milk has time to go worse. The last time my parents came up to visit, I came downstairs in the morning to find my dad eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen.

“Dad, did you smell the milk first?” I asked.

“Smell the milk?” he said.

“Are you crazy? You can’t just go drinking our milk all willy-nilly without checking it first,” I said, grabbing the carton and spinning it around to find the expiration date. On any given day, the average person is more likely to see a lunar eclipse than to find fresh milk in our fridge. Fortunately, Dad chose to play lactose roulette on the rare day in which the date hadn’t yet hit, though he might have been better off spending all that luck on a Powerball ticket.

Memphis precipitated our most recent vet visit a couple weeks ago by sprinting up our back steps, losing her traction and slamming into one of the steps with her hip. Though it obviously hurt quite a bit, she didn’t cry out at all, which reminded me of the time, when we were twelve, that my buddy Johnny broke a wooden shovel handle using nothing but the sheer force of gravity and his crotch, two things that, if the story is about you, you never want to hear described in the same sentence.

Since we had zero carpentry skills and weren’t allowed to use power tools (a restriction that should probably still be in effect), we’d decided to dig ourselves a fort in the woods. While the early fort designs called for a trapdoor with which to catch various siblings, we primarily wanted a space in which we could sit around and eat Cheerios from a thermos. We didn’t even like Cheerios that much, but once the idea took hold, we just couldn’t shake it. When you’re an adult, the same kind of impulse usually results in the purchase of a motorboat.

Eventually, the hole got so deep that we’d stand on the edge and jump down about four feet onto the head of the shovel, driving it through knots of roots. It was one of these ill-placed jumps that sent Johnny’s crotch on a collision course with the shovel handle. The handle snapped with a loud crack, but Johnny just laid there quietly in the hole, having accomplished what is still the most impressive feat of human endurance I’ve ever personally witnessed, though at the time I wondered if it might have been easier for Johnny if I started using the broken shovel to just cover him up.

The vet told us that Memphis had slightly displaced her hip, and that we’d need to keep her in the crate at home for a week, maybe two.

My wife Kara handles bad news much better than I do; she goes the logical route straight to acceptance, while I prefer to hang around in the denial phase for a while.

“Nope. We’re not doing that. No way,” I said after the vet left the room, picturing Memphis in her crate, banging a tin cup against the bars. After discussing with Kara, we agreed to do the best thing for the dog, and now her recovery is coming along quite nicely. Memphis even seems to like hanging out in the crate, which is either due to the puppy Valium or the fact that her crate is bigger than my first dorm room.

You can sedate Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 13, 2008

You can check out any time you like……

Last weekend, my wife Kara and I invented an awesome, real life brain teaser. If you’d like to play along at home and test your own cerebral power, you can set up our brain teaser for yourself in just a few short, unintelligent steps.

First, check into a hotel room that adjoins the room where your sister-in-law Sarah and her boyfriend Brad are staying. Watch a few minutes of CSI: Miami before you go to sleep, but turn it off when you realize that you’ve already seen that one, even though you’ve only watched that show like three times.

The next morning, while still inside your room, go to the front door and swing the locking mechanism, which is called a “swing bar door guard” for those who never needed a name for it, which includes most non-idiots, to the locked position. The swing bar door guard is the thing you flip over to keep your hotel door open while you run to the ice machine in your underwear, at which point the elevator doors will open and a high school marching band will come out.

Now all you need to do is exit the hotel through Brad and Sarah’s room so that you can steal some of their Swedish fish on the way out. Make sure that the knobless door between your rooms, the one that can only be opened from inside your room, swings shut and locks behind you.

You’re all set. Of course, if you’ve replicated the brain teaser this far, you’ve already failed it. And if you’re anything like me and Kara, you’ll wander back to your hotel room at 1:30 in the morning, intoxicated somewhat on life but mostly on summer ale, and hit your forehead on the door when it only swings open the two inches that the swing bar door guard will allow.

At this point, you can wake up Brad and Sarah all you want, but they won’t be able to do anything but ask where all the Swedish fish went.

When this happened to us last Saturday, we stood outside the door to our room, picturing future travelers checking into the same hotel.

“Hello, I’d like to stay in Room 214, if it’s available.”

“Oh, we haven’t let folks stay in that room for nearly fifty years.”

“Why? Because it’s haunted?”

“No, because some idiot locked the swing bar door guard and left through the adjoining room. If you can figure out a way to open that door, you can have his luggage. And his wife’s, too.”

Earlier this year, our cousins had the exact same thing happen, except instead of locking up just their razors and iPods, their two-year-old daughter was on the other side of the door.

“Sophie, bring a chair over to the door, stand on it and flip the swingy thing on the door over to the other side,” they called into the room.

“Hi, Mommy!” Sophie replied. Several minutes later, the hotel staff had taken the door off its hinges.

“I have a predicament,” I told the lady at the front desk, who shook her head as I explained.

She handed me a plastic trash bag and said, “Well, you’re not the first. There’s a way to open it with a trash bag, but I’ve never done it. I’ll send up a security guard.”

Franklin, the security guard, hadn’t done it before, either, but he sure got a kick out of trying.

“This is a new one,” he said, laughing to himself as he reached through the crack in the door with the trash bag.

After thirty rustley minutes of trying every possible trash bag configuration while Kara offered suggestions that started with “Ooh, ooh, try this,” Franklin finally gave the bag a tug that sent the door guard swinging to the unlocked position, setting off a series of high fives that only ended once we realized that we were at the wrong room. I’m kidding, of course. They were more like handshakes than high fives.

You can unhinge Mike Todd at

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Oak trees make great employees

My buddy Josh, looking to change gears and companies, just had a job interview in which he was asked, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know what kind of tree you’d be, then you obviously have no business developing web pages for a small company.

Josh replied, “That’s an easy one. Oak tree, definitely.”

“What makes you say that?” the interviewer asked.

“I wanted to give you an answer quickly,” Josh replied.

Off-the-wall interview questions are, as Howard Hughes would say, the wave of the future. On the first recruiting trip I ever attended for my company, during which I discovered how much easier it is to breathe on the other side of the table, an experienced interviewer let me watch her work. Every one of her interviews began like this: “Repeat after me: silk, silk, silk.”

The interviewees, expecting to talk about their qualifications, would hesitantly say, “Silk, silk, silk.”

Then the interviewer would ask, “What does a cow drink?”

At this point, the interviewees would invariably say “milk.” One person in ten would say the right answer: water. I said “milk” the first time I was asked, but I’m generally inclined to stick by that answer even though it’s clearly wrong, which probably means I should run for higher office. Baby cows drink milk, dang it. Some may argue that a baby cow is called a calf, not a cow, but I can’t hear them because I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and going, “LA LA LA!”

Besides, if I was giving the interview, the real answer wouldn’t be water or milk, it would be “What does a cow drink?” because Simon never said to stop repeating. Hopefully, I would be interviewing somebody to be a third grader.

Josh did well enough on his interview that the company started calling all of his references, which, unfortunately for Josh, included me.

“What are his greatest strengths?” the caller asked. When you’re trying to stick up for your friend on this kind of a call, they expect you to lie, so even though you want to say that in college, when you tagged along to watch Josh get his nipple pierced, and he sat there in the chair cracking jokes with the person who was about to inflict enough pain on him to make passing a kidney stone seem like a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, you were very impressed with how strong he was, even though a month later his mom would cry and make him take it out, you should still just say that he’s a great team player.

“What are his greatest weaknesses?” she asked next.

“Booze and women,” I replied. Just kidding, of course. This question was tricky, because you can’t list an actual weakness, but you have to say something.

“He’s kinda short,” I said, which was the best answer I gave during the whole call because that’s only a weakness if he was interviewing for the NBA or for a job where he’d be expected to get the Saran Wrap out of the cabinet over the fridge.

I was hoping she’d asked me a wacky question, like, “In your personal opinion, does a dog have four knees or two knees and two elbows?” but she stuck to the boring script instead. I guess if you’re not interviewing for the job and just trying to help out your friend, they don’t care how many quarters you think you’d have to stack end-on-end to reach the moon.

Anyway, Josh called yesterday to say that he’d gotten the job, probably because the other guy said he’d be a sassafras tree.

You can shoot a rubber band into Mike Todd’s cubicle at