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 Still, there’s no quicker way to have your Man Card rescinded than to tear up in public.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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Til next summer...

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

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

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

Monday, September 01, 2008

This fall: the perfect time to get your goat

During the long drive last week to join my family for vacation in Rangeley, Maine, deep in the woods where no interstate dares to venture, my wife Kara and I witnessed something very disconcerting: the leaves, quite without permission, were already starting to change.

Perhaps our proximity to Labor Day (which, if things had been done right, would be Labor Week) should have been a pretty good indicator that the time had almost arrived to start girding our collective loins with fleece outerwear. Still, now that we’re back home, we can’t get it out of our minds that fall is out there, slowly creeping across the Great North Woods, inexorably making its way south. The Vermont teddy bears are next, then it’s coming for us. It’s like that terrible thing that spread across the country in the last M. Night Shyamalan movie, “The Happening,” except instead of killing everyone, it makes us put our shorts in storage. At least I think something like that happened in the last M. Night Shyamalan movie; I only watch his previews anymore. His recent movies are like tomato slices on sandwiches: it seems like life would be more fun if I liked them, but I just can’t make myself.

With fall sneaking up on us, the reader(s) of this column would probably like to see a Fall Fashion Blowout written by someone who hasn’t been wearing his big sister’s Spring Fling T-shirt since 1995, but I picked up on a new trend in Maine last week that everyone needs to know about, and it’s much more useful than having a magazine tell you that wearing giant sunglasses makes you look like an heiress.

After a long hike, as my family finished resting at the top of Tumbledown Mountain and prepared to come back down, a small group of hikers wandered into the clearing with a medium-sized dog trailing behind them.

“What a funny-looking dog,” I thought, noticing its long, floppy ears, its short snout and its black hooves. Hooves?

“This is Moony,” one of the hikers said, patting the creature on its haunches. “He’s training to be a pack goat.”

As we stared in admiring disbelief, the hiker went on, “Pack goats are big out West. They’re starting to show up on the East Coast now. Moony’s an American Gray Nubian. He was originally supposed to be a meat goat, but we liked him so much, we decided to keep him.”


You heard it here first: this fall’s hottest new fashion accessory comes with bleats. If you’ve ever thought, “Man, I’m sick of lugging this laptop bag into my cubicle every day,” now you have a solution. Finally, the fashion industry has given us something functional.

And if you ever find yourself thinking that it’s too much trouble to be nice to people, just think of Mooney, who proved that you never know when having a winning personality will keep you off the dinner table.

When we returned from the hike, Kara observed summer’s last parting shot.

“Oh no, Babe” she said from behind me, in the voice that she uses when she’s just noticed something horribly awry. Unfortunately, this happens often enough that I recognize the voice.

I froze, waiting for her to brush the spider off my back. But it was worse than that.

“Your, um, spot is looking a little red,” she said.

When your bald spot begins to require sunscreen, there’s no denying it anymore. You can avoid holding one mirror behind your head in an effort to remain blissfully ignorant, but UV rays never lie. I’m pretty sure that getting sunburned on my scalp officially marks my first Indignity of Old Age. But if I’m maintaining the appropriate perspective, I suppose I’ll hope for it to be the first of many.

You can nibble on a tin can with Mike Todd at