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

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

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

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