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

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

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 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

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 piƱatas, 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

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!

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.

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