Sunday, March 30, 2008

There’s no Mike in team

Last week, my buddy Oliver asked me to join his basketball team for a friendly scrimmage in the after-work league. I told him I needed some time to think about it. It’s been six years since I’ve run anywhere further than the toaster in our kitchen, and I only do that when there’s smoke billowing out of the door and we need to invite someone in a CSI jacket over to make a positive ID on our garlic bread. Besides, anyone who’s watched old guys playing sports knows that friendly games are only viewed that way by the team that’s about to lose.

My first experience with after-work leagues came about five years ago, when a coworker needed a ride to the field for his ultimate Frisbee game. After dropping him off, I decided to stay and watch. The players were actually quite good, and they didn’t seem at all deterred that were playing a sport designed primarily for dogs.

Towards the end of the game, some trash talking on the field degenerated into a fistfight that had to be broken up by the refs. It’s a good thing everyone left their laptops in their cars, or a briefcase-clearing brawl might have ensued. After watching grown men turn violent over a game of Frisbee, I decided that playing in the leagues could never top the entertainment value of spectating at them.

But I started to seriously consider Oliver’s offer a few evenings ago when I got winded retrieving the plastic barrel of cheese balls from the top shelf of the pantry. Also, an evening of playing basketball would have helped preemptively counteract the Girl Scout cookies that were due any day.

Of course, the Girl Scout and her mother stopped by to take orders on the Saturday that my wife Kara was out of town, and my buddy Derek and I were playing Assassin’s Creed at two in the afternoon, still wearing our bedheads and pajama pants, sitting on the couch in full view of the window by the front door. If the Girl Scout had been a velociraptor, maybe we could have fooled her by remaining motionless, which was pretty much what we were doing anyway.

At least the best Girl Scout cookies, the ones with coconut waxed on, only have about three in a box, so they can’t be that bad for you. The rest of the box is occupied by plastic spacers that are wide enough to separate tractor tires. I don’t know what would happen if those cookies touched each other, but judging from the security measures that have been put in place, it must be something akin to what happens in Star Trek when there’s a breach in the antimatter containment field.

Unfortunately, I had no choice but to greet our neighbors unshaven and unshowered, hopefully ordering enough cookies to compensate for my appearance. In an ideal world, when they come back by to drop the cookies off, my pants won’t have penguins on them. In any event, it’s time to alarm the end of the driveway so I at least have time to put on a hoody.

Given those circumstances, I decided to go ahead and play ball with Oliver’s team. We were about thirty seconds into the game when I realized my mistake. These were the guys who MADE the team in high school, even if some of them had done so before the invention of the internal combustion engine.

I learned that night that old, short and bald guys (with ponytails, somehow) who had only minutes before been smoking by the door to the gym can very easily still be way better at basketball than you. And by you I mean me.

On a breakaway about halfway through the game, one guy from the other team dunked. It wasn’t like he just barely made it, either. It looked like one of the slow-mo dunks from the old Nintendo game Double Dribble, but with better graphics.

At least I’ll have my three Samoas soon with which to console myself.

You can alley Mike Todd’s oop at

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Parental units on the fritz

As I was speaking with my buddy Josh on the phone yesterday, his pregnant wife Jaime came home.

“Jaime says ‘hi’,” he said.

“Say ‘hello’ to Jaime and her stomach for me,” I said.

“Mike says ‘hi’ to your stomach,” he said. But that didn’t sound quite right, like I was medically confused about her condition.

“Well, actually, I guess you should say ‘hi’ to her uterus,” I offered, waiting in silence as he demurred on passing that message along.

The reader(s) of this column may recall that when last we saw Josh and Jaime, they had decided on having a pug instead of a baby. Turns out, there’s room in their lives for two drooling, incontinent creatures.

Since acquiring their pug Lou last year (eschewing my much-more-masculine name suggestion, “Pug-of-War”), Josh has spent the better part of his life standing in their backyard, saying, “Go potty, Lou!” with levels of enthusiasm and encouragement that have surely prepared him for the little league bleachers. Incidentally, saying “Go potty, Lou!” when the pug is standing on their freshly installed carpet gives his owners more wings than a whole case of Red Bull.

“Are you ready for the baby, man?” I asked him on the phone.

Specifically, I was wondering if he was ready for the more unpalatable aspects of child rearing. I remember my parents talking about changing my diapers before they had become accustomed to the singular challenges that come along with changing a baby boy. If left naked and face up on the kitchen counter, for instance, baby boys predictably imitate their favorite geysers. Thinking of this story the last time I hung around with my friends who were changing their baby boy, I regarded the child with the same caution you might use to approach a Roman candle that had failed to ignite.

Josh replied, “Remember how we used to have twenty-page papers in college that we wouldn’t even think about until three days before they were due? That’s how I’m handling this, too.”

Even though all the excuses in the world won’t help negotiate an extension on this particular due date, Josh and Jaime wouldn’t need one anyway. They’ll be excellent parents. Their baby is only in its second trimester and it’s already reading at a third-trimester level.

Now that my wife Kara and I are entering our late twenties and early thirties (respectively, unfortunately), we’re beginning to see a clear line between our friends who have decided to start families and those who have decided that they need another decade or two to think about it.

Those who have decided to wait should probably start stocking up on the energy drinks now. Hanging out with a house full of in-laws last weekend, I was amazed at how quickly some of the kids had gone from Fillers of Detachable Car Seats into Little Humans with Personalities and Inexhaustible Reserves of Energy.

“You can’t get me!” our little cousin Sophie yelled while running around a single bush in the front yard for three hours straight.

Every now and again, the game would reverse, and whichever adult was next in the rotation (we worked in five-minute shifts) would become the target.

“I’m gonna get you!” Sophie would yell. Then she’d take about four steps in the running adult’s direction and say, “Hey, stop!” After complying with this directive, the adult would get gotten.

Explaining the inequity of the rules for this game did little to quell Sophie’s enthusiasm for it. Her little legs never stopped churning. One by one, the adults retired to the basement, feigning interest in the basketball game on TV long enough to attempt a quick nap, blissfully unaware that their status as ungotten individuals was soon to be revoked.

You can swaddle Mike Todd at

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A wife with all the trimmings

Last Saturday night, as my wife Kara approached me with the trimmer buzzing in her hand, I began to have some serious second thoughts.

“Are you sure you can do this?” I asked again.

“How hard can it be?” she said. “Now sit still.”

She was about to give me the first free haircut I’d had since college. Back then, my buddy Tim used to give free haircuts on Saturday mornings, which usually began just before dusk. Tim could easily cut twenty heads in one session, though he only ever gave one haircut. We all looked exactly the same, which was fine by us. A free haircut was a free haircut, even if it came with more verbal abuse than one would receive at a paying establishment.

“Man, you’re starting to thin out,” Tim would say. “Better get married young if you can.”

Tim’s military consistency meant we never had to go to the barber shop down the street, where the barber had hung a price list on the wall that included this item: “Fix Me Man, $5.00.”

A friend of mine inquired one day about what exactly constituted a Fix Me Man.

The barber replied, “It’s when your roommate tries to cut your hair, then you come in here and say, ‘Fix me, Man!’”

My thoughts drifted to the Fix Me Man as Kara closed in with the trimmers.

“Here we go!” she said as she made contact with the back of my head. A clump of hair fell onto my shoulder; the Rubicon had been crossed with Kara cavalierly plunging in.

We’d embarked on this adventure without really planning to do so. The sideburn trimmer I’d bought for fifteen bucks came with all the attachments to cut a whole head, so we started joking that Kara could be my barber. Then all of a sudden I was sitting on a stool in the bathroom with a tarp on the floor, which we’d spread out to catch any falling hair and blood spatters.

I wouldn’t have been so amenable to the idea if I hadn’t had the experience of trying out a new upscale barbershop about a month prior. I should have known something was awry when I saw the flatscreen TVs mounted on the wall and the sinks in the corner. Real barbershops have dusty radios with bad reception tuned to sports talk, and they certainly don’t have sinks, except maybe in the bathroom that you’re not allowed to use.

Halfway through the cut, the barber asked, “Would you like your eyebrows trimmed?”

Never having been asked this question before, I wasn’t sure whether the appropriate response was, “No,” or “God, no.” I’ve known guys who have spent a lot of time on their eyebrows before, and the result is always a little disconcerting. When it comes to eyebrows, I think most people could benefit from this guiding principle: If you have two, that’ll do.

The bill for the cut came out to $25, which is as close to John Edwards territory as I ever plan to get. Kara didn’t think that sounded like too much, but that’s coming from someone who gets her hair cut once a lunar eclipse.

So that’s how I came to be sitting on the stool in the bathroom as Kara orbited me, alternating between the scissors and the trimmers and mumbling quietly, “That’ll probably grow out.”

As far as I know, the last head of hair Kara had styled belonged to her childhood doll Baby, which, from the pictures, looked like one of the bad kid’s toys from Toy Story. As she snipped across my bangs, I’d already begun mentally composing a letter to Salman Rushdie asking for tips on laying low for a while.

The final result, though, actually came out looking pretty good, surprising us both. But I’m still waiting for my lollipop.

You can take a little off Mike Todd’s top at

Monday, March 10, 2008

My bobo and the honking thereof, part II

Proving once again that they don't read the submissions that editors send in, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association just awarded Just Humor Me the 2008 first place Keystone Press Award for Most Bitchin' Column in Division VIII, which is Roman for Division Awesome.

The graphics dude who made the little ribbon I used when I won the same award in 2006 doesn't work at the paper anymore, so I worked a little magic on it myself:

Thanks to everyone who visits this site to encourage me even when the column sucks, as it is prone to do from time to time, such as weekly. You all are the coolest and you kept me writing this thing even when I'd rather have been shooting zombies in the face, which was always. Not that the world would have exploded if I'd have quit, but thank you nonetheless. Your support is appreciated more than you know.

And not only do I get to post that awesome ribbon graphic again, but I also get this kickass PDF with my very own name somewhere on it. I'd better print that out and bronze it before they fix the glitch that allowed this travesty.

All pets, no peeves

Now that we’ve settled into our new house and my wife Kara no longer needs to send me links to websites featuring potential homes in which we could spend many years amassing positive memories and negative equity, she has turned her attention to websites featuring potential pets that could spend many years shedding on our sweaters.

Kara has heard the Call of the Domestic. She sends me emails with links to pictures of puppies on, adding her own editorial comments like, “Aren’t they sooo cute?” and, “Check out these puppies!”

And of course they are cute. But certain recent cultural trends have made prospective dog ownership less appealing to me, namely those trends that involve plastic baggies and steam of unappealing origins. If you’re already a parent, there’s nothing about dog ownership to make you queasy. What haven’t you already had to touch with your bare hands? But people like me sit around wondering if it might be possible to train a dog to do its business on some sort of catapult or trebuchet-type device.

I actually can’t wait to have a dog around the house, my aversions to their byproducts notwithstanding. The real opponent to such a household addition is our ferret Chopper, who is an old man by varmint standards. We’re quickly closing in on the seventh year since he declared sole authority to relieve himself upon our carpets. His favorite pastimes are sleeping twenty-two hours a day and, presumably, not having his head stepped on by a galloping puppy on its way to gnawing the stuffing out of the couch.

As crotchety as Chopper has become, he still enjoys coming home after being boarded (most graciously) at my folks’ improvised weasel kennel. Upon returning with him from vacation a couple of weeks ago, Kara and I let him loose in the hallway to watch him take his traditional romp around the house. As I followed him into our bedroom, I flipped on the light to find a nasty surprise waiting for me.

“Babe, our bedroom’s been ransacked!” I yelled, looking at our things strewn all over the floor.

She came running down the hall and looked in. “No, that’s just how you left it,” she said. Then I remembered flying into a frenzy trying to find my good headphones before we left, a fruitless quest that resulted in the contents of my dresser drawers swirling around the room, a maneuver that didn’t help to find the headphones but still offered some therapeutic value.

Chopper prefers our house slightly on the disheveled side anyway, especially if there are some choice sweatshirts on the floor for him to sleep in. My slovenliness is really just an effort to create artificial animal habitats, like when they sink a ship offshore.

I wonder how things would have turned out differently all those years ago if Kara had let me get a fish tank instead of a ferret. She insisted a ferret would be more fun, and I eventually caved because I figured the two were pretty close, alphabetically.

After finding out more about what goes into fish tank maintenance, I’m glad Kara saved me from that fate. Our buddy Jon recently exclaimed over dinner, “I got a fish tank!”

But Jon doesn’t have a fish tank. He has a water tank. It may become a fish tank at some point in the future, but right now he just has a giant rectangular water cooler with no spigot. Parents spend less time preparing your average nursery than Jon has spent preparing this water tank.

“Well, first you have to grow bacteria in the water,” he explained. “The bacteria eat the ammonia and turn it into nitrites. Then a different bacteria eats lead and turns it into gold.”

Or something like that. I lost track halfway though his explanation, wondering why he didn’t try an easier hobby, like collecting coins or defusing land mines.

You can curb Mike Todd at

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The language of third-row seating

**Note: I smacked some of our Costa Rica pics throughout this column, even though they have squat to do with the content. I hope that's cool.**

One of the tour guides on our vacation in Costa Rica two weeks ago explained that she wanted to learn French because, “Spanish is for my friends, English is for business, but French, French is for love.”English is for business? Since when did English become German? “English is for business” makes it sound so utilitarian, like we have to be careful when we talk or a minivan might fall out. Still, I was impressed with how casually she switched back and forth between languages, and how she spoke of picking up a third language like it would take about as much effort as picking up a pizza on the way home.

“How long have you been speaking English?” I asked her.

“Seven months,” she said.

I cringed. After the five years of Spanish classes I’ve taken in my life, I still couldn’t ask for directions to the bathroom without accidentally propositioning someone. To be fair, those classes were over ten years ago. I also can’t balance a chemical equation anymore or tell you the derivative of tangent(x). I’m getting dumber, is my point.

It’s very difficult to remain in the closet when you’re a homolingual traveling around a country that doesn’t generally speak your language. My attempts to speak Spanish reminded me of playing the game Taboo, in which you have to get someone to guess a word by giving them roundabout clues.

“Tonight, we like to eat the food after dinner,” I might say.

“Dessert?” the waiter would guess.

“Yes! We just scored a point!” I’d say.

Some of the natives spoke a language so universal that no pocket dictionary was necessary. On our third night there, at about one in the morning, we became introduced to the car alarm bird, a creature whose call perfectly mimicked a vehicular security device in every way except for our ability to ignore it.

“ooEEEEEoooo!” the bird said, repeatedly.

“I can’t take this,” my wife Kara mumbled. “I’m going to try listening to the iPod to drown it out.”

We were staying near the Arenal Volcano, a geologic feature that is, from what I hear, pretty neat looking. I can’t vouch for whether or not this volcano actually exists, as both of our days there were filled with rain and low-hanging clouds. Still, as much as I’m tempted to, I won’t whine about missing out on the sight of it. Going to the rainforest and complaining about the rain is like going to a NASCAR race and complaining about the mullets. We knew what we were getting into.

After twenty minutes, Kara ripped the headphones out of her ears. “That’s just not working,” she said. “This is how the Norah Jones song goes now: ‘Come away with me, in the ooEEEEEEoooo! Come away with me, and I’ll never stop ooEEEEEEEooooo!’”

“Try putting a pillow over your head,” I suggested.

“How about you go out there and put a pillow over the bird?” she asked.

Realizing the futility of attempting to sleep with the car alarm bird going off outside and Kara tossing and turning inside, I put on my shoes and wandered around in the small meadow behind the hotel, armed with a flashlight in one hand and a few small rocks from the parking lot in the other. Turned out, the sounds we’d attributed to the car alarm bird were actually coming from a jaguar, which I didn’t realize until the beam of my flashlight landed on its eyes. Not really, but that would be a much more exciting climax to the story. The real story ends with me winging a few rocks at a tree in the rainforest in the middle of the night, something sane people generally shy away from doing, though it did seem to have the intended effect.

I came back into the room saying, “I return triumphant! I showed that bird who was…”


You can put a pillow over Mike Todd’s head at