Thursday, January 29, 2009

A banner day

We should all be like my buddy Josh -- he stopped whining about the pictures of my dog being plastered all over this site and actually did something about it. Sorry, Memphis, we'll put you back at the top of the page one of these days, but for now I have a bunch of bitchin' new banner graphics (which Josh keeps calling mastheads for some reason, like we're on a frigate or something) to cycle through. I hope you dig 'em.

The masthead (ooooh, look how smart I am) above will make a lot more sense if you're familiar at all with the TV show House. If not, then I can only assume you haven't seen it because you're laid up with a case of paraneoplastic syndrome. Or necrosis of the liver. Or maybe vasculitis. Don't worry -- I'll figure it out in the last five minutes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No news is bad news

My last (and I don't mean most recent) copy of the Conshohocken Recorder came this weekend, carrying this note from the publisher on the front page:

The Recorder (1869-2009) was the first paper to run my column, starting in February 2005. The Inter-County Newsgroup, of which it was a member, closed seven papers and laid off thirty employees last week, including my editor, for whom I wish only the best. I hope that sometime down the road I'll get more chances to miss his deadlines every week.

Four papers that carried my column are no longer in existence as of this week: The Recorder, The Haddon Herald, The Lafayette Hill Journal and The Plymouth Meeting Journal. If I didn't think that my column had been an asset to these papers at a time when small papers are struggling to remain relevant, I might start to worry that I am the Ted McGinley of print media. But it's just tough everywhere right now.

Man, dang, this isn't funny at all. Here, let's post a picture of my dog with the Abominable Snowman:

There, that's better. Kind of.

In any event, The Roxborough Review and The Chestnut Hill Local are still kicking, so the column goes on, for now. Its days as an extra-value-meal-paying-for enterprise might be numbered, but I'll keep cranking it out as long as there are papers to run it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spilling everything but the beans

A couple of nights ago, as I hugged a forty-pound bag of dog food to my chest and started up the stairs from the garage to the kitchen, I noticed the pitter-patter of kibble on the carpet with every step. The bag’s hull had been breached, and I scurried to make it to the kitchen before the whole thing went down.

Our puppy Memphis sensed that opportunity was knocking and joined the procession, happily scarfing up the bits that fell out of the hole chewed by the mice that I’m still pretending don’t exist, lest I be forced to do something about them. Once you’ve learned the somewhat grisly lesson that humane mouse traps are only humane if you don’t forget that you’ve set them in the first place, you feel as if perhaps the rodents in your life are entitled to a little leeway. At least that’s what I hear.

“Good girl,” I grunted, picking up the pace as Memphis gleefully followed with her nose to the floor, chomping as she went, doing her best Pac-Man impression. Like most people, we got a dog largely because nobody’s invented an automatic dustpan yet.

In my haste upon reaching the kitchen and trying to swing the bag onto the counter, I knocked the plastic bin that holds Memphis’ food onto the floor, spraying dog chow in every direction and ripping the hole in the bag wide enough to create a situation that an oil man or a paramedic would probably have referred to as a “gusher.” By the time I was able to stem the flow, our kitchen had become Kibble Beach. The expanse of dog food that spread across the floor covered enough ground to have been, at the very least, a par four.

“Oh, boy, that’s an interesting development,” I said with my head on the counter, considering what length a proper string of obscenities would be for such an occasion.

Memphis cautiously surveyed an accident scene that was, for once, not her doing. She stood at the edge of the mess and looked at me as if to say, “We might need to bring in a bigger dog for this.”

Fortunately for us, Memphis is not possessive of her food. After preparing for dog ownership by watching marathons of Dog Whisperer, a show that regularly features cuddly little canines that morph into snarling, near-rabid beasts when given a bowl of food, my wife Kara and I have been careful to spend a lot of time near Memphis while she’s eating, sticking our fingers in her food, moving her bowl around and generally annoying her to make sure she doesn’t develop food aggression. So far, she’s been very polite about it.

Unfortunately for Memphis, I don’t extend her the same courtesy.

“Get your face outta my food!” I yell at her on a nightly basis as she sticks her snout into my plate on the coffee table.

“Did she get any of it?” Kara will ask.

“Just a lick. Get out of here, George Pup-a-dapolis,” I say, nudging Memphis back with my foot.

“Who?” Kara asks.

“George Pup-a-dapolis. Like George Papadapolis, the dad from Webster,” I say. Kara stares back at me blankly.

“The sitcom from the eighties. Emmanuel Lewis was Webster. He used a dumbwaiter to move between floors, so he’d just pop out of the kitchen cabinets. Remember?”

Silence ensues, and my favorite obscure puppy-nickname reference floats into the ether, unappreciated forevermore. Honestly, am I the only surviving Webster watcher left in the world?

Memphis will take the opportunity to come back and lick my plate, and I display my food aggression by pushing her back once again. Maybe my parents should have stuck their fingers in my Jell-o when I was a kid.

You can slap Mike Todd’s hand off your leftovers at

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poor Man's Photoshop

When I was fiddling around to create a new banner graphic for this site to replace the one that never existed before, I stumbled across this free version of Poor Man's Photoshop (called PhotoPlus). If you're like me and you were always too cheap to pay for Photoshop and not smart enough to figure out how to steal it, this seems like a pretty sweet compromise.

On a completely unrelated note, check out how lucky Kara is that I warned her about this pterodactyl attack while she was feeding a toucan at Sam's Point in upstate New York.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Memphis' second snowfall

We tried to teach her to fetch, but she only wants to play Calvinball.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Linens n’ Things: Gone n’ stuff

The carcass of our local Linens n’ Things has been picked clean. All that’s left now are shopping carts from nearby stores blowing like tumbleweeds across the empty parking lot that sits in front of the big beige skeleton.

Fortunately for us, one of the early vultures was my wife Kara, who scavenged an extremely choice piece of carrion: one of those arcade-style mini-basketball shooting machines, with two hoops, a digital scorer, sound effects, and pictures of ten-year-olds, my apparent peers, on the box having a blast.

I probably could have built an actual basketball court in the time it took me to put the machine together, armed with a tiny Allen wrench and a page of instructions on which the only clear thing was that it had been written by someone who hated people.

As a thirty-one year-old with a newly built basketball-shooting machine in the basement, though, I’m worried that maybe I’ve peaked too soon. Bettering my existence from here seems a dim possibility without the addition of something much more meaningful to care for, like a ski ball machine. But really, a ski ball machine in a basement could never duplicate the experience of a ski ball machine in a real-life arcade. Without the ability to trade in 10,000 tickets for a plastic frog whose butt breaks off when you press down on it to try to make it hop, what would be the point?

Since I’ve been spending the majority of my recent free time standing on the cold concrete in the basement, throwing miniature basketballs into a miniature hoop for hours on end in the sort of mindless, near-drooling trance that makes this column possible every week, it has been difficult not to think about where this machine came from and to get a little wistful about the passing of Linen n’ Things as it moves out of our lives and into the Great Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Our parents did without Linens n’ Things, so I guess we’ll learn to adjust. But it makes me cringe to think about how our moms and dads suffered for all those years, barely scraping by with their non-ergonomic spatulas and their slippers that didn’t feature memory foam technology designed by NASA.

Also, isn’t it about time NASA gave us something else? I think NASA’s been coasting by on Velcro for a little too long, which, by the way, as I’ve learned from the internet since I started typing this sentence, it didn’t even invent. Some Swiss guy did. NASA just popularized it. Saying NASA invented Velcro is like saying Beverly Hills 90210 invented sideburns.

Anyway, I’ll miss all the times Kara dragged me to Linens n’ Things on missions to find things we didn’t need. She was like a raccoon in a shiny object museum.

“Oooh, look, cinnamon-scented pine cones,” she’d say, stopping in the aisle.

“Babe, if you really wanted pine cones, you should have told me. I’ll get you a nice big bag of fresh ones,” I’d say.

“But these ones smell so good,” she’d reply, inhaling deeply and smiling.

“Mine will be seven bucks cheaper. And they’ll be scented with pine,” I’d reply hopefully.

People also don’t realize the sort of educational opportunities that disappear forever when a store like Linens n’ Things goes oven-mitts-up. Just before our wedding, I remember Kara explaining to me how the world worked in terms I’d never heard before.

“You mean, people keep track of how many threads their sheets have?” I asked in amazement. What a strange and fantastic world we live in. But I bet the people who have to count the threads in the first place are even angrier than the instruction manual guy.

You can send Mike Todd emails n’ things at

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Make love, not wardrobe

If the reader(s) of this column have come to expect anything, it’s probably cutting-edge fashion advice, the kind that can only be dispensed by a thirty-one year-old guy who still wears fraternity T-shirts commemorating formal dances that transpired before the majority of the Abercrombie & Fitch sales force had been conceived.

Th(os)e reader(s) will not be disappointed more than usual this week, as I have spotted a trend. This past New Year’s Eve, I watched New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg give an interview on TV wearing those earmuffs that connect around the back of one’s head. Unless I’m mistaken, earmuffs used to be primarily worn by schoolgirls and snowmen. There was a time, not long ago, when the only dudes wearing earmuffs were the ones standing on runways, waving glowsticks.

In the past few years, though, somebody figured out that, for some reason, guys would wear earmuffs if the connecting piece was rotated ninety degrees. Why this makes a difference is just one of those mysteries, like how they built Stonehenge or why they’re sticking pomegranate juice in everything now (different theys, probably, but we may never know for sure).

What other primarily female products could be sold to men by making trivial modifications? Surely, our nation’s top scrunchie engineers are already working on this.

I’ve been angry with the fashion industry ever since the time about ten years ago when it convinced the entire young male population that it needed hammer loops on its jeans. Carpenter jeans, they were called, as if carpentry was suddenly all the rage with the kids, when in fact the only nailing we were doing was to our opponents on “James Bond: GoldenEye” on the Nintendo 64 in that kid’s dorm room down the hall, an endeavor that notably required very few hammers. And even if we had all gotten hired at construction jobs, I’m pretty sure those loops weren’t meant to hold ten-pound air-powered nail guns. Carpenters didn’t even wear carpenter jeans anymore.

“Oh, no, I’m skipping that one,” I thought, after noticing the growing horde of pretend woodworkers at Penn State. It was similar to the sensation I had in the sixth grade, when I looked at all the other kids’ feet and realized with horror that I was the only one not wearing Nike Air sneakers. It was like the scene from a zombie movie in which the hero realizes that he’s the only human left, except zombies are much more likely than sixth graders to make independent fashion choices. Through sheer obliviousness, I’d become an accidental nonconformist, which was right about at the same place on my To Do list as “fail lice check.”

Anyway, I spent two years of college shuffling around campus with my arms out in front of me, thirsting for brains and sporting a vestigial hammer loop on my pants just like everybody else. We all knew it was stupid but we did it anyway, which would incidentally be a great title for Donald Rumsfeld’s autobiography.

This past summer, my buddy Jered, the most fashionable of my guy friends, which is kind of like being the tallest Pygmy, met up with a group of our friends outside the Wachovia Center for a Tom Petty concert. He paused as he looked at my clothes.

“You’re still wearing those shorts from college?” he asked. “Aren’t you a little too old for Abercrombie? Maybe you could have pulled that off a decade ago.”

My attempt to camouflage myself as a twenty-something had failed. Sensing my chance to get off on a technicality, I replied, “Dude, I bought these shorts a decade ago. Doesn’t that count?”

Apparently, it didn’t, but now that I’m old enough to be a nonconformist on purpose, I don’t need his fashion advice anymore. Besides, it would be hard to hear through my new earmuffs.

You can hang Mike Todd out to dry at

Monday, January 05, 2009

Migrating home for the holidays

As the holiday season begins to run out of holidays and my belt discovers notches it never knew it had, exploring circumferences that are usually reserved for hula hoops or tractor tires, my wife Kara and I are preparing once again to head for home after stuffing our car like characters in a Steinbeck novel and our faces like characters in an Eddie Murphy fat-suit movie.

Until our own little family consists of members other than our dog and ourselves, Christmas is a time not only for making memories, but also for making the rounds. Fortunately for us, playing connect-the-families doesn’t require more than a four-hour drive on any of the legs of the trip; flying home is something we’re happy to leave to the geese and to our trans-American friends, Rob and Natalie, who insisted on moving to Los Angeles.

The most indelible image of our whirlwind tour ‘round the horn this year happened when Kara and I were looking across the table at Rob and Natalie’s hands, her hand for the sparkling new engagement ring, his hand for the shiny new pinkie splint, two accessories that we initially assumed were unrelated.

After many years of relatively tumult-free dating and cohabitating, as of a few months ago, Rob still hadn’t proposed, leading many of his friends to conjecture about what possible data he could still be collecting. Eight Seven years should be plenty of time to determine whether your partner is really a secret agent or a werewolf, but Rob has never been in much of a hurry about anything. He was always the friend we lied to about when the party started, bumping it forward a couple hours in hopes that he might get there before everybody left. But our continued predictions of their impending engagement proved to be less accurate than the predictions offered by your average doomsday cult.

Luckily, he popped the question before Natalie left the party.

“I had one foot out the door,” she told us with a wink over lunch a couple of days ago.

Rob’s eyes widened. “Wait. What door?” he asked.

Natalie drew a rectangle in the air with her fingers.

“THE door,” she replied, smiling.

We didn’t ask about the sleeping arrangements when they visited her family in Chicago, but this development couldn’t have hurt Rob’s standing. As I found out with Kara’s family, even after Kara and I had been living together for over a year, until you put a ring on that finger, you can put yourself on that futon in the basement.

Just as we’d started to think that their engagement and his pinkie splint were quite the suspicious coincidence, Rob explained that he’d earned his own jewelry by sticking his fingers where they didn’t belong, namely between a rock and a bigger, falling rock.

In Venice Beach, one of the local full-time beach residents spends his days balancing large rocks into impossible-looking, chest-high spires.

As Rob stopped to take a few pictures of the temporary sculptures, he noticed one spire in particular that he later referred to as the “Mother Ship,” made up of three enormous rocks balanced end-to-end in what probably passes in Southern California for a snowman.

Ignoring the circles in the sand that, in retrospect, must have been meant as a barrier to protect the Darwinly challenged from themselves, Rob decided that the rocks were clearly being held up by some sort of support, a fraud that needed to be exposed. One gentle poke from his soon-to-be mangled finger proved otherwise.

It’s a shame that he was too busy fleeing the scene on his way to the hospital to yell, “Jenga!”

You can forget old acquaintances with Mike Todd at

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Memphis' first snowfall

Do they make puppy-mounted snowplows?

**EDIT** I mean snowplows that can be mounted to puppies, not snowplows that have been mounted by puppies. Just so we're on the same page.