Sunday, May 31, 2009

Your name won’t be mud. Or Louis.

"Memphis is such an awesome name and we wasted it on the dog,” I said as Memphis, sitting on my foot, opened her mouth wide to let out a high-pitched dog yawn. Sensing an opportunity, I stuck a finger in her mouth and waggled it up and down against her teeth like I was playing a triangle.

Incidentally, you don’t see too many triangle players these days, which is strange because it’s the only instrument that says, “you can master every nuance of me during a commercial break” and “it’s time for dinner” simultaneously.

With a baby on the way, we’re working on acclimating the dog to little annoying surprises. She didn’t look annoyed at all after her interrupted yawn, just a little confused, which bodes well for her future. She’s a very patient animal. When our friends’ two-year-old decided that she wanted Memphis to come closer during a recent visit, the little girl grabbed Memphis by her eyebrows and tugged with all her might. As I ran over to help, Memphis calmly looked up past her outstretched forehead as if to say, “Don’t worry, it’s cool. But I think I deserve a biscuit now.” In any event, she handles the yawning mouth-triangle thing much better than my wife Kara does.

“Dude, we weren’t going to name our son Memphis anyway,” Kara replied. “That name only works for dogs and strippers.”

She had a point, but people these days go out of their way to give their kids unique names. When I was a kid, there were only three boy names to choose from: Mike, Chris and John. If a family had four boys, they either had to give two of them the same name or give one of them a girl’s name, of which the choices were Jenny, Amy and Sarah. Now there are little Logans and Madisons hanging from every Baby Bjorn.

The Social Security database lets you browse the most popular baby names in any given year. See if you can spot the pattern in this sample of eight of the top 100 boy names listed for 2008: Jayden, Brayden, Aiden, Jaden, Kaden, Ayden, Hayden and Caden.

“Wow, there are a lot of aden-sounding names,” Kara said as we browsed the list for inspiration.

“Raiden was my favorite character in Mortal Kombat,” I suggested. “He could make a person’s head explode by filling it with lightning bolts from his fingertips.”

“What about Tom?” Kara said. “Toms are nice people.”

“I like Toms, too,” I said, “but Tom Todd’s too alliterative. Sounds like the main character of a tongue twister.”

Since we’ve started having these discussions, we’ve found it impossible to consider a name without loading each one down with the attributes of everyone we’ve ever known who possessed that name before, especially those people we went to high school with.

Toms are nice people who help the science teacher operate the LaserDisc player that will be obsolete in three years. Louises (Louisi?) grow armpit hair at age eight and spend the next decade punching you in the arm and being the only naked person in the locker room after gym class. If you make eye contact with a Louis, you are likely to spend the next minute of your life in a headlock with a terrible view. Steves chew tobacco in computer class and spit on the carpet when the teacher has her back turned, leaving a puddle-shaped discoloration by the end of the marking period. Kirks try to stuff your head into the toilet when Mr. Hagen has his office door closed. And on and on.

It’s too bad “I’m never going to name my baby after you!” isn’t a better defense against bullies. Kids can be so short-sighted when they’re cramming you into a trash can.

You can play the castanets on Mike Todd’s head at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who's the man with the walkway plan?

After two weeks of backbreaking manual labor, I finished putting down our new walkway about three hours before guests started showing up for Kara's baby shower. Here's (the only?) photographic evidence that I've done something manly in my life:


The Flagstones of Death (the final obstacle before the Rodents of Unusual Size):

Owning a wheelbarrow: +1 man points. Filling it with dirt: +2

The aforementioned dirt flume:

Casting the first stones:

Kara helping:

Memphis helping:

My PlayStation 3 yearns for attention:

All the ingredients for a trip to the emergency room:

Thirty-seven blisters later:

The pregnant lady approves:

Celebrating my retirement from ever touching another walkway stone with anything but my feet:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jack went up the hill to fetch a beer

When we told some of our friends that my wife Kara’s impending baby shower was to be a women-only affair, my buddy Sergey turned to me and said, “Aw, you mean we’re not allowed to go?”

I stared at him for a moment, trying to tell if he was putting me on.

“What do you mean, allowed to go?” I asked. Of all the things I’m prohibited from doing, having to sit out baby showers is the one I have the least problem with. It’s definitely not one of the more draconian measures I’m subjected to on a daily basis, like the unconscionable bans on putting empty Rice Krispies boxes back into the pantry and clipping toenails onto the carpet.

“Free food, presents. I don’t know. It sounded like fun,” he said.

I assured Sergey that we’d made alternate plans for the ditched significant others, hosting a barbecue at our house that will allow the temporarily womanless men an entire afternoon to do what we do best, namely drinking beer and scratching ourselves.

If guys like Sergey don’t watch out, though, pretty soon they’re going to get the rest of us invited to all of these baby showers, where we’ll be forced to play games with names like “Guess That Gerber’s.” Any game that involves blindfolds and baby food is a game that I feel blessed not to know anything else about.

Apparently, driven by guilt about excluding men from their festivities, some women have started conducting baby showers “Jack and Jill” style, inviting men to participate as well. I’m pretty sure I speak for my gender when I say, ladies, don’t spend another moment worrying about Jack. Jack doesn’t mind being left out. Even if he doesn’t have anyone else to hang out with while Jill’s gone, Jack will be perfectly content stress-testing the PlayStation 3 all day, though it might take a few minutes for him to adjust to decapitating zombies without anyone walking through the room and saying, “Boy, I’m sure glad you didn’t outgrow your video games like all the other guys.”

Of course, it won’t be the same as a blind taste test of blended prunes, but Jack will do his best to muddle through.

All this talk about baby showers around our house lately reminded me that we never properly celebrated the arrival of a friend’s baby.

“Did we ever get an invitation to a shower for I-ball’s second baby?” I asked Kara. As you get older, it becomes only slightly less strange that someone known to you as “I-ball” could, in the course of little more than a decade, evolve to parenting multiple children from lighting bottle rockets in his bare hands.

“People don’t usually do showers for a second baby,” Kara explained.

As the youngest sibling, I’d like to formally register a complaint here. The first baby is greeted with a parade of cute embroidered bibs and car seats that still have that new car seat smell. The second baby gets, what, a few greeting cards and some hand-me-down T-shirts with barf stains on them? Something smells rotten, and it’s not just the old Spagettios stuck to the second-hand high chair.

A few nights ago, Kara reminded me what all of our current fussing was about. She silently grabbed my hand and placed it flat against her belly. I felt, for the first time, quick little kicks against my fingers.

“Wow. You’re really not faking this whole thing after all, huh?” I said.

Kara smiled, and we stayed there for a while longer, our hands pressed together, feeling our little boy pushing out towards the world that he’ll be joining shortly. I bet the little guy will be a much better “Guess That Gerber’s” player than his old man.

You can feed Mike Todd puréed carrots at

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

You may have already seen this...

But if not, I highly recommend that you go to this Amazon page and scroll down to read the customer reviews for this T-shirt:

Thanks to Perlson for the link and the solid hour of laughter today. Awoooooooo!

Update: Dang, the Washington Post posted an article about this shirt on their front page. Perlson's quite the trendspotter.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dirt flumes aren’t as much fun as they sound

Last week, I stuck a shovel under one of the large flagstones in our walkway and cracked it in half as I tried to pry it up. Our dog Memphis jumped back, looking up at me as if to say, “Dude, what’d you do that for?”

In truth, I did it to force Future Me to fix our walkway. The walk from our front door to our driveway was treacherous enough that it lacked only a few spandex-clad steroid enthusiasts swinging medicine balls at your head to make an attempted traverse indistinguishable from the final round in “American Gladiators.” If you stepped in the wrong place, the flagstone steps would flip up like garden hoes in a “Three Stooges” routine, ejecting any immediate perambulators into the rhododendrons.

The previous owners of our house recognized the problem as well, and I continue to admire the simplicity of their solution: a tiny “Watch Your Step” sign stuck into the mulch, which hasn’t done anything to help since we’ve lived here except for perhaps breaking a fall or two.

After my previous half-hearted attempts to fix the walkway failed, I realized that the only real solution was to replace the whole thing. While I always hesitate to begin such a large project, it’s much easier to get started if I think of Future Me as some other sucker who’s going to do all the work. If Future Me ever gets his hands on a DeLorean, Past Me better find a good hiding place.

Looking at the broken flagstone, I realized that the point of no return was in the rearview mirror. I almost turned to Memphis and said, “Well, it looks like we’ve crossed the Rubicon now,” but then I remembered that I don’t know what that saying means.

I’ve spent the last few days dragging the flagstones out of the way and trenching out the area underneath, creating a dirt flume where the walkway used to be. Incidentally, if you can describe your recent activity using the word “trench” as a verb, you probably haven’t been having very much fun lately. Turns out, there are a lot of good reasons why you never hear kids talking about going into the field of ditch digging anymore. I can count those reasons on my blistered, aching fingers.

“Hey, Babe, if you need me, I’ll be outside doing some backbreaking manual labor,” I’ll say to my wife Kara. You have to be careful when complaining to a pregnant lady; it’s a delicate art to extract pity from a person who tries her best not to wake you up during her bi-hourly trips to the bathroom every night. But what’s the point in doing work around the house if you’re not going to milk it for everything it’s worth? Nobody in their right mind cleans the kitchen without clanging the dishes together to make sure that credit is being appropriately applied.

My real motivation for tackling this project now, replacing the dangerous flagstones with brick, is that we’re expecting a baby and a corresponding influx of visitors in the coming months, and we’d prefer to minimize the amount of time we spend picking mulch out of our visitors’ hair. Also, I want to be able to lean back, hook my thumbs into my pants pockets and say to them, “You see this new walkway? A real man built that.”

“How much did you pay him?” they will ask.

But that won’t hurt my feelings, because completing a project of this magnitude automatically gives me enough man credits to coast by for at least a few years. The way I figure it, I’ll have to cry at every wedding for the next decade just to break even. At least that will be my excuse.

You can break Mike Todd’s fall at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brendan, the neighbor's dog, says...

What, no mid-week posts?


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Live long and slobber

The little girl saw us coming from three hundred yards back. She dismounted her training-wheeled bike and stood by the side of the road, waiting to say hello to my dog Memphis, who was out on her daily walk, painting the town slobbery.

My understanding of canine endocrinology is a little rusty, but it’s pretty clear that when Memphis doesn’t get her daily walk, her glands begin to secrete crack. By the end of a walkless day, she gets all jittery, jumping at the slightest noise and barking at the carpet. Whenever I try to go two days without a walk, she starts robbing liquor stores.

Seeing an attention-getting opportunity ahead, Memphis yanked against the leash, legs and tongue flailing. If she were a human, she’d be a Wal-Mart greeter, and not the surly kind. Saying hello is her life’s passion. To say she wags her tail when greeting someone is to say that the space shuttle generates a bit of horsepower when lifting off. Her wags start at her nose and ripple backwards through her body, turning every one of her joints into a wildly swinging saloon door.

While Memphis had no reservations about the impending encounter up the street, I’m never quite sure what to say to little kids. As a childless person (for the next three months) in my early thirties with no nieces or nephews, on any given day, I’m one tenth as likely to have a conversation with a child as I am with a microphone at a drive-through window.

As we approached, the little girl pushed her pink bike helmet back and looked up at us. Since the time when I was a kid, parents have somehow figured out how to get kids to wear helmets. Perhaps it’s because helmets these days actually look pretty cool. Twenty years ago, a kid wearing a bike helmet looked like he tripped and got a dinosaur egg stuck on his head. Even if you could get a kid to wear a giant Styrofoam globe around when he was in your driveway, he was apt to stash it in the bushes as soon as he got around the corner.

Not that I know anyone who did that. And even if I did know anyone, the statute of limitations would have certainly run out by now. You can’t give a timeout to a thirty-one-year-old. At least I hope not.

The little girl held out her hand cautiously, as if Memphis was a cookie that just came out of the oven.

“You can pet her if you want. She’s nice,” I said. The girl took a step closer, and Memphis instantly transformed into thirty-five pounds of slobber-dispensing zeal.

“She’s licking me!” the girl yelped, giggling, as Memphis gave her a coating that made her look like Bill Murray after a run-in with Slimer.

After Memphis finished basting the girl, we said goodbye and continued down the street. A moment later, I heard the girl yelling, “I petted the doggie!”

“You were a hit,” I said as Memphis pranced along, smiling. Yes, dogs can smile. Cats can, too; they just choose not to.

As the specter of impending fatherhood becomes real – nine months once sounded like an eternity – it’s nice to be reminded that children aren’t something to be feared. In truth, kids really aren’t scary at all. Babies are, though. Thanks to “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel, I now know far more about how to catch Opilio crabs in the Bering Sea than I do about changing a diaper.

Every day, my wife Kara ventures further into her third trimester, and I feel more and more like Captain Kirk venturing into an uncharted wormhole. Except that I’m not wearing a onesie.

You can knock off a liquor store with Mike Todd at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

If an award falls in the forest…

Last year, my editor at the late Conshohocken Recorder wrote to tell me that they couldn’t pay to enter my column into the Keystone Press Awards anymore. That was a pretty good indication that the paper wasn’t long for this world. The entry fee was $7.00.

So I filled out the entry form and sent it in myself. Months went by and the time for announcing the winners passed, so I didn't think anything more about it, figuring that my seven Washingtons would have been better spent on a roast chicken club combo at Arby's.

Last Friday, I thought of it and ventured out to the PA Newspaper Association website to see who beat me out.

Turns out, I won and nobody told me. I hope I didn't miss the parade.

Sure, I probably benefitted from the fact that only me and like two other dudes ponied up the seven bones, but the important thing is that I got my name on a PDF. A PDF! Can I find a way to mention that this is the third time in four years that I've won this award without sounding like a complete douchebag? Perhaps not.

In any case, a roast chicken club sandwich sounds really good right now.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

One man’s junk is another man’s exhibit

“Are there any more exhibits over that way?” my wife Kara asked, deciding whether to spend the calorie to close the ten-foot gap between us.

“There’s a black pipe running up the wall,” I replied, peeking around the corner inside the modern art museum. “I think it’s just a pipe, but it could be a meditation on how man is constantly running up the wall.”

One can never be too sure inside a museum like that. We had just come from an exhibit that looked as if someone had enthusiastically taken to tearing up the carpet with a Garden Weasel. There was nothing hanging on the walls except for a placard that called the torn-up carpet a “Scatter Piece,” which is incidentally what I now call my garage.

“It’s not messy; it’s a Scatter Piece,” I tell my friends, after they’ve paid the admission fee.

“Dude, this guy didn’t even try,” Kara said as we ventured into the next room, a large gallery with blank canvasses sprinkled along the white walls. At the back of the room, thick pieces of masking tape held up an otherwise untouched piece of plain white paper. I would have expected your average modern artist to be a sensitive person who wants more than anything to avoid the dread phrase: “my four-year-old could do that,” but those blank wall hangings could have benefitted considerably from spending a few minutes as placemats at a restaurant that gives out free crayons.

A docent eyed us from the corner of the room as we strolled through, daring us to say something. Kara and I were careful not to mock the art within earshot of museum employees, in case they were either modern artists in disguise or part of the exhibit.

And who were we to judge, anyway? Maybe whoever created those blank canvasses spent years figuring out the best paints not to use on them. But while some modern art undoubtedly awakens emotions and expands minds, a good percentage of it seems to exist solely to be made fun of, like the litigants on Judge Judy.

If Kara was hoping that I’d pick up some culture during our visit, she was likely sorely disappointed, much like when she decides that dragging me onto a dance floor will somehow magically teach me how to dance. Besides, you don’t have to go to a museum to get cultured, you just have to use the word “docent” at every opportunity. One correct usage equals one culture point scored.

By the end of the afternoon, Kara and I began to appreciate the whimsy of the museum. Around any corner, you might find a giant metal headless spider, a pile of dirt with a mirror stuck in it, a series of abstract murals or a single piece of yarn hanging from the ceiling.

You have the respect the artists for taking risks. Lately, the biggest risk I take is eating raw cookie dough out of the package.

“I saw that! Don’t eat the cookie dough raw,” Kara will yell from the other room.

“Why not? It’s not as good after it’s cooked,” I say.

“You’ll get salmonella,” she replies.

“What doesn’t give you salmonella these days?” I ask. If you’re going to catch a debilitating food-born disease, cookie dough sure seems like the best way to do it. Who would rather get taken out by spinach?

My point, of course, is that you should check out your local modern art museum. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to appreciate or ridicule, so you win either way. And as silly as some of the exhibits seem, it’s impossible not to respect them for their sheer randomness. I might even pay homage to the blank canvas guy at work this week by sending around some empty Excel spreadsheets.

You can cultivate Mike Todd with your Garden Weasel at