Monday, December 27, 2010

I prefer my rump not shaken, nor stirred

With a flick of her wrist, my wife Kara sealed my fate.

“Dude, that’s not cool,” I said.

“Oh, it’ll be fine,” she replied. “Or at least really funny.”

Even after ten years of being with your wife, you can still discover whole new depths of evil she was hiding from you the entire time. If you’re anything like me, you won’t discover how sinister she can truly be until you’re standing in the middle of your in-laws’ living room, realizing that you’ve just been tricked into dancing to a song called “Rump Shaker” in front of a large percentage of your extended family.

This predicament began innocently enough.

“I think you’re all going to like the Christmas present that Dad and I got for each other,” my mother-in-law said to her three daughters and their respective hangers-on last weekend. We were celebrating Christmas a weekend early, in large part because Kara’s sister Jill is an anesthesiology resident at a hospital in Philadelphia, so her schedule has little time for things that don’t involve knocking people out. Even during major holidays, people still need to be knocked out. You can probably think of several people in your own family who could use it.

Eventually, doctors get enough vacation to spend more time on the golf course than your average sand trap, but they have to put in their time for many years first, working insane 30-hour shifts and 90-hour weeks. Jill’s schedule for the past several years has taught me a lot about our health care system. Apparently, our youngest medical professionals do their best work when they haven’t slept since last Tuesday. This seems like a good strategy, because we want these people as sleep-deprived as possible when they’re coming after us with syringes, scalpels, sigmoidoscopes and whatever other pointy instruments they can get their hands on.

“What’s the present?” Jill asked her mom. Incidentally, I’ve started practicing calling my mother-in-law “Mom” as well, just like her biological kids. You’d be surprised how many years you can coast by without ever addressing some of the most important people in your life by name. With in-laws, my limit turned out to be a decade, but I know some people who plan on calling their in-laws by various pronouns in perpetuity.

“I can’t tell you until we open it. But you’ll like it,” her mom responded.

“Did you get us all a trip to Hawaii?” Kara’s sister Sarah asked.

“No!” her mom replied.

“Hooray! We’re going to Hawaii!” Sarah said.

Sensing that speculation was going to run rampant until they opened their gift, Kara’s parents unwrapped a toaster-sized box to reveal an Xbox 360 with a Kinect sensor, which allows video gamers to act out motions to play a game, rather than using a controller. In the worst-case scenario, this means that to play a dancing game, you actually have to shake your rump.

While the technology is very cool, it seems to fundamentally miss the point that video games are supposed to be celebrations of sloth. Now I can envision a future in which I have to tell my son, “Sorry, Evan, I know you want to play outside, but you need to get your exercise in front of the TV first.”

To play the dancing game, you have to stand in front of the sensor and imitate the dance moves of the virtual dancer on the TV screen, right in front of the real people who are watching.

“I don’t think there’s enough beer in the world to make this fun for me,” I said. Undaunted, Kara dragged me onto the living room carpet and selected the “Rump Shaker” song while Jill taped the proceedings with her camcorder.

Hopefully, whenever someone tries to play that video, I can get Jill to knock me out first.

You can shake your rump with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making Craigslist, checking it twice

“Still available and in good condition?” came the promising response to my ad on Craigslist, the free online service that connects you with people of varying degrees of sanity to buy and sell items of varying degrees of brokenness.

I’d posted an ad earlier that day in an attempt to sell my 2003 Toyota Matrix, a car that had served me well over the years, but was not designed to handle a growing family that is often toting a dog, a baby and a stroller the size of an SUV. When we roll out of town for a weekend trip, we leave a trail of popped rivets behind us, like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. (Figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t know if cars actually have rivets, but if they do, mine hasn’t popped any. Especially if you’re interested in buying it.)

Incidentally, are you familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel? The happy ending (spoiler alert!) is that the two kids murder the old lady who tried to eat them and end up back with the dad who tried to kill them by abandoning them in the woods in the first place. If I was a therapist, I’d advertise on the rear book jacket. No wonder we, as a culture, have switched to Dora the Explorer.

My wife Kara had already taken care of the haggling part of buying a bigger car, a feat she’d performed entirely over email. We’d read that this was a better way to do business, safely removed from the glower of the salesperson and their entreaties to increase your paltry offerings, lest you enrage the manager behind the curtain.

“They just asked if we wanted floor mats, too,” Kara said to me from behind her laptop.

I’d always assumed, incorrectly, that a floor mat was a part of the vehicle. Yes, we’d like floor mats, and we’d also like to upgrade to the package that includes a steering wheel.

In the end, Kara drove a very good bargain, so it was my turn to chip in and sell our current wheels. Enter our friend Justin Thurston, who sent the response to my Craigslist ad.

“Fresh fish!” I yelled, writing a thoughtful response to Justin, explaining the wonderful condition of the car and laying the groundwork for a business relationship that would benefit us both.

A few moments later, Justin replied again: “Good to have your reply. I am justin thurston from Vancouver, WA. andwould have loved to come and inspect it at your place myself, but I ama UNICEF work and presently off Haiti where there flooding and

Hurricane.”

I can understand how a 2003 Toyota Matrix would be really helpful in that situation, but I began to suspect that Justin was not being completely forthright with me. The rest of his message explained how helpful I could be if I just sent some very personal financial information his way.

Justin’s email baffled me in the way that most spam does. When I’m sending out an email to ten other people in my department at work, my finger hovers over the mouse button, twitching, as I proofread the note countless times, worried that coworkers might make warranted inferences about my intelligence if I mix up “their” and “there”.

If you’re a spammer, and your email is being sent to ten million people, wouldn’t you at least run it through a spellchecker first?

Anyway, if you take anything away from this column, I hope it is this: 2003 Toyota Matrix, power windows and locks, excellent condition. Dog and baby only barfed in it a few times. All offers considered, especially ones from actual humans.

You can verify your checking account information with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evan's first word

Monday, December 13, 2010

I don’t know the drill

“Oh, I don’t know, whatever you pick out will be great,” my wife Kara said to her mom on the phone, as I waited for her to notice what I’d just done.

“What about you guys? You’re always so hard to shop for,” she said, my shame deepening with each passing moment, my failure nakedly on display but not yet noticed.

Kara finally looked at me and sensed something wasn’t right.

“What?” she asked with her eyes.

“I’ll fix it,” I mouthed. “And I’m sorry.”

Her eyes darted to the home worsening project I’d recently embarked upon. The original idea had been for the project to be of the home improvement variety, but things took a turn south once I started operating power tools.

“Oh, no,” she said.

Our silverware drawer sat on top of the kitchen counter, empty, the mighty wind of my humiliation whistling through the single hole drilled right through the front of it.

I’d been installing Tot-locks on our kitchen cabinets and drawers to make cooking as annoying as possible. That way, we’d have to eat more pizza to survive. The secondary benefit would be that our child would have to find a hobby other than dumping the contents of our kitchen cabinets all over the floor.

To our son Evan, the kitchen had become a giant Advent calendar, with every door hiding a wonderful surprise, a surprise that must be removed, spindled and mutilated as quickly as possible. He’d spent the bulk of the previous day standing next to our open kitchen drawer, gleefully tossing our most prized food preparation documents (takeout menus) into the air.

So I had started working my way around the kitchen, installing locks that would make even the most stubborn adult stop and ask himself, “How badly do I really need a spoon right now?” In our house, yogurt had just become finger food.

The Tot-locks open with a magnetic key that lives on the fridge, so when you’re installing the locking mechanism, you have to drill deep enough into the back of the cabinet or drawer so that only the thinnest sheet of wood would separate the lock from the key. This type of precision should not be expected from a person who finds a toilet to be an impossibly small target.

When the drill bit came roaring through the front of the drawer, right next to the handle, my shame was intensified not only because Kara was talking with her mom, instantly giving my failure a wider audience than I would have preferred, but also because I’d been using the fattest drill bit I could find, the kind you’d expect to see mounted on the front of a vehicle bound for the center of the Earth.

Hopefully, Evan won’t be afflicted with the same sort of mechanical ineptitude that plagues his old man. He’s already showing some promise at accomplishing tasks normally left to adults.

“Babe, why is our cable bill twenty bucks higher this month?” Kara asked recently.

“I have no idea,” I said, then we both looked at Evan, who was holding the cable remote up to his ear like it was a phone. He held out his phone and started dialing it by mashing random buttons.

“Mweh?” he asked when he held the remote back up to his ear.

As it turned out, it’s possible to order a Platinum Package from our cable provider simply by pressing a single button on the remote over and over. In a remarkable coincidence, that button happened to be the largest one on the remote. I wonder how many people have subscribed to HBO using nothing but their butts. Probably less than the number of people who can pinch a fork out of their kitchen drawer without opening it.

You can hide your power tools from Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A chomp off the old block

I picked up this life-changing book the other day. Well, I assume it’s life-changing, once the reader moves beyond the purchasing phase and into the “reading the actual book” phase, but I’m not quite there yet, due to circumstances entirely within my control. Namely, the circumstance of preferring video games to life improvement.

A life improvement seemed in order a couple of weeks ago, when our toddling son Evan buried his cute little face into my shoulder.

“Aw, hey Buddy, what’s going OW!” I shrieked (in a very manly way, of course). You probably wouldn’t know this unless you’ve had them sunk into your shoulder, but baby teeth are like miniature samurai swords, not yet dulled from years of slashing through McNuggets. I don’t understand how pacifiers withstand the onslaught without being made of diamonds or Kevlar.

As I pushed Evan away, he smiled at me, my stretched shirt still caught in his razor-sharp choppers. Then he opened his mouth wide and went in for a second helping of shoulder sushi.

“No!” I yelled, grabbing him by the arms and giving my best angry father face, which is an easy face to make when your child has just treated your shoulder like Evander Holyfield’s ear.

“Baby! You can’t yell at him like he’s the dog,” my wife Kara said.

I looked back at Evan, immediately sorry for the emotional scarring his first fatherly discipline had inflicted on his tender, developing psyche.

Evan threw back his head, drew in a great breath and squealed with delight, clapping his hands and dancing. (“Dancing” is a term I use loosely here to define a semi-rhythmic bouncing achieved by flexing the knees, which also describes what I do at weddings when hiding in the bathroom ceases to be an option.)

Kara was right. You can’t yell at a baby the same way you would a dog because as soon as you do, the baby thinks he’s just invented a hilarious new game, while the dog would mope around until you apologize and rub its tummy.

Clearly, I needed a new strategy for communicating with Evan. He had no idea that his actions had failed to live up to our household’s high standards of non-cannibalism. Stern words and angry faces weren’t doing the trick, so I turned to the Internet and ordered Dr. Haim Ginott’s “Between Parent and Child,” a book that received high marks for helping to keep your children from eating you alive, figuratively and otherwise.

Last Saturday night, after Evan went to sleep, I found myself faced with the choice between reading a book that would help me to have a richer relationship with my son and playing a game on my iPod that consisted entirely of shooting birds out of a slingshot. By about the 700th bird, I’d forgotten all about the guilt.

Another reason I have yet to crack the book is that Evan, for the time being, seems to have renounced his werewolfian ways. He hasn’t tried to make Dada-touille out of me since that one evening, but I think the episode officially marked the transition to a new phase of parenthood: the Age of Discipline.

Our neighbor with two elementary-school-aged kids had warned me that this day was coming.

“As they get older, parenthood becomes less physically trying, and more mentally so,” she said, standing beside her mailbox as her kids played in the yard. “You don’t have to carry them around and do everything for them anymore, but you always have to be thinking and steering them in the right direction.”

As if to emphasize the point, her daughter kneed her son in the crotch, functionally terminating the conversation, so I turned Evan’s stroller away and continued down the street.

Upon further reflection, I think I’ll buy an athletic cup when I go to pick up my new shoulder pads.

You can give Mike Todd a stern talking to at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On jury duty, the jury’s still out

Sixty potential jurors cowered in the back of the courtroom as the lawyer spun the lottery jug with all of our names in it. Everyone stared at the floor, as if not drawing any attention would get them back to their regular lives sooner. It’s not always good to be selected, especially by nature, or a lawyer.

The scene reminded me of middle school gym class, when Louis Poois (not his real last name, at least not when he was within earshot) would get the ball during a game of dodgeball. The entire opposing team would hide in the corner, crawling over ourselves, trying not to be on the outside of our human shield of cowardice.

“Pow!” was the sound you’d hear emanating from the head of Louis Poois’ unlucky target, as the volleyball ricocheted into the gym rafters, perhaps never to be seen again.

Louis would trot back towards his team, arms held aloft in triumph, his armpit hair billowing in the breeze through the holes in his muscle shirt while his victim groaned on the gym floor, the word “gnidlapS” branded on his forehead.

A friend just told me that dodgeball is banned from gym classes in public schools now, and the fact that we began recalling dodgeball games with fondness might be a sad commentary on how much fun the rest of middle school was.

“Michael Todd,” the lawyer said, reading from the card he’d just pulled. Pow! The other potential jurors looked at me with relief as I joined the chosen ones in the jury box.

The jury selection process took the entire morning, as each person in the room had some terrible secret they wanted to discuss with the lawyers in private, out in the hallway. Those who successfully argued their inability to remain impartial disappeared forever. The others came back into the room, dejected, thrown back into the pool.

As the lawyers spent hours walking back-and-forth between their table and the hallway, I began to understand why every available surface in the courthouse had at least one water pitcher sitting on it. Those guys must get thirsty.

The highlight of the morning came when a lawyer asked an old guy whether he’d be able to remain on the fence until all the evidence had been presented.

“I spend my whole life on the fence,” the man replied. “It just depends which way my wife pushes me.”

In the end, I was among eight jurors chosen for a civil landlord-tenant case that ran for three days last week.

“Don’t talk about the case,” we were instructed at every break, so we played it safe by not talking about anything at all. For hours on end, we’d sit in a jury room the size of a cubicle like monks, pointedly not making eye contact.

After one day of this, it became clear that I needed a new game on my iPod. The most popular game in the iTunes Store was called Angry Birds, which involved firing birds out of a slingshot to knock buildings over. I knocked over a lot of buildings as a juror.

“How has the jury found?” the judge asked at the end of the trial.

“Your Honor, the jury has found that while the multi-shot birds do inflict more damage than regular birds, you just can’t beat the bomb-shaped birds for pure destructive capacity. Also, we the jury find that our battery is almost dead,” we replied.

Actually, in the end, we reached a verdict that seemed fair for all parties. I’ve since been lobbying for my friends to start calling me “The Verdict,” which is a much catchier nickname than “The Situation,” a moniker that clearly exceeds the maximum allowable nickname length by at least one syllable.

You can reach The Verdict at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jury duty is de-liberating

“When you get in there, try not to sound too reasonable. We have Thanksgiving coming up,” my wife Kara advised.

I still held the phone in my hand, shaking my head. The automated message had just confirmed that I would not be going to work tomorrow. Instead, I’d be performing my civic duty down at the courthouse, even though I’d just recently voted, which seems like it should have earned me a civic duty bye for the rest of the year.

You’d think someone with a bald spot that recently earned its own caption on Google Earth would have some experience as a juror, but this summons is the first one that has ever actually forced me to show up somewhere. Everything I know about jury duty, I learned from watching Law and Order reruns.

If there is a male assistant district attorney, I can probably expect him to be replaced after the first season with increasingly attractive females. Also, I’m not expecting too much wisecracking, since most of that will have taken place in the first thirty minutes of the episode, probably in the presence of a corpse, several commercial breaks before I get there.

“A hammer lodged in his head? This guy really got nailed.” That’s the part I’m going to miss out on.

The timing of this summons seems awfully coincidental, as if the court system realizes how much more valuable I’ll be as a juror now that I’m a parent. The past seventeen months have seen a marked improvement in my ability to detect a guilty party. For instance, when the dog trotted into the room this morning wearing a hat made of French toast, I almost immediately knew who did it.

Incidentally, a dog will only wear a hat made of French toast if it (either the dog or the toast) has been properly slathered in syrup. Otherwise, the toast just bounces off her forehead. My son Evan might not yet realize that trying to look up at a tall person’s face will make him fall over backwards every time, but he does seem to have an advanced understanding of canine haberdashery.

I’m torn between my curiosity of wanting to learn how a court case actually works in real life and my longstanding affair with not doing extra stuff. My number has been called, though, so I suppose my preferences at this point are rather moot. If being a juror is actually as big of a drag as the general consensus seems to suggest, the best I can do tomorrow is show up and hope they find me as unreasonable as the people who’ve known me longer.

My most memorable brush with the criminal justice system to date occurred at a dinner party several years ago, where the person sitting next to me was a defense attorney. The sentence preceding this one sure started with a lot of potential, didn’t it? Sorry it didn’t end with me face down on a gravel road, taser clips sticking to my back while $100 bills quietly fluttered out of the ripped-open burlap sack a few feet away.

Anyway, from her descriptions, it sounded like she’d defended some pretty unsavory people.

“Does it make you uncomfortable defending someone you think might be guilty?” I asked, doe-eyed. Woodland creatures began peeking through the window, wondering if I might lead them in a song-and-dance number as we cleaned the kitchen after dinner. A bluebird landed on my shoulder, shook its head and chuckled, then flew off.

“Oh, Honey,” the defense attorney said, putting her hand on mine and turning to me as if she were explaining the world to a four-year-old. “They’re all guilty.”

Come to think of it, that might be a good story to bring up tomorrow.

You can tell Mike Todd the truth and nothing but the truth at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pigeon spikes, and other parenting tools

As the fateful jogger approached, I smiled and asked, “How’s it going?”

He gave me a look that conveyed annoyance, as if I’d just asked how much money he made. He said nothing as he jogged past, and in a few moments his footsteps trailed off on the gravel behind us.

“What a jerk,” I thought, just for a second, and then my mind wandered to other things, like why are all the light bulbs in Outback Steakhouse pink? Do Australians like pink food? Do our minds make pink food taste better? And if so, would some pink light bulbs in our kitchen make my blend of Corn Pops and Special K seem more like something an adult should be eating for dinner?

As we continued along the loop trail under the nearly barren trees, my son Evan began complaining from the peanut gallery, which is the seat he occupies on my back.

Evan and I have been getting out in the woods pretty regularly this year, mostly because it’s easier to keep an eye on a toddler when he’s strapped into place. We haven’t figured out how to put this finding to use outside of the backpack, but if Babies R’ Us ever starts selling mini versions of the hand truck they used to wheel Hannibal Lecter around in the movies, I’d start digging through the trash to see if I’d recently thrown out any 20% off coupons.

When Evan’s riding in his backpack, he’s not climbing on top of our baseboards to give him just the extra height he needs for his head to loom over the picture frames on our end table like Godzilla’s head over the Tokyo skyline. As he gets taller, the items on our various household tables continue inching toward their respective walls, cowering in bunches for protection, just out of the behemoth’s reach. Perhaps installing pigeon spikes on the baseboards would buy us some time.

In any event, with my wife Kara out of town last weekend, I fled for the woods with the child on my back. Sometimes, I wonder if Henry David Thoreau, one of the few non-assassins who gets to be remembered with his middle name, also retreated into the woods because he was scared to have a toddler running loose all day in his living room.

Probably not. If he’d had a toddler with him in the woods, his quotes would read something more like: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, especially if they forget to pack a grilled cheese sandwich. Then the desperation gets really loud.”

About three-quarters of the way around the loop, I decided to give Evan and my shoulders a break. When I took him out of the pack and set him on the ground, he stood there with one foot up like a flamingo, grabbing onto my legs for support.

“Your foot fall asleep, Buddy?” I asked, then I saw the problem. He’d kicked off one of his shoes, a present from his grandparents, sometime in the last three miles.

I backtracked for ten minutes without finding anything. The thought of re-doing the entire hike was too much to bear, so I turned around and started plotting a course to the nearest children’s store, where Evan would get the cheapest replacements his daddy could find. It’s not like he’s trying to shave time off his 40-yard dash.

Just then, I heard someone yell “Hey!” from down the trail. The jogger was headed back my way, waving a small shoe over his head.

“When my kids were that age, my wife would have killed me if I’d have come home without their shoes,” he said with a smile.

I thanked him as many times as I could in the ten seconds before he headed back the way he came, then immediately felt terrible about judging him earlier. It’s true what they say: You can’t judge a look by its jogger.

You can enjoy some fava beans and a nice Chianti with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treats, tricks and leaves

Sorry for the Evan overload, rest of the Internet, but this was a special request from Grammy.








Sunday, November 07, 2010

Swiss Family Todd

“Don’t do it, Amy. Please,” my wife Kara pleaded to my sister as our cog-wheel train chugged up the mountain toward the Matterhorn.

Moments ago, in the station, Amy had attempted to sit across the aisle from us in an empty seat. A Frenchman in the adjoining seat performed a couple of horizontal karate chops in the air while saying, “No, no!” to Amy, successfully defending the seat for what we assumed would be his late-arriving friend.

The doors closed and the train pulled away from the station with the friend failing to materialize. Amy turned around from her seat further up the train, a look coming over her face that anyone who knew Amy well would have understood to mean “TAKE COVER!”

Switzerland is a country famous for its chocolate, watches and Families Robinson, and the karate-chopping guy across the aisle from me seemed blissfully unaware that it was also very close to becoming known for its transit-riding, strangled Frenchmen.

Since having a baby last year, Kara and I have been unable to escape the house long enough to see a movie, a fact that has saved me from seeing at least seven Twilight sequels, and which also made the experience of taking a whirlwind tour around Switzerland last week even more surreal.

Amy’s wife, Jaime, recently took a job at the United Nations in Geneva, and the two of them moved there earlier this fall. With the job scheduled to end early in 2011, Kara and I knew that if we waited any longer, we’d forever lose the opportunity to see the birthplace of the hundred army knives I’d lost during my career as a Boy Scout. A homing beacon on those things would have been much more useful than a leather awl.

Our parents all signed up for shifts at our house to look after the toddling terror that is our son. After the same amount of planning that normally goes into a large-scale military operation, we realized that we might actually be going to Europe. One night in early October, Kara clicked the mouse a few times, looked up and said, “Okay, we’re going. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

We only had four full days to see as much as possible, which turned out to be just enough time to ingest several months’ worth of cheese. It was also enough time to whizz through several castles and across insanely beautiful countryside, but not enough time to get used to paying five bucks for a Coke.

We headed to the Matterhorn on our final day, and on the first of several trains, a Frenchman (or a French-speaking Swiss person, really, but “a Frenchman” is more fun to say, and also to complain about later) stood before the three of us and pointed at the empty seat in our booth.

“Oui,” we said, exhausting 50% of my French vocabulary. Rather than sitting, he shook his head and said many sentences in a row. After a time, we came to realize that we were being evicted. Apparently, you could reserve seats on that train.

I stood and saw no escape. Ten angry faces peered at me from either direction, their corresponding bodies clogging the aisle.

“Babe, you need to move,” Kara said, noting that my bookbag was imprinting a zipper design on a nearby lady’s face.

I wanted to climb over the seats like Roberto Begnini receiving an Oscar, but settled for squeezing through the nonexistent space in the aisle like a gerbil, using the other 50% of my French to apologize to all the people with whom I was involuntarily grinding.

By the time we got on our final train with the karate-chopper, we just wanted some seats and a relaxing ride. Mr. Chopper benefited in part from Kara’s pleas for leniency, and also from the language barrier.

“The best I could come up with in French was, ‘This is my last day with my family, and you are a robber,’” Amy said later.

Judging from my childhood, Mr. Chopper is lucky he didn’t depart the train with his underwear pulled halfway up his back. Wedgies speak in every language.

You can go cuckoo with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The cave runners

Perhaps I should be grateful that it took a full thirty-three years before I started getting ambulatory aids for my birthday. This year, when I unwrapped the long, triangular box from my wife Kara, I found a pair of canes inside. Sure, you could get into semantics, as Kara did, and point out that they’re actually called “trekking poles,” but I know a cane when I see one.

It was actually quite a thoughtful gift, since I have recently developed a habit of falling down and smashing my face in the woods. The reader(s) of this column might recall that I documented such an incident from this past summer, during which I planted my face so hard that when I hiked by that same spot a few weeks later, tiny versions of my face were sprouting from the earth.

The trauma of that episode was enough to make me consider taking up a different pastime, like running, a form of exercise that I had only previously considered when late for trains.

My sister-in-law Jill and her husband Kris visited us for a weekend shortly after my cranial cracking in the woods, and on that Saturday morning they both sat in our living room in their running clothes, strapping foot-shaped gloves onto their feet.

“What are those things?” I asked.

“Barefoot shoes,” Kris replied. Before that moment, I didn’t realize that joggers could get the foot protection they needed from a pair of oxymorons.

Each barefoot shoe had a thin rubber sole and five separate little toes. According to Jill and Kris, the extra padding in regular running shoes makes people run contrary to the way we were designed to run, with too much force being applied to our heels.

“My knees were killing me in my old shoes. I had to stop running. Now I’m back to three miles a day with no pain,” Kris said.

Apparently, traditional running shoes contribute to many foot and knee problems, as well as causing slower times for many runners. Who knew that running shoes were the reason people were getting slower? I would have guessed that it had more to do with all the stuffed-crust pizza. Blaming running shoes for people getting slower seems like blaming dye packs for banks getting robbed.

“The barefoot shoes make you run more flat-footed, like a caveman,” Kris said.

I can understand how you’d run more gingerly if there was a fair chance you might step on a saber-toothed tiger.

The shoes looked cool enough, and the theory sounded convincing enough, that a sort of temporary insanity settled over me, the kind of mental state that a person might enter before ordering a Bowflex.

“Maybe I’ll start liking an activity I’ve detested my entire life if I spend $100 on caveman shoes,” I thought.

But of course, that idea is ridiculous. If I tried to run three miles, there would be massive amounts of pain, phlegm and tears, which wouldn't be good at all, except maybe as a name for a heavy metal band. Besides, I don't have anywhere near the willpower required to become a jogging, healthy person. My idea of a diet is ordering Sprite because it doesn’t have brown in it.

So we'll leave the barefoot running to Kris, Jill and their Paleolithic compadres. I'll be busy hobbling around the woods with my dual canes, trying not to give Kara any cause to invest in a walker for my next birthday.

Hopefully, being able to use all four limbs, like an ape, will help. You hardly ever see a gorilla do a faceplant. And even though gorillas are already barefoot, you also don't catch them jogging around too often, probably on account of how they look in Lycra.

You can paint Mike Todd's cave at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trying not to void my warranty

“Dude, I wanted to get your opinion. I just bought an extended warranty on my new laptop,” my buddy Johnny told me over the phone as I strolled around the neighborhood with my two minions, one on a leash and the other in a stroller.

“I might have to hang up on you,” I replied. It’s the standard warning I give when I’m using the earpiece for my cell phone. If a friendly neighbor approaches, I’ll quickly hang up on my friend so that they don’t have to listen to my awkward attempts at neighborly banter.

I’ve learned that if I don’t hang up, I’ll have to try to carry on a normal conversation with the person in front of me while a little voice in my ear is saying, “Tell her you think her hedges look stupid.”

Plus, if the neighbor doesn’t notice the earpiece, I’ll feel like I’m being deceptive, like a spy, or the good-looking guy in a romantic comedy who’s getting secret advice from the not-as-good-looking guy who will end up with the girl in the end, after she gets over being tricked by the earpiece thing.

In this case, though, I was going to hang up on Johnny just on principal. Extended warranties make a lot of sense if you want to support your local laptop store, like dropping money into a street performer’s violin case. Otherwise, it sure seems like the average person would do better turning down those warranties as a rule. When something explodes that would have been covered, you can fix it using all the money you’ve saved from a lifetime of not being ripped off by extended warranties, then buy yourself a congressman with the leftovers.

“How much did the laptop cost?” I asked him.

“$500,” he replied.

“How much did the warranty cost?” I asked.

“$200,” he said, and I scanned the immediate area to see if anyone would hear me scream, “Oh, the humanity!” at the top of my lungs.

Johnny was buying a new laptop in the first place because he’d left his old one in the backseat of his car with his windows rolled down and the doors unlocked. This would have been fine if he’d been parking in a vault at the Federal Reserve rather than a parking deck at the King of Prussia Mall, the New Home of the World’s Luckiest Laptop Thief. Unlike the store that sold him the warranty, though, the thief didn’t have Johnny’s permission to rob him.

I’ve been thinking about Johnny’s experiences as my wife Kara and I have started looking at life insurance, which is basically an extended warranty on ourselves.

We’re starting to feel irresponsible for having a baby and no life insurance beyond what our jobs provide, though I have enjoyed the savings we’ve racked up by not dying. By its nature, purchasing life insurance invites procrastination: the more you live, the more you save.

But eventually, we have to face the fact that the responsible thing to do is to call an insurance company and say, “I bet you 25 bucks a month I’m going to die unexpectedly.”

“Oh yeah? Well I’ll bet you 250 grand you won’t!” they will reply.

Actually, when I called the insurance company we use for our house and our cars to bet against our own longevity, the agent cheerily responded, “Great. We’ll send the nurse to your house next week.”

“The nurse?” I asked.

“To take your blood pressure, height and weight, and to take urine and blood samples,” he replied.

I hope it was clear that we just wanted to purchase insurance, not enter the plot of a dystopian novel. But apparently, life insurance rates are based in part on your health, which bodes well for us, since we always blot the grease off the pizza first.

You can bet against Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Macedonia Brook State Park

Here are some pics from a hike with the baby and the pooch to Macedonia Brook State Park near Kent, CT, a couple of weeks ago. How long have we been hiking in Macedonia? Since OJ had Isotoners. No, this was our first time. Don't act like I never told ya.












Monday, October 18, 2010

Some creatures are stirring

“Have a nice life,” I said, turning the humane trap upside down and dumping its confused occupant into the grass. The mouse looked a lot like a prisoner seeing sunlight for the first time in quite a while, because it was. I was hoping he’d make more of a show of appreciation, perhaps scampering towards the woods and turning back to wave goodbye, wiping a single tear and giving me a look that conveyed just how much he understood that a traditional snap-your-back trap would have cost three bucks less.

But we didn’t have time for a drawn-out goodbye, since I had to get into the office, and he had to get on with living somewhere other than my garage.

Our mouse relocation program began a couple of weeks ago, after an unfortunate spell of apparent rodent suicides in our garage. I don’t know how familiar you are with the aroma of dead mouse, but I’d be very surprised to see that scent at Yankee Candle anytime soon.

“I think they’re dying in the walls,” my wife Kara said. “We need to get one of those cameras on the end of a hose so that we can shove it back there and see what’s going on.”

“I really don’t see how giving our garage a colonoscopy is going to help anything,” I replied.

“I bet we could rent one of those cameras,” she said.

That night, I set out the humane mouse trap, hoping to avoid unnecessary and costly medical procedures on our drywall.

When we bought the humane trap, I was horrified to see that glue traps are still being sold, the sticky squares that trap the mouse until it can think of an inventive way to die, probably days later.

You might not like Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to your door, but you don’t throw a giant sticky welcome mat on the front porch.

“Hey, Earl, what’s that commotion out front?”

“Oh, don’t worry about them. They’ll get free just as soon as they figure out which parts they need to gnaw off.”

It’s clear that Kara and I wouldn’t be making much progress if we didn’t employ some sort of trap, though. When I came back from a walk yesterday, Kara was brandishing an umbrella.

“I think there’s a mouse in the pantry,” she said.

“What are you doing? Singing a duet with it?” I asked.

“I was going to herd it,” she replied. She would have had to herd it pretty far; I’ve read that if you don’t drop a mouse off at least a mile from your house, it’ll come right back. That’s why homing mice used to be so prevalent, before pigeons were invented.

So I’ve been taking our furry guests to work with me, dropping them off near an inviting clearing with woods in the back, where they can soak in the sunshine, start a new life and frolic about with several different species of raptor.

The irony is not lost on me that I’m going out of my way to keep these tiny animals alive, then going out and ordering a quarter-pound burger for lunch. The problem with being an animal lover is that it’s so easy to love animals in both their cuddly and flame-broiled forms.

But now that our mice have forced me to think a little harder about my priorities,

I’m realizing that as I get older, I’ m becoming less and less comfortable with the idea of having animals killed so that I can eat them. Which is why I’ve decided, after careful thought and consideration, to become a big fat hypocrite.

Oh, did you think I was going to say a vegetarian? Please. I’ve tried tofu.

You can catch and release Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some things you just can’t change

“Do you hear that?” my wife Kara asked. All of a sudden, the slightly deflated tire I’d noticed on our car the day before seemed much more relevant. It’s funny how ignoring impending catastrophes doesn’t always make them go away, like it did for global warming.

We’d managed to drive about a mile on a pancake-flat tire because we couldn’t separate the sounds of pounding rain, mumbling radio, swishing wipers, fussing baby and squishing Michelin. As soon as Kara mentioned it, though, my ears tuned to the correct frequency to hear the rubbery sound of us not getting to work anywhere near on time.

“Ah, yes, that would be the sweet sound of column fodder,” I replied. The main benefit of being a journalist who writes mostly about cleaning up baby barf is that, not only can you call yourself a journalist when you aren’t one, but you can also translate every misfortune into a column that will arrive in your editor’s inbox mere hours after deadline. Sometimes, you even give him enough time to read the column before it goes to print.

Sometimes you don’t, though. Hi, George! Sorry if I didn’t leave you enough time to read it this week. Nipples!

In any event, I turned around and drove back home through the deluge so that I could perform my vehicular duties in the shelter of our garage. This was a great opportunity to show off my manly bona fides, because you get arrested if you try to show them off in public.

In all seriousness, this was an important moment. In the decade we’ve been together, Kara has never had occasion to witness me changing a tire. Changing wiper blades, sure. Diapers. Light bulbs. Underwear, occasionally. But there’s something about changing a tire that lends the act greater significance than it really deserves.

I think it boils down to the fact that being able to change a tire is basically the G.E.D. of masculinity. It won’t necessarily put you ahead of too many other guys, but without it, you have absolutely no credentials at all.

Kara held our son Evan and watched as I pulled out the jack and the tire-wrench-like thingy from the trunk.

“Don’t worry, this’ll only take me a few minutes,” I assured her, remembering the last time I’d changed a tire, which was in high school. I had more recently picked out a corsage for my prom date.

Things were going fine until I dug down deep enough to arrive at a giant plastic square with a tire-shaped bulge in the middle. Either there was a tire under that thing, or a tire-shaped alien had angered Jabba the Hutt.

But this piece of plastic was not interested in surrendering the bounty underneath. Yanking on its handles had no effect. It seemed cemented into place, and no amount of furious, frenzied tugging could get it to move. I was the guy yanking on the sword before King Arthur tried.

“You need to hurry, Babe,” Kara said as Evan began fidgeting and fussing.

“Sure, we’re getting there,” I lied. Desperate, I grabbed a crowbar off the workbench and stuck it under the corner of the plastic progress inhibitor. My work shirt drenched in sweat, I tried to swear under my breath, but a few of them slipped over it.

“No swearing in front of the baby,” Kara said, demonstrating her lack of experience around a Todd man working on a car. In general, there is less swearing when the cops show up at a Hell’s Angels party.

I put all my weight on the crowbar, knowing that I was probably about to break something important, but not caring. If I couldn’t change a tire, at least I could appear manly by breaking things.

Kara glanced into the trunk.

“Did you try unscrewing that piece in the middle that’s holding the tire cover down?” she asked.

Apparently, the spare tire was waiting for Queen Arthur.

You can put Mike Todd back in your trunk at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mt. Alander

Two Saturdays ago, I sent out an invitation to about ten dudes to see if anyone wanted to come hiking with me and the Little Man to Mt. Alander while Kara was off gallivanting about New York City on a girls' weekend. Turns out, trudging through the woods all day with me and a fifteen-month-old isn't nearly the draw I thought it would be. Mercifully, one dude took me up on it, so I didn't have to paint a face on a volleyball to talk to all day.

Ryan, you're the man. Everyone else, you're cool, too. Unless you turned down the invitation, in which case, poop on you, here's what you missed:

















Sunday, October 03, 2010

How not to cultivate cousins

If you ever want your toddler to have awesome little first cousins to play with, you should probably shield your childless, fun-after-7pm-having siblings from the everyday horrors of parenthood. Of course, you probably won’t recognize these horrors when they are occurring, because your child will have desensitized you to a wide array of aromas, mucks and oozes that would make the stomach of a regular person somersault right out the door, and into a seat at a restaurant that doesn’t have any highchairs.

“What’s that smell?” my sister Amy asked last week, after getting into the backseat of our car. Amy and her wife Jaime have been mulling over their procreative possibilities lately, and my wife Kara and I have been trying to encourage them by making parenthood look as fun as possible.

“Oh, Evan barfed cheese puffs back there yesterday. Sorry, we tried to clean it,” I replied.

Amy nodded, then leaned over to check the spot where she was sitting.

If Kara and I had been more strategic, we probably wouldn’t have put Amy in the backseat for the four-hour drive back to our house, where she’d be visiting for a couple of days. Evan was still getting over a bug, and his usual sunny disposition hadn’t been in the forecast for days.

“Are you getting too much wind back there? We can switch to A/C,” I said.

“No, no. Ventilation is a good thing right now,” Amy replied.

Evan cried and chucked his pacifier overboard so that it rattled against the car door on its way to the floorboard. His screamhole uncorked, he proceeded to unleash a series of wails so loud that cars in front pulled over to let us pass.

Amy frantically unlatched her seatbelt and clambered over Evan’s seat to retrieve the precious scream stopper. After she’d given it back to him, Evan quieted down for a few moments. We all took a deep breath, reveling in the silence. Then the binky hit the car door again, and the process repeated.

After four hours of this, Amy’s initial excitement at spending quality time with her nephew seemed to have dissipated slightly.

“Did we just set back your child-rearing ambitions for a few years?” I asked between screams, as we pulled into our driveway.

“Yes,” Amy said, her head leaning against the window. She may have been joking, but all the noise had forced my brain into standby mode 100 miles prior, so it was unable to process levity.

The next day, Evan felt better and started lobbying hard to erase the previous day’s transgressions. Amy and I took a nice long walk in the woods with Evan contentedly babbling to us from his backpack, while our dog Memphis trotted along in front.

We chatted for hours as we tromped, catching up on everything from our relationships and our family to our spiritual beliefs, which led to a brief foray into ghost stories on the drive home.

“But wouldn’t it be reassuring to see one?” I asked.

“You’d have to ask Jennifer Love Hewitt,” Amy replied, referring to the star of Ghost Whisperer. Memphis poked her head between us from the backseat, panting.

All of a sudden, a hot spray hit me from my shoulder to my hip, splattering all over the center console. I veered for a split second, regaining control of the car as I tried to figure out what sort of woodland creature had just exploded on me.

Then I saw the crunched-up dog treat on my elbow.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Amy said, leaning against her door. “All I did was say ‘Jennifer Love Hew—’.”

And then Memphis leaned forward and barfed on the center console again.

“Okay, I’m never saying that name around your dog again,” Amy said, mortified.

On the plus side, I think the dog successfully one-upped the baby.

You can cork Mike Todd’s screamhole at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Storm King Mountain

My sister Amy came to visit last weekend (further documentation of said visit coming with next week's column). Here are some pics from our hike to Storm King Mountain, near Cornholewall, NY:








Sunday, September 26, 2010

Going back to Foot Locker

“You gotta start calling this game or somebody’s gonna get killed out there!” the coach shouted at me as the players headed off the court for a timeout. The gym grew quiet, and I could feel all eyes on me.

As a referee, the last thing you want is attention. At the end of the game, if you’re part of the story, things have not gone well. Nobody walks out of a basketball game and says, “Oh, man, that was some top notch officiating in there. Did you see that awesome travelling call? I TOTALLY agreed with it.”

If you are mentioned at all in post-game discussion, it is to curse you, and probably to lament the obvious deficiencies in your eyesight and your intelligence, and to hypothesize about what you may, or may not be, a son of.

Before that game, I’d always thought of myself as a pretty good ref. Two of my buddies, Johnny and Rob, had gotten me into the reffing business, assuring me that it was an easy ten bucks an hour, a princely salary for a high school student. This was back in the mid-nineties, when most kids were still working in canneries for gruel and hardtack, and if you could find any job at all, minimum and maximum wage were almost always the same.

Reffing sounded like a much better gig than my other job, busing tables at the local cafĂ©, where I’d come home from weekend brunch shifts covered in so much syrup that I’d get accused of cheating on my girlfriend with Mrs. Butterworth.

Each Saturday, I’d ref two games, bringing home $20 and promptly wasting it at the record store, which was a place that used to exist where people could purchase music, before it became free on the Internet. These days, teenagers can spend their discretionary incomes on more important items, like text messages and haircuts that make it look like they haven’t gotten haircuts.

Most of the time, the games went smoothly. Hardly anyone told me to go back to Foot Locker, or offered to drive me to Pearl Vision after the game.

But one Saturday, Rob and I got paired to call a fateful game in the boys’ league. I’m not exactly sure what their ages were, but I’d guess they were the same ages as the kids from Lord of the Flies.

In the second quarter, things started getting out of hand. In the span of two minutes, we called three shooting fouls against the same kid. And then The Foul happened. Or didn’t happen, since I didn’t call it.

Just as one kid was putting the ball up to shoot, the kid with the three fouls swung his arm out and karate chopped the shooter’s arms.

“Wow!” I thought. “That kid just got clobbered!”

The ball slowly dribbled out of bounds as the players stared at it, waiting for a whistle to blow. I’d gotten so caught up in watching that I hadn’t called anything, and then it was too late.

I met Rob at half court to confer.

“Dude, did you see that?” I asked.

“No, that was your call down there,” he said.

Rob’s attitude toward reffing was rather casual. He always wore a whistle, but I’m not sure it actually worked. Whenever I asked him why he didn’t call any fouls, his answer was, “You gotta let the kids play, man.”

But he was right, this call was mine. I should have admitted my mistake, called the foul late and moved on. Instead, I just pretended it didn’t happen, a decision that led to the red-faced coach hollering at me a few minutes later. The kids, noting a certain lack of officiating, had begun descending into savagery.

I met the coach on the sidelines and apologized. In the end, nobody got maimed or squashed by a boulder, but I did learn an important lesson: there are worse things to be than covered in syrup.

You can help Mike Todd cheat on his eye test at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mt. Brace yourself

Evan has been feeling a little cranky these past couple weeks, what with the little javelins poking through his gums from the inside. So we've been doing a lot of hiking lately, the one activity that seems to settle the little treehugger down.

Here are some shots from our hike two weeks ago to Brace Mountain: