Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moving forward. Sometimes uncontrollably.

Coming back to our Toyota Matrix after getting pizza recently, I grabbed the door handle, expecting foolishly to be granted entrance into the car.

“What’s up?” my wife Kara asked as I rested my forehead above the window, groaning.

“I think this pizza just cost us $1,000,” I replied, referring to the going rate for fixing a power door lock, a number with which I’d become unfortunately familiar only months before. At the very least, a $1,000 pizza should come sprinkled with gold flakes, like fancy chocolates and cheap liquors sometimes do, even though I’m pretty sure gold isn’t valuable because of its awesome flavor. It doesn’t have nearly the same zing as lead paint chips.

The driver-side door was exhibiting the same primary symptom (namely the lack of functioning as a portal between the inside of the car and the rest of the world) that the passenger door had shown just before its death knell, which is definitely my least favorite kind of knell.

Back then, I’d expected the passenger door lock to cost a few hundred bucks to fix. At the end of the appointment to get an estimate, the receptionist flipped through the paperwork she’d just been handed from the shop and bit her lip, looking up at me with sympathy. My hand tightened around my wallet.

“It looks like you need a new master bezel and door actuator. And the quantum decoder ring needs to be re-amplified. And of course your undercarriage is going to require a five-point how’s-your-father,” she said.

As my credit card passed across the desk, I looked at it longingly, like a parent watching his child get on the school bus for the first time. She swiped the card and the bus doors closed, taking my money to a place where it would make new friends, and it wouldn’t need me so much anymore.

In defense of my car, it is a 2003 model with over 100,000 miles on it, and except for the occasional hiccup, it’s been dependable. I’d never considered it to be an old car before, but I just looked at the Blue Book value of an ’03 Matrix in fair condition, and it is worth somewhere between three and four thousand dollars, which would be a king’s ransom, if everybody really hated the king. 2003 sure seems like it just happened, but apparently it was more than $10,000 ago.

Now that the virus infecting the door locks appears to be spreading, Kara wants to get rid of the Matrix before it becomes any more of a mobile money pit. But besides the emotional attachment to a car I’ve been driving for several years, with all the excitement surrounding Toyota these days, just driving to work makes me feel like a daredevil.

Even though our model year hasn’t shown up on any recall lists yet, it’s still kind of exciting to drive a car that just might decide to start driving on its own, like KITT’s evil twin from Knight Rider, accelerating uncontrollably (Toyota: Moving forward. Sometimes uncontrollably.) or perhaps not engaging the brakes or the steering wheel at all. There’s nothing to make you feel young again like doing something that could very well kill you. I have found the elixir of youth, and it is malfunctioning floor mats. Or sticky accelerator pedals. Or maybe bad software.

For now, while we decide whether to keep the Matrix for a few more years or venture back into the terrifying world of car buying, we’re enjoying the old-fashioned charm of using a key to open the driver’s door. Sometimes, Kara even leans over and unlocks my door from the inside. I like to think that she does that because she likes me, and not just because I buy her $1,000 pizzas.

You can recall Mike Todd at

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to raise kids and assassinate people

Holding my breath, I reached for the PlayStation 3 controller like a silent assassin, being careful not to alert the sleeping infant on my lap. A good assassin never draws unwanted attention. At least that’s what I’ve gleaned from the ten minutes of Assassin’s Creed II I’ve been able to play since receiving it for Christmas an eternity ago.

A question every new father eventually has to ask himself is this: Am I spending enough quality time with my PlayStation? The answer, of course, is that there’s no such thing as enough, but that hardly matters when you’re spending the majority of your days scraping Gerber oatmeal off your pants.

My wife Kara was away for the day, trying on bridesmaid dresses for her friend’s wedding this summer, leaving our son Evan with me for a big father/son bonding day. My enthusiasm for creating lasting memories with my son was somewhat tempered by the fact that he won’t remember anything that happens for at least the next two years. As much as his gummy smile turns my heart into a puddle of single-grain rice mush, if a pack of wolves took over the parenting responsibilities from this point on, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t notice the difference, except maybe that his new den was awfully clean.

While I’d planned to spend Evan’s precious naptime that day assassinating bad guys in Renaissance Italy, the real drama and intrigue was occurring at David’s Bridal, a place that must witness more arguments than your average Supreme Court justice. I’d discuss this topic in further detail, but it’s much safer to wade naked into a piranha tank than into someone else’s wedding drama.

I carefully pulled the PlayStation controller in front of me, gently pressing the power button. Catching Evan during a nap is the rarest of opportunities, one that fleetingly presents itself only to those who are patient and attentive, like the flower of a night-blooming cereus, but way more beautiful. It was a golden moment, one not likely to be repeated before the cows came home under a blue moon that was eclipsed by flying pigs that were being struck twice by lightning while mixing several metaphors.

You might be thinking, “Well, does he also nap when Hades freezes over?”

Maybe, but due to the opinion espoused by certain spousal units, I’m not allowed to say “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” in our house anymore, despite the fact that it’s not a bad word, and that anybody who employs the phrase “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” not in the service of making fun of someone else who said “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” deserves to catch a hockey stick in a place that, if recorded and submitted to America’s Funniest Home Videos (which seems to still exist somehow), would result in much merriment and laughter for everyone but the nearly sterilized person rolling around on the floor.

In any event, pressing the power button had no effect.

“No,” I whispered out loud, pressing the button again. And again. After frantically tapping it a hundred more times, I was confronted with the cold reality that the batteries, like my hopes and dreams, were dead.

I wanted to turn towards the heavens with my arms outstretched, shouting, “NOOOOOOO!” as the rain poured on my face and the camera ascended into the sky, but that definitely would have woken up the baby.

Pathetic times call for pathetic measures, so I attempted the unthinkable: moving a sleeping baby. Gingerly lifting him off my lap, I moved him to the next couch cushion as if I was handling high explosives, which in many respects I was, especially if you count his most volatile orifices.

In the end, using the power cord for the controller, I successfully rekindled my relationship with the PlayStation for a solid ten minutes, before my indefinite suspension from the game began again. If you’re a bad guy in Italy, you should send Evan a thank-you note.

You can sneak up on Mike Todd at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth... that I can rub more sweet potatoes on my face.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Home is where the torment is

“It’s time to torture the baby again,” my wife Kara said last weekend.

“Already? It seems like we just tortured him,” I replied.

For the past few days, we’ve had to give our son Evan nebulizer treatments every four hours, a painless procedure that requires him to breathe in a near-odorless mist for fifteen minutes while he screams with his amplifier turned to eleven. The screaming part might be optional, but for us, Evan has always been willing to go the extra decibel.

The excitement began last Thursday, when we received this phone call from his daycare: “You need to come pick up Evan. He’s having trouble breathing.”

There’s nothing like that sort of call to transform what had seemed like monumentally important work into inconsequential pixels on an irrelevant computer screen.

I recently heard a comedian comment that once you become an adult, unless you’re a professional athlete, you never have to run as fast as you can anymore. That sounded pretty true until last Thursday. I didn’t break any world records on my way across the parking lot, but I’m pretty sure I set a personal best, which would have been more of an achievement if the competition hadn’t been so out of shape.

Outside of Kara’s building, I rolled down the passenger window and she dove in like Bo Duke. She almost dove in like Daisy Duke, but her pants were covering her butt.

Seconds later, when we got to Evan’s daycare with Kara’s legs still kicking out the window, it turned out that his trouble breathing was of the slightly raspy kind, not the choking on a pork rind kind. We took a collective deep breath, and as the adrenaline surge began to subside, my mom’s head floated in the air above us, saying, “This is what I always meant by, ‘Just wait until you have one of your own.’” Or that could have just been the peyote wearing off.

At the medical center an hour later, when the doctor first said the word “nebulizer”, I thought he was telling us about his favorite weapon from a Ratchet and Clank video game.

“I prefer the alpha cannon, though an upgraded plasma whip is tough to beat for close combat,” I replied, in my mind.

“You need to give him this treatment every four hours,” the doctor said, holding the mask over Evan’s nose and mouth while Evan screamed, mist shooting out the holes on the sides of the mask like he was an angry cartoon bull.

Back in the day, when babies got colds, you gave them some Dimetapp and moved on with life. Now, babies can rent cars before they can take cold medicine. We’re also more civilized now, which is why we prefer to put our babies in half nelsons and gas their colds into submission.

Kara and I are discovering that being a parent means that you have to torture your child at times, from sucking things out of his nose with a bulb syringe to cooing at him while the nurse pricks him for a blood sample. Parenthood is not all baby powder and laughs, like the brochures promised.

Once we got home and I administered his first treatment, Kara said, “Oh, you did a really good job with that. You’re way better at it than I’d be,” using the same mind trick that I’d tried on her with ironing.

As much as the treatment has at times seemed worse than the symptoms, Evan has finally started to get used to being nebulized, and it’s helping to clear him up. Still, it’s hard not to feel like I should be walking around the house shirtless, wearing a leather apron and a dark hood. At least he’ll get to torture me back when he's a teenager.

You can nebulize Mike Todd with your alpha cannon at

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Journey to the center of the kitchen

“You know what you’re doing, right?” my wife Kara asked last week.

“Of course. Sort of,” I replied from under the kitchen counter, exploring the cavern where our dishwasher used to be.

We’d begun recovering from The Not-So-Great Flood of 2010, the aquatic event that sloshed from our kitchen down to the basement while we were on vacation, making our return home disappointing not only in that thousands of dollars of damage had been done while we were gone, but also in that we had apparently just missed seeing Mickey Mouse chasing a bunch of anthropomorphic brooms around the house.

After our contractor Sal replaced the kitchen cabinets, we couldn’t bring ourselves to re-install our old dishwasher, which Sal had described as a “builder’s special.” Apparently, the attribute that made it special was not the ability to wash dishes.

I pooh-poohed the idea of paying the $100 installation fee for our new dishwasher.

“Oh, no way, I can do that myself,” I grandstanded to the salesman, not letting my complete lack of relevant knowledge or experience get in the way of a money-saving opportunity.

Besides the obvious cheapness factor, there’s a certain shame involved with paying a contractor to do a job that you should probably know how to do yourself. It’s basically saying, “Well, since there’s not a real man around here, I guess we’ll have to hire one for the day.”

Even so, the array of skills that a person needs to master to stay alive today seems rather unfair. There was a time when all you had to know how to do was pounce on things and eat them. Now, you have to know how to install dishwashers, register vehicles, change diapers, unclog drains, update Facebook profiles, manage retirement plans and refinance mortgages. The paperwork alone would probably have killed most Java people.

So I found myself crawling around under the kitchen counter last week, yanking on various pipes and wires.

“Are you sure you cut the power to the right breaker?” Kara asked.

“Here, I’ll check,” I said, pulling the power cable out of the wall and touching the bare metal end with my finger.

When doing electrical work, once you’re pretty sure you’ve cut the power, it’s best to go ahead and just touch all the wires right away. If you’re going to spend the rest of the day dead, you should at least get out of doing some work.

Just then, Kara’s computer rang from across the room. Ever since my parents gave us a webcam so that they could see their grandchild, and Kara’s parents got hooked up as well, we’ve spent more time in front of the camera than Beyonce . I know this technology has been around for over a decade, but still, when you’re talking to your parents on the computer screen for the first time, it feels like you’re on the space station.

“Yeah, he’s installing the new dishwasher tonight,” I heard Kara telling her parents. There was a pause, and I pictured a look on their faces similar to the one they might have had if Kara had just told them that I’d decided to quit my job to sell Beanie Babies on eBay.

“Should he be doing that?” my mother-in-law asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” Kara replied. They acted as if the flood was caused in the first place by an improperly kinked hose on a piece of the kitchen faucet that I installed. I don’t know where they get these crazy ideas.

In the end, the dishwasher was installed using fewer expletives than I’d anticipated, and the basement, as of this writing, remains unreflooded.

“There, it’s all done, and we saved a hundred bucks,” I said, gleaming.

“Maybe we should get granite counter tops to match,” Kara replied.

You can defibrillate Mike Todd at