Sunday, April 11, 2010

Giving caution the finger

If you ever find yourself saying, “My friends spent an hour on the beach looking for the rest of my finger, but they never found it,” there’s a decent chance that you haven’t had the best week.

Last Saturday, I learned of my buddy Rob’s dedigitation when he texted a gruesome photo to my cell phone.

“Good lord!” I said, wincing.

“What’s the matter?” my wife Kara asked.

“Rob just texted me a picture with the top of his right ring finger missing. Doesn’t he know that it costs me a dollar to receive photos to my phone?” I said.

Of course, a good friend losing a beloved body part is not really a proper occasion to complain about donating a dollar to Verizon, but if someone had asked me which of my friends would find a way to chop off the tip of their finger, Rob would have been pretty high up on a very competitive list.

On ski trips in high school, Rob would launch himself over dump-truck-sized jumps with an impressive disregard for his own well-being, sometimes pulling off stunning landings that would earn disbelieving praise from anyone witnessing his flight path, though sometimes he’d land on various non-load-bearing bones as he tumbled to an abrupt stop at the nearest tree trunk, scattering assorted skiing implements and winter outerwear across the hill behind him as twelve-year-olds shouted, “Yard sale!” from the chairlift.

On a ski trip after college, after watching Rob jump off of a twenty-foot cliff and land softly in the powder below, our friend Johnny turned to me and said, “Did you know that Rob doesn’t have health insurance?”

It’s too bad he couldn’t have borrowed mine, since the biggest risk I take while skiing is sipping the hot cocoa before it has a chance to cool down.

Rob lives a few blocks from the beach in LA now, and has taken up kitesurfing as a hobby. Kitesurfing is a sport in which mentally unbalanced people tie snowboards to their feet and let giant kites drag them around the ocean. Rob once let me fly his smaller practice kite in a parking lot, and when the wind caught the kite for the first time, it yanked me off my feet like I was holding on for dear life to a dragon’s leash.

Photos courtesy of Rob "Nine Fingers" Kalmbach

Last week, as Rob was in the process of landing his kite on the beach, he lost his balance for a split second and reached his hand out to steady himself just as the kite, according to Rob, “powered up.” As the kite shot into the sky, its line sliced through the air with enough speed to shear the top half-inch of Rob’s ring finger clean off, marking the first of several days in which Rob would find it “kind of tough to type.”

Part of me feels terrible for Rob, though he fortunately now has health insurance that helped to make his finger almost as good as new, if just a bit shorter. But the other part of me is a little jealous that not only has Rob earned himself a conversation starter for life, but he also managed to mangle himself in such a cool way. The coolest way I could ever hope to auto-amputate anything is through a freak bagel mishap, at best.

Incidentally, someone once told me authoritatively that bagel-slicing accidents are the number-one cause of emergency room visits. If that is true, perhaps subsidies for English muffins should have been included in the recent health care bill.

“It feels much better now,” Rob told me a couple of days ago. “And even if my friends had found my finger, the doctors wouldn’t have been able to put it back on.”

So while Rob recovers, at least he can take some solace in that, if even just for a few moments, he made a lucky seagull very happy.

You can give Mike Todd the finger at

P.S. If you're dying to see disgusting pics of Rob's finger, scroll down in this kitesurfing forum (Rob's name in the forum is Wavehucker.) If you clicked that link, I bet you're the kind of person who inhales really deeply when somebody goes, "Oh, man, that STINKS!"


  1. Those are some gross photos. And yes, I do inhale.

  2. That looks like one painful injury......but the photos are cool.

    Watch out for any kind of seeds on your bagels. They can be deadly.

    P.S. Hope you all enjoyed a very Happy Easter.

  3. Allen -- With you, I just sort of assumed.

    Loon -- Another sniffer! And we sure did, thank you. Hope you and your family did, too.

  4. Loved the 'Godfather' banner graphic. And hey, thanks for putting me on your sidebar. Give that baby a big hug. Someday he might be writing about you in his own column.

  5. Marcia -- Whaddup, reciprocal linker! Thanks for dropping in. I hope Evan's column carries on the proud family tradition of, well, maybe he should start his own tradition.

  6. Mike ! Great post. I can write a little better now that the finger is healing up nicely. You are very right to be jealous about my conversation starter, so far it has served me well. Especially because it's about a sport that I really love. I posted a few pics of the post-op finger... WARNING they are not pretty. Anyone up for some Korean BBQ?

  7. What a great column on Rob, risk taking, and getting through life with humor and daring. And I always thought that guy (my son) was a cautious young man....(NOT!)He also takes risks, good ones with his camera, and many of us try with words and paint to be daring on a daily basis. Superb writing, Mike. I thoroughly enjoyed it, from beginning to end. I love your biographies of friends.

  8. I can't resist another comment on the ROB and missing digit story. It was outrageous and FUNNY. Mr. Todd is really rocking, from his descriptions of Rob flying high (skiing) both inspiring praise and then crashing and scattering winter outerwear (did the 12 year olds really shout Yard Sale!?), to the meal (ugh!) the seagull gets to make of his poor ol’ finger --- AND a dead on take of Rob’s typical stoicism: “It’s kind of tough to type” is great. Also, great bits about auto-amputations and bagel mishaps.

    I just read it out loud to Tim and Anthea, who both laughed and laughed!Now if you could just promise me that old buddy of yours will lay off the kite surfing....

  9. Stubs -- Glad you're feeling better, man. Those new pics are almost as good as the old ones. Why am I hankering for Kielbasa all of a sudden?

    Melissa -- You just made my day! Thanks so much. I'm pretty sure something close enough to the yard sale scenario actually happened to make that story not entirely BS, though Rob might remember it differently. Glad Rob's family doesn't think I'm a jerk for for squeezing a humor column out of a decidedly non-humorous event. You guys are the coolest (Tim and Anthea included) -- thanks for the nice words!

  10. no you are the coolest! Love it -