Sunday, June 27, 2010

Here’s frosting in your eye

“Go ahead, you can do it,” we said, holding an open flame close to our son’s face, performing a rite of passage that may look barbaric to some, but is actually quite common in our culture.

Distressed, Evan searched around for an escape route, but we’d already taken the precautionary measure of strapping him into his chair, a la Clockwork Orange. A small crowd watched expectantly as Evan’s eyes fixed on the flickering flame before him. In unison, the assembled broke into an ancient chant.

“Happy birthday to you,” they began, and Evan looked around our kitchen, trying to decide whether to squeal in delight or terror. In the end, he opted for neither, swiveling his head around in a state of complete confusion, as if our family and friends had gathered around his highchair to teach him differential equations.

“Ppptthhbb,” my wife Kara said, trying to get Evan to blow a raspberry towards the single candle in his inaugural cupcake.

Evan is fluent in Raspberry, his native tongue, but in front of so many people, like my bladder at a stadium urinal trough, he couldn’t be talked into performing.

Eventually, it became clear that Evan’s most pressing birthday wish was to no longer have his hands pinned at his side, as Kara and I had been heeding our friends’ warnings about the perils of the birthday candle. I’d like to think I would have figured that one out on my own, since the world is full of better ideas than putting an open flame in front of a person who just developed enough motor control to keep from repeatedly smacking himself in the face.

After a gentle assist in blowing out the candle, we set the cupcake down on his tray as Silly-Band-bedecked children buzzed about the kitchen. Evan’s party was the first time I realized the extent to which Silly Bandz have infiltrated our children’s wrists.

“How many of those things do you have?” I asked our neighbor’s son.

“Seventy-two,” he replied, beaming.

If you’re unfamiliar with Silly Bandz, picture a rubber band. There. You’re done.

Wait, make it cost six bucks for a twenty-four pack. Okay, now you’re done.

Ostensibly, the silliness of the bands is derived from the shapes that they take when removed from the wrists of children whose parents are now several dollars poorer.

“This one’s a turtle!” he said, holding up a rubber band that had been crimped to resemble a crimped rubber band.

The vague shapes that the Silly Bandz take act as a sort of Rorschach test for clueless adults.

“I think it’s a skull and crossbones,” I said, picking up a discarded Silly Band off the floor.

“I see a teddy bear,” Kara said.

“I see a new wet bar for my solid gold yacht,” said whoever invented Silly Bandz.

Anyway, Evan had no idea what to make of his first cupcake. Up until that point, besides the occasional rice puff, his only experience with solid food had been smacking it out of my hands at restaurants.

The highlight of any first birthday party is watching the birthday boy make a mess of himself, a tradition that is often repeated on the twenty-first.

After a couple of tentative pokes, Evan sat back, uninterested in exploring this strange, non-pureed item any further. Kara stuck her finger in the frosting and put some on Evan’s lip. He licked it tentatively and paused, his brain processing this peculiar new information.

All of a sudden, his hands grabbed the cupcake and smashed it into his face like he was reenacting an airbag deployment in a crash test.

His eyes were apparently hungrier than his stomach, though, since that’s where most of the frosting went. Next year: Johnson’s No Tears Frosting.

You can smell like a monkey, too, with Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A column to make you bristle

In the seventh grade, I snuck into my parent’s bathroom and stole my dad’s razor, too embarrassed to ask for his advice on removing the nearly translucent mustache attaching itself to my upper lip. I went rogue, off the grid, a lone boy taking a stand against the forces of puberty.

Surprised by how smooth the sharp blades felt against my skin, I skipped the shaving cream altogether, running the dry razor up, down and sideways across my face. When I was finished, I placed the razor back where I’d found it, leaving no evidence of my subterfuge, except that the blades were stuffed with enough peach fuzz to insulate Al Gore’s attic.

The operation seemed to have been a success until later that night, at basketball practice, when my face began to feel as if someone was beating it with a flaming cactus. My face had apparently ignited itself on fire to protest the hormonal war raging within, and nothing provided relief except the passage of many painful hours.

I decided right then that the next time I needed to shave, which turned out to be just before the senior prom, I’d use enough shaving cream to bury a silverback gorilla, which is very difficult to do, mostly because they won’t sit still.

After college, I worked for a summer on a dude ranch in Wyoming. On the first day, Bob, the ranch manager, decreed that all male employees had to shave every day.

“You get one warning, and after that, each time I catch you with stubble will cost you $20,” he said. Bob took it upon himself to teach his young employees lessons that he thought would help us upon entering the real world, where people don’t wear chaps to work unless they’re doing something much more interesting than I am.

Incidentally, did you know that the word “chaps” is pronounced “shaps”? That blew my mind when a ranch hand told me that. All my life, I’d been saying it wrong, which means I’d said it wrong maybe three times. Apparently, their name is derived from their inventor, Dave Chappelle.

Bob forced us to introduce ourselves by our full names at all times, a habit I still haven’t kicked a decade later, mostly because it only costs me an occasional syllable. But his most important lesson came at the end of our staff meeting on that first day.

“The four dirtiest words you can say on this ranch are…” he said, and we all leaned in closer. I thought it was a nice touch to end our first staff meeting with a cowboy-style George Carlin routine.

“That’s not my job,” he continued. “I’d rather hear you say any foul words you can string together than ‘that’s not my job.’ It’s your job to do what needs doing.”

Bob’s lessons might still come in handy for today’s potential entrants to the real world, if the real world hadn’t closed down sometime in late 2007.

Anyway, I still hadn’t worked out a system for avoiding razor burn at that point, so I spent the majority of that summer looking like I’d just been hugging a wolverine that turned on me.

I’m still using the triple-bladed razor I used back then, which is the only thing besides the Internet and the Slap Chop that’s been invented in my lifetime. Dad had a double-bladed razor. Grandpa’s only had one blade. By the time my son Evan starts shaving, he’ll probably just lay a washboard-size razor on the floor and drag his face across it. The new Schick Centipede: One hundred blades so she can get one hundred times closer, if your face is still there.

You can work Mike Todd into a lather at

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You've come a long way, Baby

June 15, 2009
Evan Edward Todd
4 lbs, 1 oz

June 16

June 18

June 21

June 22

June 27

July 4

July 12

July 19

August 15

September 5

October 24

October 31

November 1

December 6

January 1

January 16

February 12

February 19

March 6

March 7

March 19

April 2

April 3

April 24

May 7

May 9

May 16

May 21

June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Little Man

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Riding that train, high on Chihuahuas

Last week, a woman strolling on the beach in Galveston, Texas stumbled across a bag filled with sixteen bricks of cocaine, which is nearly enough to fuel an average season of Saturday Night Live, and which gives the woman a much better story than the most interesting thing I’ve ever found on a walk, which is a Chihuahua.

“Grab him!” a neighbor called as the Chihuahua ran into the street. Our friend Colleen, visiting for the weekend, wooed the dog-like rodent and grabbed him by the collar.

“Thanks, we’ve been trying to get our hands on him,” the neighbor said. “Not sure who he belongs to, but he looks lost.”

The animal’s tags provided no contact name, so we didn’t have much choice but to leave him with the neighbor and head on our way. A few minutes later, an SUV idled past, and the frantic driver asked if we’d seen a Chihuahua around.

“Nope, sorry,” we replied, and as he drove off, we all high-fived to celebrate a practical joke well-played. Sometimes, I wonder if he ever found his pet rodent, but the more important thing was that we all had a good laugh at his expense.

But in real life, I got in his car and drove back with him to the neighbor that was temporarily running a Chihuahua lost-and-found. Someone had to go with him, since our collective short-term memories proved insufficient to describe the house that we’d just been staring at five minutes prior.

“Your dog’s in the house around the corner. The greenish one, I think,” I said.

“Wasn’t it tan?” my wife Kara asked.

“It might have had shutters,” Colleen chimed in.

So after hopping in a stranger’s car (which I hardly ever do without the promise of candy, preferably peanut-butter-based), the man did what any responsible dog owner would do after losing his beloved family pet: blame his wife.

“I told her not to leave him tied up in the backyard alone, especially with all the hawks we have around here,” he said. He had a point. To a hawk, a Chihuahua tied to a stake in the backyard probably looks like an offering, the way the goat looked to the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

Then he said, “I told her, ‘You want to see what fifteen-hundred dollars looks like flying off over the horizon?’”

I tried not to flinch at the number. Did you know that a Chihuahua costs as much as a 2002 Ford Windstar? I knew that purebred dogs could be expensive, but that seemed like quite a hefty price, especially if you went by weight. Chihuahua apparently costs about fifteen-hundred dollars per pound.

By comparison, our dog Memphis cost about $6.25 per pound. That’s just one of the many benefits of adopting a mutt. Or, as we prefer to think of her, a purebred American Combination Hound.

In any event, perhaps that lady in Galveston would have done better to happen upon a bag full of Chihuahuas.

Her story stuck in my mind because it contained this line, in explaining why the thirty-seven pound bag would have created over one hundred pounds of street drugs, had she not alerted the police: “Dealers typically dilute the cocaine with baby formula or some other odorless, flavorless material.”

Now I’m no drug dealer, though watching all five seasons of The Wire should count for some sort of apprentice certification, but clearly, anyone who chooses to dilute drugs with baby formula has never had a baby. One glance at our most recent Babies R’ Us receipt would show even the novice criminal that it would be much more cost-effective to dilute cocaine with something less expensive than baby formula, such as more cocaine.

You can return Mike Todd to his rightful owner at

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Here’s a quarter, call someone who won’t eat it

“You can’t leave change on the floor anymore! The baby could choke on it,” my wife Kara said, holding up a potentially lethal quarter. Of course, the offending currency must have come from my pocket, since Kara has been carrying around the same three pennies in her coin purse since way back when oil spills didn’t take all summer. When I was a kid, a captain would get drunk, ram his tanker into the shore and we’d be done with it. Nobody realized at the time we’d come to prefer our environmental devastation nice and snappy.

“Sorry, it must have fallen out of my pocket,” I said, taking the quarter and dropping it in my change jar. If I hadn’t taken that quarter, I wondered what Kara might have done with it, since the change jar seems to be a historically masculine phenomenon, like Old Spice and war. Where do women keep their spare change? Every guy on the planet has a coffee can somewhere filled with change, and he wants you to guess how much was in there the last time he cashed it in. Filling change jars is how we pass the time when we can’t be scratching ourselves, playing Call of Duty or both.

The last time we visited my parents, I was walking out of the grocery store with Mom when she said, “I dumped your dad’s pennies into that Coinstar machine a couple of weeks ago. It was fun.”

I stared back at her, aghast. A Coinstar is kind of like the coin-sorting machines they have at many banks, except instead of being free, it provides the service of skimming 9% off your hard-squirreled money.

“But the bank does it for FREE!” I said.

“Well, it was fun,” Mom replied, and I could tell that my financial advice would be more appreciated by the kid at the Skill Crane machine. Still, except for the ones that dispense earthworms, I have a hard time thinking of a vending machine I’d be less likely to use than a Coinstar, the no-armed bandit.

The last time I liquidated my change jar at the bank, there was almost half a stitch in that thing. A stitch is the new monetary unit that Kara and I invented recently, after we brought our son Evan to the ER for a small cut on his head.

A few weeks later, Kara held the bill in her hand and said, “Guess how much Evan’s stitch cost.”

Trying to go ridiculously high, I guessed $600.

“Higher,” she replied, and my stomach sank lower. A nurse had spent fifteen minutes stitching Evan up and calming his traumatized parents, a sure and soothing hand for which we remain eternally grateful, but I was beginning to wonder how we had spent this much money without scoring at least a small powerboat.

“Oh, just put me out of my misery,” I said.

“Just over $700,” Kara replied, putting me out of, and into, my misery. “It would have been $1,800 without insurance.”

Clearly, we should have saved the stitch rather than letting Evan’s pediatrician throw it away, since it was woven from the downy undercoat of a virgin Sasquatch.

Still, we can’t really complain. The hospital had successfully transferred the trauma from Evan’s head to our bank account, while also giving us a handy new financial term.

“Oh, come on, it doesn’t even cost a tenth of a stitch,” you might hear one of us saying.

In any event, Kara’s right; with Evan crawling around the house eating everything in sight, it’s time to be more careful about flinging coins around. Besides, if I ever decide I’d like my spare change devoured, there’s always Coinstar.

You can give 9% of your spare change to Mike Todd at

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Mills Mansion

Last weekend, we ventured with some friends (holler, Claytons) out to one of my favorite places in the universe, Mills Mansion (holy cow, that's a bad website), which has for some reason recently been rebranded Staatsburgh State Historic Site. Whatever you call it, the park has a beautiful trail that runs right along the Hudson River, with views of a lighthouse, the Catskills, rocky cliffs and various floating things of natural and unnatural origins.

A few pictures from the day:



You goin' my way, ladies?

Nothing says "outdoors" like GORP (Good Ol' Root-vegetable Puree)

All wilderness should come furnished

Pssst. Hey, buddy. Help me out of this bag? Look what they're doing to me in here.

Yeah, I got a binky. What of it?

A nautical metaphor for what it's like to hike with a baby on your back

It's hard work being a sack of potatoes

Scene from "Narcoleptic Houdini"