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 café, 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:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting malled

“Can I ask you a question?” the girl at the mall pagoda asked as she matched our pace for a few steps, simultaneously asking for permission and granting it to herself.

“Sorry,” I said as we walked past. I knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to squirt lotion on us, like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.

“It rubs the lotion on its skin!” she might just as well have been saying as she chased after us with her bottle of Exfoliating Pear-Infused Lightly Salted Cocoa Butter Extract with Vitamin E and Tuarine Pustules.

She was barking at the wrong rube. I’ve always hated lotion. Even as a small child, Mom would chase me around the beach with sunblock.

“It’s slimy!” I’d yell. Then two days later, she’d chase me around with Solarcaine for my sunburn.

“That’s slimy, too!” I’d yell, bolting out the door, a cloud of skin flakes hanging in the air where I’d been standing.

Now the tables are turned, and I have to hold down our son Evan as my wife Kara slathers lotion on his dry skin after bath time. Then it’s my job to dress him, which is like trying to put jammies on a greased pig, except with more thrashing and squealing.

We passed a few more stores before another girl jumped out from behind another pagoda.

“Have you thought about getting him into modeling?” she asked, pointing into our stroller.

I was struck by her bravery at guessing Evan’s gender after just a glance. Babies are a notoriously androgynous bunch, and guessing a baby’s gender outright is like asking your co-worker if she’s pregnant. You’d better be sure before you say anything.

Of course Kara and I had always thought our baby was beautiful, but we’d neglected to consider how we could use his looks to enrich ourselves.

Born to be a star

According to the America’s Next Top Model episodes that Kara forces me to watch (a la Clockwork Orange, minus the eye clips, barely), the best models need to be self-centered and screechy, which is why babies make such obvious candidates.

We passed by the pagoda, politely shaking our heads, which is probably what Lindsay Lohan’s mom should have done.

Still, the question remained: When did our malls turn into street bazaars, with peddlers accosting you beside every booth? At this rate, it won’t be long before snake charmers sit outside Pottery Barn, coaxing cobras out of Havana Lidded Baskets, with their eye-catching texture and functional nesting design.

After navigating the pagoda gauntlet, we finally arrived at Sears: the Home of a Thousand Screwdrivers, and Also Zero Screws. Kara had been reading online reviews of washing machines and dryers for several days, and had memorized the model numbers of the machines we were considering.

“BDZ004A got better reviews than BDZ004,” she told me.

After a couple hours of dithering, when both Evan and our salesman were at times close to tears, we finally bought a couple of front-loading machines to replace our old appliances, which were functionally one step up from a clothesline, a washboard and swift-running creek.

We’re now the proud owners of a front-loading washer and dryer, which are apparently all the rage in Europe. Kara and I feel so European now, it seems like we should be eating baguettes at a sidewalk café under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, pretending we don’t speak English to lost Nebraskans.

As we walked out of the mall, Kara said, “These machines use a different kind of detergent. I need to read some reviews.”

It occurred to me that there is nothing that can’t be researched online. This soap cleans better. This gum chews chewier. Someday, after people begin rating their spouses online, I hope my review reads like this: A++++ husband!!! Pleasure to do life with. WOULD MARRY AGAIN.”

You can review Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pine Knob Loop (now with 100% more Uncle Ed!)

Last weekend, we headed out for a hike at Pine Knob Loop in western Connecticut. My Uncle Ed drove an hour and a half to meet us at the trailhead and wander around the woods for a few hours. It felt like a little vacation, since vacation is usually the only time we get to hike with Uncle Ed.

What I'm trying to say is, Uncle Ed is the man! And not the kind of The Man that takes your money or tells you to do stuff.

Anyway, thanks, Berkshire Hiking website dude. You came through for us, once again. Very nice spot that we never would have found otherwise.

Some pics:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the road again

As I lay on my back in the gas station parking lot last night, dazed and checking the back of my head for blood, I thought, “Is Henry Winkler a good pet name for a spouse? It just sounds so cute. Come here, my little Henry Winkler.”

Actually, I’m not exactly sure what was going through my mind, but that’s as good a guess as any. All I really remember is the sound of skull smacking on pavement, which has a much cocunuttier tone than I would have previously expected.

The reader(s) of this column may remember that I recently documented a nose-exploding faceplant that I took in the woods a few weeks back, while teaching my son Evan, who was riding in a backpack, a valuable lesson about putting too much trust in someone whose brain may or may not be purposefully causing catastrophes so that it will have some decent column fodder before deadline day.

Something I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks is that the ground only acts like your best friend, being all supportive. It’s more like a middle school best friend, one that might be your worst enemy tomorrow. You never know when it’s going to sneak up behind you in a gas station parking lot and smack you right on your bald spot.

Evan has a similar precarious relationship with the ground. He’s just starting to think about taking his first steps, and when he lets go of the coffee table, swaying like a Jenga tower just after someone puts the second-to-last piece on top, you can tell he’s worried about what shenanigans the ground might be thinking about pulling on him.

Last night, my problems with the ground began when I agreed to run down to the gas station to pick up some milk for the baby and some ice cream for the apple crisp. We had a few friends over, so when I saw that my car was parked in, rather than bother anyone to move their cars, I dragged my dusty, trusty bike out of the back of the garage and hopped on. It was only a mile down to the Mobil, almost entirely on residential streets, so what was the worst blunt force head trauma that could happen?

As I coasted into the busy parking lot, I felt like I was back at Penn State again, biking somewhere with purpose, the wind blowing through my remaining hair.

The cool way to dismount a bike is to lift your leg over the backseat while you’re still moving and standing on one pedal for a few beats before you stop. Here’s one apparently very critical question to ask yourself before attempting such a maneuver: Have I, or have I not, recently installed a giant infant seat on the back of my bike?

To a bystander, it probably appeared as though I purposefully reached back and kicked my own bike out from underneath me in one smooth motion.

After Fosbury flopping onto the pavement, I got up and pretended that I wasn’t hurt, casually feeling the pterodactyl egg growing on my head.

Later that night, on the phone, my sister Amy asked a trenchant question, “Dude, why weren’t you wearing your helmet?”

“It’s a good thing I wasn’t! I hit the ground so hard, I might have cracked the plastic. That thing cost fifty bones,” I said.

“I think that’s missing the point, Bro,” she replied.

“Wearing a helmet is like washing your hands in the men’s room: You only do it when someone’s looking,” I said.


“No, I wash my hands,” I said. “And I’ll wear my helmet next time.”

“Good. And I hope you’re sure you really didn’t hurt yourself,” she said.

Of course I didn’t. If I really got hurt, I’d probably still be losing my train of. Um. Was somebody just talking about Fonzi?

You can play in the concussion section with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Livin’ la vida locavore

“If there’s anyone dressed like an air traffic controller in the parking lot, I’m turning around,” I said as we rolled into a pick-your-own apple orchard last weekend.

Our experience at a different orchard a couple of years ago had turned me into a sour apple on the idea of pick-your-own, as the emphasis at that place had been less on picking fruit and more on picking pockets. Men in reflector vests waving fluorescent batons parked cars, tour buses lined the parking field and a giant line of sweaty humanity snaked out of the booth where you waited twenty minutes to pay the entrance fee for the privilege of paying for the empty bags which imparted the further privilege of performing your own manual labor.

But last weekend, we found a nice, quiet little farm with nary a reflector vest in sight, and we gladly forked over a few extra bucks for the privilege of roaming the orchard for an hour, trying to get our son Evan to pick an apple from his mount in my backpack.

“Go ahead, Little Man, grab that one,” I’d say to Evan, backing up until an apple bobbed off the top of his head. My wife Kara stood poised with the camera as Evan reached out, plucked a leaf and stuck it in his mouth. He has excellent survival instincts, for a giraffe.

He got there eventually

We were especially glad to find a pleasant place to pick an apple because Kara’s sister Jill and her husband Kris were visiting for the weekend. Not only are Jill and Kris vegetarians, but they’re also locavores (translated from Spanish: crazy eaters), which means that they try to only eat things that are produced locally.

“Like Tastykakes?” I asked.

“More like seasonal items from the farmers’ market,” Jill said.

I have great respect for the extra effort Jill and Kris put into being responsible consumers. The very notion of having to be aware of when a fruit is in season seems like way too much work. I’m pretty sure that the Founding Fathers intended for all Americans to have access to bananas, whenever we want them, year-round. I mean, if the Founding Fathers knew what a banana was.

Jill and Kris cook their own meals every night, using the freshest of ingredients, all locally grown: kale, peppers, beans, broccoli. I know! I’d starve to death, too.

“What do you do in the wintertime?” I asked them.

“We eat a lot of squash,” Kris said.

“And sweet potatoes,” Jill added.

“What about lunch?” I asked.

“We go through tons of peanut butter and jelly,” they replied.

At first, that sounded relatively normal, but then I realized they were probably talking about the kind of peanut butter that you grind at the store, like coffee beans. Kara and I tried that once.

“Ew. It just tastes like peanuts,” Kara said, wrinkling her nose. Thinking that she sounded insane, I dipped my finger into the plastic tub and tried a small taste. It tasted exactly like peanuts that someone had already taken the trouble of chewing for you.

“Yuck. I like Skippy better,” I said. We learned something new about ourselves that day, namely that we like fake things better than genuine ones. Apparently, we are also big fans of partial hydrogenation. If we were allowed, we’d probably go for full hydrogenation.

In any event, we all enjoyed the apple crisp that came out of the oven after we got home on Saturday. Going to a pick-your-own orchard is like visiting a casino: you’re going to lose a good deal of money, but hopefully you enjoy the experience anyway. On that front, the trip was a great success, and now we have enough apples to keep the doctor away well into Evan’s teens.

You can check if Mike Todd is in season at mikectodd@gmail.com.