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

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

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

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

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