Sunday, November 28, 2010

On jury duty, the jury’s still out

Sixty potential jurors cowered in the back of the courtroom as the lawyer spun the lottery jug with all of our names in it. Everyone stared at the floor, as if not drawing any attention would get them back to their regular lives sooner. It’s not always good to be selected, especially by nature, or a lawyer.

The scene reminded me of middle school gym class, when Louis Poois (not his real last name, at least not when he was within earshot) would get the ball during a game of dodgeball. The entire opposing team would hide in the corner, crawling over ourselves, trying not to be on the outside of our human shield of cowardice.

“Pow!” was the sound you’d hear emanating from the head of Louis Poois’ unlucky target, as the volleyball ricocheted into the gym rafters, perhaps never to be seen again.

Louis would trot back towards his team, arms held aloft in triumph, his armpit hair billowing in the breeze through the holes in his muscle shirt while his victim groaned on the gym floor, the word “gnidlapS” branded on his forehead.

A friend just told me that dodgeball is banned from gym classes in public schools now, and the fact that we began recalling dodgeball games with fondness might be a sad commentary on how much fun the rest of middle school was.

“Michael Todd,” the lawyer said, reading from the card he’d just pulled. Pow! The other potential jurors looked at me with relief as I joined the chosen ones in the jury box.

The jury selection process took the entire morning, as each person in the room had some terrible secret they wanted to discuss with the lawyers in private, out in the hallway. Those who successfully argued their inability to remain impartial disappeared forever. The others came back into the room, dejected, thrown back into the pool.

As the lawyers spent hours walking back-and-forth between their table and the hallway, I began to understand why every available surface in the courthouse had at least one water pitcher sitting on it. Those guys must get thirsty.

The highlight of the morning came when a lawyer asked an old guy whether he’d be able to remain on the fence until all the evidence had been presented.

“I spend my whole life on the fence,” the man replied. “It just depends which way my wife pushes me.”

In the end, I was among eight jurors chosen for a civil landlord-tenant case that ran for three days last week.

“Don’t talk about the case,” we were instructed at every break, so we played it safe by not talking about anything at all. For hours on end, we’d sit in a jury room the size of a cubicle like monks, pointedly not making eye contact.

After one day of this, it became clear that I needed a new game on my iPod. The most popular game in the iTunes Store was called Angry Birds, which involved firing birds out of a slingshot to knock buildings over. I knocked over a lot of buildings as a juror.

“How has the jury found?” the judge asked at the end of the trial.

“Your Honor, the jury has found that while the multi-shot birds do inflict more damage than regular birds, you just can’t beat the bomb-shaped birds for pure destructive capacity. Also, we the jury find that our battery is almost dead,” we replied.

Actually, in the end, we reached a verdict that seemed fair for all parties. I’ve since been lobbying for my friends to start calling me “The Verdict,” which is a much catchier nickname than “The Situation,” a moniker that clearly exceeds the maximum allowable nickname length by at least one syllable.

You can reach The Verdict at

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jury duty is de-liberating

“When you get in there, try not to sound too reasonable. We have Thanksgiving coming up,” my wife Kara advised.

I still held the phone in my hand, shaking my head. The automated message had just confirmed that I would not be going to work tomorrow. Instead, I’d be performing my civic duty down at the courthouse, even though I’d just recently voted, which seems like it should have earned me a civic duty bye for the rest of the year.

You’d think someone with a bald spot that recently earned its own caption on Google Earth would have some experience as a juror, but this summons is the first one that has ever actually forced me to show up somewhere. Everything I know about jury duty, I learned from watching Law and Order reruns.

If there is a male assistant district attorney, I can probably expect him to be replaced after the first season with increasingly attractive females. Also, I’m not expecting too much wisecracking, since most of that will have taken place in the first thirty minutes of the episode, probably in the presence of a corpse, several commercial breaks before I get there.

“A hammer lodged in his head? This guy really got nailed.” That’s the part I’m going to miss out on.

The timing of this summons seems awfully coincidental, as if the court system realizes how much more valuable I’ll be as a juror now that I’m a parent. The past seventeen months have seen a marked improvement in my ability to detect a guilty party. For instance, when the dog trotted into the room this morning wearing a hat made of French toast, I almost immediately knew who did it.

Incidentally, a dog will only wear a hat made of French toast if it (either the dog or the toast) has been properly slathered in syrup. Otherwise, the toast just bounces off her forehead. My son Evan might not yet realize that trying to look up at a tall person’s face will make him fall over backwards every time, but he does seem to have an advanced understanding of canine haberdashery.

I’m torn between my curiosity of wanting to learn how a court case actually works in real life and my longstanding affair with not doing extra stuff. My number has been called, though, so I suppose my preferences at this point are rather moot. If being a juror is actually as big of a drag as the general consensus seems to suggest, the best I can do tomorrow is show up and hope they find me as unreasonable as the people who’ve known me longer.

My most memorable brush with the criminal justice system to date occurred at a dinner party several years ago, where the person sitting next to me was a defense attorney. The sentence preceding this one sure started with a lot of potential, didn’t it? Sorry it didn’t end with me face down on a gravel road, taser clips sticking to my back while $100 bills quietly fluttered out of the ripped-open burlap sack a few feet away.

Anyway, from her descriptions, it sounded like she’d defended some pretty unsavory people.

“Does it make you uncomfortable defending someone you think might be guilty?” I asked, doe-eyed. Woodland creatures began peeking through the window, wondering if I might lead them in a song-and-dance number as we cleaned the kitchen after dinner. A bluebird landed on my shoulder, shook its head and chuckled, then flew off.

“Oh, Honey,” the defense attorney said, putting her hand on mine and turning to me as if she were explaining the world to a four-year-old. “They’re all guilty.”

Come to think of it, that might be a good story to bring up tomorrow.

You can tell Mike Todd the truth and nothing but the truth at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pigeon spikes, and other parenting tools

As the fateful jogger approached, I smiled and asked, “How’s it going?”

He gave me a look that conveyed annoyance, as if I’d just asked how much money he made. He said nothing as he jogged past, and in a few moments his footsteps trailed off on the gravel behind us.

“What a jerk,” I thought, just for a second, and then my mind wandered to other things, like why are all the light bulbs in Outback Steakhouse pink? Do Australians like pink food? Do our minds make pink food taste better? And if so, would some pink light bulbs in our kitchen make my blend of Corn Pops and Special K seem more like something an adult should be eating for dinner?

As we continued along the loop trail under the nearly barren trees, my son Evan began complaining from the peanut gallery, which is the seat he occupies on my back.

Evan and I have been getting out in the woods pretty regularly this year, mostly because it’s easier to keep an eye on a toddler when he’s strapped into place. We haven’t figured out how to put this finding to use outside of the backpack, but if Babies R’ Us ever starts selling mini versions of the hand truck they used to wheel Hannibal Lecter around in the movies, I’d start digging through the trash to see if I’d recently thrown out any 20% off coupons.

When Evan’s riding in his backpack, he’s not climbing on top of our baseboards to give him just the extra height he needs for his head to loom over the picture frames on our end table like Godzilla’s head over the Tokyo skyline. As he gets taller, the items on our various household tables continue inching toward their respective walls, cowering in bunches for protection, just out of the behemoth’s reach. Perhaps installing pigeon spikes on the baseboards would buy us some time.

In any event, with my wife Kara out of town last weekend, I fled for the woods with the child on my back. Sometimes, I wonder if Henry David Thoreau, one of the few non-assassins who gets to be remembered with his middle name, also retreated into the woods because he was scared to have a toddler running loose all day in his living room.

Probably not. If he’d had a toddler with him in the woods, his quotes would read something more like: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, especially if they forget to pack a grilled cheese sandwich. Then the desperation gets really loud.”

About three-quarters of the way around the loop, I decided to give Evan and my shoulders a break. When I took him out of the pack and set him on the ground, he stood there with one foot up like a flamingo, grabbing onto my legs for support.

“Your foot fall asleep, Buddy?” I asked, then I saw the problem. He’d kicked off one of his shoes, a present from his grandparents, sometime in the last three miles.

I backtracked for ten minutes without finding anything. The thought of re-doing the entire hike was too much to bear, so I turned around and started plotting a course to the nearest children’s store, where Evan would get the cheapest replacements his daddy could find. It’s not like he’s trying to shave time off his 40-yard dash.

Just then, I heard someone yell “Hey!” from down the trail. The jogger was headed back my way, waving a small shoe over his head.

“When my kids were that age, my wife would have killed me if I’d have come home without their shoes,” he said with a smile.

I thanked him as many times as I could in the ten seconds before he headed back the way he came, then immediately felt terrible about judging him earlier. It’s true what they say: You can’t judge a look by its jogger.

You can enjoy some fava beans and a nice Chianti with Mike Todd at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treats, tricks and leaves

Sorry for the Evan overload, rest of the Internet, but this was a special request from Grammy.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Swiss Family Todd

“Don’t do it, Amy. Please,” my wife Kara pleaded to my sister as our cog-wheel train chugged up the mountain toward the Matterhorn.

Moments ago, in the station, Amy had attempted to sit across the aisle from us in an empty seat. A Frenchman in the adjoining seat performed a couple of horizontal karate chops in the air while saying, “No, no!” to Amy, successfully defending the seat for what we assumed would be his late-arriving friend.

The doors closed and the train pulled away from the station with the friend failing to materialize. Amy turned around from her seat further up the train, a look coming over her face that anyone who knew Amy well would have understood to mean “TAKE COVER!”

Switzerland is a country famous for its chocolate, watches and Families Robinson, and the karate-chopping guy across the aisle from me seemed blissfully unaware that it was also very close to becoming known for its transit-riding, strangled Frenchmen.

Since having a baby last year, Kara and I have been unable to escape the house long enough to see a movie, a fact that has saved me from seeing at least seven Twilight sequels, and which also made the experience of taking a whirlwind tour around Switzerland last week even more surreal.

Amy’s wife, Jaime, recently took a job at the United Nations in Geneva, and the two of them moved there earlier this fall. With the job scheduled to end early in 2011, Kara and I knew that if we waited any longer, we’d forever lose the opportunity to see the birthplace of the hundred army knives I’d lost during my career as a Boy Scout. A homing beacon on those things would have been much more useful than a leather awl.

Our parents all signed up for shifts at our house to look after the toddling terror that is our son. After the same amount of planning that normally goes into a large-scale military operation, we realized that we might actually be going to Europe. One night in early October, Kara clicked the mouse a few times, looked up and said, “Okay, we’re going. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

We only had four full days to see as much as possible, which turned out to be just enough time to ingest several months’ worth of cheese. It was also enough time to whizz through several castles and across insanely beautiful countryside, but not enough time to get used to paying five bucks for a Coke.

We headed to the Matterhorn on our final day, and on the first of several trains, a Frenchman (or a French-speaking Swiss person, really, but “a Frenchman” is more fun to say, and also to complain about later) stood before the three of us and pointed at the empty seat in our booth.

“Oui,” we said, exhausting 50% of my French vocabulary. Rather than sitting, he shook his head and said many sentences in a row. After a time, we came to realize that we were being evicted. Apparently, you could reserve seats on that train.

I stood and saw no escape. Ten angry faces peered at me from either direction, their corresponding bodies clogging the aisle.

“Babe, you need to move,” Kara said, noting that my bookbag was imprinting a zipper design on a nearby lady’s face.

I wanted to climb over the seats like Roberto Begnini receiving an Oscar, but settled for squeezing through the nonexistent space in the aisle like a gerbil, using the other 50% of my French to apologize to all the people with whom I was involuntarily grinding.

By the time we got on our final train with the karate-chopper, we just wanted some seats and a relaxing ride. Mr. Chopper benefited in part from Kara’s pleas for leniency, and also from the language barrier.

“The best I could come up with in French was, ‘This is my last day with my family, and you are a robber,’” Amy said later.

Judging from my childhood, Mr. Chopper is lucky he didn’t depart the train with his underwear pulled halfway up his back. Wedgies speak in every language.

You can go cuckoo with Mike Todd at