Monday, December 27, 2010

I prefer my rump not shaken, nor stirred

With a flick of her wrist, my wife Kara sealed my fate.

“Dude, that’s not cool,” I said.

“Oh, it’ll be fine,” she replied. “Or at least really funny.”

Even after ten years of being with your wife, you can still discover whole new depths of evil she was hiding from you the entire time. If you’re anything like me, you won’t discover how sinister she can truly be until you’re standing in the middle of your in-laws’ living room, realizing that you’ve just been tricked into dancing to a song called “Rump Shaker” in front of a large percentage of your extended family.

This predicament began innocently enough.

“I think you’re all going to like the Christmas present that Dad and I got for each other,” my mother-in-law said to her three daughters and their respective hangers-on last weekend. We were celebrating Christmas a weekend early, in large part because Kara’s sister Jill is an anesthesiology resident at a hospital in Philadelphia, so her schedule has little time for things that don’t involve knocking people out. Even during major holidays, people still need to be knocked out. You can probably think of several people in your own family who could use it.

Eventually, doctors get enough vacation to spend more time on the golf course than your average sand trap, but they have to put in their time for many years first, working insane 30-hour shifts and 90-hour weeks. Jill’s schedule for the past several years has taught me a lot about our health care system. Apparently, our youngest medical professionals do their best work when they haven’t slept since last Tuesday. This seems like a good strategy, because we want these people as sleep-deprived as possible when they’re coming after us with syringes, scalpels, sigmoidoscopes and whatever other pointy instruments they can get their hands on.

“What’s the present?” Jill asked her mom. Incidentally, I’ve started practicing calling my mother-in-law “Mom” as well, just like her biological kids. You’d be surprised how many years you can coast by without ever addressing some of the most important people in your life by name. With in-laws, my limit turned out to be a decade, but I know some people who plan on calling their in-laws by various pronouns in perpetuity.

“I can’t tell you until we open it. But you’ll like it,” her mom responded.

“Did you get us all a trip to Hawaii?” Kara’s sister Sarah asked.

“No!” her mom replied.

“Hooray! We’re going to Hawaii!” Sarah said.

Sensing that speculation was going to run rampant until they opened their gift, Kara’s parents unwrapped a toaster-sized box to reveal an Xbox 360 with a Kinect sensor, which allows video gamers to act out motions to play a game, rather than using a controller. In the worst-case scenario, this means that to play a dancing game, you actually have to shake your rump.

While the technology is very cool, it seems to fundamentally miss the point that video games are supposed to be celebrations of sloth. Now I can envision a future in which I have to tell my son, “Sorry, Evan, I know you want to play outside, but you need to get your exercise in front of the TV first.”

To play the dancing game, you have to stand in front of the sensor and imitate the dance moves of the virtual dancer on the TV screen, right in front of the real people who are watching.

“I don’t think there’s enough beer in the world to make this fun for me,” I said. Undaunted, Kara dragged me onto the living room carpet and selected the “Rump Shaker” song while Jill taped the proceedings with her camcorder.

Hopefully, whenever someone tries to play that video, I can get Jill to knock me out first.

You can shake your rump with Mike Todd at

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making Craigslist, checking it twice

“Still available and in good condition?” came the promising response to my ad on Craigslist, the free online service that connects you with people of varying degrees of sanity to buy and sell items of varying degrees of brokenness.

I’d posted an ad earlier that day in an attempt to sell my 2003 Toyota Matrix, a car that had served me well over the years, but was not designed to handle a growing family that is often toting a dog, a baby and a stroller the size of an SUV. When we roll out of town for a weekend trip, we leave a trail of popped rivets behind us, like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. (Figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t know if cars actually have rivets, but if they do, mine hasn’t popped any. Especially if you’re interested in buying it.)

Incidentally, are you familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel? The happy ending (spoiler alert!) is that the two kids murder the old lady who tried to eat them and end up back with the dad who tried to kill them by abandoning them in the woods in the first place. If I was a therapist, I’d advertise on the rear book jacket. No wonder we, as a culture, have switched to Dora the Explorer.

My wife Kara had already taken care of the haggling part of buying a bigger car, a feat she’d performed entirely over email. We’d read that this was a better way to do business, safely removed from the glower of the salesperson and their entreaties to increase your paltry offerings, lest you enrage the manager behind the curtain.

“They just asked if we wanted floor mats, too,” Kara said to me from behind her laptop.

I’d always assumed, incorrectly, that a floor mat was a part of the vehicle. Yes, we’d like floor mats, and we’d also like to upgrade to the package that includes a steering wheel.

In the end, Kara drove a very good bargain, so it was my turn to chip in and sell our current wheels. Enter our friend Justin Thurston, who sent the response to my Craigslist ad.

“Fresh fish!” I yelled, writing a thoughtful response to Justin, explaining the wonderful condition of the car and laying the groundwork for a business relationship that would benefit us both.

A few moments later, Justin replied again: “Good to have your reply. I am justin thurston from Vancouver, WA. andwould have loved to come and inspect it at your place myself, but I ama UNICEF work and presently off Haiti where there flooding and


I can understand how a 2003 Toyota Matrix would be really helpful in that situation, but I began to suspect that Justin was not being completely forthright with me. The rest of his message explained how helpful I could be if I just sent some very personal financial information his way.

Justin’s email baffled me in the way that most spam does. When I’m sending out an email to ten other people in my department at work, my finger hovers over the mouse button, twitching, as I proofread the note countless times, worried that coworkers might make warranted inferences about my intelligence if I mix up “their” and “there”.

If you’re a spammer, and your email is being sent to ten million people, wouldn’t you at least run it through a spellchecker first?

Anyway, if you take anything away from this column, I hope it is this: 2003 Toyota Matrix, power windows and locks, excellent condition. Dog and baby only barfed in it a few times. All offers considered, especially ones from actual humans.

You can verify your checking account information with Mike Todd at

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evan's first word

Monday, December 13, 2010

I don’t know the drill

“Oh, I don’t know, whatever you pick out will be great,” my wife Kara said to her mom on the phone, as I waited for her to notice what I’d just done.

“What about you guys? You’re always so hard to shop for,” she said, my shame deepening with each passing moment, my failure nakedly on display but not yet noticed.

Kara finally looked at me and sensed something wasn’t right.

“What?” she asked with her eyes.

“I’ll fix it,” I mouthed. “And I’m sorry.”

Her eyes darted to the home worsening project I’d recently embarked upon. The original idea had been for the project to be of the home improvement variety, but things took a turn south once I started operating power tools.

“Oh, no,” she said.

Our silverware drawer sat on top of the kitchen counter, empty, the mighty wind of my humiliation whistling through the single hole drilled right through the front of it.

I’d been installing Tot-locks on our kitchen cabinets and drawers to make cooking as annoying as possible. That way, we’d have to eat more pizza to survive. The secondary benefit would be that our child would have to find a hobby other than dumping the contents of our kitchen cabinets all over the floor.

To our son Evan, the kitchen had become a giant Advent calendar, with every door hiding a wonderful surprise, a surprise that must be removed, spindled and mutilated as quickly as possible. He’d spent the bulk of the previous day standing next to our open kitchen drawer, gleefully tossing our most prized food preparation documents (takeout menus) into the air.

So I had started working my way around the kitchen, installing locks that would make even the most stubborn adult stop and ask himself, “How badly do I really need a spoon right now?” In our house, yogurt had just become finger food.

The Tot-locks open with a magnetic key that lives on the fridge, so when you’re installing the locking mechanism, you have to drill deep enough into the back of the cabinet or drawer so that only the thinnest sheet of wood would separate the lock from the key. This type of precision should not be expected from a person who finds a toilet to be an impossibly small target.

When the drill bit came roaring through the front of the drawer, right next to the handle, my shame was intensified not only because Kara was talking with her mom, instantly giving my failure a wider audience than I would have preferred, but also because I’d been using the fattest drill bit I could find, the kind you’d expect to see mounted on the front of a vehicle bound for the center of the Earth.

Hopefully, Evan won’t be afflicted with the same sort of mechanical ineptitude that plagues his old man. He’s already showing some promise at accomplishing tasks normally left to adults.

“Babe, why is our cable bill twenty bucks higher this month?” Kara asked recently.

“I have no idea,” I said, then we both looked at Evan, who was holding the cable remote up to his ear like it was a phone. He held out his phone and started dialing it by mashing random buttons.

“Mweh?” he asked when he held the remote back up to his ear.

As it turned out, it’s possible to order a Platinum Package from our cable provider simply by pressing a single button on the remote over and over. In a remarkable coincidence, that button happened to be the largest one on the remote. I wonder how many people have subscribed to HBO using nothing but their butts. Probably less than the number of people who can pinch a fork out of their kitchen drawer without opening it.

You can hide your power tools from Mike Todd at

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A chomp off the old block

I picked up this life-changing book the other day. Well, I assume it’s life-changing, once the reader moves beyond the purchasing phase and into the “reading the actual book” phase, but I’m not quite there yet, due to circumstances entirely within my control. Namely, the circumstance of preferring video games to life improvement.

A life improvement seemed in order a couple of weeks ago, when our toddling son Evan buried his cute little face into my shoulder.

“Aw, hey Buddy, what’s going OW!” I shrieked (in a very manly way, of course). You probably wouldn’t know this unless you’ve had them sunk into your shoulder, but baby teeth are like miniature samurai swords, not yet dulled from years of slashing through McNuggets. I don’t understand how pacifiers withstand the onslaught without being made of diamonds or Kevlar.

As I pushed Evan away, he smiled at me, my stretched shirt still caught in his razor-sharp choppers. Then he opened his mouth wide and went in for a second helping of shoulder sushi.

“No!” I yelled, grabbing him by the arms and giving my best angry father face, which is an easy face to make when your child has just treated your shoulder like Evander Holyfield’s ear.

“Baby! You can’t yell at him like he’s the dog,” my wife Kara said.

I looked back at Evan, immediately sorry for the emotional scarring his first fatherly discipline had inflicted on his tender, developing psyche.

Evan threw back his head, drew in a great breath and squealed with delight, clapping his hands and dancing. (“Dancing” is a term I use loosely here to define a semi-rhythmic bouncing achieved by flexing the knees, which also describes what I do at weddings when hiding in the bathroom ceases to be an option.)

Kara was right. You can’t yell at a baby the same way you would a dog because as soon as you do, the baby thinks he’s just invented a hilarious new game, while the dog would mope around until you apologize and rub its tummy.

Clearly, I needed a new strategy for communicating with Evan. He had no idea that his actions had failed to live up to our household’s high standards of non-cannibalism. Stern words and angry faces weren’t doing the trick, so I turned to the Internet and ordered Dr. Haim Ginott’s “Between Parent and Child,” a book that received high marks for helping to keep your children from eating you alive, figuratively and otherwise.

Last Saturday night, after Evan went to sleep, I found myself faced with the choice between reading a book that would help me to have a richer relationship with my son and playing a game on my iPod that consisted entirely of shooting birds out of a slingshot. By about the 700th bird, I’d forgotten all about the guilt.

Another reason I have yet to crack the book is that Evan, for the time being, seems to have renounced his werewolfian ways. He hasn’t tried to make Dada-touille out of me since that one evening, but I think the episode officially marked the transition to a new phase of parenthood: the Age of Discipline.

Our neighbor with two elementary-school-aged kids had warned me that this day was coming.

“As they get older, parenthood becomes less physically trying, and more mentally so,” she said, standing beside her mailbox as her kids played in the yard. “You don’t have to carry them around and do everything for them anymore, but you always have to be thinking and steering them in the right direction.”

As if to emphasize the point, her daughter kneed her son in the crotch, functionally terminating the conversation, so I turned Evan’s stroller away and continued down the street.

Upon further reflection, I think I’ll buy an athletic cup when I go to pick up my new shoulder pads.

You can give Mike Todd a stern talking to at