Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sometimes, forgettable is good

“Well, at least tonight has been memorable,” I said. “Most Saturday nights just turn into a blur of pizza boxes and Netflix envelopes, but not this one, right?”

“Uuuuugh,” my wife Kara replied. She said something after that, too, but I couldn’t quite make it out, partly because she wasn’t enunciating, but mostly because her head was inside the toilet bowl, which apparently has very poor acoustic projection.

I couldn’t stick around to chat anyway, since our toddler Evan was busy in his crib doing his best impersonation of Linda Blair from The Exorcist, but without the head-spinning. At least I imagine that’s what the scene from The Exorcist would have looked like, if I was dumb enough to watch that movie. I handle horror movies about as well as anybody, as long as anybody doesn’t sleep for three days afterwards.

We were managing to put on a pretty good horror show of our own last Saturday night, light on the gore but heavy on the splatter.

It was all my fault. I had recently asked the question: “Did you ever notice that Evan never throws up anymore?”

“Don’t say that. You’re tempting fate,” Kara replied.

Turns out, Kara was right. I had put a rhetorical slice of moist strawberry cheesecake right in front of Fate, and Fate was very tempted.

“Oh, I really shouldn’t,” said Fate. “But what the heck. Just this once.”

And so our house was blighted with a 24-hour bug that took out two-thirds of its human occupants, sparing only me, perhaps because I was gracious enough to invite it in.

It’s a strange phenomenon, when everyone around you gets sick but you don’t. You know you didn’t do anything to deserve it, but you still feel kind of cool, which is how it must feel to win a Grammy.

Before witnessing the carnage last Saturday, I thought 24-hour bugs sounded delightful. Only 24 hours? Whenever I’ve gotten sick as an adult, the symptoms seemed to last longer than the Crusades, and I’d gladly have taken a condensed version instead. But now that I’ve seen a 24-hour bug in action, I think I’ll stick with the slow-burning kind that doesn’t turn its hosts into biological geysers.

If we had to guess where Evan and Kara picked up the bug, the safest bet would be the toddler playland where we took Evan earlier in the weekend.

“We’re taking Evan to a bouncy castle place,” Kara said to her mom over the phone.

“Oooh, those places are full of germs,” her mom replied, and Kara passed that information along to me.

“Aw, c’mon, germs are nothing to be afraid of,” I said, hours before the projectile vomiting began.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure Evan would still do the entire weekend over again. He spent hours inside the toddlers’ bounce house, laughing, screaming and running full tilt into the walls. That’s pretty much what he does at home anyway, but it turns out to be much more fun when the walls are inflatable.

By the time we left, he’d had so much fun that I think he would gladly sign up for another severe gastrointestinal event to do it all again. But if it does all happen again, I think we’ll either swear off bouncy castles forever or put Evan inside a giant hamster ball before rolling him across the drawbridge.

The next morning, everyone was feeling better, and our house had the slow, moaning and groaning vibe of a frat house after a great party. Kara and I had just survived the kind of night that you know you’re signing up for when you become a parent, and which gradually becomes part of family lore. Most importantly, though, we learned that having a night to remember is best left for people without kids.

You can dump sawdust on Mike Todd at

Monday, January 24, 2011

A real pain in the can

As gasoline rained down upon my person and belongings last week, I began to imagine the conversation that must have taken place at the meeting where the new style of portable gas can was developed.

“Hey, let’s design a new kind of no-spill gas can!” someone must have said.

“Boooorrrr-iiiiiiing. How about we make one that shoots gasoline straight up in the air? You know. For some reason,” someone else replied.

“Good idea! That’s exactly what we’ll do,” said their boss, as soon as his keg stand was finished.

If you have recently filled up a lawn mower or snow blower with a gas can purchased in the last few years, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’re also probably reading this by yourself, since you reek of gasoline. Maybe these cans are doing us all a favor, since someday gas will be so expensive that reeking of it will be a status symbol, like driving a car that wastes it.

I first became acquainted with the new style of gasoline splatterer in our old house, when I went to fill up our mower with the can that my wife Kara had just purchased. As soon as I put the nozzle into the mower and let the weight of the can gently open the spout, gas began ricocheting in all directions, putting on a fountain show to rival the Bellagio.

“This is what happens when a woman buys a gas can,” I said, in my head, because saying sexist things out loud is not very smart, especially when you’re drenched in a highly combustible liquid.

I set out to find a can that worked like the one in my parents’ garage, which has spilled perhaps three drops of gas between 1981 and 2011. It was then that I realized Kara hadn’t made a poor purchasing decision. A conspiracy was afoot. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears – they only stocked the cans that looked identical to the one I already had, the kind that must be very popular with self-immolation enthusiasts.

It occurred to me last week, when I went to fire up our snow blower to clear a foot of snow off the driveway, that after six years of near-weekly use, I still haven’t figured out how to execute a refueling without turning the garage into a Superfund site.

Incidentally, whatever happened to 4 to 8 inches of snow? That’s what we always got when I was a kid. These days, it’s either a dusting or a foot. Mother Nature doesn’t do nuance like she used to.

“You know, they design the cans that way now so they’ll pollute less,” my friend Sergey explained after a recent refueling-fueled tirade.

“No, don’t tell me that. I just want to complain about them without knowing any of their good points,” I said, echoing my feelings about people who disagree with me politically.

As it turned out, Sergey was right. The new cans are designed to be ventless, so they don’t sit around emitting all over the place like your relatives on Thanksgiving. In fact, according to an EPA website, “reduced evaporation from these containers will result in gasoline savings over the life of the container that will more than offset the increased cost for the container.”

While I can certainly get behind the theory of Earth-friendly gasoline cans, I wonder if the implementation couldn’t be accomplished with a design that’s less likely to treat my garage like the Gulf of Mexico. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot innovation going on in this space, though, so I’m only holding my breath because I stink like gas.

Perhaps I can take some solace in the fact that the new cans emit 78% less benzene, which sounds like a good thing, and also suggests that I should find a new breakfast cereal to replace my Benzene-Os.

You can immolate Mike Todd at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gone in five seconds

“Oh, man, I’m having retroactive shame,” I said to my wife Kara as we ate lunch yesterday.

Something in the way our son Evan’s grilled cheese sailed off his tray reminded me of a faux pas I’d committed a few weeks earlier. My brain’s shame backlog must have kept the incident from being processed sooner, perhaps because memories from a shirtless day at the beach got lodged in there and jammed up the queue.

The incident happened while we were visiting our friends Jen and Gary over the holidays. While we sat in their living room catching up, Evan clung to my leg, terrified, peeking over my knee at their friendly cat Nittany, who was preoccupied with the very menacing activity of licking himself.

I couldn’t really blame Evan for being afraid, since a housecat is chest-high on him. If a lion had wandered into the room, I would have been looking for a knee to cling to, too, no matter how much the lion seemed to be more interested with its own business.

After a few minutes, Evan started warming to the tiny carnivore in our midst, reaching a tentative hand toward Nittany. At about that moment, I dropped a cube of cheese off the plate I’d been holding. It rolled into the center of our small circle, like it had new dance moves to show off.

“Oh, you can just throw that out,” Jen said.

“Meh, five-second rule,” I replied without a thought, picking it up and popping the cheese cube into my mouth.

I wish Mom had taught me that there are actually two rules of thumb for paying visits: Don’t show up empty-handed, and probably don’t eat stuff off the living room floor, either.

The five-second rule implies that an infectious bacterium would have this conversation with itself: “Dude, what just landed on my head? Hmmm, smells like cheese. Should I hop on, or stay here? First, let’s weigh all the pros and cons. For starters, I’m already all comfy right here on the floor. Second, aw, dang! I missed my chance.”

Even on the dubious notion that bacteria pause for five seconds to consider whether or not to stow away on your food, I’m pretty sure any wandering hairs don’t suffer from the same indecisiveness.

In any event, Jen and Gary were quite kind to their foraging guest and didn’t even bat an eyelash, which might explain why it took three weeks for me to feel properly ashamed.

At our house, the five-second rule is never an issue, because food doesn’t hit the floor. Our dog Memphis catches it in the air, like the Blue Man Group does with marshmallows. She’ll park directly under Evan’s high chair, looking up, muscles tensed, waiting for meatballs from heaven to come showering over the edge of the tray. She’s rarely disappointed. The same kibble has been sitting in her bowl for six months.

The point, of course, is that it’s our dog’s fault that I’m not properly trained.

A moment after my breach of etiquette, Jen and Gary’s massive, 140-pound Newfoundland lumbered into the room, and Evan’s eyes grew proportionally wider. I watched Evan, expecting him to cower beside my knee again. Instead, he took off after the dog, squealing in delight, showing no fear toward an animal that could knock him over using nothing but its tongue.

Gary takes their dog to Penn State football tailgates, where he’s taken to telling students that the animal is half Labrador, half bear.

“You’d be surprised how many people believe that,” he said.

“I hope they weren’t biology majors,” I replied. Just kidding. I was too busy scrounging for crackers under the couch.

You can mop up the floor with Mike Todd at

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Happiness in a vacuum

“Don’t get any ideas,” I said to my son Evan as we wheeled toward the hysterical child in the grocery store, whose screams were starting to rip up floor tiles and fling them against the poultry freezers.

“I told you no and that’s it!” his father yelled, taking the child by the arm and pulling him down the nearest aisle. The screams faded away as the happy family disappeared into the English-muffin-lined horizon.

“Uh oh,” Evan said.

“Uh oh,” I agreed.

Evan has said a few different words in his life (like “cow” and, I swear, “front door”), but mainly he just says “uh oh” for everything. Since there’s always a toddler around when he’s saying it, it’s usually in the proper context.

He’s developed an entire language based on that one word, like how “dude” works for teenagers. At least that’s how “dude” worked when I was a teenager, back when the world was new and text was a noun.

I’ve been watching parents in public lately, trying to figure out if they seem happier than people without kids. My wife Kara and I were recently shaken up by an article that quoted a Harvard psychologist as saying that spending time with her children gives an average mother the same amount of happiness as vacuuming.

“That’s a ridiculous comparison,” I said. “How can Evan compete if he doesn’t even have upholstery attachments?”

The article also said that while marriage generally increases happiness, having children generally decreases it. People living with small children are the least happy people of all, perhaps because they’re the only ones who haven’t been able to see “True Grit” yet.

My guess is that, at any given moment, parents of young children might not be all that stoked to be cleaning yogurt off the ceiling, or poop off of themselves. But there’s a satisfaction that comes from parenting, a fullness that can’t be earned any other way, except, apparently, from giving your carpet a good going-over. In any event, there does seem to be a general consensus among us breeding types that we wouldn’t go back. Or maybe we’d only go back long enough to take that trip to Scotland, but then it’s straight back to bibs, Boppies and barf.

For the child, the family arrangement is a pretty sweet gig. Imagine, for a moment, that all you had to do was go, “Mwaah!” to set a team of people trying to make you happy, like you were an Indy car with your own pit crew.

“You want food?” they would ask. “Bananas? No? Okay, you loved bananas yesterday. A slice of ham, perhaps, or maybe a grilled cheese? Or maybe you’re tired. Or cold. Or perhaps your ears just popped, or you have a new tooth coming in.”

Meanwhile, you can just sit back and relax. Or scream until they figure it out.

As I wrote the preceding paragraphs, my sister instant-messaged me from her vacation in Jordan. After checking in to see how we were doing, she wrote, “The Bedouin Desert Camp was truly amazing. We just took a jeep tour through the desert.”

Sure, seeing fantastic new places sounds nice and all, but having kids lets you experience new things without leaving the house, like scraping macaroni off the fridge, or watching various electronic devices bouncing down the stairs.

Whatever Harvard psychologists may say, for us, parenthood has been an experience we’d never trade. How else can you have adventures every day, right in your own living room? Without turning on the TV, I mean.

Anyway, the point is that Evan brings us happiness that we could never imagine otherwise. And it’ll only be doubled once we teach him to work the vacuum.

You can drag Mike Todd past the English muffins at

Saturday, January 08, 2011

New(s) flash

I've really enjoyed the baby-shooting camera that we got before Evan was born, a Nikon D40. But the stupid flash broke on it a few weeks back, and I found forums online where a million other people had the same problem. Nikon really should make cameras where the effing flash doesn't bust for no reason.

Anyway, rather than paying 175 bones to fix it, I spent 125 on an external flash that lets you tilt the bulb so you can bounce the flash off the ceiling. After seeing the difference it makes to have that capability, I'm actually kind of stoked that Nikon sold me a flawed unit that crapped out a few months after the warranty expired.

Check out the difference. Without bounce (flash aimed straight forward):

With bounce (flash aimed at ceiling):



We've only had the flash a couple of days, but I think we'll have fun with it. Our flash pictures always looked funky, so we'd kind of stopped messing with indoor shots. This way looks way more natural.

All of this explanation is, of course, just an excuse to post more baby pictures. Toddler pictures? Anyway, roar!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Judging a book with no cover

If I’m going to see any more heaving bosoms around here, I suppose I’m going to have to track them down myself, since my wife Kara won’t be bringing them into the house anymore. The same is true with half-naked pirates, though the loss there will be much easier to deal with.

The blame for this newfound propriety falls upon Kara’s new e-book reader, a Christmas present from her sister, which allows her to download romance novels directly to a piece of plastic, so Kara no longer needs to buy the colorfully covered books that have been festooning various household surfaces for the past several years. Goodbye, barrel-chested Highlanders. Adios, swooning maidens, with your certain body parts swooning more visibly than others. I wish you all much happiness on your voyages of self-discovery and other-people’s-selves-discovery, and I hope you don’t catch a chill.

Fortunately, the adjustment to e-books is made easier by the publishers’ policy of charging the same amount for the vast majority of their books, regardless of the delivery method. This affords you and me the advantage of not having to share in any of the cost savings from e-books. We’d probably just waste our share of the cash on SUVs, Snuggies and high-risk mortgages, anyway.

As much as it doesn’t make that much sense to me that a few electrons should cost the same as a product that has been chopped down, processed, printed, shipped and displayed, I do understand publishers’ desire to protect their intellectual property, and to keep paying writers for their work. I’m especially empathetic because the written word has been quite a gravy train for me over the years. As long as the train is pulling into McDonald’s, and sweet and sour sauce counts as gravy.

“I really like reading books this way. I didn’t think I would,” Kara said as she lounged on my parents’ couch after Christmas.

“Mmm hmmm,” I replied from the other end of the couch, my mouth stuffed full of caramel popcorn. I’d made the mistake of pulling over my parents’ barrel of popcorn from under the Christmas tree, the kind with dividers to keep the different flavors from consorting with each other.

These barrels have been diabolically planned. The saltiness of the cheese popcorn makes you crave the sweetness of the caramel popcorn, which makes you crave the saltiness again, and the cycle continues until your wife notices that you weren’t really massaging her leg, but wiping the cheese powder onto her lap blanket.

“I know you’re just doing that to get the cheese off your fingers,” she said, and I looked down in shame at the half-empty barrel on the floor. Ordinarily, a barrel that size has rodeo clowns jumping out of it, and I’d just mowed through enough of its contents that the dividers were starting to collapse upon themselves. I brushed the multi-flavored debris off my chest and shoved the container back under the tree.

“Look, you can play Minesweeper on here, too,” Kara said, handing me her e-book reader. “I cleared the easy screen in 42 seconds. See if you can beat it.”

After a few attempts, it became clear to me that Kara has missed her calling. With my thumbs clicking the buttons as fast as they could go and my dusted-off neurons firing harder than they had since Calculus II, I still couldn’t get under 50 seconds. More often than not, anyone depending on my minesweeping skills would have been joining me in Davy Jones’ locker, stuffed in there with Davy Jones’ sweaty gym shorts.

Kara should be working on a gunboat somewhere, standing in the crow’s nest, leaning forward with binoculars to her eyes. With her experience, she could quickly clear vast oceans of mines. And also spot any danger from half-naked pirates.

You can wipe your cheese powder onto Mike Todd at