Sunday, February 27, 2011

Becoming a maid man

“That’s it, I’m calling a maid service,” my wife Kara threatened as she surveyed the wreckage where our living room probably was. I couldn’t be exactly sure which room we were standing in, since most of our home’s distinguishing characteristics were obscured by colorful plastic objects that sing cheerfully when you stub your toe on them.

“Go ahead and call them,” I said, “But then we’ll have to cut back on our chauffeur’s annual bonus.”

We have this discussion every couple of weeks, ever since our friends recommended a maid service that they’d hired to clean their house before a party. We hired the same service last summer, before our son Evan’s first birthday party, and the experience changed Kara forever.

“You mean, we can abdicate our responsibilities as adults and just pay someone else to clean up the messes we make? This is awesome!” she thought, or something like that.

I think my basic problem with the whole idea (besides the cost, which is my actual problem) is that it seems like a confession that we can’t handle things on our own. When you grow up, you have three basic responsibilities: overpay for cable; remember yourself as a much more attractive twenty-something than you actually were; and if you can’t find any decent YouTube clips to watch, clean up after yourself.

Now every so often, when I’m getting a little too comfortable exercising my self-given right to live happily in squalor, Kara will bring up the maid service, knowing that she’s pitting my sloth against my stinginess. Nobody wants to pay for the privilege of leaving their empty yogurt cups on the couch; living in filth is only fun if you can do it for free.

Of course, even if we did hire the service again, we’d have to clean the house before the maids came over anyway, like the bi-annual flossing you do before going to the dentist.

“We just need someone to give the place a good scrub down,” Kara said. “They do a better job than we do, and they dust everything, too.”

“That’s ridiculous. We do a fine job, and dusting is a chore for people who have officially run out of things to do,” I said, blowing across the top of the credenza to make my point. The resulting dust cloud shut down local air traffic for the afternoon.

Keeping the place tidy would at least be conceivable if we didn’t have a dog and a toddler for housemates.

Last week, Evan sat in his high chair, catapulting applesauce across the kitchen while saying, “Nono, nono! Nono!”

“Where did you get ‘nono’ from, buddy?” I asked. Has there ever been a toddler who learned to say “yes” first?

Just then, our dog Memphis began doing her heaving dance, the one she performs shortly before barfing on the most expensive piece of carpet she can find.

“No no no no no no!” I yelled, throwing the sliding glass door open and pushing the dog out into the snow, but it was too late. Perhaps it should have served as some small consolation that the Mystery of the Missing Crayon was solved at the exact moment that the dog barfed cadet blue on my foot. Or maybe it was periwinkle.

“Nono,” Evan said, smiling.

It’s a wonder Memphis still hangs out with me. If someone threw me into the freezing cold while I was heaving and retching, I’d have a hard time snuggling up to them later. But she trotted back inside without a care and went straight to the spot on the counter where we keep her treats.

When I held out a biscuit, she looked at up me as if to ask, “Got anything in a burnt umber?”

You can make Mike Todd sparkle at

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Treading on thick ice

We’ve finally hit the exact week in winter where the cabin fever has become so severe that I’m tempted to escape from our house by running through the living room wall like the Kool-Aid pitcher. I’d do it, too, but the living room wall just leads into the kitchen, so I’m still tweaking that plan.

All around us, you can see signs of captivity-induced insanity beginning to set in. Last weekend, I saw a neighborhood kid riding a bike around his front yard, on top of a foot of snow. The horrible layer of ice that has otherwise prevented any fun from happening since mid-January kept him from falling through, but I still expected him to vanish at any moment, the way our dog occasionally does when she’s out for a pee.

I have to give credit to the dog for remaining housebroken through this winter. If I fell through the floor every time I stepped into the bathroom, the dining room carpet would start to look pretty inviting.

“Finally, it’s not so cold out here,” I thought last week, standing on the deck in a sweater, waiting for Memphis to return from her visit to the permafrost powder room. Upon re-entering the house, I checked the weather app on my iPod to see how warm it had gotten. It was 13 degrees outside. I rebooted the iPod only to get the same response, which clearly indicated that between me and the iPod, there was some fried circuitry somewhere.

Our toddler Evan has taken to hanging out in the laundry room, the final frontier in a house in which he has drained every single object of its entertainment potential, from Potato Heads to dish towels. For us, this is a welcome reprieve from his frolicking in the dog’s water bowl, which he treats like his own personal Wildwater Kingdom.

Another discovery he’s made recently is the TV. My wife Kara and I have tried to keep him away from it for as long as we could, but during these long winter weekends, much like Simon and Garfunkle’s boxer, there were times when we were so strung out, we took some comfort there. “There” being Sesame Street, of course.

I’m impressed with how little Sesame Street has changed since I was a kid. It’s a little funkier and the effects are better, but the idea’s the same. The biggest change is the appropriation of almost the entire show by Elmo, who is, from what I understand, the love child of Grover and a Snuggie.

“Don’t worry. You just sit back and relax. Elmo will raise your child for you. Ha ha ha!” he says, in our minds.

Big Bird, who used to be the star of Sesame Street, is lucky if gets a cameo anymore. In the dressing room after the show, I picture Elmo tapping Big Bird on the shoulder and saying, “Elmo ruined your career! Ha ha ha.”

Kara and I are well aware that allowing your kid to watch too much TV during the first couple of years increases their chances of having ADD down the road, but we’re not sure what the implications are if your child already has the attention span of a goldfish.

“Hey, look Evan, they’re all learning how awesome sharing can be,” I’ll say, not noticing that I’m the only one still watching the show, and Evan is in the kitchen, putting the remote control in the recycle bin.

In any event, the most recent forecasts show that we might soon have the chance to emerge from the indoors, rubbing our eyes and breathing in air that doesn’t make our respective nostrils freeze together. If not, the next column might be brought to you by the number 1,000, which is how many miles south we’ll be moving.

You can fully winterize Mike Todd at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The sniffling, sneezing, so you can rest column

Everyone talks about Nyquil as if it’s the most powerful drug you can buy without first consulting a doctor or the bad neighbor kid, so I was expecting that I’d either be comatose by now or running naked down the hallway, swatting at mosquitoes that aren’t really there.

Unfortunately, I’m still conscious and maintaining whatever grip on reality I could previously claim. I usually don’t even bother with taking over-the-counter medicine, since whining seems to be just as effective, and much more cost-effective. But this time, I’m willing to try anything, even if it costs five bucks for a pack of twelve near-placebos.

Do you remember when Cash for Clunkers was going on, and they’d pour liquid glass into old cars’ engines to make sure nobody could ever drive them again? Someone has done that to my head.

“Babe, you’re snoring again. Can you go sleep in the guest room?” my wife Kara said last night. Lest she be accused of lacking in sympathy, her head has also been clunkered for the past few days, and it does make sense for the snorer to be the one to take his blankie and his respiratory cacophony elsewhere.

Snoring is a proud tradition among the men in my family, one that thankfully skips over me when my cranial ductwork is functioning. If the situation doesn’t improve soon, though, I might wind up like other snorers in my family, who have to strap pointy cushions to their backs to keep them from rolling over in their sleep. If you ever see one of these Todd men heading to bed after donning their anti-snoring cushion, now you’ll understand why they look like a sleepy stegosaurus.

I was hoping I’d feel a little more festive today, since this is the sixth anniversary of the birth of this column. I suppose that would make it a birthday, not an anniversary, but the point remains that it is indeed possible to write 312 columns without dispensing a single fact or useful piece of advice.

While the vast majority of these columns have been produced shortly after their respective deadlines have passed, the only deadline I ever flubbed altogether happened on the day my son Evan was born, which I vividly recall because I had a really good round of Assassin’s Creed II going that day.

It’s funny how six years doesn’t even sound like that much time anymore. To a ten-year-old, being sixteen is an unimaginably distant future. As you age, though, time accelerates, so that if you put a Mama Celeste pizza in the microwave on your thirty-third birthday, you’ll be forty before the cheese melts.

It might not seem like that much time has passed, but there have been a lot of changes since I started writing this column, mainly that my bald spot has gone from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1. I always thought DEFCON 5 was the worst place to be, but Wikipedia informs me that DEFCON 1 is actually the worst, 5 is the best. Remember that the next time you’re the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

From what I understand of the demographics of my readership, if you’re reading these words, there’s a very good chance that you gave birth to me, married me or spent your childhood giving me wedgies. Even if you’re not one of these people, the very fact that your eyeballs are here is the main reason that this column has survived, and I sincerely thank you.

I’d also like to thank all the editors over the years who have done me the twin favors of dispensing wonderful advice while maintaining generously low standards. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here, and I understand how lucky I am to have had it.

Also, this will be my final column. Not really, but it felt like the ending needed to be punched up a little.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

A flurry of wintry thoughts

At some point, it’s only natural to wonder how you’re going to attach a snorkel to your dog’s face. As the snow continues to pile up in our yard, every pee break for Memphis is becoming more of an adventure, with her nose just poking up above the surface. Another couple of inches and she’ll have to burrow her way out there like Bugs Bunny, popping up in the neighbor’s yard and saying, “Eh, I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

Somehow, even in the midst of the most snow-whomping winter in memory, I find myself rooting for more snow, even though the results are decidedly against my own interests. When you’re a kid, your brain gets wired to think that snow equals freedom and awesomeness, and a rewiring can only occur after several decades of snowfall yielding nothing but traffic jams and herniated disks.

It’s been slightly more difficult to greet the unceasing snow with a childlike enthusiasm lately, since our son’s daycare shuts down when the schools do, forcing my wife Kara and I to work from home in a blur of snow shovels, teleconferences, laptops and Matchbox car derbies. Have you ever tried to get in a full day’s work while chasing after a 19-month-old who refuses to be entertained by PowerPoint presentations? It’s not easy, but Kara and I manage to get by, mostly because we pass Evan back-and-forth all day, playing our own version of hot potoddler.

Whenever snow is forecast during the day, I can count on looking out onto our parking lot at work and seeing half of the cars with their windshield wipers pointed in the air. If I’m not mistaken, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Nobody used to do this. Ten years ago, when I was a student at Penn State, you’d see oceans of cars parked before a blizzard without a single windshield wiper reaching for the sky, probably because lifting your wiper there would have caused all of your parking tickets to flutter into the bushes.

The first time I saw the windshield wiper trick done, I thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea! It must make cleaning off your car so much easier.”

The next time we had snow in the forecast, I proudly raised my windshield wipers before heading into work. That evening, I returned to my car after several inches had fallen. Imagine my surprise when cleaning off the car turned out to be zero percent easier.

I have since run the same experiment in different types of winter storms, and have collected enough data to be fairly certain that putting your windshield wipers up before a storm serves no purpose except to say, “Look at me, everyone! I knew it was gonna snow!”

Which is perhaps better than some be-bowtied weathermen could do, but still seems hardly worth the effort.

In any event, this winter isn’t showing too many signs of letting up on us anytime soon, with more storms in the forecast and Jack Frost continuing to nip indiscriminately. This is great news for kids who didn’t do their homework, but even better news for global warming deniers, who can spend all day posting Internet comments to the effect that even though NASA reported 2010 as the warmest year in recorded history, snow in the Northeast proves that Al Gore was wrong. And also fat.

Even with the pummeling we’ve endured so far this winter, somehow, each time the snow stops falling, I get a little disappointed, partly because the backbreaking manual labor begins shortly after the last flake flutters to a stop, but mostly because being a child with a sled ruined my brain.

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