Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sometimes, the gym hits you back

If these words appear to be written by someone in peak physical condition, it’s only because we just put a new elliptical machine in our basement, and the effects are starting to kick in. I haven’t actually used it yet, but with the amount of money my wife Kara just spent on this machine, I’m already feeling the burn.

Actually, it’s kind of nice knowing that the machine is down there. Just being in proximity to exercise equipment makes you feel like you’re in better shape. It’s a similar theory to how just smelling doughnuts makes me fatter, because then I eat them.

As Kara has noted several times, we’re going to save money on this deal. She just quit the gym, so with no more monthly membership fees, we’ll break even on this purchase sometime around the Tuesday before the sun burns itself out.

You might notice that I only mentioned Kara quitting the gym. I tried to quit, too, but we ran into some murky issues when it became apparent that I’d never been there before. The gym is a place I’ve avoided ever since teachers stopped making me go there, in part because it’s a fundamentally dishonest place, designed to fool your body into thinking it needs more muscles than it actually does, and in part because of all the oddly unashamed naked people wandering around.

“This lady was just standing there naked,” Kara reported after a recent visit to the locker room. “Like, not to get changed. She was just chatting and hanging out as if she had clothes on.”

In my limited gym experience, it seems that one’s proclivity for walking around naked is directly proportional to how many years a person has under their nonexistent belt. I’m not sure if this is a generational phenomenon, perhaps inspired by gym classes of yesteryear in which kids were comfortable showering and changing in front of each other, or if you get to certain point in life when you think, “You know what? I’m going to wander around for a while before I put my pants on.”

When you go to the gym, you’re telling your body that you need more muscle to perform your daily activities. But if that was true, wouldn’t you have those muscles already? The cavemen who needed to catch animals ran faster because they were chasing animals all day. The ones who needed to carry rocks got stronger from lugging rocks around. The ones who developed caveman software got flabby. And they were happy with that, until their systems crashed and they got the Blue Rock of Death, which was much more gruesome than its modern counterpart.

So Kara and I have called another piece of exercise equipment into being. I’m not saying we won’t get our use out of it, but the vast majority of these dust-collecting basement-dwellers are born of hope, only to die of neglect. Perhaps the lone exception is my dad’s old exercise bike, which was purchased in 1971 with three pinto beans and an extra scratchy burlap sack, and which he still rides several times per week. That thing has more miles on it than Air Force One.

We might as well decide we like having the machine in our basement, since it’s four inches wider than the only exit door. I’m pretty sure the delivery guys welded it together down there, creating our very own ship in a bottle. People may come and go from this house, but that machine isn’t going anywhere without a long visit from a blowtorch and a hacksaw. Hopefully, when we stop using it for exercise in a few months, it’ll make a nice drying rack. And I can always use the cup holder in front for my chocolate shakes.

You can snap Mike Todd with your towel at

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thirty going on therapy

“I think I’m having a premature midlife crisis,” my friend Josh wrote to me last week, his nerves fraying from the pressures of work and parenthood. Josh isn’t the kind of person to complain, so I understood that he must have been in serious need of a sympathetic ear.

“Don’t worry, man,” I told him. “It’s not premature.”

It’s a strange phenomenon that the better friends you are with someone, the worse of a person you can be toward them.

“I don’t feel like you’re taking my MLC seriously,” he responded. At that moment, I realized the severity of the situation. If you’re planning on saying “midlife crisis” so much that you can save yourself a significant amount of time by acronyming it, you probably need your friends to act more like friends, and less like the people who used to draw anatomical diagrams with Sharpies on your face when you’d been drinking too much. (Note to our children when they’re old enough to read this: Drinking too much warm milk.)

“Let’s catch up on the phone soon. If that doesn’t sound like a plan, you could always just purchase a car with eight cylinders,” I replied.

I recently bumped into an acquaintance from college who overachieved on his own midlife crisis by purchasing a car with twelve cylinders. That’s at least 50% more cylinders than the average fragile male psyche requires.

“You know, there are twelve cylinders in there,” he said, pointing at the hood.

“What a colossal waste of gas,” I thought.

“Cool car,” I said. I had to be nice, since we weren’t really friends.

When Josh and I finally caught up on the phone the next day, he said, “Remember when we used to complain about having a quarter-life crisis?”

A quarter-life crisis happens when you worry about getting a job after you graduate. A third-life crisis follows shortly thereafter, when you worry about getting married, having kids or how you’re going to avoid doing either one.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Josh, who is gainfully employed, happily married and frantically child-rearing, that once you’ve weathered the 1/4- and 1/3-life crises, any subsequent crises must be of the midlife variety, since we’ve run out of denominators greater than two. Nobody has a two-fifths-life crisis.

Really, though, I have a hard time mustering sympathy for anyone who gets well into their thirties without even a hint a bald spot, as Josh has done.

“I lost my job,” a friend will say.

“But you have a full head of hair,” I will reply, as if this evens things out.

As a small group of friends drove to lunch last week, our friend Judi commented from the backseat, “Nice haircut, Mike,” which was clearly a setup for a punchline.

“Thanks,” I said, bracing myself.

“You can barely see the combover anymore,” she said.

As someone who has been ever-vigilant about striking down proto-combovers when they appear in the bathroom mirror, I took great umbrage at the suggestion that I’d ever let one take root. Still, as my hair continues its great migration from my head down to my shoulders, I am developing a new understanding for how Giulianiesque cranial situations occur. A couple more hairs jump the part every day, innocently enough. Repeat this process for years or decades, though, and your ear becomes the only thing stopping your part from sliding right off your head altogether.

The good news for Josh is that even though he got no sympathy from me due to his unfair follicular advantages, his crisis appears to be short-lived.

“Everything’s fine. I’m just stressed out at work, but that should get better in the next few weeks,” he said.

If not, he can always count on a little extra support from his friends. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the dealership.

You can invite Mike Todd to combover at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The roof might be on fire

Last week, for perhaps the first time in my life, I paid attention to the stop sign in our neighborhood, mainly because I was on foot. I still didn’t come to a complete stop, but I did break stride for a moment when I saw this message about halfway up the signpost: “Welcome. This is a neighborhood watch community.”

Was anyone going to tell me? We’ve lived here for almost four years, and our neighbors have gone dangerously unwatched the whole time.

“I’m a little offended nobody’s tried to deputize us,” I said to the dog as we rounded the corner, scanning the horizon for any suspicious activity.

While we didn’t find any crime out of which to take a bite, I did notice that several of our neighbors still had Christmas trees at the ends of their driveways. The trees had been buried for the past couple of months, just recently left behind like old mammoth bones as our own personal glaciers finally began retreating. The bedraggled things sure didn’t look too festive anymore. Perhaps their owners could stick some Guinness cans in their branches to turn them into St. Patty’s trees.

In any event, you’d think the Neighborhood Watch would be banging at my door to sign me up, since I’d recently invited half the emergency response vehicles in the county to come visit us.

Several weeks ago, when the snow was still deep enough that you could only be halfway sure that your patio furniture was still under there somewhere, I took the dog out for her morning constitutional at about 6am, shortly after the toddler had crowed. As soon as I stepped onto the deck, I heard, “Beep beep beep beep beep,” coming from the neighbor’s house.

A moment later, I reemerged from the house in snow boots and jammies to figure out what was going on. The best detective work is always done in flannel pants.

In a few minutes, I’d determined that our neighbor’s fire alarm was going off, and either they weren’t home, or they slept wearing air-traffic-controller earmuffs.

Fortunately, they’d given me their cell phone number, so I called them and found out that they were away for the weekend.

It’s funny how when you tell someone, “Don’t worry, I don’t see any smoke billowing out of your windows,” it doesn’t really seem to stop them from worrying.

After I took a stroll through their house and couldn’t find anything wrong except the cleanliness of our own house by comparison, we decided that I should call the fire department. I got the answering machine there, so I had to call 911 for the first time in my life.

“Hi, this isn’t really an emergency, I don’t think,” I started.

A few minutes later, a cop car rolled up. I made an excellent sidekick.

“That beeping? That’s what tipped me off,” I told him.

“We should really stay out here, in case it’s carbon monoxide,” he replied, and suddenly, I was even more relieved than usual to still be alive.

A few minutes after that, a fire truck roared into their driveway. You might not realize this until you’re standing next to one, but you never really lose the awe you had as a three-year-old for fire trucks, especially if you’re still wearing your jammies.

“They’re lucky to have a neighbor like you,” one of the firemen said before heading inside, apparently not familiar with my “The Wind Will Take Care of It” leaf raking strategy.

Still, getting complimented by a firefighter felt pretty awesome, like I was a kid he’d just let borrow his hat.

“Thanks, Mister,” I almost replied.

In the end, the problem turned out to be a fire alarm that was dying, but didn’t feel like going quietly. So my vigilance didn’t actually stop anything bad from happening, but I fully expect to be invited the next time our Neighborhood Watch forms a posse.

You can let Mike Todd borrow your hat at

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Awesome by omission

A colleague I’ve always respected retired this week, after forty fruitful years spent basking under fluorescent light tubes.

“Don’t worry, that will be us before you know it,” another colleague said to me, smiling.

“I sure hope so,” I replied, then immediately thought that was the most depressing thing I’d ever said. Yes, let’s just skip the next thirty years and cut right to the retirement cake, especially if it has a chocolate pudding layer.

I do envy certain aspects of retirement: freedom from worrying about professional calamities, getting to watch Judge Judy in real time and having plenty of time to spend with the people who really matter – your Facebook friends, who would like you to know that they finally rented “Inception” and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Also, they could use your help wasting their lives in Farmville.

Retirement sounds like an awesome never-ending snow day, but the tendency to wish away all the time in-between seems unhealthy to me. Every time somebody retires, the people with long careers ahead of them make comments about being jealous. Perhaps this is just polite small talk, but if not, this sentiment is the saddest thing since the ending of Old Yeller, which I’ve never seen, but I have on good account that it was the saddest thing to have happened since 1957.

If young people are unhappy now and wanting to fast forward to their mid-to-late-sixties, it might just be Facebook’s fault. My wife Kara and I recently read an article that said Facebook is making us all miserable by making everyone else look so happy. Since people only post pictures that show themselves having a fabulous time, we assume that everyone else’s life is more fun than our own. People with toddlers are especially susceptible to this phenomenon, since they are far more likely to have recently suffered an exploding diaper incident, which makes everyone else’s pictures from Paris look that much more awesome by comparison.

That article got me thinking about how my life would appear to someone who only saw the pictures I posted online, which mostly feature our son Evan doing something adorable or our dog Memphis romping through the snow.

A few nights ago, exhausted from caring for a toddler with an ear infection and mild bronchitis, Kara and I pulled up the covers and turned out the lights, collapsing into the pillows.

“Finally, some rest,” I thought. Just as I was losing consciousness, I heard the sound of a bubbling cauldron. In a moment, I snapped awake, realizing that the cauldron was in our room, and it was our dog’s stomach. I opened my eyes just in time to see the silhouette of Memphis barfing in our doorway.

The regular reader(s) of this space might note that Memphis also barfed in last week’s column. If this is becoming something of a recurring theme, it is only because I am just now beginning to understand the full power of the ancient Sicilian curse: “May your dog have a sensitive stomach. And also, may your toddler throw the vast majority of his food on the floor.”

As I stumbled into the kitchen to retrieve some paper towels and carpet cleaner, I didn’t take a single picture, making our lives seem that much more awesome by omission.

To give the world a more accurate sense of our lives, after taking some pictures of Evan holding his mommy’s hand and laughing, I’d also need to take a picture of him screaming and arching his back so that I can’t fasten the car seat straps across his chest. It’s just that it’s really tough to get a good clear shot with all that struggling going on.

You can fast forward past this column at

Less splish, more splash