Sunday, April 24, 2011

The clothes make the man crazy

Surveying the pile of old clothing that I needed to bag up and haul off to Good Will, I couldn’t help but feel angry once again at the fashion industry for tricking guys into wearing carpenter jeans while I was in college.

“That looks ridiculous,” I said the first time I saw a friend wearing jeans with a hammer loop partway down the thigh, about two months before I bought my first pair. Eventually, every guy had a hammer loop on his jeans, even though very few of us were building barns. These days, you’ll still see a rogue hammer loop from time to time, the useless vestige of a bygone era, like the wings of a flightless bird, or cursive.

I’ve come to imagine that fashion is, quite literally, a group a people sitting around in a room trying to figure out which clothing items everybody just threw away, so that they can make those items cool again.

“Bellbottoms! Corduroy! Huge sunglasses!” they yelled out at a recent meeting.

“Tight jeans on dudes!” someone called out, and a hush fell over the room.

“Yes, tight jeans on dudes,” someone repeated, slowly, as everyone nodded.

Their diabolical scheme appears to be working. On a recent visit to New York City, I noticed a disturbing proliferation of tight jeans on dudes, which means they’ll be coming for the rest of us soon enough. Apparently we, as a gender, can be convinced to do just about anything. Either that, or we’ve decided to try harder to get someone to objectify us.

Fashion has been on my mind lately, in part because it’s time to clean out the closet, but mainly because we’re coming up on the season when dudes must dress themselves. Your average slob gets enough help during the holidays that he can probably coast through the cold months wearing shirts that somebody else bought for him. But in the warm weather, a man must fend for himself.

“Dude, Abercrombie?” my buddy Jered said recently, pointing at the cargo shorts I’d been wearing since college, implying that my bald spot disqualified me from wearing them any longer.

Jered failed to understand that my ultimate goal with any garment is to get its per-wear cost below one dollar. At an initial cost of forty bucks, after ten years, those shorts probably cost me about a penny per wear, making them excellent performers. My wife Kara has a closet full of shoes that have the same per-wear cost as their original cost. And I suspect that calculating the per-wear cost for some of those shoes would require dividing by zero, a feat I haven’t attempted for fear of creating a rip in the space-time continuum.

As much as it pains me, it’s time for those shorts to go in the Good Will pile, too, knowing that they can never be replaced. A simple stroll past your nearest Abercrombie storefront in the mall will explain why my last pair of their shorts is behind me.

“Pleh! Ew, dude, I can taste the cologne,” Kara said as we pushed the stroller past our mall’s Abercrombie, where they must blow Axe body spray out the door the same way Cinnabon wafts the aromas off its bubbling cauldrons of lard and yeast.

I looked through the doorway to see a photographic mural of an athletic, topless teenage dude, his gigantic nipples following me like the eyes in a painting on a PBS murder mystery.

“It’s too loud in there. How does anyone think?” Kara shouted over the pounding music.

That, of course, is the point. The doorway to Abercrombie is designed to be an assault on the senses of old people. It’s like those ultrasonic shrieking devices that keep gophers out of gardens. Teenagers don’t even notice, but it makes adult heads explode.

You can dress Mike Todd up and take him anywhere at

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When pregnancy and anti-pregnancy collide

“Where’s the little guy?” the sandwich artist asked as he slid my footlong down the line.

“Probably picking up some new viruses at daycare,” I replied. We’d become regulars at this Subway when our son Evan was very small, helping to decorate their floors and walls about once a week with whatever shredded lettuce Evan could get his hands on.

After many visits, we became such VIPs that, not only did they agree to sell us select footlong sandwiches for just $5, but we were also admitted into the elite fraternity of people who know the secret difference between two nearly identical menu items.

“What’s the difference between the spicy Italian and the Italian B.M.T.?” I asked one day as the lady assembled my sandwich.

“There’s no ham on the spicy one,” she replied.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Yeah, I guess that’s it,” she said.

This revelation explained why you so often enter a Subway restaurant to hear someone exclaim, “Yeeeeow! Sorry, I just burned my mouth on this complete lack of ham.”

Anyway, on this visit, the ponytailed sandwich-maker threw my sandwich into the giant toaster and said, “You know, I’m a dad now, too. My son was just born a few weeks ago.”

“That’s fantastic, congratulations,” I said. “What did you name him?”

I expected him to say a new-sounding name, like Aiden, Hunter or Teflon. Naming children has turned into an art form, where giving your kid a name that someone else might already have apparently turns your child from an original work into a print. It makes sense, I guess. In the third grade, I had two other Mikes in my class, and my resale value plummeted.

“Jacob,” he replied, and I was taken aback. A normal name? People don’t do that anymore. Hopefully, he spelled it Jaykob, or else he might have already ruined an otherwise mint-condition child.

Fortunately, we won’t have to worry about the stress of picking out another baby name, as long as my wife Kara’s pregnancy pillow stands guard. A giant U-shaped fortress, the pregnancy pillow conveniently doubles, after childbirth, as an anti-pregnancy pillow, complete with defenses that are, appropriately, impregnable.

“Are you still over there?” I’ll ask Kara from my side of the bed, the full-length pillow between us towering toward the ceiling.

“Shush,” I swear the pillow says as it pushes me into the bedside table.

In any event, the new father at Subway seemed completely enthused about being a dad. We had a nice little talk about his life as he finished making our order, and he was happy to chat about his new family. Afterwards, I realized that it was probably the most personal information that had ever been transmitted to me across a sneeze guard.

A few months later, I stopped back in and saw him again.

“How’s fatherhood treating you?” I asked.

“Great! It’s so much easier than everyone says,” he replied. My face agreed with him, but my brain did not. Many words come to mind when I think of the work that goes into raising an infant. Most of those words are positive and some of them are not printable in a family publication, but none of them are “easy.”

I’d expected to commiserate with him about how tough it is to raise a baby, but instead I searched my mind in vain for any anecdote that might conform with his conclusion about how easy it is to do something so extremely difficult.

“Except every night, he screams for two hours straight, like clockwork. The doctor says it’s colic,” he said, somehow smiling.

That didn’t sound easy at all. I wondered how he wasn’t curled into the fetal position, hiding under a pile of 9-grain honey oat loaves. But then we got distracted and chatted about other things, and in a few minutes, I was chomping away, trying not to scorch my mouth on the absence of ham.

You can write fresh to Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Parenting is such a gag

“I’m losing my mind,” my wife Kara said last week as we drove home from a weekend visit at her parents’ house.

“Hwwwwargh!” our son Evan replied from the backseat, his fingers crammed down his throat.

“No, Evan!” Kara said, whipping around in her seat and grabbing his hands out of his mouth. He giggled and kicked his feet, excited that Mommy was still playing the new game he’d invented earlier in the weekend.

While parenthood holds many joys, there’s not really a great way to prepare yourself for some of its horrors. A potential parent surely knows to dread the changing of diapers, though the reality of that chore has only rarely reached the level of cataclysm that my pre-parenting imagination had once conjured. But if you’ve never had kids, how could you possibly imagine a future that involved lunging into the backseat to keep your child from intentionally barfing on himself? You couldn’t, unless you had the kind of twisted, deranged mind that might be better put to use writing bestsellers.

As soon as Kara settled back into her seat, Evan started playing again.

“Hwwwwargh!” he said, his eyes watering. He’d invented this game on the drive up, two days earlier, which is when we discovered how the game ends if we choose not to take our turn: with a stop at the next exit to change all of Evan’s clothes, and a search for some kerosene to torch his old ones.

“If you pay me attention, I’ll never stop. But if you don’t, I’ll barf all over myself. It’s quite the Catch-22, isn’t it?” Evan said from the backseat, with his eyes.

“We’re never going anywhere again,” Kara said, her head between her hands. “If it’s further than the grocery store, forget it.”

“Can you tie his sleeves together?” I asked, immediately mortified that I was dead serious. Every parenting expert will tell you: when you can’t get your toddler to behave, you should attempt to fashion a crude straightjacket out of his clothing.

“Hwwwwargh!” Evan said.

“Stop it!” Kara yelled, unbuckling her seat belt and diving for Evan’s hands, to his great delight. The dog jumped up from the other seat to lick Kara’s face.

I stared straight ahead, trying to keep focus on the road as pandemonium ensued throughout the vehicle. Before you have kids, you should really have to take the driver’s test again. But this time, the tester should sit in your backseat, gag himself, scream, throw sippy cups at your head and dump full bags of Goldfish on the floorboard. If nothing else, that guy would have the best job in the entire Department of Transportation.

“Evan’s waging biological warfare against us,” I said.

“I think I’m having a breakdown,” Kara replied, buckling back in.

“Hwwwwargh!” Evan said.

To keep the proper perspective, you have to remember that children are not urinal dividers. You won’t always be glad that they’re there.

Once we got home, the Internet told us that we didn’t have anything to worry about. Pediatricians have advised that gagging “is a new sensation for the toddlers! It feels weird and strange to them and wow, what a reaction they get from their own bodies and their parents!”

Still, some parents have taken to dunking their toddlers’ hands in vinegar, which is a variation of a technique we once used to keep our ferret from chewing on our electrical cords. Perhaps, with some time and patience, we could also train Evan to roll over in exchange for raisins.

Already in the past week, just as the Internet promised it would, this phase shows signs of ending. Which is good, because we’ll need to leave the house again at some point; the cupboards have been bare for days. Fortunately, we’ve been able to survive on the Goldfish from the floorboard.

You can refuse to pay Mike Todd any attention at

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Theater of the lost mind

Arm-in-arm, we approached the ticket taker, excited to be out on the town once again. This was our first time in a real theater, the kind with a mezzanine and velvet ropes, since our son Evan was born almost two years ago.

“I hope this goes okay,” my wife Kara whispered to me.

“Enjoy the show,” the ticket taker said, and we followed the crowd inside, ready to take in a matinee performance.

The first indication that we weren’t attending a normal show occurred a moment later, just inside the doors, when an usher turned to us and asked, “Would you like a booster seat?”

“Sure,” I said, taking the foam pad. Evan followed close behind, his arms over his head, grasping the fingers of a grandparent on either side.

“Hey buddy, are we going to see Elmo?” I asked.

“Welmo,” Evan agreed.

Evan had brought his entourage to see Elmo’s Green Thumb, a Sesame Street Live production designed for the more discerning theater-going toddler. The hallways buzzed with hordes of kids sporting $15 Elmo T-shirts and spinning $15 light-up Elmo toys. Elmo’s thumb obviously wasn’t just green because of his gardening acumen. The fuzzy little guy didn’t miss any opportunities to create some commerce. Perhaps the show should have been called Elmo’s Green Palms.

But the price of admission (and accessories) was worth it as soon as the characters started coming out on stage, with Evan waving to Cookie Monster and Big Bird from his booster seat. There was magic in the air as Elmo enjoyed the loudest reception that our nation’s youth bestows upon any non-Bieber entity.

Evan absolutely loved it, for at least ten minutes.

To be fair, that was eight minutes longer than the previous record for anything holding his attention, dethroning a Taco Bell sauce packet.

About halfway into the second musical number, I pontificated on the nature of survival instinct. Is it truly an instinct, or is survival a learned behavior? I began to lean toward the latter as Evan attempted to climb over the mezzanine railing.

“No, Evan,” I said, pushing his knee back down. We were in the first row of the mezzanine, which is a much more relaxing place to be when nobody from your party is attempting to hurl themselves over the edge.

“No, Evan,” I said as he tried again. And again.

“AAAAAHHHHHH!” he screeched, turning around to glare at his unreasonable father, who never lets him do anything fun.

We took turns passing Evan between the four of us, trying to keep him involved in the show. During one of my off shifts, I peered over the railing to see half of the audience playing with its twirly Elmo lights.

“Why don’t kids have any attention spans?” I thought. Then I noticed that the other half of the audience was texting.

Toward the end of the show, I followed Evan as he explored the empty seats at the back of the theater. It would have taken a rig similar to the one from Clockwork Orange to get him to watch the rest of the show from his seat. As he climbed into each seat in row ZZ one-at-a-time, I looked down to see his mother and his grandparents learning important lessons from Elmo about, well, about something, I’m sure. I have no idea what happened after intermission.

After the show, Evan bopped down the sidewalk with a $10 Elmo balloon floating over his head, all smiles. Our first theater experience as parents may have been a bit more aerobic than we’d expected, but we felt a sense of accomplishment for lasting until the final curtain. Still, we’ll probably wait a decade or two before tackling Phantom of the Opera.

You can keep Mike Todd from climbing over the railing at