Sunday, June 26, 2011

What happens in the Cin City...

As we flew into Kentucky last weekend, I realized that we’d made a horrible mistake.

“Wait, the wedding’s in Cincinnati!” I said.

“The Cincinnati airport is in Kentucky,” my wife Kara replied, shattering the foundations of everything I thought I knew about Cincinnati, namely that it is in Ohio, somewhere between Pittsburgh and Denver.

Snobs sometimes refer to this region as Flyover Country, but the last time I was in Ohio, back when I was a poor student at Penn State making my way west for the summer, Drivethrough Country was a much more accurate term, handily describing both my mode of travel and my culinary proclivities.

Cincinnati was a source of mild annoyance for me through much of my childhood, since that city dressed up its professional baseball players to impersonate my favorite team.

“Hey, the Phillies are on!” I’d yell, flipping through the channels.

“Wait, never mind,” I’d say, noticing that the fans weren’t booing.

Beyond hosting the parallel-universe version of my baseball team, though, Cincinnati hadn’t really entered into my consciousness since the days of WKRP. On the plane, as I thought about that show, I realized that the men of the world can be divided into young and old by whether or not they have, at any point in their lives, thought that Loni Anderson was hot.

“Who?” Kara asked as I explained my theory.

“From ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’” I said.

“What’s that?” she said.

“Exactly,” I replied. Sometimes, the three years between us are a chasm that cannot be crossed, especially when it comes to old sitcom references. Don’t even get me started on her lack of “What’s Happening!!” awareness. You might as well be saying, “Hey, hey, hey,” into the wind.

When we landed in Kentucky, I was most excited to see if their local fried chicken restaurants were abbreviated as just “FC.” But Cincinnati was only a short drive away, so I didn’t get a chance to find out, though I did have the opportunity to grab a local toast-topping delicacy in the airport. It was a big disappointment, though. Like Australians and their vegemite, I think I'll leave Kentuckians with their KY Jelly. That stuff just can't compete with Smucker's.

As it turned out, we found Cincinnati to be a beautiful city with friendly people, interesting architecture, picturesque bridges and even a few hills. It was a perfect setting for Kara’s cousin Shawn to get married, and for all the young couples in the family to get grilled on their future plans, which might not be what a wedding is really all about, but it certainly is a popular pastime.

If you have a significant other, are you getting married? If you’re married, are you having kids? If you have kids, are you having more? If you had a vasectomy, are you getting a dog?

“I have a scientific theory that explains how our species survives,” my cousin-in-law Roscoe said as we passed the ravioli around the table at the rehearsal dinner, after the topic of babies came up.

“You store long-term memories when you sleep,” he continued, “So after you have a baby, a year or two later, you forget all the bad stuff that happened because you didn’t sleep for more than three hours the whole time. That’s when you decide to have another kid.”

Roscoe’s Unified Theory of the Propagation of Humankind may not have been published anywhere yet, but it easily passed the peer review at our table.

In any event, I’d like to dedicate this week’s column to Shawn, Amy and a lifetime of happiness together. And also to my spellchecker. I still have no idea how to spell Cincinnati.

You can assure Mike Todd that you’ve at least heard of Burt Reynolds at

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good rockets make bad neighbors

The instructions on the side of the rockets clearly stated that you were supposed to put them in a hole before lighting the fuse.

“Meh, whatever,” Mr. Gartner must have said before flicking his lighter, setting into motion a series of events that my young brain wasn’t quite prepared to handle, much like the first sex ed filmstrip I ever saw. Incidentally, there should be a similar filmstrip that guys have to watch just before turning 30, one that gives us another heads-up about hair that will soon be growing in new places, like our shoulders and ears.

As Mr. Gartner stepped back from the sizzling fuse, the crowd of assembled neighbors watched as the twenty-five red mini-rockets, each about the size of a crayon, began shooting of their box, screaming into the air and leaving fiery trails behind them.

After about the tenth rocket, it became clear that the instructions had been offering some pretty decent, if unheeded, advice. The box flipped onto its side and started firing rockets indiscriminately toward the spectators.

The “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” turned to “AAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!s” as people ran for their lives.

My mom has no recollection of these events, probably because they happened more than twenty years ago, back when ordering a small soda at a fast food place yielded an actual small soda, rather than a popcorn tub. But I, for one, remember with clarity all the times in my life I’ve had rockets fired at me, and that night at the Gartner’s house ranks among my top ten closest calls with Mike-seeking rockets.

As our neighbors scattered, I froze, stuck to Mr. Gartner’s front steps, because cowardice is sticky. I’m not entirely clear what happened next, since it’s hard to collect data while you’re performing whatever version of duck-and-cover your instincts pick out for you. When the rockets stopped screaming and so did I, though, we found that one of them had whizzed between me and another spectator, landing harmlessly on the front porch.

It wasn’t until I thought about the incident maybe ten years later that I realized that a direct hit from the rocket probably wouldn’t have done much damage. I just always assumed that it was a brush with death that I was fortunate to survive, a made-up fact that I shared at every cafeteria table in a twenty-mile radius. In my version, though, I dodged the rockets in real time, perhaps inspiring at least one Matrix movie.

I was reminded of all of that yesterday, as I mowed over the husk of a recreational mortar that a neighbor had fired into our yard a few weeks ago. I’d have found it sooner, but I like our yard to have that unkempt, Brad-Pitt-between-movies look.

I knew exactly when that Moonbeam Missile landed in our yard, because that was the night that one of our neighbors had apparently said, “Hey, it’s 9:00! Let’s wake up all the babies and terrify all the dogs in the neighborhood.”

“I’m going to call the cops,” my wife Kara said as another crack-sizzle sent our dog under the reclining part of the couch, and we braced for the sound of crying from the baby’s room.

“Are you sure we want to get on their bad side? We already know they have explosives,” I said.

With the exception of the Fourth of July, we’re not the biggest fans of amateur fireworks displays. Even if you didn’t have rockets fired at you in your youth, you automatically become less fond of booming nocturnal noises once you have a sleeping baby in the house. The single solace is that fireworks are kind of expensive, so every boom is the sound of self-absorbed people getting poorer.

Of course, in a few years, our toddler will appreciate the free fireworks shows coming from up the street, or at least what he can see of them from inside his chainmail suit.

You can show Mike Todd the rocket’s red glare at

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Toddlers don’t do solemn

“I could tell from the beginning that Russ and Esther had a special connection,” the maid of honor said into the microphone, while our son Evan delivered a real-time rebuttal from his highchair.

“This! This! This!” he shouted, pointing to the Hershey’s Kiss on the table in front of him as heads swiveled to see where the commotion was coming from. I like to think that Evan was offering his own advice to the bride and groom, letting them know that it’s okay to demand a little sweetness in your life, even if it means you have to loudly beg for kisses at inappropriate times.

I scooped Evan out of his chair and ran through the ballroom doors, a maneuver I could have performed blindfolded by that point.

Earlier, during the wedding, my wife Kara and I passed Evan back-and-forth between our laps, doing our best to keep him entertained as the solemn ceremony proceeded. Toddlers do a lot of things well, such as turning applesauce into spackle, but solemnity isn’t one of their known strengths.

As Russ and Esther exchanged vows, Evan tugged on the large bow tied to the seat in front of him.

“That’s a bow,” Kara whispered.

“Bow? Bow! Bow!” Evan shouted, proud of his new word.

“Be solemn!” I whispered, to no avail.

“Bow! Bow! Bow!” he screamed.

We were sitting in the corner seats of the row closest to the door, an area that should probably be labeled as the Escape Hatch. Perhaps, someday, forward-thinking wedding planners will equip those seats with eject buttons, but in the meantime, I’ll continue packing my own starting blocks in Evan’s diaper bag. I achieved a personal best as I dashed for the ballroom doors with Evan under my arm. He continued yelling his favorite new word all the way out the door, graciously giving the other guests a free demonstration of the Doppler Effect.

We’d traveled to State College for the wedding, the town where Kara and I first met. We hadn’t been back in many years, and it was a surreal experience visiting Penn State’s campus with our son.

Every place we visited was packed with memories from an existence so alien to the one our family is living now, one in which the evening didn’t get started until at least two hours after our current bedtime.

As we walked down College Avenue with Evan holding his arms over his head, clutching one of our fingers in each hand, I half-expected a version of me from a decade ago to round the corner, stop dead in his tracks and say, “Wow, Kara married me?”

We’d high-five and spend a moment reveling in how we pulled that one off.

“And dude, is that my son?” he’d say. “He’s adorable! Oh, this is so awes -- wait, is that my bald spot, too?”

In the end, Russ and Esther’s beautiful wedding went off without a hitch, or with one very successful hitch. My only worry is that the huge candy table at the back of the ballroom – a rainbow-colored festival of sugar and chocolate that would have made Halloween jealous – might have overloaded Evan’s brain.

“This! This! This!” he murmured throughout the day, no matter where we were, pointing at the candy table that only existed in his mind.

Also, as it turns out, a pleasant side effect of bringing your toddler to an afternoon wedding, besides the opportunity to poach his leftover chicken fingers, is that his naptime will force you to make a graceful exit before you have a chance to execute the Blend-Into-the-Crowd Shuffle on the dance floor.

You can throw Mike Todd out of your ballroom at

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The itchy & scratchy show

I’m pretty sure our son Evan is going to play major league baseball someday, if only for his highly advanced scratching abilities.

“He’s really going to town,” I said a few mornings ago as Evan delivered a performance that Lenny Dykstra might have been hesitant about giving in public. Evan had always displayed a predilection for big-league scratching, but this time, he was really putting some extra mustard on it.

That afternoon, his daycare provider said, “Evan seems a little itchy today. I think he might have a yeast infection.”

I was shocked, mostly because I didn’t know that was possible. I’d have guessed that he had a better chance of acquiring his own daytime talk show.

“She knows he’s a dude, right?” I asked my wife Kara on the walk to the car.

“Guys can get them, too,” Kara explained.

It’s amazing, the things you can manage not to learn by the time you turn thirty-three. That guys can get yeast infections, for instance, or that peppers are officially a fruit, or that the word “ramekin” exists.

“Can you get me the ramekin out of the cupboard?” Kara asked a few months ago.

“You just made that word up,” I replied.

Now I can’t step out the door without hearing someone mention ramekins. Ramekin this and ramekin that. It’s strange to hear so many references to an object that wasn’t even invented until late February.

In any event, we took Evan to his pediatrician the next day.

“It’s jock itch,” she said.

“Nice work, Buddy!” I wanted to say, but it didn’t seem appropriate in front of the doctor. Still, it was hard not to be proud. He’s not even two years old, and he already itches like a professional athlete.

Actually, Kara and I both felt guilty for not bringing him in sooner. We thought he’d been spending the last few days preparing to moonwalk or be a center fielder, when he’d actually been trying to tell us something pretty important. Perhaps it should have been a tip that his favorite three words were truck, bus and itchy.

“Evan, no, you don’t need BBQ dog bones. Or eye drops. Or incontinence pads,” I said, chasing him around the CVS as we waited for his prescription to be filled. “Well, not that kind of incontinence pad, anyway.”

“Or fish oil pills. Or wrapping paper. Or eyeglasses,” I said, pushing his hands down to his sides.

We’d played with the sparkly hula hoops and the beach toys. We’d ridden in multiple shopping carts. We’d said hi to every stranger in every aisle. But Evan was like a shark, needing forward motion to keep him alive, and stopping him from destroying any of the millions of colorful objects within his reach was becoming impossible. I’d done everything I could to keep him entertained, but he was hungry, tired and jock-itchy, all the ingredients for a perfect tantrum.

When I picked him up to inquire how much longer we’d have to wait, Evan erupted into a series of shrieks that nearly knocked the inspirational literature off the nearby rack.

“Mr. Todd?” the pharmacist asked from the back, freshly inspired to hurry our order along.

Anyway, the medication worked in a matter of hours, and Evan is back to scratching like an amateur. That’s very good news, but I feel like he may have lost some of his competitive edge. If he’s going to play ball someday, it looks like he’ll have to get there based on his other abilities. Fortunately, he’s already working on his throwing arm, practicing his fastball by hurling meatballs and iPods around the house.

Also, CVS really needs a jungle gym.

You can use Mike Todd as a scratching post at