Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Change you can put in

*Apologies for the slight hurricane delay. If the storm affected you at all, I hope all's back to normal now.*

“I married the cheapest man on Earth,” my wife Kara said as our son Evan sat in the lifeless toy helicopter at the mall, mashing the coin return buttons.

“I’ve probably saved enough money to pay for his first year of college by not pumping quarters into these things. Besides, as far as he knows, the coin returns are the main event. He’s having a ball in there,” I said.

As if sensing an unmet potential for entertainment, Evan pointed to the slot that accepts coins with one hand and tugged on my shorts with the other.

“Put in,” he said. And with that, the jig was up.

“Who taught him that?” I asked. If there’s one thing I try to teach my child, it’s how to remain ignorant about pastimes that require money to be fun. If I have anything to say about it, he won’t find out about ice hockey until he turns eighteen.

“My parents let him ride on the chipmunk at the ice cream place, and they actually put quarters in,” Kara said.

“Put in,” Evan agreed.

As Kara and I pumped three (three!) quarters into the toy helicopter to make it bob up and down for thirty seconds, I realized that we’d just passed into a new, coin-operated phase in our lives. Evan, for one, seemed happy to be there.

At least he did at first. His face lit up when the ride started, but after a few moments, our little helicopter pilot looked focused and determined, gripping the controls like he was attempting a foggy nighttime landing. With toddlers, you often can’t tell how much they’re enjoying something until you attempt to extract them from it. The resulting decibel level is directly proportional to the amount of fun they were having ten seconds ago.

We were eventually able to coax Evan out of the helicopter without too much fuss, and in a moment we were heading down the mall towards the escalators, or, as I like to call them, the poor man’s merry-go-round. The escalators may not have prancing plaster ponies and festive carnival music, but what they lack in flash, they make up for in cost-effectiveness.

“Babe, not again,” Kara said as Evan and I rounded the corner for our third trip upstairs.

“More!” Evan said as we carefully stepped back onto the magical growing stairs.

A pleasant byproduct of Evan refusing to sit in his stroller anymore is that we’ve been freed from the shackles of mall elevators. Over the past couple of years, Kara and I have learned the location of every mall elevator in a fifty-mile radius, including the ones hidden deep within the bowels of Sears. Now we no longer have to wander down those creepy beige hallways by the forsaken bathrooms, wondering if we’re walking down the very hallway where once, many years ago, Roebuck disappeared, never to be heard from again.

At the regular elevator out in the middle of the mall, you’d be surprised how many people wait in line through several cycles to ride the elevator for no obvious reason. No stroller, no wheelchair, just a dude standing there, eating an ice cream cone, taking up space that could be used by someone who needs it. From what I can tell, our society has achieved such a level of sloth that many of us can’t even drag ourselves the extra ten yards to the electric stairs.

Now that I’ll be spending the majority of my rainy weekend afternoons riding the poor man’s merry-go-round, perhaps I should be thankful for the extra elbow room, at least until Evan gets bored and wants to do something else. Which brings me to my point: Can I bum a quarter?

You can rock Mike Todd back-and-forth until he gives you your money back at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The ding-a-ling’s speech

As I took the sheet of paper out of my rented tuxedo pocket and cleared my throat, I tried not to dwell on the sea of formalwear spreading out before me, its inhabitants waiting patiently for a speech.

My body responds physiologically to public speaking the way a normal person’s body responds to being tasered, with the attendant loss of control of multiple organ groups. Fortunately, my bladder has always hung in there, but as the microphone quivered under my chin, weaving back-and-forth as if getting an early start on the Macarena, I realized that the circuits connecting my hands and my brain were already fried.

Fortunately, I’d folded the page containing my speech into quarters. One lesson I’ve learned the hard way: If you’re giving a speech, never give it from a loose-leaf sheet of paper. Once your hands start shaking, a full sheet of paper becomes a flopping rainbow trout that you’re grasping by the tail.

“It is my great honor to be speaking to you today,” you’ll begin.

“Flap, flap. FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP!” your speech will say as it jumps out of your hands and wriggles into a nearby creek.

Some people will tell you that it’s helpful to picture members of the audience naked. The male mind pretty much does this by default anyway, so that advice doesn’t really help.

I found myself in this fix because, at great risk of forever tarnishing the superlative, my buddy Derek had asked me to be the best man at his wedding two weekends ago.

That’s a lot of pressure to ask a friend to absorb. Not-too-shabby man? I could handle that. But best man? That sounds like a superhero that never really caught on. Plus, the only way I’d ever honestly describe myself as a “best man” would be if I could add some heavy qualifiers in there, like, “I’m the best man standing in line at this Taco Bell at the moment.”

But just plain best man? Of course I was honored to be asked, but I was far more nervous to be Derek’s best man than I was to be the groom in my own wedding.

For the groom, your main responsibilities are to brush your hair, dress yourself and show up on time, basically all the things you were expected to do for your first day of kindergarten.

The best man has to deliver a speech to a ballroom full of people, treading a fine line of threatening to embarrass the groom without actually saying anything bad about him, all while being funny, touching or both. And he must do all this even if he is the kind of guy who gets nervous and flubs his order at the drive-thru.

Here’s a little excerpt from my toast, which helps to explain why single-occupancy rooms in college are so popular:

“One year, Derek and I shared a townhouse with four other guys, and the only way those four guys and I could survive on our own was to forage through Derek’s cabinet and eat his Doritos. Derek just wanted to keep his private Dorito stash, but every time he bought a bag, we’d wait ‘til he was gone and plow through them. Eventually, Derek put a Kryptonite bike lock through the handles of his cabinets. I think the low point of his college career might have been the time he came home to find his cabinet doors locked together, sitting on the floor with their hinges removed, with an empty Doritos bag on the coffee table.”

At that point in the speech, I handed Derek a new bag of Doritos, hoping to make amends. I learned from Gallagher and Carrot Top that good props can make up for bad jokes.

Anyway, despite any speech-giving travesties that may have occurred that day, Derek and Becky got off to a great start. I probably shouldn’t have eaten their new bag of Doritos, though.

You can help Mike Todd figure out how to work his cufflinks at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The thundering hoarders

“At least I don’t leave yogurt in the credenza,” can become a rock-solid defense of your personal cleaning habits, but only if you’ve properly level-set your spouse by making her sit through a few episodes of the show “Hoarders” first.

“I don’t think I can watch this anymore,” my wife Kara said as the reality show cameras paused for a moment on a hoarder’s bed, which was adrift in a sea of soda bottles and Taco Bell wrappers, with a liberal dose of rotten ground beef and tortillas stirred into the mix, just begging for the right rodent infestation to come along and making our own boxer-short-festooned bedroom look spotless by comparison.

Kara and I had been trolling through our viewing options via our Netflix instant-streaming account, and the only two choices were “Hoarders” and the 1993 season of “Beavis and Butthead,” which was once considered to be a low point of our civilization, until the next two decades happened.

Watching “Hoarders” was the best choice we’ve ever made, but eating dinner during an episode might have been the worst. It’s difficult to chew while watching an old lady scrape a rotten pumpkin off her living room floor, reaching into it to retrieve a few seeds for future potential use. I could feel my stock price rising, though, as Kara began to understand that there are worse things than leaving a few dishes on the couch. No show on TV serves as a better bar-lowerer.

Inspired by the show, I decided to tackle the closet under our stairs, which had begun requiring ever more inventive door-shutting techniques to avert a total trashalanche.

To be fair, the stuff in that closet wasn’t all trash. It was half-trash: stuff that you don’t need, and probably never will, but you can still construct elaborate future scenarios where it might come in handy someday.

That iron that’s still in the box, even though we already have one upstairs? What if Kara and I both had to iron something at the same time, even though we only have one ironing board that neither of us knows how to unfold?

Unused brackets for window blinds. Karate pads that haven’t heard a good “kiyup!” in twenty years. Cables for computers we no longer own. A VHS copy of “She’s All That.” A George Foreman Grill.

Each of these things has no power on its own. If you don’t throw it or give it away, though, your half-trash will join forces with itself like the lion-shaped robots from Voltron, fusing together to become an awesome super-robot that your neighbor Louie will have, but you never will.

This super-robot will crawl into your storage space and grow stronger, adding your microwave from college to its biceps and your old ferret toys to its pecs. Also, it will have the face of Freddie Prinze, Jr., which will make it even more terrifying. Eventually, you’ll be too scared to open the closet door, and you’ll start storing stuff on the kitchen table, which is the first step to earning a guest appearance on “Hoarders.”

Determined to avoid that fate, I threw myself into our closet last week, dismantling our super-robot piece-by-useless-piece, throwing away everything that didn’t beg for mercy and setting the rest aside for Good Will. At the back of the closet, I found three large boxes that had been moved to two apartments and two houses, but never opened.

Inside those boxes were Kara’s old college textbooks, which I distinctly remember lugging into our first house ten years ago.

“I might want to look at them again,” she said, as my discs audibly herniated.

Those books won’t be causing us any more problems. They’re sleeping with the Prinze, Jrs.

You can toss Mike Todd to the curb at mikectodd@gmail.com.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Getting our goat on

Here are some shots from our visit to Sinon Farm and their little petting zoo last weekend. Evan voted to stay there forever, but we're back home now.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Adventures of Squirrel Boy

“This isn’t going to be pretty,” my wife Kara said as we approached what would be our prison for the next several hours.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, but we both knew it wouldn’t be.

“More nuts,” our son Evan replied, scanning the lawn of the restaurant for anything vaguely nut-shaped.

A month ago, my sister Amy took Evan around my parents’ front yard, collecting walnuts. Since then, nuts have become Evan’s obsession, transforming him into an insane toddler-squirrel hybrid.

“More nuts,” he says anytime he’s outdoors or can see the outdoors, applying the phrase to anything from pinecones to crabapples. For Halloween this year, we’ll probably just throw a top hat and monocle on him so he can be the Planters peanut.

Incidentally, why are monocles associated with rich people? Seems like if they were really that rich, they could afford the other half of their glasses.

On this occasion, we were bringing our little squirrel into a fancy restaurant for dinner with extended family on our last night of vacation in Maine. Given certain family members’ proclivities for screaming loud enough to knock the signatures off the wall art, Kara and I had recently given up on sit-down restaurants, boycotting any establishment that didn’t stick a toy in Evan’s meal box.

We lifted the moratorium for this night, though, completing a reservation for eighteen people and figuring that Evan’s little cousins could help keep him entertained. Ninety minutes in, the appetizers hadn’t come yet. His cousins could have juggled flaming bowling pins while singing Elmo’s entire song catalog and it wouldn’t have been enough. Apparently, in the fine dining establishments of the Maine backcountry, people only move fast if a moose is chasing them.

If you’ve never sat through a long dinner with a toddler, for a rough approximation of what we were experiencing, try keeping a Tasmanian devil contained to a wooden stool with a waist strap. You can also bribe him with Goldfish crackers.

Fortunately, the restaurant was converted from an old farmhouse, so the grounds had been designed to corral wild creatures. Various gracious family members took turns running around with Evan outside as he continued his quest for nuts. Two hours in, though, the rain started.

Searching for something on the covered porch that might keep Evan entertained and dry for a moment, I pointed at the only thing I could find.

“Look, Evan, a dead moth!” I said.

His cousin John came running over to check it out. Kids may have iPads and Nintendo DSs these days, but it’s nice to see that a good dead bug hasn’t lost its kid-attracting power.

Just as Evan arrived, John attempted to pick up the moth. It broke into two large pieces.

“Ew!” John said as he ran off, leaving the two pieces on the floor.

“Apart!” Evan said, distressed, pointing at the pieces.

“Yeah, it came apart,” I replied.

“Apaaaart!” he said.

“It’s not alive anymore, buddy. I bet he had a good life, though,” I said, looking to see if Evan understood.

“Sad,” Evan replied. He’d never used that word before, and I didn’t know he knew it. It’s always a shock to see the sensitive side of a person who, just moments earlier, had shrieked you out of your share of the nachos.

I realized that Evan and I were having a very serious conversation, and I struggled with the correct words to explain such weighty things to a person who thought the world mainly consisted of brightly colored singing puppets.

“Well, buddy, life is complicate…” I said.

“More nuts!” Evan interrupted as he ran off the porch into the rain, concluding our discussion. I hope the birds and bees talk goes that easy, too.

You can put a toy in Mike Todd’s meal box at mikectodd@gmail.com.