Sunday, January 29, 2012

An aye for an aye

As I approached the podium, I could feel the TV camera following me, broadcasting every movement to the cable boxes of television sets across the county.  Fortunately, this was a public access channel covering a zoning board meeting, and we were up against American Idol, so my bald spot probably only graced the TV screens of any nearby living rooms where a cat had stepped on the remote.

The guy who went in front of the board before me didn’t say a single word.  He’d just stood at the podium while the zoning board, comprised of four unsmiling faces behind a raised table, mumbled incomprehensibly about ordinances and sideline variances, stopping occasionally to take turns saying, “Aye.”

“Aye.  Aye.  Aye.  Aye,” they said, and that was that.  The guy turned from the podium and walked out the door, presumably to start building a shed too close to his property line.

“I hope ours is that easy,” I said to our contractor David, who’d come to help convince the board that my wife Kara and I should be allowed to transfer lots of money to him.

“The guy on the left didn’t like us last time,” David whispered.

At the previous meeting one month prior, Kara and David had gone before the board to get permission to build a screened porch on the corner of our house, to protect our family from the Predator-drone-sized mosquitoes that can often be seen picking off squirrels in our backyard.

We thought it would just be a formality to get permission from the zoning board, since our proposal only required a variance of a few feet, and the neighbors on the other side of our backyard had agreed that the new structure would in no way impede our mutual ability to not know each other’s names.

Instead, the board grilled Kara and David while throwing out some of their own ideas on the project.

“I think you should put the screen room somewhere really stupid instead,” the guy on the left said, in effect.

“Aye,” the others agreed.

After we’d spent months deliberating and being meticulous about every consideration and detail, the board liked its own solution better, which it had drafted in forty-five seconds without ever having seen our house.

“Are they trying to turn us into libertarians?” I asked when Kara returned to give me the news that the board’s decision would be deferred to the next month’s meeting.

If libertarians ran things, we could build a skyscraper in our backyard if we wanted to.  Then we could run clotheslines out of every window and put sheds on every corner of our lot, with screen porches on everything.  And we could let the grass grow wild, which would help hide us from the roving cannibal hordes.

Anyway, David and I were hoping for a better result at the next meeting, and Kara had enthusiastically embraced taking her turn staying home with our son.  We could have both gone and brought Evan with us, but toddlers these days just don’t appreciate municipal proceedings like they used to.

When our turn came up, David and I stood at the podium and waited for everyone to get done saying, “Aye,” so that we could start discussing our proposal.  The guy on the left rolled his eyes when the discussion started, and I realized that he was our zoning board’s mean judge, who would probably have a British accent.

 Fortunately, we also had a Paula Abdul, who had come to our house in the intervening time and vouched for our plan.  David and I hardly needed to speak.  After a minute of discussion, the board said, “Aye.  Aye.  Aye.  Aye.”

I turned to David.  “Hey, that’s great..”

“Aye.  Aye.  Aye.  Aye,” the board interrupted.  We gathered our papers and left, while the ayes still had it.

You can only have ayes for Mike Todd at

Sunday, January 22, 2012

If only my goose was cooked

“Please don’t attack me.  I can’t even run,” I said as I limped toward the gaggle of geese that stood blocking and fertilizing the path to my car.

The goose on the outside of the circle sized me up, sensed that I was not made of cracked corn, and went back to pecking invisible goodies off the sidewalk.  

I crept around the circle, holding my laptop bag like a riot shield, anticipating an attack at any moment.  The movie “Godzilla” might have featured a comparable scene of Matthew Broderick gingerly stepping amongst hatching radioactive-mutant-dinosaur eggs in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, but I can’t be too sure because my brain pushed most of its Godzilla memories off the shelf long ago to make room for new Dorito flavors.  I recalled that scene with perfect clarity until Blazin’ Buffalo & Ranch came along and then poof!  Gone.

The longtime reader(s) of this column might recall that in the spring of 2010, I witnessed a colleague get assaulted in our office parking lot by a goose.  Out of nowhere, the goose started hissing and flapping its wings at the guy, who was minding his own business a solid 50 feet away from the avian thug.  The goose took off, turning itself into a low-flying missile that detonated right into the poor guy’s upraised duffel bag.  If he hadn’t had that bag and some quick reflexes, that guy might well have found himself covered in various goose bumps and lacerations.

Ever since that day, I’ve regarded the creatures with a good bit more deference.  Besides keeping an eye out for them in our parking lot, I also look for them on menus wherever possible.  Invariably, this leads to disappointment, since hardly any restaurants offer entrees of the one animal I wouldn’t feel guilty eating.  Cows and pigs just seem so nice, plus I’ve never seen them attack anyone outside of an office building.
I’d have no hesitation chomping into a nice McGoose Deluxe, though.  The McGoose: Honk if you’re lovin’ it.  The tagline writes itself.

I winced as I inched past the gaggle, my tendonitis keeping me from sprinting the final fifty yards.  Incidentally, did you know that a “gaggle” refers to a group of geese on the ground, while a “skein” is the appropriate term once they’re in flight?  Whether you choose to remember this, or that Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ Doritos exist, is entirely up to your brain.

The assault I’d witnessed happened in the spring, when geese are more likely to aggressively defend their nesting territory.  The fact that I was easing past a large group of these feathered ruffians in mid-January did little to assuage my fear.  Just two weeks earlier, as we said goodbye to my parents at the end of our holiday visit, I saw something strange and frightening beside their driveway, something that erased the world order as I’d previously understood it.

There, in the flower bed, was a small green shoot poking its head out of the ground.  Then I saw the whole flower bed was full of them, poking up everywhere.  Daffodils should not be sprouting in southeast Pennsylvania on New Year’s Day.  Normally, it’s a happy event to see the year’s first daffodils, but this time, they had more the effect of zombie hands reaching out of the earth.

They were the Annuals of the Apocalypse.  Or Perennials, whichever one daffodils are.  When they were deciding what to call flowers that bloom once versus flowers that bloom every year, why did they pick words that mean pretty much the exact same thing?  Just remember: Annual events happen every year, which is just like what annual flowers do, except the opposite of that.  See?  Easy.

In any event, I tiptoed through the minefield and made it to the car unscathed.  The event made me wonder if we should find better homes for geese than our parking lots and our Wawa signs, though.  Like under our deli counters.

You can throw Mike Todd some cracked corn at

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stuck in translation

I teetered down the stairs, my sleep-deprived brain unable to process the commotion.

“Froot Loops need to be careful something something,” my wife Kara said, meeting me at the last step.

Behind her, our son Evan smacked his cereal bowl with a spoon, spraying milk like he was a drummer in a Blue Man Group rehearsal.  The suction cup on the bottom of the bowl prevented it from launching across the room.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“We really need to be more careful,” she repeated.  “I gave him Kix instead of Froot Loops today.  He looked at the bowl and said that it ‘sucks.’  It really sounds bad when a two-year-old says it.”

Apparently, our self-censoring had failed to bleep at least one of our more colorful word choices.  We’ve been so careful to clean up our language since Evan was born, but we’d neglected to stop using a certain word that is just so useful in describing some things, like the Eagles’ 2011 season, Cablevision, the electoral college, the driving skills of everyone but me and you, January 3-31, and what our vacuum cleaner both does and no longer does, because it’s broken.

I couldn’t picture Evan using that word, but my brain wasn’t firing fully anyway, due to the previous night’s adventures.

Just as I’d been drifting off to sleep, anxious to fend off a cold that had been tickling around my sinuses, trying to find a good place to land, Kara tapped my arm and asked the worst question anyone has ever asked another human.

“Did you move your laundry over to the dryer?” she asked.

I grumbled downstairs to the laundry room, my desire to sleep outweighed by my desire not to have my entire wardrobe smelling like Swamp Thing’s dirty hamper in the morning.

Back in bed, forty minutes passed before Evan started screaming from his toddler bed.  Ahhh, Kara’s turn.  Then, thirty minutes later, mine.

“Lamby fell down,” he reported when I stumbled into his room.  Evan pointed to the lamb doll that had fallen six inches to the floor.  I fixed the Worst Problem in the Universe and went back to bed.

“Finally, some sleep,” I said, pulling the covers back up.

“Why’s the fire alarm blinking like that?” Kara replied.

“It looks normal to me,” I said.

“No, it’s blinking all weird,” she said.

Sure enough, the little green light was blinking in an odd pattern.  Still, I couldn’t imagine the user’s manual would say: “In the event something terrible is happening, your First Alert™ Smoke Detector will blink the Morse Code for ‘GET OUT OF THE HOUSE RIGHT NOW!’ with a tiny green LED bulb that will be invisible unless all the room lights are turned out.”

But Kara was convinced the alarm would sound at any moment unless we took action, so I crawled out of bed again to look up the user’s manual online.  But our Internet was down, which is why Cablevision is on the list of things that su – excuse me, things that aren’t that great.  

In the end, the main thing I learned is that whispering expletives into a phone will impede your ability to navigate your cable company’s automated voice prompts.  And also, that the fire alarm needed to be reset in the morning, when high-pitched shrills were part of the daily routine anyway.

With Kara in her third trimester, I’m worried about how tired I felt the next morning.  It’s like getting winded after a mile when you know you have to run a marathon in three months.

I walked over to check on Evan’s breakfast and his budding potty mouth.

He reached out and shoved his bowl, but because of the suction cup, it didn’t move.

“It’s stuck,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s stuck,” he repeated.  Which is what he’d been saying to Kara.  Turns out, we almost accused him of doing something he didn’t do, which would have really su – been bad.

You can blink “GET OUT!” to Mike Todd at

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Undecking the halls

All that remains of Christmas 2011 is the memories, the love handles and the pine needles stuck in the carpet.  Still, our son Evan isn’t quite ready to give up on it yet.

“Santa comin’ tonight,” he has declared every night since Christmas.

“No, buddy, he’ll come again next Christmas, but not tonight,” I’ll say.

“Okay.  Santa comin’ tonight,” he’ll reply, undeterred.  

Santa’s bigger than Elmo around here now.  Not too bad for someone Evan didn’t even know about until a month ago.  Santa must have an excellent publicist.

Here’s how Evan’s part of the conversation went when we explained the deal to him (paraphrasing): “Okay, so let me get this straight.  A fat man flies through the sky with magic reindeer, lands on the roof, jumps down the chimney and sneaks around the house.  Then he leaves a bunch of presents for me?  Okay, I’m on board.”

Santa managed to deliver some pretty cool toys, even though Evan didn’t provide much input for potential gift-givers to go on.

“What do you want from Santa?” I asked Evan before Christmas.

“Presents,” he replied.

“What kind of presents?” I asked.

“Lots of presents,” he said, displaying a keen ability to grasp the spirit of the holiday.

“Okay, but what are your favorite kinds of presents?” I asked.

“Red ones.  And white ones.  And green ones.  Those my favorites,” he said, listing the colors of sprinkles he’d just used to bury some sugar cookies.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how well you articulate your Christmas wishes when you’re completely stoked to get anything at all.  Evan ooh’d and aah’d at each present for two seconds before jumping back into the pile, tearing at anything within reach.

“Whoa, that one’s not yours!” we’d say, but he’d already be dangling the necklace from his fingers, saying, “Lookit!”

Then he’d disappear back into the pile with wrapping paper scraps shooting into the air.  It looked like there was a dog digging a hole under there.

“That kid need slow down,” the Tasmanian Devil would have said.

Besides a decent haul of loot from Santa, Evan also scored big from his grandparents, whose role at Christmastime becomes that of spoilers-in-chief.

“Vroom!” Evan said, pushing his new grandparent-sponsored racecar through his little town of blocks, speeding right past the cop car I had under my hand.  He didn’t see the speed trap until it was too late.
“Here comes the policeman!  You were going too fast – he’s going to take your money,” I said.

“Take money?” Evan asked, looking sad.  To him, money is the thing that makes the helicopter ride in the mall go up and down, so he’s a big fan of it.

“That’s right, speed demon.  You just got a ticket.  You can show up to your court date or just fork it over now,” I said.  Just as I had the inkling that perhaps I wasn’t encouraging Evan to have the healthiest attitude toward law enforcement, I looked up to see several family members giving me the “what’s wrong with you?” look.

“Babe, why don’t you teach him that the policeman is the good guy?” my wife Kara suggested.

“Sorry, I mean he’s here to help you change your tire, buddy,” I said, but Evan looked suspicious.  His daycare might need a few visits from Officer Friendly to offset our playtime.

In any event, Christmas gets exponentially more fun when you have a kid who appreciates the finer points of getting spoiled rotten.  This year was such a success, we may very well set out a cookie trap again next Christmas Eve to see if we can lure another visit from Santa.  Or maybe we’ll just leave out the cookies that Evan put on the mantel again this afternoon.

You can put some bituminous goodies in Mike Todd’s stocking at

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Goodfather

The scene was straight out of The Godfather, except that the horse’s head lay surrounded by several other equine body parts.

“Dude, that’s one of Evan’s horsies,” I said, pointing at the pile of horse parts between our dog’s paws.

“I did not have anything to do with it,” Memphis said with her eyes, a hoof hanging out of her mouth.  Our son Evan has always been careful about keeping his herd of plastic horses safely stored in its yellow bucket, but the Appaloosa colt must have wandered off by itself.

“Hide it, quick,” my wife Kara whispered.  Our son Evan had his back turned to us as he rifled through his toy basket, so he hadn’t noticed the carnage that had taken place just a few feet away.

I scooped up the horse pieces and discreetly delivered them to the Great Trash Bag under the Kitchen Counter.  When he turned back around, Evan didn’t notice the thinning of the herd, so we played it cool.  I’m not sure how Evan would have reacted if he’d have seen how his favorite horsie went off to live on a nice farm, but it’s a safe bet that it would have been worse than the time Memphis snarfed the zucchini bread right out of his hand.

Though we take horse rustling very seriously at our house, Memphis couldn’t be entirely faulted for this particular indiscretion.  She was temporarily insane because I hadn’t taken her for a walk in about a month, creating a surplus of destructive canine energy with no outlet.  The old-man pains in my left knee had wrecked our nightly ritual, and the little Appaloosa had paid the price.

When you’re young, you’re hurt because you got beaned with a baseball, or you fell out of a tree or you wandered over to see why the firecracker hadn’t gone off yet.  When you get old, you just wake up injured one day.

“Dude, my knee is killing me,” I said one morning, and that was the beginning of my month of limping around.

Being injured isn’t as much fun when you have a toddler in your house.  You have to be careful about how much you complain, which ruins the most fun part of being injured.

“My knee hurts,” Evan announced last week, mimicking my limp.

“How’d you hurt it?” I asked.

“Because,” he replied.  You’d be amazed how many questions can be answered that way.

Kara, now at the beginning of her third trimester, has much more to whine about than I do, but she also has to mind what she says in front of Evan.  He recently walked up to us and announced in his whiniest voice, “I’m craaaampy.”

You do what you can for your children, but in the end, all you can really do is hope that your two-year-old experiences minimal discomfort with his uterus.

A few nights ago, I opened my laptop with our parrot/child in the room.

“Wanna push the buttons!” he said, trying for the keyboard as I brushed his hands away.

“I just need a second to finish this one thing,” I replied.

“Wanna push the buttons!” he insisted.

“Okay, okay.  How do we ask?” I said, surrendering without wanting him to think he’d won.

“Pwease,” he said.  I put the laptop into hibernate mode and pushed the keyboard toward him.

He mashed the buttons with glee, saying “Almost done, almost done, almost done.”

It took me a second to realize that he was imitating me, repeating what I say while I’m on my laptop.

“Push you down the slide, Daddy,” he said, bored with the laptop, motioning toward his big plastic school bus with the little three-foot slide on the back.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

You can bean Mike Todd with a baseball at