Sunday, November 25, 2012

When you wait upon a line

“He’ll see you in just a minute,” the woman with the clipboard said, giving us another moment to gather our nerves before heading deeper backstage.

“Is he gonna sign my book?” my son Evan asked.

“I hear he’s nice about signing autographs,” my wife Kara replied, and Evan gripped his pen a little tighter.
The door opened, and we were ushered through.  It seemed so surreal that we were about to come face-to-face with one of the most famous actors in the world, instantly recognizable by his voice, his iconic fashion choices and his big round ears.

“Mickey!” Evan said as the final bouncer waved us in to see the great rodent.

It was our family’s first visit to Disney World, the place where dreams come true, especially if it’s your dream to pay five dollars for a hot dog.

We’d come to Orlando for a wedding, and found that it’s impossible to stand that close to the center of the children’s entertainment universe without being caught in its pull.  Once we landed in Florida with car seats stacked on our luggage then stacked on our strollers, we could almost feel the little four-fingered, white-gloved hands reaching out to grab our children, who were presumably under that pile of luggage somewhere.
Which isn’t to say that our trip to the Magic Kingdom happened spontaneously.  Lunar landings have been conducted with less planning.

“Once we hit Small World, we should grab a FastPass to Peter Pan before heading to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” Kara said in the months leading up to the trip, laptop open, guide book propped on the keyboard, crazy handwritten scribblings falling onto the floor.    

I would nod in agreement as if I understood, because that hardly ever gets me in trouble.  But if I ever took her plan-every-moment style of vacation organizing for granted, I stopped once I saw how much she should be charging for that service.

“Our team of vacation planning professionals customizes your vacation so you can spend your time playing, not planning,” the Disney website says.  All for the low, low (did we mention low?) nominal fee of $300 per hour, plus park admission, minimum six hours.

Whatever line of business you might be in, it is the wrong one.  The world has people in it that will pay $300 an hour for someone to tell them which rides to sit on at an amusement park.  How this is true, I have no idea.  For that kind of dough, you should really be having the kind of fun that would cost you your Senate seat.

But knowing that you have the option to pay $300 an hour to not stand in line sure made me feel a whole lot better about standing in line.  Oh, and we stood in line.

During one part of the trip, we waited in a serpentine line to meet “the real” Buzz Lightyear, with our seventh-month-old wriggling in my arms and yanking the hair of nearby women, while his older brother slalomed between the legs of weary parents.

I looked at my watch and smiled.  “We just saved $300,” I said.

I’d arrived in Orlando with my cynicism firmly in place, thinking of Disney solely as a place where families go to be parted from their money.  And it is that, but it is also a highly efficient fun-delivering, memory-making machine.  That place knows what it’s doing.

After Evan smiled for some starstruck pictures and high-fived a silent Mickey, he walked out of the room staring at the mouse’s signature in his notepad, his new greatest treasure.

“I met Mickey Mouse,” he said, awed.  Suddenly, all the money we’d spent seemed like a bargain.
As it turns out, the fastest way to a parent’s wallet is through their heart.

You can email Mike Todd at  Makes no difference who you are.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

There might be blood

“Aw, no,” I said, averting my eyes, but it was too late.  Because of what I’d just seen, blood would most likely be spilled.  Or rather, extracted.

There, in the middle of the hallway, sat the sandwich board that reminded me of an unfulfilled promise I’d made to a friend.  I make unfulfilled promises all the time, but this one stuck in my head because it wasn’t to my dental hygienist, who must know by now that I’m never going to start flossing, despite my biannual protestations to the contrary.

This promise was to my friend and co-worker Don, who instant-messaged me one day with this: “There’s a blood drive today, and I always give, but I can’t this time because we’ve been to Africa recently (you can’t give if you might have been exposed to malaria during the past year).  Can you give for me?”

The request would have seemed strange coming from anyone else, but Don is the kind of person who thinks you can make the world a better place by doing things to make it better.  It’s an interesting theory, but one that’s really hard to test when you have so many awesome shows in your Netflix queue.  Sorry, world, I’d like to help make you better, but Sons of Anarchy season 4 just came out.

Don doesn’t make excuses, though.  He was probably in Africa digging wells with his bare hands and teaching lions how to read.  One time, he actually talked me into buying a carbon offset for my car, which invests your fee in enough clean energy to erase your vehicular carbon footprint.  It’s a nice idea, but after a year I found an even worthier cause to invest in: our cable bill.

For donating blood, I hadn’t given since senior year of high school, when I gave two pints to get out of a couple of calculus classes.  I’d gladly have sacrificed at least one toe to get out of calculating another double integral, so an occasional offering of blood seemed like a steal.

“I have a presentation to give today, and I’m going to need all my blood for it, but yes, I will donate very soon,” I promised Don.

Two years later (still “very soon” geologically), on a trip to the cafeteria, I happened across the sandwich board announcing “Blood Drive Here Today,” and I couldn’t think of an excuse (though I tried mightily) for not settling my long-unpaid debt.  

The experience was even more memorable than I’d anticipated.

“Why are you putting pink gauze on him?” the guy from the registration table asked a nurse as she wrapped the arm of the guy next to me.

“We’re putting pink gauze on everyone.  It’s for breast awareness,” she replied.  The guy cocked his head and just looked at her for a beat.

If there’s one issue that doesn’t need its own campaign, it’s breast awareness.  For most guys, if there’s a breast within a hundred-yard radius, they’re aware of it.

“Really?” the registration guy asked, smiling.

“Oh, you know what I meant,” the nurse said.

Then she glanced at the bag of blood hanging from my arm and said, “Whoa, that shouldn’t be full yet.  Guess you needed an oil change.”

And with that, it was over.  Two years of pent-up guilt, gone in less than thirty minutes.  The actual donation part took less than five.  Short of mugging a five-year-old, it’s hard to think of an easier way to score free juice and cookies.

In any event, it’s nice to know that there’s someone like Don out there who cares enough to encourage others to be decent, giving members of society.  Which is why I’ve blocked him from instant-messaging me.

You can remind Mike Todd about breasts at 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The ears of the hurricane

“The trees are dancin’” my son Evan said, looking out the window from his air mattress in our foyer.

The wind from Hurricane Sandy had the trees violently dancing and swaying, turning our yard into an arboreal mosh pit.  Some of the trees seemed to be bending in decidedly untreelike fashion, like the inflatable dancing stick figures that must somehow lure people into buying used cars.

“Yeah, they’re getting down out there,” I said.  We hadn’t mentioned that we’d chosen to sleep downstairs in case one of the trees decided to dance its way through our roof.  Evan had just recently gotten over his intense phobia of falling trees after witnessing a tree collapse in our backyard last summer, so if a tree falls in our forest, we don’t make any noise about it.  As far as Evan was concerned, we were having an impromptu slumber party, and he was stoked.

“You asleep yet?” he asked as he bucked like a rodeo bull on his mattress.  Zack, our seven-month-old, tossed and turned in his travel crib.

“Oddly enough, no,” my wife Kara responded.  

Just then, the nightlight, which had been flickering, went dark, and the hum of the fridge went quiet.  Kara and I had been preparing for this moment for the past several months, as any safety-conscious parent would, by watching the first two seasons of the post-apocalyptic zombie show “Walking Dead” from our Netflix queue.    

Survival in a world without electricity is one of the show’s main themes, along with how to properly puncture a zombie’s head so that it will stop trying to feast upon you.  We haven’t really picked up too many practical tips yet, at least none that we might be able to apply without investing in a crossbow, but we’re still watching, just to be safe.  At the very least, the show does give some helpful perspective: no matter how long the power is out, at least you don’t have hordes of undead attempting to devour you.

After confirming that we’d lost power for good, I headed downstairs to start the ritual, with some guilt, of unhooking the garage door from the electric opener and dragging the generator into the driveway.

When I was a kid, part of the fun of a power outage was the silence.  It was one of the rare times when everything went perfectly quiet, except for the sounds of nature, if just for a while.  Nobody had exhaust-spewing, cacophonous gas-powered generators.  We just quietly let all the food in our fridge spoil, and we liked it that way.

Now, as soon the lights flicker out, you can almost hear the pull cords on the generators in our neighborhood being yanked simultaneously, and then the surround-sound roar begins.  Our own generator is just a little 3500-watt unit, but when the engine revs up, it sounds like Satan’s lawnmower.

My decibel-induced guilt isn’t quite as strong as my preference to keep our barbecue sauce in the fridge that expired in 2009 from getting worse, though, so I found myself out in the hurricane adding to the racket.  
On my way back in, I noticed a huge, dead oak tree that had fallen parallel to the house, twenty feet off to the side.  It had dropped a gigantic branch that came within three feet of landing on, or through, our roof.  Somehow, though it must have sounded like a stegosaurus stomping through, nobody heard it fall, including, thankfully, Evan.  Probably because he was too busy stress-testing his air mattress.

We got lucky all around.  Many people affected by the storm and its devastation would probably have chosen a zombie apocalypse instead.  Within a couple of days, though, our lives were back to as normal as they get, and our trees, thankfully, were back to being wallflowers.
You can pop Mike Todd’s air mattress at

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hurricane delay

Last week's weather, as you may have heard or experienced, was not conducive to concentrating on a column.  All is well here now, and I hope it is wherever you are, too.

So, pictures!