Monday, May 27, 2013

Stepladder to heaven

Right up until I fell off the stepladder, I felt like things were going pretty well.

The previous few days had built up my confidence, with our bedroom torn asunder exactly as we’d planned.  Our furniture sat stacked in the hallway with a thin aisle running down the middle, just like a hoarder’s house, except with a few less balled-up burger wrappers festooning the proceedings.

We were undoing the damage done by our house’s previous owners, the ones who decided that there’s no such thing as too much yellow floral wallpaper, especially if that wallpaper features berry clusters with little birds flying around.  Three years ago, when scraping all the wallpaper off our bedroom walls, sending it back from whence it came, I’d damaged the drywall underneath, leaving thousands of pock marks and small tears.

“You won’t be able to see those when I’m done,” I assured my wife Kara before applying two coats of primer and three coats of paint, each serving to further magnify the damage.

To make it worse, we’d chosen to paint the room beige (well, “dune white,” but beige) for some reason, and it already had a tan ceiling.  By the time I finished, our bedroom looked like the inside of a cardboard box that a cat had fought its way out of.

After a few years, we finally decided that the time had come to fix it.  Plus, our youngest son Zack was finally sleeping through the night, so I needed something else to ruin my life.

“I hear wallpaper’s making a comeback,” Kara said.

“No way, never,” I replied. 

Wallpaper’s not something to joke about.  If you want to change a painted room, you can do it in two days.  If the room is wallpapered, after two days, you’ll still be in the initial phases of steaming, scraping, picking, scratching and crying.  Plus, all those tools you’ll need to acquire: buckets of paste, scissors, a trowel, a trident, cloven hooves, etc. 

“You need to skim coat the walls,” our friend Kiera said.  She’s helped several people fix up their fixer-uppers, and has developed the unfortunate reputation of being really good at drywall repair. 

“Sweet!  How do I get started?” I asked.

“Some people say it’s easier to rip the drywall down and start over,” she replied, which helped to give me some perspective on the tribulations ahead.   

Kiera came over to help us get started.  When it comes to levels of friendship, they go like this, in ascending order: Friends who lend you tools, friends who help you move, friends who take a bullet for you, friends who skim coat your walls.

“I can’t believe that this is how it’s done,” I said as we slathered white joint compound across the walls with putty knives.  It was like spreading peanut butter onto bread, except the bread was the size of our bedroom, and the knife didn’t get any bigger.

“Do you want me to tell everyone how bad you are at this, so they’ll stop asking you to help?” I offered to Kiera.  Her wall looked flat and perfect.  Mine looked like the inside of a Thomas’ English Muffin.         

The next day, I began sanding down the dried joint compound, which brought me two steps from the top of our six-foot stepladder.  I lightly leaned against the wall with my shoulder, which applied enough sideways force to my feet to send the stepladder shooting off to the side.  This wasn’t a wobble.  It was a capsize.

My life flashed before my eyes, and the months I spent playing Warcraft weren’t nearly as interesting as they seemed at the time.

The stepladder crashed to the ground.  Our older son Evan cried from his bed at the noise.  Kara ran upstairs to see what just happened.  She found me standing beside the ladder, shaking my head.

“Pretty sure I’m supposed to be dead right now,” I said. 

Life is too short for wallpaper.  And sometimes, because of it.
You can patch over Mike Todd at

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fahrenheit 104

Wait, you mean I didn't write a column last week?  I just turned in this old one from 2008?  Man, that was lazy.  Actually, I'm blaming Zack.  He had the audacity to run up a fever of 104 on a deadline day.  Some babies are just selfish like that.  (He's all better now.)

Still, I don't have a new column to post.  Perhaps you will forget about that if I throw some cute kid pics out here?  It's worth a shot.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wine and gummy bears

“We should call,” my wife Kara said, using her wineglass to motion toward the phone in my pocket.

“Yes, we should,” I agreed, dangling my feet off the dock for another moment, squinting as the sun danced off the water.

Even though we are parents with two young children, we were finding that it is entirely possible to have a nice, relaxing weekend away from home, as long as you dump the kids off at their grandparents’ house on the way there.

“They’re probably putting the kids in bed right now.  Seriously, we should call,” Kara repeated, taking another sip.

Mustering my energy, I leaned over far enough to extract the phone from my pocket.  By that point, my liver had just about caught up on the backlog it had incurred during the day’s wine tour. 

A couple of months ago, I’d decided that my years of hanging out with friends were over, at least at venues that did not prominently feature bouncy castles.  The regular reader(s) of this column might recall that my recent night out with friends in New York City ended with a party transpiring around my prone body at 4am as I tried to sleep on the bare mattress of a hotel pull-out couch.   I’m just lucky nobody tried to use me as a bottle opener.

But on this wine tour, Kara and I actually got to relax together and reconnect with friends, something we haven’t done since around, and I’m just spitballing here, June 15, 2009, the day our first son was born and our social lives died.

The day also attempted to be educational, but I did my best not to learn anything.

“This selection was aged in a steel-lined tank, which gives it a nutty bouquet and a finish of middle-aged orangutan droppings,” the bartender would say, holding out the bottle and delivering a brief monologue before pouring a thimble-full into our glasses. 

I suppose it’s important to know about wines before you drink them, but the wine-tasting ritual seems a bit like going trick-or-treating and having the person who answers the door holding the treat in the air just above your outstretched pillowcase, telling you about the candy’s origins.

“This Three Musketeers bar was milled in a galvanized vat, which gives it a robust structure and full-bodied complexity.  You’ll also notice its rustic nose, subtle vegetal undertones and lively nougat.”

My feeling is that it’s candy, and that’s good enough for me.  You put it in the bag, I’ll make it disappear.

But this day wasn’t really about wine.  It was about seeing friends and leaving responsibilities behind, just for a little while.

At the end of the day, on the end of the dock, Kara and I excused ourselves to check in with our real lives.

“How was your day with Grandma and Grandpa?” Kara asked.

“I had chocolate pudding and vanilla ice cream with blue sprinkles and gummy bears,” Evan said, apparently not scarred by our absence.

“He also had corn-on-the-cob and meatballs!” Grandma chimed in.

“And I played Candy Land and I won twice.  I’m going to win at Candy Land forever,” he said, a bold statement by someone yet to be acquainted with his father’s cupcake-crushing Candy Land skills.

Kara and I smiled, chit-chatting with our son until our entertainment value wore off, which took about three minutes.

“Bye!” Evan said abruptly, then his footsteps pattered off until they were inaudible.

The next day, we’d pick our kids up and swing them over our heads, glad to hear their laughter, and even their shrieking, again.  Until then, though, someone needed to watch that sunset.

You can ask Mike Todd to take a long walk off a short dock at

Sunday, May 05, 2013

…and all I got was this postcard

“Is it here yet?  Is it here yet?” my son Evan screeched from the backseat as I pulled the mailman’s daily recycle-bin-filler out of the mailbox.

“Children’s Place, Toys R’ Us, Gymboree.  Man, the marketers really have us pegged,” I said, throwing the coupons and catalogs into the empty passenger seat.

“But is it here yet?  Is it here?” he yelled.

“Bill, junk, bill, junk,” I replied.  I paused, looking at one envelope that read: “IMPORTANT!  TIME-SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED!”

In general, there is an inverse relationship between how important a piece of mail looks and how important it actually is.  If it’s an offer for a new credit card with an interest rate that’s higher than your final grade in calculus, it’ll have 72-point font stamped across the envelope: “YOU’D BETTER OPEN THIS, OR THE KITTEN GETS IT!”

Every now and again, they’ll trick me into opening one.  Earlier this year, as tax documents were trickling into the mailbox, a credit card offer fooled me into thinking it contained actual life-relevant information.

“Oh, you got me, Capital One, you devil,” I said.  Every time I open a credit card offer, the company scores a point on me.  Also, somewhere, an angel gets its wings repossessed.

If an envelope contains something you actually want, like an insurance check, or credit card rewards, it’ll come in a nondescript envelope crammed into the grocery store circular.

“Nothing to see here, Occupant.  Please discard before I waste any more of your time,” it will say.

“IS IT HEEERE?” Evan yelled again.

I reached the end of the pile.  No postcard from Mommy.

“No, bud, I’m sorry, it’s not,” I replied.

“But I want it to be here!” he yelled, clearing up any ambiguity on his position re: postcard acquisition.

With my wife Kara travelling on business for four days, I’d become a temporary single parent, which allowed me to experience all the relaxation and bliss that single-parenthood had to offer.  But since it wasn’t offering any, I hung out with my kids instead.

“Unleash the hounds!” I’d say as I unbuckled the boys from their car seats each evening.  They’d tear around the house, ramming things with their heads until dinnertime.

“Just don’t do anything that won’t heal before Mommy gets home,” I’d advise while the chicken nuggets spun around in the microwave.  

“Come find me!” Evan would yell, sitting in the middle of the living room, his legs sticking out from under a blanket.  I’d run over to him right away, because if you don’t find him quickly enough, he’ll start running around with the blanket over his head, content to bounce off whatever surface he hits first.

Somehow, we all survived, though our daily mailbox routine was fruitless.  Kara got to our house before the postcard did.  Two days after she returned home, we pulled up to the mailbox again.

“Hey, Evan, look what came today!” I said, waving the postcard around.  Kara smiled and handed it back to him.

“How do you open it?” he asked.

“It doesn’t open, Evan,” Kara said.  “It just has a picture on the front and my message to you on the back.  See?  That’s where Mommy was.  It’s called Atlanta.  Then, on the back, it says, ‘Dear Evan, I love you so much and can’t wait to see you soon!  Love, Mommy.’”

Evan flipped the postcard over a few times, then gave it one last shake to see if anything interesting would fall out.

“I don’t want the postcard because it’s not very exciting,” he announced, handing it back.

Someday, he’ll come to understand that the least exciting mail usually has the most important stuff in it.

You can return Mike Todd to sender at