Sunday, February 23, 2014

Home is where the frozen wasteland is

In retrospect, I should have known that the quickly approaching man was angry with me. 

“Oh, sorry, is this your coat?” I asked, removing the napkins I’d set on top of it.  I’d thought it was my wife’s coat in the seat next to me.  We were psyching ourselves up to board a plane with our two small kids, so I wasn’t paying much attention to anything that didn’t directly relate to keeping them from making a scene.  When you’re traveling with kids, any second that they’re not screaming is a second that you are winning. 

“It’s a jacket on a seat.  This isn’t brain surgery,” the guy replied, yanking his coat off the seat and grabbing his roller-suitcase that sat on the other side of me.  As he stormed off, I realized that his jacket and suitcase were social cues stating, “This is my seat.”  Though he was nasty about it, in his defense, without urinating on the legs of the chairs, he probably couldn’t have marked his territory any more obviously.  What I did with those social cues, after returning with the overpriced bagels I’d procured for my family, was sit on them.

“Neither is being a nice person,” I called after him.  He looked back and started to say something, then realized I was right, shook his head at himself, reevaluated his life, and left the airport to join a monastery, the kind where they flagellate themselves often and with vigor.

Not really.  Our brief altercation occurred at 11:15am, and I thought of my comeback at around 8:30pm, just a few beats too late.

“You think that guy is from Florida or home?” I asked my wife Kara.

“Probably home,” she said.

“Yeah, probably.  I want to blame him on Florida, though,” I said.

After a week of eighty-degree days, palm trees and white sand, I needed something to knock Florida down a couple notches.  We’d been visiting Kara’s parents, who picked a great year to become fledgling snowbirds, at their new place near the beach. 

“I don’t wanna go home!” our four year-old-son Evan had wailed that morning as we packed our suitcases, a sentiment shared by us all, in part because we knew what awaited us at home. 

We’d spent the previous week washing sand out of our children’s nooks and crannies, watching skinny birds with cowlicks strut by and eating ice cream as if the world’s supply was melting.

Then we’d sit in the warm evening breeze on the porch, scrolling through our Facebook news feeds, watching updates from our friends back home as they weathered a blizzard that the Weather Channel had decided to name Trixie or Max Power or something.

“Guess the dog’s not going out until I shovel,” one friend wrote, posting a picture of the snow piled halfway up her screen door.

Earlier in the week, as I’d sipped coffee in the morning light, I checked the temperature back home.  Negative eight degrees.  Just thinking about it chilled me all the way down to my sun-dappled sandals.

“Time to head back to the tundra,” I said to Kara as we hoisted our children and headed down the jetway to our plane, which would be landing at a different airport than we’d intended, on account of the horrible weather that we’d chosen to live in.

Kara and I looked at each other and considered bolting back past security, into the Florida sunshine.  Sure, we couldn’t live with Kara’s folks indefinitely, but there were plenty of coconuts down there.  We’d get by.

But we decided to tough it out and fly back where we belonged, avoiding eye contact with the new friend I’d made out at the gate.

When we arrived home that evening, exhausted and hours behind schedule, we found a path that our neighbors had dug to our garage for us as a welcome-home present.  Sometimes, even in two feet of snow, you can find a ray of sunshine.

You can stomp on Mike Todd’s snow fort at

Monday, February 17, 2014

A couch divided

The poor thing had to be put out of its misery.

“You’ve been good to us.  I’m so sorry it has to end this way,” I said, flicking out the blade on my pocketknife, pausing for a second to evaluate all of the unworkable alternatives once again, then plunging the knife in, right up to the hilt.  I ripped sideways as I pulled the blade back out, inflicting as much damage as possible. 

“No going back now,” I said.  Indeed, the time for second thoughts was behind me.  So was my four-year-old son, Evan, who witnessed the carnage wide-eyed.

“Why’re you doin’ that to the couch?” he asked.

The regular reader(s) of this column might recall that several years ago, I had to saw a couch in half to remove it from the basement of our old house.  It had taken six guys to get it down there; it took only me and a Black & Decker reciprocating saw to get it back out.  At the time, I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’ll ever have to do that.”

Then, last week, I found myself once again playing the role of the Grim Recliner, sending yet another piece of furniture to the Great Transfer Station on the Other Side of Town.  I never expected to make a habit out of sawing couches in half, but it seems that life has a way of making my couches too big and my doorways too small.  And my bald spot(s) too prominent, which is perhaps irrelevant, but still annoying.

My most recent victim had spent several years sitting under exposed insulation in our unfinished basement, so even though we finished the basement a few years back, you could never sit on that couch again without feeling like you’d just rolled around on an Owens-Corning factory floor.  When a friend offered us her very nice couch as a replacement, we jumped at the chance, even though we knew that our old couch would have to go live on a farm with a nice family and lots of open space to lounge around.

I kept stabbing and ripping at the upholstery, exposing the wooden skeleton underneath.  When you’ve been in the couch-dismembering business long enough, you learn that it’s easier to cut the back off the couch, rather than trying to saw the whole thing straight down the middle.  This way, you avoid having to cut through metal.  Of course, normal humans will probably never need to put that advice into practice, but this week marks the ninth anniversary of this column, so it’s probably time to start sprinkling in an occasional a fact or two.

“Treasures!” Evan yelled as I rolled the couch onto its front, exposing the long-forgotten items that had fallen inside.   

“Dude, it’s gross in there.  Don’t breathe in any fungus or anything,” I said to Evan as he reached through the torn fabric to pull out a pebble, a nickel and a hacky sack.

“A ball!” he said.

“Actually, it’s a hacky sack.  You spend years of your life learning to kick it into the air so that the stoners in high school will respect you,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Never mind.  By the time you get to high school, none of my experiences will be helpful to you in any way,” I said.

“A ball!” he replied, waving the hacky sack around. 

He sat on the coffee table playing with the hacky sack as I sawed the back off the couch.  A few minutes later, we’d gotten the ship out of the bottle, one piece at a time.  

I still feel a little bad about destroying a piece of furniture like that.  On the plus side, though, ever since that day, I’ve been getting much more respect from the coffee table.

You can drop off Mike Todd at the transfer station at

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monsters Pre-K

“What kind of monsters?  Like, Cookie Monsters?” I asked my four-year-old son Evan as he peered over the edge of his Toy Story comforter, which was, at the moment, not providing much comfort. 

He was clearly scared, but I couldn’t imagine that Evan knew enough to conjure up anything actually scary in his imagination.  The only monsters he’d seen on TV were the fuzzy ones from Sesame Street, where even Elmo qualifies as a monster.   

“No, not Cookie Monsters.  Eat-people monsters,” Evan replied, explaining why he’d spent the previous minute wailing for parental protection.

“Oh,” I said, impressed.  They don’t have eat-people monsters on Sesame Street, which is probably for the best.

“Today’s episode of Sesame Street was brought to you by the letter AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” Ernie would scream as the eat-people monster devoured him.  Probably a little too educational.  

“I know monsters aren’t real, but I’m still scared they’re going to get me.  What can I do?” Evan asked.

It was the kind of parenting moment you look forward to when you’re not even a parent yet, when you’re just a dude on a couch playing Call of Duty, picturing this distant future when you’d get the opportunity to impart your wisdom to help a young child navigate a confusing and sometimes scary world.   

“Did you try pulling your blanket over your head?” I offered.

“How does that help?” Evan asked.

“Monsters can’t see you when you’re under your blankets,” I said.

“I thought monsters weren’t real!” he shrieked.

Yes, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as imparting your wisdom to your child, further terrifying him.  That went exactly as I’d always pictured it.

“No no no, they’re not real.  But if you’re still scared of them even though they’re not real, it might make you feel better to pull your covers up so high that they couldn’t see you even if they were real, which they’re not,” I said.

After considering this for a moment, Evan replied, “They could still see me.  Then they’d just lift up the covers and climb in.”

Now he was starting to scare me a little.  The first rule of monsters is that monsters aren't allowed to look under the covers.  I thought we were all in agreement on that point.

If monsters are allowed to just peek in on us with no rules, like the NSA, then I sure wasted a lot of sweat as a kid.  My parents didn’t install central air until after I left for college.  On summer nights, if I left a Pop Tart on my bedside table, by morning it would be burnt.  (Of course, I’m just making that up.  We weren’t allowed to have Pop Tarts.  Not even the unfrosted kind.  That deprivation is why I’m so messed up now.)

Still, no matter how hot it got, I’d spend the night wrapped in my cocoon of magic monster-deflecting blankets, sweating puddles through the mattress.  If Evan is right, all I was doing was making myself extra pungent and delectable, like a nice Roquefort cheese to a monster.  I’m lucky I got out of there alive.

I turned back to Evan and saw his sad eyes imploring for comforting guidance.  With the blanket trick nullified, and Evan already admitting that monsters are not real, (though still bloodthirsty), I was out of ideas.   

“What are you doing?” Evan asked as I stood in his doorway, tapping on my phone.

“Googling ‘How to make your kid feel better about monsters’,” I replied, practicing parenting by search engine.   

I scrolled past the first few hits, finding nothing.  When I looked up, Evan had pulled the covers over his head. 

“Hey, you disappeared!” I said.  A monster wouldn’t have noticed, but just under the covers, you could see a little smile poking out.
You can pull the blankets over your head so Mike Todd won’t see you at

Monday, February 03, 2014

True grits

**The regular reader(s) of this column might recognize this week's post as a slightly edited rerun from 2008 (I had to take out a reference to Dick Cheney shooting people in the face, since he hardly ever does that anymore).  Assuming that various epidemics are finished racing through our house, I should be back with original programming next week.** 

My buddy Josh used to be deathly afraid of spiders. To conquer his fear, he bought two pet tarantulas. When we lived together in college, I’d come home to Josh sitting on the couch, shirtless, with a big, hairy tarantula crawling around on his shoulder.

“Hey man. You want to let Xenia crawl on you?” he’d ask.

Even if that spider was radioactive and its bite would have enabled me to hang upside-down by my ankles while making out with Kirsten Dunst, I still don’t think I would have said yes. Luckily, I wasn’t crazy in the first place, so I could just have a normal person’s healthy fear of gigantic spiders that have mandibles big enough to pop the cap off a Heineken bottle, and I didn’t have to let them use me as a jungle gym to get over it.

When Josh came to visit at my house, my dad asked a question that to Josh sounded something like this: “Josh, hour yir spah dirs?”

“Excuse me?” Josh asked.

“I said, ‘hour yir spah dirs?’”

This exchange continued similarly for a couple more volleys, until Josh had spent all of his “I’m sorry, I still didn’t catch that” tokens without understanding yet what my dad was saying to him. Rather than asking Dad to repeat it again, Josh paused a moment, I believe to contemplate his chances of a successful dash out the front door.

“Josh, he’s asking how your spiders are,” my mom finally said.

I don’t even notice my parents’ Southern accents. They’ve lived in Pennsylvania for over thirty years now, but they brought some parts of North Carolina and Florida with them that haven’t ever left. Josh could understand Mom because Florida is barely even in the South; it’s like Maryland with Disney World and old people. The South kind of stops at Georgia and heads west until you reach the place in the Texas desert where people start saying “you guys” again.

“Oh, oh, they’re fine. Thank you for asking,” Josh replied. Later, he said to me, “Dude, I need subtitles to talk to your dad.” He should hear my dad when we visit family down South. Every mile traveled on I-95 thickens the accent just a little bit more. By the time we get there, “split” is very nearly a two-syllable word. When people up North inquire about the origins of Dad’s accent, his favorite answer is: “it’s from Southern Pennsylvania.”

I thought of all this recently as I traveled down South for work. Besides being surrounded by my favorite accent in the world, I was pleased to find that Southern people don’t relish running down pedestrians like we do in the North. In the North, we have to play real-life Frogger to get to the other side of the street. You can actually hear cars revving their engines when you step into a crosswalk, like all drivers see when they look at you is a waving checkered flag.

I think a diploma from Penn State should carry just a little more weight when employers consider the Darwinian implications of a graduate successfully crossing College Avenue every day for several years.   This is one of the reasons that Penn State diplomas carry the Latin phrase “E veritas destinies childus” at the bottom, which translates to: “I’m a survivor, not gon’ give up. Not gon’ stop (what). Keep on survivin’.”

When you’re walking on a sidewalk in the South, if you have the thought, “I might just venture over to that crosswalk here in the next couple of minutes,” traffic will come to a screeching halt, the smell of burnt brake pads wafting into the air.

Southern parents probably just tell their kids, “It’s a big waste of time to look both ways before you cross the street, so don’t even bother.”

Y’all can email Mike Todd at