Monday, March 31, 2014

A wife with all the trimmings

Note: Rerun alert!  If it weren't for this alert, though, you probably wouldn't have realized that this column was actually from 2009, right?  Well, maybe the John Edwards reference would have tipped you off.  In any event, back to original programming next week!

Last Saturday night, as my wife Kara approached me with the trimmer buzzing in her hand, I began to have some serious second thoughts.

“Are you sure you can do this?” I asked again.

“How hard can it be?” she said. “Now sit still.”

She was about to give me the first free haircut I’d had since college. Back then, my buddy Tim used to give free haircuts on Saturday mornings, which usually began just before dusk. Tim could easily cut twenty heads in one session, though he only ever gave one haircut. We all looked exactly the same, which was fine by us. A free haircut was a free haircut, even if it came with more verbal abuse than one would receive at a paying establishment.

“Man, you’re starting to thin out,” Tim would say. “Better get married young if you can.”

Tim’s military consistency meant we never had to go to the barber shop down the street, where the barber had hung a price list on the wall that included this item: “Fix Me Man, $5.00.”

A friend of mine inquired one day about what exactly constituted a Fix Me Man.  The barber replied, “It’s when your roommate tries to cut your hair, then you come in here and say, ‘Fix me, Man!’”

My thoughts drifted to the Fix Me Man as Kara closed in with the trimmers.

“Here we go!” she said as she made contact with the back of my head. A clump of hair fell onto my shoulder; we were crossing the Rubicon with a scissor-wielding Kara leading the charge.

We’d embarked on this adventure without really planning to do so. The sideburn trimmer I’d bought for fifteen bucks came with all the attachments to cut a whole head, so we started joking that Kara could be my barber. Then all of a sudden I was sitting on a stool in the bathroom with a tarp on the floor, which we’d spread out to catch any falling hair and blood spatters.

I wouldn’t have been so amenable to the idea if I hadn’t had the experience of trying out a new upscale barbershop about a month prior. I should have known something was awry when I saw the flatscreen TVs mounted on the wall and the sinks in the corner. Real barbershops have dusty radios with bad reception tuned to sports talk, and they certainly don’t have sinks, except maybe in the bathroom that you’re not allowed to use.

Halfway through the cut, the barber asked, “Would you like your eyebrows trimmed?”

Never having been asked this question before, I wasn’t sure whether the appropriate response was, “No,” or “God, no.” I’ve known guys who have spent a lot of time on their eyebrows before, and the result is always a little disconcerting. When it comes to eyebrows, I think most people could benefit from this guiding principle: If you have two, that’ll do.

The bill for the cut came out to $25, which is as close to John Edwards territory as I ever plan to get. Kara didn’t think that sounded like too much, but that’s coming from someone who gets her hair cut once a lunar eclipse.

So that’s how I came to be sitting on the stool in the bathroom as Kara orbited me, alternating between the scissors and the trimmers and mumbling quietly, “That’ll probably grow out.”

As far as I know, the last head of hair Kara had styled belonged to her childhood doll Baby, which, from the pictures, looked like one of the bad kid’s toys from Toy Story. As she snipped across my bangs, I’d already begun mentally composing a letter to Salman Rushdie asking for tips on laying low for a while.

The final result, though, actually came out looking pretty good, surprising us both. But I’m still waiting for my lollipop.

You can lower Mike Todd’s ears at

Monday, March 24, 2014

This isn't working

When you're abandoning your four-year-old child, it's important to leave him with the tools he'll need for survival in your absence: a sippy cup of water, a bowl of Cheez-Its, the remote control, etc.

“Daddy has an important meeting in five minutes.  It will only last thirty minutes, but I won't be able to help or talk to you while I'm upstairs,” I explained to our son Evan, who leaned to the side to make sure his episode of Blue's Clues was paused while I droned on about something. 

“Evan, this episode of Blue's Clues is going to end before I get back.  You'll have to start the next episode without my help.  Do you remember how to do that?” I asked.

“Yes, I know how to do it.  When this one ends, I just press up and then play,” he said, pointing to the correct buttons on the remote and parroting the advice we'd gone over several times.

“Very good.  Daddy's going away now.  I'll be right upstairs if there's an emergency.  Otherwise, stay on the couch, and please don't call for me until I come back,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied, popping another fluorescent orange cracker into his mouth.  He pressed play, and though I hadn't left the room yet, I had already disappeared.

Last week, our youngest son Zack was sick for two days, taking his turn at his daycare's favorite game: Whisper the Highly Contagious Pathogen down the Lane.  My wife Kara and I rearranged our schedules, taking turns working from home to look after him and take him to the doctor.  On the third night, his fever was down, his symptoms gone. 

“Finally, life can get back to normal,” Kara said, exhausted.

Then our older son Evan walked up and said, “My throat hurts.”

It was Evan's turn to play the game.  Like any good player, he put his own spin on what Zack passed to him, tossing a little strep throat in there for good measure.  So we spent the next few days rearranging our schedules and taking turns working from home to look after Evan and take him to the doctor.

On the afternoon of the second day, I had a teleconference with my boss and my boss' boss while Kara had to be in the office.  Fortunately, we had a babysitter in the house, one with a plasma screen and unlimited streaming episodes of Evan's favorite show.

“The dynamic synergy of the stakeholders...,” I began upstairs, speaking in work language, which is like normal language, except it uses more words to make less sense.

“Daaaaaaaad-eeeeeee!  My show's not working!” came the screaming from downstairs, muffled through the door that I immediately swung shut.  I disconnected my ears from my brain so that I could keep talking.

“...shows that our current implementation is yielding strategic...,” I continued.

“Daaaaaaaad-EEEEEE!!!” Evan screamed.  I walked to the far side of the room, putting as much distance between me and Evan as possible.

“...action items which require due diligence...” I said.


I ended the sentence, and as someone else on the call spoke, I put the phone on mute, opened the door and yelled, “Daddy can't help right now!” and shut the door again. 

Amazingly, that didn't solve the problem.

“DAAAAAD-EEEEEE!!!” he yelled, louder than last time.  If I had pressed the mute button again, everyone on the call would have been greeted by the sound of a four-year-old mourning the momentary loss of his favorite blue cartoon dog.

I took the stairs three-at-a-time, trying to fix the problem and escape back upstairs before I had to speak again.

“Evan, I told you that I can't talk...Dude, it's playing just fine,” I said.  On the screen, the little blue dog cooed and rolled over.

“It's not the right episode.  I just watched this one,” he replied.

Hopefully, in a forthcoming episode, Blue will help explain what constitutes an emergency.

You can scream down the lane to Mike Todd at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring us outta here

“But we were gonna play that game where everyone pretends the clocks are different!” my son Evan protested, throwing out his opening gambit for the evening’s bedtime-delay strategy.

“It’s not really a game.  It’s just something everybody does,” I said.  It’s tough to explain Daylights Saving Time to a four-year-old when you’re not really certain about it yourself. 

“You said that the days aren’t really longer, but the sun will go down later because everyone pretends something with the clocks.  I want to play,” he said.   

I wasn’t surprised that he wanted to play a game that magically makes an hour disappear.  Most nights, he has to work a lot harder to make that hour vanish, usually by sitting on the potty with his head resting on his hands, saying “No, not yet” every few minutes. 

On Facebook this year, I saw a record number of parents springing forward to their keyboards to complain about the hour shift.  Non-parents might find this behavior somewhat whiny, but that’s because they might not understand that a daily routine is the only thing separating a family with small children from a complete societal collapse, where chaos and anarchy reign supreme and Duplo blocks become deadly projectiles.  

Without a dependable routine, children would be running naked around the house, drawing in non-washable marker on the walls and each other, subsisting entirely on Cheez-its and shutting their fingers in the dishwasher door, all while their parents lay helpless on the living room floor, hogtied with Rainbow Loom bracelets.

So I usually greet any change to our routine with a sense of dread, the slight shift sending us one step closer to careening into the abyss.  It’s already a very thin line that keeps our living room from turning into a post-apocalyptic hellscape. 

But this year, I’m just happy to have survived to reach this milestone on the calendar.  Anything to put this winter and its polar vortices behind us.  Over the past several months, “polar vortex” easily topped “norovirus” on the list of vocabulary I’d prefer to have never learned.     

Most winters, I bundle up and walk the dog every evening.  This winter, I gave up sometime in mid-November. 

“Sorry, animal, we’ll just have to get fat together,” I said to Memphis as she sat at my feet, the bitter wind blowing tiny spears of ice across our yard-turned-tundra.   

To survive this winter, many of us turned to increasingly desperate measures.  We’re not proud of it, but for a few days there, we all cared about ice dancing.  We were already not so sure about devoting a few days each quadrennium to caring about figure skating, but there we went, losing our minds over figure skating without jumps, which is like basketball without slam dunks, or football without concussions.

“How bad was the winter of ’14?” our grandchildren will ask us.

“It was so bad, we cared about ice dancing,” we’ll say.

“Noooooo,” they’ll reply in hushed tones, before looking back down at their phones, ignoring us again.

As the forecast starts to show a few days that aren’t guaranteed to be absent of any redeeming qualities, I’m wondering if my imagination made this winter worse in my mind than it actually was.  Was it really that much colder?  Did we really get that much more snow?  Or was it Facebook’s fault, since we’ve been listening to each other whine about it so much more?

Turns out, the National Weather Service recently released a “Winter Misery Index,” confirming this winter as a top-five performer among the most miserable winters we’ve ever endured.  At least we got to skip an hour of it.

You can wait six months until your clocks are right again with Mike Todd at

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The lights aren’t on, but somebody’s home

**If your Rerun Sense is tingling right now, that means you have been reading this column since 2009 (which also means you are probably my mom).  I didn't have time to crank out a fresh column last week, but hopefully you don't remember reading this old column, just like I don't remember writing it.**

“Don’t you think it would be fun to learn to dip our own candles?” I asked my wife Kara last week.

“Not especially,” she replied.

“What about churning our own butter?” I said.

“I don’t think we even use butter. Is Country Crock butter?” she asked. Upon opening the fridge and inspecting the container, I learned that Country Crock makes no claim at all as to what it actually is. The words “butter” and “margarine” are nowhere to be found, just “Country Fresh Taste,” which could signify that the plastic tub contains any number of country-related flavors, like ham, banjo bits or gravel.

“I just thought it might be fun to pick up some pioneer-style hobbies,” I said, “since the power company is going to shut off our electricity in two weeks anyway.”

Recently, I’d noticed an increase in the ratio of letters from the power company in the piles of mail that I’d been throwing away without opening. The vast majority of our mail doesn’t warrant reading; it’s always credit card companies trying to trick me into looking. They dress up the envelopes so that even the most wary person will be tempted to peek inside. The envelopes bear messages in bright red ink that say things like: “IMPORTANT ACCOUNT DOCUMENTS: OPEN IMMEDIATELY OR THE PUPPY GETS IT!”

Each time I open a piece of junk mail thinking I’m about to see an actual important account document, only to find a useless credit card offer inside, I hear, somewhere off in the distance, a credit card CEO yelling from the top of a skyscraper, “Made you look!”

If federal regulations would allow, I’d get a coal-fired mailbox, or perhaps an eco-friendly shredding/composting combo unit. So it was completely on a whim that I opened a letter from our power company to find a friendly reminder, which they’d cordially labeled “FINAL TERMINATION NOTICE.”

“Oh, man,” I thought. “That would be an awesome title for an action movie.”

Actually, I immediately worried about telling Kara. Very few things irritate her as much as delinquent bills, especially ones that are the responsibility of her delinquent husband. In our house, we refer to late fees as either “lazy taxes” or “stupid taxes,” depending on the reason they were incurred. In general, the world is fine with letting you be lazy or stupid, but you have to pay for the privilege, usually by the day.

I stood at the end of the driveway, holding the letter and wondering whether it was worth disturbing our domestic tranquility to inform Kara of its contents. Whenever I find myself thinking, “Life would be easier if I didn’t tell Kara about this,” that’s when I make a point to talk to her. A good marriage is based on open communication, and also on the continuing possibility that, if you just hang in there long enough, you will be rewarded by your spouse’s inability to finish her chicken sandwich. Ooh, and maybe an onion ring or two.

As it turned out, during the course of a web upgrade, the power company had deleted the entries of several autopay customers, causing us to miss our first electric bill in the eight years we’ve lived around here.

“You mean you just deleted us out of the system?” I asked the customer service representative during my call that was important to them.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said cheerily.

“On purpose?” I asked.

“I’m not sure about that part, but it definitely happened during the upgrade,” she replied.

So now that we’re back in the system, Kara and I will have to forego for now the adventure of living in a house with no electricity. But this experience has taught us many valuable lessons, not the least of which is that our power company throws around the term “upgrade” very loosely.

You can send Mike Todd some compost at

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Feel the (second-degree) burn

“Don’t touch the frying pan.  The whole thing just came out of the oven, so it’s really hot,” my wife Kara warned me, foreshadowing the evening’s soon-to-be-forthcoming excitement.

I had no intention of touching the frying pan.  When I cook things, they spin around on the carousel for a minute and go beep when they’re done.  We’ve divided the responsibilities in our household to minimize the amount of contact I have with hot things and sharp things.  My job is to scrub the pots and pans after the meal, when the risk of injury is low, then shove them into the cabinet and slam the door before they fall back out.

Kara grabbed the pan’s handle with an oven mitt, stirring the garlic shrimp with a wooden spoon.  Our two young sons sat a few feet away in the dining room, awaiting the newest culinary sensation to grace their mature and diverse palates. 

“I detect some hints of minced kale in the air!  And is that, wait, don’t tell me, do I smell a mild blend of turmeric and cumin?  Delightful!” our son Evan called into the kitchen.

“Smashing!” his brother Zack added from his high chair, adjusting his bib in anticipation of the succulent crustaceans.

Just kidding.  Evan and Zack were already devouring the last few chicken nuggets from the five-pound Cotsco bag we’d bought about three days prior.  These days, we’re pretty pleased with ourselves for just keeping everyone alive.  We’ll tackle their Epicurean sophistication some other time.

Kara took off her oven mitt, dropped the wooden spoon into the sink, then turned back around and grabbed the frying pan handle with her newly bare hand.  You might recall that not so long ago, she had issued a warning against the very course of action that she had just taken.  Some people just want to hog all the medical emergencies for themselves.

As Kara held the handle, the pain signal traversed her nervous system, shooting across her arm and up her spine, letting her brain know that it was time to stop wondering if she should say something about her husband’s back hair situation, and time to start dealing with more immediate concerns.  Her brain, in turn, dispatched two urgent signals: one to her hand, to tell it to let go as promptly as possible, since it wasn’t figuring that out on its own; the other to her mouth, to tell it to teach the kids as many new words as possible in a five-second interval.

I was torn.  Clearly, Kara needed help.  Also, though momentarily distracted, the kids were almost done eating, which meant the window for the adults to eat dinner was closing. 

“Wow, you’re right, these really are hot,” I said, plucking a shrimp out of the pan and blowing on it. 

“This one’s hot, too,” I said, munching the next one.    

No, in reality, I did not consider eating dinner while Kara ran her hand under cold water.  I did what any quick-thinking husband would do, which is to take out my phone and search on “first-degree burn.”

“I can’t believe I just did that.  I got my entire hand,” Kara said, holding the burn out for me to see. 

“Whoa,” I replied, scrolling down to the second-degree burn information.

I’m not saying I’m a hero, but someday, they’ll invent a medal for people who successfully navigate a crisis from the information they gather off their phone.  It will come inscribed like so: For unwavering Googling in the face of danger.

In all seriousness, Kara’s hand just needed some gauze and a couple of days, and it’s almost back to normal now.  But I can’t take all the credit.  Wikipedia helped, too.

You can wrap Mike Todd in gauze at