Monday, April 28, 2014

On health plans and zombies

“I'm not sure we can make an appointment.  You haven't been here since 2011.  I'm putting you on hold,” the receptionist said.

“But I,” I said to the hold music.

It never occurred to me that my doctor would break up with me if I didn't make an effort to see him every so often.  He didn't seem that needy the last time we spoke, but our relationship apparently required me to have a more nurturing bed-sitting-upon manner.

“Hey, there,” I'd say when calling for no reason.

“Hello, Mr. Todd.  What can we help you with today?” his office would ask.

“Nothing.  I just wanted you to know that I care for you, too,” I'd reply.

If I'd done that, perhaps I wouldn't have been in the position last week of having a swollen uvula with nobody to look at it who could say something more intelligent than “Aw, dude.”

“Aw, dude,” I gurgled to myself in the bathroom mirror, holding a flashlight to brighten the source of my troubles.  My throat looked like the tunnel from Indiana Jones after the boulder got stuck in it.

For the previous two days, I'd been lurching around the house like a zombie, going, “Uuuuuuuuurrrgh,” every time I swallowed.  If the neighbors had been looking in our windows, they probably would have locked themselves in their apocalypse bunker. 

Of course, I don't know if they actually have an apocalypse bunker, but these days, it seems silly not to have one.  Our bunker consists of some frozen chili in our garage freezer, which wouldn't really be useful if we lost power during the actual apocalypse, but at least a freezer full of bad chili could cause us to lose our appetites for a while.  A real bunker should have canned goods in it, but if my survival ever depends on hunkering down and eating cold asparagus spears, I'll take my chances with the zombies. 

“Mr. Todd?  Since it's just a sore throat, we can make an appointment for you today.  But you'll need to schedule another appointment soon for a physical exam, too,” the receptionist said when she came back. 

“Thanks, you bet,” I croaked, glad to be getting some much-needed medical attention, but alarmed at what I'd just gotten myself into. 

For the past several years, I've been on a health insurance plan that my wife Kara and I called the Don't Get Sick Plan.  I didn't really understand all the finer points of the plan, except that my monthly premiums were very low.  In exchange, I agreed never to get sick.  (Kara and our two kids remained on the Get Sick All the Time Unlimited Medical Buffet, because they, unlike me, are not expendable.)

With my sore throat, I'd broken the agreement.  When I was choosing a health plan back in November, deciding how sick I'd get in 2014, perhaps I'd given my white blood cells too much credit.

“Are you going to gag?” the nurse asked me, holding the extra-long Q-tip like it was a skewer and I was a marshmallow.

“Absolutely.  Doesn't everyone?” I asked.

“I mean, are you going to throw up on me?” she clarified. 

“I'm pretty sure I won't,” I said, confident but not wanting to oversell.

“That's good.  I want to get a really good sample,” she replied, plunging the cotton swab so far back into my throat that it came out with pieces of my soul on it.

The test came back positive for strep throat before the doctor even stepped foot into the room.  The total bill for the visit, plus the antibiotics?  $3.33. 

Continuing to suffer through my strep throat would have only saved me enough to purchase two-thirds of a five-dollar footlong.  Still, I probably should have waited a few more days before making an appointment, since it would have been an even better value to have gotten pneumonia cured. 

You can step slowly away from Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The constantly complaining gardener

There comes a point when you decide you're not going to get ripped off purchasing organic produce anymore, and that you'd prefer to get ripped off even worse growing your own.

“I had no idea dirt was so expensive,” I said, throwing one more ten-dollar bag into the cart. 

Apparently, if you call it soil instead of dirt, it's much more valuable, like when Jaguar used to put its hood ornaments on Fords.

“It's an investment.  We can use it for several years,” my wife Kara replied.

We've been organic farmers for about three days now, and in order for us to break even on our investments so far, the little seedlings that Kara just planted would need to grow tall enough that when you climbed to the top of the plant and your head poked through the clouds, you could hear someone yelling, “Fee fi fo fum” at you.

Of course, we're not really doing this to save money.  Our four-year-old son Evan is very interested in caring for plants, so we're using this opportunity to teach him about natural cycles, especially the cycle that removes your money and cycles it to other people.

Kara and Evan have been planning their new little garden for months.  It was a coping mechanism to survive the terrible winter from which we've just unburied ourselves.

“Ooooh, what  about strawberries, or carrots?” Kara would say, flipping through her gardening book to show Evan the pictures while the subzero wind whipped tiny spears of ice against the windows.

“Strawberries!” Evan would reply, his voice nearly drowned out by the salt trucks rumbling down our street. 

Back then, the only things that could be grown outdoors were icicles and a bitter resentment of our geographic station in life.  We had to work harder to earn this spring than any other that I can remember, and now that it's finally here, Kara and Evan are determined to grow some fruit, herbs and vegetables, the latter primarily serving as a vehicle for distribution of ranch dressing. 

After I'd pushed the cart full of dirt from Home Depot out to our car, Kara scanned the barcode on the bags with her phone to read Amazon user reviews.

“Ooh, wait, this dirt only got three stars,” she said.

“People probably gave it bad reviews after they realized they'd paid ten bucks for a bag of dirt,” I suggested.

“I'm so sorry, would you mind returning these?  We'll just get whatever they recommend at the nursery down the street,” she said.

Turns out, at the nursery down the street, they recommended twenty-three-dollar bags of dirt.  Excuse me, soil.  Yes, that makes it go down easier.

I'm finally beginning to understand why organic produce costs so much more than the regular stuff.  I'd always thought that organic produce should be cheaper, since organic farmers don't need to waste money on pesticides with which to drench their crops, they just need to yell, “Shoo!” at the fruit every so often.  But now I see how difficult and expensive it is to grow your own food, especially when a four-year-old is helping you.

“It's snowing!” Evan yelled, throwing a fistful of soil into the air.

“Hey, if you're going to throw dirt, go throw some of the free stuff out in the yard, where the grass is supposed to be,” I said.

Despite the challenges, though, Kara (and Evan, sort of) did successfully plant three boxes with six seedlings each.  In just a few short months, we'll be well on our way to having enough food to tide us over for a few more minutes until the pizza gets here. 

I hope I don't sound unenthusiastic about this project.  I'm actually excited about it, and it's great that for the first time, we actually have green thumbs in our family.  I think it's from the ink on all the dollar bills we've been forking over.

You can spray pesticide on Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short live the king

I was just minding my own business, unaware that I was about to get pounced upon, becoming a part of the great circle of life.

“Lion King!  Lion King!  Can we get it?” my son Evan screeched, pointing at the shelf of movies. 

“Shhhhh, library voice,” I replied.  We'd just started visiting the library again because our house can't hold anything else.  Every corner is crammed with mismatched wooden puzzle pieces and Happy Meal toys based on cartoon characters that our kids have never heard of.  The library allows us to wrench cherished possessions out of our kids' hands and drop them into the Return Slot of No Return, never to clutter our house again.  It's perfect.

“Can we get it?  Pleeeeese?” Evan whispered.

“How did you even recognize that movie?” I asked.  He's a very smart kid, but he's also, at the moment, rather illiterate.

“I just recognize it,” he said.

“How do you know about Lion King, though?  We've never talked about it,” I said.

“I don't know but I really need to see it,” he replied.

He had no idea how he knew about Lion King, or why he needed to see it so badly, but both fibers of his four-year-old being told him that it was extremely important.  Disney has somehow genetically modified children so that they're born craving Disney entertainment. 

I hesitated.  If you don't remember The Lion King, its plot revolves in large part around – spoiler alert! – the daddy lion getting killed.  Just kidding.  That's not really a spoiler.  The main job of Disney parents is to die expeditious deaths.  The last Disney movie we watched was Frozen, which – spoiler alert! – also had dead parents.  Before that, Cinderella, in which – spoiler alert! – the mom is dead before the story starts, and the dad barely outlives the opening credits.  The magic Disney formula seems to be: singing, dancing, true love, cute animal sidekicks and dead parents. 

Incidentally, when Cinderella rushes out of the ball at midnight, and her gown turns back into rags and the horses turn back into mice, why don't her glass slippers change back, too?  I'm a little ashamed it took me thirty-six years to recognize a plot hole so big you could drive a giant pumpkin through it.

“Lion King?” my wife Kara asked, looking at me as if I'd brought home Nightmare on Elm Street.  Evan held the DVD case with both hands over his head, presenting it to the world. 

“I warned him.  He still wanted to see it,” I replied. 

“There are scary hyenas in that movie.  And other bad things happen, too,” she said.

“What bad things?” Evan asked. 

Kara and I looked at each other, deciding how much we wanted to tell him.  I was sixteen years old when that movie came out in 1994, and I'm still a little scarred from it, mostly because it's not socially acceptable for sixteen-year-old boys to cry in public about things that happen to cartoon lions, no matter how horrible.

We needn't have worried about Evan, though.  Upon the third viewing, he recognized Mufasa's death scene as the prelude to cute animal sidekicks Pumbaa and Timon coming out to sing Hakuna Matata.

“Pumbaa's coming up soon!” Evan yelled as a young Simba nudged Mufasa's lifeless body.

“Dude, this part's really sad,” I said, reminding Evan to be traumatized.  He seemed to be taking the death of the father figure a little too well.

“Evan, your father just got trampled by a herd of wildebeests,” someone would tell him, in my imagination.

“Hakuna matata!” Evan would reply. 

The real trauma is likely to set in next week, when he has to drop the DVD into the Return Slot of No Return.   

You can join Mike Todd in the circle of life at

Monday, April 07, 2014

The imminent nephew

“I failed bed rest.  Twice,” my sister reported from her hospital bed in San Diego last week.  Amy has always been a mover and a shaker, but she'd recently found herself under doctor's orders to keep the moving and shaking to a minimum, lest she encourage her unborn son to move and shake into the world ahead of schedule. 

After her first bed rest failure, the doctors told Amy that they'd be inducing labor that evening, which happened to be on my wife Kara's birthday.

“Tell Kara I'm sorry, but I may not get a chance to call and sing 'Happy Birthday' tonight,” Amy said on the phone that afternoon. 

She was joking, but the fact that she was even thinking about singing goes to show the importance my family places on calling to croon annual off-key birthday wishes.  Imminent childbirth is about the only excuse good enough to get you out of it. 

Not that my family made me think of this, of course, but isn't it odd that so many people can't sing?  We all have these beautiful musical instruments in our throats, but only Carrie Underwood and like three other people ever took the time to learn to play them.  It's like we were all born with clarinets strapped to our faces, but we couldn't be bothered to practice.

“Hey, let's hear you play some clarinet!” someone would say to me.

“Oh, you mean this clarinet strapped to my face?  I never had time to learn.  Too busy,” I'd reply, returning to my iPhone to deal with the marauding orcs that were attacking my castle.

Anyway, it would have been a really memorable rendition if Amy had called Kara to sing “Happy Birthday” while she was in labor.  She probably would have nailed the high notes.

“Do you feel like you're slowly clicking up the hill on a roller coaster?” I asked Amy as she mentally prepared herself for the evening's scheduled events. 

A year-and-a-half ago, Amy witnessed her wife, Jaime, giving birth to their first child, so she had a pretty good idea of what to expect, which may not have been all that reassuring.  I've witnessed Kara going through childbirth twice, and while both experiences triggered a flood of thoughts and emotions, “Get me in on this action!” is not one of the thoughts I remember having.       

“It feels exactly like a roller coaster,” Amy replied.  “I've been clicking up the hill all week.  I know I signed up for this, but we're getting to the one part of the process that I have really not been looking forward to.  I hope the part where it goes downhill will be nice and quick.”

“Well, once the roller coaster gets to the top, there's really nothing left for you to do but put your hands in the air and scream,” I offered.  Then I winced, wondering if perhaps we'd taken the roller coaster analogy one step too far.

“Yeah, that's pretty much what I'll be doing,” Amy laughed.

Soon after that conversation, the doctors changed the schedule again, recommending that Amy stay on bed rest for another week before they'd consider inducing labor.  Since the bed rest at home hadn't been working, she wouldn't be allowed to leave the hospital again without first producing a tiny little bundle of joy.  Her son will be her ticket out of there.  It's like how they let you into New Jersey for free, but you have to pay to get back out.

So that's where Amy is right now, still waiting for the doctors to give the signal, which could happen at any moment.  We're looking forward to meeting the newest rider when the roller coaster stops. 
You can make a special delivery to Mike Todd at