Monday, June 30, 2014

Technology’s in the toilet

For that brief moment, when your iPhone is hurtling downward through the artificially freshened restroom air, from the privacy of your stall, you will think, “Please, when you land, go clackety-clack-skitter, not sploosh.”

You may even have a chance to lean your head to one side, like the bad guys have just tossed a three-point buzzer-beater toward the basket, and maybe, just maybe, you could bend its arc with your will, making it bounce off the rim.

I found myself in this position at work last week, watching the device falling toward its date with porcelain destiny.

“This is what you get,” I thought.

The previous day, as I walked past the row of stalls in our work bathroom, a door flung open and a new guy walked right toward me, ignoring the bathroom traffic laws and merging recklessly, so engrossed in his phone that other organic life forms did not exist to him.  I was like a squirrel in the street trying to guess which way the car would go.  This way, then that, I stutter-stepped to get out of his way as he plowed forward to the sinks, never seeming to notice me.

That was a close call.  You do not make eye contact in the men’s room, and you especially do not make actual contact.

“Put your phones down and act like people, people,” I thought, shaking my head.  Also, everyone, we can hear when you don't use the soap dispenser.  You're not fooling anyone with that little spritz of water.  If you're going to take the charade that far, why not just actually wash your hands? 

That night, my buddy Josh posted a picture to Facebook with this caption: “After seeing this picture, I've decided to never buy my son a cell phone. Ever.” 

In the picture, two little boys sat side-by-side on a carnival ride, whipping around a turn with their hands and feet outstretched, glee and wonder on their faces.  In the car behind them, two teenage girls sat, glum-faced, one with a phone to her ear, the other tapping at her phone like a lab rat wondering when the treat was finally going to roll out. 

I used to think people looked busy or important when they tapped on their phones in public.  Now it just seems sadder than if they were actually paying attention to the world around them.

It was against this backdrop that I decided my email must be checked at the same time my trou was dropped, lest my trip to the bathroom be only productive in the way nature intended.  As I prepared to sit, a clumsy fumble sent the phone tumbling out of my hands.

If an old woman in a dark cloak had stopped me in the parking lot on my way into work that morning and said, "You.  Yes, you're the one.  You're going to stick your hand into the toilet today," poking me in the chest with her bony finger, I would have gone inside immediately and called security.

Alas, she would have been right.

“Sploosh!” went the iPhone.   

In that moment, decisive action had to be taken.  I don't like to throw around the word “hero” too loosely, but just like the guy who jumps into the raging river after the child who got swept into the current, I did not hesitate.  When you’re a hero, you do what the situation requires, whether it’s saving a kid’s life, or dunking your hand into the john while wearing your best button-down. 

While I didn’t do any wonders for my dignity that morning, I actually did manage to save my phone, which somehow still works just fine.  If this ever happens to you, there is hope for a happy ending.  Just be sure to do better than a spritz on your way out.

You can decline to borrow Mike Todd’s iPhone at 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting my beans in a grind

Once the words came out, there could be no putting them back in.  My wife Kara would know the full extent of my betrayal.

“There’s a pretty good chance you’re about be angry with me,” I told her.

“Oh, really?” she laughed, then she saw the look on my face. 

“Wait, really?  What’s going on?” she asked.

To that point, the morning had been pleasant.  We’d just dropped off the kids at daycare.  The sun shone through the leaves as they fluttered in the late spring breeze.  I wondered if the weather would be this nice again tomorrow, and if so, would I be alive to see it? 

“Still enjoying your coffee?” I asked her.

“The coffee’s fine.  What’s going on?” she asked, giving me a key argument for the defense I was about to need.

A few months prior, we’d stood in front of the giant bags of ground coffee at Costco. 

“Hey, the Costco brand is only twelve bucks for a two-and-a-half-pound bag.  That’s five bucks cheaper than the Dunkin’ Donuts bag,” I pointed out, helpfully, I thought.

Kara rolled her eyes.  I was cheap when she married me, which makes it a preexisting condition, but as my age advances, my frugalitarian tendencies are getting worse (or better, depending on your point of view).  She signed up for a certain level of cheapness, but she did not agree to spend her life with the guy who separates two-ply toilet paper into two rolls of one-ply, or the guy who washes paper towels and hangs them out to dry, so I’ve tried to funnel my natural cheapness into pursuits that won’t draw too much attention.

Perhaps emboldened by our recent cutting of the TV cable, I looked for other monthly bills to slay, since they have the gall to show up every month.  As luck would have it, we go through about one bag of coffee every month, which creates an opportunity to streamline our operations.

“Please don’t mess with my coffee.  It’s already cheap because we make it at home.  This is the kind I like,” Kara implored as she dropped the Dunkin’ Donuts bag into the cart. 

Less than three years ago, Kara didn’t even like coffee.  Then we had our second son, Zack, who went 750 consecutive days without sleeping through the night, a streak that would have made Cal Ripken, Jr. envious.  During that streak, Kara decided that perhaps survival without coffee was not possible, and we both started drinking it every day. 

So I agreed not to mess with her coffee, with the implied understanding that the next time I came to Costco by myself, I could buy the cheap stuff, stick it under the kitchen counter, brew a pot without mentioning anything and try to pass it off as Dunkin’ Donuts.  At least that’s what I took away from the conversation.

I’d intentionally waited until the kids were gone to start this confession, so that they wouldn’t have to see Daddy’s blood spatter on the windshield.  A solid marriage is built on trust (and also on compatible Netflix tastes), but as I sat there next to my wife of nearly ten years, she was drinking a big cup of lies.

“That coffee you’re drinking.  It’s the Costco kind,” I said, wincing.  Really, the coffee does taste different.  Not worse, just different.  I’d expected her to spew her first sip across the kitchen.

“Dude, I thought you’d just made it too strong!  But you’re drinking the rest of that bag.  Don’t mess with my coffee,” she said.

Her response was so relatively consequence-free, a lesser husband might have felt emboldened to experiment with other forms of subterfuge, perhaps going online later that day to casually peruse user reviews on water-saving shower heads.

In any event, if you’d like to come over and have a nice cup of coffee, we have plenty.  You just can’t watch me brew it. 

You can filter Mike Todd at

Monday, June 16, 2014

Free money! No, really

“Wait, but I’m not dead,” I explained to the customer support representative.  She didn’t seem quite convinced. 

“I’m sorry Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity,” she explained again, deftly using the passive voice to assign blame to no one.  Who closed the account?  Let’s not get bogged down in the details.  It was closed.  Accounts close all the time.  Who are we to say who closes them?

“It’s just, if I’m not dead, why would you close my account and give away my money?  Seems like, if your customers are still alive, you should leave their accounts open,” I suggested.

“I’m sorry Mr. Todd, but the account was closed due to inactivity, and the funds in it were given to the state.  You can go online to to request the funds back, if you’d like,” she said.

“I’d like very much to have those funds back,” I said, realizing that I was more likely to recover the lunch money I’d lent to Jimmy Gallagher in fifth grade.

Last year, I signed up for a high-deductible “Don’t Get Sick and We’ll Give You $500” medical plan through my employer.  If you signed up for that plan, it was your responsibility to make sure you had a health savings account (HSA, if you’re still awake) set up to receive the funds.  Last week, during that phone call, I discovered that my HSA provider closed my account in 2012 due to inactivity, even though I was, by most accounts, still alive.  So I did not receive my $500 for not getting sick in 2013, and I also lost $145 that was already in the account. 

“Duuuuuude,” I said to myself after hanging up, realizing that not only had I lost $645, but, even worse, I’d have to tell my wife that I lost $645.  (Kara was actually quite understanding when I told her, though we agreed that since there was nothing in my HSA because nobody in particular had closed it, it might be best if I didn’t severely sprain my ankle this summer like I’d been planning.) 

There was clearly no point in trying to retrieve money that had been turned over to the state two years ago, but just to follow up, I visited that afternoon.  It took me about twenty seconds to select my state, search for my name, find the record of my lost funds, provide my social security number and request that a check be sent to my current address. 

The check arrived about ten days later.  Also in the mailbox was an identical envelope addressed to Kara.  I’d also searched for her name that fateful afternoon, and found that she had some unclaimed funds from ING Direct.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I found some old ING account that you used to have and requested the funds.  It’s probably a check for twenty-three cents,” I told Kara, handing her the envelope.

“I don’t remember having an ING account.  Must have been a long time ago,” she said.

We opened our envelopes.  My check was for $145.  Her check was for $1,600. 

“Dude!  I just made us money by losing five-hundred bucks!” I said as we high-fived.  It’s not a strategy I would recommend, but sometimes, it pays to be a degenerate.

Since discovering, we’ve made a sport of looking up friends and family members so that we can tell them to go spend twenty seconds to pull the arm on the slot machine and see how many cherries show up.  We’ve found several people in the database: My mother-in-law, Kara’s aunt, my mom’s friend, my buddy’s dad.  Our success rate is around 10%, but it’s still way more than we would have expected.

If you’re the kind of degenerate who might have forgotten about an old account somewhere, you should visit to see if your name shows up.  You might luck out and find that nobody in particular just assumed you were dead. 
The drinks are on Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The time is meow

“Dude, there could be hornets’ nests in there, or poison ivy, or rusty nails sticking out all over the place,” I told our four-year-old son Evan, and his eyes grew wide. 

“Please can I go in there?  Pleeeease?” he said again, and I realized that I might as well have told him that Dora the Explorer was handing out lollipops in there.   

Kids will keep you guessing.  I’d just warned Evan of a high probability of very real danger, and it only served to turn him into Intrepid Explorer Man.  The previous evening, he’d refused to walk to our kitchen pantry by himself for fear of a monster intercepting him, which is just silly.  The monsters live in the laundry room.

“You’ll have to ask Sergey.  It’s not my barn,” I said.

Evan ran up to the grill, where Sergey was just removing the last of the hot dogs. 

“Sure, I’ll take you on a tour of the barn,” Sergey replied to Evan’s shirt-tugging entreaties.

Sergey’s wife, Julie, is a horse person.  They don’t have any horses at their house, but the little barn in their backyard lets them keep their options open, just in case they decide they’d like to have some grazing beasts wandering around their house, and having their friends over for barbecues isn’t doing the trick anymore.

“The last time any horses lived here was two owners ago,” Sergey said as we approached the open door.  The entire structure was about the size of a two-car garage.  Like most two-car garages, though, you wouldn’t have been able to fit any cars in it, on account of all the stuff. 

After sidling past their lawnmower, I held Evan up so that he could see into the first of four horse stalls.  He grabbed the top of the dusty door and peered in at the pile of discarded drywall, broken glass, fence posts and rusted wire.  You needed a tetanus shot just for looking at it.  The other three stalls looked ready for a horse to move in tomorrow, but this one had made itself useful by agreeing to house decades’ worth of stuff that wouldn’t fit in the trash can.

“What’s all that stuff?” Evan asked.  Before Sergey could reply, the pile answered for him. 

“Mew,” the pile said.

“Dude, I think that pile just meowed,” I said.

“No, there’s a bird outside that sounds like a cat,” Sergey said.

“Mew,” the pile replied.

“Mew,” it agreed.  All of a sudden, a chorus of mews started coming out from under the pile. 

“Kitties!” Evan squealed, running outside to tell everyone of the discovery.

“Aw, man,” Sergey said, locating the tunnel against the side of the barn where a critter had burrowed into the stall.  A pregnant critter, apparently.

As the party moved from the backyard to the barn, everyone got on their knees to peer under the rubble. 

“Awwwwww,” was the collective response as four tiny, blinking kittens emerged into the sunlight. 

Julie whispered, “Oh, dear.  There was a dead cat on the side of the road a few days ago.”

“Did it look like these kittens?” I asked.

She nodded, wincing.  Word spread quickly that these kittens needed a good home.  From that point forward, Sergey and Julie were no longer hosting a backyard barbecue.  It was Kittenpalooza.

 “Get ya kittens heee-yah!  Who wants a kitten?  Get ‘em while they’re cute!”

Someone brought a paper plate of wet cat food outside and set it on the ground.  A couple of the kittens approached, taking cautious nibbles.

A third ran from behind and bellyflopped into the food, determined to eat the entire pile from underneath itself.

In the end, a couple of Sergey and Julie’s friends agreed to take all the kittens home, keeping some and bringing the rest to a no-kill shelter. 

Evan, for his part, is off to an auspicious start of his exploring career, though he’s disappointed when he doesn’t find litters of kittens in the pantry.
You can bellyflop into your food with Mike Todd at

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Doesn’t taste like chicken

“Come on, try it,” I said to my wife Kara, nudging the little cube of who-knows-what toward her. 

“Uh uh,” she said, shaking her head.

“Oh, try something new, Evan,” I said, reminding her of the phrase we employ twenty-seven times a day in our vain attempts to get our four-year-old son, who is 90% chicken-nugget-powered, to eat something that can’t be dunked in ketchup. 

“The whole idea is freaking me out a little,” she replied.  That’s exactly the effect the little cube was meant to have. 

I’d first heard about this chicken substitute in a 2012 article by Farhad Manjoo, titled, “Fake Meat So Good It Will Freak You Out.”  In that article, Manjoo said that a new company called Beyond Meat had created the best fake meat yet, so good that it even fooled a New York Times food writer. 

The article stuck with me, even two years later, because I am a vegetarian sympathizer, which means that I lack the willpower to be an actual vegetarian, but I’d like all the animals that I eat to know that I like them a lot, even before they’re covered in melted cheese. 

Over the years, I’ve fed my brain a steady, growing diet of cognitive dissonance.  I’ll dive over the couch to keep Kara from squishing a spider, then go back to dipping my bacon in au jus (which, translated from the French, means “what happens when you wring out a cow.”)  While I know that eating meat is bad for the planet and not such a great deal for the animals, either, its deliciousness makes it awfully easy to rationalize.  Bacon, after all, is just a tiny sliver.  The pig will hardly miss it.

In the movie “Interview with the Vampire,” Brad Pitt’s character becomes a vampire consumed with guilt at the idea of killing people for food.  He tries to tame his hunger by feeding on rats, but it’s ultimately not enough.

“Oh, come on, it’s not that hard to not kill people.  I do it all the time,” I remember thinking.

When I attempt to make a meal out of squash, though, I get a little more sympathy for vampires.  Gourds are my rats -- I might survive, but I refuse to enjoy it. 

So when we went out for lunch recently and the restaurant had a little sign proclaiming, “All chicken dishes available with Beyond Meat chicken-free strips,” I thought, well, today’s my clucky day.

“Can I try that with the fake chicken?” I asked, surprised to hear my voice saying those words.

Back at our table, Kara watched me take the first bite of a buffalo not-chicken wrap.   

“How is it?  Can you tell?” she asked.

On the one hand, it felt good knowing that the only thing that had to die to make this lunch was my sense of apprehension.  On the other hand, my hesitant hopes may have been a little too high.  I was expecting fool-a-food-critic fake chicken.  What I got was closer to fool-a-food-critic-who’s-still-recovering-from-a-root-canal fake chicken. 

“No, it’s fine.  I mean, the texture actually feels like chicken.  It just seems like they had to cram some spices in there to keep my soy radar from going off,” I said.

I took out a cube of the chicken-like substance and put it in Kara’s plate, nudging it toward her.

She wasn’t as curious to try it, but when she could tell we were headed toward “here comes the airplane, into the hangar” territory, she relented.

“Yeah, I mean, pretty close, I guess,” she said, chewing and shrugging.

So while we may not be ready to move beyond meat quite yet, it seems hopeful that perhaps we’re closing in on it.  Maybe someday we’ll even sneak a soy nugget past Evan.

You can grill Mike Todd at