Monday, August 25, 2014

Play it again, Samsung

“We are family now, you and I,” I said, watching the blood drip from my finger, forming an unbreakable bond with my silent compatriot. 

“What are you doing?” my wife Kara asked from the doorway behind me.

“Just having a moment with the laundry machine,” I replied.  I’d never felt closer to an appliance than I did at that moment, with our washer’s bare frame in front of me and its parts spread all over the room.  The machine was at its most vulnerable, and it was depending on me, my Phillips screwdriver and all the king’s horses to get it back together again.

Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea

“Dude, is that blood?” Kara asked.

“There are some sharp spots in there,” I noted.  I hadn’t noticed the cut on my finger until blood smears started appearing on the pump housing.  When you’re a big, tough, appliance-fixing person like me, boo-boos are a part of the deal. 

Earlier that day, back when I knew nothing about appliance repair, our washing machine decided that rather than wash our clothes, it would prefer to sit there blinking the letters “ND.”  From some quick online searches, I found that “ND” is an error code, short for “Not Doin’ your laundry anymore.”

Some web searches showed a few easy things to try that would probably fix the problem.  None of them worked, but they still provided a nice respite from watching videos of people dumping buckets of ice on their heads.  (Which, by the way, I fully support, but would enjoy some variation to keep things interesting.  Buckets of spiders, perhaps?)

I called the manufacturer, Samsung, to see what they had to say, which was: “Unplug it.  Now plug it back in.  Still doesn’t work?  Huh.”

They generously offered to let me pay them to pay someone else to come fix it, but I needed to do more research first.  After talking to a local appliance guy, I found that a housecall would cost $110 for him to change out of his jammy pants, then another $135 to diagnose and possibly fix the problem, plus parts.  But I’d have to unstack the washer and dryer before he’d even look at it, which was the part that had the most cussing, grunting and toe-smashing potential in the first place. 
So I turned to the world’s most trusted source of reliable information: YouTube.

“Look, the guy in this video fixes it in eight minutes,” I told Kara.  I was feeling confident from my earlier success at patching our roof leak.  I was so good at it, I got to patch the same leak three times.  

As the video progressed, the guy took the top off the washer, then removed the panel of buttons, then the big rubber seal, then the entire front panel, and then he started playing with the innards.  The color drained from Kara’s face, the first time that day that anything in our house had drained properly. 

“You can’t break something that’s already broken,” my dad said over the phone, which was encouraging.  Not true, really, but encouraging. 

So I dug in, armed with nothing but a screwdriver, an iPad and a misdirected sense of self-esteem.  (I should also give credit to Kara here, because I wouldn’t have been able to drop the dryer on myself by myself.)

To my amazement, after following the eight-minute video for three hours, the washing machine worked.  It was the best fix-it job I’d ever performed, but I won’t call myself a hero, because people expect modesty from a hero.

The next day, I found a little rubber flange on the counter that had previously kept the flow of water going one-way into the machine’s pump.  Or maybe out of it.  So not only had I fixed the machine, I'd upgraded one of the pipes from one-way to two-way.  You don’t get that kind of service from someone trained and knowledgeable.

Anyway, Dad’s advice turned out to be good.  I gained confidence, skills and at least $235.  And possibly tetanus.

You can try to fix Mike Todd at

Monday, August 18, 2014

Newly kidless on the Block

“Wait, wait, wait.  It might bite you,” my wife Kara said.  I paused in the ankle-deep water, weighing the relative importance of getting this photograph versus keeping all of my fingers.

“I don't think horseshoe crabs can bite, can they?” I asked.  It was a question a person could only ask while on vacation, like: “Do my feet look sunburned to you?” or,

“What day of the week is it again?”

“Maybe not, but it sure looks like they could pinch or sting,” she said.

The crab scooted a little deeper into the sand while it waited for us to sort this out.

For our tenth anniversary, Kara and I were exploring Block Island, Rhode Island, which sounds redundant, until you realize that the people who named Rhode Island clearly had no idea what the word “island” meant.  Or maybe they did.

“By the time the tourists realize there's only water on one side, they'll be in Connecticut.  Forsooth!”

But unlike Rhode Island, Block Island is actually an island, and its miles of beaches proved to be a wonderful place to pretend that we didn’t have kids for five days.

“You’re at the beach?  Without me?” our five-year-old son Evan wailed into our videoconference on our third night there.

“Should have stuck with plain old phone calls,” I whispered.

“We found some pretty shells for you today, buddy!” Kara said, trying to pull the conversation out of the fire, holding her phone closer to her face so that Evan couldn’t see the sand behind her.

 “I wanna be at the beach!” he wailed.

We’d been rather vague about this trip with our two sons, telling them that Mommy and Daddy were going on a date for a few days.  With Grandma and Grandpa in town to babysit and the ice cream flowing freely, they didn’t ask questions.  It was okay that we were gone, just not okay that we were gone and having fun.

“We’ll all go to the beach together soon, I promise,” Kara said, and Evan calmed down, locking that promise into his memory banks.

A few moments later, we all said “good night” and “I love you,” and Kara hung up.  Even the red-orange sunset, glistening off of our wine glasses as the waves gently lapped on the shore just a short distance from our semi-reclined beach chairs, couldn’t alleviate our guilt.  But, you know.  It didn’t hurt, either.

On top of celebrating ten years of married life together and acting like the preceding four non-married years didn’t count, we were also location-scouting Block Island as a potential place for our wider family to gather next summer, including my sister’s family with their two small children.  

“Look at all the kid-friendly stuff there is to do here!” we wanted our photos to say.  Since we’d ditched our own kids, though, we had to demonstrate the kid-friendliness of Block Island in a more hypothetical context.

“Look!  There are little horseshoe crabs here that small children could harass, assuming these children had parents who hadn’t ditched them!” was the message we settled on, which is how I found myself crouched over a little horseshoe crab, debating the prudence of posing with it.

A caveman pondering an interaction with an unknown creature would just have to take his best guess (“Throg think tiger look tasty!”), which is why cavemen had an average life expectancy of about four decisions.  Too bad cavemen didn’t have iPhones in their backpacks.

“Nope, it’s safe.  They just use their tails for balance, and they can’t pinch,” I said, grabbing the crab for a quick photo op. 

Look!  A horeshoe crab!

Hang on a minute.  This one's dead.

 Look!  A different horeshoe crab!

Back in the water, the crab dug himself into the sand again, where there’d be less chance for an encounter with the paparazzi.

If we make it back with the kids next year, he might want to stay hidden.

You can take a relaxing vacation away from Mike Todd at  

Monday, August 11, 2014

You say tomato, I say Dorito

The regular reader(s) of this column might recognize this column from 2008.  Sorry for the rerun - didn't have a chance to crank out a fresh column for this week.  But now that we've kicked all five seasons of Fringe, our Netflix queue officially has nothing worthwhile in it, so I should have more time from here on out.  Back to original programming next week!
As my wife Kara and I cruised the aisles of the grocery store in preparation for a visit from some out-of-town friends, I looked down into the cart and beheld a menagerie of items that surely must have belonged to somebody else: diet root beer, low-fat cheddar cheese, no-taste sour cream, joyless cream cheese and soul-crushing baked potato chips.

“I think we accidentally grabbed Richard Simmons’ cart,” I said. Back home, we’d already stashed some cases of light beer for the big weekend. Light beer. It was almost too depressing to contemplate. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be partying with V-8 juice and those carrot shavings that have the raisins mixed in.

For the first thirty years of life, I knew that most food came with nutritional information printed on the back, but it was one of those facts that never seemed to have any bearing on me personally, like knowing that male seahorses are the ones that give birth and that Tulsa is the capital of Nebraska. But as the years have sped up and the metabolisms have slowed down, the back of food packaging has become more interesting than the front.

“This bag of Smartfood has 45% of my daily fat intake,” I told my dad on vacation recently as he drove us back from a hike. We’d rewarded ourselves for a day of tromping through the woods by stopping at a tiny general store and cleaning the place out of anything that contained cheese or cheese-like substances. I thought I’d made a responsible choice by choosing Smartfood popcorn over Doritos, but apparently Smartfood is only the smartest choice if you’re an underweight sumo wrestler.

Dad reluctantly handed me his bag of Cheetos like a bad cop turning in his badge.

“I don’t really want to know, but tell me anyway,” he said.

“Let’s see…looks like 60% of your daily fat intake,” I said as Dad winced. “This bag was supposed to have four servings in it.”

He took the bag back and turned it upside-down, dumping the remaining crumbs into this mouth.

“Well, there must have been a mistake, because this bag only had one serving in it,” he replied.

Food was much easier to purchase when the only food-related issues that really mattered were whether or not your slice of pizza had enough pepperoni on it and whether you could scarf down the entire cone before it started to melt. Once you have to start worrying about calories and fat grams, things get way too complicated. I want my food simple, the way nature intended: partially hydrogenated.

Trolling through the grocery store to finish up our trip, Kara lamented not being able to find the last few items on our list. Healthy things are harder to find because they don’t have neon packaging and mascots, just pictures of smiling farmers beside the higher price tags.

By far the most difficult item to find in every grocery store I’ve ever visited is a can of sliced black olives. It won’t be with the jars of olives, and it won’t be with the cans of vegetables. You will wander through the aisles, wondering why you married the only person who enjoys putting sliced black olives on everything short of cereal, until you find them stuffed under a sack of rice in the storeroom.

“Okay, all we need now is a cucumber,” Kara said. “Why is it so impossible to find anything here? I don’t think they have cucumbers.”

“There’s a whole pile of them right there,” I said, pointing to a tray filled with oblong green things.

“Those are zucchinis,” she replied.

“Aren’t those the same thing?” I asked. I still think she was trying to trick me; nobody can tell me that zucchinis and cucumbers aren’t the same thing. I didn’t just fall off the radish truck.

You can steam Mike Todd (he’s healthier that way) at

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Scooter boy of the apocalypse

Speeding toward us, I saw a vision of the future so bleak, so alarming, I almost hid in the bushes and waited for it to pass. 

“BUZZZZZZ,” said the future as it approached.

“It’s okay, buddy,” I reassured my two-year-old son Zack, who was riding in my backpack, as he shifted to the side to get a better look.

Finally, the grim future arrived in the form of a twelve-year-old boy, zipping past us on our neighborhood street, riding what appeared to be a battery-powered bike with no pedals, signaling the fall of our civilization.

I waved to the kid, since he still had a couple of years before he became a surly teenager who would return a friendly wave by pretending he didn’t see it, and he nodded, ho-hum, looking extremely bored for somebody riding something about two steps down from the hoverboards in Back to the Future 2. 

Is this what we’ve come to, giving our kids bikes that they don’t have to pedal?  What’s next, video games that play themselves?  You’ll just turn on the game and the zombies’ heads will start exploding all on their own, freeing up your hands for shoveling in more Cheetos.

I could feel Zack trying to turn around in the pack to continue watching our society collapse. 

“Don’t worry.  You’ll never have one of those,” I told him.

“Binky,” he replied, still proud of himself for pulling off the coup of keeping his pacifier after his nap.  We normally make him leave his binkies in his crib, but on this day, he was feeling sick, and I was feeling soft. 

A few minutes later, I stopped to chat with a neighbor in his driveway.

“Ha, boggy,” Zack said, offering garbled salutations to the neighbor’s dog.

“We’re still working on getting rid of the binky,” I explained.

“When our kids were that age, we waited ‘til Christmas, then told them that Santa took their binkies.  Nobody can be mad at Santa,” he told me.

At first blush, this seemed like a genius idea.  You could painlessly remove your kid’s most cherished, speech-impeding possession without incurring any negative consequences, all through the simple power of lying to your children. 

As I thought more about it, though, I didn’t really want our kids to grow up worrying about a magic elf stealing their stuff while they slept.     

“Lock it down!  Santa’s coming!” they’d scream, running around with bike locks on Christmas Eve, chaining their stuffed animals to the fridge.

Just as I began to formulate a response, a faint buzzing sound began to grow louder.   

“BUZZZZZZ,” said the childhood-crushing machine as it rounded the corner, carrying its bored occupant zipping past us again.  The device he was riding, as I’ve learned from subsequent web queries (Googling “end of the world, causes”), was a seated electric scooter, the “perfect device for teens or adults wanting to run errands or zip around the neighborhood, or have their souls extracted.”  I’m paraphrasing, of course.

He appeared to be doing laps around the neighborhood, suggesting that riding that scooter was a form of recreation, though his expression said “thirty-three minutes into an algebra lecture.”

I must have reacted so negatively to that device because some of my fondest memories from childhood involve riding bikes with the neighborhood kids.  We’d accidentally ride our bikes into pricker bushes, or walk them up steep hills, slumped over, wheezing, or sometimes we’d fall off and break our arms.  That’s how we liked it.

Like the kid on the scooter, we weren’t going anywhere, either, but we had fun getting there.  Finding new ways to add indolence to our kids’ routines just seems backwards.

Anyway, if I were that kid’s dad, after Christmas, there’d be one less scooter in the garage.

You can steal Mike Todd’s toys at