Sunday, October 26, 2014

The watch man

In horror, I jumped out of the shower, my comatose morning brain shocked into a state of high alert.     
“Dude, that was a close call,” I said out loud, looking at the only dry part of my body: my left forearm, which happened to have my two-day-old, non-waterproof birthday present from my wife strapped to it.

It’s the first non-Timex watch I’ve had on my wrist since the Hamburglar one that came with my Happy Meal thirty years ago.

“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a fancy man,” I told Kara later, as we slapped together peanut-butter-and-jelly-based sustenance for our children.

“Fancy man?” she asked.

“Wearing a non-waterproof watch.  It’s a big responsibility,” I said. 

She laughed, not understanding the depth of my reluctance to accept any addition to a daily routine that already barely features enough time to tend to basic human grooming. 

“The watch really isn’t fancy.  Most people don’t wear their watch in the shower.  I asked at work – all the guys take their watches off every day,” she replied.  Fine for them, but if I add this extra calorie-burning to my daily routine, something else will have to come off.  Skipping flossing wouldn’t count, either, because nobody does that in real life.

Perhaps my hesitation to accept this nice gift stemmed from a formative experience I had with a fancy watch in college.  I was working at I. Goldberg’s Great Outdoor Store, a very nice place that was famous for remaining in business until they built a Dick’s next door.

A middle-aged man chatted me up while I was working behind the knife-and-watch counter.  He was looking at the Swiss Army watches under the glass, considering one as a gift for his son.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked, holding out his wrist so that I could get a good look at his giant metal watch, which was roughly the size of Captain America’s shield.

“No,” I said, guessing that “a watch” was somehow the wrong answer.

“It’s an Omega,” he replied, pausing a few beats to let that information sink in, but it just bounced off.

“It’s nice,” I said.

“It could pay for your college education,” he said, and I finally understood that I was speaking to someone of distinction; he held the distinction of being the biggest gasbag I’d ever met.

The funny thing about status symbols is that they actually tell you the opposite of what they’re supposed to.  That man’s watch didn’t tell me anything about how much money he had, only how much money he no longer had. 

Also, I bet that tuition-equivalent watch had to come off every day before that guy got in the shower, assuming he bathed in water, and not his own pretentiousness.  It’s like how fine china can’t go through the dishwasher, but our plastic Dora the Explorer plates can.  Fancy people like to be inconvenienced.

Water resistance is of special importance to me, because, as the regular reader(s) of this column may recall, I occasionally indulge in the sport of fishing my iPhone out of the toilet.  To excel at this sport, one must be prepared for wet appendages at any moment.  He who hesitates will soon be found at the Genius Bar, getting a new phone.

After all this, though, I’m still not certain whether my new watch is waterproof or not.  Look at this marvel of English from the product description: “Water resistant to 99 feet (30 M): withstands rain and splashes of water, but not showering or submersion.”

So it’s fine to wear the watch underwater, but DO NOT, under any circumstances, submerge it or take a shower while doing so. 

You don’t have these kinds of issues when your watch comes with small fries.

You can submerge Mike Todd to ninety-nine feet at

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cape Todd

The ocean inched closer.  Soon, we’d have no choice but to flee.

“A pincher!” my son Evan said, holding up a crab claw.  He deposited the claw into his bucket, which was close to overflowing with the soon-to-be-stinking parts of dead marine animals, the perfect souvenirs.

“Dead cwab!” his brother Zack agreed.

The rain, relentless, dripped off the brims of our hoods.  Underneath my drenched wind pants, my damp thermal underwear clung to my goosebumps.

“C’mon, ocean, get here already,” I thought, watching as each lapping wave moved the sea a little bit closer.

Our family recently learned this one weird trick about vacation: If you go to a place when nobody else wants to be there, it’s a lot cheaper.  This is how we found ourselves visiting Cape Cod last weekend, when we probably should have been doing something more seasonally appropriate, like carving pumpkins or purchasing the first batch of Halloween candy that wouldn’t last until Halloween. 

At this time of year, though, at least you don’t have to battle the crowds at Cape Cod, because the crowds know better.

“How long ‘til we’re there?” Evan had asked every five minutes during the drive, starting before we’d gotten past our mailbox, undaunted by the prospect of frolicking in the surf wearing galoshes and a jacket.

When he got his answer, he’d reply, “Are hours the long ones, or minutes?”

So once we got within striking distance, I tried a different method: “We’re about one Frozen away, buddy.”

He knows that length of time quite well, since it’s the only programming that his little brother will allow in our household.  We’ve tried to interest Zack in other shows and movies, but somehow, despite all the encouragement, he just can’t let it go.

Sunset?  Can't look now.  Watchin' Frozen.
“Awwww, a whole Frozen?  I thought we were close!  I just want to be there!” Evan yelled. 

“Evan, if you want a road trip to be fun, you need to focus on something else.  Sleep, listen to music, play a game.  If you want to be as miserable as possible, focus on how long it’s taking to get there,” I said.

Evan paused, and I could see my fatherly wisdom sinking in.

“How long ‘til we’re there?” he asked.

Once we finally got there, though, a little thing like horrible weather wasn’t going to keep our kids off the beach, which is just as well, since all those rotting crab parts weren’t going to collect themselves.

 My wife Kara had found a cottage just above a beach that became, at low tide, a child’s paradise, an endless tidal flat, just sand and shells all the way to the horizon.  Hours later, the tide would come rushing back in, sliding across the flats until they disappeared.  The sea would continue to rise until the beach itself vanished, and the first five steps of the staircases, the only escape over the dunes, became submerged.  If the sea didn’t reclaim the beach daily, forcing all land-based life to find refuge elsewhere, we’d still be out there.

“Okay, kids, the ocean’s just about here,” I said, shivering. 

“What’s taking it so long?” Kara whispered.

“But we need more shells to bring home,” Evan replied, just as Zack dropped another crab part into the bucket, briefly upsetting the flies. 

When the sea finally forced us back to the cottage, the kids were purple and chattering, and all the sand made their skin a medium grit.  As soon as they were warm and dry, they were pressing their noses against the glass, waiting for the beach to reappear.

We’re already looking forward to going back at the same time next year.

You can put on your jacket and go for a swim with Mike Todd at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Getting there is half the terror

“Isn’t there an easy way up?” I asked, staring at the sheer cliff face upon which, it seemed fairly clear, I was about to die.

“This is the easy way,” my brother-in-law Kris replied, pointing to the little crack in the face of the cliff as if it was the escalator outside JC Penney.  Just take that thing to the top, no problem.

My wife Kara stood at the base of the cliff, looking at the rope that connected her to Kris, who stood ten feet to her left.  Rather than making a straight line between them, though, the rope took a much sillier route, traveling from the harness around Kara’s waist, up through the carabiner fifty feet up the cliff face, then back down to Kris.  That route, much like rock climbing itself, was rather illogical.

“This looks impossible,” Kara said, wiping her hands across the smooth rock, looking for something to grab onto.

“Just put your shoe into the crack.  You’ll be amazed at how much traction they give you,” said Kara’s sister, Jill. 

Ah, the magic climbing shoes.  We’d heard much about their powers, but hadn’t yet experienced them for ourselves. 

That morning, when we were renting the shoes from the outdoor store, I sat in the chair, grimacing and stuffing my foot into the rubber-and-leather ballet slipper, feeling like Cinderella’s step-sister.

“How do I know if it’s the right size?” I asked the clerk.

“When it’s right, it should feel pretty uncomfortable,” he replied, leading one to wonder how one would tell when it was wrong. 

“Man, these kinda hurt, don’t they?” Kara asked, limping around the room.   

“I think these ones must fit,” I said, sucking in my lips and slapping the chair, hoping that the prince would be fooled.

We’d found ourselves in this predicament by trying to keep up with Jill and Kris, who picked up rock climbing several years ago, first as a hobby, then as a lifestyle.  For vacation this year, they’re going to Vietnam, where they can partake in an activity called “deep water solo.”  If you’ve never heard of this variant of rock climbing (which you wouldn’t have, unless you live in a Mountain Dew commercial), it’s when you step off a boat, grabbing directly onto a cliff face.  Then you climb as high as you can, without ropes.  When you’re done, you jump (or fall) into the water, ideally after the boat has moved out of the way.     

When Kara and I go on vacation, our idea of adventure is getting Oreo mixed into our soft serve.  We live in a Friendly’s commercial.

“You’re doing great, Kara!” Jill called up the cliff.  Kara had managed to pull herself right up to the top of the climb, avoiding the shame of having the day turn into a family story for the next few decades.

“That was fun!” Kara said when her feet touched the ground again, though I might have detected some verbal air quotes around the word “fun.”

As I took my turn, cramming my rubber shoes into the crack and dangling from my fingertips, pretending that the ground was not becoming an unsafe distance away, I started to feel like perhaps I was not so bad at rock climbing after all.  Then, thirty feet to my left, on a different rope, an eight-year-old boy scampered up the cliff, then rappelled back down, leaving me alone with my thoughts and my bald spot.  I had the same feeling you get when you’re snowplowing down a black diamond trail, feeling pretty good about yourself, when a four-year-old with no ski poles zips past you.  Except, you know, in reverse.

The day, which we survived with only minor aches and pains in our rarely used clinging-for-your-life muscles, gave me and Kara a great appreciation for the skills that Jill and Kris have acquired over the years, and also gave us a heightened sense of adventure.  Next time, we might mix in some crumbled peanut butter cups, too.

You can scale Mike Todd at

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The forbidden fruitie

“NOOOOO!” my son Evan screamed from inside the car.  I spun around, looking through the open window to find a gruesome scene unfolding in the backseat. 

Evan’s little brother, Zack, sat on Evan’s legs, blocking him from the fruit snacks that Evan had poured out for both of them to share.  With glee and haste, Zack shoveled the gummy fruits into his mouth.

“My fruities!” Evan screamed, pinned, helpless.   

 A few minutes earlier, when we’d pulled into the garage, the kids had lobbied to explore the car.  They love getting turned loose in there, climbing around, turning on the hazard lights and setting the windshield wipers to fire at monsoon-dissipating speeds the next time the car starts.  I don’t complain, because the kids are contained in there, so I can lean against the outside of the car and spend a few quiet moments paying attention to the thing that really matters in life: my phone.

“Fruities!” Evan had said when he’d found a packet on the floorboard in the third row.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I’d replied.  “If you’re going to open those, you need to share them with your brother.”

Evan dutifully poured them into the center cup holder so that they could share, which is when Zack crawled back to thank his brother for, and then take advantage of, his generosity.

I yanked the door open and caught Zack with the last fruitie in his hand.  I could have just taken it from him and given it to Evan, but I needed Zack to understand and correct the error of his ways.     
“You give that fruitie to your brother.  Right now,” I whispered, pointing at his chest.  I’d debated about leading with a good fatherly bellow, but those need to be used sparingly to be effective, and I’d already spent my fatherly bellow tokens the previous day.

“Cackers!” Zack had been screaming on our way home from work and daycare.

“We don’t have any crackers, Zack.  You can have some when we get home,” my wife Kara had replied.

“CACKERS!” Zack screamed, for ten minutes straight.  Finally, he broke me, and I unleashed the bellow. 


“Cackers,” Zack replied.

Back at the fruitie showdown, Zack looked at my outstretched finger, then at me. 

“Don’t you dare eat that fruitie.  You share it with your brother,” I said.

He looked me in the eyes as he deposited the fruitie into his open mouth.  His little cheeks broke into a grin as he chewed, never taking his eyes off of mine.

“MY FRUITIES!” Evan screamed, flopping backwards in that special convulsion of grief that children reserve for lost high fructose corn syrup.

Zack had tasted the forbidden fruitie, and I could see in his eyes the knowledge he was gaining with each chew.  Sharing is for suckers.  Stealing pays delicious dividends.  Authority exists to be flouted.  If someone’s in your way, sit on them and take their stuff.     

Children will test their boundaries, and if they don’t find any, they’ll careen into the abyss.  At that moment, if uncorrected, Zack’s path forward became very clear, and it was leading to horrible places, like prison or Congress.

“That’s it.  Straight to timeout,” I said, grabbing him by the armpits.  Bo Duke never exited a car so quickly.

Sitting on our front step, it was Zack’s turn to bellow as he served his two-minute sentence. 

Afterwards, he approached the aggrieved party.

“Sorry, Brudder,” Zack said as he hugged Evan.

Evan returned his hug, and then they were off running, side-by-side, to the backyard.  I joined them after locking the car doors, relieved they didn’t notice the granola bar on the floorboard.
You can steal Mike Todd’s fruities at