by Mike Todd

We weren’t prepared for the ambush, which is what made it such a good one. The pickup truck pulled into the driveway behind us, blocking our escape route, its occupants intent on separating us from our money. I hadn’t even noticed the ringleader jumping out of the truck behind me, getting ready to execute her plan.

“Dude, these paper towels aren’t the Select-a-Size kind,” I said to my wife, peering at the avalanche of groceries in our car’s cargo area. Somewhere, under those piles, was a folded-up stroller the size of an Abrams tank, from which we’d hopefully remembered to remove the baby, but I wasn’t sure. We had set out to buy bananas and milk at the supermarket but somehow wound up spending $200 on a mountain of food that blotted out our car’s dome light.

“Aw, they’re the regular kind?” my wife Kara said, emerging from her seat. Prior to having children, we used about three paper towels per year, mostly to clean up beer spills. Now, with two small children bent on the destruction of our house via the contents of their plastic plates and sippy cups, we go through enough paper towels weekly to soak up a lesser Great Lake.

To assuage our eco-guilt, we try to use the smaller Select-a-Size ones, which should really just replace the standard size altogether. A normal-sized paper towel could, in a pinch, serve as a cape for a very low-rent (but super-absorbent) superhero. If you need that size of paper towel in your life, it might be time to consider eating your meals in a kiddie pool that can be hosed out later. We’ve thought about it.

“Truck!” our son Evan yelled from his car seat, recognizing the familiar rumble. Finally, his lifelong quest to point out large motorized vehicles to everyone in earshot fulfilled an actual purpose.

I turned to find a woman looking down, pacing around our driveway while two guys waited for her in an idling pickup truck. “It’s holding up pretty good,” she said when she saw me looking at her.

I glanced at the truck and noticed the logo painted on the door, which was that of a local paving company. They had coated our driveway a few years back. “We like to do it every two years,” she said.

“I bet you do,” I thought.

“Really? That often?” I asked. She must not have known she was talking to a family with two kids in daycare. Our general plan is to let our house biodegrade until next year, when Evan starts kindergarten. Anything that falls apart or implodes in the meantime didn’t really deserve us, anyway.

“Yup. It’s been three years since your last coating,” she said.

“Let’s make it four,” I thought.

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld bit where he talks about maximum-strength headache medicine. “Nobody wants anything less than ‘extra-strength,’” he said. “Give me the maximum allowable human dosage. Figure out what will kill me, and then back it off just a little bit.”

If you turn that idea around, you’ll arrive at my general attitude toward the maintenance of our property. Figure out what will anger the neighbors, then step it up just a little bit. Anything more is just wasting time you could have spent in your bathroom or scrubbing dog barf out of the carpet.

“Replacing a cracked driveway costs a lot more than coating it,” she warned as she handed me her card.

I thanked her for waylaying our family as she hopped back in the truck. Evan stood at the edge of the garage and waved as they backed out. As the engine noise faded away, he started scanning the sky for airplanes.

The saleslady was right. We really should coat the driveway again this year. Or maybe I’ll just blot off the rain with all of our new paper towels.