Wednesday, July 17, 2024

I'm in a Pickle

My mother-in-law is turning 80 years young in a few months. She taught our family the game of pickleball. She also taught me that saying cheesy things like “80 years young” is far more beneficial to our relationship than saying “80 years old.”

Pickleball, as you may have noticed, is gaining popularity at a rapid rate. Play it once, and you’ll be hooked, unless you are a tennis player.

If you play tennis, and are serious about it, which every tennis player seems to be, you will not like pickleball ever, because you will refuse to try pickleball, because pickleball is loud and adds annoying extra lines to what are supposed to be TENNIS courts, and it’s loud, and the people who play it laugh and shout, and there is no place for that kind of thing on a tennis court, because tennis is a serious and quiet sport and pickleball looks and sounds fun and loud and there is absolutely no place for fun anywhere near tennis courts!

But, if you actually enjoy having fun, chances are great that you’ll like pickleball. A lot of its popularity comes from how scalable the game is. A group of very athletic twenty-somethings can have a lightning-fast game of doubles on the court next to the group of ninety-somethings with only one original hip joint between the four of them, enjoying a much slower-paced game of the exact same rules on the exact same size court.

We are currently spending the week down in beautiful Morro Bay, California, at my mother-in-law’s house. She is the treasurer for the Morro Bay Pickleball Association, which has four dedicated pickleball courts annoyingly close to two dedicated tennis courts. So close, in fact, that you can sometimes almost hear the tennis players disapproval of all the fun over the noise of all the fun.

The MBPA consists of a very large group of retired people all over the age of 70, who can all kick my ass in pickleball.

That’s the hard lesson I had to learn when I started playing. I don’t think we could name another sport that exists that my mother-in-law could beat me at. She is an incredibly active 79-year-old, but I still have every sports advantage over her, simply because of our age, size, and strength gap.

I really can’t think of another sport – even the ones I’ve never played. I mean, neither of us have ever played jai alai – neither of us even really know what it is – but I guarantee I come out on top if we played a match, or game, or set, or whatever they call it.

But then there’s pickleball - the great equalizer. It’s the one physical activity that legitimately qualifies as a sport that I’m aware of where nothing about your size, strength, or age is going to help you gain an advantage over the lady who plays for three hours a day, even though she’s 79, weighs 90 pounds, and has no cartilage in any of her joints anymore.

And I had come to terms with that fact, after playing with her and her friends enough. It was OK. Pickleball is just like that. I don’t play or practice enough to be very good, so it’s OK if I get beat by old ladies. That was fine.

But then the little kids showed up.

There we were the other day, enjoying a loud, fun time and annoying the adjacent tennis players, when a grandpa showed up to the pickleball courts. He had his two grandsons with him, and they were only six and eight years old.

To our surprise, grandpa took the court with the six-year-old as his doubles partner.

An unsuspecting couple who appeared to be in their early sixties were on the other side of the net. They got destroyed.

Grandpa was good, but his grandson was amazing. Covering the whole back court and hitting a two-handed forehand and backhand, he could place it anywhere he wanted. If the couple was playing back, he’d drop it right over the net. If they were too far forward, he’d make them pay for their foolish behavior by lobbing a beautiful shot over their heads right to the back line.

His eight-year-old brother was laying on the side of the court at the net, casually watching the action. I asked him their ages and which one of them was better. With absolutely no braggadocio in his answer, he said, “I’m a little better than he is.” Just stating the facts.

So, what that meant was, if I found the best doubles partner I could come up with from my circle, which would probably be one of my very athletic teenage sons or my mother-in-law, we still would not have stood a snowflake’s chance in hell against these two elementary-school-age brothers.

I have made my peace with taking staggering losses from my soon-to-be 80-year-old mother-in-law, but I draw a hard line at getting embarrassed by a second-grader and his kindergartner brother.

Maybe I’ll take up tennis.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

You'd Better PreCheck Yourself, TSA

When I fly out of Sacramento International Airport and Livestock Pavillion, I usually park in the daily parking lot. It’s a little cheaper than the garage, but only slightly more expensive than the long-term lot, which makes it worth it, because you can walk to the terminal instead of riding a bus.

A lot of people have figured that out, so the daily lot seems to be pretty darn full most of the time, which means the walk can be a little way. When it is hot outside, I tend to sweat a little bit on that walk, and I’m always wearing a backpack and pulling a carry-on bag.

Why am I telling you all of this? Not because you need to know this information, but because the TSA should know this information. The TSA agents that scan the incoming travelers at SMF should be familiar with the local parking and weather situations, since they are local also. None of them fly to work from somewhere else. They all live here!

You’re probably wondering what my point is. That’s fair. My point is this: Why the hell is the TSA operating multi-million-dollar scanning technology that can’t crack the confounding mystery of sweat? I have a theory…

When I arrive at the airport my back is either warm, or warm and sweaty. The TSA scans me in the “stand on the feet marks and hold your hands above your head as shown in the diagram” machine, and needs to do an extra search on my lower back every single time. Summer or winter. Every time.

When it’s extra hot outside, I’m extra warm in other places. On my last trip, one of those places was my crotch.

“Sir, I’m going to need to perform a full crotch search.”

“Go nuts.”

“You’ll need to step over here.”

“You mean on me!? Why?”

“See this big dark spot here in the screen?”

“Yes, I’m sweaty from all the heat outside. I’ve only been inside the airport for 10 minutes.”

“I’m still going to need to perform a full crotch search. Would you like a private room?”

“You’re telling me you want to inspect my crotch, and you’re asking if I want to do that with you privately? I’m thinking no, boss. We’re going to handle this out here with all these nice witnesses.”

“OK, I’ll be using the back of my hand.”

“Well, that sounds just fabulous.”

**Full crotch search commences**

The whole time I’m thinking, is this really what this guy signed up for when he decided a job at the TSA was the move? Because, if the answer is yes, then that’s disturbing, and if the answer is no, then what the hell is he still doing here?

**Full crotch search concludes**

“Well, that was great. Hey, I was going to get some pizza at the gate. Does this mean you’re buying now?”

“Have a nice day, sir.”

“I don’t even get your number?”

“Goodbye, sir.”

Like I said, the TSA has multi-million-dollar scanning equipment. Do you know what else they have? They have a program called TSA PreCheck that lets you bypass the expensive scanning equipment and the impromptu full crotch searches.

Kinda makes you wonder… wouldn’t the TSA want to get everyone on PreCheck so they didn’t have to employ so many crotch guys? You’d think they would, because that would be efficient, but then you remember that the TSA is a government organization, so efficiency is not even a consideration for them.

Do you know what is a consideration for government organizations? The main and really the only consideration? Getting more of your money.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that the multi-million-dollar scanner can’t be set to figure out body heat and sweat, and I also don’t believe they can’t get everyone signed up for PreCheck for the same amount of money they spend on salaries for the multiple layers of crotch inspectors. I mean, have you ever been to a TSA checkpoint that was understaffed?

Nope.

You can get a TSA PreCheck, but it will cost you. Kinda feels like a tax, doesn’t it?

But it’s a voluntary tax. So how in the world are we going to get people to pay a voluntary tax??

I know! Full crotch searches.

We’ll use the back of the hand though, so it’s not so weird.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, July 3, 2024

We Need More Specific Bangs

We celebrate the Fourth of July tomorrow, so I wanted to send out a quick PSA to all you Nextdoor- and Ring Neighbors-type app users.

The PSA is this: For the love of Pete, KNOW YOUR TOWN!

I live in Rocklin, CA. They’re not gunshots. It’s never gunshots.

When you hear a loud noise off in the distance, run it through a quick logic filter to come up with likely causes. Asking on Nextdoor Rocklin, “Did anyone else hear those gunshots?” is like asking on Nextdoor Compton or Nextdoor Iraq, “Did anyone else hear those fireworks?”

Nevertheless, I could go out onto my front lawn, take my sandals off and clap them together to get the dirt off the soles, and ignite a firestorm of “where’s the gunfire coming from” activity on four different apps.

All that being said, tomorrow is a slightly different story. I have to assume that tomorrow is the one day that you neighborhood app people might have a slightly larger “fireworks” option in your logic filters, but we can’t be totally fooled. There will likely be some unusual gunfire also.

We’re a funny breed, us modern Americans. Even though we’re trying our best not to actually have any of it in a lot of facets of our lives, we’re still quite exuberant about our freedom around the Fourth. So, please expect the unidentified loud noises to begin around midnight tonight.

And, in many areas that don’t usually experience nighttime gunshots, there will be the occasional beveragely-enhanced exuberance in the form of celebratory shotgun fire to the sky.

So, starting late tonight and going until late tomorrow night, we will need you to be a lot more specific about your paranoid questions. Yes, we heard the fireworks. And yes, we may have also heard the gunshots. But we don’t know which you’re asking about.

From your couch, as you peek timidly out of your living room curtains if you dare, we’ll need you to frantically ask very targeted questions over the next day.

“Did anyone hear the gunshots? I think it was the 47th through 53rd loud bang noises just now. Can anyone confirm?”

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

God bless America. And neighborhood apps.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Major Financial Issues

Son Number Two has beaten the odds and graduated from high school without being expelled for selling knives on campus or for getting caught transporting knives internationally for school administrators. Long story, but suffice to say, we’re breathing a sigh of relief.

Had he been caught in either of those activities, we undoubtedly would have incurred heavy legal fees, but I doubt it would have added up to the bill we’re facing for his next four years, so I’m a little conflicted. All things considered, I guess higher education is a better path than incarceration, so I’ll let it go.

He is off to Boise State in the fall. Boise is in Idaho, and seems to be the capital of the state, based on the domed, capitol-shaped building we saw in the middle of town. We visited this past weekend for his orientation days, and the locals insist that the correct pronunciation of Boise is not “boy-zee” like everyone I’ve ever met says it, but rather, “boy-see.”

We heard our share of orientation speakers saying “boy-see,” but I remain convinced this is a masterful long con to make the transplanting Californians look and sound stupid. I’m sticking with the “zee” sound.

The two-day orientation program was well run overall, and informative and productive for the incoming freshmen. They ended with a great idea of what campus life will be like and fully registered for their fall semester classes. Some of the orientation content, however, was a little less than stellar. I am, of course, talking about the current Boise State junior who was tasked with speaking to all of the parents and students in one of our joint sessions about her college experience.

She was actually a fairly decent public speaker, holding her own in front of hundreds of her peers and her parents’ peers. That’s not the easiest thing to do, so I give her full credit for that, but I can’t abide her message at all.

Somehow, Boise State made the decision to put a junior up in front of us that probably has three to four more years of college to get through before she receives her bachelor’s degree in a likely yet undetermined major.

Her message was this: It’s OK to come here not having any clue what you want to major in, and it’s just fine – even great – to change your major as often and as many times as you need to to figure out your life path. I believe she was on her third major, and confessed that she was again having some doubts about whether she was going to stick with it.

I’m guessing if you were behind her in the buffet line, you’d still be there.

Now, like I said, the program was largely well-run and obviously thoroughly planned out, so I’m not sure how the orientation coordinators let the Typhoid Mary of educational planning slip past them onto the stage. But there she was.

And there we were, along with a vast majority of the parents in the room, staring down their child and telling them, NOPE. Sorry, pal. I don’t know who’s paying the bill for this young lady’s tuition, but I do know they aren’t at all like your parents.

I would rather you go get a job and take the next ten years to figure out what you want to do before starting college, than show up here thinking Mary’s Extended Idaho Vacation Plan is an option for you.

You get 120 credits and four years to complete them. That’s the deal. College, while almost assuredly being some of the best years of your life, was never meant to be a vocation. This is a problem that has evolved in two main areas – higher education and government. Neither were meant to be a career, and the folks that treat them that way are largely scared to produce results that they might be judged on.

Those aren’t the people we’re looking for out here. Don’t be them.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not too worried about you, Son Number Two. You’ve always been focused, and that’s putting it mildly. We just needed to make it clear.

Now, all that being said, extending your college experience a few more years isn’t the end of the world, and would probably be pretty fun, especially in Boise with a “zee.” So, I guess you can feel free to change your major as often as you’d like. You’ll just need to find someone besides you or us to pay for it.

Maybe talk to Mary’s parents. They seem generous.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

We Have Ways of Making You Squirm

I had my first pedicure on Sunday. My wonderful wife, who was completely out of ideas for what to get me for Father’s Day, decided to roll the dice and go for a fun first experience kinda thing.

She had no idea what to get me, because when she asked me what I wanted I gave her no help at all and just did the “I dunno” shrug, because I completely forgot that I need a new firepit poker. I also need a pool pump that doesn’t leak, but that’s a little out of range for Father’s Day gifts.

With no help at all from me, she got the pedicure idea and put a mystery event on the calendar for after church. When we left the house, she pretended she wanted to stop at the 7-Eleven for a Diet Coke, but when we pulled in and parked, she said, “We’re actually here.”

“I know. I just parked.”

“No,” she said, “I mean we’re here, for your surprise gift.”

I’m pretty low maintenance, so I figured she meant I was getting one of those 7-Eleven bacon-wrapped hotdogs or something, and I was momentarily pleased. Then she pointed at her nail place, which is right next to 7-Eleven.

“I’m not getting my nails done,” I told her.

“Not your nails, you idiot. We’re getting pedicures!”

“We’re doing what, now?”

I’m almost positive that stepping through the door to Lucky’s Hair and Nail was the first time I’ve ever actually been inside a nail salon. I’ve seen them in movies and TV shows, but I really had very little idea of what to expect.

The line of gigantic leather massage chairs with attached foot baths was pretty impressive. My wife and I each had our own foot technician lady. My wife had her regular nail lady, and I had an older woman, who looked pleasant enough.

We sat down in the chairs and my lady asked about my water. All I heard was “hot” and I didn’t understand the question. My wife told me she was asking how hot I wanted it. She was already filling up my tub, and even when I knew the question being asked, I had no idea how to answer. I don’t have a specific Fahrenheit that I like my foot bath water to be.

I do, however, know that I like my foot bath water to be far less Fahrenheits than what my lady chose for me. Holy wow! I guess the first step in the pedicure process is scalding. Probably makes it easier to remove all the skin off your feet.

The second step is to clip the toenails. That part was welcomed, because I have a hard time breathing while I clip my own toenails. I could breathe just fine while she did it. About that time, I noticed my chair came with a remote control panel.

There were a lot of confusing pictures on the buttons, and almost no words, so I chose the button that just said “Auto,” and immediately regretted it. The seemingly pleasant leather recliner chair was harboring a secret compartment of what I’m guessing was rebar, and it unceremoniously jammed it all into my back, right between my shoulder blades.

I scared both our ladies a little when I flinched dramatically and screamed in pain, but they are pros, so no damage came to my pinkie toe she was operating on at the time. I finally found the off button, and the rebar retracted into the devious backrest.

My lady then picked up a pair of pliers and began to be very unfriendly with my big toenails, both of which have a history of becoming ingrown. I tried to be brave and winced a smile at her, and she smiled sweetly back at me.

The next twenty minutes gave me the impression that prior to working at Lucky’s Hair and Nail – conveniently adjacent to the 7-Eleven - perhaps my lady had had another life as a master CIA interrogator.

I’ve seen those movies where the interrogator swaps back and forth between brutally torturing the captive and pretending to be their best friend. My pedicure was exactly like that.

She started by plunging my feet in boiling water.

Then she cheerily clipped my toenails.

Then she took the pliers to my big toes.

Then she rubbed pleasantly-scented oil on my feet.

Sandpaper heel torture.

Wonderful calf massage.

Stuff my foot in a plastic bag filled with molten wax.

Massage the other calf.

Molten wax the other foot.

Delightfully ticklish wax peel with toenail buffing.

I was a roller coaster of emotions. Does she love me? Does she hate me? The chair is so comfortable now, but is it plotting to kill me?

It was diabolical. I would have given her any information I had, but she never asked me a single question.

I left the building on edge, but with very clean, tingly feet. That being said, I’m almost positive I had my last pedicure on Sunday, as well as my first.

I just can’t take the psychological torture. I’m going to go start a written gift wish list.


1) New firepit poker


See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Hot Seat

I had the opportunity to travel to Reno, Nevada this week to present a Positive Coaching Alliance workshop to the amazing people from all the Boys & Girls Clubs in the area. My wife came with me and we made a little mini getaway out of it.

It was a great trip, but I had little bit of a fatherly crisis after we had dinner, which was a tad disconcerting so close to Father’s Day.

If you’ve never been, Reno has an idyllic little cutsie river walk in the middle of the biggest little city in the world. The Truckee river burbles and bounces through the heart of old downtown Reno, with shops, hotels, and restaurants lining its sides. Unfortunately, there are quite a few homeless folks lining its sides as well.

My wife and I were walking off an amazing Italian dinner at Marcolini’s Italia – a small little place that comes with my largest recommendation. My wife said that the owner told us the chef was from Hell’s Kitchen, but I distinctly heard him say she was from Helsinki with my sub-par hearing in the room full of background noise.

We’ll never know which one of us is correct, because there’s just no way to check. But it’s a moot point if she’s from Hell’s Kitchen the cooking show, Hell’s Kitchen the actual New York neighborhood, or the capital of Finland. Who cares, because the lady can flat out cook Italian food!

We wandered across a little wooden foot bridge adorned on both sides with beautiful hanging baskets of flowers, out onto an island in the middle of the river with a little park. We sat down on the large smoothed-out granite rocks on the bank across the river from the West Street Plaza, which has wide concrete park steps that come right down to the water. Mallard ducks were paddling in the current near the steps, patiently waiting for tourist snacks.

We were enjoying the scenery when, from the top of the plaza up by the street, we saw him. He had the classic dirty tan, smudged clothing, and overstuffed backpack of the standard Reno homeless meth guy. But this guy had something else going for him. He had a very expensive office swivel desk chair.

It was the kind with the tight black mesh breathable seat and back, and sixty-seven levers to control all your lumbar/height/swivel/tilt/arm angle needs. He rolled it through the plaza and to the top of the river steps, smiling proudly and swiveling it back and forth, swiveling his head along with it, looking for someone to share his joy.

No one shared his joy.

He was clearly not happy that no one liked his new chair as much as he did – or at all – and his demeanor soon changed. His smile went from “proud dad” to more of a Jack Nicholson vibe, and down the steps he came, dragging his prize possession behind him – much less carefully than before.

It’s an ungainly thing to manhandle an office chair, and he made it look even more ungainly than it is. He lost five of the six wheels on the flight of concrete steps down to the water, so rolling the chair became more difficult when he finally got to the last wide step at the water’s edge.

My wife and I sat on the rocks on the other side of the happy little river, making bets on what he was planning next. I won the bet when he picked it up over his head and threw it into the river.

Our theory at the time was that he was just a jerk.

It was more downward trajectory than outward, and the chair was submerged only a foot or so from the step. As he crouched down to touch the chair, our theory changed to maybe the chair was on fire in his meth-induced hallucination.

Then, in a move no one saw coming, he produced a ten-inch fillet knife with a bright orange handle from his belt under his shirt, and stabbed the bottom of the chair a couple times. That was the cue for the two guys sitting on the steps six feet to his left to call it a night and head home.

Our theory then changed to a possibly flaming chair, but definitely covered with either snakes or baby dragons. When our hero was confident that the chair had been properly extinguished and/or rinsed, and either rid of vermin or just generally perforated, he grabbed the wheel-deficient base and hauled his prized possession back onto dry land.

He carried it back up to the top of the stairs and lovingly slammed it a few times onto the top of one of the four-foot-high concrete pillars that marked the top of the stair flight. This effectively disabled one of the chair arms completely, although it remains unclear if that was an objective or a side effect. There might have just been one more snake or baby dragon hanging on. Who knows?

He left the chair atop the pillar to drain while he went back down the steps and collected all five of the dislodged wheels, returning to the chair to reattach each one to its original position, more or less.

He then righted his swivel chair back to the ground on its newly replaced casters, and rolled it away from us to the side of the plaza area, where he again picked it up above his head and hurled it up into a planter area under a tall pine tree. He then crawled up over the concrete planter wall and joined his swiveling buddy under the tree, where they both melted further back into the undergrowth until we lost sight of them for the evening.

Now, normally, I’d be happy with a great dinner and an unexpected free show. So, why the Father’s Day crisis, you might ask?

Well, last year we sent our oldest son off to college in Reno. For a minute or two on those rocks by the river, I was seriously rethinking the intelligence of that decision.

On the one hand, Son Number One is a big dude, and could probably pick chair guy up over his head and hurl him further out into the Truckee River than the swivel chair made it. On the other hand, the probable hallucinations and the definite fillet knife had me a bit concerned.

But then I remembered two things that put my mind at ease. First, they keep the college in a magic protective bubble that can only be entered by students and staff. (I don’t know how they do it, but they do.)

And second, we released him into the wild already, and he was well prepared for the adventure. Every town has meth swivel chair guy. Reno just seems to have a few more than the national average, but we raised a young man who’s smart enough to steer clear of him, so we’ve done all we can.

A month or so after this Father’s Day, we’re going to release the second young man from the nest. Boise, Idaho probably has a few less chair stabbers than Reno, but that point is also moot. I’m really not worried about these boys, and that’s the best Father’s Day gift I could ever get.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Real Last Day of School - Repost

Son Number Two is graduating from high school tomorrow, and last Friday we got to go back to his elementary school so the seniors could visit all the kids in their caps and gowns. (The seniors were in the caps and gowns, not the kids.)

It was a fun reminder of the elementary days. Fun for us parents and the seniors. And probably for the kids. But I gotta tell you, those elementary teachers looked tired. They looked worn down. They looked ready to be done. That’s when I remembered what the last two weeks of elementary school are like – a complete waste of time.

It’s a slightly more productive two weeks now that they’re in high school, because at least they have a few finals, but it’s still a lot of wasted hours.

Here's what I had to say on the subject back in 2015 when we were in the thick of it:

 

We are down to the last two weeks of school, and frankly, everyone has quit trying. I say two weeks, but really it’s eight school days. Seven if you don’t count the last day, which is on Thursday next week. We can’t even make it all the way to Friday.

Next Thursday is officially the last day of school, but the real last day of school was the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. That was when the last bit of actual learning took place for this school year. Homework has stopped. Spelling and math tests have stopped. Everything educational has stopped. This week and next are just movies and cupcakes and field trips.

And when I say field trips, I don’t mean a trip to a museum or a historical monument. I mean walking to the movie theater and walking to the park. Why walking? Because it takes up more time than riding the bus. They’re just looking for activities to fill the time at this point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing. I’m not concerned about this at all. I don’t blame the teachers for un-educational time-fillers. I empathize. I feel their pain. And I totally understand the logic behind it.

You have to have the useless weeks at the end.

Here’s the real-world scenario they’re dealing with: Imagine the office where Bob has come down to his last week before retirement. The last five days at a job before he will never go there again. Now imagine you’re Bob’s manager or coworker.

“Hey Bob, can you handle the really annoying and overtime-filled Jenkins account for the last five days you’re here, until you’re gone forever?”

“Sure, I’ll handle it,” says Bob, with a smile on his face.

Bob is still smiling later that morning as he hands the Jenkins file to the janitor and heads out for lunch.

It’s just like that for the teachers, except they have twenty-five little Bobs.

Bob’s last week is filled with sleeping in, leaving early, extended lunches with his favorite clients, spider solitaire, and Facebook and Twitter updates (#FourDaysTillPermanentVacationEqualsFourMartiniLunch, #DontBeJealous, #ImOuttaHere, #9to5OnTheGolfCourse).

Ending a long-term endeavor like a job or a school year is a paradox. It goes like this:


What are we here to do?

Be productive.

Can we really be productive on the last day?

No.

Then should we have the last day?

No.

OK, we’ll get rid of the last day. Now the second to last day is the last day.

Can we really be productive on the last day?

No.

Then should we have the last day?

No.


You see the problem. If we eliminate the useless last two weeks of school, then we have a new end date, which will naturally be preceded by two weeks of uselessness. So, we get rid of those two weeks and move it back again.

You have to have the two useless last weeks or pretty soon we just show up for the first day of school and they say, “Great job. See you next year.”

So here we are. In the eight-day window of time-fillers.

Classroom pajama parties – Maybe if we tell them to wear their pajamas and bring pillows they’ll actually lay on the floor instead of climbing the walls. It’s worth a shot.

Walking trip to the water park – Sounded like a good idea, but in drought-stricken California at the moment, the water park consists of colored pipes sticking out of the ground with no water coming out of them. Whatever, let’s go anyway. It’ll burn a day.

The talent show – School-wide time-filler consisting of 473 acts. The acts have a 100% bravery ratio but, sadly, only a 9% talent ratio. Gets us out of the classroom, so let’s do it.

Walking trip to the movie theater – What’s playing? Who cares?

Day on the green – Put them all out on the soccer field. Activities? They’ll probably figure something out. Just lock the doors so they don’t come back in. Teachers can take turns rotating to their classrooms to sit in the quiet.

And finally…

The last day of school – It’s a minimum day. School ends at 12:20. Why do we even go through the charade of keeping them here for four hours? We’re not going to actually do anything. Shouldn’t we just show up in the morning, check them out on the clipboard, gather up the stuff from their desk and hand them off to the parents?

Come to think of it, why can’t we just check them out when they get picked up on Wednesday afternoon?

That’s a good idea. Next year we’ll just eliminate this useless last day.

Have a great summer, Bob.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

48 at 52

I turned 52 years old on Friday, and before you ask, no, that was not the reason for the three-day weekend. I don’t think congress has even looked at my proposed amendment yet, which is ridiculous.

On or around my birthday, I have traditionally added one piece of “wisdom” (using that term very loosely) to this list. When I turned 51 last year, however, I officially changed that format to begin reducing the amount of “wisdom” on this list by one thought per year. Let’s face it, when I turn 100, the last thing you want to have to do is read 100 rambling, nonsensical ideas from my no longer functioning brain.

So, here it is – 48 at 52. We’ll keep subtracting one each year until the wheels come off. You’re welcome.

 

1.  The clearest evidence that capitalism beats communism is that we have at least three private citizens who own multiple space rockets. Suck it, North Korea.

2.  Until you have kids and a mortgage, you will never understand the awesomeness of date night at Home Depot.

3.  There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who prefer the toilet paper to come off the top of the roll, and those who are wrong.

4.  There is an obvious and urgent need for a national four-way stop sign training program. If only there was some central agency in charge of making sure drivers knew the rules of the road…

5.  With the circumference of a circle, Pi is always a fixed number. With the circumference of a person, pie is rarely a fixed number.

6.  The truth is like poetry, and nobody really likes poetry.

7.  Here’s one of the main differences between men and women: Men can look at an ad for women's underwear and get excited. I’m not talking about women in underwear, just the underwear itself. Women do not get excited looking at pictures of boxer shorts.

8.  Love is great and all, but the strongest force in the universe is clearly the one that holds 5-gallon buckets together in the stack.

9.  Around mid-November each year, my feelings toward the “Christmas lights stay up on the house all year” crowd changes briefly from mild distain to all out jealousy.

10.  The three-second rule has a lot of leeway depending on if what you dropped was the last one.

11.  Owning a pool in the winter is like making payments on your new snowmobiles all summer.

12.  You cannot use the phrase, “To be honest with you...”  without giving the listener the impression you aren’t always being honest.

13.  You find out a lot about a person by how they deal with airports.

14.  When packing thirteen suitcases into the car for your wife, is it impossible to have ten of them be “on top” so she can get to them easily.

15.  If one of my boys saw their brother in a fight, I'm certain they would jump in and help. I'm just never sure which side they'd be on.

16.  You can ask someone to do something, or you can tell them how you want it done, but you can’t do both.

17.  A good indicator of where you are in life is this: Does the advertisement of free food still affect your decision making?

18.  Fabric softener sheets go in the dryer, not the washer. Just FYI. I’m not saying I didn’t know that.

19.  There is no “t” or “t” sound in the word across. There is no “b” or “b” sound in the word supposedly. Figure it out, people!

20.  Men are far more likely to clean things with spit than women are.

21.  Money and toilet paper have something in common – They’re both easy to take for granted until you run out. Also, in totally opposite, but equally dire situations, they can be substituted for each other.

22.  There are very few things in life that can make you feel as special as the phrase “or current resident.”

23.  You can give any kid – from age 2 to 22 – as many reminders about the departure time as you want, but they will never start looking for their shoes until you are sitting in the car.

24.  For my money, nothing says “I never want to have a real job” quite like a face tattoo.

25.  Closing the door to avoid waking someone up but accidentally waking them up by closing the door is irony. If it doesn't fit that model then it’s not irony. It's just a coincidence or unfortunate. I’m looking at you, Alanis Morissett.

26.  In life, it is very important to remember where you are and why you're there. That way, when your podiatrist tells you to drop your shorts, you’ll ask some questions first.

27.  Nothing good has ever happened below 90.1 FM.

28.  Hold out as long as you can before putting on your first pair of magnifying “reader” glasses. The second you do, your eyes give up like a marathoner crossing the finish line.

29.  People who don’t use their cruise control on the freeway should be pulled over and waterboarded.

30.  You can't take bell peppers off a pizza.

31.  Pointing out that Van Gogh’s “girlfriend” was actually a prostitute during a fifth-grade art docent lesson is not helpful for anyone involved. I’m not saying I did this, and I’m not saying I didn’t do this – I’m just saying you should avoid doing this.

32.  It’s hard to claim to be a grown woman, fully capable of taking care of yourself, and also claim that you do not know how to operate a toilet seat.

33.  The fact that there is such a thing as the American Cemetery Excellence Award is proof that there is no industry that will not self-congratulate.

34.  Quantity of repetition does not equal truth.

35.  “To be or not to be” is not the question. The real question is which towel in the guest bathroom am I allowed to dry my hands with?

36.  There is a big, and usually obvious, difference between something that was designed and something that was just built.

37.  Its not interchangeable. (take all the time you need)

38.  If you have multiple sons, there is a fine line between upraising and uprising.

39.  If a pest control company has a permanent “now hiring” sign painted on their truck, chances are it might not be a great place to work.

40.  Scientists recently discovered that female dragonflies will fake their own death to avoid mating with males. I’ll bet all the married scientists were like, “Yup.”

41.  You know when you pull into a parking space next to someone who is parked at a crazy angle, so it forces you to park at that same crazy angle, then you come back to your car and the other car is gone, so it just looks like you chose to park at the crazy angle for no reason? You always hope that the people who saw your car by itself understood that someone else forced you to do it, but you know damned well you yourself never gave the first guy the benefit of that doubt.

42.  The challenge with raising independent, free-thinking adults is that you have to live with independent, free-thinking children.

43.  Guys, do you ever have trouble figuring out if you’ve had too much to drink? Here’s a handy guideline:

“There is no way I can scratch that itch on my ankle while I’m standing here peeing, so I will not try.” – You’re still OK

“I can totally do it without peeing on myself.” – You’re drunk (and you have pee on you now)

44.  There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

45.  No matter who you are, no matter where you're from, there is one shared experience that binds us all together as one people: The sheer horror of the ketchup or mustard water falling from the unshaken bottle and ruining your perfect bun. I feel your pain.

46.  If you are looking to try it, kombucha is an acquired taste. Meaning you have to acquire one of those long skinny cheese graters and completely scrape all the taste buds off your tongue. Then you can drink it.

47.  If you have to choose, it makes more sense to become a strong swimmer than a strong runner. You don’t automatically die when you stop running.

48.  It’s time to stop warning people that "message and data rates may apply." If people don't understand how their text and data plans work by now, they should have to learn the hard way.

 

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ditched Day

Law Enforcement Officer: Good morning, Rocklin Police Department.

Me: Good morning. I would like to report my child missing.

Law Enforcement Officer: OK, let me get some information from you. When was the last time you saw them?

Me: He drove off about an hour ago.

LEO: OK, was he alone?

Me: Yes.

LEO: OK, do you know where he was going?

Me: Yes, Folsom Lake.

LEO: OK, what is the reason you believe he’s missing? Do you think he didn’t make it to the lake?

Me: Oh, no, he made it. I can see him on Life360. He’s there now.

LEO: Um… so you know where he is?

Me: Yes. The Granite Bay beach. At the end of Douglas Boulevard.

LEO: OK. I don’t think I understand. If you know where he is, then he’s not missing.

Me: Well, he’s missing from school. He’s a senior and it’s “senior ditch day” and he’s supposed to be in class, but he’s having fun at the lake instead.

LEO: OK, well, sir, we don’t handle incidents of truancy unless we are asked to intervene by the school, so there’s not much we can do here.

Me:

LEO: Sir?

Me: I’d like to report a large party, where I suspect there might be some underage drinking.

LEO: Would this party be at the Granite Bay beach?

Me: Yes, can you dispatch officers to break it up, please?

LEO: Sir, if your son is skipping school without your consent, there is not much we’re able to do about it.

Me: Oh, we told him it was OK. He’s a good kid and he has good grades, so we said it was his choice if he wanted to participate in the ditch day.

LEO:

Me: So, can you guys get over there and break up the party?

LEO: I’m confused. You OK’d him to go, but you don’t want him there?

Me: I’ve been in meetings all morning.

LEO: With the school?

Me: No, with work. You know, Zoom calls. Meetings. Work.

LEO: OK?

Me: Right! It’s like, wait a second. What’s going on here?

LEO: You lost me.

Me: Well, why do I have to be stuck here working while he’s at the lake when he’s supposed to be at school?

LEO: Um, sir, are you saying that it’s not fair?

Me: Exactly!

LEO: Sir, there is nothing we can do about this. Besides, he’s in the town of Granite Bay. We don’t even have jurisdiction there.

Me:

LEO: Sir?

Me: I’d like to report a stolen car.

LEO: Excuse me?

Me: Yeah, it was stolen from my house here in Rocklin, so you guys can handle that, right?

LEO: Are we talking about your son’s car, sir?

Me: Yes, exactly.

LEO: You told me he drove it to Folsom Lake and is currently there.

Me: Well, technically, I didn’t actually see him drive away in it. Like I said, I’ve been stuck in my office all morning.

LEO: Sir, …

Me: All I really know is that his phone is at Folsom Lake and his car is missing from the driveway. I think we have reasonable suspicion to believe foul play might be a factor. Can you guys dispatch some officers? I’m thinking…

LEO: Let me guess. We should start our search at the Granite Bay beach.

Me: Exactly!

LEO: Sir, I’m going to hang up now.

Me: Aw, c’mon, man! This is so uncool. Fine.

LEO: You have a good…

Me: Oh, wait! One more thing.

LEO: What is it?

Me: Do you have the number for the Granite Bay police?

LEO:

Me: Hello?

 

 

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

You Crazy Bunch of Mothers

If the cops didn’t get called on your Mother’s Day brunch, then you might be hanging around with the wrong mothers.

At least, that’s what I’m told.

I went to a perfectly normal Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday. We had fresh fruit and quiche. I was up in Oregon, visiting my parents and my oldest sister, and our brunch was lovely. I then got on a plane to come home to what I thought was going to be a Mother’s Day tri-tip dinner, cooked by my sons. I came home to something a little different than that.

You see, our good friends down the street hosted a neighborhood potluck Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday morning, and I was thankful for that. I was going to be out of town for the morning, so I was happy my wife and boys would be down having a nice time at our friends’ house. The plan was for them to go enjoy the brunch, then I would get back into town and we’d have dinner all together.

I kinda got the impression the plan was changing when I got to the airport in Portland and started texting my wife and boys about what time I would be arriving. No one texted me back. I had sent a long string of unanswered texts by the time I was in my seat being told to turn off my mobile device or switch it to airplane mode.

I had a text from my wife waiting for me when I landed at 6:00 pm, saying that we were probably going to hold off on cooking the tri-tip for tonight.

I arrived home to an empty house and the sounds of laughter and the pop-pop-pop of street pickleball coming from the other end of our little road. I threw my suitcase in the house and strolled down to what turned out to be one of the most epic Mother’s Day brunches ever held.

It had started at 9:00 am, and was still going STRONG at 7:00 pm. There was a live garage band – courtesy of two slightly intoxicated musical dads with acoustic guitars – along with a pool party, a hot tub party, and a cornhole tournament in progress in the back yard, and a pickleball game in the street in front of the house where the moms playing were required to do shots whenever the total score became evenly divisible by five. (It was a loose rule). A large cheering section in lawn chairs had gathered, and I’m pretty sure some of them had wandered in from other neighborhoods.

I’m not sure what kind of traditional brunch food was served in the morning, but they had been through all of that, then onto lunch, and by the time I showed up the party was knee-deep in take-out hot wings and delivery pizzas. My wife was one of the lawn chair spectators, waiting her turn for another pickleball match, and when she saw me she gleefully told me the cops had been called on them.

Our friends’ house sits at the end of our street, between two tee’s of adjoining streets, so it happens that very few cars ever actually drive past the front of their house. You are either turning off our street before you get there, or you would have come around from the other way if you needed to be on the street at the end of ours.

This low-traffic phenomenon makes it a near-perfect spot for a street pickleball court. When you bring the net out, the court sits lengthwise with the road, up against their sidewalk, so there is a full car-width lane to get past it on the other side if you happen to need to drive past their house. Someone – and no one knows if it was a neighbor, a pedestrian, a motorist, or a member of a tennis league – called the police to complain about the “illegally closed off road,” or the “crazy out of control street party,” or something. No one was really sure, including the cop.

Apparently, the cop pulled up, took one look at what was going on, and just shook his head in the “I can’t believe some idiot wasted my time and the taxpayers’ money to have me respond to a Mother’s Day brunch” kinda way. Before he left, he wished all the ladies a Happy Mother’s Day and dutifully reminded all the pickleballers of the obvious, “try not to get hit by any cars.”

Anyway, the music continued, the pool party raged on, and when the sun went down, the floodlights came out to make sure darkness wouldn’t slow down the pickleball tournament, or the mom’s mid-game shots.

My wife, who isn’t as young as she used to be, tapped out at about 9:30 pm, with over twelve hours of Mother’s Day brunch under her belt. I’m a full five months younger than her, so I was able to make it another fifteen minutes or so before I had to pack it in and head for home.

Anyway, happy belated Mother’s Day to all you wonderful ladies out there doing the hard work! And hey, if you don’t have Mother’s Day plans for next year, I’d highly recommend coming by our street. The brunches are legendary.

In fact, it’s possible that Sunday’s brunch is still going on. I left before it broke up, and I haven’t gone back down to check.

It wouldn’t surprise me.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Cinco de Ulysses Patrick’s Day - Repost

Sunday was Cinco de Mayo, an American celebration of non-American origins, much like St. Patrick’s Day, and Christmas for that matter. Pretty much all of our holidays are imported, now that I think about it, except the Fourth of July and obviously, Talk Like a Pirate Day. And if you have enough rum and fireworks, those two can really start to blend together… Anyway, we got “lucky” this year with the Cinco de Mayo “holiday” landing on a Sunday, which is certainly better than a Tuesday, but still not ideal.

That’s because Cinco de Mayo is the St. Patrick’s Day of May. Both are on a fixed calendar date, which makes no sense, and we don’t get work off for either of them, which makes even less sense. Both have some amount of green added to the beer, and no one from the holidays’ countries of origin celebrates them. Here in the good ol’ USA, however, we embrace them like they were the Kentucky Derby or New Years. And much like New Years, no one knows what we’re celebrating or why. But we’re all Irish for one day in March, and we’re all Mexican for uno dia en Mayo.

The overwhelming problem is that the only people who get to celebrate these two “holidays” with any regularity are students. Specifically, college kids and elementary schoolers. The college kids use the days as excuses to party, and the elementary schools use them as excuses to make leprechaun traps, Mexican flags, and most importantly, eat cookies.

Meanwhile, we adults have to wait until March 17th or May 5th land on a Saturday before we get to party anymore, and that only happens once every 365 years, if my math is correct. Why should the students get to have all the fun? Why shouldn’t the parents get to participate?

We used to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day. We used to drink green beer and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

We used to have fun on Cinco de Mayo. We used to drink Corona with lime and eat discounted tacos by the truckload while wearing giant sombreros, and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

Did we know why we did any of this? Of course not. Did we care that we didn’t know? Of course not. We cared about doing our part to uphold centuries of fake traditions. We cared about beer with the appropriate green holiday additive. We cared about pinching cute members of the opposite sex. We cared.

I’m tired of being left out. I’m tired of not caring. I want to care again. We should get to party, too. It’s only right, since we’re the ones paying for all of this anyway. Why shouldn’t we get these days off work?

Why? I’ll tell you why. Probably because someone still needs to pay for all this, that’s why. But are we going to let that stop us? Heck no! There are plenty of other days during the year we can work. Although, we do already have a lot of holidays…

OK, let’s compromise. We could combine St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo into one holiday to minimize the work stoppage but still have some fun. What do you say?

I knew you’d be on board!

Ladies and gentlemen, I officially propose a new national holiday.

We will compromise on the month and have the new holiday in April, since it has always been a travesty that we don’t get April 27th off for President Ulysses S. Grant’s birthday either. We will anchor it around that date but it will need to float, of course, to always fall on a Friday so this party is a three-day weekend. It’s only fitting to include Grant, since he really should be the patron saint of these two holidays anyway. You may not know this, but in addition to being a war hero and a Roman god, Ulysses was a prolific inventor and is actually responsible for creating, among many other things, the taco, green beer, the piñata, and Ireland.

We shall call the new holiday either Dia de St. Mayo Patrick de Grant, or Cinco de Ulysses Patrick’s Day. We can vote on that later.

As far as logistics go, we will simply combine all the current fake holiday traditions into one big three-day weekend of awesome.

The holiday uniforms can remain mostly undefined, but should include the required holiday colors; green, white and red, with an obvious emphasis on green and large sombreros.

Mariachi bands will need to shift their focus a little and include bagpipes and plaid. Irish heel-clicking salsa dancing with be a natural follower to the new groove.

The main holiday beverage will obviously be green Corona with yellow lemon wedges instead of limes to signify lucky gold. Cuervo gold tequila will remain unchanged, since it satisfies both holiday motifs. As an alternative to Mexican tequila, Irish mojitos will be made out of crushed clover and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Red, white, and green tortilla chips will be served with cabbage salsa, and children across the land will spend the new holiday smacking leprechaun-shaped piñatas filled with gold coin chocolates and corned beef taquitos.

We can work out the rest of the details later. I’m not really sure who’s in charge of new holiday creation over in D.C., so if one of you could forward this on to them, that’d be great.

I’m going to get back to my green Corona.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Sports Can Be Challenging

I have the honor and the privilege of getting to be the stadium announcer for my sons’ high school lacrosse teams. It’s a lot of fun, and I get the best seat in the house up in the press box, but it also comes with some challenges.

The first challenge comes from my wife, who has never been a stadium announcer and therefore doesn’t believe that I need to be at the field an hour before the first game starts. I think her objection is that I should still be working and making money, but I think we can all agree, that’s not as fun as being at the field.

Pronunciations are one of my biggest challenges, which makes sense based on our last name. I don’t come across too many atrocities like “Schmatjen” on other teams, but every squad has its tough names, and if that kid scores a goal or does something cool, I want Pronav Fananaziria or Stephan Koch to hear their name pronounced correctly.

(That’s one of the things I’m doing an hour before the game starts, and it is a tad dismaying how many coaches don’t know how to pronounce their own players’ last names. If you coach, please be better than that!)

Another challenge arises with the music. I get to be in charge of what music gets played, which is like a dream come true, because I think I was really supposed to be a radio DJ, but accidentally ended up in engineering somehow. Issues arise in two main areas with the music.

First, I have to deal with some of the players who try to have an opinion about the music. I tell them two things: A) Your music is about 95% terrible, and B) the music I play is for the people in the stands who are paying for all of this. You just concentrate on not sucking out there on the field, OK?

The second issue I have with the music is finding songs that aren’t about sex, drugs, and/or have more than one cuss word that I can bleep out with my cool music software. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the songs I’d never play at a lacrosse game, but I am of the opinion that if an adult is playing music at a school event, that music should be clean. It is surprising and worrisome, when we travel to other schools, how many adults don’t subscribe to that same opinion.

Multi-tasking is one of my biggest challenges, because I am in charge of the scoreboard, the game clock, the music, and announcing who did what. That can present problems, because I am a man and therefore my brain is only capable of doing one thing at a time.

I have found that coaches and refs have a low tolerance for the game clock not starting and stopping correctly on each and every whistle. They also frown upon Taylor Swift continuing to sing “Shake it Off” after the game has restarted, which is a no-no.

I’ve also found parents tend to have an almost zero tolerance level of their son’s goal not being recorded on the big scoreboard within milliseconds after it has occurred.

Speaking of parents in the stands – they account for my biggest challenge of all. Specifically, the problem involving me not being able to move the press box. It’s a three-room building, bolted down to the top of the stadium. I can’t make it budge.

In lacrosse, we all sit on the same side of the field, in what is known as the “home side” by all the adorable football parents who can’t fathom having to ever be near a parent from the opposing team. The idea, which is a smart one, is to keep the players on the opposite side of the field from their parents. That way, the players will get directions from their coaches who understand the game, instead of from their parents, who do not.

Roughly 85% of youth lacrosse parents don’t agree with the coaches’ decisions or the refs’ calls, but to be fair, those parents don’t understand the rules of lacrosse. That’s because it’s a fast and confusing sport. One would hope that they would recognize their lack of understanding and either learn more or be quiet, but that doesn’t seem to happen very often.

Now, if you are in the stands and an obnoxious parent happens to sit down next to you, you are able to move away from them. I don’t have that option up in the box. And, to my great dismay, directly under my open press box window seems to be the preferred spot for obnoxious parents. I don’t know why. I’m just lucky, I guess.

I hear all the usual things you’re expect, like aggressively disagreeing with blatantly correct penalty calls, and instructions to players that make no sense in any sport, let alone lacrosse. But last night, I heard something new.

We had our first game of the section championship rounds last night, and two parents from the opposing team were sitting in the coveted obnoxious zone under my window. Our lacrosse games are twelve-minute quarters, and I’m not lying when I tell you that the mom never once stopped yelling something toward the field for the full forty-eight minutes of regulation, not even counting time outs. She got full credit for stamina.

She hit all the usual highlights, but at one point in the second quarter she brought the awesome. Apparently fresh out of non-helpful technical directions or call disagreements, she briefly switched to nutrition and sports med.

From the top of the stands, in the middle of the action, seventy-five yards away from the players’ sideline on the other side of the field, she busted out, “Hydrate! You guys need to hydrate! Come on! Drink some water!”

I’m not making that up.

Some nights are more entertaining than others.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Light at the End of the Carpool, Part Three – The Finale

It was at the beginning of this school year, on September 20, 2023, that I posted a column entitled “Celebration Injury.” I had celebrated too early, and my feelings were hurt. Along with my gas budget and my will to live.

Seventeen months prior to that, I thought I was a free man. In a column in April of 2022, I was giddy with anticipation. Son Number Two was getting his license the next week and I was beside myself with joy because I was about to be liberated forever from the shackles and chains of carpool.

Damn the insane insurance costs, it was going to be worth it. I had been driving kids to and from school in one carpool or another for roughly two hundred years, and it had lost its luster fairly early on.

How much would it cost to add a second teenage boy to our insurance policy? I didn’t care, because money didn’t matter when balanced against carpool. I’ve never been freed from a long imprisonment in a POW camp, but I would imagine it’s a very similar feeling to being freed from carpool.

Well, it turned out that I had done the school day arithmetic, but not the school schedule calculus. I thought, foolishly, that since Number Two the senior and Number Three the sophomore would be at the same school playing the same sport, my carpool days were behind me.

I did not account for the fact that seniors take virtually no classes, and Number Two would be leaving school literally two and a half hours before his younger brother. By the time I needed him to drive his brother home, he’d already been home, eaten two meals, watched a movie, and was at the gym.

That left me and the other neighborhood parents still caged in the carpool POW camp, needing to pick up the sophomores. Damn you, schedule calculus! The one thin silver lining in my carpool cloud of despair was that we only had to pick them up from school. Son Number Two still takes them in the morning. But anyone who has ever done carpool knows that is small consolation. Pickup is waaaay worse than drop off.

So, I had to wait another seven months before I would be freed and get to celebrate for real. Well, my friends, today is the day! This afternoon is my last scheduled carpool pickup ever. Son Number Three goes for his behind-the-wheel test on Friday morning.

Now, granted, he still has to pass the test to get his license, but I’m confident. He’s the most cautious driver of the three so far, and he’s good. He should be just fine.

If you still think I might be counting my chickens before they hatch, think again. Nothing can derail this celebration now. You can Marc my words, if he doesn’t pass his driver’s test, he’ll be walking home from school for the rest of the year, starting this Friday afternoon.

Again, it's hard for me to express the joy I feel when I think of never driving carpool again, but to try to put it into monetary terms, it will be totally worth the cost of whatever bill is coming my way on Friday morning when I add a third teenage boy to our insurance plan.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Windshield Factor

My wife thinks I run my windshield wipers too slow when it rains. She always asks, in her adorable, exasperated-with-me tone, “How can you see anything!?” When I explain that I’m not looking at the windshield, I’m looking through it at the road, she just throws up her hands and makes her adorable, exasperated noises. As you might imagine from this, cracks in the windshield bother her way more than they bother me.

We take our Suburban up I-80 into the Sierras a lot during the winter months, because even though Son Number Three breaks the occasional collarbone, I remain inexplicably healthy and uninjured, and therefore able to snowboard with my boys.

**sound of me knocking on any and all wood I can find**

If you have ever been on I-80 in the Sierras during the winter months, you know that with the big trucks and their tire chains, combined with the constant new road damage due to the snow and ice, it’s basically like driving through a shooting range. We also take long road trips in the summer months, so our windshield seems to always have a few chips and at least one crack of some length.

This year’s crack came on fast and spread like wildfire. It started at the very bottom of the windshield right in front of the steering wheel, and before I even had a chance to try to stop it, it had spread all the way to the top of the glass. It was a jagged vertical line directly in front of the driver’s face.

As you can imagine, my wife didn’t love it. But it happened in the fall, even before snowboarding season had begun!

“Honey, it makes no sense to fix it now, right before we’re going to drive into the hailstorm of rocks and busted chain links.”

“[exasperated noises]”

Buying new windshields is one of my least favorite things to do. I rank it just above the stomach flu. That’s because I know, the minute that beautiful new curved sheet of glass gets glued in place, I’m going to have to take the car back outside again and drive it around. Getting it replaced in the winter here is as futile as brushing your teeth while eating Oreos, only far more expensive.

Well, we had one last hurrah up the hill a couple weekends ago when we had a cold spring storm blow through, and now the forecast calls for nothing but sunshine and slush. Son Number Three takes his behind-the-wheel driver’s license test at the end of next week, so I figured it was time. He’ll take the test in our Honda Accord, but just in case something happens, I want to have a backup vehicle ready.

I have a feeling the DMV testing employee might have a problem with the full-windshield crack right in front of the sixteen-year-old driver’s face. It’s very likely illegal, but more importantly, the DMV employee’s exasperated noises would probably result in my son not getting to test, which means I would have to be on carpool duty longer, which is unacceptable.

So, on Monday I said goodbye to my $500 insurance deductible and hello to my brand new, crack and ding-free windshield. That was all well and good, for a few hours anyway.

The glue was probably still drying on Monday evening when Son Number Two – who is turning eighteen on Friday – informed me that he would like to skip school that day to take his buddies up the hill to go snowboarding for his birthday, one last time before the season ends.

Hmm…

He’s going to look pretty silly driving our Suburban up I-80 in reverse.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Felony Hobbying

I heard something a while back that I always liked – The problem with raising strong-willed, free-thinking adults is that you have to live with strong-willed, free-thinking children.

We have our share of that going on at our house, but really what we’ve mainly been dealing with is interests. So, ours goes more like, the problem with raising Son Number Two into a very interesting and widely-studied adult is that you have to live through all the projects. It’s not as catchy as the original, but it fits our situation perfectly.

Our first inclination that we might be dealing with a renaissance child was the crocheting in the second grade. He was good! There has been construction. There has been photography. There has been 3D printing. There have been internet sales and marketing companies. He’s owned multiple web domains. There has been electrical. There has been woodworking, wood burning (both art and arson), drones, painting, sculpting, drawing, photoshop, pebble art, cake making, and machinery design.

So, when he came to me last year and said he wanted to build a forge in our backyard, it was not a big surprise.

“Why do you want a forge?”

“So I can make knives.”

“Obviously.”

His first plan had a large homemade cinderblock forge inside an all-wooden Tuff Shed-type structure. He was going to put it where the old play structure currently sits, and he was either going to sell the play structure that he doesn’t own for the money to buy the shed, or make the shed out of the play structure. Details were loose, varied, and stupid.

I decided that catching a shed and two different neighbors’ fences on fire wasn’t one of my bucket list items, so I said no. Now, as every one of you who has raised or is currently raising a strong-willed, free-thinking child knows, that was not the end of the conversation.

I believe I heard the word “forge” about six million more times in the following four days. Just before my brain exploded, we settled on a small, propane, commercially-made, portable forge box that could go in our garage. Who needs to use a garage for cars, am I right?

And thus began the knife making. Like everything else he does, he dove headfirst into it and got pretty good, pretty quickly. He mixed in some artistic photography for his Instagram knife page, got a laser engraver for the handles, and pretty soon his friends took notice.

At this point, for legal reasons, I must tell you that everything I’m about to tell you is completely fictional, made up by me for entertainment purposes only. OK? OK.

One night at dinner, about a month after the forging began, Son Number Two says, “Oh, hey. I sold one of my knives today!”

My response was, “Hey, cool. To who?”

His mother, who is much smarter than me, asked, “Where?”

“To [name withheld for reasons that will become obvious]”

“Where did you sell it?” asked his very smart mother, again.

“My car. I had it in the trunk.”

“Where was the car?”

“In the parking lot.”

“The parking lot of school??”

“Yeah.”

When the steam stopped coming from my wife’s ears, she started to explain why that was not such a great idea, with words like “weapons” and “campus” and “expulsion” and “no college” and “dumbass” and a lot of other words.

I guess Number Two has some sort of death wish, because he actually interrupted her at one point to try the ludicrously false argument that the parking lot was not technically “on campus.”

It was at that point that I had to physically restrain my wife long enough for him to run.   

He made it out of the situation alive and un-expelled. Fast forward to a week or so ago when he got home from his spring break Europe trip, chaperoned by his favorite teacher and a few other school staff members. The group had taken a day trip to Geneva, so Son Number Two, of course, bought a few genuine Victorinox Swiss Army knives from the source.

He brought home a couple little ones for his brothers and a larger one for himself. I noticed as they were getting ready to go to school that he also had an extra.

“Oh, that’s [unnamed state employee’s] knife. I brought it home for them in my checked bag.”

“Well, that was nice of you. When are you giving it to them?”

“This morning.”

“At school?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing your mom left for the day already. Try not to get arrested.”

(Again, I must reiterate, this is all fictional. Totally made up by me.)

I guess if one of your hobbies takes you down the path of High School Arms Dealer, it’s good to be in league with at least one or two insiders high up in the organization…

We really can’t wait to see what this kid does after graduation, and we have money set aside for the next chapter of his life to help him on his way.

Whether it’s used for tuition or bail still remains to be seen.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge