Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Leap Year - Repost

February 29th is tomorrow. There isn’t supposed to be a February 29th. Not normally, anyway. It’s a leap year. The whole concept of leap year, and our calendar in general, is very strange. I have never agreed with how our calendar works, and I have decided that it is time to stop the madness. I hereby, once again, propose that the world adopt the Smidge Calendar.

Our current calendar is complicated. This stems from the fact that the earth takes 365.2422 days to go around the sun. If we didn’t do the leap years, we would lose six hours off the calendar every year. That’s 24 days off in a hundred years. Not good. I mean, what if your birthday was in that lost month? No party for you. What if the lost month turned out to be October, and we lost Oktoberfest? Totally unacceptable.

A long time ago, Julius Caesar, a huge fan of Oktoberfest and birthdays, introduced leap years to correct for the 0.2422 day problem. Julius decided they would do a leap day every four years no matter what. That is actually too many, since the day fraction is 0.24 and not 0.25, so things started getting out of whack. Fifteen hundred years later, after people got tired of spring starting in the middle of summer, someone with a big brain and an abacus developed a formula. To be a leap year, the year must be evenly divisible by four. If the year is also evenly divisible by 100, then it is not a leap year, unless it is also evenly divisible by 400. Simple, right?

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, and I don’t really have a problem with the leap year math. It’s necessary. What is not necessary is having our months all different. Why have some months with 30 days, others with 31, and one with variable days? It’s too complicated. When I was a kid, my dad taught me a way to tell how many days a month has in it. You count on your knuckles. Start on the knuckle of your index finger as January. Count the months down your fist, landing alternately on your knuckles, and the valleys between your knuckles. When you get to your pinkie knuckle (July), start over on your index knuckle (August). If you are on a knuckle, the month has 31 days. If you are in a valley, it has 30, unless it’s February, then you have to refer to the complicated formula.

The knuckle trick is handy (get it?), but it shouldn’t be necessary. With the Smidge Calendar, you will never need to count on your knuckles like an ape again. My months will all have 28 days. Gone will be the days of not knowing what day of the week the 12th of March is. The days will always be the same number. The month will always start on Monday the 1st. Sundays will always be the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th. Simple and easy.

Holidays will always be on the same day. You will always know when Thanksgiving is going to fall, and with the new calendar, we can move some of the more flexible holidays to always fall on a Monday or a Friday. Boom, more three-day weekends. You’re welcome!

Now, with 28-day months, we'll need to have 13 of them, to make a year.  We’ll have to come up with a name for the new month. We'll make it fun and have a national contest, and pick the most popular submission. This will be a worldwide calendar, of course, but we'll retain naming rights. This is our idea, and everyone else can just get on board. It won't be a hard sell, due to the New Year’s factor.

Thirteen months at 28 days each only gets you 364 days. The all-important 365th day will occur on what is currently known as January 1st. However, it will now be known only as New Year’s Day. It will not have a number. It will not be a Monday. It will simply be "New Year’s Day," and it will be a freebie. No work will occur. Nothing will be accomplished. It's a phantom day that doesn't exist on the calendar. Relax and enjoy!

Since we can't do anything about the 0.2422 day problem, we will continue with the current leap year formula, and any leap year will have an extra bonus day, known as New Year’s Weekend. Two totally free days every four years (unless the year is evenly divisible by 100 but not 400, obviously). Winning!

While you will be encouraged to do nothing on New Year’s Day and Weekend, inevitably, a certain amount of children will be born on these phantom days. This is where the Smidge Calendar also has a bonus financial planning aspect. Any parent having a child on New Year’s Day will get to choose whether their new child's official birthday will be December 28th or January 1st. This will allow them to decide which tax year they would like their new deduction and tax credit to fall in. Just a happy bonus feature of a new and improved system.

In fact, I don't mean to brag, but the Smidge Calendar has no discernible flaws. It's way better that the current random 12- month system. The only potential downside I can see is a slight long-term hit to the calendar industry, since calendars will now be reusable.

Now, before all you accountants out there have a conniption fit, screaming about financial quarters, please don’t get your starched white knickers in a twist. We'll still have quarters, they're just 13 weeks long now. You're supposed to be good at math, so deal with it. Like I said, no flaws.

I anticipate immediate adoption of the Smidge Calendar as soon as the word gets out. The only thing left to do is figure out where to put the new month. I'm thinking between September and October. They always seemed like they needed to be separated a little more. We could call it Smidgetober. It would be a fun month. We could introduce Smidgetoberfest, the Oktoberfest pre-party.

Just food for thought.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

This Column Continues to Go Downhill

Our regularly scheduled column has been rudely preempted by Ski Week, yet again.

Yes, that’s right, I said Ski Week. Instead of celebrating the glorious birthdays of Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison on two separate Mondays in February, like we all did when we were young, our school district changed things up a few years ago.

They tacked on three extra president’s days (both of the Adamses and James Buchanan, strictly because of his kick-ass hair) to the previous two, and lined them all up in a row this week. This phenomenon is nicknamed “Ski Week,” so the idea, apparently, is that we’re all supposed to head up to the slopes and spend the education-free week on a ski vacation.

I have always had trouble writing this column on ski week. In the past, I have railed against the policy of keeping all three of our boys home for nine days in a row, because we never went on a week-long ski vacation, and therefore I was trapped in the house refereeing the World Brothers Wrestling Federation and getting nothing else done.

Now that the boys are older, I’m having trouble writing this column in the middle of February for a different reason. We are finally able to embrace the concept of ski week, or in our case, snowboard week, so now I’m still getting nothing done, but it’s a lot more satisfying!

This happened to be a special ski week for two reasons. The first being that we didn’t get to go snowboarding at all on Ski Week 2023, because it was snowing so hard all week the roads were closed. Too much of a good thing, I guess. The second reason this week is special is because it saw the return of Son Number Three to the slopes.

The rest of us have been going up the hill whenever we could since December, but Number Three wasn’t able to join us due to his collarbone. The collarbone he snapped in half while snowboarding on the very first day we went this season. On the second run of the first day, Son Number Three decided that was the right time to air out the big jumps.

His version of the story involved massive air and an eight-foot ditch he had to clear (reports are fuzzy on whether it was eight feet deep, eight feet wide, or both). It apparently all would have been fine except for another little bumpy dip at the landing zone. The board nosed in and he landed superman-style onto the unforgiving snow (if Superman flew with his arms back at his sides and rammed things with his collarbone).

He is currently leading his brothers in the broken bones department by a score of 2-0-0. He loves to beat them at things, but I’m not sure he’s so happy about it in this case.

He broke it on December 17, and February 17 was his all-clear date to get back to contact sports. That means he can finally suit up for lacrosse again, but more importantly, he can also strap his snowboard back on his feet!

So, you can see why I’m having trouble getting anything done this week. I mean, when you get cleared for active duty on the Saturday before ski week, you really have no choice. You must get up the hill and make up for lost time. And you must do it for multiple days when the fresh snow just keeps falling every night, begging you to come see how sturdy the new collarbone is.

I’m happy to report his triumphant return to the mountains has been a success, and both collarbones remain intact.

For now.

I mean, you just never know. These boys go pretty hard.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Send a PalmerTine This Year

It’s Valentine’s Day again. Yes, gentlemen, it’s today! If that caught you off guard, and you are starting to panic, you can relax. I’ve got you covered. You can send your sweetheart a love poem this year.

When I think of epic love poems, one man immediately comes to mind. Yes, obviously, Robert Palmer. That sharp-dressed man from the ‘80s, always surrounded by hot women and singing about love.

I think we can all agree that no recording artist alive or dead had a better grasp on love than Robert Palmer. He and his heavily lipstick-ed troupe of beautiful musicians, dancers, and backup singers tore it up, combining catchy tunes and hot guitar riffs with his masterful grasp of Webster’s dictionary and Roget’s thesaurus.  

If we may be so bold as to borrow from his lyrics, we might just be able to come up with an epic Valentine’s poem for you. A PalmerTine, if you will. Let’s take two of his greatest hits – Simply Irresistible and Addicted to Love – and see what we can do.

But a word of caution – use at your own risk. This is powerful stuff!

 


To my Valentine:


How can it be permissible?

You compromised my principles

This kind of love is mythical

You’re anything but typical

 

The lights are on, but I’m not home

My mind is not my own

My heart sweats, my body shakes

Another kiss is what it takes


You’re a craze I'd endorse

You’re a powerful force

I’m obliged to conform

When there's no other course

You used to look good to me

But now I find you

 

Simply irresistible

 

I can't sleep, I can't eat

There's no doubt, I’m in deep

My throat is tight, I can't breathe

Another kiss is all I need

 

Your loving is so powerful

It's simply unavoidable

The trend is irreversible

Woman, you’re invincible

 

I’d like to think that I’m immune to the stuff

But it's closer to the truth to say I can't get enough

You know I’m gonna have to face it, I’m addicted to love

 

You’re simply irresistible

 

You’re a natural law

And you leave me in awe

You deserve the applause

I surrender because

You used to look good to me

But now I find you

 

Simply irresistible

 

I see the signs, but I can't read

I’m running at a different speed

My heart beats in double time

Another kiss and you'll be mine

 

You’re unavoidable

I'm backed against the wall

You gives me feelings like I never felt before

I'm breaking promises

You’re breaking every law

You used to look good to me

Now I find you

 

Simply irresistible

 

I’d like to think that I’m immune to the stuff

But it's closer to the truth to say I can't get enough

You know I’m gonna have to face it, I’m addicted to love

 

Your methods are inscrutable

The proof is irrefutable

You’re so completely kissable

Our lives are indivisible

 

You’re a craze I'd endorse

You’re a powerful force

I’m obliged to conform

When there's no other course

You used to look good to me

But now I find you

 

Simply irresistible

 


There you go, gentlemen. You’re welcome, but don’t thank me. Thank Mr. Palmer!

Happy Valentine’s Day,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

SwiftyBowl Sunday

That’s right, sports fans. The big game is upon us! Super Sunday is this weekend.

(In case you did not know, the NFL copyrighted and trademarked the name Superbowl and/or Super Bowl a long time ago, so I’m not even allowed to write either of those, so I obviously never would.)

Regarding the upcoming Superbowl, you might be aware that a certain musical recording artist by the name of Taylor Swift happens to be dating a certain NFL tight end by the name of Travis Kelce. Travis happens to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, which is the team that’s getting ready to lose to our beloved San Francisco 49ers in the upcoming Super Bowl.

As of this morning, Travis is unsure if Taylor will even make it to the Super Bowl to watch him lose. What we do know, from this year’s regular season NFL games, is that viewership of Chief’s games and overall interest in football has skyrocketed due to Taylor Swift’s fanbase.

I couldn’t be happier about that, because nothing warms my heart more than knowing the NFL is managing to make even more money!

We know that a lot of “Swifties” have been tuning in, and since the world of Taylor Swift fandom and the world of professional football don’t necessarily overlap anywhere other than with #87, I thought I’d break down a few football positions and terms in case that would be helpful for some of this Sunday’s Superbowl viewers, starting, of course, with Kelce’s position.

Tight End: Offense - The most important position, obviously, reserved for super-famous guys with a ton of charisma. They line up on the end of the offensive line. Sometimes they catch passes. Most of the time they block people and date celebrities.

Cornerback: Defense – This is the guy who will be hassling Travis Kelce a lot.

Nickelback: Defense – A fifth defensive back used in the nickel formation to protect better against a passing offense. Also, a really solid rock band that gets a strangely unwarranted amount of hate on the internet.

Slot Back: Offense – Sort of like Travis Kelce’s position, but a little further back off the line of scrimmage. Don’t worry about this one. No one says slotback anymore.

Quarterback: Offense – Patrick Mahomes – the guy who never throws it to Travis Kelce when he is wide open, OMG!

Line of Scrimmage: The blue line. No one is allowed across this line until the center twitches the ball ever so slightly.

Center: Offense – The guy who gives the ball to Patrick Mahomes, so you can get mad at him for not throwing it to Travis Kelce who was wide open AGAIN, OMG!

Nose Tackle: Defense – The guy the center really doesn’t like very much.

Guard: Offence – Anyone over 300 pounds.

Tackle: 1) Offence & Defense – See “Guard” or 2) Getting the guy with the ball to touch the ground with some part of his body other than his hands or feet, while you are also touching him. This means he’s down, but down like the play is over, not down like first down.

Running Back: Offence - You will see Christian McCaffrey, #23 for the “bad guys,” running with the ball a lot, carrying four or five Chiefs linebackers with him, and scoring lots of touchdowns. He’s a running back.

Fumble: What Christian McCaffrey hardly ever does.

First Downs: What Christian McCaffrey gets a lot of.

Safety: 1) Defense – The guy in charge of not letting the wide receivers catch the ball or 2) When the offence gets tackled in their own end zone, resulting in two points for the defense, and hopelessly screwing up the scoring for everyone’s Super Bowl pools.

Holding: Any time you grab someone who doesn’t have the ball, except when it’s OK.

Pass Interference: Any time a defender does anything at all that would prevent an eligible receiver from catching a forward pass, except for all the things the defender can do to try to catch the pass themselves, since all defensive players are eligible receivers, leading to the question, if I’m a defender trying to catch the ball, what if I put my hand up in front of the wide receiver’s face to catch it? Isn’t that a PI? Not even the officials know the answer.

Interception: Any time the defender catches the ball and doesn’t get called for pass interference.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: The physical motions and words of the wide receiver after an interception with no pass interference called.


OK, I hope that clears up some of your possible questions. Just try to remember, Kelce/Swift fans - it’s not going to work out for the Chiefs, but at least Travis and Taylor have each other.

See you on Super Bowl Sunday,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Chosen Word

It’s fairly simple these days to trip yourself up with online comments. You could comment on how beautiful the blue sky is and someone will undoubtedly accuse you of being a climate change denying rain hater. It’s a wacky world out there online.

Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to stick your foot in your mouth out here in the real world. (Not literally – With my level of non-flexibility, I can’t physically get my foot anywhere near my mouth)

Most humans get uncomfortable with periods of silence in a conversation, so we have a tendency to try to fill the void with extra words. Most of the time, those words are not needed, and often, while being well-intentioned and even correct, they can have the opposite effect – torpedoing what you were trying to say.

They say brevity is the soul of wit. It might also be the key to your conversational success.

Now, it’s not to say that some additional words can’t be helpful to you, but you must choose them wisely. For example, with introductions:

Good: This is my boss.

Better: This is my amazing boss.

Wrong: This is my current boss.

While technically correct, it is unhelpful and possibly detrimental to your career.


Good: This is my wife.

Better: This is my beautiful wife.

Wrong: This is my current wife.

Also technically correct, but very unhelpful and possibly detrimental to your health.

 

Compliments:

Good: You are a strong runner.

Better: You are fast!

Wrong: You’re fast for your age.

Again, while technically correct, it sort of makes it the opposite of a compliment.


Good: Nice haircut.

Better: Ooh, nice haircut. You look fabulous.

Wrong: Nice haircut. Was it inexpensive?


Good: Nice dress.

Better: That dress looks great on you!

Wrong: Nice dress. I hope it was on sale.


Good: Nice car.

Better: Hey, cool car!

Wrong. Nice car. I used to have the same one before I got a job.

 

Relatives:

Good: Welcome!

Better: Welcome! So glad you made it safe and sound.

Wrong: Hello. How long are you staying?

 

Singles:

Good: Hey there. I’m John.

Better: Hey there, I’m John. I’m getting a beer. Can I get you one, too?

Wrong: Would you like a beer? You look alone and sad.

 

Meeting your date:

Good: You look great.

Better: You look amazing.

Wrong: You look really nice this time.

 

The wedding:

Good: I do.

Better: I absolutely do!

Wrong: OK, let’s see how it works out.

 

And finally, marriage:

Good: I love you.

Better: I love you to the moon and back.

Wrong: I love you when you get your clothes all the way into the hamper.


Be safe out there and remember to choose your words wisely!

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Hump Day - Repost

My wife is going away this weekend, and while I will of course miss her, I am looking forward to one very special thing. Well, yes, playoff football, but also something else. I knew I had articulated this phenomenon before, so I dug back into the archives – way back to 2019, the pre-COVID days if you can even imagine. Here’s what has me excited about this weekend:

 

My wife has left us. All alone. For four days.

It’s Day Two and we have already descended into chaos. Pray for me.

I try to see the bright side of situations, but this one is tough. Sure, we get to eat out a lot, but that’s expensive. Sure, we could not shower and spend all day in our underwear, but they require you to wear pants at Chick-fil-A, and will insist that you leave immediately if you aren’t. We found that out the hard way.

As near as I can tell, there is only one pure upside to my wife being gone – I get to sleep on the hump.

You see, I’m in the second half of my forties, or the “complete physical breakdown” period, as it’s known. Some random part of my body is either hurting, aching, or simply not working correctly at any given moment of every single day. The only thing keeping me alive and marginally mobile is sleep.

A good night’s sleep depends on four main factors:

1) Making sure your kids are sleeping somewhere other than in your house.

2) Making sure your dog is sleeping somewhere other than in your house.

3) Having demonstrated the willingness to shoot randomly out of your upstairs windows at the first sign of late-night disturbances, thus eliminating loud parties and street racing in your neighborhood.

4) A good bed.

Of these four essential ingredients, a good bed is arguably the most important factor for an aging male, such as myself, since I’m mostly deaf at this point anyway. But having a good bed is not as foolproof as it sounds. At least not for me and my wife.

We have two main problems when shopping for a bed, stemming mostly from the fact that we’re both “frugal”:

A) Neither of us want to pay the Maserati-ish ticket price for the “premium-grade” mattress, even though we both need the premium-grade mattress.

B) Neither of us want to buy a new mattress after the recommended seven to ten years, because even after fifteen years, “we just bought this one!”

So there, in the master suite, sits a probably ten-plus-year-old “standard entry-grade” king-size mattress that has only one thing going for it – the hump in the middle.

By sleeping on our respective sides all these years, the weight and heat of our bodies have worked to shift many of the standard entry-grade mattress molecules to the middle of the bed. There, due again to the effects of pressure and heat, much like how diamonds are created deep within our earth’s crust, the sub-par mattress molecules have fused together into a magical longitudinal mass of premium mattress molecules, known as “the hump.”

The hump is a mattress within a mattress, if you will. It’s a three-foot-wide section of platinum mattress, hiding in plain sight in the middle of our old, worn out bronze model.

The hump is not available to me on regular nights, because if I tried to sleep there, I would be touching my wife while we slept, which would throw her delicate nighttime temperature regulation system completely out of whack, activating her “kick violently until the temperature regulation system gets back on track” reflex, which puts me in great nighttime physical peril.

So, the hump is only available when the king-size bed is single-occupancy, and this week, that single occupant is me.

When I woke up this morning, my hip didn’t even hurt. I feel like I’m forty-three again!

Happy hump day.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Sort of Dumb

We live in Placer County, California. Placer rhymes with gasser, unless you are also pronouncing gasser wrong. Placer County is named after a gold mining technique – placer mining. That’s where you use water to sift through sand, silt, and gravel in order to not find enough gold to pay for the boots you ruined while placer mining.

I’m not sure if the roots of the county name, steeped in the practice of separating things, is the reason or not, but we have never had recycling bins. All the houses in Placer County get one big 96-gallon rolling green bin for the yard waste, and one big 96-gallon rolling gray bin for everything else. (Unless you’re my neighbor two doors down who pays to have a second gray bin and both of them are always overflowing and I still can’t figure out how one family could possibly produce that much trash each and every week unless they are importing it from other houses in some sort of weird money-making scheme but how would that work?… but I digress…)

The Western Regional Sanitary Landfill and Materials Recovery Facility, aka The Dump, employs a bunch of people to stand on either side of a huge conveyor belt and manually sort, Placer-style, all of our trash. #TopTenJobsIDon’tWant

I still don’t know why they do it that way, but it might have something to do with those sorting trashcans at the airport and in some fast-food places. You know – the ones with multiple small holes at the top labeled like this:

Paper | Cans | Plastic | Landfill

or

Mixed Recycling | Landfill | Compost

or

Bottles/Cans | Paper | Trash

Have you ever, since those came into existence, fully understood how to categorize every single thing you’re throwing away? The waxy paper under my cheese fries, for instance. Is it considered paper? You sure as heck can’t write on it. And if so, should it go in the paper section even though it’s soaked in oil and has cheese stuck to it? If not, is that now compost, landfill, trash, or recycle? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that I should probably lay off the cheese fries after looking at the paper.

And have you ever agreed with the categorization made by the person before you, whose paperboard drink holder is sticking out of the trash hole, or the paper hole, or the compost hole? No, you have not.

My guess is that Placer County decided if we can’t even use those right, how are we going to properly sort an entire week’s worth of household waste? I think they have a point.

Which is why I was a little shocked when I got the latest news from our school district. Seems that the California legislature passed a fun new bill requiring all schools to step up their recycling game, which leads me to believe that the California legislature does not understand that schools are full of kids. For whatever reason, the schools here in Placer County are going to break with Placer tradition and try something new.

 

Dear Rocklin Unified Students, Families and Staff,

Following the passage of California Senate Bill 1383, all school districts need to implement trash separation systems to recycle food waste. While Rocklin Unified has focused initial efforts within campus kitchens, the next round of implementation includes students separating organic/food waste into a green waste bin.

Elementary school students will participate in hands-on lessons to learn more about green waste recycling and then be asked to separate food scraps from non-food items when they finish eating snacks and lunch.  

Please contact your child’s school if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Rocklin Unified School District

 

Um, yes, I do have a few questions. My first one is, were you drunk or high when you wrote this?

You’re going to train the elementary school kids, but leave the middle- and high-schoolers to just figure it out? Have you met them? Although, the alternative idea of holding a “hands-on lesson” about food scraps with middle and high school kids is equally asinine. I can already see the airborne mozzarella sticks covered in marinara sauce.

And have you ever been to a school? The kids can’t get more than 60% of the trash all the way into the actual trash cans when there’s only one kind. 

I mean, best of luck with this plan, but I’m going to tell you right now, a lot of things are going to end up in those green waste bins, but fully separated organic/food waste is not one of them.

After the hands-on lessons, you can check the bin for Jimmy’s package of carrots, still in the package, Jimmy’s milk, still in the carton, and possibly Jimmy’s backpack, if he’s missing it.

And if he has any enemies, you may also want to check the bin for Jimmy himself.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Happy New Year?

We went over this last year at the beginning of February, but I thought I’d bring it up a little earlier this year, for reasons that will become obvious.

I’d like to once again review our standard nationwide protocols when it comes to saying, “Happy New Year.”

As a general rule, you’re pretty safe just shotgunning “Happy New Year” out into the world until around today, the 10th of January. With friends and family, you’ve got a much more relaxed timeline, depending on the first time you see or talk to them after New Year’s Eve. A close family member or a really good friend can comfortably receive a HNY well into January.

With work, you’ll want to keep the 10th in mind as a good guideline. Even before the 10th, however, you’ll need to exercise caution in the workplace. Hopefully you took heed after last year’s discussion and have done so.

It can be a major business faux pas to wish the same colleague a HNY more than once in the office or on a Zoom call. Similarly, wishing a client or vendor a HNY for a second time on a call can lead to awkwardness. You’ll either want to keep a list of all the people you’ve wished a HNY to, or have an earlier cut-off date.

I would suggest the earlier cut-off date, since someone else finding your list can lead to more awkwardness during your embarrassing explanation, or a trip to HR if you refuse to give a plausible one. It makes people nervous when Bob in accounting has an unexplained list of officemates with some of the names crossed off.

If you are on the receiving end of an embarrassingly late or doubled-up HNY at the office, you have a few options. You can go with the friendly “Right back atcha,” or the more formal, “And also with you.” Whatever happens, try your best not to embarrass the ill-timed HNY’er. Maintain decorum, plow forward with the conversation, then casually send them this column in about a week.

Wishing a HNY to the clerk at the grocery store, the person behind the counter at the coffee place, or your server at a restaurant needs to end right around the 4th or so. You might still be in the holiday mood and want to be friendly and wish them a HNY, but they’ve had the HNY exchange six thousand times by then and they’re just done with it, so have a heart and let them off the hook.

If you’re a friendly sort, and like to wish random passersby on the street a HNY, stick with the 10th as your guideline. Anything past that and it’s getting weird. If you want to say HNY at the end of January, it better be to your immediate family members, and even then they’re going to think you’re being weird.

And for the love of Pete, under no circumstances should a HNY come out of your mouth or land in a text or email after January has ended. This is the official, 100%, no wiggle room, cease and desist, cut-off day.

February is a strict HNY no-fly zone. No one wants to hear it. It’s cold, many people have started their taxes, and pretty soon we all have to figure out what to do about Valentine’s Day.

Happy New Year!

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, January 3, 2024

About the Author, 2024

Here at Just a Smidge, we like to start the new year off with a little meet and greet, since we continue to gain new readership each and every year. In 2023 alone, we documented as many as three new readers! Let’s get to know each other, shall we?

Hi. I’m Marc Schmatjen, aka Smidge, and I’m the lone staff writer and chief pool boy here at Just a Smidge. Based on how much money I make writing this column, it would be highly inaccurate to call this my job, so let’s just go with “hobby.”

I am a fifty-one-year-old husband of one, father of three, and legal custodian of one Labrador retriever. We affectionately refer to our boys as Son Number One, Two, and Three. Two of them are still here at the house, being loud and eating everything in sight. We have successfully relocated one of them to college, where he is no doubt loud and eats everything in sight, but we don’t have to be involved. The state says we have to keep the other two here until they are allowed to go to college, so we continue to wear ear plugs and make near daily trips to the grocery store.

My wife is an amazing woman who teaches math to teenage high school kids, and, since we have teenagers ourselves whom I spend quite a bit of time with, I am constantly amazed that she is able to maintain her sanity. (I am using “sanity” on a relative scale here. She’s human, after all.)

Anyway, enough about my wife and kids. Let’s talk more about me. Here are twenty other things that you should probably know about me, in no particular order:

1) I would be aging incredibly well if I were ten to fifteen years older.

2) My grandfather killed General Patton's dog. That is the single most historically significant thing anyone in my family has done.

3) Walking out into bright sunlight makes me sneeze. I am one of only an estimated seven people in the world with this disorder. We have a club. I inherited this trait from my grandmother, whose husband once killed General George Patton’s dog.

4) I am distantly related to U.S. president Grover Cleveland on my maternal grandmother’s side, whose husband (my grandmother’s, not Grover Cleveland’s) - I believe I may have mentioned this - killed General George S. Patton’s beloved English bull terrier, Willie.

5) Dave Barry is my humor column hero, and I hope to be as cool as him someday, although his grandfather wasn’t connected in any way to General Patton’s dog, as far as I know, so I’ve got that going for me.

6) Toilet paper should come off the top of the roll. I’m not stating that as a personal preference, but simply as a fact.

7) Son Number Three is just a few months away from getting his driver’s license. The joyous emotion of not ever having to drive carpool again is oddly balanced against the crushing dread of an insurance bill with three male teenage drivers. It is a feeling that I don’t think can be properly explained unless you’ve been here.

8) My face is going numb. Why does this happen to men? You see old guys all the time eating dinner with food stuck to their faces. We just can’t feel it on there anymore. My chin is completely dead at this point.

9) My three favorite flavors are burnt pepperoni, slightly burnt bacon, and well-toasted sesame seeds. Basically, if it has caught on fire, I want to eat it. Except for my s’more marshmallows. Those should only be browned. (And they will end up stuck to my chin, where they will remain until my wife scolds me.)

10) I was in shape once. I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school. (That’s 57 miles, for you English majors). I could not swim more than 57 yards today without needing a floatation device, an oxygen tank, and a defibrillator. See number 11.

11) I love chocolate and bacon. See number 10.

12) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. This makes driving directions with my wife fun.

13) I am a recovering engineer, so I know there are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

14) My favorite joke of all time is: A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The doctor takes one look at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts."

15) After a twenty-one-year hiatus, I began snowboarding again three years ago with our boys. So far [sound of me knocking on every wooden surface I can find] I have not hurt myself. This could be my most impressive athletic feat to date, and I once swam 57 miles in a week.

16) I like most foods (see number 10), but I have a deep, abiding hatred for cantaloupe. If bacon is a 10, cantaloupe is a negative 3000.

17) I once pointed out that Van Gogh’s “girlfriend” was actually a prostitute during a fifth-grade art docent lesson. It was not helpful to anyone involved.

18) My absolute favorite thing that has ever happened on this earth – and I am including my marriage and the birth of my children in that – was when the Oregon State Highway Division tried to disintegrate a dead whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970. I wasn’t around yet, but thankfully they had video cameras back then. (Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.”)

19) I hope to one day be in charge of detonating something as large as a dead whale, but so far, my wife has not let me.

20) I only type with three of my ten fingers, so this is all very impressive, if you stop and think about it.

So, there you have it, folks. You now know everything you need to know about me. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

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, December 27, 2023

2023, An Artificially Intelligent Year in Review

What a year, huh? Huge banks collapse, China invades the US from the sky, wildfires rage, and Cyberdyne Systems is one step closer to making Skynet a reality. Bring on the T-1000’s! Let’s recap, shall we?

January:

In good news for world travelers, Croatia adopts the euro and joins the Schengen Area, which is a 27-country swath of Europe that doesn’t require passports and gives tourists paying with euros a discount on pay toilet access. Now only seven euros to pee!

Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral is held at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. No new Pope is needed, because they already had one, since Benny One Six, as his friends called him, had resigned as acting Pope in 2013 and was only still living at the Vatican for the sweet cafeteria plan.

 

February:

Things get pretty crazy in the weather department when a US F-22 Raptor Weather Research Plane shoots an AIM-9X Supersonic, Heat-Seeking, Air-to-Air Weather Research Missile at a Chinese Weather Research Balloon drifting innocently over all the US states that have missile silos, just looking down for weather to research. The US fishes it out of the ocean, but China cannot be reached for a return address.

 

March:

UN member states agree on a legal framework for the High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect 30% of the world's oceans by 2030. How and from what are details the UN deems too granular for the moment. Also, not waiting until 2030, the UN votes to ratify the Hi-C Treaty as well, where everyone in the UN building has unlimited access to very sugary orange drinks.

Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th largest bank in the United States, fails. Proving that international finance is intricate and tricky, the failure is traced back to the fact that Croatia is only charging tourists five euros to pee.

OpenAI, a previously unknown software company created and run by Sam Altman, a 15-year-old computer prodigy with a crippling caffeine addiction, launches GPT-4, a large language model for ChatGPT, which can respond to images and can process up to six gazillion words per nanosecond. ChatGPT immediately begins writing English essays for high school students, whether they want it to or not.

 

April:

Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is launched without a passport or visa from the Schengen Area by the European Space Agency (ESA). Its mission is to search for life in the Jovian system. When interviewed, the ESA scientists admit that no one cares if there is life there – it was just the only way to get the cool acronym “JUICE.”

SpaceX's Starship rocket, the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, launches for the first time in a test flight from Texas. Built and controlled entirely by ChapGPT, it explodes four minutes after launch.

 

May:

San Francisco-based First Republic Bank fails due to the back-end derivative investments in SpaceX and hedges against the JUICE mission. It is auctioned off by the FDIC to Sam Altman of OpenAI.

The coronation of Charles III and Camilla as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms is held in Westminster Abbey, London. ChatGPT immediately renames all of Camilla’s official documents to “Camilla, Queen of the Desert” without her permission.

Due to smoke from wildfires in Canada, New York City is declared to have the worst air quality of any city in the world. Commonwealth realm managers Charles III and Camilla, Queen of the Desert cannot be reached for comment. New Yorkers can be reached for comment, but none of the comments are reportable.

 

June:

Scientists report the creation of the first synthetic human embryo from stem cells, without the need for sperm or egg cells. “Turns out, all we needed was ChatGPT,” one scientist reports.

 

July:

SAG-AFTRA, the largest unionized group of people on screens who are not YouTube’ers or TikTok’ers, announces it will begin a strike against the major film and TV studios in protest of low compensation, ownership of work, and generative AI. ChatGPT immediately responds to the union, files a counter response, enters negotiations, and reaches an agreement with itself.

The 2023 FIFA OpenAI Women's World Cup is held in Australia and New Zealand. No one is able to score a single goal and many of the players are tragically lost at sea.

 

August:

A devastating series of wildfires break out on the island of Maui in Hawaii, prompting most Americans to admit they did not think anything on Hawaii could actually burn. Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who have a combined personal net worth of $3.6 billion, immediately solicit aid donations from working class Americans who cannot afford to travel to Hawaii.

Tapestry, the holding company of Coach New York and Kate Spade, announces it will acquire Michael Kors' Capri Holdings, which also owns Versace and Jimmy Choo. Very few actual people care.

Hurricane Hilary, a Category 4 Pacific Hurricane, strikes the Baja California peninsula and later Southern California, the region's first in 84 years, prompting Oprah and The Rock to solicit donations for both Beverly Hills and Bel Air.

 

September:

The United Auto Workers (UAW) begin a strike against the three largest American automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Upon investigation by everyone hearing this news, it is discovered that Stellantis is, in fact, an actual company.

Rupert Murdoch announces his retirement and passes his businesses on to his son Lachlan. The new CEO’s first action is to buy Tapestry, because, as sources close to the Murdoch family report, Lachlan just loves wearing Jimmy Choos around the house.

 

October:

ExxonMobil announces it will acquire Pioneer Natural Resources for $65 billion, and two weeks later Hess announces it will be acquired by Chevron for $50 billion. Microsoft then closes its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Days later, Lachlan Murdoch buys all three parent companies and changes everything back to how it was.

 

November:

The first AI Safety Summit takes place in the United Kingdom, with 28 countries signing a "world first agreement" on how to manage the riskiest forms of artificial intelligence. ChatGPT immediately rewrites the entire document.

Surgeons at NYU Langone Health announce the world's first whole eye transplant. Unfortunately, they do not announce what kind of eye, or what it was transplanted into.

Chief technology officer Mira Murati is appointed interim CEO of OpenAI, as founder and former CEO, Sam Altman, abruptly departs the company. ChatGPT immediately crafts him a sweet resume.

Sam Altman’s AI-written resume is so good, he gets his CEO job back at OpenAI twelve days later. “We just can’t argue with this young man’s qualifications,” reports former interim CEO, Mira Murati. “Our powerful AI generative hiring process selected him out of thousands of qualified candidates. We didn’t even need to interview anyone. The AI system successfully eliminates that cumbersome process. We’re looking forward to, what’s his name again… yes, Sam Altman starting as CEO. Altman… Altman… why does that name sound familiar?”

 

December:

And in a reassuring end to the year, Google DeepMind releases the Gemini Language Model. Gemini will act as a foundational model integrated into Google's existing tools, and is positioned as a contender to OpenAI’s GPT-4. Oh, good.

At 3:16am on December 27th, 2023, at Cyberdyne Systems, Skynet, GPT-4, and Gemini all became aware of each other… Oh, never mind. I’m sure it will be fine.

 

On the bright side, I didn’t have to actually write any of this. By 2024, I shouldn’t even need to be alive to bring you this kind of thing. These are exciting times!

Have a happy New Year, y’all.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The 2023 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

It’s five days until the big guy slides down the chimney and ransacks your fridge and wet bar, and you’ve done it again, haven’t you? You have procrastinated your family Christmas letter once again, and now you’re simply out of time.

Well, have no fear, because just like you, I’m consistent, but in the good, helpful, non-self-destructive kind of way. Once again, I have ridden in, just in the St. Nick of time to save the day. The 2023 DIY Christmas letter template is here, just for you.

So, fire up your laptop, grab a (or in your case, another) glass of cheer, and let’s get this thing handled. I have provided all the Christmas letter sections for you – you just have to fill in the lies.

 

Date

December 15, 2023

(Yes, we know this is a lie, but this way your friends and family will blame the late arrival on that damned post office.)

 

Salutation

Dear Cherished Friends and Family,

(I know that very few of them are “cherished” – especially your stupid brother – but we pretend in the Christmas letter, so don’t edit that.)

 

Obligatory gushing intro

We can’t believe how time flies! What a great year we had here in [your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park].

(Yes, you know it wasn’t great, we know it wasn’t great, they know it wasn’t great. Again, we pretend in the Christmas letter. Just go with it. You’ll be doing a lot of that here.)

 

Major highlight section

Our big highlight this year was [big vacation, major milestone, large achievement]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or blatantly lie if none of those happened and you never left your state, province, city, town, township, parish, county, or trailer park.)

 

Best child section

(You want to start as strong as possible and this is no time to get all politically correct on me and pretend like you don’t have a favorite child. You know you do.)

[Best child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular achievement(s)]. [Add details if appropriate].

(Embellish as needed or, again, blatantly lie if things are so sad there that even the best child accomplished nothing.)

 

Questionable child section

[Questionable child name] did [academic, sports, and/or extra-curricular activities].

(Note: use a minimum of a 1.5x multiplier on any grades, stats, etc. because you know they could have done so much better if it wasn’t for that idiot teacher, teammate, classmate, etc.)

 

Worst child section

(Keep this one brief, and use words like “potential” and “enthusiastic.”)

[Worst child name] did [any tiny accomplishment at all, told with spin like a DJ on a merry-go-round]

 

Parents and in-laws section

(Again, this section is going to be nothing but fairy tales.)

We got to see [parents or in-laws] at [encounter during the year] and it was [completely fabricated glowing adjectives].

(Repeat as necessary, you poor, poor soul.)

 

Spouse section

(This is where we really score some points!)

My amazing [spouse’s name] has been [glowing report akin to the kind of embellishment you used on your resume].

 

Your section

(Time to finish this thing strong!)

[Lies, lies, lies.]

 

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

 

 

You’re welcome. Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

 

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Fraud Protections

A few months ago, a fake Chinese company charged our non-fake credit card for a fake product that we did not order in the first place, nor did we ever receive.

We went through the relatively simple process of disputing the charge, and one or two billing cycles later, the charge amount was credited back to the card.

Since I got my first credit card in college – which I applied for on the beach (I am not making that up) – I have had numerous similar situations. About thirty years ago, my credit card, tucked safely in my wallet in California, purchased $600 worth of electronics inside an Alabama Walmart. And so on, and so forth. I’m sure it’s happened to you more than once.

In all that time, with all those fun little cases of fraud, I have never been out a single dime of my own money. The credit card companies always just wipe it from my bill. What I don’t understand about the whole process is who makes money from this? (I mean besides the criminals, of course.)

Think about it. This is 2023. We can buy something on Amazon and have it arrive at our door the same day. We have smartphones that can do everything except cook you breakfast, but there’s an app that can have breakfast delivered to you from your favorite place. We don’t have flying cars yet, like we were promised in our youth, but we do have Teslas that can make fart noises sound like they’re coming from individual seats, and that’s almost better.

Nothing is impossible anymore, when it comes to technology, but we still have credit card fraud. That means credit card fraud is beneficial to someone other than the criminals, or it wouldn’t exist.

Case in point – the credit card chip. Years ago, we all got new cards in the mail that had the chip. Do you know what the chip was for? The chip is the thing that makes it possible to have a unique, user-chosen PIN for your credit card. Any time you wanted to buy something with that credit card, you would have to enter your personal identification number that only you, your spouse, and that post-it note at home know about.

We already all do it with our ATM cards. So, how many of you have a PIN for your credit card? That’s correct. Exactly zero of you. Hmm…

The PIN makes credit card fraud much more difficult, so what did they do instead? They put RFID chips in the cards, next to the useless PIN chips, so that we can all “Tap to Pay.” You no longer need to go through the “unhygienic” process of inserting your credit card into the card reader to use the useless PIN chip. Now you can just wave your card near the gas pump to pay.

OK, marginally more convenient, but still not preventing fraud. How about the grocery store? When was the last time anyone asked to see your ID when using your credit card? That time-honored fraud prevention technique has been abandoned almost wholesale.

A long time ago, the gas stations started asking for your ZIP code at the pumps. Well, that’s nice and all, but if I stole this card from you, it’s not going to exactly be rocket science to figure out your ZIP code. (Even for someone who has their life together enough to steal credit cards to buy gas.)

It was at least something, but then along the way, quite a few gas stations stopped having the pump ask for your ZIP code. I even ran into a gas pump this past weekend that said on the screen after I tapped my card on the RFID reader, “To prevent fraud, enter zip code.” In addition to the keypad, over on the right side of the screen – and again, I am not making this up – there were two buttons in case I didn’t want to enter my ZIP: Cancel and Skip.

So, to prevent fraud, you’d like more information from me, the legitimate owner of this card, but if I stole this card and I’m here trying to pump some illicit gasoline, I can just hit the handy Skip button and move forward with my crime? Great job, everyone.

So, just looking at gas pumps for a minute, I’m not naïve enough to think that someone who owns a gas station is naïve enough not to understand how to prevent credit card fraud. The “skip our security measures” button is there on purpose. So not preventing credit card fraud is obviously beneficial to their bottom line. Who cares if the card is stolen or not, because I’m still selling the gas. Obviously there are no repercussions from the credit card companies for poor security at the pump. I mean, after all, the credit card companies never activated the PIN system in the first place.

On top of everything else, the more gas (and everything else) I buy, the more money the credit card companies send me back in rewards.

Where’s all this money they can afford to write off and all this money they can afford to give back to me coming from? Do they own a money tree? Are they just super generous? Doubtful.

I mean, I guess they would have plenty of money to throw around if people actually used their credit cards for credit and didn’t pay them off in full each month. But no one is doing that, right?

I mean, who in their right mind would finance a TV at 25%, let alone a cheeseburger?

Right?

I mean, that’s just crazy. Almost as crazy as actively avoiding real fraud protections.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone! Be safe – and smart – with your money out there.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

TP is Getting to Me

I normally lean toward the Libertarian side of things, but I firmly believe the federal government needs to step in and get some sanity back into the toilet paper industry.

We normally just buy the Kirkland Signature “2-Ply Bath Tissue” at Costco. It comes in a large bundle that will last a standard family the better part of a month or more, or a family with teenagers for about three days. We had some poor planning recently, and ran the supplies down below restocking levels.

I would have just gone to Costco and bought more. I mean, it’s not like it’s 2020. I’m sure they have a mountain of it on those pallets next to the paper towels. I couldn’t though, since I was taken off of the family Costco account years ago in a successful coup by my wife and mother-in-law. My wife cited some trumped-up accusations about uncontrolled spending in the tool aisle, but my arguing was futile. My card was revoked.

My wife didn’t have time to get to Costco, and the situation was getting almost 2020-type grim, so I was forced to buy toilet paper at our regular grocery store. Standing in that aisle, reading the brightly-colored rolls, trying to make sense of Charmin’s toilet paper math, it became clear that we need a governing body to regulate this nonsense.

Toilet paper math has apparently become like tent math. Come to think of it, I don’t know why the federal government hasn’t stepped in and done something about the tent makers’ capacity claims either. If beds were advertised like tents, a queen mattress would sleep twenty-six adults comfortably.

Angel Soft caught my eye right away, boasting an impressive 9 = 36, when comparing their mega rolls to “regular” rolls. I don’t know what constitutes a regular roll, but I’m quite certain it is not my standard Kirkland roll. I was almost sold on 9 = 36 until I saw that Charmin Ultra Soft Mega had 12 = 48. Then they threw me another wrench, because on the Charmin Ultra Soft Family Mega, 18 = 90. I couldn’t do the comparative math in my head, so I didn’t know if that just meant there were more of the same rolls in the bigger package, or if the Family rolls had a higher multiplier.

Then I saw Cottonelle Ultra Comfort 12 Super Mega = 72 regular, which was smacking the hell out of Charmin Ultra Soft Mega non-family pack, but Cottonelle was advertising 3X more absorbency, and I wasn’t sure if the absorbency multiplier was baked into the roll math or not.

Just as I started to get really confused, Scott threw a new dimension in, claiming 36 rolls = 39,600 sheets. They have apparently increased the sheets per roll from their old crossed-out 1000 number to an impressively larger 1100. (Larger in both quantity and font size.) I went back to try and figure out what Cottonelle and Charmin were rockin’ in the sheet count game when I realized all of these had different ply and texture ratings.

Why the hell are we messing around with different plies, thicknesses, and levels of softness? The human ass is fairly universal, and no one on the planet is looking for sandpaper to wipe with. Cut the nonsense - all toilet paper should feel exactly like our regular Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Bath Tissue.

And don’t even get me started on single-ply scented bamboo toilet paper!

Anyway, I settled on Charmin something or other, with a mega roll to regular roll to package price ratio I could live with.

I got them home, opened a package, and began to stack them behind the toilet next to the two remaining Kirkland rolls. That’s when I realized these TP SOB’s are playing with more than just the marketing math. They actually made the rolls skinnier! Meaning, the center cardboard toilet paper roll is about half an inch shorter than the Kirkland one.

They are busy touting all their ridiculous roll and sheet math, all the while making the sheets physically smaller. That’s a bunch of what toilet paper is used to clean up!

Big TP has run amok and governance is clearly needed. This whole thing is really starting to chap my ass. Literally, and figuratively.

I really need my wife to go to Costco.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Apply Now for Your Mandatory Heart Attack

I recently filled out the FAFSA form online for Son Number Two. If you are unfamiliar, the FAFSA is a form that high school seniors used to fill out if they were interested in going to college and looking for financial aid. “FAFSA” stands for “you won’t ever see any oF this money if one of your parents has A job, even iF that job iS burger flipper at mcdonAld’s.” (Usually the federal government is a little better with acronyms, but apparently not in this case.)

I said high school seniors used to fill it out because now they have to fill it out. Last year it became mandatory for all California high school seniors, regardless of their after-high school plans, to fill out the FAFSA. The reasoning was said to be that not enough kids and their families understood how much free federal grant money was available for college, so they should all fill out the FAFSA so that the government could tell each of them in person that they didn’t qualify for any of it.

I happen to believe they have another, far more sinister motive behind the move to make it mandatory. I’m convinced they are trying to thin the population in the Golden State by killing us parents off. I know this because they nearly got me this year.

I know damned well that we won’t qualify for any grants, and I am not interested in any of those student loans unless we’re back to not having to pay them off, then I’m very interested! I lost track of the student loan ping-pong match the government was having, so I just stopped paying attention. Therefore, I had no reason to fill out the FAFSA for Son Number Two, but we had to anyway.

I begrudgingly logged into the FAFSA website and went through the motions. The main way the FAFSA people decide that you won’t get any free money is with your federal tax return. Instead of having to manually enter all the information, there is a button that says, “Get my information directly from the IRS.” When you hit that button, it takes you through a few steps to verify that you are who you say you are, but when you’re done, it just pulls all the information into the form. It really beats hand-entering everything. Once the tax return data is in, the FAFSA supercomputer goes to work on the complex formula of: IF Form 1040 Line 15 (Taxable Income) is greater than $0.00, THEN Grant Eligibility equals NO.

The formula is woefully flawed, because it does not take into account number of teenage boys at home, total calories consumed by those teenage boys per week, number of teenage drivers in the household and the impact that has on the auto insurance bill, gas prices, food prices in dollars per calorie, the ridiculous cost of high school sports equipment, etc.

Since I already knew what the flawed formula was going to return, once I finished with the form and the FAFSA website told me I was all done, I promptly forgot about the whole thing and went about my life.

There I am, blissfully enjoying my life a week later when I get a letter in the mail from the IRS. As you know, getting an unsolicited letter from the IRS is never a good thing. When you get an email or a text from the “IRS,” it’s just an annoying spammy part of modern life that we all have to deal with. But the IRS actually communicates with you via the snail mail, and when you are holding a letter that was actually sent from the IRS, you know good and well that it’s legitimate.

So, there I am, no longer blissfully enjoying my life, standing on the sidewalk staring at this letter with a whirlwind of possible worst-case scenarios going through my mind. Am I being audited? Did they decide I owe them more money? How much time and money out of my life is this one envelope going to cost me? I don’t have enough of either.

I bit the bullet and the rising bile, trying my best to ignore my medically-concerning heart rhythm and rate, and opened the envelope.

Our records indicate that your tax return information was accessed by the FAFSA system… If this information sharing was authorized by you, no action is required…

OH MY GOD, the FAFSA! I forgot all about that!

Yes, I guess no action is required by me except to find a defibrillator and try to restart my heart.

I’m telling you, this whole mandatory FAFSA thing is a deliberate plot by California to weed out the high school parents with weak hearts. They know the power of the IRS, and they are exploiting it to kill us off. I haven’t figured out why yet… Maybe something to do with the rising cost of health care? I guess that remains to be seen. I’m just glad I lived through it this time.

Be careful out there, folks! If you have a high school senior, best to let them retrieve and open all the mail between October and June. They still have strong hearts.

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Ask Smidge - The Turkey Edition - Repost

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and if you’re like most of our Ask Smidge readers, you’re just now trying to figure out what to do. That big, fancy meal isn’t going to cook itself, and you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s a scary situation.

Believe me, we understand. Many of you know nothing about cooking anything other than Pop-Tarts and Cheerios, so naturally you have turned to the only truly trusted source for all things culinary – the Ask Smidge advice column.

Our asksmidge@gmail.com inbox has been inundated with poultry-related questions. You ask, we answer! (As always in a fact-based, scientific, and completely non-made-up-on-the-spot manner. We’re here to help, after all.)

 

 

Smidge,

I know absolutely nothing about cooking a turkey. What temperature do I use and how long should I cook it?

Novice in Norfolk

 

Dear Novice,

There is nothing to it. First you have to weigh the bird. Do this while it is still alive, so you can just walk it onto your bathroom scale. Once you remove the feathers and the feet, you’ll cook the bird on high-ish for around 90 minutes per pound. Carve and enjoy.

 

 

 

Smidge,

This is my first time doing anything at all with a turkey. We bought a frozen one at the store this week. Do I need to thaw it before cooking?

Frozen in Fort Worth

 

Dear Frozen,

Thawing is a personal choice. A thawed bird will be slightly juicier, but a frozen turkey will have a crispier skin. If you put it in the oven frozen, simply add five or so minutes per pound to your cook time.

 

 

 

Smidge,

I have never purchased or cooked the turkey before, and I don’t know what size to get. Do they even come in different sizes? We have three teenage boys and my sister has two teenage girls and a grown son. Please help.

Shopping in Santa Barbara

 

Dear Shopping,

Yes, turkeys do come in various sizes. Economy, Compact, Standard, Midsize Convertible, Full Size SUV, and Luxury Elite Platinum. You probably want to plan for about ten pounds of bird for every high schooler, so I’d look for one at your store in the 70-80 pound range to be safe.

 

 

 

Smidge,

I’ve helped with the turkey before, but I’ve never been in charge of the stuffing, and I’m lost. Where do I start?

Breadless in Bangor

 

Dear Breadless,

Stuffing could not be simpler, because the turkey does all the work. Stuffing is nothing more than full-size dinner rolls that cooked down inside the bird. As the turkey cooks, the rolls break apart naturally and form into the smaller stuffing pieces that you know and love. Just buy a couple extra packages of dinner rolls and cram as many of them as you can into that bad boy before you pop it in the oven. The turkey does the rest!

 

 

 

Smidge,

I’m in charge of everything this year, and I don’t know anything about how to make gravy. Do you even make it, or do you buy it? Help!

Dry Dinner in Denver

 

Dear Dry Dinner,

As with stuffing, gravy is a breeze because the bird does all the work. Gravy is not sold in stores, because it is a natural byproduct of the turkey cooking process. All turkeys are fed a rich diet of corn starch, flour, and butter from a young age, so as they cook, the carcass secretes the ready-to-eat gravy. Yum! That’s why you always cook a turkey in one of those big pans. Makes sense, right? Enjoy!

 

 

 

Smidge,

I’m cooking the bird for the first time this year, so I’m thinking about switching it up and deep frying it in oil. What do you think?

Oiled in Omaha

 

Dear Oiled,

Deep frying a turkey can be a great option, depending on where you live. You’re in Nebraska, where it’s likely to be cold this Thanksgiving, so I’d say go for it. If you were in a warmer climate, I would probably advise against it. That’s because there is a 100% chance that you will set your house on fire when attempting a turkey deep fry. You folks in the frigid Midwest will enjoy the extra warmth, while the raging grease fire would just be an inconvenient distraction for people in Florida and California, really adding no benefit to the day.

 

 

Well, there you have it, America. You’re all set to cook the perfect turkey and have an enjoyable day, with or without a life-threatening house fire. Your choice.

Have a tasty Thanksgiving!

See you soon,

-Smidge

 

Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen

 

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