Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Home Health Exam

As I told you back in March, I have a Google Alert on the phrase “Tree of Death” in an effort to keep tabs on my book. This has inadvertently kept me up to date on all the horrifying news from around the globe of the interesting and bizarre way people die at the hands (limbs?) of trees on a daily basis. Since we own six full-size trees, I decided to update our life insurance, for obvious possible tree-related reasons.

One of the fun parts about buying life insurance, besides the phone interview, is the home health exam. A highlight of this exam is when you get to bring an open-top container of your own urine to your dining room table for someone to scrutinize. We’ll get back to that.

My wife and I had our home medical examinations scheduled for 8:00 A.M. on a Saturday. The nurse showed up conveniently at 7:30 A.M.

She may have been early because I’m guessing breakfast at the nursing home is around 5:00 A.M. or so. I’m not saying she works at the nursing home, I’m guessing she lives there. Now, I don’t want to insult Edna, the travelling R.N., by calling her old, but let’s just say when she used to work at the hospital in her younger days, it very well could have been the first hospital.

The directives for the home health exam were no food or drink except water twelve hours before the exam, and be prepared to give a blood and urine sample. The blood is no problem, since I always carry it with me, but trying to “be ready to pee” is a different thing. I had to pee at 7:00 A.M., but decided to hold it, just in case. I was actually relieved that she was a half-hour early.

Trying to be a gentleman, I let my wife go first. Actually, she just told me she was going first because she really needed to pee. I am not a gentleman; I was just too stupid to argue. That was a mistake. I realized, as I hopped around in the other room, that I was well past the point of no return regarding urination. I should have gone at seven o’clock. I could have drank enough water to be ready again by the time it was my turn. Now Edna was already here. If I peed now, there was no way I could re-fill the tank in time. Not with just water. Beer, maybe, but not water. Dammit!

When it was finally my turn, I danced into the dining room and sat down with Edna. She had a certain order that she needed to fill out the parchment forms with her inkwell and her feather quill, so I was forced to try and sit still while her arthritic hands worked their magic. Fortunately, urine was third on the to-do list and not all the way at the bottom near John Hancock’s signature.

I am 6’-1” tall, and have been that tall ever since I stopped growing taller. Edna, on the other hand, has no doubt been shrinking over the years. I would put her at about 5’ even. After she wrote down all my pertinent information in calligraphy, (two score and one years aged), she tried to measure my height by reaching up to put a ruler on my head and measuring up to the ruler with a small, flimsy metal tape measure.

“I have you at six-foot-five.”
“Hmm. Sounds a bit high. I’m usually six-one.”
“OK, we’ll go with that. I don’t like to get up on chairs anymore.”
“I understand.”

This got me thinking two things. The first was, “Holy cow, I have to pee.” The second was, “What would the life insurance implications be if Edna had written down 6’-5”?”

What if they did an autopsy on me when I died and found out I was a full four inches shorter than shown on the policy? He lied about his height! Probably to get his height-to-weight ratio more in line with our actuarial tables. This tub of lard was probably fishing for a lower rate! Fraud!!! Sorry lady, payment denied!

Finally, after Edna had used her abacus to convert feet and inches into cubits and scrawled her findings on the parchment, it was time to pee. Yes!

This is where things started to go wrong for me. I blame some of my poor judgment on my urgent need to urinate, but mostly on Edna’s incredibly poor instructions. Still, truth be told, I should have figured it out.

She handed me two small stoppered glass vials, about the size of my pinky finger, and a little open-top plastic cup, roughly 1/4-cup in size (or, in deference to Edna’s more familiar measurement systems, about 0.0002 hogshead, or 0.001 firkins).

“Fill these two vials, and fill this cup up just past the little temperature gauge on the side. Don’t fill it up too much or it will spill. Be careful with the vials, because they fill up fast.”

Now, looking back on the situation with non-yellow-eyed clarity, what she should have said was, “Pee into this plastic cup, and fill it up all the way. Then, when you are finished emptying the contents of your bladder, and have the luxury of using both of your hands again, use this handy little pour spout here on the side to fill the two glass vials, and just make sure not to pour out the rest until I have read the temperature gauge on the side of the cup here.”

Those instructions would have been a whole lot better. As it was, I grabbed the three containers, ran for the bathroom, and followed her instructed order of events.

Filling the first vial took about a half a second… Now what? I can’t put the stopper in this thing one-handed, and I can’t set it down without the stopper in it… Must think fast…

Now, I won’t go into all the details of what happened in that bathroom, but suffice it to say, I managed to fill all three containers, and let’s just leave it at that.

It was only when I was walking back into the dining room that I noticed the cup had a little pour spout.

“What was that, dear?”
“Nothing. Never mind. Here’s my urine. Please don’t set it on the table.”

Edna read the temperature and handed the cup back to me. “You can throw this away now.”

After we had both washed our hands (again) she took my blood, surprisingly with a needle and not leeches, and then we were done. She packed up her bag and pulled out her iPhone to check the time.

“Oh, good. I’ll be early to my next appointment. I have a full day, but hopefully I can make it back to Shady Acres for the late dinner serving at three o’clock.”
“Good luck with that, Edna. I’ll be here cleaning the bathroom.”
“What was that, dear?”
“Never mind.”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mail Order Bride Lie Detector

Hello,i am just surfing around Facebook when i came across your profile and i just thought i would stop by and say hi cos i was really intrigued by your picture,i must admit that your profile picture is good enough, well i would love to know more about you, my name is Kate to start with, love to hear from you soon.

Well, Kate, I really appreciate your interest in me, especially the no-holds-barred flattery of my profile picture being “good enough,” but I’m afraid you have some competition. You are not my only Facebook stalker, you know. Blessing is also very interested in me, and she can draw hearts and magic fairy dust with her keyboard.

Hi, I am Blessing, please how are you! hope you are fine and in perfect condition of health. I went through your profile and i read it and took interest in it, please if you don't mind i will like you to write me on this ID (blessingmarta @ y a h o because I am not often here on face book, send me email, in my email address or you send me your email here, so that i will use it to sand you mail and tell you more about my self OK thanks and GOD bless,
Lots of love!
Together for ever...
 `·.¸(¨`·.·´ ¨) Thanks
(¨`·.·´¨)¸.·´ &
¸ • ´ ¸. • * ´ ¨) Miss Blessing.
(¸.•´ (¸.

As you can see, Kate, Miss Blessing even gave me her email address, and she wants me to sand her mail on her ID. That is quite an offer. She seems a little more serious than you, and she is also concerned about my health, whereas you seem to only be interested in my adequate looks. Plus, the hearts and fairy dust are very compelling.

Here’s the problem, though, ladies. I assume if I made contact with either of you, I would find out that you are from some poverty-stricken dictatorship somewhere, but you are a really loving person, and as an added bonus, you are also a smokin’ hot babe, who just wants a chance to live a fun life in America. You’ll probably eventually get around to asking me to fund your trip here to the land of milk and honey, in exchange for being my wife, or at least, my hot foreign girlfriend. That’s great and all, but it makes me wonder just how serious you are about me.

If you had spent any amount of time perusing my Facebook profile, you would have no doubt seen all the pictures of my wife. Now, I understand that a hot, fun-loving girl like yourself can’t always concern herself with “the other woman,” especially since you are obviously head-over-heels for my incredibly average handsomeness. It’s the other thing I’m worried about. If you saw the pictures of my wife, then you obviously saw the pictures of my three boys as well.

Just based on logic and what I know about biology, I have to assume that there are boys in whatever country you are from. So there’s the problem.

You ladies either sent this letter to every guy on Facebook without actually looking at our profiles, or you did look at my profile, and you have no intention of actually leaving your country of origin to be my hot foreign girlfriend and/or wife.

I know this, because there is no way on earth that any woman would consciously want to live with three boys. Especially three boys ages nine, eight, and six. They are loud, obnoxious, smelly, rude, loud, dirty, annoying, loud, interrupting, loud, clumsy, loud little tornados of refrigerator-emptying noise. And did I mention they were loud? The only reason we keep them inside the house is because we are legally obligated to do so.

Since there are obviously boys where you live, I have to assume you have been in contact with at least one of them. That experience would have obviously been more than enough to make you never want to have one of your own. Now you expect me to believe from your fraudulent message that you are very much looking forward to having three of your own? Nonsense.

Nice try, ladies. You won’t be getting any money for “travel expenses” out of me any time soon. Maybe some lonely guy out there will fall for your trickery, but not this father of three boys.

I will still be contacting you both, however. My wife and I talked it over, and we want to come live with you. We don’t care what kind of war-torn hell-hole you come from. Even if bombs are dropping all around you constantly, it still has to be quieter than our house.

By the way, do you think you could help out with our travel expenses?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Head Lice Nit Wit

Son Number One came home from third grade yesterday with the school district’s boilerplate Head Lice Notification in his backpack. Normally, we just scoff at the head lice notices and throw them away. We have never worried about lice because our kids don’t have enough hair to support them. We shear our children like sheep. Their hair is usually never longer than an eighth of an inch. As far as lice are concerned, our kids have the human head equivalent of the Sahara desert.

We have become lazy, however, and have not cut the boys’ hair in quite some time. Their hair is well over three eighths of an inch long at this point. Not exactly 80’s rock band length, but certainly enough coverage to support a louse. So this time, I actually read the letter. The first few sentences were entertaining.

There has been a case of head lice in your child’s class recently. Don’t panic! Head lice are common among school children and are a common source of frustration and DO NOT reflect health or house cleaning habits.   

Hmm… In this participant trophy society of ours, a notice about a parasitic infestation starts with, “Head lice aren’t a gross parasite that come from filth. They are just an everyday nuisance that come from nice clean homes like yours.”

Yeah, I don’t think so. While I will grant you that a kid from the cleanest home in the world can come home from school with head lice, I would challenge the idea that ground zero for a particular festival of lice was anything less than squalor. There’s a reason that de-lousing is one of the first things they do to the new inmates at the prison.

Reading on, I discovered that louse eggs are called “nits.” Is this where the term “nitwit” came from? No telling. (If only there were some sort of internet-based search site that could be used to research that question. Alas, no such luck.) Nits, the handy notice tells us, are not at all like dandruff.

Unlike dandruff, the nits or eggs will not easily flake off hair…

That’s a good point. Another important distinction between dandruff and nits that I can think of off the top of my head (get it?) is that the nits are BLOOD-SUCKING PARASITE EGGS!

The notice then goes on to give us tips on what to do if lice/nits are found.

Step number one: Clean everything. Hmm... After applying the special lice shampoo that probably smells like a mix of gasoline and Wild Turkey, and carefully removing the nits with the special metal comb, you are instructed to:
Wash clothes
Wash bedding
Vacuum carpet, furniture, and car seats

Wait a second... You started this friendly notification letter by telling me there is no connection between lice and home/personal cleanliness, and now you’re telling me to clean everything? We may not be controlling our parasite infestations very well, but at least we all have high self-esteem. Here’s your trophy for showing up to the game, kid.

Then the notice stopped being subtly humorous and just came right out with the laughs.

If you find lice or nits please notify everyone who your child has been in contact with.

Hmm… Everyone? Luckily, we are lice-free, but had I actually found any, that notification process would have been a little tricky. Just in the last week we’ve been to the school, the store, the ball fields, the church, the park, the other store, the restaurant, the gas station, the other restaurant, the other store, and the city-wide fun run. If you were at one of those places then you were in contact with Son Number Three, the kindergartner, at some point. He’s like the Tasmanian Devil, whirling from place to place in a shouting cloud of dust. Consider yourselves notified, North America.

After reading the helpful notice, along with having higher self-esteem, I also experienced a renewed sense of work ethic. While I am sure that laziness is not a common trait among lice-breeding households, and therefore I DO NOT need to feel guilty in any way, I have decided to get off my duff and cut the boys’ hair anyway.

Luckily we don’t have any lice to deal with, but I liked it better when I didn’t even have to read the notices.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Tornado Watch

The date was March 26th, 2014, a day that will live in infamy. Oh, the humanity. Oh, the senseless destruction of lawn furniture. Well, OK, destruction is a bit much. Senseless slight relocation is more like it.

It started like any other spring day in the greater Sacramento region. Then the weather moved in. Thunder clouds, lightning, actual heavy rain. Wow, this is exciting, we thought.

I must pause here, and explain the greater Sacramento area weather to all of you who are lucky enough to not be from the greater Sacramento area. We have the most boring weather on earth. And not in the good way, like in San Diego, where the residents “complain” about how the weather is boring because it’s always the same.

“OMG, 78 and sunny again today! It’s supposed to be winter! Sometimes I wish we had real weather! It’s so boring here. LOL”

Bite me, San Diego.

Sacramento weather is not always the same. We have noticeable seasonal weather changes.

We notice in the spring when it’s 29 degrees in the morning and 85 degrees by noon. Our kids go to school in snow suits and come home in shorts. We lose a lot of jackets.

We notice that it gets so hot in the summer that we can’t touch our steering wheels or the metal parts of the seat belt. Vinyl car seats? Good luck.

We notice when the fog gets so thick in the fall that we have to feel our way down the road. Watch out for that boat launch ramp!

And we notice when it rains all winter, but only snows once every ten years, and only for five minutes. Quick, kids, make a snowman… never mind.

You see, that’s the problem. We get weather, just not any of the exciting kind. It’s all the boring kind. I guess the incredibly thick fog isn’t exactly boring, but you get tired of accidentally driving into things after a while.

We’re in the flat part of California. In less than two hours we can drive to the place that has the most recorded snowfall in the United States (in California, believe it or not), but we don’t get any snow ourselves. The beach is far away. The forest is near, but we’re not in it. Because of the location, we don’t get any of the exciting natural disasters, either. No mudslides, no forest fires, no hurricanes, no blizzards, no ice storms, and no tornados. Until March 26th, that is.

We were just finishing dinner, gathered around the dining room table. (Actually, I need to be honest here, we don’t eat in the dining room, it just sounds better in the story.) So anyway, like I was saying, we were all spread out around the kitchen table/bar area/sink just finishing dinner, when my mobile phone buzzed furiously in the front pocket of my jeans. It didn’t feel like any normal text, and when I pulled the phone out to look, my heart dropped into my stomach. Or it may have been the burrito.

A red triangle with an exclamation point inside was flashing at me from the screen.

“Severe weather alert – Tornados in your area – Seek shelter immediately.”

Some unknown weather authority with access to my phone had just advised us to “Seek shelter immediately.” So what did we do? We went outside.

Tornados? Cool! We’re not going to miss this!

From under the edge of the patio cover in the backyard we looked up into the sky, and amid the thunder and lightning we saw a very large cloud, directly over our house, swirling lazily in a circle. No funnel, but the cloud was certainly spinning.


We went inside and turned on the news. The local meteorologist was almost wetting his pants on the air from all the excitement.

Finally people will take me seriously! There is actual news that I am in charge of. I’ll bet that anchor chick that makes three times more than me doesn’t even know how to spell funel cloud!

Funnels had been spotted. At least three of them. None of them had actually touched the ground, but that was beside the point. One of the newscasters was chasing the storm, taking incredibly bad video from the front seat of the vehicle, reporting breathlessly back to the meteorologist who was now in charge of the whole broadcast for the evening. Shut up, Nancy. This is my show, now. Weather channel, here I come!

As the winds in our backyard began to pick up we stood around and contemplated just where to go. We don’t have a basement. Being outside probably isn’t the best idea, but that swirling cloud above us hasn’t dropped a funnel out yet, so we’re probably still OK. How about a bathroom? Hmm… Lightning, metal pipes… I think I heard something once about that being bad... Or maybe it was good because you would be grounded… I can’t remember.

We settled on the downstairs hallway. We didn’t actually go there, but we did decide that was the best place.

As we continued STORM WATCH 2014 from the patio, one of our three-pound plastic Adirondack chairs was blown over and moved a full two feet. It almost put a dent in the lawn. The two swings on our play structure became hopelessly tangled for a minute, then untangled, but that minute was almost unbearable.

Then it was over.

When the fearless roving newsman made it to the highest point in town, the tornado had passed, but do you know what he found?

The rest of the town.

Everyone had jumped in their cars to do the same thing; follow that tornado! So many people ended up on the high overlook road that the reporter couldn’t even find a parking spot.

Other people may seek shelter in a tornado, but not us. We’re so starved for weather excitement, we follow it with our cell phone video cameras rolling.

People in Kansas might just call that a normal summer day, but for us, it was all we could talk about for the next week. Birdhouses had been knocked down. Fences had been blown to a precarious 30 degree angle. Tales of wanton lawn furniture relocation were plentiful.

Turns out, it is pretty exciting here. Take that, San Diego.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Second Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I wrote you a letter at the beginning of this month, but it seems you didn’t get it. Since I only posted it in this column and never actually mailed it - like you were so kind enough to do with all those pictures I never ordered - I thought I would at least follow up in hopes that this finally reaches you.

I’ll start with a short recap of my last letter, in case this letter finds you still too busy to read your correspondence, what with all the printing of large quantities of photos that no one ordered.

A) I was satisfied with the pictures from the first time you came to my sons’ elementary school in September.

B) I did not understand why you showed up again in February.

C) I did not order pictures in February.

D) I really did not understand why you then proceeded to take pictures of all three of my sons in February when I had not asked you to do so.

E) Since I really didn’t understand why you took pictures of them in the first place, I really, really didn’t understand why you then took it upon yourselves to print a bunch of pictures of each one of them, including pictures of them on plastic items that heretofore have never needed pictures of children’s faces, such as poorly gradated rulers and hotel Do Not Disturb door hangers.

F) After printing all the pictures and handy plastic devices that I did not order, I further did not understand why you spent even more of your money to send me the three full packages of pictures I did not order. Each large envelope was stuffed to the bulging point with photo upon photo of my sons, proudly displaying the fact that they were not dressed for pictures that day, and in the case of Son Number Three, the fact that he had also recently eaten something, as evidenced by the food stuck to his face, so masterfully captured for posterity by your skilled photographer.

G) You told me I should buy the pictures or give them back to the teacher. I told you neither of those things were going to happen.

H) I was amused to learn that you thought I would think it was in my best interest to trust you with the disposal of all these pictures I did not ask for or want. After all, each package you sent me had my child’s full name, grade, and teacher’s name printed on the front, along with no less than twenty-four photos of how they look on any given day - not on picture day, since as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t dress them for pictures since we weren’t expecting you to take their pictures since we didn’t ask you to do so.

So, there’s the recap of the first letter. You can imagine my surprise when I received a “Final Reminder” notice from you the other day. I sincerely hope you meant it when you chose the word “final,” but somehow, I doubt it.

Far be it from me to tell you how to run your very successful business, but since you seem intent on wasting our teachers’ precious time by sending unsolicited correspondence home with my children, the least I can do is reciprocate. Here are my thoughts on your latest communication:

For starters, your “Final Reminder” team seems to be running at around 66% efficiency, because I failed to purchase or return three full packages of studio-quality portraits of my sloppily-dressed, dirty children, and you only sent me two final reminders. I anxiously await the arrival of the third as soon as someone over there comes back from their excessively long coffee break.  
Secondly, I think a little note editing is in order. Your bright pink final reminder notice invites the reader to “take this time to review your options,” which you list as:
Purchase the entire package
Purchase the package sheet(s) you want and return the rest
Return the complete portrait package

While I appreciate your starry-eyed optimism with that first option, I want to call your attention – if my original letter and the recap of that letter in this letter have not done it for you yet – to the missing fourth option available to me, the guy who did not ask you to take pictures of his children, nor ask you to then print those pictures on four plastic key fobs and a wallet-sized calendar. That would be: Take a moment to wonder in amazement at our business model and then dispose of the entire picture package yourself. As I outlined in my original letter, Option Four saves you quite a bit of money, assuming, of course, that your “Final Reminder” notices are not too costly.

Thirdly, I noticed that you offer a family plan, where the first two children’s portraits are full price and any addition children’s portraits are half price. That is a great option, especially at our school, where so many of the families have three or more children. I was able to notice that you offered this discount through my deft use of a magnifying glass. I was not aware that there was a font size smaller than 2, but you obviously found one. I guess my advice is this: If you don’t want people to know about the discount, then don’t print it on the order form at all, but if you do, you might want to print it large enough to be readable without needing Mr. Magoo’s glasses.

Finally, regarding Son Number Three who is in kindergarten: As I said, I was amazed and amused to see food prominently displayed on his face in the fine quality portraits you sent me that I did not ask for. In my original letter I suggested that your photographer might not have been on his “A-game” that day. I have since learned from Son Number Three’s teacher that it may not have been your photographer who was asleep at the wheel, but your scheduler instead.

It seems that – for obvious reasons – the kindergarten classes are normally photographed first thing in the morning on picture day. Your scheduler, for reasons unknown, brought the kindergarten classes to the camera in the middle of the day, after lunch. Knowing that fact now, I would like to formally apologize to your photographer, and commend him or her on the fine picture taken of my youngest son.

I have seen Son Number Three eat, and if your photographer was presented with him after lunchtime, receiving a picture with only food on his face is nothing short of a miracle. When he eats by himself at home he is able to get almost 80% of whatever the meal is into his hair. I’m quite certain that when he sat down in the photographer’s chair after eating lunch with forty-seven other kindergartners, he must have been covered from head to toe in meat, produce, and condiments. There is only so much one person can do, so kudos to your photographer!

Again, I hope my observations will help you to improve your business model. I will patiently await my missing final reminder notice, and I look forward to any “final, final reminders” you see fit to send my way.

Keep up the good work,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Google Some Life Insurance

I don’t know if you knew this or not, but Google is very handy. Not only can you use it to instantly find information on the theory that Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are really the same person, or how to get your hand unstuck from a Pringles can (Note: I have only Googled one of those things), it also has a feature called Google Alerts.

Google Alerts allows you to create an alert based on any keyword or phrase, and once a day, Google will scour the web for you and email you the results. I like to keep tabs on my books, so for The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories, I created a Google Alert for the phrase “tree of death.”

That may have been a mistake.

The book is a collection of humorous essays, and its title comes from the smell the tree in my front yard gives off in the springtime. It has nothing to do with actual death, but once a day, I get a nice email from Google giving me all the stories from around the world about people who have died in some gruesome manner due to trees.

It’s kind of depressing.

There are an inordinate amount of people who are killed when the tree, which they themselves were purposely chopping down, falls on them. You would think that would be something you would be keenly aware of as a possibility, when chopping a tree down, and take the necessary precautions to avoid. Like, jumping out of the way, for instance. Many people – especially a surprising number in India – are apparently unable to jump out of the way in time.

I can see getting hit by a tree that someone else is chopping down, I guess, if they fail to yell “Timber!” as is the standard requirement obviously set forth by the International Congress of Lumberjacks sometime in the early 1700’s. This is never one of the news stories, though. No one ever gets killed by a falling tree that someone else was cutting down. It’s always the cutter himself. Go figure.

The other people that are getting killed by falling trees and large branches out there are all either in a car or a tent. Those are dangerous places to be, based on my Google Alert.

I have also learned that stationary trees can be just as dangerous. Besides the countless stories of out-of-control vehicles and skiers running into trees, many other folks climb trees for one reason or another, only to meet their maker when they touch a power line. That seems easily avoidable to this casual observer.

All this news of death at the hands of trees got me thinking. I own six trees. Two in the front yard and four in the back.

Holy crap. This place is a deathtrap.

This sobering revelation caused me to increase my life insurance recently. If Google Alerts is any indication, with this many trees – surrounding me constantly, I might add – I could go at any minute.

I applied for a new policy and had a phone interview. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the people at Minnesota Life have any idea what they’re doing over there. I mean, do they even have trees in Minnesota? The lady on the phone was perfectly nice, and made more than a few inquiries about my life and habits, but missed the big question.

Life Insurance Lady: “Do you currently engage in, or plan on taking up in the next five years, any of the following activities: Aviation, parachuting, skydiving, BASE jumping, bungee jumping, car/bike/powerboat racing, hang gliding, hot air ballooning, rock climbing/mountaineering, SCUBA diving, skiing, surfing, white water rafting, rodeo, professional or amateur wrestling, boxing, or demolition derby?”

Me: “No, I don’t do any of that stuff, and I’m not planning on doing any of it.”

Life Insurance Lady: “OK, sir, moving on…”

Me: “Wait, don’t you want to know about my trees?”

Life Insurance Lady: “Your trees?”

Me: “Yes, I’m not going to take up bull riding any time soon, but in the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that we own six full-size trees, and there are at least three more owned by our neighbors that are near our fence.”

Life Insurance Lady: “OK, sir, that’s fine. Moving on…”

Me: “We also own two cars and a tent!”

Life Insurance Lady: “Have you or anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder?”

Me: “No, why?”

Life Insurance Lady: “OK, sir, moving on…”

They didn’t care. I own six whole trees and they didn’t even care. Well, the joke will be on them when they have to pay my wife big bucks after I’m inevitably attacked by one of these killer trees. They can’t say I didn’t warn them.

I was raving about this to my wife after the phone interview, and she suggested that maybe I should cancel the “tree of death” Google Alert.

Maybe she’s right. Google can be very useful, but it can also be scary.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my axe and take care of all these trees before they kill me.

Actually, I think I’ll practice jumping out of the way first.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Four-Way Stop

I always thought operating a car was fairly simple. You have a steering wheel, a gas pedal, a brake pedal, and if you’re really sporty or from a third-world country, a clutch. Go early and easy on the brakes, unless you are from a third-world country, or a city like Los Angeles, then you drive seventy-five miles per hour toward the stop sign and decide when you are twenty feet away whether you will stop or just blow through it.

Keep a safe following distance when at highway speeds, which is a three-second gap for most of us, barring again, third-world countries and cities like Los Angeles. In those places, safe following distances have been replaced by simply connecting all the cars at highway speeds, bumper-to-bumper, with only an imperceptible air gap between them.

If the weather is wet or icy, you should slow down and remember that brakes only work when the tires are in contact with the actual road. If you accidentally go too fast in inclement weather and end up sliding, remember to maintain positive acceleration and steer into the skid. In practical terms, this means to scream, “HOLY CRAP WE’RE GOING TO DIE!” at the top of your lungs while using both feet to attempt to push the brake pedal all the way to the front bumper, and allowing the highway guard rail and adjacent cars to act on behalf of your steering wheel.

Yield to oncoming traffic, stop on red, go on green. It all seems simple enough, but there is one traffic control situation that tends to cause a lot of people grief: Four-way stop signs.

The four-way stop need not be difficult, since the rules are quite simple. The entire concept of the four-way stop has to do with Right of Way. This literally means that when two cars arrive at adjacent stops signs at the same time, the car on the right has priority. The driver of the car on the left must hang his or her head in shame and meekly wave for the other driver to proceed. Driving statutes vary, but in most states, the driver with the Right of Way is required to give a friendly wave, and a visibly smug smile.

If the two vehicles have arrived simultaneously at opposing stop signs, the car going straight has priority, and the other car needs to wait for them to pass and turn around them. It is not always easy to know the other driver’s intended path, however, since the turn signals on most cars operated by drivers under the age of twenty-five have apparently been disabled, while many of the over-seventy crowd’s turn signals have been cleverly rigged to remain on constantly.

In either case you will need to be cautious as you approach the center of the intersection. It helps to notice where the other driver’s eyes are focused. If the driver is young, their gaze will invariably be directed downward, into their lap, where their phone is. These drivers often do not even realize they are in an intersection. The older drivers often have a dazed look, similar to a deer in headlights. They may realize they are in an intersection, but they are likely terrified to be there. In either case, the other driver may do something unexpected. Be prepared. Many times it is best to just remain at your stop sign, ignoring Right of Way, and wait these people out. The young drivers will proceed on their way after they get done typing “OMG LOL,” making the decision to turn or go straight in the half-second they are able to devote to driving the vehicle before they receive their next text message. The older drivers often fall asleep, and after their car has rolled harmlessly onto someone’s lawn or slowly through the front window of the corner store, you may proceed on your way.

In the unlikely event that four cars arrive at each of the four stop signs at exactly the same time and Right of Way cannot be traditionally established, Standard American Rules apply, and the largest vehicle wins. (Note: If any of the vehicles are electric or those silly little Smart Cars, they are obviously automatically disqualified from any consideration.)

In the even more unlikely event that four similar-sized cars have arrived simultaneously at the four stop signs, we default to Majority Rules, and the vehicle with the most passengers wins.

In the even, even more unlikely event that all the similar-sized cars contain the same amount of people (or people and livestock in some rural counties), all drivers must exit their vehicles and meet in the middle of the intersection. They will pair up into their respective east/west and north/south teams, and play a single-elimination, sudden-death Ro Sham Bo tournament (also known as Rock Paper Scissors, or Reaux Sham Beaux if the four-way stop is located in New Orleans).

If the final Ro Sham Bo round ends in three or more tie games, Right of Way is determined by total combined height and weight of each team.

Pretty simple, really.

However, as easy as the four-way stop rules should be to follow, many Americans just cannot seem to grasp them. As a result, some towns are following Europe’s lead and going with roundabouts instead.

This is a mistake. A huge mistake. I beg you, impressionable traffic engineers of America, don’t give in to the hype. Roundabouts will only make the problem worse. All the case studies speak for themselves. Any driver who is even slightly confused about the rules at a four-way stop will be utterly mystified by a roundabout.

Let’s not make the problem worse. Instead, let’s spend all that wasted re-engineering time and energy on re-educating the public on the four-way stop rules. That will be a better use of our money, because it seems that for some of the population, if four-way stops are long division, roundabouts are Chinese algebra.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

What in the world are you people at Lifetouch thinking over there? Our relationship this year started off fine. You showed up at my kids’ school in September and took pictures of them. That was great, with the exception of the fact that two of my three boys have smiling disorders (think Chandler from Friends), so we had to do retakes. While I can’t blame you for my boys’ painful-looking, forced camera smiles, I would think that as professional photographers with digital cameras, you might notice when a child’s smile resembles that of someone passing a kidney stone, and snap another one while trying a little harder to make them laugh or something. Anyway, the retakes came out just fine, and I have no complaints about the September photo session.

What I am a little befuddled by is why you showed up again in February. You realize that September and February are only five months apart, right? Why are we doing school pictures twice in one year? Are you planning to come back in June, also?

“Here’s Hannah’s first grade early year photo, followed by first grade mid-year, then first grade waning year, and finally, first grade graduation.”

Should we ramp it up a little more, so we can really overload the grandparents?

“Here’s little Jimmy on Monday of Week 1. Here he is on Week 2. Look how much he’d grown. Here’s Week 3. He’s getting so handsome. Wait until you see him on Week 4…”

OK, so you showed up twice in one school year. I guess if the school let you in, then that’s just fine. In January, I received all three of your order forms for the second photo session in my three giant weekly stacks of homework and never-ending school notices. I ignored them. (See reasoning above.)

Here’s another thing I don’t understand. Why, then, if I had ignored your order forms, thereby deliberately not returning them to you, did you proceed to take pictures of my three boys?

OK, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that maybe you just default to taking pictures of all the kids just in case someone forgot their order form. I did not forget my order forms, nor did I ever send you order forms after the fact, so…

Here’s what has me flummoxed: Why did you then send me three full picture packages, one for each of my boys, all including:
(1) 8x10
(2) Regular 5x7’s
(1) 5x7 with special swirly colored border complete with year and child’s first name
(4) Wallet-size with above-mentioned swirly border
(8) Regular wallet-size

All the pictures listed above were printed on standard film paper. In each package you also sent me pictures printed on a stiff plastic laminate sheet, consisting of:
(1) Wallet-size calendar
(4) Key chain fobs
(1) Ruler (Which handily measures from negative 1/16” to positive 5-3/32”)
(1) Bookmark
(1) Rearview mirror and/or hotel doorknob hanging accessory

Between the standard pictures and the plastic laminate sheet of highly useful picture accessories, that is a lot of stuff I didn’t order (on purpose, I might reiterate).

In each unsolicited picture package, you also included a handy order form with instructions; I could either buy the whole exciting package for $47, or choose which of the enticing – yet, wholly unsolicited - sheets I so desire. Easy payment options abound for me, the proud parent, and if I found myself not wanting any one of the beautifully printed picture sheets, I was instructed to return them to the school.

That’s not going to happen.

I’m not going to send you any money, and I’m not going to send you any pictures back. Here are the reasons why:

Reason # 1: I’m not going to buy them because I didn’t want them in the first place. That is why I deliberately didn’t order them in the first place.

Reason #2: I’m not going to send them back to you because that would just cost me time, and I don’t have enough time each day as it is. (See evidence of the three children in question that you took unsolicited pictures of.)

Reason #3: Sending the pictures back would also cost my school time, and they have less time in the day than I do. (See evidence of all the children in the whole school that you took pictures of.) They eat lunch standing up in front of a copy machine, for goodness sake.

Reason #4: Sending them back will also cost you money. I know I am saving you quite a bit of money since you will no doubt need to treat these three unsolicited picture packets like any other incredibly precious returned product bound for secure destruction; hiring a secure courier service to transport them to a secure facility to have them shredded and destroyed, documenting their pick-up, transportation, arrival, and destruction at every step of the process.

I mean, we obviously wouldn’t be treating dossiers that have my child’s photo, full name, grade level, and teacher’s name printed on them any other way, right? Right?

Those are just the top-level reasons why I’m not going to do what you asked of me, in an unsolicited manner.

Since I have taken time out of my busy schedule to address your unsolicited picture packets, I might as well take a little more time to explain some of the more subtle reasons why I won’t be purchasing any of these photos to keep. Hopefully you can use these observations to improve your business model.

We allow our three boys to choose their own clothes in the morning. My wife and I developed this revolutionary parenting style: a) to foster independence and self-reliance in our children, and b) to minimize crying fits and keep us from wanting to begin drinking at 7:00 A.M.

As such, since I was not intending to have you take pictures of my children, nor was I expecting you to take pictures of them anyway, just because you felt like it, they were not exactly dressed for posterity.

I see in these pictures that Son Number One is wearing a red T-shirt with a logo on the front. We are not really into free corporate advertising around here. Also, Son Number One is highly afflicted with the Forced Smile Disorder, and in this picture he does not appear to be happy. He appears to be giving a stool sample.

Son Number Two’s smile is just fine, but he is inexplicably wearing what appears to be either a pajama shirt, or some sort of English sailor costume. He must have had a sweatshirt over it when we left the house for school, because I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have OK’d that even on a normal day, let alone picture day.

That brings us to Son Number Three. As you know, based on the printout on the front of his picture packet you sent to us in an unsolicited fashion, he is in kindergarten. I would assume that any school portrait photographer worth their weight in negatives would step up their game, so to speak, when it comes to the five-year-olds, but apparently that is not the case. You spent a significant amount of unsolicited money out of your own pocket to send me a glossy package of assorted photos of a boy wearing an Angry Birds T-shirt, smiling like someone just stepped on his foot, with FOOD STUCK TO HIS FACE in two different places. Not a super-high probability that I was going to rush those off to the grandparents.

So, to reiterate, I will not be purchasing, nor will I be returning any of the unsolicited, and might I just say, somewhat sub-par photos that you decided to send me.

I don’t want you to worry, though. I have a shredder here at home.

I’ll send you the bill.

You’re welcome.

All my best,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Water is Being Flushed Down the Toilet

I must have been at the peak of boredom (if boredom can even have peaks… was I at the valley of boredom?) a few months ago, because I actually read my water bill. Normally, I look at the dollar amount, gauge its reasonableness with a highly complex and intricate formula that mostly involves the question, “Does that sound right?”, and then I pay it.

For some reason, I actually read the charts and graphs on the August/September bill and was amazed to find out that we used an average of 772 gallons per day.


That seems excessive, to say the least. How is that even possible? That’s probably like nine or ten Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth, or, to put it in more understandable suburban terms, about seven billion 16-ounce Starbucks travel mugs.

Back in August and September, we Californians had no idea we were in for the driest winter we’ve had since the dawn of time, so I was watering my lawns dutifully, to keep up the ridiculous social convention of green grass being more attractive than brown dirt.

I stopped watering my lawn around the end of September, unwittingly ending up on the cutting edge of the self-righteous, drought-conscious Northern California homeowner scene. Now in February, after we have received roughly 0.0 inches of rain in December and January, I can point to my dying, brown, lawn-like substance with pride and say I cared about the environment and our precious natural resources long before you people with green lawns did. The truth is, I really stopped watering because I don’t like mowing. I just sort of stumbled into this whole self-righteous thing.

Curious about our water usage without all the annoying lawn care, I checked the December/January bill and I was shocked. We used an average of 292 gallons per day, which seemed a little high still, but what I was shocked to see was that the dollar amount of the new bill was only 36% less than the old one even though we cut our water usage by 62%.

How does that work, Placer County Water Agency? If I did my math correctly, based on your billing logic, if we stopped using water altogether you would still want $47 from us.

We have three young boys, all of whom play sports and wear clothes to school, and my wife owns nearly a third of all the clothes in North America, so our washing machine has basically been running continuously for nine years now. That makes the 300 gallons per day number a little more believable, but it still seemed high to me. Until last night.

I had just put the kids to bed and my wife was out of the house - wearing the third or fourth outfit of the day - so I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV, no doubt watching some manly show about wrestling alligators or blowing things up. The boys’ bathroom sits upstairs above the living room, and when the toilet flushes, it sounds like a medium-sized waterfall in the wall behind the TV.

When I heard what was probably the fourth flush in as many minutes, I started to pay attention. When I heard the estimated ninth flush, I began counting. Knowing which one of our children it was – I will not divulge the culprit’s identity here, to spare him from any future horrific embarrassment should his senior prom date happen upon this column - I decided not to intervene, even though nine flushes is obviously overkill for any bodily function a kid can produce. I was treating it more as an experiment than anything, mostly out of curiosity at just how many times one boy felt it necessary to flush, but also because I really didn’t want to drag my lazy butt off the couch.

At flush number twenty-four I got off the couch. He was up to twenty-six when I made it up the stairs. I’m not making this up. (Neither the flush count, nor the fact that I’m so old it took me two flushes to get up the stairs.)

I politely inquired as to what he was doing.

“Yes, I can see that. Why are you flushing so much?”
“I don’t want to clog the toilet.”

Hmm… While I appreciated his motives, I didn’t really know which subject to tackle first – The fact that the wipe/flush/wipe/flush/wipe/flush method, while effective in preventing toilet clogs, is not the most economical or conservative approach; or the fact that if you have to wipe twenty-seven  times, you might want to improve your overall technique.

Like so much of my really good parenting advice, I decided to put it off until later.

“OK, well, we obviously need to have a talk about pooping, but let’s do it tomorrow, OK?”
“OK dad. Goodnight”
“Goodnight, son.”
“Yes, son?”
“I like to have a clean butt.”
“We all do, buddy. Goodnight”

I walked back downstairs shaking my head. At least now I know how we manage to use 300 gallons of water a day. My son just accounted for half of it.

As summer approaches in the great parched state of California, we’re definitely going to need to work on more drought-friendly wiping methods around here. Not only will that help everyone water-wise, but it should also help our toilet paper budget tremendously.

Running out of water is one thing, but if my boys keep going the way they are now with the toilet paper, we might be forced to re-purpose that water bill, if you know what I mean.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I May Have Accidentally Grown Up

I fear that I may have actually grown up. I guess it was a matter of time, but I was avoiding it successfully, or so I thought.

I never felt like an adult until I had kids. I guess I should say, adulthood didn’t occur to me until the kids arrived. Nine years have passed since that day they inexplicably let my wife and I leave the hospital by ourselves with a baby, and for most of that time I have only been masquerading as an adult. That has changed.

Apparently, sometime recently, I actually became an adult. I didn’t know it had happened until our best friends had us over for dinner a few nights ago. It was a lovely evening. The kids played upstairs together, sustaining only minor injuries, we watched some of the Sochi Winter Olympics and marveled at how simultaneously strenuous and boring cross-country ski racing is, and we ate a delicious dinner. Everything seemed perfectly normal until the end of the evening when someone remarked at how our dinner conversations were different than they used to be. We collaborated on a short recap of all the topics we could remember, and the mood fell somber.

Here’s a list of our evening conversation topics:
Back pain
Spine care
Life insurance
Prostates/prostate exams
Health insurance
Health care providers
The Affordable Care Act
The bleak irony of the term “Affordable” in the name “Affordable Care Act”
School districts
Cookie recipes
Seasonal allergies
Mattress quality (unfortunately, with respect to back pain, not anything fun)
Heart disease
High-fructose corn syrup

The room was quiet for a minute as we soaked in the fact that none of us had thought the conversation topics were odd during the conversations. Only after the fact did we realize - Holy crap. We’re old. This is old people stuff. Since when are these things our stimulating conversation topics?

Looking back, it’s been sneaking up on me. When we got home from dinner and put the kids to bed, I put on my slippers and sat quietly in my easy chair under a quilt as I reflected. I realized I should have seen it earlier. There were warning signs.

I have begun to turn the car radio off when looking for an address or using the ATM, so that I’m able to concentrate. I used to give my parents endless grief for doing that when I was a kid. They are laughing right now.

I sit down to put on pants. Classic old guy move.

My face is going numb. I regularly have food stuck to my face while eating and have no idea. You see old guys all the time eating dinner with food stuck to their faces. My chin is completely dead.

I grunt when I bend over and I moan when I stand back up straight.

The other day I noticed my “Forever” postage stamps have the year printed on them. That made me think the U.S. Post Office wasn’t really planning to hold up their end of the “forever” bargain, and that made me mad. Only old men get mad about stamps.

And don’t even try to get me started on my joints. No, seriously. It’s really hard for me to get started on my joints.

There it is. I’m old now. I’m an adult, I guess. Bummer.

It won’t be long until I’m the old guy in the gym locker room, wandering around butt-naked for a half hour, just casually having conversations with other butt-naked old men, none of us ever once thinking to get a towel and cover up a little.

I may as well get my lawn chair now, to put out on the front porch and yell at the kids to stay off my grass. Damn kids drive too fast down the street, too.

Come to think of it, that was another one of the dinner topics.

Damn kids.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Salt-Free Valentine's Day

Son Number Three had surgery on Valentine’s Day last year. It was only ear tubes and adenoid removal, but it was enough to get me off the hook. I initially thought the doctor was making up the word “adenoid” just to help my cause, but he assured me later that they are a real thing. Anyway, my wife was so focused on making sure her little baby boy was doing OK that I was able to slide on all things Valentine’s Day related. Thanks, little man!

Our pediatrician sounded a little annoyed yesterday when I called to inquire about available surgery openings for this coming Friday. He started out caring and concerned when I mentioned surgery, but the conversation kind of fell apart after I told him I didn’t really have anything specific in mind, since all three boys are perfectly healthy at the moment. I explained that last year worked out so well for me, Valentine’s Day-wise, I was hoping he could come up with some kind of elective surgery for one of the boys. I told him it obviously didn’t have to be anything major.

He had the nerve to hang up on me, and I think we might need to find a new pediatrician. Geez, man, take it easy. A simple “No” would have been fine.

Since it seems that children’s medical visits won’t be helping me avoid Valentine’s Day this year, I am going to turn my attention to a global crisis instead.

Here’s my story: I was going to get my wife chocolates this year, but with the looming sea salt crisis, I just can’t in good conscience contribute to the problem any longer.

Sure, salted caramels are yummy, and the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but what am I, a monster? Why don’t I just get her a coat made out of baby seal fur with a sea turtle shell purse?

Have you ever seen a salted caramel advertised with regular salt? Of course not. Everything is made with “sea salt” now. This must end. For goodness sake, my discount tortilla chips now advertise “made with sea salt” on the side of the 30-pound bag. Do you have any idea how much sea salt is required to properly salt 30 pounds of tortilla chips? I don’t either, but it must be a lot.

Our love of sea salt has gotten completely out of hand. I’m sure the world’s oceans are being desalinized at alarming rates, all in the name of nachos and chocolate, and it’s only a matter of time before the effects will be seen on our sea life. While it is true that humans cannot live without nachos and chocolate, we can source the salt more responsibly.

I’m sure there is some two-bit environmental activist group somewhere already hard at work trying to educate the public on this, but they are likely having trouble getting their message out because they spent their advertising budget on pot and Cheetos. It’s time for this disturbing issue to receive the kind of worldwide exposure that only Just a Smidge can bring.

World ocean de-salting must end! I don’t care if Valentine’s Day has to suffer. So be it. Our precious marine ecosystems deserve better than this!

Global oceanic catastrophes aside, let’s also not forget the human side of this. No one ever considers all the regular salt miners who are out of work. It’s not as if our demand for salt increased. We simply became enamored with sea salt. In the rush for our oceans’ salty booty, no one stopped to think about all the families that would be affected inland. Besides the obvious layoffs and associated lack of income, hundreds of thousands of people are being deprived of even saying, “Well, I guess it’s back to the salt mines.” That is tragic.

Let’s all work together this year to keep Valentine’s Day simple. No more expensive chocolates! Think of the fish. Think of the families. Think of the children. Think of the children of the fish. Tragic.

Roses? Sure, you could buy her some overpriced flowers if you don’t mind not breathing after we’ve cut down all the world’s vegetation in the name of love.

A $10 Hallmark card? Don’t even get me started on the trees!

A simple kiss on the cheek and an “I love you” should suffice for any couple truly in love. Don’t selfishly destroy the planet just to make me look bad!

And remember, if my wife asks, my objection to Valentine’s Day is an ecological one, not economic.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bigger or Better

It’s a common tale. Your doorbell rings and you answer to find Pocahontas and a Boy Scout on your front porch carrying a toaster oven and a knife sharpener. You immediately invite them in, and a few minutes later they leave with your water skis. We’ve all been there, right?


Well, I’ve been there, and the memory of that night was spurred by my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year.  I really enjoyed the Bud Light “Up for Whatever” series of ads with the unwitting guy named Ian who goes on a very lavish and totally pre-planned blind date, where he is the only one who isn’t an actor in on the gag. He has no idea what to expect, and ends up in a stretch limo with a DJ inside, rides an elevator with Don Cheadle and a llama, plays ping pong against Arnold Schwarzenegger who looks like Bjorn Borg on HGH, and winds up the evening onstage with a band called OneRepublic. All in all, a pretty weird night for Ian.

Those commercials brought back a lot of memories, actually. Sure, many of them are hazy, but still…
Here’s a checklist of things in those commercials that Anheuser-Busch has brought me over the years:
(I say Anheuser-Busch because many of these events were brought to me by Keystone Light, long before I could afford fancy beer like Bud Light)

Blind dates – check
Ending up in someone else’s limo - check
Drinking in elevators – check
Meeting Don Cheadle – no
Bringing livestock indoors as a prank – check
Playing ping pong – check
Meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger – no
Dressing like Bjorn Borg – check
Ending up singing on stage – check

The funny thing is, beer was not involved in the main event I was reminded of by the commercial, namely the Pocahontas/water skis situation. The randomness and the unexpected aspects of Ian’s Bud Light-sponsored evening were what jogged my memory, not the drinking aspect.

Pocahontas and the Boy Scout were college kids that showed up on my doorstep on Halloween night this year, after our kids had long since slipped into a sugar coma and been carted off to bed. On any other night of the year, if costumed twenty-year-olds show up at your door you would reach for the shotgun, but on Halloween you gladly open the door to offer them candy. Instead of leading with the standard “Trick or Treat,” they stood there timidly - the Boy Scout hugging a full-sized toaster oven and Pocahontas holding an electric knife sharpener - and began to explain that they were from the Christian college just up the road.

Bells and whistles went off in my head and I stopped the Boy Scout mid-sentence and said, “You’re playing ‘Bigger or Better,’ aren’t you?”

“Yes!” they both exclaimed in unison, obviously both shocked and relieved that I knew about the game.

I invited them inside and explained to them in great detail that this was their lucky night, because not only did I know all about the game, but I happen to be the reigning world champion of said game, as far as I know.

“Bigger or Better” is a scavenger hunt game played primarily on Halloween, since All Hallows Eve is really the only socially acceptable time to knock on strangers’ doors at night (Yeah, I’m looking at you, guy who wants to sell me magazine subscriptions and chocolate bars), and played primarily by youth groups looking for wholesome fun. The rules are simple: Each team starts with a single penny. At the first door you ask to trade that penny for something bigger or better. Maybe you get a dime. Maybe you get an old box of used paper clips. Whatever. You take your new-found loot to the next house to trade up, and so on and so forth. You are due back at the starting point at a specific time, and the teams are judged on which has returned with the biggest and/or best item.

I have been riding high for almost twenty-five years after my glorious “Bigger or Better” win on that fateful Halloween night in high school. The sleepy little town of Davis, California has yet to recover from the sheer magnitude of the victory. So when Pocahontas and the Boy Scout showed up on my doorstep a few months ago, I knew what I had to do. I needed to pay back the karma that helped this skinny little kid turn the world on its ear so many years before.

I knew I could never give them an item great enough to rival my victory, and frankly, I wasn’t about to try. That victory is, and always will be, mine, and Pocahontas and the Boy Scout don’t deserve it. I was going to try to help them win their game, however. It was the least I could do to somehow cosmically repay the good fortune of my youth.

They left my house and headed back to the judging panel with a pair of old six-foot-long, purple and black water skis. I’m pretty sure they won.

That wasn’t all they left with, though. They also walked away from my home with the story of the greatest “Bigger or Better” victory of all time. The story of the night that I turned a single penny into a regulation-sized ping pong table AND a Peugeot motorcycle in less than two hours. (I am not making that up.)

I know I will never top that win, so I will never try. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a go. I highly recommend playing the game at your next Halloween party. There’s no reason why the youth groups of America should have all the fun.

And if you happen to be having an adult Halloween party, all the better! I say, don’t be afraid to take a cue from the intrepid Ian in the Bud Light ads. “Bigger or Better” would probably be even bigger and better if alcohol was involved. Who knows? You might just end up trading Don Cheadle a pair of water skis for a llama.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!