Wednesday, December 7, 2016

HIPPA Critical

Son Number One just turned twelve years old. I have a news flash for you. Most eighteen-year-olds are idiots. What do those two things have in common? Health care, obviously.

Eighteen-year-olds are, by definition, still teenagers, and therefore some of the most irrational and irresponsible creatures on the planet. Teenagers are worse than toddlers, actually, because their brains work exactly the same, but teenagers have cars.

Why am I focusing on eighteen-year-olds? Because they shouldn’t be in charge of anything. Whomever decided that eighteen was the age to become an adult probably just couldn’t stand having the kid living in their house any longer and wanted to be legally allowed to evict them.

Since twelve-year-olds are younger than eighteen-year-olds, do you know who else shouldn’t be in charge of anything? Twelve-year-olds, that’s who. Makes sense, right? Well, not to the government, I guess. Those braniacs just put my twelve-year-old son in charge of his own health care decisions.

I was not expecting that to happen, because I am a rational adult human, so it never even occurred to me that something as asinine as that would even be possible until I tried to log into our health insurance website the other day. Son Number One was missing from my list of family members on the plan.

I just figured it was a website maintenance issue, since we had just gotten home from his doctor’s visit. After further investigation I found out that HIPPA decided that twelve was the perfect age for health care independence.

HIPPA apparently stands for HighAndMighty Idiots Patronizingly Parenting AllOurKidsForUs. Who comes up with these crazy acronyms, anyway? The folks over at the government health care office have made it illegal for me to have unfettered access to my own child’s medical records.

Hmm... Well, that seems really dumb. I know my sons’ doctor had nothing to do with this, because he is a doctor, so he has an actual, working brain. Unfortunately, it’s his office that gets to deal with the aftermath of this HIPPA stupidity.

My twelve-year-old is now in charge of his own health care decisions. OK, fine. One health care decision is whether or not to pay for your health care. I’ll let you give him a call about billing for that office visit. He doesn’t have a phone, or a credit card, or any money at all, or a clue, so good luck. When you do get a hold of him somehow and ask him for money, he’s going to talk to you about Star Wars, so be ready for that conversation to not go your way. If you try to call me to get payment, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to refer you to the rigid HIPPA guidelines. Sorry.

At our recent office visit, he got the first of his HPV shots. It’s a two shot process, and he needs the next one in a year. Good luck with scheduling that. Like I said, he doesn’t have a phone, but he does have a gmail account for school, so I guess you could try sending him an email. But be warned, if you include the word ‘papilllomavirus’ you’re going to lose him. He’ll just assume it’s a language he doesn’t know and then he’ll go play kickball.

You could keep it simple and say ‘come to the doctor,’ but he has no idea where your office is. Seriously, it could be a block from our house and he still wouldn’t know. He knows where Blaze Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery are, though. Maybe you could meet him at one of those places. I’m afraid I won’t be able to drive him over to your office, because I don’t want to risk being seen as coercing him into anything under the HIPPA guidelines. Your best bet would be to actually send someone over to the middle school with the syringe and corner him at lunch.

Since I’ll need to let him schedule his next appointment, if you guys aren’t willing to track him down, you should see him back at the doctor’s office when he’s about thirty-eight years old. He probably won’t be going to a pediatrician any more by then, so you may have seen the last of him thanks to HIPPA.

Also, I’m just perusing the six-page health care instructional handout you mistakenly handed me during the office visit. I left it for him to read, but it ended up wadded up with his gum stuck to it. I guess he wasn’t all that interested in reading up on his most pressing twelve-year-old health care issues. Perhaps that’s because he’s twelve. Tough to say.

Anyway, most of the immunizations and testing page was illegible due to the Juicy Fruit, but I did notice there were sections on nutrition, screen time, and sleep. Now that my twelve-year-old is in charge of all this stuff, and since he apparently has no interest in reading your helpful tips, you might want to come over and talk to him. He’ll be the one in a twelve-year-old boy-shaped divot on the couch, catatonic in front of the TV, surviving on root beer and pita chip crumbs from the cushions.

Maybe we could get the school nurse to give him some advice. That is, if he decides to go to school at all. Am I allowed to insist that he goes to school anymore, now that he’s all grown up? I guess I should check the governmental regulations on that.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, November 30, 2016

Get the LED Out

Once again, Early January Smidge has screwed over Late November Smidge. Thanks for writing me a note or something, you idiot. I honestly don’t know what I’m thinking sometimes.

If you have read this column for any length of time, you know how I feel about Christmas lights. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief summary: I hate them. And I love them. It’s complicated. I love to see them on my house when they’re all working. It’s magical. I don’t really mind the chore of putting them up and taking them down, either. I just despise them more than anything on the planet when they don’t work. The five-foot section of uncooperative lights in the middle of the string is my mortal nemesis. “Hate” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my feelings toward non-functional light strings.

Apparently, for me, owning and operating Christmas lights is like having a baby. Sure, lights can be expensive and uncooperative like kids, and some are brilliant and some are not so bright, just like kids, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way that God doesn’t allow you to remember anything about what it was really like when you had the newborn, or you’d never do it again.

It’s only when you have the second kid and you’re going through all the sleepless nights of crying and wailing - some of it even from the baby - that you remember what the first one was like. It’s then that you stare at each other and say, “What were we thinking?” Then you do it a third time and start to question whether or not you are really truly sane.

Much like the first few months with a newborn, I only have a foggy memory of my struggle with the lights last year. I seem to recall a few issues with outages, but when it came time to put them up again this year, they weren’t there. All I know is when I opened up the plastic tub that was supposed to contain my icicle lights, there were no icicle lights.

Where are they? I opened up a tub marked “Extra X-mas Lights” but they weren’t there either. I picked up a random string of old mini lights and saw the black film on the inside of one of the bulbs and it all came flooding back to me. The bitter cold January day. The bitterness in my heart. The ladder. The trash can directly under the ladder receiving the light strings as they came off the eaves...

It seems I threw out all my old icicle lights last year when I took them down, and I was either so upset at all the five-foot outages, or so traumatized by the sheer amount of little incandescent bulbs that had gone completely black on the inside, never to light up again, that I must have completely blocked out the incident.

Thanks again for the heads up, Early January Smidge. You can be a real pain.

Just like with our three boys, I decided to take the lemons life had handed me and make lemonade. (The boys love to have a lemonade stand when the neighbors bring us lemons. What did you think I meant?) Late November Smidge put a smile on his face and declared, “This is the year we will upgrade to the completely hassle-free LED icicle lights! They don’t burn out.”

Then I realized I was alone in the garage talking to myself, so I went inside and declared the same thing to my wife.

“Great weekend to buy lights,” she said. “Good call, Einstein.”


This was, of course, happening this past weekend on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is National Husbands Put up the Christmas Lights Day.

The Thanksgiving week schedule is as follows:

Pre-Black Friday Sales Wednesday
Thanksgiving Thursday
Black Friday
Put up the Christmas Lights while your Wife goes to the Black-Friday-All-Weekend-Long Sales Saturday
Leftover Turkey and Football while your Wife Mops up at the Black-Friday-All-Weekend-Long Sales Sunday
Cyber Monday
Giving Tuesday (and Last Chance for Cyber Monday Deal Extensions Tuesday)
Look up the Credit Card Balance and Have a Mild Cardiac Incident Wednesday

There are only two things in the entire known universe not on sale the weekend after Thanksgiving: Christmas lights and extension cords. Thankfully, I also needed a new extension cord.

I pried the smoking credit card from my wife’s hand and headed to my local Home Improvement Warehouse. I knew right where to go, since the Christmas decorations section has been up since August. With six strings of amazing LED icicle light technology and one extension cord, I smiled at the checkout lady, inserted my credit card into the chip reader, then closed my eyes, stuck my fingers in my ears, and said la-la-la-la-la until the transaction was complete.

Back to the house I went, impending joy brimming in my heart at the thought of never having to chase down an icicle light bulb outage again. LED’s, after all, are magical computer-like technology, or something. Who knows what they really are, but they don’t burn out like regular light bulbs, so I’m happy.

Up they go onto the eaves, powered up by the brand new extension cord, just as dusk is falling on a brisk November evening. Brilliant electronic artificially bright white light illuminates the front of our house making all my Christmas wishes come tru... What in the actual hell is that?

Five stinkin’ feet of LED icicle light string, completely dead, right in the center of the house.

Get the trash can. I quit.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, November 23, 2016

I'm Thankful for Witches and Cereal

The list of things I’m thankful for is long, and includes my family, nachos, our church, orthopedic insoles, my health, generic Advil, good friends, and pretty much any pork product, just to name a few.

I am also very thankful for my job as an author, because it allows me to visit so many elementary-age students and attempt to inspire them to do big things. I even get to create stories with some of them. I’ve been writing progressive fairy tales with the kindergarten classes at our elementary school for years now. Each child adds the next sentence to the story, and they are hilarious.

On this Thanksgiving eve, I am especially thankful for an organization called RPAL – the Roseville Police Activities League – and for its director, Vivi Nevarez, and all the volunteers that help run this great after school and summer activities program. The mix of kids is everywhere from your run-of-the-mill elementary schooler looking for a fun afternoon program all the way to some very at-risk youth who could be one misstep away from a much different life. Most of the kids come from low-income, single-parent homes or foster care.

RPAL and programs like it all across the country are known to be the largest organized crime prevention programs we have as a nation, and the people who dedicate their lives to facilitating these programs cannot be thanked enough.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to come do an author workshop with the RPAL kids yesterday, and we wrote a progressive fairy tale with a group of twelve young people ranging from second grade to high school.

It was a room full of wonderful imaginations. An obvious love of cereal, combined with some Harry Potter and Hansel and Gretel influences, as well as a ton of good old-fashioned making stuff up brings us this:


The Cinnamon Toast Crunch Incident (Alternate title: Maybe We Just Go to the Store Next Time)

By Oliver, Marvin, Messiah, Aiden, Jonathan, Kimberly, Carolyn, Jazmin, Jasmine, Cassie, Gianna and Cianna

Once upon a time there was a funny talking robot tennis ball named Jack, who bounced around from place to place. He was friends with a fast orange turtle named Raisin who was generally mean to everyone he met.

One day they desperately wanted to eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, but they had no milk. They naturally decided to go look for a magical cow to milk in the deep dark forest. After three suns and two moons of fruitless searching for a milk cow, they encountered a dark, evil witch.

Before they could resist, the witch cast a spell on them with her twisted magical wand that was made with the feather of a Phoenix, and they found themselves floating into her dark, creepy house.

Jack and Raisin were floating past the witch when Jack used his extendable robot arm, that could extend over five hundred million thousand feet. He extended his arm like lightning and grabbed the magic wand out of the evil witch’s hand.

Unfortunately, she had a second wand, and she pulled it out of her cloak and used it to continue levitating them into her huge oven. The door slammed behind them and the fire came to life under them.

Jack, thinking quickly, used the first wand that he was still holding in his extendable hand to conjure up a full-size cow inside the oven with them. The cow broke the oven open with its enormous body, and immediately kicked the evil witch right in head and sent her flying one thousand billion trillion feet into the air.

With the witch gone for good, the black and white cow just stood there mooing at the two friends. Jack used the magic wand to levitate their Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal to the witch’s kitchen table, then politely asked the cow if they could milk her.

The cow was nice enough to say yes, and the two friends finally enjoyed their delicious breakfast. After they were done eating, Jack and the cow jumped onto Raisin’s back, and the super-fast turtle ran them all the way home. When they got there, they filled their whole house with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and milked the magical cow for one trillion years until the whole house was a gigantic bowl of cereal.

The end.

Thank you Vivi, and all the other RPAL rock stars, for the opportunity to come hang out with your kids for a few hours and bring this story to life. I am very thankful for your tireless dedication. Keep up the good work!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, November 16, 2016

My Nerves Have Expired

Attention young people: You’re screwed.

No, this is not another column about the election. No one wants that. This is about getting old. No one wants that either, but like this last election, apparently we can’t avoid it.

Depending on your age, you may hear “getting old” and think about mortgages, or having loud, snot-covered children, or being forced to drive a minivan. There must be some sort of federal law or something requiring it, right? Why else would people drive minivans? No one would do that voluntarily, right?

You have a point about the minivans, but those things are not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about joints. No, not that kind of joint, California voters. I told you this wasn’t about the election. Try to focus, you bunch of stoners. I’m talking about knees and shoulders.

If you are still in your twenties or early thirties you never think about your joints, because you are still made of rubber and steel. If you are in the vicinity of forty, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Forty years old is the exact warranty expiration date on the human body. Things just give up. Things just quit working. Some parts can be fixed with a tiny pill, but those little Advils don’t work on everything. Wait... what did you think I was talking about? Oh, you! Never mind that, I want to talk about shoulders.

A few months ago while coaching baseball, my forty-four-year-old arm threw a ball high into the air to a waiting little-leaguer in the outfield. Unfortunately, it was the first baseball I had thrown that day. That was a huge mistake. When your arm is past its expiration date like mine is, you are required to swing it around a little and stretch it for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a day and a half before trying something crazy like throwing a ball.

I immediately felt a twinge in my shoulder and heard the distinct ‘pop’ of physics colliding with old age in my rotator cuff. I did not find it the least bit humerus.

Now, if I were a forty-four-year-old woman, I would have simply stopped throwing baseballs. But since I am a forty-four-year-old man, I said to myself, “No problem, I’ll just swing my arm around a few times before I throw fifty more baseballs to these kids.”    

I spent the next month not being able to throw a baseball at all while my expired tendons and muscles, bathed in two hundred thousand milligrams of ibuprofen, struggled to repair themselves. When I was in college I could have broken my leg in the morning and it would have healed by dinnertime.

Since I knew exactly what caused the injury, I never bothered to see a doctor or do any research. I just washed some more Advil down with a beer that I opened left-handed. Eventually it healed up and I was once again in prime shape. Fast forward to this past Thursday when I woke up with the same shoulder aching.

Thursday morning: Ouch. My shoulder aches.
Thursday afternoon: Man, this is getting worse.
Thursday evening: I can no longer use my right arm for anything useful.
Thursday night: I’m going to take a thousand milligrams of Advil and try to sleep.
Late Thursday night/Early Friday morning: [awake] Ow!
Friday morning: I can’t do anything except hold my arm against my body. Someone please soap me.

What did I do to my arm? I can’t for the life of me remember any baseball throwing, aggressive gardening, making a bed, grocery bag lifting, or any of the other diabolical activities that take down us old people. I didn’t do anything! Why does my arm hurt so bad?!?

There was only one thing to do. What every old person with an unexplained pain and a computer does - go to WebMD.

Oh, great. Frozen Shoulder. Starts from under use or over use. I’ve done both. Comes on after an injury. Check. Due to scar tissue. I’m sure I have some of that.

The really good news - Takes a year to heal. Super, I’m going to need to hire an assistant to wipe my butt. How much do you have to pay that person per hour? Try not to think about it.

Friday afternoon: My left arm is stuck in the steering wheel trying to get the keys in the ignition.
Friday night: I yearn for the sweet release of death.
Late Friday night/Early Saturday morning: [awake] Ow!
Saturday morning: Hmm... I think the beer and Advil are working. Feels slightly better this morning.
Saturday afternoon: The pain is going away really fast. It almost feels good now.
Saturday evening: It’s like it never happened. My arm is perfect.

I have completely conquered frozen shoulder! One year, my patootie. Try one DAY! I’m like Superman!

Hmm... Superman might be a stretch. Maybe I should check back on WebMD. Hmm... Pinched Nerve. That’s a new one. Symptoms sure do line right up, though.

So, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder Wednesday night. That’s just great. Superman apparently hurt himself while sleeping.

I’m telling you, young people, you’re screwed. My advice to you – buy stock in Advil. And enjoy your bodies while they still work!

I would say enjoy your joints, but I don’t want you California voters to get the wrong idea.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, November 9, 2016

The Breakfast Club

It’s the day after election day in the craziest and most undesirable presidential election any of us have ever seen. Since Just a Smidge is not a political column, the only endorsement you’ll find here is for the Nacho Party. We love nachos here, and this is nacho political endorsement. I’m not here today to discuss the candidates or the new president, even if you wanted to, which you really don’t. You just want a drink. Go get one and come back. I’ll wait...


Even if I wanted to discuss how deeply ridiculous and troubling the quality of this presidential race was - which I don’t - that would be the wrong thing to worry about in this process. We should really be focusing on how ridiculous our election system is.

Don’t even get me started on the electoral college. Seriously, I can’t start. I don’t know what it is or why it is whatever it is. I was apparently absent during that day/week/month of middle school or junior high or high school or college when I was supposed to be taught how this whole thing works.

What I do know about it is that if you live in a state that doesn’t agree with your political views, it totally invalidates your vote.

Imagine this scenario. Ten people are trying to choose a movie to watch. You vote for Movie A, but you are sitting on a couch with four other people and three of them chose Movie B. The other couch had four people choose Movie A and only one chose movie B. Your Movie A won the popular vote six to four, but since your couch can only hold five people, and the other couch can hold eight, you all have to play Jenga instead of watching a movie. That’s how the electoral college works.

But never mind that. Just put that out of your head because there’s nothing we can do about the electoral college. Majority voting is unthinkable, and besides, counting every single vote, preventing people from voting twice, and preventing non-citizens or people who aren’t registered to vote from voting in this day and age is completely unrealistic.

We simply don’t have the technology. It’s not like we all have unique numbers assigned to us at birth that could be tracked in some sort of electronic database or something. That’s just crazy talk. Hang on, let me use my phone to track the exact location of my UPS package real quick...

OK, I’m back. That only took four seconds. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. We don’t have the technology to get rid of the electoral college. Let’s focus instead on the fact that we have a multiple political party system where only two of the parties ever get to debate for your vote. Sure, Washington D.C. likes to placate you with some preliminary debates with a stage full of candidates, but come closer to election time the “presidential debates” only feature two out of the six candidates.

If they let all six candidates debate, you the voter might screw up the nice two-party system they love so much. It would be a whole lot harder to funnel all those tax dollars into their brother-in-law’s pockets if a bunch of Libertarian or Peace and Freedom party losers were hanging around D.C. watching what’s going on.

Since the two-party system is the only way to keep all the money and power in the hands of the little club that knows what’s best for you, the lowly voter, it’s best if they don’t let you get too out of control with a lot of choices.

Think of it in terms of breakfast cereal, since it’s harder to do this example with nachos.

You can only have one breakfast cereal for the next four years, but since this is a free country, you get to choose. There are at least six cereals to choose from. One out of six is pretty good odds. You should be able to find one you like.

OK, let’s get to taste-testing.

Great. Here are your two choices.

Wait, what about the six?

We decided you didn’t need to sample the other four.

But I wanted to try all six.

No. Two is enough for a taste test.

But you didn’t even let me choose which two I get to taste.

These two are our best sellers. Just taste these two.

But I want to taste all six.

We don’t have the time or the money for all that tasting.

That’s ridiculous. Just give them to me and I’ll taste them all.

No can do. Just taste these two here and choose one.

What if I don’t like either of them?

No problem. You can always choose any one of the six.

But I have no idea what they taste like!

Look at the boxes.

How do I know what’s inside?

We labeled them for you.

That’s ridiculous. I can’t choose without tasting them.

You have to pick.

This is ridiculous.

It’s time.

Well, crap. I guess I’ll take this one.

Sorry, you’re on the wrong couch.

That’s the U.S. election process, folks. Until we vote them ALL out, nothing changes. Enjoy your crap-tastic flax nuggets with extra yellow dye number five.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, November 2, 2016

Flaming Surgical Laser Farts

You might think you’re having a bad day. Things aren’t going well at home or at work. Your cat ran away and no one on the internet has been able to locate it for you. Your kids are misbehaving at school and no one on the internet has any good answers. Your boss is an idiot and he noticed that you mentioned that fact on the internet. You have slow internet.

Hey, you may have even voted by mail already, and had to write your own name in for president because, even with no political experience whatsoever, you’re still the most qualified name on the paper.

Whatever it is, I understand. Things look bleak.

But it could always be worse. Your bright side? Flaming surgical laser farts, of course.

A headline in my news feed yesterday caught my eye and once again proved that Japan is still leading the league in weird.

Tokyo, Japan - Woman passes gas during surgery; suffers burns, causes fire in operating room

A woman passed gas during a surgical procedure, sparking a fire in the operating room and even caused her to be seriously burned, according to the Miami Herald.

A fart bomb lit an operating room on fire, and the only U.S. news source to cover the story was the Miami Herald? Hey, New York Times, take a five-minute break from the mon-crap-strosity that is the election and focus on some news we can all appreciate.

The fire happened in April at Tokyo Medical University. Reports say the patient, who was in her 30s, was undergoing an operation which involved applying a laser to her cervix.

“Applying a laser to her cervix.” Ouch. Even if this story didn’t involve serious burns in an operating room fire caused by a giant fart, you are still having a better day than anyone getting a laser applied to their cervix. I don’t even know where my cervix is, but I damned sure don’t want a laser pointed at it!

And this happened all the way back in April? Why on earth didn’t the news reach us until now!?  Is it because everyone involved was embarrassed and tried to keep it quiet, or are the Japanese just trying to keep all the weird to themselves? Either way, not cool, Japan. Not cool.

According to reports, the laser is believed to have been ignited by the gas she passed. The fire burned much of her body, including her waist and legs. Her condition is unclear.

I am not making that up. Laser-ignited fart fire.

A spokesperson for the hospital said, “When the patient’s intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation (room), it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire.”

So given the translation of events from the Japanese hospital’s Flatulence and Anal-Related Trauma (FAART) department spokesperson, I am left with two possible – both awesomely nightmarish – scenarios.

Scenario One: The patient was gassy enough over a long enough period of time that the operation room was filled with methane, which was then touched off by the cervical laser, igniting a mushroom cloud-like explosion that charred everything inside the blast zone.

Scenario Two:
The gas was accidentally lit at the source, creating a laser-ignited butt flamethrower that had enough internal pressure and firepower to then light the “surgical drape” and everything else ablaze.

(Note to the eventual producer of the mini-series: I like Scenario Two better.)

Wow. Either Japan doesn’t have the “No eating for forty-eight hours ahead of major surgery” rule, or this unfortunate woman ignored that rule to her severe detriment. While “Weaponized Anus” would obviously be a great name for a rock band, it’s not a smart thing to bring to your surgery.

Anyway, I hope this helps. You may have thought you were having a bad day, but when you put it into perspective with a flaming surgical laser fart, you’re doing great!

Get well soon, flatulent unnamed thirty-something Japanese patient. And for goodness sake, stay away from any more ignition sources.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, October 26, 2016

A Ninth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Last year at this time I sat down and selflessly took time out of my busy schedule of snacking to write you a sixth open letter. I have given you nothing but invaluable advice over the years, attempting to help you improve not only your business operations, but also your business model, never asking anything in return for all my time and effort.

That changes as of today. One of two things is happening. You are either not reading my letters, or you simply don’t care. Given the current situation, I have to assume it’s the latter. You see, in letter number six I gave you the friendly heads-up that you’d ‘accidentally’ scheduled picture retake day during our school’s spirit week, specifically on pajama day.

I’ve got to hand it to you. Last year when you scheduled picture retake day on pajama day, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. But you did the exact same thing again this year. Retakes are today for a school full of kids wearing fuzzy SpongeBob SquarePants jammies.

Who’s in charge of scheduling this? I’m starting to think it’s the same photographer who didn’t care during the original picture day that Son Number Three had a clown-sized milk mustache and an entire cheese puff stuck to his face. I mean, logically I just have to assume he or she didn’t care, since being legally blind probably prevents employment as a photographer. Or maybe not with you guys.

Honestly, if it was solely up to me, I would have been done with school pictures a long time ago. But my wife, bless her heart, was clinging to the hope that school pictures still meant something special to you. Her answer to me this morning when I asked if she wanted retakes: “Why bother? What if they’re worse?”

You’ve lost my wife, so now your relationship with me has officially changed.

We used to pay you for the fall pictures, but I see that coming to a close. We have a nice camera, and we have something you apparently don’t – napkins. From now on, Costco Film Developing will be our official fall school picture photographer. I’ll save money, and I won’t have to look at food on my sons’ faces. Not in the pictures, anyway. I will obviously continue to see food on their faces during the day, since none of them have yet to master civilized eating. Son Number Three constantly looks like he used a grenade to get the food into his mouth instead of a fork.

As for spring pictures, that’s where our relationship is taking its biggest turn. I used to simply ignore the notices since I didn’t want or need more pictures ten days after you took the last set. Many of my helpful letters to you over the years have highlighted how you could save enormous amounts of money by not inexplicably printing and shipping reams and reams of spring pictures to me that I didn’t want in the first place. The indication that I didn’t want them still being the very easy to understand fact that I didn’t order them.

I know you guys are having a hard time with that concept, so let me try to put it in another context for you. Let’s use fast food as an example. Next time you drive past a McDonald’s, take a minute to notice that no one runs out of the building, chases your car down the street, throws hamburgers into your window, then sends you letters asking you to pay for the delicious burgers or kindly return them to the store.

McDonald’s has the business model where they wait for people to actually order the hamburgers before they make them and hand them over. Crazy, I know, but that’s how they do it.

Since we’re on letter number nine here, I feel like I should go a little further with the explanation. The spring pictures you print and send me that I didn’t order are the hamburgers getting thrown through the moving car’s window three blocks away from the restaurant. Get it?

I used to not care about when spring picture day was. And as humorous as I thought it was that you still took their pictures anyway, despite the distinct lack of any order forms, and then sent them to me hoping I would give you money, I still didn’t care.

Now I care. Now I am going to pay attention to when spring picture day. Now I’m going to get my kids dressed up on that morning and have them ready for pictures.

Spring picture day is our family’s new Halloween. I’m going to test you and see when you will finally stop sending me pictures. Will you still take pictures of my kids if I draw mustaches and surprised eyebrows on all of them with baseball eye black? Will you send me reams and reams of pictures I’m not going to pay for of my sons with Sharpie marker beard stubble and eye patches?

We’re going to find out.

Thank you Lifetouch! I’m really looking forward to our new relationship moving forward. If you don’t care, then I don’t either.

Good luck with your pajama pictures today.

All my best,


Copyright © 2016 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, October 19, 2016

An Urgent Facebook PSA

If you are on Facebook – and I am assuming you are by now, since you are a breathing human – you have no doubt seen the following status update on more than one friend’s page:

Just trying to be safe: Deadline tomorrow!!! Everything you've ever posted becomes public from tomorrow. Even messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed. It costs nothing for a simple copy and paste, better safe than sorry. Channel 13 News talked about the change in Facebook's privacy policy.

I have been on Facebook for a long time now, and I have seen that fake deadline come and go at least four or five times in the last four or five years alone. I can assure you, if “Channel 13 News” talked about it, it was to attempt to let you know that this hoax comes around once every year, just like the winter solstice, or that fruitcake Aunt Edna baked back in ’79. The only news flash here is that everything you ever posted on Facebook was always public.

NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. Copy and paste.

Facebook is a free web service where you voluntarily post pictures of your cat. That’s all it is. It happens to be a very large free web service with a zillion cat pictures, but let’s not kid ourselves. And what the hell does “tactically allowing” mean?

This is my favorite part:

I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute).

With this statement, I give notice to Facebook... Yes, because all legal matters these days can be handled by posting lawyerish-sounding phrases on a free social media site. That’s why we don’t need lawyers anymore.

Judge: “Mr. Johnson, you’re being charged with bank robbery, how do you plead?”
Mr. Johnson: “Totally not guilty, Your Honor.”
Bank’s Lawyer: “You walked into our branch and demanded five hundred thousand dollars in cash.”
Mr. Johnson: “Well, yeah, but that’s only because I saw a tweet that said you guys were giving away free money to anyone who asked for it in a low voice while keeping one hand in the pocket of their sweatshirt.”
Judge: “Oh, snap! There was a tweet?”
Bank’s Lawyer: “Wow, sorry. We totally didn’t know that someone tweeted that. Our bad.”
Judge: “Case dismissed.”

The content of this profile is private and confidential information. Yes, that’s why I’m using this free web service as a personal diary, making vague references to my crappy day and how I’m such a bad parent. I do that to get my own private and confidential thoughts down onto a virtual page so I can reflect on them later, privately. I never do that so other people will publicly ask me what’s wrong and send me encouraging messages about how I’m a great parent. I wouldn’t want that kind of public attention on this public free web service when I’m trying to be so private and confidential.

And then, to cap off the awesome, what appears to be the phone number of a pizza place in western Nebraska is listed at the bottom, with “The Rome Statute” thrown in for good measure, which simply doesn’t apply to this fake problem anyway. Besides the fact that no privacy actually exists in my relationship with Facebook (and "any entities associated with Facebook”), the real reason is that the Rome Statute doesn’t even remotely apply to anything having to do with pictures of my lunch.

In my exhaustive ten-second Wikipedia search, I found out The Rome Statute establishes four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Even if my Facebook account could be considered international since I frequently post pictures of tacos, none of those four crimes seem to apply here.

But, hey, I understand if you’re new to the Facebook world and you got duped by this recurring hoax. Lawyers are scary, and like it says in this one and the ‘Bill Gates is going to give money to everyone who posts this’ one, better safe than sorry.

If you did happen to post that warning to your wall, and now you’re suddenly regretting it, have no fear. I have written something you can replace it with. Feel free to copy and paste!

Just trying to be safe, since the deadline is tomorrow. Not a specific date, mind you, but tomorrow for Pete’s sake!!! I hereby totally give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook 100% permission to use my pictures, information, messages and posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden NOT TO disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on my profile and/or its contents. The contents of this profile are so awesome that I would be legally and morally offended if Facebook didn’t take full advantage of it. And I’m not even limiting this to just the stuff I have on Facebook. I mean my actual stuff, like my couch and my food, as well as any of my relatives that will go without a fight. I now hereby renounce all my possessions and my relatives, and give Facebook the legal authority to do whatever they want with them. I give no other entity that is not associated with Facebook any authority whatsoever for anything. Facebook is now in charge of everything. Because I used the words ‘hereby’ and ‘whatsoever,’ this is totally legal and stuff.

There you go. It’s just as legally binding, but now maybe Facebook will come and get rid of that old couch for you. And maybe Aunt Edna’s fruitcake.

Maybe even Aunt Edna, too!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, October 12, 2016

A Giant Smelly Goat

In 1934, a plucky Greek immigrant named William Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern in Chicago, Illinois for two hundred and five dollars. Foreshadowing the modern Greek financial situation, his check promptly bounced. But he made good, retaining ownership of the establishment by repaying the bank with the proceeds from the first weekend he was open, under the bar’s new name, The Billy Goat Tavern.

William “Billy Goat” Sianis was many things. He was a bar owner, a bartender, a pretty kick-ass nickname haver, a check bouncer, a purveyor of marginal cheeseburgers, an actual Billy goat owner, a marketing genius, and a visionary with the foresight to petition for the first liquor license on the moon, just in case any passing astronauts needed a burger and a beer. He was a man with a dream.

Unfortunately for the Chicago Cubs, Billy Sianis was apparently also a wizard. An evil, sports curse-applying wizard.

In game four of the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field, Sianis and his pet Billy goat, Murphy, were ejected from the stadium due to Murphy’s foul stench. Since Murphy was a bar mascot, I would have to assume that he existed, like Sianis, on a strict diet of pickled eggs, greasy cheeseburgers, and beer. Hence the odor.

Also, like Sianis, I have to assume the goat was an angry drunk. History does not tell us how many twelve-dollar Miller Lites Billy and Murphy consumed that day, or how many Cubs executives Murphy rammed on his way out of the stadium that day, but we do know what Billy said to them. The very disgruntled goat owner hexed the entire organization as he and Murphy were being unceremoniously escorted from Wrigley Field.

“Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The curse heard around the world.

Now, if you were a Cubs fan there on that fateful day when your Cubbies were up 2-1 in the series, you may have just shrugged it off as the rantings of a drunken, smelly tavern owner who was callous enough to bring drunken, smelly livestock to box seats at a baseball game.

And when the Cubs then blew the lead and lost the series four games to three, you may not have made the connection, chalking it up to bad luck.

But in the year 2015, when your beloved Cubbies haven’t won a World Series in a hundred and seven years, and have failed to even win a pennant and get into another World Series since that fateful goat-cursed year of 1945 - seventy years later - you simply can’t deny the wicked sorcery behind old Billy’s curse.

Many attempts to reverse the curse have been made by the desperate Cubs’ faithful over the years. Sam Sianis, Billy’s nephew, has walked a goat out onto Wrigley Field more than a few times in hopes of canceling out the bad juju.

A Greek Orthodox priest has sprayed holy water in the Cubs dugout, and multiple priests over the years have blessed the field, the dugout, and the entire stadium, to no avail.
Goats have sacrificed and been sacrificed in the effort as well. Two poor goats were made to travel all across the country – one even being made to walk all the way from Arizona to Chicago – in attempts to reverse the curse. If those goats thought they had it bad, the ones that have been killed and unceremoniously hung from a statue at Wrigley Field over the years would argue differently. Cubs fans take their baseball seriously.

My second favorite, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to break the curse of the Billy goat took place in September of last year when - and I’m not making this up - five guys ate an entire forty-pound goat in thirteen minutes at the undoubtedly five-star-rated Chicago eatery, Taco in a Bag. No one combines superstition with food and awesome restaurant names better than Cubs fans.

None of those perfectly sane curse reversal tactics worked, but this year they may have found the most powerful (and certainly my favorite) reversal magic yet - in the form of a T-shirt.

Here are the important elements of the scene:

- Legendary funnyman Bill Murray was the star of Ghostbusters, arguably the best movie about three college professors from New York starting a private business to catch ghosts that was ever made between 1983 and 1985.

- Bill Murray was born in Evanston, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago if you look at the map from really far away. He is a lifelong Cubs fan, and since he was born in 1950, he’s been subject to the curse his entire life.

- The art for the Ghostbusters movie poster was a cartoon ghost captured inside the international “no” symbol – the red circle with a diagonal line.

- The movie’s amazingly synthesized hit theme song by Ray Parker Jr. – who literally made an entire musical career out of that ONE AND ONLY song – has the famous line, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

Now the stage is set. The 2016 Cubs are the winningest team in the baseball regular season. But they are facing my San Francisco Giants, a team that always wins the World Series in even years, if “always” is defined as “since 2010.” The Giants don’t have a curse, we have magic. Even year magic. We were all #beliEVEN. Until last night.

Last night the Giants inexplicably blew a three-run lead in the top of the ninth, as the Cubs pulled off the biggest ninth-inning come-from-behind rally in a postseason clinch game in the entire history of Major League Baseball. That not-so-small feat got them past my Giants and moving on to play for the National League pennant. If they can secure that, they’ll be in a World Series again. They certainly look good to do it.

I love the Giants, and I don’t care one way or the other about the Cubs, but if my Giants had to lose their even year magic, I certainly hope it was a result of the Billy goat curse finally being lifted. No baseball team or its fans deserve what the Cubs have gone through the last one hundred and eight years. Except for the Dodgers, obviously. The Dodgers deserve much worse.

The curse reversal magic that is probably making all of this possible? That comes in the form of a T-shirt that Bill Murray wore to the Cubs/Giants games at Wrigley Field. It was the Ghostbusters poster art, but the cartoon ghost was replaced by a cartoon goat, and the tagline underneath read, “I ain’t afraid of no goat.”

Think about how awesome that is for a second. Bill Murray from Chicago wearing a shirt referencing a Billy goat named Murphy, coopting the tagline and poster art from one of the best movies that he himself was ever in, to put a quadruple reverse hex on the curse.

If that is not simply the best sports curse/classic movie/comedic genius movie star T-shirt pun that has ever happened, I don’t know what is. That kind of comedy has powerful magic. Let’s hope it’s powerful enough. At least for the sake of my Giants, and all the unsuspecting goats in the greater Chicago area.

We will see soon enough, but for now, I think if we’ve learned anything here, it’s these three things:

1) Bill Murray is a national treasure.

2) People from Chicago are weird.

3) Never insult a wizard with a goat at a World Series game. Ever. No matter how drunk or smelly either happen to be.

Go Cubs.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, October 5, 2016

The Decoration Blues

Halloween is about to throw up on my house. And in it. The note from my wife has been on my desk for a week – get Halloween tubs down. Great, there goes nine hours of my life.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Halloween season is upon us. I have long been lamenting the fact that Halloween has somehow grown from a one-night event where your single goal is to gather as many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as possible, into the most singularly drawn-out “holiday” we have.

The Christmas “season” is probably technically a little longer, but it shares the first half of its spotlight with Thanksgiving. Halloween gets the entire month of October all to itself, and now inexplicably, the last week in September, it seems. I actually saw cobwebbed bushes and jack-o’-lantern lights up on some of the houses in my neighborhood before the calendar flipped to October this year.

I have to give my wife a little credit. At least she waited until September 30th at midnight to put the note on my desk. You may have noticed that ‘tubs’ is plural in the note. Yes, we’re talking multiple full-size Rubbermaid storage tubs crammed full of ceramic pumpkins, ghosts that hang from the Tree of Death out front, wooden signs that say ‘Boo,’ four-foot-tall witches, jack-o’-lantern toilet seat covers, and enough other crap to fully decorate the inside of a Costco if we needed to.

I’m not going to say that my wife is decoration crazy, mostly because I like sleeping in my own bed, but I’ve lost count of how many holiday tubs we have in our garage. We have tubs for Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Flag Day, Columbus Day, Arbor Day, National Aviation Day, King Kamehameha Day, Black Friday, Leif Erikson Day, National Library Workers’ Day, and even some of the lesser known holidays. All I know is we have a three-car garage, and we have just enough room to park the boys’ bicycles inside as long as we stack them.

So in a little while, I’m going to move the bikes out into the driveway with the cars, find the ladder somewhere amid all those tubs, make my way over to the Halloween section on aisle twenty-four, and begin moving tubs into the house. My wife will then begin a decorating routine that looks a lot like what might happen if the Tasmanian Devil got loose in a craft store. When every square inch of the inside and outside of our home is positively spooky, I’ll move the tubs back out to aisle twenty-four until it’s time to replace them with the Thanksgiving tubs from aisle nine.

It could be worse, though. I met a guy the other night at Son Number Three’s baseball game who was hobbling out of his truck on crutches. He had one of those big black fabric-and-Velcro braces on his foot, and he looked to be in a fair amount of pain. When I asked how he was doing, he replied sullenly, “I’ve had better weeks.”

“I can see that,” I said. “What did you do to your foot?”

His face became even more dejected as he recounted his tale of holiday woe.

“I cracked my heel...
stepping off a ladder wrong...
putting up Halloween lights...
for my ex.”

Ouch, bro. Ouch.

But, hey, keep your head up, man. You’ve got to look on the bright side in this life. At least you didn’t break your leg, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty decent country song there. You already have the pickup truck, the ex-wife, and the unfortunate injury. Add in a new girlfriend, a dog, and a beer, and you might end up making some money off this little mishap.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find that ladder and make my way over to aisle twenty-four. If you need me, I’ll either be somewhere in the tub maze, or at the ER writing a country song.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, September 28, 2016

Dirty Chicken Kissers

Want to reduce your chances of becoming just another statistic in the latest salmonella outbreak? There’s an easy solution, says the Centers for Disease Control. Stop kissing your chickens.

The headline “CDC Warning – Stop Kissing Chickens” landed in my news feed a few days ago, so naturally I dropped absolutely everything else I was doing and read the story. A Fox 10 News station somewhere in Arizona gave me the grim numbers.

Over the past 25 years, 13% of chicken-related salmonella cases were caused by people kissing their chickens. Over half admitted to snuggling with the baby chicks, and almost half admitted to keeping the chickens in the house.


Arizona residents, in my head: “Oh, great! Not only do we have to stop kissing our chickens, but we have to stop snuggling them too? And give me a break. You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to keep my barnyard animals outside, instead of next to my bed? What kind of monster are you?”

Come on, people! While ‘Dirty Chicken Kissers’ would obviously be a great name for a rock band, it’s no way to live your life. Was it just Arizona? Are there other states where salmonella is decimating the chicken kissers? I must know! Off I go to the CDC website, where I learn... holy puckering poultry, Batman. There’s a nationwide epidemic of dirty chicken kissers! Arizona is the least of our worries. The biggest offenders are highly concentrated in the Great Lakes states and the upper north east.

Just a Smidge PSA:
Hey up there. It’s wicked bad to kiss your chickens, eh. And don’t let ‘em inside to sit on the davenport with ya, OK? Salmonella is wicked bad. Keep ‘em outside in the yaahd, eh.

That should take care of the problem, but just in case, the CDC did come up with a wicked good poster. It’s a yellow silhouette picture of a baby chick with the title “Don’t play chicken with your health. Wash your hands.” – I’m not making that up.

Inside the outline of the baby chick there’s a handy salmonella outbreak chart by year, showing the number of outbreaks caused by handling live poultry, with the outbreak indicators as cute fuzzy little baby chicks. Again, not making this up.

Our most dangerous chicken kissing year as a nation was 2012, with eight baby chicks stacked up on top of each other. Ranked second-worst was 2009, with six baby chicks stacked, and four chicks stacked on 2015 puts it in a five-way tie for third worst with four other years since 2000.
The poster shows us that 1992 through 1994 were the happy times. Zero stacked chicks for those years suggests that chicken kissing was apparently still frowned upon back then.

This unnerving spike in chicken kissing got me thinking. Why in the hell would anyone kiss a chicken? Also, I thought, this must be due to the seemingly recent increase in the amount of people who have converted the back 0.000344 acres of their suburban backyards into chicken farms.

I can only assume that this practice has something to do with ‘sustainability,’ or ‘homesteading,’ or getting ‘off the grid.’ I doubt too many people wake up and think, “You know what we should do? We should become commercial poultry producers! Wait, we live in town and own no land. Oh, well. Let’s throw a tiny coop and four chickens in the backyard for now, and we’ll expand into a multi-million-dollar operation when we can.”

The ‘sustainability’ aspect got me thinking some more. In this case I guess sustainable means someone will keep selling you chicken feed. But does having backyard chickens that you can kiss and snuggle and bring indoors make financial sense? What’s the national average price for a dozen eggs? How much does it cost to keep a kissable chicken alive and making eggs? Why in the hell would you let a chicken live inside your house? And where? In the kitchen? Living room? Chickens don’t even have lips as far as I know.

There was a lot going on in my head.

Because the internet is awesome, I was able to look up all the information I needed in my normal exhaustive two-minute Google research time allotment. Chickens definitely do not have lips. Also, I was able to find a website apparently dedicated to tracking the price of a dozen eggs on a nationwide scale. That beat my prediction of “there’s no way anyone has a website that tracks nationwide egg prices” by one hundred percent.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say that a dozen eggs will run you about two dollars right now, if you live in Anywheresville, USA. My public school math tells me that equates to seventeen cents per egg.

Purina Premium Poultry Feed costs fourteen dollars for fifty pounds. That would be twenty-eight cents a pound not counting tax. Yet another website reveals that an average laying hen eats about a quarter pound of feed a day. So your four chickens are downing twenty-eight cents worth of premium chicken feed every day.

Homesteading websites tell us that we can expect an average of one egg per day from each of our healthy, happy hens. If chicken feed were all we needed, we’d be money ahead with our flock, getting eggs for a mere seven cents each. A full ten cents cheaper than the store brand. I think we all know, after perusing the chicken feed store websites that mere chicken feed will not do it. Our hens need to be happy.

The thirty-ounce bag of Happy Hen Treats Mealworm Frenzy – I swear I’m not making that name up – costs twenty-five bucks. I don’t know how many mealworm treats it takes to keep my hens in a laying mood, but thirty ounces doesn’t seem like it would last that long. Especially if these mealworms are so good they cause a frenzy, as advertised.

So you have unspecified mealworm expenses, and let’s not forget the initial set up costs. Not the least of which is your Williams-Sonoma Cedar Chicken Coop with Planter that set you back fifteen hundred dollars – you heard me – or the designer chicken toys to keep them engaged and mentally stimulated.

Add in your inevitable ER visit for salmonella poisoning, and I think this chicken raising business is costing you about nine hundred dollars per egg, give or take.

I think I’ll stick with the eggs from the commercial poultry producer. He keeps the egg shelves at the store full for me, which I find very convenient, and when I don’t want eggs, I just don’t buy them. Try that with your flock.

He’s smart, too. You know what that commercial poultry producer never does? Kiss his damn chickens, that’s what.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, September 21, 2016

Rubik's Rubes

I just boxed up a broken Pyraminx Speed Cube to return it to Amazon. How many times have you said that, huh? If you’re like me, never.

I have a feeling it won’t be the last time. The problem is my kids are smarter than me. Don’t ever tell them I said that.

What is a Pyraminx Speed Cube, you ask? It’s obviously a four-sided pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube. Why are they calling a pyramid a ‘Cube,’ you ask? Good question. I have no idea. Why would anyone need a pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube, you ask? Obviously for when the regular square one gets too boring.

When Son Number Two first asked for a Rubik’s Cube, I had an immediate flashback to my childhood. I was there when the Rubik’s Cube became an overnight sensation, and I remember my first encounter with the cube like it was yesterday.

My sister handed me a Rubik’s Cube that was all scrambled up, and told me that I needed to switch all the squares around so each side was a solid color. I twisted and turned the colorful plastic cube for at least an entire minute. Then I threw it at her head and went outside and played freeze tag.

The only other time I ever touched it was when I needed to kick the infernal little Hungarian torture device across the room on my way to get my comic books. I hated that thing. It was impossible. Whatever part of the brain is responsible for being able to even begin to figure out a way to start possibly coming up with the beginning of a partial idea for how to solve a Rubik’s Cube – I was born without that part.

I looked at Son Number Two with rightful suspicion. Should I bother to spend the ten bucks to get you a Rubik’s Cube that history shows you will probably abandon within three days? Do I need to get out the box of abandoned fads?

Let’s see what’s in here. Ah, the five thousand dollars-worth of Rainbow Loom stuff. I remember this. Do you want to make me another multicolored rubber band bracelet, or are we done with this for good? If you need any of the little rubber bands, they’re all still tangled in the vacuum’s beater bar. All the little plastic clips are in the vacuum’s bag.

Oh, look, here’s the big stack of cups from that worldwide sensation you couldn’t bear to miss out on – cup stacking. Yes, stacking cups and then unstacking them really fast. With special expensive plastic cups. I remember the six minutes that lasted. Good times.

Hey! Here’s the three Kendamas we have, because each of you needed your own. Remember? It was dubbed “The Japanese yo-yo.” I never understood that. It’s a stick shaped like a hammer with a wooden ball tied to it. It’s nothing like a yo-yo. What it is is a great way to hit yourself in the face with a wooden ball. Do you remember playing with these for hours? No? That’s probably because you only played with them for three minutes.

What’s that there? Oh, the little spiky tray that the fuse beads go on. You remember the fuse beads, right? You used to store them in the carpet for safe keeping. Those microscopic colorful cylinders that melt together when you iron them to make a plastic drink coaster in the shape of a Christmas tree or a turtle. Those were useful. You could make something with them now, but all the fuse beads are in the vacuum bag with the Rainbow Loom hooks. Sorry.

So why should I believe this Rubik’s Cube you want isn’t going to end up in this box? Oh, well. I guess we’ll give it a shot. What do we have to lose except ten bucks?

It’s been a few weeks now and I’m happy to report that having a Rubik’s Cube has drastically increased the requests for screen time, since there is now a treasure trove of videos and step-by-step instructions on how to solve the cube out there on the internet. There’s even a site where you can input exactly what your cube looks like and it will give you the exact turn sequence to solve it.

Just one more thing this spoiled, entitled generation will take for granted. Back in my day, we didn’t have the internet. We had to peel off the stickers and rearrange them to solve the Rubik’s Cube. That was the only way.

In just a few short days of total Rubik’s Cube immersion, Son Number Two was already looking for a new challenge. Enter the Pyraminx. A pyramid-shaped Rubik’s Cube. As soon as I saw it I had the overwhelming urge to throw it at my sister’s head and run. But Son Number Two jumped right in and spun the pieces around so many times in the span of a week that he wore it out. In the process, he got pretty fast at solving it.

It appears that the Rubik’s Cube might escape the box of abandoned fads for at least another week or two. My children amaze me. At one point or another all three of them have complained loudly about how hard the Rubik’s Cube is, but not one of them has thrown it at the other’s head and gone to play freeze tag. They just keep trying. Go figure.

The Rubik's Cube part of the brain must skip a generation. Or come from the mother's side.

At least I gave them freeze tag.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, September 14, 2016

An Eighth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Just wanted to shoot you another quick letter and let you know that I’m super excited you and I are back together again for Fall Picture Day tomorrow. Getting those picture packets is like opening a box of Cracker Jack every year – I just can’t wait to see what we get.

In my fifth letter to you, I very helpfully detailed how much your website sucks. I assumed you would use that information to improve the website up to at least an level of user-friendliness. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I wanted to take a minute this year and let you know what a total suckfest your website still is. To focus on the positive for a minute – When ordering my picture packets, there were only six annoying options to click ‘no thanks’ on this year, instead of the forty or fifty I had to wade through last year, so I take that as evidence that you actually have an IT guy. Although, based on everything else, I’m assuming it’s still that fourth-grader. Actually, I guess he or she would be in fifth grade this year. Tell them congratulations for me.

Back to the suckfest - I already had an account with a username and password from years prior, so I logged in and was happy to see my information on the screen, but the momentary hopefulness dissolved quickly as I noticed the system had not saved my sons’ info. Why? Why would you not save that? They’re the ones getting their pictures taken.

On the front page you invited me to ‘add students,’ so I did. It went OK, but I’d like to point out that once I tell you what state and city our oldest boy lives in, and what school he attends, it might be nice if you were to auto-fill that info in for the other two boys instead of having me have to start completely fresh every time. We don’t have one of our elementary school children in California and another in Idaho like I guess you assume most people do? We all live in the same house.

Once I was done with the longer-than-it-needed-to-be process of typing in the exact same information for three kids I was absolutely thrilled to see that when I actually tried to order pictures, I had to type in all that information again. Separately. Three times.

Apparently I was only ‘adding students’ to my new Lifetouch ‘My Rewards’ program that I thought was the start of the order process, but is actually not related to anything helpful about ordering pictures. You did offer me a ‘FREE Hi-Res Digital Image’ through my new My Rewards account that now remembers my boys’ names (but again, I feel I need to point out, does not transfer them through to the actual order process, which would be the only reason anyone would want your website to remember their kids’ names). I didn’t get the news about the amazing free Hi-Res image deal until after my purchase, and there does not seem to be any way to add it to my order now, so thanks for nothing, really. It’s OK, though. We’re really a Lo-Res family anyway. We get too Hi-Res and we might start to notice the mustard stains on their faces and shirts.

I also see that you have completely done away with that annoying family plan, where I got to pay less because I had more than two kids at the school. Thanks. I hated saving that money.

A half-hour later I clicked ‘complete order’ and logged off in disgust again this year. You have one of the only websites that makes people wish they were on the DMV’s website instead. Congratulations for that, I guess.

Then, moments later in my inbox, you made up for everything with your order summary email. I was thrilled to see that you thought enough of our relationship to include the following inspirational statement and handy link:

We're excited for your student's Picture Day! Click here for advice from kids on how to prepare for Picture Day!

I clicked here, and there was apparently supposed to be a video at the top of the page, and I’m sure it was adorable – probably super-cute kids giving hilariously precious advice to parents, like, “Make sure you feed your kids doughnuts on picture day, because doughnuts make you smile,” and stuff like that. I wouldn’t know, because the video failed to play. You can go ahead and make another note for your fifth grade IT guy.

Then came the five pearls of wisdom:

Use these tips to help your child get ready for a great-looking school portrait that you’ll treasure forever.

1) Help your child pick out clothes and colors that look good on them. After all, your child is the star of the photo—not their shirt, so avoid slogans, logos, and big patterns. Small jewelry and accessories are fine but nothing too big or distracting. Make sure to check your flyer to see sample poses for your Picture Day. Some poses may show pants or skirts, so plan the complete outfit.

Look, it’s either pick out the clothes for them, or get what you get. They can’t be involved in the decision making. Case in point would be that time you took a picture of Son Number Three wearing a T-shirt featuring a bear in full road leathers and gloves, riding a green motorcycle in front of a U.S. flag shaped like an outline of the United States. That ‘no logo’ advice would have been handy then.

And thanks for the pose advice. Where was this nugget a few years back when you had my kids sitting on a plastic “rock” that looked like a giant cow pie? I sent them to school in soccer shorts and your pictures ended up just showcasing all their knee injuries.

2) Glasses are okay! Lifetouch photographers know all the tricks to reduce glare.

So we should let Son Number Two wear his glasses on picture day? Thanks for the heads up. Now I feel like a jerk. A lot of those knee injuries were from trying to bike to school without his glasses that day.

3) Any hairstyle works for Picture Day. Schedule haircuts a few weeks ahead of time to allow hair to grow back a little, or you can go for a fresh-cut look.

I like how you give me so many options. One question, though. By ‘any hairstyle’ do you also mean bed head? Because bed head is by far our most common hair style for our boys on any given school day.

4) Keep kids relaxed and ready to be themselves. Smiles can look fake if they’re practiced ahead of time. Remember, smiles are like french fries—they’re better when they’re fresh.

I guess this sort of applies to Son Number Two. Son Number Three however, has never relaxed. Unless you want to take a picture of him sleeping, you’re going to have to deal with wild and crazy. And as far as Number One goes, no amount of relaxation or French fry jokes are going to help with his Chronic Forced Smile Disorder. The struggle with CFSD is real and we’re still looking for a treatment center.

5) Don’t worry about “perfect”! That hair that always sticks up or a missing tooth shows your child just as they are right now—and you’ll enjoy looking back on that for years to come. On Picture Day, teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture. And, if you like, we have retouching options for scrapes and blemishes.

Really? We’ll enjoy looking at bed head for years to come? Tell that to my wife. I’m not sure she’s buying it.

And teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture, huh? Hmm... I guess that might be true, but I think sometimes they might get sidetracked dealing with little Johnny making fart noises in line and blaming it on Suzy. Either way, could you do me a huge favor? When you look through the lens and see something other than collars or posture out of place – oh, I don’t know, like maybe food stuck to my son’s face - in two different places, I might add – could you maybe grab a wet wipe and help clean him up a tad. We’re not worrying about “perfect” over here, but we’re not going to send the grandparents a picture of our boy with an entire noodle from his macaroni and cheese stuck to his cheek.

And yes, I know all about the retouching options. I spent ten minutes clicking ‘no thanks’ to all of them before you’d let me order. I’m not willing to give you money to digitally edit out the mac ‘n cheese noodle. Napkins cost less. Let’s use them.

That’s it! Our experienced photographers are pros at making a fun and worry-free Picture Day.

OK, if you say so. Thanks for all the good advice. We’re excited about Picture Day, too.

I’m over here just giddy with anticipation. Good luck tomorrow.

All my best,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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