Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WiFi Would Be Gold

If you are reading this, then it’s too late. I have been taken against my will. Please send help. I have been hornswoggled. Tricked. Bamboozled. You are my only hope. I am being held at a place I only know as “Coloma.” I have been forced into labor. If it was simply manual labor that would be one thing, but this is something altogether more cruel and unusual. I am locked in a cabin full of fourth-graders, and apparently, I’m in charge.

What did I do to deserve this?

It’s my wife’s fault, really.

Our elementary school, for reasons known only to the staff, takes the entire fourth grade on a three-day, two-night excursion to a historic gold-mining camp every year. Apparently, the fact that Son Number One is a fourth-grader this year, and he was going off “on his own” for the first time, turns my wife into a wild, hysterical demon, with glowing red eyes, who grabs you simultaneously by the throat and the crotch and growls, “You must go,” in a unearthly voice so chilling it scares the crab cakes out of you.

I gave it a few days, and when the demon possession seemed to be ebbing slightly, I took the opportunity to point out that Son Number One could survive for at least three weeks in the wild completely on his own, and that it was only two nights, and that his teacher would be with him the whole time, along with many other adults, and that these people would be actually feeding him. It did nothing to ease her tensions. Something about him being her baby. I pointed out that Son Number Three was really the baby, and he was already six. Uh-oh. Glowing red eyes again.

So, what’s a guy to do? Volunteer, that’s what.

There was a fleeting ray of hope, however, in that there were a limited number of chaperon spots and my name would be entered into a lottery drawing. If my name was not chosen, it would be completely out of my hands… How come I never win the actual lottery drawing?

So I have been taken. Dragged behind a school bus full of unruly nine-year-olds. (Thank the Lord for small favors; at least I wasn’t in the bus.) Kidnapped and held in a place called Coloma. You may have actually heard of it. It’s the place where James Marshall first discovered gold in California at Sutter’s Mill in January of 1848, sparking a feverish gold rush that would culminate in the naming of a San Francisco football franchise with pendulum-like swings in the quarterback position.

Coloma is probably really nice in late October, and gaggle of fourth-graders aside, it could be a nice place to visit. Any other time, that is. I’m sure James Marshall was busy building the mill in October of 1847, and probably enjoying himself. Do you know why he didn’t mind staying in Coloma during October? Because there was no baseball World Series in 1847!

There is a World Series now, and my beloved San Francisco Giants happen to be in it. How often does that happen? (Actually, more often than you would think, these past few years. Isn’t that right, Dodger fans? Oh, sorry, sore subject…)

Back in October of 1847, James Marshall didn’t have cell reception in Coloma. Fast forward to 2014, and neither do I. Coloma, apparently, never really progressed much past 1849. I guess they have all been too busy looking for the rest of the gold over the years to focus on much else.

Now, as we know, Marshall didn’t care about cell reception because history tells us his iPhone was damaged during a river crossing months before. He never got it fixed because it would be about a hundred and sixty-two years before the first Apple Store Genius Bar would be built, and about a hundred and seventy years before they would help the first customer.

Also, he was busy building a sawmill, and besides, he really didn’t care because there was no World Series at the time. But I can assure you, if there had been a World Series, and the Giants had been in it, he would have been down in Sacramento where he could catch the game, gold or no gold.

He could leave. He was free. I am trapped, and the Giants might destroy Kansas City again tonight. I really want to watch that. Short of that, I really want to hear regular updates. They won’t let me leave the cabin. They say I have to stay here and look after all the kids for some reason.

Please send word of the game, however you can.

I think Coloma still accepts news via carrier pigeon, mule train, and pony express, so any of those would be great.

Go Giants!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Swear I Pray, I Swear

The Ebola virus in the United States? Are you kidding me?

When I first heard the news that the CDC was in charge of importing Ebola virus patients from Africa into the United States on purpose, I swore. Then I prayed.

Then I heard that someone flew into the U.S. from Africa on their own, and later went to a hospital in Texas and died from Ebola. More swearing and praying.

Then I saw pictures captured by a Dallas news helicopter of the Ebola victim’s apartment complex, showing their genius maintenance staff apparently cleaning his Ebola vomit off of the sidewalk. No hazmat suits whatsoever, and they were spraying the sidewalk with a PRESSURE WASHER!! Thanks, fellas, for not only probably infecting yourselves, but also for weaponizing the scary-ass virus into steamy aerosol form. Mostly swearing at that point.

Then I heard that his nurse in Texas has been confirmed as the first person to contract the Ebola virus inside the United States. Mostly praying. Some swearing.

In my lifetime I have heard a lot about the separation of church and state. I don’t consider that a big problem. Maybe we should concentrate more on a separation of stupidity and state, particularly when it comes to importing biblical-type plague diseases like the Ebola virus. Doctors Without Borders may not have any borders, as the name suggests, but countries do, and for a lot of really good reasons.

Forget the Ebola virus for a minute (if you can). I think we’re all taking this separation of church and state issue a little too seriously. Here’s my take on humanity: Everyone is somewhat religious. There is no such thing as an atheist.

Now, at this point, all the self-professed atheists are throwing up their hands and swearing at me. Upon hearing the swearing, any super-religious folks within earshot of the self-professed atheists are scowling in disapproval. Little do these people know, they have much more in common than they think.

Everyone prays and everyone swears.

Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it to you.

Ever seen that cop swing in behind you in your rearview mirror? Everyone’s praying.
See the blue lights come on? Everyone’s swearing.

How about golf? I know swearing and praying are almost mandatory in golf, but bear with me.
Ball hooks toward the houses – Ardent atheists are praying.
Hear the echoing “THWACK” of a Titleist hitting house siding – curse words will be universally muttered.
Want to hear those same curse words a little louder and clearer? Just listen closely for the distinctive tinkling sound of that golf ball going through a window.

Not compelling enough? OK, here’s the kicker.

Take the most dyed-in-the-wool atheist you can find, go to their house, and secretly clog their toilet. (Don’t ask me how, that’s up to you to figure out.)
Note: If your local atheist has a solar-powered, poop incinerating, waterless “eco-toilet” instead of the normal water-filled kind, please find another atheist.

The next time your atheist friend flushes that (standard) toilet, he or she will be praying like Tammy Faye Bakker in a room full of TV cameras as they watch the tainted water rise to within an eighth of an inch of the rim.

Now take Churchy LaRue, that sweet little old lady who sits in the front pew with her hands raised high in the air every Sunday. She will cuss like a sailor in a bar fight when that water keeps rising and crests the edge of the bowl.

There you have it. As far as the perceived need for a separation of church and state, and why the argument is overblown, the clogged toilet is the clearest Constitutional evidence offered to date. Seems fitting, doesn’t it?

As far as separation of stupidity and state. That’s pretty easy to solve. Just fire everyone in federal, state, and local government and start over.

As far as the Ebola virus goes, well… that actually might be the best (or worst) Constitutional evidence yet. Self-proclaimed atheist or not, I think as far as Ebola goes, we’d all better pray it doesn’t go far.

Then we’d better get on the phone to Washington, D.C. and start swearing at someone.

It wouldn’t hurt to send up a prayer for that nurse in Texas, too.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Facebook for Business?

Can someone please explain to me what we’re all doing on LinkedIn? It has been well over a year since I have worked in an actual business office, so I’m not really sure, but is LinkedIn still viewed as the acceptable business version of Facebook? If so, I think all you business-types might be fooling yourselves.

It looks respectable enough, I guess. Everyone’s wearing a business suit in their LinkedIn profile picture. On Facebook, everyone’s wearing a bathing suit and holding a margarita, so the natural boss/minion interactions might go something like this:

“What are you doing on your computer there, Jenkins?”
“Uh… just surfing Facebook, sir.”
“You’re fired, Jenkins. Get out.”

vs.

“What are you doing on your computer there, Jenkins?”
“I’m on LinkedIn, actively networking with current and potential clients, sir.”
“Good job leveraging social media for a synergistic win-win, Jenkins. Keep up the good work!”

I think Jenkins’ boss has it exactly backward. He should be encouraging Jenkins to spend time on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, because then Jenkins won’t have any time to be on LinkedIn. Jenkins’ boss doesn’t seem to understand that LinkedIn, the “World’s Largest Professional Network” is really the world’s largest simultaneous job search. The only reason Jenkins has a LinkedIn account is so someone at a better company than the annoying one he works for now might offer him a job.

Of course, maybe Jenkins’ boss does understand, and he’s on LinkedIn for the same reason. He’s sick and tired of Jenkins and his other annoying minions, and he wants to be the boss of cooler employees at a company with a better 401k matching program, more comfortable conference room chairs, and coffee that doesn’t taste like crap. Don’t kid yourself.

But how trustworthy is LinkedIn as a staffing tool? Are the member profiles (resumes) accurate? I’m here to tell you, probably not. That’s because ever since I joined LinkedIn, people have been endorsing my skills.

Just yesterday I got an email notification congratulating me that one of my “first-degree connections” had endorsed me for one of my skills. The skill he endorsed: Engineering.

“Congratulations, Marc. Endorsements help show what you’re great at.”

Well, that may be true, or it may be a load of crap. In this case, it was a load of crap. I’m not saying I don’t have any engineering skills. I have one or two. What I’m saying is that I went to high school with this guy. I have literally not seen him since then. We have not kept in touch at all. And as far as I can remember, I was a crappy excuse for a professional engineer when I was in high school. Yet, here on this professional business networking site, he announced to the free world that I am great at engineering. How the hell would he know?

He might as well have endorsed my skills as a submarine driver, or a catapult operator. “No one hurls pots of hot flaming oil over the castle walls like Marc Schmatjen. He’s simply the best flaming oil catapult operator I’ve ever worked with. And don’t even get me started on his mad skills with a trebuchet!”

Our moms know each other, so maybe my mom was bragging to his mom over coffee about what a spectacular engineer I used to be, and how woeful she is about my new career choice as a writer, and how worried she is that her grandkids will starve. Somehow, word got back to him from his mom that I used to be a great engineer, and I’m in need of some encouragement. Who knows?

If that’s the case, then basically his endorsement amounts to, “His mom thinks he’s good at this.”

Think about that next time you’re browsing for your next sales professional.

The brain trust at LinkedIn seems to be trying to make it more of a “networking and bonding” site, so they’re adding fun stuff like links to business articles and seminars. Wow. Way to really pump up the old excitement factor there, LinkedIn.

They also gave birth to a fun way to keep us all engaged. Every month I get an email like this: “Congratulate Bob on his work anniversary! Bob has been with Ferguson’s Widget Factory twelve years this October. Say happy work anniversary!”

Why? Why would I do that to Bob? No one wants to be reminded of how long they’ve been at their dead-end job, especially not Bob, the widget factory middle manager.

Are you really trying to make it more of a social networking site, guys? Here’s a tip… No one bonds over case studies or articles on market share. And since it’s a giant job search in the first place, no one puts anything fun in their profile. Here’s an example of a LinkedIn profile description:

Results-oriented business development guru with over 25 years of experience implementing leading edge concepts and strategic sales and marketing initiatives, improving brand positioning, increasing revenue, capturing market share, expanding customer base, and thinking win-win outside the box.

No one is bonding and “networking” over that crap. It was written in hopes of getting a better job, and only it only gets read when looking for someone to fill that better job. Do you know what it should say? “I once ate seventeen hotdogs in one sitting, I think the designated hitter rule should be outlawed, and I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.”

“Now, that’s a guy who would be fun at the company picnic. Hire him. We’ll teach him how to sell our widgets.”

Do you really want to network and bond with people? Go to Facebook. People bond over sports victories, pictures of food and alcohol, and videos of people getting hit in the nuts. Plain and simple. It may not be right, but that’s how it is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go log back on to LinkedIn and update my profile. In addition to submarine driver and catapult operator, I’m going to add “Money Manager” as one of my skills. If enough people testify to how great I am at it, maybe people will start sending me their money.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's a Good Day for Breakfast

Yesterday morning was a little strange. There we were, yawning and stretching, getting ready to start our day, just like any other. I was watching Good Day Sacramento, our local morning show, when Mark S. Allen jumped out of a news truck and announced he was on our street. He had a chef with him and they were ready to cook some lucky family breakfast.

I yelled to the kids, “Go, go, go! We have to be the first ones out the door to shout “Breakfast at my place!”

The kids said, “Huh?”

I yelled, “Just go!”

My wife yelled, “What are you yelling about!?”

I yelled back, “Good Day is here and they want to cook us breakfast!”

She yelled, “Huh?”

I screamed, “I don’t know… There’s a news van outside and they want to cook someone breakfast. Mark S. Allen just told us to run out and shout ‘Breakfast at my place!’”

She yelled, “Why are we yelling?”

I said, “I don’t know. I’m just excited. Let me calm down for a minute.”

Meanwhile, the three boys were already out the door and down the street claiming our free breakfast. I love them so much.

When my wife had fully processed the situation and saw Mark and Steve the cameraman coming toward our house, she looked back at me and began yelling again. “You’re bringing a camera into our house!?”

“No,” I said in a soothing voice, pointing at Steve. “That guy is.”

“Are you crazy!?” she yelled, “This house is a mess!”

“Are you crazy?” I responded. “Free food!!”

You see, this is one of the main differences between men and women. Back before cell phones and toilet paper, men and women had distinct roles. Men were in charge of the hunting and gathering, and women were in charge of keeping the cave livable, raising the children, and criticizing what the men brought home. After we all moved out of the caves and wolf attacks became less of a problem, those roles evolved. The man’s position as “hunter/gatherer” changed to become “dejected mid-level corporate manager,” and the woman’s role actually did not change at all.

Nowadays, no matter what modern roles we take on, those primal instincts are still with us. Take me and my wife yesterday morning as an example. We have switched traditional roles. She is now the underappreciated breadwinner and I am in charge of the cave and the three little cave people. Yet, when faced with a very primal situation, our true hardwired nature kicked in:

Situation - There is free food just outside our door.
My reaction – Go tackle it.
My wife’s reaction – “I don’t want all of the greater Sacramento area to see the inside of this house that you are failing to keep spotless! What if they come into the kitchen?”

“I think they’re going to have to come into the kitchen if they’re going to make us breakfast.”

“I really don’t appreciate this.”

See what I mean. True hardwired nature.

It was too late for my wife’s objections to matter, anyway. A storm front of energy in a suit and tie named Mark S. Allen was making his way into our house with our three boys in tow, followed by Steve the cameraman and Jesus “Chewy” Chavez, the owner/executive chef from Chewy’s Restaurant in Sacramento.

Any misgivings my wife may have had soon faded away. Great things began to happen immediately upon the invasion of our home. Chewy unloaded an entire restaurant of food onto our kitchen counters and began using our stove for a previously unknown purpose: making delicious breakfast. Honey Nut Cheerios do not require using the stove, so we had no idea. Chewy is a culinary genius. I love him.

In between hovering over Chewy and getting interviewed in the kitchen, we continued to watch Good Day Sacramento in the living room. It turned out there was another CBS news crew from Sacramento in our sleepy town of Rocklin that same morning. A man on the other side of town had gotten drunk and barricaded himself inside his home, possibly with weapons.

For some reason, my wife felt the need to go outside every once in a while to explain to our neighbors and anyone passing by that the deranged drunk man in Rocklin was not me. We only had a news van in front of our house for breakfast. And also, would any of the ladies like to come in and meet Mark S. Allen. I’m not sure why she felt like she needed to assure people that I wasn’t drunk at seven o’clock in the morning, or why she kept talking about Mark S. Allen and using his full name, but she did.

Speaking of Mark S. Allen, he spun around our kitchen and living room like a tornado of professional entertainment. He radiated pure energy. He sang. He danced. He played the William Tell Overture by flicking his fingers on a Number 2 pencil that he held between his teeth. (I am not making that up.) It was hard to look at him sometimes because he was glowing white-hot with awesomeness. At one point, Chewy ran out of burners on the stove and actually heated up some tortillas on Mark’s head.

I could see my wife visibly falling in love with him. I couldn’t really blame her, though. I was falling in love with him, too, after he managed to accomplish something in five minutes that I have not been able to do for ten years: he figured out how to make our children quiet. It turns out all you have to do is put a camera and a microphone in their face and they shut right up. If I had known that I would have bought a camera and microphone years ago.

Then we ate. And ate. And ate. Steve filmed us while we ate and Mark tried to interview us while we ate, but Chewy’s breakfast was so good we ignored them both. I was actually deep in thought about how to kidnap Chewy and keep him in my kitchen, but the show was live, so I figured it wouldn’t work.

When they had enough footage of us eating in silence, it was time to end the show. Mark had his work cut out for him on the closing segment as Steve filmed us waving goodbye on the driveway. Between the boys’ apparent camera-shyness, and the food coma we were all fighting off after devouring Chewy’s amazing breakfast, it was hard to get anything else out of the boys.

Mark asked Son Number Two how he would describe the morning, and my normally eloquent, well-read middle child responded, “Good.” Ever the tenacious reporter, he did not want to end on that lukewarm note, so he asked Son Number One to elaborate. Number One was able to stir from his impending nap just long enough to respond “Best breakfast we’ve ever had at our house.”

Ouch, man.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I totally agree, but let’s not announce that to the world on television.

Thanks again Mark S. Allen and Chewy. I love you both.

Steve the cameraman, let’s just be friends.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let's Keep Mom Happy, Boys

My wife scares me sometimes. Normally it’s just when she’s driving, but last night was an entirely different kind of fear. You see, I’ve never needed to dispose of a body, but last night my wife changed that.

She arrived home from Costco and asked for our help out on the driveway to unload the car. While the kids were busy struggling to move the fifty-five gallon drum of laundry soap and the five-gallon pails of peanut butter into the house, my wife was nudging me with her elbow and speaking in whispered code about the “item” in the trunk.

When I went to investigate she hissed “Not yet!” at me with a look in her eyes that made me shiver. I found myself glancing nervously up and down the street, afraid one of the neighbors might become suspicious.

What is in the trunk?” I whispered through my teeth while deliberately not making eye contact and trying to appear as if I was just inspecting one of our drought-stricken bushes.

We’ll talk later,” she whispered back, sternly. “We have to wait until it gets dark.”

OK, now I’m more than a little nervous. My flight instinct is in full gear. I want to run, but I can’t leave the kids. Must stay calm.

After an hour or so of my mind and pulse racing with all possible scenarios running through my head, we put the kids to bed. I kissed them each on the forehead and said a little prayer that I might get to see them again. Who knows what this night will bring?

Back downstairs on wobbly legs, I nervously followed my mysterious and scary wife out to the car. As she popped the trunk latch I instinctively flinched. And there he was.

“What did you do!?” I half yelled.

“Keep your voice down! The neighbors might hear.” She shot back. “It was on sale. I couldn’t help it. It’s for Christmas.”

There, taking up every cubic inch of air space in our Toyota Camry’s trunk, was the largest teddy bear I have ever seen. It was easily twice as big as my mother.

“Christmas!? It’s September. I have to hide this thing??? They already have two hundred stuffed animals, and you bought one that is bigger than all of them put together?”

“They saw it last time we were at Costco, and they loved it,” she said.

“Doesn’t Costco sell anything that’s normal size? It’s bad enough that I have to have a ten-quart plastic barrel of mayonnaise, but do they have to sell teddy bears the size of Smart cars, too?”

“Oh, relax. It’s not that big.”

“Not that big!? You couldn’t fit a breath of fresh air into this trunk with this thing. Did you have to remove the spare tire to get it in there?”

“OK, OK, just help me get it out.”

Just like a typical Tuesday night in New Jersey, there we were, pulling the body out of the trunk. I got him under the arms and she took the legs, and we moved him into the garage.

“OK,” she said, slightly out of breath after we’d gotten him up on the workbench. “Now just bag him up and hide him.”

I have fifty-gallon black plastic garbage bags that I use in the fall. They are massive. I got them at Costco. You can fit all the leaves from a medium-sized tree into one bag. I opened one of them and wrestled it over the bear’s head. When it was completely down over the top of him, it only came to his waist. There were two furry legs sticking out the bottom like a back alley crime scene in Disneyland’s Critter Country.

“What do we do now?” I asked. “He doesn’t fit.”

“Well, honey, it’s simple. Normally you just cut off their legs, but in this case, we are keeping him, so you just need to fold him up a little.” She then proceeded to fold, stuff, lie on, and seal up the garbage bag, with a very compressed giant Costco bear inside. “See, there you go.”

“What do you mean, ‘Normally you just cut their legs off..’?” I asked.

“Never mind,” she said, glancing away. “Just stuff him in the back of the closet, OK?”

“Anything you say, honey. I love you so much!”

I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t digging a hole in the middle of the night by the glow of a Lincoln Town Car’s headlights, but that whole thing left me a little on edge.

Merry Christmas, boys. Don’t ever do anything to anger your mom.

I think I’ll try to learn how to sleep with my eyes open.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Dictionary Stinks

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly and formally apologize to Hunter and Sabrina, two of Son Number Three’s first-grade classmates.


Dear Hunter and Sabrina,

While volunteering in your classroom last week I inadvertently contributed to setting back your education, and for that, I am truly sorry. This is especially painful and embarrassing for me, as a professional author and writer, because I misled you about the veracity of a word that you both so brilliantly came up while completing a “words that rhyme” worksheet. There can be no excuse for my ineptitude while trying to help with a first grade English lesson.

I was wrong. There is no other way to put it. I was just plain wrong. Apparently SHAT is a word. You were supposed to come up with three words that rhymed with CAT, and I made you both erase SHAT and come up with a different word, telling each of you, “That’s not a word” in the process. My sincerest apologies for the error.

I feel as though I should explain the reason for my error, since I will be volunteering in your class every week and I want you to trust my judgment in the future. You see, I have an old-fashioned paper dictionary here at home. I know, right? What a fossil. My archaic book of words doesn’t include profanity, so while I might have been able to help conjugate the verb DEFECATE, or identify the noun EXCREMENT, I just wasn’t up to date on all the different tenses of the word SHIT.

On a whim the other day, I looked up the word SHAT on the internet - the place where you will get all of your knowledge in your lifetime - and lo and behold, there it was. I found it on both the websites of the major dictionaries – Oxford and Merriam-Webster. Did you know that they used to print big paper copies of their dictionaries? Crazy, huh? The paper copies were really hard to change, so for a long time, all of us adults just spoke and wrote Standard English. Well, we don’t have to worry about all that foolishness anymore!

Both the Oxford Dictionary (Ironic tagline: “Language Matters”) and the Merriam-Webster (Archaic tagline: “An Encyclopedia Britannica Company”) listed our new favorite word SHAT as “the past tense and past participle of shit.”

So, according to two incredibly reputable online sources, “My fat cat shat rat scat on the mat” is a completely legitimate sentence. If only Dr. Seuss had been alive for this news.

You guys are so fortunate. They can add new words at any time now. Words like TWERK and AMAZEBALLS and ADORBS have just recently been added. You have no idea how lucky you are. Us oldsters had a standard boring language that we all agreed upon and could understand. You guys can just make up new words any time you want. That is SCHWEEEEET. I just made that word up. I like it. I think I’ll add it to your dictionary. You’re welcome.

This language breakthrough, fueled by the ease of amending and updating an online dictionary, is rooted in a new and innovative principle. Apparently now, as long as enough people who don’t own paper dictionaries agree that a word means something, then it’s a word. How amazeballs is that? It just makes me want to twerk!

Not only are they conveniently adding words for you all the time, but words can change meaning now, too. Adorbs! This will alleviate a lot of stress for folks like me who actually like words. For instance, I have been hearing people misuse the word LITERALLY literally my whole life. When I heard someone say “My head is literally going to explode,” I used to duck and cover. Now I totally don’t have to worry about getting brains on me, because the folks at Oxford and Merriam-Webster are changing it for us! Yep, LITERALLY is being revised to mean both LITERALLY and FIGURATIVELY. Woo hoo! Why would they do this, you might ask? The explanation is simple and totally rational. “If enough people use it in a certain (wrong) way, then that’s what it means.”

Like I said, you guys are sooooo lucky to have thinkers like that in charge of the language now. I am literally green with envy. Seriously, literally. No… the other one.

I will try to keep up with all the new words as I continue to help out with your educations, and again, I sincerely apologize for the whole SHAT incident. One thing is for sure. Your rhyming assignments just got a whole lot easier. All you have to do now is just add letters in front of the root sound and you’re in business. Your teacher and I don’t think STMAT is a word? No problem. Just get all the rest of the first-graders to agree that it is and bam! Aced that worksheet!

In fact, I noticed that many of you really like to leave out some or all of the vowels when you spell our “traditional” words, but us pesky adults keep correcting you. Don’t stand for it any longer! Get all your friends on the same page and then let the teachers know that the Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries will be listing WTR as an acceptable alternative spelling of WATER any day now.

With the dictionaries constantly changing to stay hip to your new groove, your education will be a breeze. In no time flat you will have aced high school and college and be living the dream. Spending all your days having a swm parts, splashng n the wtr at the pul, and lang n the sn.

Good luck with your continued education,

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soccer Season, Again

We are in our fifth (and hopefully final) soccer season as parents. I can say with all honesty that I am not the type of parent who seeks to reenact the sports glory days of my youth through my own children. Mostly because that would be unfair to them, but also because I was a mediocre athlete as a kid and never really had many “glory days” to speak of anyway.

I will leave their sports glory, or lack thereof, up to them, but I will definitely choose their sports for them. More to the point, I want to choose what sports they don’t play. Soccer, specifically. We are graciously allowing them to play soccer while they are young, mostly out of a mixture of fairness and stupidity. We foolishly let Son Number One play soccer when he was five or six, not realizing how detrimental children’s soccer can be. Not for the players, mind you, but for the parents.

We won’t let them play football due to the high potential for player injury, but we really need to limit soccer for the high potential of parental heart failure. When Son Number One played his first game back in the fall of 2010, I nearly had three heart attacks and a stroke in the span of forty-five minutes.

The stress wasn’t due to too much excitement. It was just the opposite. It was from the very justifiable expectation of excitement followed immediately by absolutely nothing happening. The ball would get right up to the goal line and then seemingly every player would simply stop playing. No matter how much or how loud us helpful parents yelled “KICK IT!!!” no one would kick it. It was gut-wrenching and heart-stopping to come so close to a goal, only to have everyone stop and not kick it into the goal. And it happened over and over and over. And over.

We should have just stopped after the first season, but again, we were idiots. Son Number Two was eagerly waiting his turn to play, and we were weak and just couldn’t bring ourselves to say no. (We kick ourselves now for that moment of lily-livered parenting.) So when soccer season (or the dark times, as it is known around our house) arrived the next year, Number One and Two were both playing on different teams. If we thought one soccer season was bad, two at once was excruciating.

Son Number Two’s team continued the rich tradition of painful inaction in front of the goal, but Son Number One’s team brought us a new frustration. They had graduated to a much larger field, and while the players were a little more aggressive and skilled near the goal, they almost never got there. The field was so large, ninety percent of the game was spent passing the ball back and forth from one team to another out in the middle of the four-acre Bermuda grass rectangle of despair. “PASS IT TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!” we yelled helpfully. They did not.

Early on in his second season, Son Number One showed us a glimmer of hope. Not hope of making soccer more palatable for his parents, but of us possibly being able to get out of this mess. He gave us a light at the end of our long, dark soccer tunnel. Thankfully, Number One was born with my inherent laziness. Given the choice between motion and rest, ninety-eight percent of the time he will choose rest. He did not like the big field at all. He was quoted by his coach as saying, “You know, Coach, I don’t really like to run, so if you could put me on defense or at goalie, that would be great.”

This was good news and we nurtured it. “Boy, that field sure is large, isn’t it, son. It’s waaaay bigger than last year. Must be hard to run all the way up and all the way back every time. I’ll bet you’re tired! I know I would be. You know, the field will be even bigger when you move up again next season. Think ya wanna play again next year?”

There was no way he was going to opt for a third season. The parents shoot… they score! Unfortunately, while we were happily listening to Son Number One complain about being tired, his gung-ho younger brother, Number Two, seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously out on the pitch. Uh-oh.

Youth sports are not a one-way street. It is not “all about the kids,” as some positive coaching organizations want you to believe. Youth sports are somewhat about children learning skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship, but mostly about what the parents are able to handle. We just couldn’t afford to go through heart attack and stroke-inducing soccer for any longer than absolutely necessary, so we needed to act fast to discourage Son Number Two. We saw our opening with Son Number One and took it.

New family rule: Each child gets to play soccer for two years and then it’s on to swimming and/or baseball. That way, dad should still be around to enjoy it all.

Kids are not really deep philosophical thinkers – at least, my kids aren’t – so they don’t tend to question their lives too much as long as everything seems fair to them. “I’m forced to do manual labor all weekend? Well, OK, as long as my brothers have to also.” So Son Number Two fell right into line with the soccer moratorium. He played his two years and hung up his cleats at the ripe old age of six, just like his older brother. Did he want to play longer? I never asked him and I don’t care. Like I said, youth sports are a two-way street, and my arteries have the right of way.

I’ve had a few scares that just turned out to be indigestion from the snack bar food, but luckily no actual heart attacks yet. Son Number Three is now in his second (final) soccer season, out on the big field, so my heart just has to stay strong for two more months and we can all move on with our lives. Please keep me in your prayers.

“PASS THE BALL TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!!”

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alaska, Part II

My wife and I are back from Alaska, and someone seems to have sabotaged our house while we were away. Everything is swaying back and forth. My parents stayed with our boys for the week while we were away on our amazing adventure at a floating fishing lodge. When we returned I tried to ask my folks if they felt the swaying also, but they were too busy running out the door to listen to me, yelling over their shoulders something about being tricked and never spending an entire week with all three of our boys ever again. Hmm… they looked tired.

I just assumed our boys would behave better for their grandparents than they do for us. I guess I was wrong. I had all sorts of assumptions about our Alaska trip before we left, and they all turned out to be wrong, too. For instance, the fishing lodge we went to had very strict luggage limitations, complete with a pre-printed packing list. I had assumed that the reason they were only allowing me to bring two pairs of pants had something to do with weight limits on the float plane. I was wrong. I now understand that the lodge sets clothing limits because they are helpful and kind. They want to help minimize the amount of your wardrobe you will lose when you inevitably set fire to your luggage once you’re home.

Burning your clothes is the only proven method to eliminate the stench infused in them after five days of salmon fishing in an 18-foot boat. You see, fishing on the ocean in Alaska is brutal and messy. I assumed our once-in-a-lifetime trip would be a lot more like a relaxing vacation, but I was wrong. Our days were filled with slipping, slamming, flopping, cutting, bruising, stabbing, and bleeding. And that was just trying to get the bait on the hook. You should have seen what happened once a fish was actually in the boat!

I had also assumed, based on all the talk about how many fish we were sure to catch, that catching said fish would be easy. I was wrong. Before arriving, I just figured you would put the line in the water, move the boat forward, and fish from all over the surrounding ocean would come to you. Not so. It turns out you are supposed to know where they are, using something called “local knowledge,” and you have to actually take the boat to them, and you are supposed to know what they are thinking based on a whole host of considerations.

Factors that affect where the fish are and how and why they might eat your bait include, but are not limited to: tides, currents, water depth contours, kelp, lure color, spinning lure accessories, spinning lure accessory color, spinning lure accessory spin rate, bait freshness, whale activity, boat speed relative to current speed, and direction of boat travel. We were also told later in the week that it was important to make sure your bait and lures were actually underwater, down where the fish are, and not skipping across the top of the water while you eat a sandwich, drink a beer, and look for whales. So many technical considerations.

All the other people who were staying at the lodge seemed to know all this beforehand, but I was the fishing equivalent of a hunter all decked out in camouflage with a deer rifle, wandering around the inside of a Macy's department store wondering why he’s not seeing any big bucks.

After re-watching the lodge’s orientation video a few times, my wife and I finally figured it out and started catching a lot of salmon. (Unfortunately, it was on the last day of our trip.) Apart from salmon tips, the video also explained how to operate the harpoon when landing a halibut. I had assumed I would not need to harpoon anything while in Alaska, but again, I was wrong. Sort of. You see, I am male, so naturally I have wanted to harpoon something since I first heard the word harpoon as a small child. My interest in harpooning something grew exponentially when I found out what a harpoon actually was. However, since I didn’t grow up in a family of 16th century Dutch whalers, I never had too many opportunities. I did try to harpoon my older sister once with a full-sized shovel when I was five, but I only hit her in the thumb, and I forgot to attach a rope, so she got away.

On day three, exhausted from hearing everyone else’s amazing salmon catching stories, my wife and I tried halibut fishing. This required an entirely new set of considerations, mostly revolving around how to keep the boat over the same spot on the bottom while being pushed and blown all over the place by the tide and the wind up on top. Fortunately, the boat was equipped with about $10,000 worth of navigation and sonar equipment that proved to be absolutely no help with this task. We finally decided that the only way it would work was if I just drove the boat in reverse while she fished. I was fine with that though, because I knew if she did catch a halibut, I would be the one to get to harpoon it.

After about forty-five minutes of my wife questioning me on why I was unable to keep the boat in one place, and me trying to explain to her why the earth/moon azimuths were working against me, not to mention the severe tidal friction, she finally hooked into the big one. Two hundred feet straight down, Moby Halibut was on the other end of her line. She fought and reeled for what seemed like hours as I scrambled around the deck readying the harpoon. The harpoon’s detachable razor-sharp steel tip was attached to a sturdy rope, tied on the other end to an orange float buoy, in case the monster got away from you once harpooned, he wouldn’t be able to swim too far, just like when they attached the barrels to Jaws.

Up came the denizen from the deep, and in went the harpoon, just behind the pectoral fin, just as the video had shown. He thrashed and flipped and gnashed, but he was no match for the mighty seagoing duo of Mr. and Mrs. Alaska Tourism Board. We finally wrestled him into the boat, and after ten minutes or so of figuring out where we were, we raced back to the lodge to offload the beast. Back at the dock I was beaming with pride.

Me - “Did you see where I harpooned it? Just like the video, right? Nailed it!”
Johnny the deck hand – “Yeah. Good placement, but… uh… why did you harpoon it?”
Me – “I thought you were supposed to.”
Johnny – “No, not really. I mean, it’s fine, we just really only use the harpoon for the big ones.”
Me – “This isn’t a big one?”
(Sound of the entire Alaskan fishing lodge crew laughing)

Apparently, Moby Halibut was only seventeen pounds. A “harpoon-worthy” halibut in Alaska is closer to one hundred pounds. Basically, I harpooned a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich.

I don’t care. It was awesome.

Another assumption I had made was a long-standing one, and not related to the trip specifically. I had always assumed that my wife was a nice, kind-hearted person. No so. At least, not under certain circumstances in Alaska. When we were catching big Coho salmon, many fish were lost due to poorly set hooks. They fight and thrash like crazy, so getting them into the boat can be challenging, and given the high skill level required to actually find them and hook them in the first place, losing them was more than mildly defeating.

So there I was, happily living my life one sunny morning, smiling under the assumption that I knew my wife, until I accidentally missed netting one of her salmon, sending him jumping and thrashing away from the boat. He was still hooked, but my beautiful wife began swearing at me like an angry, drunken longshoreman. I tried to calm her down by pointing out that he was still hooked and we hadn’t lost him yet, and I even reminded her of how well I had harpooned the halibut, but she just told me to shut my #@!&* and %$#!@ and net her $@!#& fish this time. Alaska is no place for the tame. (Or for children, if you happen to miss netting one of my wife’s fish.)

Hmm… I really liked it up there, but I’m glad to be back on dry land, even if it is still moving around a little. My wife hardly ever swears at me here at home. Any assumptions I may have made about her being sweet, I surely had made the reverse assumptions when envisioning the staff of an Alaskan fishing lodge. Before arriving I had imagined a team of gruff, surly, smelly seadogs, barking orders and generally being salty, since all Alaskan fishermen are obviously like the crabbers on Deadliest Catch. I was wrong yet again.

The folks at the Sea Otter Sound Lodge are some of the nicest people on planet Earth.

At least I think they are. I never accidentally missed netting one of their fish. Who knows what they might be like then?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alaska

I am going to Alaska for a week and I’m only allowed to bring two pairs of pants. They are apparently very strict in Alaska about what you can and can’t bring with you. They gave us a packing list that we must follow to the letter. All of our clothes must fit into a 10” x 17” x 24” carry-on. Thankfully they are allowing me to bring five pairs of underwear, but that’s it. Not one pair more!

I guess maybe it’s not really the whole state of Alaska that is regulating my wardrobe. I think the list actually came from the fishing lodge. My wife’s folks are taking us to an all-inclusive fishing resort in southeastern Alaska. “Southeastern Alaska” is another way of saying, “the funny little hanging down part on the right side of Alaska that is really basically just the western coast of Canada.” So really, my wife’s folks are taking us to western British Columbia, so we should be able to get good strong beer but we don’t need our passports.

Whoever it is that is telling me I can only bring five pairs of socks, I think they are possibly concerned about the float plane. They are not the only ones. We fly on Alaska Airlines into Ketchikan, which is located on the southern tip of the U.S. portion of western British Columbia, Canada, where we will spend the night. In the morning, as the fishing lodge’s brochure tells us, a float plane will pick us up at our hotel. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I must assume our hotel is floating on a wharf in the middle of a large body of water. I can’t wait to sleep there. The float plane then takes us directly to the floating fishing lodge. Yes, the entire fishing lodge is also floating. Apparently everything in Alaska has to float. That could be why they limit the amount of pants you bring to their state. Too much heavy luggage and the entire state could go under.

Float plane… Hmm… The only parts of the float plane trip I am really worried about are the takeoff, the flight itself, and the landing. Everything else should be fine. A float plane is basically a fuselage with boat parts and plane parts that is not good at being either a boat or a plane. Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, I’m all for adventure and everything, and life is about taking risks, but let’s face it; you’re going to try to take off from and land this thing on the ocean. Do you know what a concrete runway never does? It never goes up and down. Do you know what never jumps up in front of planes taking off and landing on concrete runways? Humpback whales, that’s what.

As far as the flight itself goes, the boat parts of the float plane do absolutely nothing to help the plane fly once it’s in the air. In fact, they create quite a bit of what pilots call “drag.” Too much extra weight - let’s say from carry-on luggage containing excessive amounts of pants and underwear - and that drag can become a problem, causing the pilots to do something they call “swearing,” and something else they call “ditching.” You do not want to be in the same plane as a pilot who is saying the word “ditch” or anything through his teeth that rhymes with it.

I am thinking only of my children. I am not personally scared of float planes, or of any other type of obviously dangerous multi-use craft that appear to be the unholy spawn of a drunken hookup between Boeing and Boston Whaler. I am far too manly for that. The thing is, there is a very minute chance that something could go horribly, horribly wrong with the virtually foolproof task of removing a top-heavy catamaran from the choppy, wavy ocean at high speed using a propeller and wings, flying that boat in the air for miles and miles over a large, wide island that you cannot land on even if you wanted to, and then putting it safely back down in the whale-infested ocean. I mean, I’m sure it will all go fine, but on the off chance it doesn’t, I would simply prefer not to orphan our children in one fell swoop if we can avoid it. So I’ll try to get separate float plane trips for me and my wife, but if we have to fly together, I will personally go through each passenger’s 10” x 17” x 24” bag and count their pants.

My wife, on the other hand, was never worried about the float plane ride. (At least, not until now.) Since we’re talking about Alaska, and we’re talking about my wife, naturally she was worried about bears. She heard “Alaska” and thought, “No way. Too many bears.” Then she heard “floating lodge” and changed her mind. No problem! We’re out in the water. Bears can’t get us. Let’s go!

I heard “floating lodge,” took one look at the aerial photograph on the website (no doubt taken from a flying catamaran of death), and noticed that the lodge was in fact floating in a nice, protected horseshoe bay, but it was only twenty or thirty feet from the shore on one side. It might have even had a little gangplank.

I didn’t bother to mention to my wife that not only can bears swim really well anyway, they could probably walk to the lodge. I want her to come with us.

Neither of us have ever been to Alaska, and we’re looking forward to it. After looking at a map, it turns out it’s pretty big. I have relatives who live there, (in the real Alaska, not western B.C.), and when we were invited to come along on the fishing trip, my first thought was, “Hey, cool, maybe we can go see my cousins.” Then I looked on a map and realized that was like living in Florida, going to Wisconsin on vacation, and while you were there, trying to swing by California to visit someone.

Maybe we can catch a quick ride over to see them on the float plane.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School Again

I cannot express to you how happy I am today. There are not good enough words in the English language to describe it. Did I win the lottery multi-million dollar jackpot, you ask? No, I’m happier than that.

The boys went back to school yesterday. For the stay-at-home dad, that’s like heroin.

I am back to having a full six hours per day without kids. I am about to be the most productive human ever to have lived. Do you know why Thomas Edison was such a prolific inventor and had over one thousand patents? Because there were no kids in his workshop.

We had a whirlwind summer full of travel and goofing off, and we were actually at our own house for only about twenty minutes since school got out in June. We had a good time, and for the most part the kids were self-entertaining everywhere we went. Then it all fell apart when we came home and my wife selfishly went back to work two weeks ago.

There I was. In our unfamiliar home with three boys looking expectantly at me, asking me questions like, “Where are we going now?” and “Which one is our room again?” and “Are you sure this is our house?”

“Yes, this is our house. Now go play, I have work to do in my office.”

“We’re bored. There’s nothing to do here.”

“We have almost all the Legos in North America in our game room. Go build something.”

“Oh, yeah, we forgot about the game room!”

And so began the most impressive two-week Lego building extravaganza the world has ever seen. Morning to night, the three little elves were in their workshop, creating everything imaginable. Everything imaginable, that is, by my nine, eight, and six-year-old, which seems to consist mostly of castles, spaceships, and dragons. They built and built until there was an intergalactic feudal space kingdom plagued by a nasty dragon problem that covered every flat surface in a room the size of a three-car garage. 

There were epic battles, too. Not between Lego figures and monsters, mind you, but between my three sons. We have approximately two hundred little Lego men, but everyone only wanted the one guy. We have approximately nine hundred pounds of Lego bricks, but everyone only wanted the one piece.

I tried to get work done, but at the end of the two weeks, I had written about three and a half sentences, and two and a half of them were crap. I had also broken up at least two hundred fights and refereed two thousand arguments. Is nine thirty in the morning too early to start drinking? Not in the final two weeks of summer!

After much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and several trips to “Daddy’s aisle” at the grocery store, Meet the Teacher Day finally arrived on Monday. I dragged each boy to his respective classroom and apologized in advance for the entire school year, begging the teachers to let them stay no matter what might happen.

“I just need them out of the house,” I told their teachers, with wild desperation in my eyes.

“We know,” they said, with the gray-white pallor of impending doom showing on their faces. “We know.”

As I was doing the happy dance at the school drop-off yesterday, I found that, strangely, many of the moms had a different take on a childless house than I do. While some of them shared my elation, a lot of the ladies were outwardly sad that they would be going home to an empty house. Since I had no possible way of understanding that emotion, I was not able to comfort them in any way. I was only able to shout, “WoooooHoooo,” and I don’t think that helped. Sadness about sending the kids off to school is strictly an emotion of the female gender. At the prospect of time without children, ALL dads will jump for joy. No exceptions. “I love you kids, but get out. Come back for dinner.”

After the kids had all gone to class and I had finished my happy dance, I made my way to the school’s front office. I went in to question them as to why the elementary school day is only six hours, and what we could do to bump it up to eight or ten.

They didn’t seem willing to work with me on that. They just asked me if I thought eight o’clock in the morning was too early for them to start drinking.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge (Sadly) Declined

I received two notices yesterday. The first was from my cousin, publicly calling me out on Facebook to take the Ice Bucket Challenge, or #IceBucketChallenge for all you hashtag-inclined folks out there. This is a semi-viral phenomenon going around the interwebs, where you film yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, which of course raises awareness and money for ALS research. This drenching practice started about five seconds after the semi-viral internet phenomenon of setting yourself on fire was invented, but I’m not quite sure how it became related to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Anyway, once you are done giving yourself an external ice cream headache, you name other people who must take the challenge and/or immediately donate to ALS research.

I was all set to get out my Home Depot bucket and raid the icemaker when I unfortunately received the second notice. This one was in the form of a letter from the Placer County Water Agency. They told me – in bold print, no less – that due to the extreme drought conditions here in California, The State Water Resources Control Board (emphasis here on Control) recently adopted statewide emergency conservation regulations requiring local water agencies to implement water restrictions.

Pursuant to the state’s action, the following uses of potable (treated) water are prohibited by PCWA customers:

(Note - They didn’t go into a lot of detail as to how they were going to prohibit our actions, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that it has something to do with taking more of our money.)

The list of all the things they are now somehow prohibiting me from doing includes: (I’m going from memory, here)

Watering of outdoor landscapes more than once every other year.

Watering in such a manner that any amount of said water touches anything that is not a living plant.

Owning a hose without a permanently attached shut-off nozzle, now also known as an outlaw hose, renegade hose, or Minnesota hose.

Washing anything that isn’t an article of clothing, a dish, or a body part.

Owning a decorative water feature. (I assume this includes pools.)

Using any amount of water between the hours of  4 A.M. and 11 P.M.

Showering for longer than 35 seconds.

And, turning on the tap at any time while brushing your teeth or shaving.


They also provided a handy list of suggestions for other ways we could help meet the state’s goal of 200,000% reduction in water usage: (Again, going from memory, here)

Limit the amount of children living in the house to one or fewer.

Obtain hydration from the leaves of your plants and trees instead of drinking tap water.

Collect any - albeit highly unlikely - rainwater for use by immediately tarping your entire property.

Reduce showering and bathing to once a month, and then, only in groups of five or more, and then, only if absolutely necessary.

Purchase or build a small home distillery to further refine all your alcoholic beverages to 200-proof, collecting the excess water for home use, and consequently, making all your parties more awesome.

And, if feasible, move to another state.


Strangely enough, there was one more restriction placed on us; the hot, sad, parched, smelly, thirsty Californians.

Addendum: You are also prohibited from using water – either in a frozen, liquid, or combined state - in any sort of filmed internet stunt purporting to be an awareness and/or fundraising program for any disease or diseases that have been linked to a current or former Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer.

I know, I know. I was as shocked as you are to see such a specific exclusion, but there it is. I would obviously be risking heavy financial penalties, and possibly also federal imprisonment, if I accepted the #IceBucketChallenge.

So, sadly, my cousin, I must decline.

It is important to note, in case the authorities happen to be reading this, that my cousin lives in Oregon, where they have been selfishly hoarding all the rain on the west coast for decades, so thankfully he was able to pour as much ice water as he wanted over his head and onto the ground. Hopefully, some of his Oregon buddies can keep the viral video dousings going. I, as stated previously for the record, sadly, do not have that luxury here in California.

Apparently, the Golden State has about thirty-eight gallons of water left, and we’re all trying to figure out who gets to use it. I promise to donate to ALS research as instructed, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to give. I have a feeling my water bill is about to get pretty expensive.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Whole-House Fan Fan

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I failed to fix our broken air conditioner, but on the plus side, managed NOT to barbeque myself with giant exposed electrical cables while doing some amateur and ill-advised work in our electrical panel. All good news aside, I am sad to report that our air conditioner is still broken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It has been rough here. Tensions are high. Nerves are frayed. Wits are at their end.

It is hot inside our house.

We have been without A/C for almost three weeks now, and unfortunately for us, those three weeks have been some of the hottest on record here in Northern California. Other places might have been hot as well, but I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. I am afraid to turn on the TV for fear that it will either heat up the house even more or explode.

All I can tell you is our family would not do well in an equatorial country. Last Friday it was 109 degrees outside. Through the miracle of sagging and worn R40 insulation, it was only 94 degrees in our bedroom when we went to bed. Actually, I should say when I went to bed. My wife was sleeping downstairs where it was only 89 degrees. On Saturday morning she threatened to leave me and the kids and go stay at a friend’s house. She had a crazy look in her eyes. “You guys can’t come. There’s only room for me.”

I guess information, whether good or bad, is always handy to have. I now know that our cohesive family bond snaps like a dry twig around day four or five above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and we move into an every-man-for-himself scenario. Live and learn.

There are only two things keeping us from going to a full-scale Lord of the Flies situation at this point: Cold showers and our whole-house fan.

The whole-house fan is really the eighth wonder of the modern world. There are two main types of whole-house fans to choose from. The first is the ducted variety. These have a fan or fans mounted inside your attic, with ductwork that draws the air from the interior of the home. They are very quiet. We do not have that kind.

The second kind is the ceiling-mounted variety. These are basically a slightly smaller version of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter mounted to the ceiling of your hallway. These are incredibly loud. This is the kind we have.

Deafening prop wash noise aside, all whole-house fans work in the same manner. “The fan creates a ‘positive pressure’ in the attic and a ‘negative pressure’ inside the house, consequently drawing the cooler outside air in through open windows.”

I have not been up in the attic to experience what “positive pressure” feels like, but in the case of our home at least, “negative pressure” can be described better as “a howling 40-knot gale.” Our fan has two speed settings, and if you turn it on high, you have to make sure the children are tethered down.

The loudness and ferocity of the unit might be attributable to its size. We have the biggest model available in the free world. We were smart when we bought it a few years ago, shopping for it in the whole-house fan off-season. Because we purchased it in November we saved at least seven dollars, and were able to parlay that savings into an upgrade. The salesman sold us on the big one, presumably to best fit the size of our house, or possibly because the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Ooh, I want the big one!”
Salesman: “OK. Sign here quick.”

The key point in the operational description of the fan is really the term “cooler outside air.” This is critical, and in the case of our current three-week-long survival experiment, “cooler outside air” didn’t usually manifest itself until around midnight. This put us into a strange schedule of going to bed around one A.M. and sleeping until nine o’clock in the morning. By the time we get moving in the sluggish torpor of our deliciously cool 84-degree house, we are eating breakfast around eleven A.M. and having lunch at four o’clock. Basically, we’re now Italian.

Still, we can’t blame the whole-house fan for the lack of cool outside air. It can only do what it can do with the air it’s provided. On the plus side, even if it is not cooling us off as much as we might want, it is still cooling us down. Also, it provides a nice white noise while we sleep. It’s a lot like sleeping up inside the mechanical housing on an industrial wind turbine.

I love our whole-house fan. Not only for its economical cooling during normal summer weather, but for the safety it has provided us recently. I can say without hesitation that we would be dead without it. It is impossible to say whether we would have perished from heat stroke or from the wrath of mom, but one of them was definitely going to happen.

Thankfully, there was a break in the weather the other day and my wife decided begrudgingly to stay at home with us, and refrain from killing anyone. The A/C is scheduled to be actually fixed today, so our fingers are all crossed. It might just be the heat, but after three weeks of disappointment, I remain skeptical.

One thing is for sure, when the A/C actually does get fixed, we are going to have to ease ourselves back into the cooler temperatures. At this point 85 degrees inside the house actually feels comfortable. We went out to dinner the other night and our teeth were chattering inside the restaurant. I took the boys to the grocery store yesterday and they almost went hypothermic in the refrigerated aisle.

Still, having A/C back is going to be safer for everyone. My wife informs me that there is another heat wave coming, and she looks ready to snap any minute.

If you don’t hear from me next week, send someone to check on us.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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