Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Clean up on Child Three

The hardest part about going on vacation is coming home. That’s probably mostly because of the stress of smuggling five suitcases full of tequila, illegal Mexican fireworks, and my cool new switchblade past the customs agents at the airport. But also because we had to come back to the reality of having kids.

We were only in Mexico for five days, but, apparently, God thought we were getting a little too comfortable in our south-of-the-border kid-less bliss So, He smacked us straight in the face - mostly the nose, really – with reality. Literally the first thing we had to do when we saw the kids was clean up vomit.

My wife and I flew back from Mexico into the San Francisco Bay Area and stayed the night, and Grandma drove the boys to us the next morning so we could all continue on a family vacation for a week. Grandma has apparently lost the ability to say no, or the ability to make good decisions, or both, because on her way she said yes to cherry-red Slurpees for breakfast on the road. Son Number Three’s body rejected the eight A.M. overload of high-fructose corn syrup and red dye #40 about a block from our hotel.

Welcome back. There’s red puke all over the inside of your car. And your son. And one of your other sons. Road trip!

There’s not too many things that can make me miss the unpleasant wafting aroma of the under-engineered Mexican sewer system, but cleaning bright red Slurpee vomit off the back seats of the car with a baby wipe at a gas station is one of them. It’s great to be back with the kids. Thanks for watching them, Grandma. I guess we forgot to mention it, but “No” is an acceptable word to use with the children when inside a 7-Eleven.

(Please don’t misunderstand – even though Grandma seems to be losing it, we will still gladly use her babysitting services in the future. It takes a lot more than projectile Slurpee to get fired from that job!)

Our destination was San Diego to stay with relatives for a few days in their beautiful, upscale, clean, well-appointed home. We arrived and promptly took over their laundry room to de-puke-ify the contents of our quarantined trash bag. After the laundry was finished we went to bed happy that the clean-up was behind us.

I guess God thought we hadn’t quite paid for all the time off.

The next morning, I woke up to Son Number Two in the kitchen with bright blue hands and ten dismantled ball-point pens on the granite countertop, trying to wash off the blue ink that had spread everywhere inside his backpack. He was busy trying to wash the pens. The pens! Because to my eleven-year-old, saving the twenty-four cents’ worth of crappy pens was the main concern.

I traced the ink spill back to his bed on their living room couch, where he first discovered the Bic-xon Valdez had run aground. There I found the backpack, and various items from within, all a vibrant fresh blue ink color, many of which, in his haste to save the precious disposable plastic pens, had found their way onto the sheets, the staircase next to the couch, and the large area rug.

After I collected all the little pieces of my head that exploded all over the room, I spent the next hour perfecting the technique of using rubbing alcohol to get ink out of a carpet. Given enough time and excruciatingly-manufactured patience, rubbing alcohol and an endless supply of clean rags removes bright blue ink from carpet fibers amazingly well, which is the only reason Son Number Two is still with us here on Earth.

It was starting to look like penance for a week off from parenting was going to involve a crazy mess from each child. We’d had bright red and bright blue, so it was looking like a patriotic theme was developing.

We kept Son Number One away from marshmallows and milk for the rest of the trip.

It’s great to be back.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bat Demo

Mexico update numero dos.

In update numero uno, we discussed some of the major cultural differences between Mexico and Los Estados Unidos. Now that we’re back on U.S. soil and off the ridiculously slow, and possibly bugged, hotel Wi-Fi, I feel safer about bringing you the second update. As it turns out, wild drivers and El Hombre de Viagra and his burro smuggling operation were not the only parts of our Mexican experience that differed from our regular life.

Another change was the relative security we experienced. One morning after breakfast we came back to our hotel room to find the door wide open, with no maid or maid cart in sight. While none of our possessions were missing, we were understandably concerned. Thankfully, our Mexican hotel security team was all over the problem.

The jefe de seguridad plugged in the electronic scanner to our door lock, downloaded the entry and exit log, informed me that he needed to go back to the security office to print it out, and promptly disappeared. I guess he must have had a paper jam or needed to change the ink cartridge, because a mere five hours later, another hotel security professional showed me the handy printout which informed me that I was the last one in or out of the room, so it was probably all my fault.

Hmm… seems legit. I have never ever left a door unlocked and open in my entire life, so Mexico seems like the place I’d start. Thanks for the super-realistic and timely report, fellas!

If we had any mild security concerns inside our hotel, thankfully they quickly escalated when we went out walking in town. To prove that the neighborhoods are safe, Mexico conveniently displays their militarized police forces for you to inspect. Every other police vehicle was a pickup truck with five or six men dressed like a commando strike force, complete with face masks and M-16’s, standing up in the back, rifles ready for action.

We were impressed with the show of force, which even included an armored truck with a M-60 mounted on a swiveling turret. The locals, however, seemed to display less reverent awe than we did. We got that impression when we watched the ice cream man cut in front of the armored truck and proceed to ignore the surprisingly whiny honking from the driver of the three-axle, heavily-armed, bulletproof vehicle. It was almost as if the ice cream man knew the police budget didn’t include bullets for the machine gun.

Security differences aside, our hotel had some other striking differences to what you might experience in the United States. Mainly, that they were tearing it down while we were there. Sure, they tried to disguise the demolition as a “pardon our dust, we’re making more fun for you” kind of renovation, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were really dismantling the building.

That might have been because when we arrived, the entire right half of the hotel was a seven-story gaping hole, with tile and siding hanging loosely around the area that looked like it had just been hit with a scud missile.

As our week at hotel Fallujah progressed, more and more of the front of the hotel was broken apart by large pieces of heavy equipment and men with sledge hammers. By the time we left, I was getting legitimately concerned about the structural integrity of the building.

The first few mornings, we were nudged awake by the melodious tones of five or six back-up alarms on the heavy equipment all singing out their one-note songs in perfect non-harmony. One particularly exciting morning, we were jolted out of bed by what sounded like someone trying to enter our room through the wall directly above our heads, using a Sawzall. He must have just been cutting up the bed or the couch in the adjoining room, however, because he never actually came through the wall.

Need to get to the pool? Check with the crossing guard in the hard hat. He’ll keep you from getting run over by a front-end loader. The view from the pool? To the south, the beautiful ocean. To the north, heavy equipment plucking the palm trees out of the ground in the hotel’s large horseshoe-shaped interior garden area. What’s that pleasant banging and crackling sound? Just another overhead beam going up near the pool bar, with the welders fitting it into place. No wonder we got so pink out by the pool. Half of our “sunburns” were probably flash burns from the welders.

I’ve stayed at a number of U.S. hotels that were doing some construction onsite, but it never seemed to affect my stay the way it did in Mexico. For instance, in America I’ve never actually had to walk through the construction (or destruction) as part of the only route to my room. In Mexico, six times a day, we walked right through the ten guys removing the tiles from the walls in the main hall. The guys down on the ground with us had all been issued hard hats to protect them from the team on the scissor lift removing the tiles from twenty feet overhead. We protected our heads with beach towels.

My wife even helped out a little and removed a few souvenir tiles from one of the walls by hand. I’m not sure why the guys in hard hats were bothering with tools. The tiles seemed to be attached with the same stuff that sticks your new credit card to the paper.

Despite the fact that four out of our hotel’s five stars were being jackhammered apart, we actually had a relaxing and enjoyable time. Do you know why? Because our kids weren’t with us. Now, don’t get me wrong, we love our three boys to death. I’m just saying, never underestimate how much your children are sucking the very life out of you, that’s all. This vacation proves it. We slept in a construction/war zone, and it was honestly more relaxing than being at home with our boys.

In fairness to the boys, the food had a lot to do with our overall enjoyment of the vacation. Besides the fact that we never had to break up a single fight at any of our meals, the food was amazing. Which brings us to my favorite difference – besides El Hombre de Viagra, of course – between Mexico and America: the wildlife in the bars. Literally.

We saw plenty of wildlife (mostly iguana-looking lizards) on our walks to and from the restaurants, but the wildlife inside the restaurants was what caught my attention. Most places were more or less open-air. If they weren’t completely patio-style, they would certainly keep the doors open. On more than one occasion we saw birds flying in and out over our heads during meals, but it was the bat that made me sit up and take notice.

We were at a table down at the Fish and Grill, having some of the most amazing tacos on planet Earth and watching game two of the NBA finals on the big screens over the bar. We’d had a few birds fly in and out, but just after the start of the third quarter, Mexico upped the ante and added a bat. He (or she) wasn’t much bigger than a flying mouse (which if you think about it, that’s pretty much what it was), and it zipped in through the doors and zig-zagged all over the place up near the ceiling beams.

Then, it made the fatal mistake of wanting to check out the game, or order a tequila. I’m not sure which, and we’ll probably never know. I don’t know if all Mexican bat sonar is defective, if this particular bat was on his fourth or fifth bar visit that night and was drunk as a tiny flying skunk, or if ceiling fans create some kind of magnetic field and are confounding to all North American bats, but things didn’t go well.

He zig-zagged out of the rafters and headed straight for the bar. He made it under his own power just as far as the large ceiling fan above the bar, and then the ceiling fan took over the flight planning. He flew straight into the path of the rotating blades and got hit like a hanging curve ball, straight across the bar and smack into the middle of the big screen TV. He hit the flat screen with a thud and dropped straight down past the impressive selection of local tequilas to the floor behind the bar.

Well, that was a first for me. (And probably a first and a last for him.)

Two bartenders and a waiter behind the bar looked down at the unfortunate winged rodent, shrugged, and went about their business.

Nice one, Mexico.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mucho Caliente

Update from Mexico – It’s different than the U.S.

I’m not sure if you knew that or not, but I’m here at the southern tip of Baja California, and I can tell you from firsthand experience this week, it’s definitely different.

For starters, everyone here speaks Spanish. Like, one hundred percent of the people. That’s different than where I live in California, where only eighty-five percent of the people speak Spanish.

Secondly, the drivers here are suicidal, but also incredibly polite. If you are in another car, they will do everything in their power to run you off the road. If you are a pedestrian at a crosswalk, however, they could not be nicer or more accommodating. Imagine having crosswalks on the track at a Nascar race, and all the drivers are required to stop to let any pedestrians across or their cars will instantly explode. It’s kinda like that.

Sidewalks are also a major difference. Here in Mexico, sidewalks seem to be something they thought were a nice idea, but not necessarily mandatory. Often times your sidewalk will simply end, replaced by a field of rubble where the old sidewalk was inexplicably demolished and the remnants left in place. Other times the sidewalk will simply disappear, becoming a sand or dirt path for twenty or thirty feet before becoming a sidewalk again.

Occasionally the sidewalk will become impossibly skinny, as if the buildings all moved out toward the street and swallowed it. This usually happens somewhere with an incredibly high curb, so you end up negotiating the skinny section of sidewalk like a mountain climber moving across a narrow shelf on the face of a cliff.

And you can’t walk on the sidewalks with your head up, looking at the scenery. If you do, you will fall into one of the many open manholes and electrical or other utility boxes in the middle of the sidewalks without covers.

And there is construction everywhere, which isn’t that amazingly different, except here it occurs with no safety barriers in place for the general public. America has much more of a “We need to protect you from the dangerous work happening here” mentality, whereas Mexico has obviously adopted a more “Hey, idiot. Watch your own ass” philosophy. You are free to walk right up to the man operating the jackhammer and step through his rubble pile, but you do so at your own risk. Someone welding near your dinner table? That’s just how it goes. It’s on you to keep the hot slag and sparks out of your ceviche.

The language, construction, and driver differences are all very interesting, but they might be too subtle if you aren’t paying attention or if you’ve had one too many watermelon margaritas (which are phenomenal, by the way).

One international difference that is anything but subtle down here? The marketing of male erectile dysfunction drugs.

In America, Viagra and Cialis are marketed on television with almost appropriate for all ages television commercials. Usually, a rich and powerful salt and pepper-haired corporate executive and his beautiful younger wife are seen on vacation or out at a fancy dinner. They hold hands and gaze at each other lovingly as they make their way back to the well-appointed hotel room. “When the time is right, will you be ready?” the understanding and non-judgmental voiceover asks.

The commercials are very targeted in their vagueness. The people who ask, “Ready for what?” are not being marketed to. Then, in keeping with the “we need to protect you from everything” American way, they strongly advise you, the powerful and soon-to-be virile again CEO, to consult your doctor to make sure your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity.

(News flash – no man in the world has ever worried if his heart was healthy enough for sexual activity. The most infirmed of us might worry if we’re healthy enough for a light jog, or a brisk walk, but given the opportunity, sexual activity is always a green light. That’s how we all want to die, anyway.)

Not necessarily surprisingly, they took a different route here in Mexico. They decided the best way to advertise a pill for erectile dysfunction would be to make the blue Viagra pill into a cartoon character for window posters at pharmacies.

He stands at least six feet tall. His torso is the chiseled muscular semi-diamond-shaped blue Viagra pill. He has muscular arms and legs, and vibrant bushy eyebrows, narrowed across his brow in a triumphant smile. He is Viagra Man, or as they say here in Mexico, El Hombre de Viagra.

He has the word VIAGRA tattooed on one of his manly arms, and “MUCHO CALIENTE” scrawled in front of him, indicating – as if you didn’t already know – that he is very hot and spicy.

He stands with his feet spread wide and his hands victoriously on his hips. He wears a traditional huge round sombrero, dazzling white teeth, and the commanding jawline of a hero.

His only article of clothing is a bright red speedo, in the front of which he appears to be smuggling a medium-size burro.

Subtlety is not an issue with El Hombre de Viagra.

Well done, Mexico. Thanks for being so caliente!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tacos on the Brain

My wife and I are celebrating a decade and a half of marital bliss this year with the traditional fifteenth anniversary gift - tacos. What kind of tacos do you get the woman who has given you three amazing boys and has put up with your crap all these years?

Authentic Mexican tacos, of course.

In Mexico.

(We’re going to Mexico - that’s what I’m telling you.)

In just a few short days we’ll leave the kids behind with their grandma and head out for a week in San Jose del Cabo.

In case you don’t know where that is, it’s the other town on the end of Baja California, right next to Cabo San Lucas.

Cabo San Lucas is the town you go to when you’re young and want to play in the water all day and party with Sammy Hagar all night. San Jose del Cabo is the town you go to when you’re forty-five years old and don’t want to do upside-down tequila shots anymore.

My wife and I have been working together as a well-oiled marital machine now for fifteen years, so we are dividing up the chores to get ready to leave for a week in the same way we always have. When a team works this well together, there’s no reason to change things.

My main job, with any impending vacation, is to remain relaxed and act as the voice of reason. My wife hates this voice and refuses to listen to it. Her main job is to lose as much sleep as possible in the days leading up to travel, worrying about anything she can possibly dream up. And by “dream up,” I don’t mean actual dreams, because she’s awake in the middle of the night making lists.

My wife’s main concern seems to be the care and feeding of the children. I continue to remind her that they will have adult supervision – in fact, they will have incredibly experienced adult supervision in the form of the woman that got her on-the-job training supervising my wife. I then remind her that she survived childhood just fine, and even went on to thrive and create babies of her own, and we’ve been caring for them for so long now that we desperately need to leave them and go have authentic Mexican tacos without them, and they will be just fine eating mac ‘n cheese. This prompts her to write another shopping list.

She makes a list outlining all the school end-of-year field trips and activities that will occur while we’re gone. I remind her that the teachers know where to go, and every activity will start and end at the school, so Grandma doesn’t need to worry about it. She scowls at me and adds the school address to the list.

She makes an emergency contact list of neighbors for Grandma. I tell her that 911 is really the only number she’ll need. She asks me to do something useful. I Google “best tacos in Cabo” and save the locations to my phone.

She revises her packing list and decides a shopping trip is in order because she has nothing to wear for dinner on day four. I tell her the taco place won’t mind if she shows up in the same outfit. This does not help. She makes a list of all the lists she still needs to make.

Speaking of clothes, one of her other pre-vacation duties is to pack at least a week and a half ahead of time. I could understand that timeline if we were mounting an expedition to a remote part of the globe that had no civilization, like Antarctica or Detroit. But we’re going to a really nice resort in a modern Mexican tourist city. I am planning on packing my swim shorts, possibly another pair of shorts, my toothbrush, and a shirt. I will handle that the morning we leave, about ten minutes or so before we need to head for the airport.

(Just kidding. She’d kill me. I’ll pack at least an hour before we leave.)

I’m not kidding about the lists, though. She actually started writing me lists three or four months ago, with all kinds of things for me to do. I’ll give you a few examples of this crazy stuff if I can find one of them... Hang on… here it is.

1) Book hotel – OK, that one was pretty important. She sat me down at the computer and we did this one together. I don’t think she trusted me with it.

2) Figure out airport parking – C’mon! Not a problem. It’s an airport. Of course they have parking. No action required.

3) Make the cell phones work in Mexico – Why wouldn’t the cell phones work in Mexico? They work just fine in San Diego. No action required.

4) Get passports out – No sweat. They’re around here somewhere, in a drawer, or the kitchen, or maybe a box in the garage. I’ll find them easy enough. I can do that later.

5) Buy plane tickets - …

Uh… I have to go now. I just remembered something I need to take care of.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

45 at 45

I turned 45 years old today, which still seems impossible to me, since my brain tells me I was in my 20s only a few short years ago. But then my hip aches from sleeping and my brain forgets where I left the remote and why I went into a room, and I realize, yep, I’m old.

They say with age, comes wisdom. I wish that were more true. Nonetheless, in honor of living through another trip around the sun, I have added to my list of thoughts, observations, and acquired “wisdom.”

Here it is, one for each year. You’re welcome.


1.  There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who prefer the toilet paper to come off the top of the roll, and those who prefer the bottom. The people who like it to come off the bottom of the roll are wrong.

2.  If beds were advertised the same way as tents, a queen-size mattress would sleep nine adults comfortably.

3.  The three-second rule has almost infinite extensions depending on how much you like the food that dropped.

4.  You never fully appreciate how crazy your family is until you have to explain all of them to your fiancĂ©.

5.  I don’t understand why disappointed is not the opposite of appointed.

6.  Pi and the circumference of a circle have a similar relationship to pie and the circumference of a person.

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

8.  The toothpaste tube is the most amazing invention ever. You get four days of toothpaste out of the large main body of the tube, and six weeks of toothpaste out of the last ten percent of the tube, up by the cap. If gas tanks were like toothpaste tubes, cars could still go seven hundred miles after the light comes on.

9.  The clearest evidence that capitalism beats communism is that the Red Bull beverage company put a man in space. Take that, North Korea. Anheuser-Busch can probably shoot down your nukes.

10.  If you give enough money to the right charities, you will never have to buy address labels again.

11.  I am over the electronic tipping point. At this point, I would much rather lose my wallet than my phone.

12.  A really good financial goal in life is to have your bank account balance be larger than your bank account number.

13.  Life without beer, wine, and cheese would be horrible, but life without bacon would simply be pointless.

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

15.  Never get a woman personalized license plates like "HOT QT" or something like that, because eventually you, the boyfriend or husband, will have to drive the car and you will be mercilessly ridiculed by the rest of us.

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

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

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

19.  There is no “t” or “t” sound in the word across. There is no “b” or “b” sound in the word supposedly. Please pronounce accordingly.

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

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

22.  Pets and skull tattoos have something in common - Just because yours is badass does not mean you are badass. In fact, it usually means the exact opposite.

23.  If you ask any guy to tell you a story about a time he almost died, he will have four stories just off the top of his head, and one will be from this year. If you ask women the same question, most of them will look at you like you’re crazy.

24.  One sure sign of getting old – When you start sitting down to put on your pants.

25.  Children and ceiling fans are simply incompatible. It’s science.

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

27.  The hotel alarm clock - You can either take the time to figure out how it works before you go to bed, or you can figure it out in the dark at 4:30 A.M. when it unexpectedly goes off. Your choice.

28.  One of the funniest things ever written is this: “We’ve upped our contribution. Up yours!”

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

30.  There are 21 words in the English language that need to be used more. They are: Bailiwick, Hootenanny, Skullduggery, Scofflaw, Ballyhoo, Shenanigans, Donnybrook, Catawampus, Chicanery, Cajoled, Hullabaloo, Besmirch, Boondoggle, Haberdashery, Melee, Befuddled, Flummoxed, Hoosegow, Wiseacre, Tomfoolery, and Kerfuffle.

31.  Nothing is more interesting to a child than what you are doing, provided that what you are doing is easier without children involved.

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

33.  Fried chicken and touch screen devices do not mix well.

34.  A carsick child and a blender without a lid have a lot in common.

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

36.  Give a boy enough time with any object, whether it be a stale Cheerio, a bouncy ball, a doll, or a book, and he will eventually turn it into a weapon.

37.  "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys" is a pretty accurate saying, but it leaves out the other major difference: the speed at which they heal when they fall off those toys.

38.  New parents - The best thing to do when your infant cries at night is to set a timer for ten minutes. If the timer runs out before the baby stops crying, reset the timer.

39.  The yahoos who wear their pants down below their butts and have to waddle with their legs spread to keep their pants from simply falling to the ground are also the yahoos who are most likely to try to run from the police at some point. That is hilarious to me.

40.  As I get older, I find myself dividing the world into two categories: People I would let watch my kids for five minutes, and people I wouldn’t.

41.  The person who invented the hotel shower curtain rod that curves out away from the tub so the shower curtain doesn’t stick to your arm should receive the Nobel prize.

42.  If you want a good example of unbridled optimism, look at your smoke alarm. They all have "test weekly" printed on them. Yes, smoke alarm company, I’ll get right on that.

43.  Guys, do you ever have trouble figuring out if you’ve had too much to drink? Here’s a handy guideline:
“There is no way I can scratch that itch on my ankle while I’m standing here peeing, so I will not try.” – You’re still OK
“I can totally do it without peeing on myself.” – You are drunk

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

45.  A kid’s definition of “pool toy” is different than an adult’s. We think of pool toys as something designed to be played with in a pool. They define “pool toy” as anything they own, if it happens to be brought into the pool. Like a bike or a sandwich.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 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, May 17, 2017

History Lesson

A letter to Son Number Three’s Third Grade Teacher:

Dear Mrs. You-Must-Have-a-Metric-Ton-of-Patience-to-Put-Up-with-My-Child,

I wanted to send a quick note to explain Son Number Three’s lunch today. Of course, based on how we dressed our son today – in his flannel shirt, blue jeans with the rope belt, and straw hat - we are aware that it is the official third grade Rocklin History Week, and we’re celebrating everything 1800s.

We are super excited to be celebrating our third Rocklin History Week here at the elementary school, what with Sons One and Two already having participated when they were third-graders. Good times. We are not burnt out on this at all.

As you know, Son Number Three was required to dress all old-timey today and bring his authentic 1800s lunch to school in a bandana tied to a stick, instead of in his usual 2000s insulated lunch cozy.

I can assure you that in years' past, with Sons One and Two, their freshly-killed meat was haphazardly slapped between two slices of homemade hand-ground wheat bread, and those condiment-less sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper inside that dangling bandana, along with a Mason jar of creek water.

That’s just how we roll on Rocklin History Week. We’re all about authenticity.

So, I feel like I need to explain Son Number Three’s lunch today.

As you may know, he recently got a very non-1800s jaw-widening dental appliance installed in his mouth that is roughly the size of a minivan. As a result, eating standard foods has become difficult for him. He even has to cut his pizza up into little bites, which is obviously very un-American, and causing some family tension. It’s rough here.

So sandwiches – especially meat-filled sandwiches – are a thing of the past for him. Ever since the space shuttle Orthodonture docked in his mouth, he’s pretty much been eating pasta and apple sauce. As you can imagine, those are kinda hard to wrap in wax paper.

Fortunately, I was able to find an authentic 1800s solution.

Utilizing something called the World Wide Web, I did some research and uncovered the amazing and mysterious historical tale of Phineas Wooster. Based on what we know, and the substantial amount of information we don’t know, it is my estimation that Phineas may have been a time traveler.

Obviously, we’ll never know, but this little-known Rocklin-ite seems to have surfaced very suddenly in the mid to late 1800s right here in our hometown. Almost nothing is known of him, other than his strange propensity for stealing kerosene and whale oil from his unsuspecting neighbors, and his malodorous smelting operation.

(Side note: “Kerosene Thief” and “The Malodorous Smelters” would be good names for rock bands.)

What we do know is that he seemed to have an ahead-of-his-time knowledge of petroleum products and high tech manufacturing. Specifically regarding high-temperature plastics.

It seems crazy that this man isn’t a well-known Rocklin historical figure, but the internet doesn’t lie. He was a plastics innovator, almost one hundred years before plastics really made it on the scene. He made major strides in the areas of food preservation and storage here in Rocklin, and then he vanished as quickly as he arrived. He was rumored to have moved the entire operation to Ohio in the early 1900s, but that can’t be confirmed.

I have no idea why his line of amazing 1800s storage containers took so long to catch on after Mr. Wooster obviously pioneered the light weight, see-through storage container and rubber air-tight sealing lid right here in our proud little town, so many years ago.

But, again, the internet doesn’t lie. That totally happened.

So, anyhow, that’s why my son’s incredibly authentic 1800s Kraft Mac & Cheese and his true-to-the-time-period Treetop Apple Sauce were both in plastic Rubbermaid containers today. Just wanted you to know.

Oh, yeah. Phineas Wooster also invented Nikes and Spiderman socks. Crazy, right?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You Said a Mouthful

Son Number Three just got initiated into the world of orthodontics in a big way. It was sort of like getting initiated into a college fraternity, minus the alcohol. There was still a lot of throwing up slurred speech.

His older brothers were already members of the Brotherhood of Rubberband And ChromE Smiles, or BRACES, for short. Son Number One has the full meal deal (literally - he can store a full meal in his top and bottom braces). Number Two has the training wheels version with just a retaining wire mounted to his back molars, keeping a rogue tooth in place until it’s time for the full steel grill. Let’s just say both of them are severely dental floss-impaired. Watching them try to thread floss through their braces is like watching a senile ninety-year-old woman still trying to do cross stitch.

So, I thought I was a veteran at the orthodontist’s office when we took Son Number Three in for his annual visit. Then they informed us he would need an expander.

A what now?

Apparently his upper jaw is too narrow to fit all his adult teeth that are on the way down, so they need to widen it. In order to widen a jaw, they install a device into the roof of the mouth that steadily pushes the teeth apart, and the body will magically grow more jaw bone.

I immediately envisioned him looking like a small blonde version of Jay Leno, but when I voiced my concerns they assured me he would remain looking like himself.

OK, I guess.

Oh, and also, he’s pushing his front teeth outward with his tongue every time he swallows. We’ll fix that by putting a fence on the expander.

Whatever you say.

His next appointment was set to get an impression of his teeth. I had seen this procedure done on Son Number Two. They fill a tray with purple goop and you bite down on it and hold it in your mouth for a while and when they remove it, somehow the purple goop has turned white and is now a perfect impression of your teeth. Witchcraft!

No problem, I figured, as they put Number Three in the chair. This was easy last time. Then they strapped the standard dental drool apron around his neck with an added twist – a plastic bag attached to the clips also, so it looked like he had a clear plastic feed bag.

I wonder what that bag is for, I thought. It’s probably just a handy little trash bag for all their swabs and cotton spacers and whatnot.

As the dad of three boys, I have cleaned every bodily fluid they possess off their clothing at one point or another, many times in a gas station sink on a road trip. But it had obviously been a while, because it wasn’t until Number Three gagged on the first tray of purple goop that I realized what the bag was really for.

They were expecting him to throw up. Which he did. A lot.  

He handled it like a trooper, and the good news? When you throw up at our orthodontist’s office you get a free T-shirt and a Capri Sun!

Back in the chair a few weeks later and it was time to install the device. Hmm… You’re really going to fit all that stuff into his mouth? OK…

Ten minutes later and they were all done. He opened his mouth for me to see and it looked like he had two beer pop tabs stuck to the back of his front teeth.

Yes, that’s the fence to keep his tongue from pushing on those teeth.

Back behind that, attached to his upper teeth in four places, he had what looked like a silver Matchbox Car-sized Transformer robot at the roof of his mouth, doing the ninja hands-and-feet-pressing-against-the-walls-hiding-on-the-ceiling thing.

That’s the expander.

Um, how is he supposed to eat with all this stuff in his mouth? Or swallow? Or breathe?

Yes, some food will get suck up under there from time to time. It’s best to dislodge it using water.

I’m not sure we can fit any water into his mouth right now… OK, buddy. You ready to go?

“I canff geeff ma frommen.”

Yeah, he’s going to be a little lisp-y for a while. The more talking and reading out loud he does, the better it will get.

A little lisp-y? That sounded like he was speaking Spanish with a whole potato in his mouff. I’m not even sure where he’s keeping his tongue. There’s no room for it anymore.

See you in a month.

Can’t wait. OK, buddy, let’s roll. You hungry?

“Freff a butter splimm.”

You bet. Let’s go get you a piece of paper and a pencil.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Clean Sleep

I have discovered the key to great parenting. Sleep!

I don’t mean sleep for you, the parent. Don’t be silly. You won’t get another good night’s sleep until you’re dead. Sorry, but it’s true. First you have the kid(s). Getting any sleep with an infant in the house is simply not possible. In the roughly five years that we had little crying diaper fillers in the house, my wife and I slept a combined total of twenty-seven hours.

Next, they grow up a little and start coming into your room to wake you up in the middle of the night about crazy dreams, bodily functions, or late night sibling injustices. Once they get to high school you’ll lose sleep over where they are and what kind of trouble they’re getting into.

Send them off to college and now you have to get up early and work late to pay for it all. Think you’ll finally get some sleep when you retire? Nope. Sure, the house is quiet, but you have to get up three times in the middle of the night to pee.

Now you’re really wishing you slept more in your twenties, huh? I hear you.

No, I’m talking about getting the kids enough sleep. We have an early bedtime for our three boys, and up until this morning, I hadn’t realized one of them might not be getting enough sleep.

It all started when I realized his mattress was sub-par, at best. You see, they are all in the same room, and Son Number Two has the top spot in a bunk bed. Since I am afraid I’ll destroy the entire structure and crush his little brother underneath if I get up on it, I have never actually been on his bed.

So, a few weeks ago, he mentioned something about his mattress being slightly uncomfortable, and I climbed up the ladder to inspect it. I’m not even sure where or when we got his mattress, but after feeling it, it appeared to be about three hundred years past its prime. I’m not shocked very easily, and I have very few, if any, feelings of sympathy for my children. But something akin to guilt and shame washed over me, momentarily anyway, when I felt his mattress.

It felt like someone had placed a thin sheet over the top of a pile of rebar. It was awful. You could easily make out the shape and diameter of every spring. It was borderline child abuse. I have no idea how he ever slept on it at all. So, as a loving and caring father, I looked him in the eye and said, “Looks like you need a new mattress. Well, goodnight.”

Then I wrote it on my to-do list under fifty-seven other things and forgot about it for two weeks. Like I said, little to no sympathy. He should just be happy there’s a roof over the top of his crappy mattress, dammit.

We finally made it over to the bargain cave in the back of RC Willey yesterday, and picked him up a brand-new discount budget mattress. I splurged and spent the extra twenty-five dollars on the “European top” model, since the lower-priced version reminded me a lot of his current torture device disguising itself as a bed.

I managed to haul the new mattress upstairs by myself, and swapped them out. The trip downstairs with the old one was easier. I just folded it in half a few times and carried it downstairs one-handed. Bedtime had him remarking how nice and comfy his new bed was.

For me, last night anyway, the new mattress was just a check mark on a to-do list. Another chore taken care of. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized how much more it really was to our family.

Son Number Two slept all the way until the alarm - something he rarely did in the past.

He didn’t start a fight with either of his brothers – something he always did in the past.

He joked with me instead of complaining to me – very rare indeed.

He swept the floor – unheard of.

He swept the floor. (I just wanted to say it again, because it was so amazing.)

He actually got out the broom and swept the kitchen floor because it was messy. Unprompted. All on his own. He did something to help without being asked. My well-rested son cleaned something!

We have a five-bedroom house. I need an office, and we want to have a guest room, so that leaves two other rooms for three boys. This is why they’re all in the same room. We don’t want to play favorites or have some kind of complicated biannual room swap to deal with.

I’m only dealing with one night’s worth of data, here, but if this type of behavior keeps up from Son Number Two and I can attribute it to better sleep, I’m going to start playing favorites in a big way.

If I can get him to keep cleaning the rest of the five-bedroom house, I’ll give him his own room with blackout curtains, a white noise machine, and a five thousand dollar Tempur-Pedic mattress.

Totally worth it.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 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, April 26, 2017

Idiots

I have been trapped in a tornado of idiots for the past four months. It started with one idiot who decided not to chain up his car in the snow. My family met that idiot head-on in our Suburban in January. The collision seemed to open some sort of space/time crack in the galactic idiot-o-sphere, unleashing dozens more idiots into my life.

I spent the next three months swirling around and around with a gaggle of insurance estimator idiots and collision repair shop idiots, all of whom thought it was possible to repair a Suburban back to showroom quality after an eight-airbag head-on collision without actually doing any work on the frame.

I foolishly thought I had been thrown clear of the idiot tornado when I finally received a total loss settlement check. Three months after the wreck some idiot reluctantly did an actual frame inspection and declared, “Wow. This thing looks like it’s been in some sort of collision. We’ll need a new one of these.”

If I was ever clear of the swirling mass of idiots for any amount of time, that’s over now. I’ve been sucked back in.

I found myself on Interstate 680 in the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday, at four o’clock in the afternoon, driving home at anywhere from zero to eighty miles an hour, depending on which ten-foot section of road I was on. I don’t live in the Bay Area on purpose, and I avoid driving there whenever possible, due to the high concentration of idiots on their roads. If you’ve never driven in the Bay Area, try to keep it that way. It’s a lot like driving in Tijuana, only with more idiots. And more Porsche drivers. But I repeat myself.

Part of the reason for the insane stop-and-go traffic I was in had to do with how many accidents there were on the side of the road from all the insane stop-and-go traffic. I was more than a little perturbed already from my experience at Idiot Chevrolet of Fremont earlier in the day, and all I could think was, “If some idiot rear-ends me in this traffic – the traffic that I’m in only because of car dealership idiots, stemming from my original January head-on meeting with Idiot Zero – and I have to be involved in a second insurance claim because I’m here as a result of the first insurance claim, I might actually completely lose it.”

Fortunately, I made it out without any more collisions, and my nerves are slightly less frayed today. Had I been involved in another collision yesterday, I have a feeling I might have been taken to jail for a psych eval. I’m glad that didn’t have to happen, because jail is not the place to go if you’re trying to have less idiots in your life.

Why was I so incensed, you ask, if you’re the kind of person who uses words like ‘incensed’? Because Idiot Chevrolet of Fremont is 130 miles from my house, that’s why. They had a 2016 Suburban that was priced way under blue book value, and looked great in the pictures. After some checking by Idiot Car Salesman One, the car was still in their inventory, and he had enlisted the help of Idiot Car Salesman Two, who was holding it for me until I arrived. I dropped what I was doing and jumped in the car. Two and a half hours later, I was behind the wheel of what would soon be my new beautiful underpriced 2016 Suburban, on a test drive with Idiot Car Salesman Two.

Leather everything. Automatic everything. It tells me when I drift out of my lane. It alerts me to an impending front impact collision. It has heated seats and dual memory seat positions. The dashboard screen links to my phone and the screen becomes my phone’s screen. And if I push a little button, the screen magically rises out of the dashboard and reveals a hidden storage compartment – with a USB port! It has great tires. It mows the lawn. It does your taxes. It watches your dog while you’re on vacation. It buys my wife flowers.

I’ll take it!

Idiot Car Salesman Two begins the paperwork. I text my wife. New car! Idiot Car Salesman Two busies himself with car salesman tasks. I sit in my new car and admire the thirty-nine thousand new features. Idiot Car Salesman Two comes out and says that unfortunately the car is on hold for another buyer.

Sorry, I must not have heard you correctly after my 130-mile drive. Idiot Car Salesman Two says someone was there on Sunday, but there was a problem with his payment, but it’s worked out now and he’s buying the car. My right eye begins to twitch.

Idiot Car Salesman Two introduces me to Idiot Car Dealership Manager, who explains that their entire system is run by idiots. I explain that it is a 260-mile round-trip from my house, and I dropped everything and drove here because Idiot Car Salesman One - who seems to be absent – assured me the car was available. Idiot Car Dealership Manager explains again the idiotic idiosyncrasies of Idiotville.

I somehow manage not to punch anyone, and begin my 130-mile drive home through a swirling mass of idiots. At an average of seven miles per hour.

At least it's not snowing.

It’s possible that there’s a reason for all this. God may have me trapped in this idiot storm in order to get me ready for a situation down the line involving an even larger group of idiots.  

At this point, however, I don't see how that could be possible.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 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, April 19, 2017

Extreme Home Repair - Repost

I cheated death again last week. I managed to successfully add onto an existing 20-amp GFI circuit from my pool’s 30-amp sub panel. (I really don’t know if I used all those electrical terms correctly, but it sounded cool, didn’t it?)

I managed to install two new outlets and two ceiling fan boxes under our backyard patio cover - wired them and everything - and they actually work! And as of today, the patio cover has not exploded into a fireball, so that’s a big win. (I didn’t bother to get a permit, so don’t tell anyone. Also, if you see a big fireball in my backyard, just ignore it, please.)

I learned three things in my triumph over electricity this past week:
1) If I didn’t love being an author so much, I could probably go equally as broke being a slow and unknowledgeable electrician.
2) Using a screwdriver and pliers near a stucco wall shreds your knuckles faster than jamming your hand into a Cuisinart.
3)  Blood doesn’t come off stucco very easily, and if you try to do it wrong, you just add more blood.

My knuckles are still a little too swollen to type effectively. (I have typed this entire thing with my elbows and my nose. It has taken six hours.) So instead, I am revisiting a column from a few years ago about a slightly less successful electrical project.

Enjoy!


I think every once in a while, a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive. Either that, or because of our male DNA, we just keep doing really stupid things, surviving them somehow, then telling ourselves that every once in a while, a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive.

Since I gave up professional snowmobile motocross, I tend to mainly cheat death these days with home repair. It’s a win-win, really, because not only do I get to feel truly alive, but occasionally I accidentally fix something. This last time was not one of those times.

Our air conditioner quit working last week. That was a very unfortunate situation, since our house is currently sitting on the surface of the sun. It was 104 degrees the day it died. That is not cool. Fortunately - for her anyway - my wife was leaving with the kids the next day for a week-long excursion without me. That meant I would be left to sweat profusely by myself until the air conditioner guy could come out. “No problem,” I thought, as I dialed up the repair man, “I can make it a day or two.”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re scheduled out past a week at this point. We can be there next Wednesday.”

“Uhh… Can you repeat that? I had sweat inside my ear and I thought I just heard you say next Wednesday.”

It turns out that air conditioner problems are a pretty common occurrence here on the sun, and I had heard him correctly. I reluctantly scheduled my convenient four-hour window of time, and hung up the phone. As I wiped my face sweat from the phone’s front screen, I vowed to try and fix it myself in the meantime. I was mildly concerned that I might accidentally dehydrate until I remembered that beer is full of water. No problem there, but I really just wanted to be cool, and I could always cancel the appointment. Besides, I hadn’t cheated death in a while.

Through some very high-level troubleshooting at the circuit breaker panel on the side of my house, I had noticed that the breaker was tripping when the air conditioner tried to come on. I also noticed that the breaker would trip even when I had the A/C turned off. I obviously had a bad circuit breaker! I can fix that! I think…

I know what I’m doing with electricity in the same way that a teenager knows how to drive a car. I am familiar with the main concept, but I am severely lacking in skill and comprehension on some of the finer points.

What I do know is that electricity is amazing. Take a refrigerator for example. Electricity runs the compressor that makes the refrigerator cold, in turn, making your beer cold. Electricity also runs the little light bulb inside the refrigerator, making it possible to find the cold beer, even in the dark. Light bulbs are hot. Electricity is responsible for both cold and hot in the same machine, all resulting in the ability to find and drink a cold beer, any time of the day or night. Simply amazing!

I also know a little about the units involved in describing electrical circuits. Many people are confused by the relationship between Amps and Volts, and many others simply don’t know what they are at all. It’s really quite simple, actually.

Amps are the measurement of electricity’s ability to kill you, in units of consecutive missed heartbeats. Getting shocked by a 3-amp circuit will probably be survivable, but a 30-amp circuit will do you in. You simply cannot survive missing thirty consecutive heartbeats.

Voltage is the measure of how far the electricity will throw you while the amps are killing you. Volts are measured in inches per death. For instance, a 480-volt circuit will throw you 480 inches, or 40 feet, while the amps are turning you into a baked potato.

The circuit for my A/C unit has a 40-amp breaker. Forty consecutive heartbeats are too many to miss. I think it is also 220 volts, which means if I screwed up, my body would be found a little over eighteen feet away from the panel. That would put me squarely in the middle of my neighbor’s driveway.

Speaking of my neighbor, I was a little conflicted there. My family had left, so I was all alone. I wanted someone to know that I was about to attempt to cheat death, on the off chance that I had only missed ten or so heartbeats and was only blown five or six feet from the panel and clinging to life. On the other hand, our neighbor is old and I didn’t want to scare her. I decided someone was bound to drive by and see me smoking on the driveway, so I didn’t bother her.

I removed my wedding ring. I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is necessary, but I just know that professional electricians don’t wear them. I think it’s so when your wife is collecting your personal belongings after you die, she doesn't have to try and pull it off your charred ring finger.

I then watched a few YouTube videos on how to change a breaker, and instantly became an expert. I got my screwdriver and approached the electrical panel, mostly almost confident. I carefully unscrewed the panel cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. I was sweaty.

There, behind the circuit breakers, I could now see the “bus bar,” which is a Latin for “metal strip of death.” It is a large copper plate that all the circuit breakers clip onto, and it is brimming with kill-you-instantly electricity. I was fairly sure that I could disable the bus bar by switching the large main circuit breaker off. I could see another copper plate coming from under another protective cover that looked like it was going to the main breaker, but I wanted to be sure.

I carefully unscrewed the other cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. There behind the panel, I was face-to-face with all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood, coming in from the street on two wires as thick as Costco polish sausages. This was not on any of the videos.

I should not have removed this cover.

Crap.

Sure enough, they were attached to the plate running to the main breaker, so I was almost confident that shutting the main breaker off would kill the bus bar, but I knew for a fact there was no way to shut off the power to the two giant cables of doom that I had just uncovered.

I was now sweating and moving like the guy diffusing the bomb in the action film. If I accidentally touched the metal cover or my screwdriver to either of these humongous wires, I would receive enough Amps and Volts to miss a month’s worth of heartbeats and weld my body to the stop sign at the end of the street. Despite the gallons of sweat and nervous hand tremors, I managed to replace the cover and screw it down without incident.

Crisis averted. Death cheated, yet again.

I switched off the main, removed the old 40-amp breaker, and took it to Lowe’s to find a new one. They had an exact match, and new one in hand, I drove back to my house confident and even a little proud. Today, I know everything there is to know about electricity. Today I am an electrical super-genius. Today I am Tony Stark from Iron Man.

I slapped that new breaker in, buttoned up the panel cover, and flipped the main back on. Confidently, I flipped the new 40-amp breaker on… only to have it trip right back off.

Hmm… Electrical super-genius Tony Stark did not seem to fix anything here. In fact, all I seemed to have accomplished was spending eleven dollars on a breaker I didn’t need and getting to reset all the clocks inside an 85-degree house. Not awesome.

After spending the majority of the rest of the week in my car with the A/C running, I’m now in the middle of my convenient four-hour window, waiting for the real electrician to arrive and actually fix something. I don’t think I’ll tell him this story.

Oh, well. At least I cheated death. I feel truly alive!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 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, April 12, 2017

Your Tax Dollars? Look at these Cartoons Instead

Your taxes are due in five days. Don’t blame me, I voted against them.

A few years ago I thought I would try to make us all feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So I went to USA.gov (motto: “Because we can, that’s why”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with a ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters Q, X, Y or Z. (I’m happy to announce that the government was able to add a K agency since last year.)

I have updated the list of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2016 tax dollars are headed:


Administration on Aging (motto: Good for wine and cheese, bad for people’s bodies.)

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (motto: Buyer beware. And seller, too. We’re coming for all of you.)

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (motto: It goes in the upper right corner, dammit!)

Delaware River Basin Commission (motto: Getting paid to stare at water since 1961.)

Economic Adjustment Office (motto: Please be patient. We’re redistributing your money as fast as we can.)

Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (motto: Just kidding, we have no standards.)

Government Ethics, Office of (motto: We can’t even fit all the irony into one building.)

House Office of the Clerk (Main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up.)

Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group (We’re using your money to figure out how to play nice. It’s not working.)

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (motto: We will sue you in as many places as possible.)

Kennedy Center (motto: Please stop asking about Marilyn.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Marine Mammal Commission (We’re investigating the narwhal. He seems like a troublemaker.)

National Technical Information Service (motto: Dumbing everything down for you as fast as we can.)

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (This is not where we hide all the bribes and kickbacks and stuff. We swear.)

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Just kidding, we spent it all. Here’s a third of what you were promised. We borrowed it from social security. Don’t tell them!)

Rural Business and Cooperative Programs (motto: We don’t trust you rednecks to handle things on your own.)

Surface Transportation Board (We don’t trust those Department of Transportation guys to handle the surface. There’s just too much of it. It covers the whole country, you know?)

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (We changed our name from “Taxpayer Advocate Service” because too many people thought we would actually help. You’re still screwed.)

U.S. Election Assistance Committee (motto: Helping you get crappy officials for generations to come.)

Veterans Day National Committee (We’re thinking November 11th again this year.)

Washington Headquarters Services (We are here to serve headquarters. In Washington. Don’t ask a lot of questions, OK?)


It bothers me that we don’t have Q, X, Y, or Z agencies. I really don’t think our government is applying itself here. We’re only four more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head, I can suggest the Quicksand and other Swamp Dangers Mitigation Exploratory Committee, the Xylophone Standardization Council, the Yo-Yo Injury Prevention Task Force, and the Zeppelin and Lighter-than-Aircraft (Unmanned) Aviation Standards Advisory Board. Get on that, will you Washington?

As far as the current agencies go, keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

Even more disturbing than the fact that the lists grow each year, is the fact that not all the agencies are listed under the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies. And here’s what’s really scary – you used to be able to dig a little deeper on USA.gov under the Executive Branch and find the rest of the disheartening lists – a list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, a list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, a list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, a list of Quasi-Official Agencies.

But now all those lists are gone. When you click on the Executive Branch now, you get moved to a Kids.USA.Gov site with an animated Ben Franklin taking us on a Learning Adventure, explaining how government “works” to second-graders.

Umm… Is there an agency that can look into why someone is hiding quasi-official agencies from us using a cartoon? No? OK, never mind then, I guess.  

If that isn’t scary enough for you, then I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, that we may or may not be allowed to know about and simply ponder this:

According to Congress, it takes around $5.3 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Five and a third billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Five thousand millions.

They “work” about one hundred seventy-five days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work twelve hours per day, that’s $2.5 million an hour.
That’s $42,000 per minute.
That’s $700 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

(And, let’s keep in mind that it was Congress themselves who told us how much they are spending. So, in reality, it’s probably a much higher number, since they stopped letting us know about all the agencies and stuff and gave us a cartoon instead.)

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $8,500 of your money (or probably more) on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more hidden quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

But never mind. Just look at the fun animated Ben Franklin and forget about what you were concerned with. Ben has video games for you, too!

Holy crap.

The real April Fools’ Day is not April 1st. It’s April 15th.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 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, April 5, 2017

This Will Be Painful, I Insure You

Three months ago, some yahoo up in Oregon talked himself out of chaining up his two-wheel-drive Nissan sedan in a blizzard, then promptly slid across the highway in front of our Suburban. Unfortunately, both vehicles were moving at the time, and the end result was a pretty decent head-on collision, followed by four hours of standing on the side of the highway in a snowstorm.

Good times.

When our vehicles collided, all eight of the airbags in our Suburban deployed. ("Deploy" is a fun euphemism for "loudly explode into your face and fill car with smoke.") When that happened, the OnStar system immediately sprang into action and alerted insurance agents and adjusters in three states that it was time to do their jobs very poorly.

I like my insurance company. Or at least, I want my insurance company to keep liking me, so I’m not going to mention their name here. The other guy’s insurance company rhymes with Allstate.

The next morning, I spoke on the phone with the third-party insurance adjuster who would be collecting the scrap heap that was our car, and described the collision, the damage, and the fact that all the airbags had gone off. She told me that the car was definitely totaled, and we would never see it again. So, we fished all the loose change out of the ashtray and left the wreckage of our Suburban at Caveman Towing in Grants Pass, Oregon, heading home to California, where we would eagerly await our total loss settlement check.

A week later some idiot from some third-party adjuster company called me to say that my Suburban was at a salvage yard in Eugene, Oregon, and good news! – It looks like it’s repairable!

I realize you guys legalized weed up there, but I really don’t think that means that it’s OK to smoke dope while you’re on the job, dude. Say again? You want to repair it? Might I remind you that all eight air bags went off? The interior of the car looks like a one-star hotel room in Fallujah, and the front looks like it was hit with the same Stinger missile that dropped the hotel rating down from a three.

Well, we need to do a full estimate on it, but it looks promising. Do you have a favorite repair shop?

A favorite repair shop? In Eugene, Oregon? A town where I don’t live in a state where I don’t live? Hmm… Is Big Tony’s Creole Grill and Auto Body still in business? No? OK, then, I guess you can pick your favorite, Skippy.

A week later the good news came down from the north. The Suburban is repairable! The Oregon estimate came back at $12,000.

Uh… $12,000? Was that just the interior estimate, or did you make the common mistake of confusing my Suburban with that Maserati that had a scratch on the hood?

Can I see a copy of that estimate, please? Uh… You guys only have an hour and a half of “frame inspection and repair labor” listed on here. Did you miss the part about how it was a head-on collision that reduced a Nissan sedan to the size of a juice box? And what an adorable labor rate you used. Why don’t we tow it down here for a California estimate, where they aren’t planning to repair it at the preschool with clay and Legos.

Fast forward another week and the California repair shop calls to tell me that the Suburban arrived and has some rear bumper damage. Hmm… Nope. The rear bumper was the one part of the car not involved in the accident.

Yeah, the tow truck driver seemed to think that might be fork lift damage. The drive shaft is separated and laying on the ground, too.

Oh, goody. Was my car being scavenged for parts at the Oregon salvage yard before someone said, “Whoops. Hey, put that transmission back in, they want to tow it down to California instead.”? And, great news about the new bumper damage! I was beginning to worry that no one would get to pick my car up with a forklift during this process. I’m glad we checked that box off.

I was skeptical before, but if we’ve been sticking giant steel beams under my car and lifting it up like it was a pallet of Huggies at Costco, I really want it back now! Get going on that estimate!

Fast forward what seemed to be nine or ten years and the California shop calls with the good news. The estimate is up to $19,000 now, but it’s not a total loss, yet. It’s still repairable!

Wow, that is fantastic news, a full two months after the crash. How much “frame inspection and repair labor” do you have in there? Oh, an entire two hours this time. That should be plenty. Let’s get going on the repairs. We crashed on January 2nd, and I’d like to have my car back for next New Year’s, if possible.

Fast forward another month, and almost exactly three months after Captain Slides-A-Lot ruined our travel plans, the California repair shop called back with the “bad” news.

Wow, so sorry to tell you this, but after getting your car up on the frame measuring machine, it turns out that the frame will need to be completely replaced. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a total loss.

Yeah, wow, what an unfortunate turn of events that I never could have seen coming. Gee, I’m so sad for your repair shop’s loss of revenue. Too bad we didn’t put it up on the frame measuring machine THREE MONTHS AGO!!

Like I said, I’m not going to mention their name here, but I would venture a guess that I have one of the best insurance companies a driver can have, and they still suck this bad. How on Earth is frame measuring machine not the first thing they demand from whatever third-party stoner organization is tasked with inspecting the vehicle? Do they just love spending my money? Don’t answer that.

And as far as the other guy’s insurance company goes – don’t even get me started. My wife was bruised pretty heavily by the seatbelt, and when we mentioned that, they immediately went into frantic mode while trying to use their caring and compassionate voices.

I almost believed they cared until I received the letter explaining how they would calculate an injury settlement, if there needed to be one. They explained that injuries and their associated monetary values are calculated with their handy insurance computer program named… wait for it… “Colossus.”  – I am not making that up.

Colossus? Are you nice folks so far removed from the realm of actual humanity that you can’t even hear how ridiculously ominous that sounds? Seriously? I have an idea. Let’s be real. Let’s all just cut the crap and rename it to sound even more truthful. That way you don’t have to go through the charade of using your caring voice.

I’m thinking the “We’re Going to Screw You Over-inator” has a better ring to it.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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