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


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, March 29, 2017

Run, Walk, and Wheeze Rocklin

Every year in the early spring, or “monsoon season,” as it was known this year, I sign our three boys up for our elementary school’s running club. Every Tuesday for seven weeks after school, the boys run for an hour. It’s great! For me. I’m at home in my office getting work done. It’s probably not so great for them, because they have to run.

The program is run (literally) by our amazing husband and wife PTA president and vice president team. They are an awesome family, who all seem to be constructed out of rubber, steel, boundless energy, and good looks. I don’t know how they do it, but they’re definitely keeping up the average for all the rest of us slacker families at the school.

Each week when they send out the reminder email, they politely ask for any parental help we’re willing to offer. Here’s the thing - I don’t sign my boys up for running club every year for physical fitness reasons, or togetherness. They get plenty of exercise just beating each other up at home every day, and I get plenty of interaction with them breaking up the fights. I sign them up so I can get an extra hour in my office on Tuesdays. Since I’m two years behind on my current book, that’s a good thing.

So, I have yet to show up and help with running club. I am beginning to regret that decision.

You see, the whole point of running club (from the running club organizer’s point of view, anyway), is to lead up to the big final event - our town’s most popular annual foot race, the Run Rocklin. Every year so far, I have gone along with the charade that we were all just doing this to train for the 5K, and not to gain an extra hour in my day, so I’ve run the race with my boys. And every year so far, I have survived. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case this year.

The race is this Sunday, and as of today, I have logged exactly no training miles. None whatsoever. In year’s past, I have always put in some miles each week for four or five weeks before the race so I was at least prepared to not die mid-race.

This year, however, things kept getting in the way of my ability to train. Things like nachos. And beer. And naps. There was a lot on my plate. (Actually, there was nothing on my plate by the time I was done eating, but by then there was just no way to go for a run without turning my after-nachos beer into a foamy mess. And what happens when that beer is gone? You can’t run with a cooler. You see the problem.)

I’m already past the point of no return. It’s too close to race day. Any training runs I manage do now will only hurt me, since I’m about to turn forty-five years old. These days my muscle and joint recovery time from a thirty-minute run is about a month and a half.

The only problem is, I need to keep up the charade. I need to keep that extra hour in my week next year, so I need to run with my boys on Sunday.

Since a traditional training regimen with actual running is out of the question, I have cleverly devised a new plan. The Advil Training Regimen should be my ticket to surviving the race.

Here’s the plan:
I’ll start with a standard dose of the anti-inflammatory wonder drug today, taking 800mg on four-hour intervals. Tomorrow, I’ll up the dosage to 1500mg and slowly decrease the interval times, so by race day I’ll have worked up to 20,000mg every eleven seconds.

That should get enough ibuprofen in my system to allow me to walk under my own power back to the car after the race, and at least army-crawl out of bed on Monday morning. Sure, it may not be as wise as simply preparing for the race by actual training, but that ship sailed, my friend. Now we must get creative. And I really think this is the best course of action, because a side benefit of the Advil Training Regimen is that you can wash ibuprofen down with beer. That just makes good sense.

While compatibility with beer is a major plus, unfortunately, the ATR will do nothing to prevent my lungs from collapsing and coming out my nose if I try to keep up with Son Number Three. It will also do nothing to keep my heart from simply exploding directly out of the front of my chest and onto the pavement if I try to keep up with Son Number Two. Ibuprofen and beer can only do so much.

Luckily, I think I can still pace with Son Number One, who is not a fan of running at all, and will be complaining that 5K’s are stupid before, during, and after the race, especially on the hills.

I hear you, man.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to Costco for some more Advil. And beer.

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, March 22, 2017

The Other Tree of Death

I have a standing Google search that sends daily content from the web to my inbox. Just standard keyword searches for stuff I’m interested in, like “Nachos” and “Beer plus Nachos” and “Bacon plus Beer plus Nachos”, etc.

One of the handful of searches unrelated to nachos is “Tree of Death.”

I keep the Tree of Death search active to keep track of my book by the same title, not necessarily because I love reading the frighteningly common news stories about someone being crushed to death by the tree that they themselves were either: a) standing next to while cutting down, or b) actually standing in while cutting down. (And newsflash: It’s always men. There has never been a single story about a woman cutting a tree down on top of herself. Us males are the only ones dumb enough to do that.)

The “Tree of Death” book is named after the fruitless pear tree in my front yard. It blooms beautiful white flowers every spring that smell like rotting meat. That wouldn’t be so bad, except we live in the house that the front yard is attached to. Also, these ridiculously stinky trees are in every front yard on our street, and every other street in our entire neighborhood. So, for two weeks in the spring, our whole world smells like a decaying rat at low tide. It’s magical.

I first wrote about my Tree of Death in 2011 - which is almost six years ago by my public school math - and I started the standing Google search shortly thereafter. So, how come, Mr. and Mrs. Google, you people are just now alerting me to another tree that is apparently widely known as El Arbol de la Muerte?

We speak Spanish here in California, but in case you don’t, el arbol de la muerte translated literally is “the tree of the death.” There is another tree of death out there, and I’m just now hearing about it. I’m not sure Google really works right all the time.

Daksha Morjaria from dogonews.com – tagline “Fodder for young minds” (perfect for me, since my brain never really grew up) – brings us the headline, Behold, The World's Most Dangerous Tree!

With its wide canopy of leaves, the majestic 50-feet tall manchineel tree that is native to the Caribbean, Florida, the northern coast of South America, Central America, and the Bahamas, looks particularly inviting, especially on a hot summer day. But you may be wise to heed the warning signs given that the deceptively innocuous tree holds the Guinness World Record for “the world’s most dangerous tree.”

(Exactly how young are the minds that dogonews.com is targeting if they are throwing out “deceptively innocuous” in the first paragraph? Even I had to look that up. Also, how many trees were in the running for the Guinness “most dangerous foliage” category? Anyway...)

The deadliness begins with the sweet-smelling fruit that is often found strewn on the sandy beaches where the trees grow.

Apparently, if you even take a single bite of the fruit, your throat tightens up to the point of you almost dying, and you stay that way for about eight hours, as long as you don’t die. If you die, you stay that way a little longer.

David Nellis, author of “Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean,” says the manchineel fruit, aka "beach apple," can also result in abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding, and digestive tract damage. However, the expert says the symptoms are temporary, and rarely result in death.

Bleeding? From where? And “temporary” digestive tract damage? Hmm... That all sounds great and everything, but I’ll just have a regular non-beach apple instead. Those rarely result in death either, and have none of the other fun side effects.

The tree’s thick and milky white sap that oozes out of its leaves and bark is equally dangerous. According to Nellis, contact with the skin can lead to symptoms that range from blisters to rash, headaches, and respiratory problems. The researcher says exposure to the eye can even cause "temporary painful blindness." Given that the sap’s most dangerous toxin, phorbol, is highly water soluble, experts advise not using the tree for shade during a rain shower, as raindrops carrying the diluted sap could easily scald your skin.

Blinding and skin-scalding sap. Yowza. (Side note: “Blinding Sap” would be a great name for a rock band.)

And can we talk for a minute about the fact that there are apparently enough poisonous plants and animals in this region to fill a four hundred and sixteen-page book? I don’t care how nice your weather is, Miami. You can keep it, along with your poisonous, scalding, blinding trees. And your alligators, which are not poisonous, so they’re not even in the book!

Novices planning to chop down the tree and use the wood for a beach bonfire should be aware that just inhaling the sawdust and smoke could burn their skin, eyes, and lungs! It is no wonder that Spanish-speaking cultures refer to the manchineel as arbol de la muerte, or tree of death.

The tree of death. Six years! Where were you on that one, Google?

And, unless we’re talking about castaways here, who goes to the beach and chops down one of the beach trees for a bonfire?

Beach cop: Where’d you get that tree in your fire?
You (standing on stump holding axe): Uh... we brought it from home.
Beach cop: Hmm... OK, good luck. Make sure you stand in the smoke. It’s great for your skin.

The tree’s sturdy wood is very popular with Caribbean carpenters who have learned to neutralize its poisonous sap by drying the bark in the sun. In Central and South America, the locals use the bark to treat body swelling caused by injury and inflammation and the dried fruit as a diuretic.

This tree grows on the beach. It’s already in the sun. How do these wily Caribbean carpenters cut el arbol de la muerte down without getting their skin and lungs scalded by the vicious, blinding sap and sawdust? And as far as using the tree of death for medical purposes – two words, Central and South Americans: Rite Aid.

This manchineel tree sounds downright scary, but do you know what the article didn’t mention about it? The smell. If it smelled awful, they would have said that. In fact, the poisonous fruit is described as “sweet-smelling.” Dead rat is not sweet-smelling.

And I never hang out under my tree in the front yard. I have a patio in the backyard, where I can still smell my nasty tree, but my patio cover never drips scalding sap on me, so I’m good there.

If I must have a Tree of Death in my front yard, the Caribbean Arbol de la Muerte is actually sounding a lot better than the one I currently have, as long as I don’t eat the fruit and I don’t hang out under it.

Shouldn’t be an issue. I think I’ll make the switch.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go gas up the chainsaw. Does anyone know the phone number for Florida?

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, March 15, 2017

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health - Repost

Every year there is an obligatory news story about how some state legislator has a bill ready to end the ridiculous time change. I am still here holding my breath. I guess maybe it’s the same guy who's in charge of balancing the budget and managing our water supply and fixing the roads and stuff. He’s probably busy not getting any of that done either. Anyway, here’s what I had to say about the time change a few years ago:

Dear People in Charge of Daylight Savings Time,
Stop it. (Oh, and bite me.)
-Smidge

I would actually print and mail that letter if I had any idea where to send it, but it still wouldn’t do any good. Not because of its surly and abrupt tone, but because even if you put it directly into the hands of the person in charge, they still work for the government. They either don’t know they are in charge of it, or they will say, “We have to take that to committee.” Nothing ever gets decided in committee, because “committee” is an old English Parliament word meaning “cocktail party.”

Since Arizona and Hawaii and half of Indiana don’t change to Daylight Savings Time, I assume having us mess with our clocks and sleep patterns twice a year is the responsibility of state governments. I live in California, and our state government has been successfully making the federal government look efficient and trustworthy by comparison for years.

I would move to Arizona, Hawaii, or the correct half of Indiana, but sadly, all three of those places are uninhabitable. (You may be arguing that point concerning Hawaii, but never forget: it might be a nice place to visit, but the entire state is the size of your living room, and the whole thing is literally floating on molten lava.)

I have railed against messing with the clocks on numerous occasions in this column and in person. (I’m sorry if you were ever unlucky enough to be around me at the beginning of March or November.) Mind you, I don’t care about it for myself. It never affects my body. It does affect my head, though, in the form of giving me headaches dealing with my children and my wife.

I have discussed this as far as the children go. I think we have all experienced the dread as we changed the clocks, knowing what is to come on Monday morning. In November, they will be knocking on your door at five A.M., and in March you will need to use a pneumatic jackhammer to dislodge them from their beds in time for school.

I have never discussed how Daylight Savings Time affects my wife, however. It’s far more insidious than the problems with the kids.

First, here’s a general outline of my typical day:
Alarm goes off.
I get out of bed and do things.
I am awake and functional all day.
I go to bed when all the things are done.
Repeat.

Here is how my wife’s perfect day would go:
No alarms exist in the city in which she sleeps.
Darkness, silence, and sleep prevail until at least ten A.M.
A slight head nod shall be given when it is acceptable to give gentle hugs.
No speaking aloud until two P.M.
Wide awake and productive from three P.M. until eight.
Total brain shutdown begins promptly at nine.
In bed at ten o’clock.
Repeat.

We have been running into quite a few snags in her perfect day schedule ever since we had children, and things got really bad when I quit my real job to become a professional writer. Since we all enjoy eating, it is very important that my wife gets out of bed and goes to work every day now.

Under normal circumstances, the six A.M. alarm is met with severe groaning and scowling disapproval directed at me, but the weeks surrounding the Daylight Savings Time changes are just downright scary.

We really need her to keep getting out of bed each morning, and you Daylight Savings Time idiots over in Sacramento are not helping. You have made me the bad guy. With the kids, I can just yank the covers and roll them onto the floor. But with my wife I have to lovingly remind her that it really is six o’clock even though it should obviously still be five, and even though it’s obviously way too early to get up, it’s still time to get up, and it’s not my fault, and please put down the knife.

I hate you, Daylight Savings Time.

Or is it Daylight Saving Time? Is it plural or singular? Dammit. Hang on, let me Google it.

Oh, great. There’s even a debate about that. I just found one more reason to hate you, Daylight Whateverthehell Time.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Whale Will Not be Exploded

“The whale will not be exploded.”

That’s not something most state agencies would need to announce when a thirty-six-foot sperm whale washes up on one of their beaches, but most states are not Oregon when it comes to exploding whales.

The headline in the Oregonian’s Twitter feed this week: Very dead sperm whale washes up on Oregon coast, will not be exploded. (The Oregonian is the state’s only surviving newspaper, and when I say ‘newspaper,’ I of course mean two part-time employees, one IT manager/pizza delivery guy, a laptop, and a smartphone.) (And when I say ‘surviving,’ I mean dying.)

“Why would they be mentioning anything about a whale exploding?”, you may be asking yourself, if you’re a rational adult human from any other state besides Oregon. To answer that question, we must go back all the way to 1970, two full years before I was even born, to the best thing anyone ever did on planet Earth in the 1900s, bar none. (And note, I am including the moon landing and the conception and birth of Clint Eastwood in there.)

In 1970, a forty-five-foot, eight-ton Pacific Gray whale washed ashore near Florence, OR. Oregon’s own KATU Channel 2 newsman Paul Linnman and his faithful crew were there to document all the action for posterity.

What action is involved in a dead whale, you ask? Well, normally not much, but that answer changes dramatically if you bring in the Oregon State Highway Division, because apparently, they have dynamite.

In 1970, the highway guys were brought in to help get rid of the rotting whale carcass that was beginning to stink up the coast. What to do with it was the question of the day.


Bury it?
Naw, it might just resurface.

Cut it up?
We don’t have enough gas masks.

Hmm... You know... we could blow it up with dynamite.
Yes! We’re guys who have access to a lot of dynamite. Why didn’t we think of that earlier?

Let’s put on our hard hats to look official, and then we’ll start packing dynamite under this thing.

How much should we put under it?

Hmm... Well, the dead whale weighs approximately eight tons, so calculating for explosive yield minus target weight and density, I’d say we need about a quarter-ton of dynamite.

But we have a half-ton of dynamite.

Cool! Let’s just put it all under there.

How far should we move all these people back?

I dunno. Maybe to the road?

Hmm... this is a thousand pounds of dynamite we’re talking about. Why don’t we move them all to the next beach parking lot down the road. That’s like a quarter-mile away.

Great. That’s pretty far away, though. I hope they’re able to see and hear the awesome explosion from there!


The general idea was to use high explosives to blow the offensive-smelling animal into bite-size chunks for seagulls and crabs to feast on. And if you were to pack the boxes of dynamite just right, you’d be sure to blow most of it straight back into the ocean.

I’m not sure what was going through the trigger man’s head as he detonated that half-ton of dynamite under that wayward Oregon gray whale, but I do know what happened next, and it is fantastic!

As the KATU cameras rolled from the “safe zone,” we were initially ecstatic about the size and relative loudness of the explosion. It was amazing. The explosion created a sand cloud so huge that nothing could be seen down on the beach. Was the whale gone? Who can tell with that giant dust cloud, but wasn’t that explosion awesome?... uh, what was that?

Umm... whale parts, I think... Raining down on us from the explosion.

Whale parts? How can that be... Holy Crap! Look out!

As the crowd from the not-so-safe-zone started to duck and cover, it became clear what was going on. Whale blubber is strangely resistant to dynamite, but it does act as a large floppy projectile when properly motivated.

As people in polyester clothing ran for their actual lives, a chunk of whale so large it could total a car landed on top of someone’s Oldsmobile, completely totaling the car, as advertised.

Amazingly, no one was seriously injured in the hail storm of whale parts, so Paul was free to make light of the event in his voiceover for the evening news.

Completely deadpan, he noted, “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

When the sand and dust and whale parts had cleared, it turned out that a half-ton of dynamite just doesn’t cut it against an eight-ton whale. Almost the entire stinky mammal was still on the beach, right where it had been sitting before some of it was rudely interrupted by a bang.

As night closed in, the highway division’s tractors could be seen burying the remaining parts of the whale. Just like they probably should have done in the first place.

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Oregon news outlets need to say that we won’t be exploding this new whale.

(Don’t believe me? Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.” You won’t be disappointed.)

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hands-Free CB

Here in California, our legislators have recently made the roads safer by passing a new law, which always works. We have been required to be “hands-free” with our cell phones in the car since 2008, but now they really mean it. No, really this time.

In 2008, we could still touch our phones while driving, and we could make a phone call while driving, but we weren’t allowed to hold the phone up to our ears. So what that meant was if you were on the phone and held it up to your ear during the conversation, you were breaking the law. But if you were on speaker phone and held a banana up to your ear during the conversation, you were well within your rights as a California motorist.

Also, if you simply held a banana up to your ear while not on the phone, that was OK, too. And presumably, if your phone was turned off and you held it up to your ear while driving, that would have been OK, since at that point your phone is really just an expensive plastic and glass banana, communication-wise.

Since January, however, we are now no longer even allowed to touch our phones in the car. We are still allowed to have a conversation on the phone, but the call has to be initiated without ever touching the phone. We can touch buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard of our space-age cars that will make our phones call someone, but we can’t touch the actual phone itself. It is now required to be duct taped to the roof of the car at all times. There has been no official word on where the bananas need to be.

We are also still allowed to talk directly to the other people in the car, but they will not respond, because they’re all texting each other.

omg. lol.

So here’s my question, oh-so benevolent leaders of this great state: What’s up with CB’s? I saw a trucker the other day just chatting away with someone (presumably another trucker, or possibly a truck stop hooker), holding the CB microphone right there in his hand, which was not even on the wheel of the enormous eighteen-wheeler he was piloting down the freeway. What’s up with that?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a CB is exactly the same thing as a phone, only with less dropped calls. I realize that you only have to hold the CB microphone up to your mouth, instead of the entire side of your head, as with a phone or a banana, but something tells me lack of peripheral vision is not what you guys are trying to legislate. So why can’t I hold my phone in my hand and talk on speaker phone, but I’m perfectly welcome to hold a CB microphone and do the same thing?

Although, if I got a CB, I’d have to learn an entirely different language, so that may not be the best option. I’ll constantly be having to ask if other truckers have their ears on, and alert them to my 20. I’ll need to let them know if they have Smokey the bear knocking on their back door, and whether it’s Evel Knievel, a gumball machine, a county Mountie, or a plain brown wrapper. Or maybe it’s a Kojak with a Kodak, in which case they’d better listen to their bird dog and slide off the hammer.

That sounds like too much work, especially since most of my car trips are just taking the kids to and from school. I barely remember when to do that, so I can’t be keeping track of all the bears as well. Plus, I’m not sure I could fit an eighteen-wheeler into the school parking lot. And besides, I like my phone and I want to keep it. So I’ve come up with a plan.

Here’s the next big new idea that someone else can make millions on, since I’m too lazy to do it myself. We need CB radio microphones that plug into the headphone jack on our smartphones. That way we can all talk to each other on speaker phone, just as before, but now we’re perfectly legal again, since it’s a CB microphone and all. Sorry iPhone 7 users. You guys are out of luck on this one. You won’t get to have a cool trucker handle, or say ‘over’ after every sentence like we will.

So, anyway, I’m thinking we need those, or as an alternative, phones cleverly disguised to look like bananas.

Either way will be fine with me. Just let me know when they’re available on Amazon.

See you soon, I’m 10-7. Y'all keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down. Tome Raider over and out.

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wife Bee-ter

As I was doing research for this column (‘research’ being defined here as farting around on the Internet looking for something to write about), I came across probably the most disturbingly awesome video footage I have seen since Crispin Glover was on Letterman. Or even since Joaquin Phoenix was on Letterman.

A man in the jungle – inexplicably wearing black dress slacks and a nice belt - with a tucked in white tank-top undershirt (commonly referred to as a ‘wife beater,’ but I don’t want to make any judgements on this gentleman), was standing far too close to a tree swarming with bees. I would normally define far too close to a swarm of bees as ‘within thirty miles,’ or ‘in the same state,’ but this guy was standing in a cloud of bees right next to the tree.

So here’s this guy in a swarm of bees with nothing but his Lionel Richie mustache as face protection and he is proceeding to grab handfuls of bees off the tree with his bare hands and stuff them down the front of his T-shirt.

What!?

He keeps on grabbing handfuls and stuffing them down the front of his shirt until he has a classic wife beater beer belly. Only this beer belly is not made from endless empty calories, polish sausages, and bitter regrets – it’s made from live bees!

What am I watching here!?

The video has no sound, so I’m left to make my own conclusions. All I can think is that this guy is dirt-poor and has no other means of transporting bees back to his village where they are desperately needed to pollenate the one carrot plant his family owns, and to make honey for dirt sandwiches. He has been forced to build up a crazy immunity to bee stings over the years due to his dirt-poor-iness. How many stings did it take to...

Wait. What is he doing now?

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. He got his T-shirt stuffed full (OF LIVE BEES!!!) and then he just proceeds to untuck it, pull it up, and let all the bees fly away.

What the actual hell is going on here? He was doing that for fun!? He’s not a wretched dirt-poor carrot farmer? And where is this? Probably Brazil or Myanmar or some other jungle country that has the perfect combination of tropical-looking trees with huge swarms of bees attached to them and crazy people.

Now, for all I know, he might be a Brazilian Intel executive on his lunch break, just messing around. He might be the Johnny Knoxville of Myanmar, and this was a soundless clip from Myanmar Jackass III.

For good measure, after they all fly off his belly, he grabs a clump of them off the tree and kisses them, letting them hang off of his mustache, which is clearly not a great facial protection device against bees, since one of them is crawling up his nose and another is crawling on his eye right now.

Who is this guy!?!

I have no idea where he’s from, but we need to find this man and import him to the United States immediately.

I have heard that our bee population is somehow in trouble, and that if it keeps declining, eventually all life as we know it will stop functioning as a result of no food being able to grow anywhere. That could eventually lead to the malnourishment of our IT professionals, which in turn could affect the quality and strength of our WiFi signals, which would be very, very bad. We might even lose the ability to send tweets completely.

This is serious, people, and I’m thinking this guy can help. He’s a natural for bee transportation and relocation, and if their habitat is in trouble, I’m guessing enough bees could actually live on this guy to pollenate every single crop in one of our lesser-size states.

If he’s got any friends who can also do the bee shirt stuffing trick, we’re in business. When we find them and get them on a plane, we can even have them pre-stuff their wife beaters, then throw on a suit jacket. Fast track them some TSA-Pre clearances and, Boom! More bees for America.

Get on tracking this guy down, USDA. Make yourselves useful! Worst case scenario, he ends up as a popular carnival attraction, touring the regional honey festivals.

That probably pays more than Intel Brazil does. That’s a win-win.

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, February 15, 2017

These Guys Sound Fishy

A long time ago, in another life, I worked in the construction industry. I was pretty good at pretending, so it took a number of years before anyone figured out that I had no idea what I was doing, and I was forced to become a humor writer instead.

At some point along the way, I worked with a guy named Ivan. As you can imagine from the name, he was Chinese... wait, no, Russian. He was Russian. He and his cousin had moved to the United States from Russia (or maybe one of the ‘ias, or the ‘stans – I don’t remember exactly) when they were in their early twenties. He was (and I am hoping, still is) a fun and enthusiastic guy, a hard worker, and an interesting fellow to talk to.

I had a lot of great conversations with him about his move to America and settling in. When he arrived he was most amazed about the amount of choices for everything at the grocery stores. He said in Russia you could usually find what you needed, but there would only be one brand of each thing. No wonder he moved. That’s just no way to live.

Fortunately, we have a lot of Russian immigrants, so he had an American-style selection of Russian ladies to choose from when it came to dating, and he was married with kids when I met him.

One day at the job site he was on the phone discussing his wife’s birthday present - with his black market hedgehog dealer, obviously. Because it had simply never occurred to me to own a hedgehog, I had no idea they were illegal to keep as pets in California. Apparently, the way he told it, every person from Russia loves hedgehogs, so it was going to be the ultimate gift for his wife.

I’m not one hundred percent sure what would happen if I gave my wife an illegal hedgehog for her birthday, but I’m certain she would have a less-than-Russian reaction. She might even report me to Fish and Game, or whomever is in charge of trying to thwart illegal hedgehog smuggling. No telling.

He had some good stories, but none better than the one about his first trip to Walmart.

He and his cousin had just arrived in the U.S., and wanted to gear up to go fishing. They were looking to purchase waders. (For those of you from New York and LA, waders are rubber overalls with attached boots, sort of like a prophylactic for your whole body. Instead of standing on the bank of the river not catching any fish, you can wade out into the water up to your chest and still not catch any fish, but you’ll be dry, like you were on the bank.)

Ivan and his cousin spoke almost no English at this point, and they were at the sporting goods section of a Walmart, which did not carry waders. This was before the internet (yes, kids, there was a time before the internet when we all had to talk to each other – dark times indeed), so with severely limited English, the two Russian twenty-something males were attempting to ask the female Walmart clerk where to go to buy waders.

That’s all well and good, and might have turned out fine, but the problem was that between the two of them, the only English fishing-related word they knew was ‘hook.’

They did not know the word ‘waders,’ nor did they know ‘boots,’ or anything else that might have described the uniquely-purposed item they were trying to source. All they knew was the word ‘clothes.’

So here are our heroes, both pantomiming the writhing, thrashing, yanking, and pulling required to actually get a pair of fishing waders on and pulled up to your chest, occasionally throwing in a whipping motion to simulate casting a fly rod, all the while repeating the same phrase they have expertly assembled in English to get their point across to the female clerk.

“We need hooker clothes.”

She called the police.

When the police department’s Russian interpreter peeled himself off the floor after his fit of hysterical laughter, he explained the misunderstanding to both parties, and everyone had a good chuckle. No charges were filed.

Learn the language, kids. (Or always have the internet handy.)

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, February 8, 2017

Mrs. Magoo

I wanted to take this opportunity to do a small but vital PSA for the medical professionals out there – specifically all you doctors. I realize you spend an inordinate amount of time and money on medical school, and when you graduate and start practicing medicine, you’re all wicked smaht, as they say in Boston. But there seems to be one thing they’re not teaching you in medical school, and I wanted to share that with you today.

It seems like it would be obvious to everyone, but apparently not. The thing that some of you doctors are missing is the fact that almost all of your patients didn’t go to medical school like you did. That should make sense now, if you think back on it, because your classes were regular size, and didn’t include all the rest of the people in the world.

The end result of that fact is that you might need to explain the things going on in your head out loud to your patients, because your patients might not inherently know what a high blood CRP level means, for instance. Or what “wow,” means when you stick that cold thing in their ear and shine the light in there.

You might also want to take a second to put yourself in your patient’s gown, as it were, when prescribing medicine or advising on treatment, and think about some of the challenges your suggested course of action might present. Let me give you an example...

My wife was recently diagnosed with iritis, which is an irritation and inflammation of the irises (which, after I Googled it, turn out to be the colored parts of your eyeballs). We had to go to the ophthalmologist to get that diagnosis, because she had another issue going on with one of her eyes.

Besides being very bloodshot, her iris was stuck to the lens behind it, so her pupil wasn’t opening and closing properly, causing it to be almost rectangular instead of round. One eye looked normal and the other looked like a cat with a severe hangover. She’d been to the optometrist the day before for a routine visit, so she went back to have them look at the new problem.

They saw the funny shaped pupil and immediately opted for the worst possible diagnosis, guessing she had an eye-threatening condition that would likely leave her homeless, wearing a second-hand eye patch, with no friends and a bad case of mange.

(That might not have been exactly what the optometrist said, but it was something like that.)

The second opinion from the ophthalmologist was a little more upbeat. You get to keep your eye and your home and your friends. We just need to keep both your eyes dilated for a week while we put steroid drops in them to cure the iritis. Dilating your eyes will also un-stick the iris from the lens.

Hmm... Well, that does sound better than the mange scenario, but I have to keep my eyes dilated for a whole week? That’s going to make seeing a lot harder. OK, well, let’s do it.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had your eyes dilated, but it’s not very fun. You can’t drive, light hurts your eyes, and everything is fuzzy. My wife is a high school teacher, so keeping her eyes permanently dilated for a week was interesting. I needed to drive her to and from work., and she wasn’t able to see anything that she, or anyone else, was writing on the board or on their papers, which made teaching much more exciting.

Her district didn’t have an extra Braille computer lying around, so reading her emails was a challenge at best. She could just start to see a little as the drops were wearing off, so she basically had a half-hour window right before her next scheduled dilation to get six hours of grading and computer work done.

It was a rather frustrating, tiring, headache-y, and overall non-productive week for her. Back at the ophthalmologist’s office for the follow-up visit and he tells her she needs to keep up the dilating for another week. After a very heavy sigh, she turned to me and said something about emails, or not being able to read some other thing.

“Well, you just need to get stronger readers. Then you’ll be able to see.”

I’m sorry, what?

“Yeah, you just need a stronger magnification on your glasses when your eyes are dilated, then you can see again. Just buy the strongest ones they have at the drugstore.”

You see, doctors of the world, this is what I’m talking about. We out here with non-doctor jobs have absolutely no idea how the eye works. We never studied it at the medical school we didn’t go to. You just assuming we would know something like that is really unhelpful. That was an offhand comment that really would have helped out a great deal... A WEEK AGO!

So, off to the Dollar Store we went. I found her a sweet pair of Mrs. Magoo glasses with a classy zebra print on the sides. She put them on and shouted, “Holy crap! I can see!” Since we were at the Dollar Store, no one even noticed.

We splurged and got her two pairs of zebra print glasses, just in case she took one of them off and couldn’t find them again in the blur.

Mrs. Magoo sure is a lot more pleasant to be around now that she can see! Thanks, Doc.

Is there anything else you want to tell me?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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