Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I'm Drawing a Red Line on Misbehavior

I read an article in the Sacramento Bee the other day. For those of you not from the greater Sacramento area, the Sacramento Bee is our pretend newspaper. For those of you under the age of twenty-five, a newspaper is how roughly six hundred remaining subscribers in the country still get their daily information. It’s words printed on paper and usually has nothing to do with the Kardashians or Jay Z and Beyonce. I know, right?

The article was about how the Sacramento Regional Transit folks were planning to “ward off loiterers and fare cheats” at the train stations. Like so many other things about the “big city” of Sacramento, it seems that the RT system is just a Fisher-Price version of the real thing.

The plan? They’re going to draw red lines on the ground.

It seems that the light rail stations in and around the greater Sacramento area have become rife with loiterers, skateboarders, homeless people, drug dealers, and general miscreants, none of whom have ever bothered to purchase a ticket for the train. This has led to a revenue shortfall, which has led to budget cuts, which has led to some serious outside-the-box thinking from the RT muckety-mucks.

The area inside the new red lines “will be designated as a ‘Paid Fare Zone,’ where smoking, bike riding, skateboarding, and open containers of alcohol are prohibited.” It seems, after reading the article, that painting the red lines on the ground and putting up signs was found to be a significantly cheaper solution than actual fences and turnstiles.

I’m not making this up.

The payoff quote from Sacramento RT’s new red line visionary – “We want to start that process of getting people to think of our stations requiring fares.”

Yes, I guess that would be good. And I think a line on the ground – especially the “we really mean business” color red – is a great place to start. I can’t wait to read how this “solution” works out. If the Sacramento Bee stays in print long enough, I look forward to the follow-up article.

Here on the outer edges of the greater Sacramento Metropolitan Region, we have no trains. We have a few buses, though. I see them every once in a while cutting me off to get back into traffic after loading on another passenger to bring their total ridership into the low single digits. While we might not be cool enough to have any trains out here in Rocklin, I am still adopting Sacramento RT’s visionary light rail station policies into my parenting strategy.

I am immediately implementing the painted-line-on-the-ground system for a number of different trouble areas with my children. Son Number Two and Three, for instance, are much like oil and water. Or fire and ice. Or incredibly annoying to be around together - however you want to look at it. I have already painted an orange line around our entire house, designating the area inside the line to be an argument and whining-free zone. That should solve that issue.

Spills and generally eating like wolves has been another trouble spot, so I’ve painted a yellow line around the entire kitchen and dining area, designating it a spill and mess-free zone. Problem solved.

Proper aim and location of urine is always an issue near the toilets, so I’ve painted a blue line on all the toilet rims, designating the area outside the lines as a pee-free zone. If the lines are ever green, we’ll know there’s been a violator.

Getting the three boys to stay on task at homework and piano practice time has always been a major challenge, but not anymore! The purple lines around the piano and kitchen table have successfully designated them as slack-free zones. We’ll be laser-focused now!

Barefoot carpet Lego injuries have continued to plague our household, but the gray line I painted across the doorway to the game room has now designated the rest of the house as a Lego-free zone. Happy feet!

And lastly, as our children get older, we’re letting them have more freedom to roam during play time. They range up and down our long street with their friends, but we’ve yet to let them head over to the park by themselves, or down to the store. I know this is a concern for all of us, not just the folks in my neighborhood, so I’ve broadened my vision on this one. I’ve contacted the City of Rocklin, and we’re currently talking about a plan to get a red line painted around the entire city to designate all of Rocklin as a creep-free zone.

The idea was well received at City Hall, and they’re currently talking to the folks in Sacramento to make sure they get the line specifications correct. No sense painting a line around an entire city and then finding out it’s useless because it’s the wrong width or the wrong shade of red to keep the bad guys out.

Thanks, Sacramento RT, for all the great ideas. Keep up the good work over there. I can’t wait to ride one of your new, safer, cleaner trains one of these days.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain the lines again to my kids. They seem to still be arguing even though they’re clearly inside the orange argument-free zone. I don’t understand how that’s possible.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

We Interrupt this Column to Roof in a Drawl

I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to write this column this week. I have to be up on my roof.

Have you ever been dumb enough to start a project? Yeah, me too.

The whole thing started when my wife said she wanted to put ceiling fans up under our patio roof.

That shouldn’t take me too long to do, I foolishly thought.

Then over this winter we noticed that a considerable amount of water actually makes its way through the patio roof and down onto the patio when it rains. We hadn’t noticed it before, because prior to this winter it hadn’t rained in California in twenty-eight years.

Now, I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I know very little about how electricity works, but I am confident that water leaking down into a ceiling fan is bad for both the fan and the electricity inside the fan. And the electrons connected to my inside house wires from the outside fan wires. It could all end up being bad for my toaster and my refrigerator. It’s very technical.

All I know is life without toast is one thing, but warm beer is completely uncalled for. I needed to get that leak under control.

So, last week I was dumb enough to go up and tear off the old shingles. Once I was up there a thought occurred to me. The leaking might have something to do with the fact that the patio roof has almost no slope at all. That might also be why (at least as of this writing) I haven’t fallen off of it yet – a fact that my wife points out, rightfully, is amazing. Fingers crossed for more of that success!

Right after I was done removing the old roof, the full realization of the fact that I now had to install a new one hit me. As with so many other things in my life, I’m great with the demolition, but unfortunately, a little light in the rebuilding skills department. (Food, cars, etc.)

This should be no problem, though. I’m fairly confident that I know almost enough of the basic principles behind roofing to be ninety percent sure I’m going to get most of it right. I’m a little under the gun, however, since we have rain forecasted for Friday. So I need to put this column on hold this week and get to work.

(By the way... Does anyone out there know a lot about installing asphalt shingles on a low-slope roof? Please PM me. Asking for a friend.)

There has been a lot of measuring, calculations, research, and purchasing so far. For instance I know that to roof a 30’x14’ patio cover with Owens Corning Desert Tan asphalt three-tab shingles, you’ll need to buy approximately 420 square feet of shingles, or in terms of weight, 28,000 pounds worth. My back hurts.

And I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos, but they’re mostly Southern good ol’ boys up on a roof filming a how-to video with a cell phone about drip edge flashing and shingle starter rows. Between the thick drawls and the phones picking up the wind noise, not all of them were helpful, but I did end up with a lot of good info on what’s hot in camouflage baseball hats these days.

And I have a lot of new words in my vocabulary now, most of which I can say in both Standard English and Southern-American English, thanks to the YouTube videos.

Drip edge, hips, valleys, gables, eave edge flashing, rake edge flashing, asphalt underlayment, standard and increased overlap, ice dams, wind lift, wind-lifting dam ice flashing rake underlayment, etc. I have no idea what any of it means, but I really sound like I know what I’m talking about now, especially when I say it in my Southern drawl while wearing my new camo baseball cap.

So I should be all set. Sorry about the column this week, but the rain’s a’ comin’, y’all.

If you need me, I’ll be on the roof, probably swearing in my new drawl. By the way, don’t tell anyone about this in case I’m supposed to have a permit or something.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 13, 2016

Your Tax Dollars at Play

Your taxes are due in two 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 K, Q, X, Y or Z.

I have updated the list of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2015 tax dollars are headed:


Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee (motto: The slowest moving agency in the business.)

Bureau of the Public Debt (motto: Yep, still going up.)

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)

Innovation and Improvement Office (motto: We’ll be with you shortly after we work to innovate and improve our internal processes.)

Joint Fire Science Program (Seriously, bro, it’s not about weed. It’s totally about science, man, we totally swear. And no, you can’t come in. Unless you have brownies. Or chips, Or pizza.)

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

Minor Outlying Islands (Yes, we consider Hawaii to be minor. That’s why we’re headquartered here.)

National Ocean Service (motto: Now offering two oceans for your convenience, one on each side of the country.)

Office of Compliance (motto: You are out of compliance. We don’t even have to investigate. We already know.)

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!)

Research and Innovative Technology Administration (There might be some overlap with the Innovation and Improvement Office folks. We’re currently working to innovate and improve our process of checking on that.)

Susquehanna River Basin Commission (motto: We just steal all the Delaware River guys’ notes and do whatever they do.)

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. Arctic Research Commission (Who we are: “The U.S. Arctic Research Commission develops and recommends a national Arctic research policy.” I am not making that up.)

Voice of America (motto: Now broadcasting exclusively in Spanish for your convenience)

Weights and Measures Division (motto: There are six firkins in a hogshead.)


(It bothers me that we don’t have K, Q, X, Y, or Z agencies. I really don’t think our government is applying itself here. We’re only five more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head, I can suggest the Kentucky Derby Oversight and Fairness Commission, 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.

In true federal government style, the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies doesn’t list all of them. If you can stand to be on USA.gov for a little longer, you can find even more agencies listed under the authority of the executive branch. There’s the list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, the list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, the list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, the list of Quasi-Official Agencies. Super.

But, as you marvel over your tax bill this year, and wonder what righteous deeds will be wrought with your offered treasure, I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, and 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.

If you have a million dollars, you can run Congress for twenty-four minutes. If we were super-generous with the math and said they work twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year, that same million dollars would buy you a whole hour and a half.

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $8500 of your money on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

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

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 6, 2016

Fine Portraiture

My wife got an email the other day that she promptly forwarded to me. Two lines into the text and I was hot with anger, reliving a confounding scenario from a few years back - The time we had family pictures taken. Excuse me. The time we had “fine portraiture” done of our family. I won’t tell you the name of the fine portraiturist, but his initials are TB, like tuberculosis.

Getting family pictures taken is normally a happy time... for the mom. It’s usually an intolerable pain for the husband and children, but a happy time for the mom... until everyone starts griping. Then it’s an annoying time for the mom who can’t figure out why her family can’t just take ten damned minutes out of their little lives to appreciate the fact that she worked very hard to set all this up, not to mention how hard she works every damn day for all you ungrateful little snot-nosed punks, and can’t everyone just shut the hell up and smile?

That’s why family pictures always show forced smiles. Because all the smiles are forced.

This particular fine family portraiture session was nothing like that. It was magical. TB, the portraiturist, was engaging and funny, great with the kids, and he took the best pictures of our family that have been and probably will ever be taken. We look so good it’s actually hard to believe it’s really us. When we were done he even gave us twenty bucks to go get the kids some ice cream. It was the best picture taking experience ever, even though the made-up word 'portraiture' bugs the crap out of me almost more than 'artisanal.'

Then three weeks later my wife and I went back to look at the pictures. We got a babysitter because they told us specifically not to bring the kids. Hmm...

We had booked this particular fine portraiture studio for only one reason: We ended up with a $500 gift certificate from them at our elementary school charity auction. It consisted of a $250 sitting fee credit and a $250 credit toward the portraiture. It was a sweet deal for us, because my wife had helped with the auction and not all of the gift certificates had been bid on, so we ended up with one for free. Score! We thought...

My wife had even made a trip over to the portraiture studio to have a pre-session wardrobe meeting, which I thought was ridiculous, but she thought was classy. At that meeting they collected a $100 deposit from her that would be “fully refundable if not used.”

“No problem,” she thought. “We have $250 in credit toward our pictures. We’ll get the $100 back.”

They even gave us a postcard-sized piece of cardboard that we were supposed to tape on the wall where we thought we wanted our pictures to hang. We took a picture of it with our phone to send to them. With that cardboard marker as a reference for their computer software, they were able to show us a virtual picture of our new fine portraiture hanging on our own walls. I was already excited about the cool technology.

We arrived to look at our pictures and TB was nowhere to be found. We met with a fancy woman whose name was either Candi or Barbie. I can’t remember which. She sat down at her expansive oak desk and fired up the projector while I ate complimentary chocolate chip cookies and drank complimentary water from the classy little short plastic bottle. The projector came to life and there were all of our shining faces on the screen, arranged magically above our crappy upright piano. A good-sized family shot was surrounded by 8x10 individual pictures of the kids and a slightly larger one of me and my wife and in a loving embrace.

My God, we look amazing!

Then CandiBarbie started talking about prices. The family shot is just $700, and since you’re buying that, the 8x10’s which are normally $250 will be thrown in for only $200 each...

*record scratch*

“Hold on a second,” I said, utterly befuddled, as complimentary chocolate chip cookie crumbs fell from my open mouth. I did some rudimentary public school math in my head. “The wall you’re showing us costs over $1700?”

“Yes.”

I looked over at my wife, and she was crying.

We will never own all these amazing pictures of our beautiful children, because TB the fine portraiturist does not sell the digital files. Just galactically overpriced canvas prints. Holy crap, we wasted so much of our time, and now this TB SOB and his fancy minion just made my wife cry. I’m pissed.

I hold my tongue for a minute while I calm down. CandiBarbie waits quietly behind her giant oak desk.

“OK,” I finally say. “Let’s concentrate on the family shot. Figuring in our deposit, we have $350 to work with. What is the largest size we can get for that?”

“A single 9x12,” says CandiBarbie.

Sounds totally reasonable. I started to ask my wife, “OK, is that a size that we can get an off-the-shelf frame for?”, but I stopped and asked CandiBarbie the question instead, since she was the portraiture expert in the room.

She looked me right in the eye and said, “You know, I’m really not sure.”

My wife’s teary eyes flared like an angry dragon. If she actually had the power to shoot flames from her eyes, CandiBarbie would have been a smoking pile of ashes on the floor behind a flaming oak desk.

Later, after we had extricated ourselves from their den of inequity, my wife clued me in on CandiBarbie’s apparent frame ignorance. “Their frame shop is right behind her office. That was going to be the next part of the sales pitch.”

Wow.

In the end, we only paid $100, but if we’d walked in off the street with no “gift certificate,” that stupid little 9x12 piece of fine portraiture would have cost us $600.

Just wow.

The email my wife forwarded to me that brought back this wonderful memory, you ask? Apparently it has come time for old TB to retire from fine portraiture, and he’s now able to offer us all of our digital files on a CD for only $325.

Hmm.. I think instead of taking him up on that amazing limited time offer, I’ll just take a picture of our family portraiture and email it back to him. I nailed it to the boys’ bathroom wall with a roofing nail. Off center.

"Dear TB and CandiBarbie, Thanks for the great offer, but we’ll have to pass. We’re thrilled with our $600 single 9x12. FYI – no commercial frames available for this size.”

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 30, 2016

Birthday Meal Comp

“We’re going to comp your lunch.”

Unless you’re at Denny’s on your birthday, nothing good has ever happened prior to that statement from the restaurant manager. It usually means you’ve just spent twenty minutes in the bathroom trying to clean the chocolate shake and cheeseburger off your shirt and pants after the new trainee waiter lost control of his tray on the way past your table.

I heard those six words this past weekend at the poolside bar and restaurant at the swanky Marriott Newport Coast Villas, where my family and I were pretending to have enough class to actually fit in. We were having lunch with my sister at a poolside table while the kids swam in the giant pool. (At least, I think they were swimming in the pool. I had kind of lost track of them after I stopped caring where they were or what they were doing. It’s a big place, but they were basically trapped in the resort since they didn’t have a car, so my parental watchfulness kind of went on vacation, too.)

It was our replacement waitress bringing me the confusing news of my unexpected dining windfall. Connor, our original waiter, had vanished mid-meal, but no one cared at the time, since the second pitcher of margaritas was still over the halfway mark.

I had asked for the check, and our replacement waitress was having a hard time locating it. We got the feeling Connor didn’t give her much of a briefing before he left. After sifting through seven or eight different bills with her, we did the logical thing and claimed the one with the lowest total. Unfortunately it was still over a hundred dollars, and even more unfortunately, it was actually ours. They don’t exactly give the margaritas away at places like that.

I’d told her that I’d given Connor my credit card to start our margarita tab, and when we finally found the right bill, she walked back to the bar mumbling something about not having seen the card. Hmm...

She came back to our table about ten minutes later and broke the happy news to us. “So, um, we’re going to comp your lunch.”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Free margaritas!
Secondary reaction: Wait... she didn’t spill anything on us. Did someone spill something on the kids?
Tertiary reaction: I wonder where the kids are?
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: Oh, crap. My credit card.

That was it. She was holding the bill, but not my card. My whole life flashed before my eyes. Not again!

I haven’t had the best credit card luck in the past few years. The information sharing policies at Target’s IT department have caused my credit card company to issue me new cards twice now, and a few months ago my wife had one card number stolen, and completely lost another card, all in the same weekend. Authorities believe margaritas may have been involved.

Every time we get a new credit card number it takes three days off my life. Literally. We have nearly all of our bills on auto pay with our credit cards, so every time I get a new card it takes me three days of logging in and trying to figure out where to update my billing information, or contemplating hanging myself while on hold in a soft rock phone tree maze of despair.

“Um, why exactly, are you buying our lunch?”

“Well, funny story. Connor, your first waiter... His wife went into labor and he accidentally took your credit card with him to the hospital... ha!”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Who has a baby on spring break? That’s just bad scheduling.
Secondary reaction: I guess we should tip him pretty good. He’s going to need it.
Tertiary reaction: I better not be paying for the delivery!
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: That’s actually pretty funny.

“Would you like anything else?”

“Two more pitchers of margaritas, obviously. So, when will I be getting the card back?”

“We’re working on that.”

Twenty-four hours later and I still don’t have my card back. Connor has not charged any medical, gift shop, or champagne and cigar purchases on it, so I am rolling the dice and not canceling it, since I would almost rather lose an arm than have to get a new credit card number. Back at the pool bar they assure me that they have a call into him.

“I’m driving home tomorrow, and that card is my gas card. I need it back tonight!”

“We will definitely make that happen, sir.”

Four hours later I get a call from George, the front desk manager. He does not have my card, but he does have some “options,” and wants to meet in the lobby. I can’t figure out why George is in the lobby and not in a car retrieving my card. I am not happy with George. Or Connor. I meet with George and sit down in the comfortable and inviting lobby relaxation area.

“Well, here’s the thing,” says George. “Connor is six hours away from here.”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Why does he work six hours away from where his wife is giving birth?
Secondary reaction: Such bad spring break scheduling, bro!
Tertiary reaction: Does the front lobby here have margaritas?
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: This George guy is about to really piss me off, isn’t he?

“Go on, George.”

“He has mailed the card back to me, but it won’t be here until Monday. I was told you were driving back home to Sacramento tomorrow, is that correct?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“When I get the card, I will overnight it to your home address. In the meantime, I will send someone right now to go buy, let’s say, two hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards to cover your gas on the way home. Will that be an acceptable solution to this embarrassing problem we’ve created?”

I try desperately to maintain my angry face, fighting back my smile. I don’t need the card for gas. My wife has the same card in her purse. At least, she did before the margaritas.

“I think that will be acceptable, George. When can I expect those?”

We got back to our villa that night to two hundred dollars in Amex gift cards and a nice bottle of red wine on the counter, courtesy of the Marriott. It’s not a pitcher of margaritas, but I guess it’ll do.

We drove home the next day and got back to an empty fridge. My wife promptly went off to Costco with two hundred dollars in free Marriott bucks.

Thanks, Marriott. You didn’t just comp our lunch. You comped our whole family’s next ten meals. And a nice bottle of Kirkland pre-mixed margaritas.

Cheers. And congratulation, Connor! I hope you still have a job when you get back.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tanning Season

We are on spring break, which means one thing – the beginning of tanning season. Baseball coach tanning season, that is. The baseball coach tan is a very unique look. It’s a lot like the traditional farmer’s tan look, only the baseball coach adds in tan legs from the knees to the socks. The upper half of the tan remains the same – tan arms to the shirt sleeves and tan face, ears, and neck, with a starkly-contrasted white forehead. It’s a special look.

For us bald baseball coaches and farmers, the look gets extra special, since the stark whiteness covers the entire upper head area as well. And depending on the league’s hat style choice, the look can get even more refined with the tan sideways D shape, or semicircle, in the middle of the back of the head, caused by the snapback hat gap. It can get to the point where your wife starts requesting that you just wear your baseball hat to church.

“God won’t mind, honey. Your head looks like a kindergarten paint and stencil project without it.”

(Side note: “Snapback Hat Gap” would be a great name for a rock band.)

This year our baseball league has thrown me a headwear curveball, sticking with the snapback, so my ultra-tan semicircle will remain, but going with a mesh back cap for this season. I’m not thrilled. An amazing amount of heat enters and escapes your body through the top of your head, and you can’t fully appreciate that fact until you lose your hair.

It has been a wet winter here in Northern California, and the few practices and games we’ve been able to squeak in between rainstorms have been rather cold-weather affairs. I have been freezing in my new mesh hat. Conversely, I know when it’s a hundred degrees out there at the end of May I’m going to be dying of heat stroke. Plus, when the sun does come out, now I’m going to end up keeping the front half of my head stark white, while tanning the back half through the mesh around the deep red semicircular burn, with the tan/white line of demarcation going straight across the North Pole of my head from ear to ear. My wife may eventually just not want to be seen with me anymore.

All concerning head tan issues aside, what is actually concerning me is my legs. My sock tan lines have always been even starker than my hat lines, because my feet rarely ever see the light of day. My feet are so white they’re almost see-through, yet my shins are out in the sun almost year-round. It literally looks like I’m wearing white socks when I’m barefoot.

It’s not the tan lines that are the issue, however. It’s the hairlines. Back when I had a real job and went to an office, I used to wear tall socks every day. My shins went bald years ago. I always attributed this disappearance of hair to the socks. It has been quite a while now since I made the transition to full-time writer/author/stay-at-home dad, and so naturally, it has been quite a while now since I have worn pants.

The standard uniform for the California home office professional is shorts. At least, I assume it is. I haven’t actually asked any of the other ones, but it just kind of has to be, right? Most of them probably go with flip flops, too, but I have old man arthritis in my big toes, so I have old man orthopedic inserts for my shoes that are not conducive to flip flops. I am stuck with shoes, so when I made the transition to an all-shorts existence I also made the transition to ankle socks. So for a very long time now, my shins have not seen a sock.

I naturally assumed I would see some hair regrowth on them, but the opposite seems to be the case. The mid-shin hair timberline has actually moved up to an elevation higher than my tallest real job socks ever were, and now I have lost the hair on the back of my calves, as well. It has become very apparent that socks had no part in the balding of my lower legs.

If my head started going bald around the same time as my shins did, and both my head and my lower legs are only getting smoother, only one conclusion can be reached: I am going bald from the top and the bottom of my body simultaneously. That is very disconcerting.

The balding of my head and lower legs has taken quite a long while. If this truly is a totally converging baldness, how long will it take? Or is this more of a hair migration? I have certainly noticed an increase in hair growth on my neck, shoulders, and upper back. And don’t get me started on my eyebrows and nose. In the first thirty years of my life I probably spent a sum total of three minutes tending to my eyebrows and nose hair. These days it’s a constant battle to keep them from taking over my face like an unchecked jungle.

And my ears! I have found some hairs growing on and out of my ears in the past few years that make me wonder if I’ve been exposed to excessive radiation.

So which is it? Am I slowly going to go bald until I only have a small patch of body hair somewhere around my belly button and the rest of me looks like a seal, or is all my hair just relocating itself, and I’m destined to look like a chimpanzee with a bald head and bald legs and Brillo pads for eyebrows?

It’s inconclusive now, but either way, I’m starting to think my weird baseball coach tan lines are the least of my worries.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health - Repost

I have heard that our elected officials in Sacramento are “working” on getting rid of the time change. I will hold my breath. Here’s what I had to say about it last year:

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 © 2016 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Family Life Class

There comes a time in every unsuspecting fifth-grader’s life when school suddenly becomes really weird and icky, and for some reason your parents want to talk to you about weird, icky stuff too. All you want to do is go outside and play some kind of animal/space invasion/kickball game, but the adults at home and at school want to talk about kissing and boy parts and girl parts and babies. It’s gross.

Son Number One is only about a week or two away from the “Family Life” portion of the fifth grade curriculum, and he’s not thrilled. “It’s going to be weird,” he says with an uncomfortable grudiggle (equal parts groan/shudder/giggle).

Since I have my finger on the pulse of American education, I was surprised when he told us.

“That’s in the fifth grade?” I said to my wife, incredulously.

“Yes, dear. Don’t worry, I’m on it.” Apparently, she actually talks to people, and she’d already gotten a book recommended by a friend, and she and Son Number One were already reading it together.

Hmm... Either she doesn’t trust me to handle this sort of thing, or else she asked me to handle it when I was watching TV and I didn’t hear her. That one could go either way, but I’m leaning toward her wanting to handle it herself. She is probably – very rightfully – worried about what I would tell him without a strict script. Can’t blame her there.

We got a consent form the other day from the school. I had to laugh. It said if you wanted to opt your child out of the Family Life class, they would do other work in an alternate classroom.

That’s pretty funny to me. I don’t care what classroom you send them to, they’re still going to be out on the playground. If you don’t want them to get Family Life information, the form should really just say, “Pull them out of school now.”

Without homeschooling, you’ve got two real choices: If you want them to get the actual Family Life information, have them stay with their class. If you want them to get a skewed, eleven-year-old-crowd-sourced, wildly inaccurate interpretation of the Family Life information, opt them out and they can hear all about it at recess.

Have you ever tried to extract verbally communicated information from a fifth-grader?
You: “Hey Jimmy. Tell your mom that we have her casserole dish. And the enchiladas were delicious.”
Jimmy’s mom the next day: “Jimmy told me you think we should enroll him in Make a Wish? And go to Ensenada for some fishes? What’s that all about?”

Good luck with that.

Our boys share a room, so all I know is by the time Son Number Three gets to the fifth grade (God willing), he’ll probably think he could teach the class, since he’s heard all about it after lights out. The information will have been so poorly transferred that he’ll think all babies are born in Virginia and circumstantial evidence means someone’s peep got cut off, but at least he’ll have the information.

The consent form also said that we could go to the district office on a particular evening to preview the material and the videos that the kids will see. I pointed that out to my wife and started to say, “Maybe we should...”

“No!” she shot back, not letting me finish my sentence.

She is, of course, afraid I’ll bring popcorn and narrate from the back of the room. She’s obviously right, but I don’t think that’s any reason not to go.

So I guess she’s going to handle the information dispensing for now, and she’ll probably hand the reins off to me when they get to high school. I’m still not sure why she doesn’t want me to impart my wisdom right now about the direct correlation between Chardonnay prices and pregnancy rates, but I guess it can wait.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Can We Opt In for Once?

This column shall serve as adequate public notice that you (yes, you), as a citizen of the world, are hereby required to send me five hundred dollars (500 USD) immediately. If I do not receive five hundred dollars from you, postmarked by March 7th, 2016, your primary bank account will be debited, and/or your wages will be garnished to collect this mandatory fee.

You may opt out of this fee by sending, via FedEx overnight priority, a notarized, handwritten letter on 7-1/2” x 13mm, 32# bond, seafoam green paper, sealed in a #10 string and button manila envelope with a red wax seal securing the string. The seal shall consist of fifty percent beeswax and fifty percent carnauba wax, be on the chromatic scale between cardinal and chestnut red, be no smaller than a nickel but no larger than a drachma at its widest dimension, and be embossed with a round stamp containing my initials in Comic Sans font.

Your opt-out letter must be in both English and Spanish, must make grammatical sense, and must not contain any vowels. It must be received by close of business tomorrow.

Please include the five hundred dollar fee with your opt-out letter, which will be refunded to you if you have met the opt-out criteria. You must also include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the same envelope and sealing requirements as above to be eligible for a refund.

Thank you,
Smidge


While you’re making out your checks, let me tell you a little story. We received an email from our school district here in California telling us that unless we mailed opt-out letters to a judge in Sacramento, all of our children’s personal information would be sent to the court, due to a lawsuit not involving our district in any way. It seems a group cleverly named ‘The Concerned Parents Association’ sued the California Department of Education, claiming they weren’t doing something or other correctly.

The United States District Court, which is apparently staffed entirely with stupid, stupid, stupid idiots, decided that because someone somewhere was concerned, every single student in the state of California should have to hand over their personal, confidential education file - complete with their name, social security number, address, date of birth, etc., etc., etc. - to another group of stupid, stupid, stupid idiots.

So here is the “opt-out” form that I had to fill out three times by hand and mail in an envelope with a stamp, because doing this sort of thing online in this day and age makes no sense:

FILED UNDER SEAL
OBJECTION TO DISCLOSURE OF STUDENT
INFORMATION AND RECORDS
I, the undersigned, being a parent/guardian, or an adult student who is eighteen (18) years of age or older, object to the disclosure by the California Department of Education of protected personal information contained in records of my/my child’s student records in the lawsuit entitled, Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association, et al. v. California Department of Education, USDC-Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:11-cv-03471-KJM-AC:

First of all, how did you idiots write the word “protected” with a straight face? If it was actually protected, we wouldn’t be doing this. That’s like a bank telling me, “Your money is totally protected here. Unless, you know, like, someone comes in and asks for it. Then we just totally give it to them.”

Second of all, this letter I’m sending you isn’t really an ‘opt-out’ at all, is it? It says that I object to you disclosing my children’s information. Nowhere in this letter does it say you can’t do it if you want to. Last time I watched Making of a Murderer, objections could be overruled by judges. Especially idiot judges.

After the information I had to fill in, you included a comments section with the hilarious parenthetical “optional,” as if commenting on this inane failure of sanity and reason was actually optional for me.

Here’s my comments: To the ‘Concerned Parents Association’ - If you were actually concerned parents, you wouldn’t be asking for other people’s kids’ private information.

To the courts - How about an opt-in form next time? “Yes, I would love to release all my sons’ personal data so that you folks can figure out why Hayden failed geometry after his parents so helpfully ignored an entire school year’s worth of  progress reports and emails from his teacher until the last week of school.” Laws are written by people. Stop doing what you think is legal and start doing what you know is right. This is wrong and you know it. Don’t hide behind a lawsuit.

And I’m talking to you, too, California school districts. The email I received from my district urged me to send in my not-really-an-opt-out “opt-out” letters because “the release of this information is completely out of our control...” I would argue that. You and the courts are all on the same team, and it’s supposed to be my team. If you all stood up to the court and did what you know is right, instead of what they’re telling you is “legal,” they wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

“Give us the information.”
“No.”
“But you have to. We said so.”
“Bite me.”
“What now?”
“Why don’t you put away some criminals?”
“OK. We haven’t been focusing on that. Good call.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I know you have a check to mail to me, and I have to get back to hand-writing my comments on these forms. I need to go look up how to spell ‘asinine’ and Google whether I can be held in contempt of court for calling a judge a dumbass on paper.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Verizon Wireless

Dear Verizon Wireless,

I fell in love with you all over again last week. I’ll admit, my love for you was waning a little, especially after our trip to Europe this summer. I brought you along to help with navigation and translation. Your translator function did great helping me order beers, and your map navigated us successfully across four countries and back, but I have to say, you were expensive.

You lured me in with your economical international voice and data plan, but then once we were actually in Europe, you kept charging me another thirty dollars every two days because my wife’s phone was using too much data. Your text messages were less than helpful. “We are charging you thirty dollars because this phone exceeded the data allowance” isn’t very useful when we have no idea what one phone was doing differently than another. A message more like “Tell your wife to stop playing Candy Crush until you get to Germany” would have been much more informative.

Europe aside, we had a great year with the new phones, but my love for you took a big hit a few weeks ago when my phone stopped being a phone. I guess at this point what I carry around in my pocket is tough to call a ‘phone’ anymore. It’s really an amazingly small television set that also has an amazingly good camera that also lets me read books, and read and send emails and texts, and allows me access to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and lets me order things and track them to my doorstep on Amazon Prime, and keeps track of my entire life with an amazing calendar feature, plays all my music, and lets me search literally the entire world’s collective store of information while I sit on my toilet, and also happens to have a phone feature.

I know some of the kids out there don’t even know or care that these things come with a phone feature anymore, but I’m over forty and still communicate with voice, so the phone part is still important to me. Especially since we got rid of our home phone last year. I know what you’re thinking – “What’s a home phone?” Never mind.

Anyway, my phone stopped being able to make calls without the person on the other end of the line sounding like I called a fax machine. I know what you’re thinking – “What’s a fax machine? And the other end of what line? What’s he talking about?” Never mind.

Frustrated, I arrived at your store at 10:01 A.M., which had opened at 10:00 A.M. I was fifth in line. I waited an entire ten minutes (I know, right?) before I was called to one of your space age-looking white oval desks and helped by your guy Jared. I explained the problem with my phone and tried to hand it to him. He didn’t want it. He just started typing on his handheld tablet.

“Do you have any kind of warranty on the device?”

Device? What happened to phone? “I didn’t purchase a warranty plan for this one. I bought an extended warranty for my wife’s device because she sits on it all the time. Hers works great, except in Europe.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. No, I don’t have an extended warranty.”

“OK, because this device only came with a one year warranty, and you’ve had it longer than that.”

Here we go. This is where you’re going to tell me I need to give you $400. I will end you and your hipster sideburns, Jared.

“No problem, though. We’re in open enrollment right now, so I can add a device protection plan to your account and get you a new device coming.”

“Huh?”

Tap. Tap. Tap. “OK, your new device will arrive at your house tomorrow. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Uhhhhhh. No. I think that will do it. Thanks. By any chance, does Verizon have a health insurance branch?”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. Have a great day!”

Sure enough, my replacement ‘device’ arrived the next day. I used Samsung Smart Switch just like Jared told me to do and it worked great. An hour later I was up and running with a new device, ready to proclaim my undying love for you from the mountaintops.

Sure, the replacement device shut itself off and rebooted a few times during the switch over, but I chalked that up to all the updating of apps and whatnot and so forth. It’s all very technical.

Then it kept shutting itself off and rebooting, and freezing up.

Hmm... This is actually starting to feel more like health insurance after all. My replacement device now makes great phone calls, but nothing else works right.

Yes, my replacement device is broken.

I read the fine print. The device you received may be a reconditioned Certified Like-New Replacement... I’m falling out of love with you again at this point. My original device worked fine when it was new. This is nothing Like-New.

Back to your store I went yesterday, making sure to arrive at 9:50. I was first in line when the door opened promptly at 10:00 A.M., and I was walking out the door at 10:06 with a second replacement device on its way. Fareed was faster than Jared, and his shoes and sweater were Verizon red. Jared was in all khaki and white. He’d better watch his step. Fast Fingers Fareed is gunning for top dog in Verizonville.

Triple-F has once again fanned the flame of my love for you, as my second replacement device arrived on my doorstep today.

I hope this one behaves Like-New, or you and Jared and Fareed and I are going to have to go to counseling.

Fingers crossed,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 17, 2016

A Seventh Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Here we are on letter number seven and I still have never heard back from you. I’m not expecting flowers and candy, but I haven’t even received so much as a short handwritten thank-you note. Nothing. Nada. I’m beginning to think that you guys don’t fully appreciate all the free business advice I’ve given you over the years.

Never fear. Because of my selfless humanitarianism, I will keep giving you helpful advice despite your apparent lack of gratitude.

I’m writing you this time to give you a friendly heads-up regarding spring pictures this year. And also to apologize again. I really don’t mean to keep sabotaging your efforts. Really!

First the heads-up. You are going to want to staff up for retakes again this year, and this time, unlike last spring pictures, it’s not entirely my fault. I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but you scheduled picture day for the Tuesday after our four-day Presidents weekend. At the morning assembly, out of umpteen hundred kids, I saw four that looked like they were dressed for picture day.

I’m not sure if any of you have school-age kids, but the first day back after a long weekend is a terrible time to schedule anything that a parent might need to remember. We’ve just spent every minute of every day with our children, for much, much longer than the natural forty-eight hour weekend window that God barely prepared us for in the first place. And the kids spent much, much longer with their siblings than normal, so they naturally fought and argued for what seemed like three hundred hours straight. And we were right there with them for the whole five hundred-hour argument. It was seven hundred hours of pure hell.

We weren’t planning for, or packing for, or paying attention to what was happening at school on Tuesday. We were just trying to get them there as fast as possible without having to justifiably murder one or all of them.

Now as you know, I couldn’t care less about spring pictures. It has become a source of amusement to me, really, to see how many pounds of unordered pictures and plastic trinkets you will send me of my three boys with sleep hair and food on their faces. You guys are hilarious. But I did see a number of students somewhat upset that their parents had forgotten it was picture day.

I passed one little girl on the way into school who was visibly upset. When I asked what was wrong she said, “Today is picture day and my mom forgot, and the spring pictures are the ones that go in the yearbook!”

I did my best to cheer her up by saying, “Our school has a yearbook?”

Maybe you guys can answer that question. Why do we have a yearbook for elementary school? That seems a lot like a graduation ceremony from preschool – just totally unnecessary. Yearbooks are for high school, and even then, they’re only marginally useful. The only time I ever looked at my high school yearbook after graduation was twenty years later before the reunion to try to remember who everyone was. And I won’t ever let my kids see it, because all the notes from my friends say stuff like “Party hearty with Bacardi!” We were soooo cool.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. You’re going to have a lot of retakes, and I need to apologize again, because some of them are my fault. We had a very similar art docent incident again this year, as we did last year. Like I told you last year, I don’t schedule these things myself, and I don’t choose the art lessons. It’s all just crazy coincidence, I swear.

Last year we had a very unfortunate chalk and glue art lesson with Son Number Two’s class right before they went to get their pictures taken. This year, I’m happy to report, there was no chalk or glue. It was worse, actually... The art lesson that – again, completely coincidentally – occurred on picture day this year involved securing small pieces of brightly-colored tissue paper to a white background using liquid starch.

As it turns out, when you soak tissue paper in liquid starch, the colors tend to bleed out, creating a multi-hued industrial-strength dye that stains the skin. If you examine the photos you took of Son Number Three’s class yesterday, you’ll probably notice that over half of them had managed to touch at least one spot on their face with their liquid starch/tissue paper dye hands. Sorry about that. We scrubbed as best we could, but chemistry fought back and won. Maybe you’ll have better luck with Photoshop than we did with paper towels.

Also, we learned that starched tissue paper scraps bond almost permanently to second graders’ hair.

Again, very, very sorry.

Regretfully, and again, completely unintentionally,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Glass Man Card

My wife and I just went to see The Revenant, which is a movie that examines the age-old question: How long can frozen snot stay attached to a man’s beard in South Dakota in the winter? Spoiler Alert: The answer is six weeks.

While on a fur trapping expedition in 1823, Hugh Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear. He survived the attack, even helping to kill the bear in the process, apparently because he was the manliest mountain man who has ever lived. He is probably still alive. Because no one on earth was even a tenth of the man he was, his hunting partners ended up being less than honorable. They left him for dead without any weapons or food. They didn’t even leave him a car or a cell phone, both of which would have been super-helpful.

Was Hugh Glass just going to give up and die? Of course not. He can’t be killed. He just blew some snot onto his manly mountain man beard, which immediately froze since it was minus three thousand degrees for the entire movie, set his own broken leg, and crawled back home wrapped in the skin of the same bear that tried to kill him. That’s right. Suck it, bear. Not only did you not kill me, but now you’re dead and I’m going to wear you home.

He crawled two hundred miles back to Fort Kiowa just to kill the guy who left him for dead. Nowadays we’d complain if we had to crawl twenty feet to hurt a guy’s feelings. Two hundred miles! I wouldn’t even drive two hundred miles to seek revenge. At mile thirty I’d pull off at a burger place and decide to forget the whole thing.

Speaking of food, I was struck by the irony of my comfy modern surroundings while I watched Hugh Glass show the world what manly really looks like. We saw the movie at Studio Movie Grill, which is a new theater in our town that serves you real food and drinks during the movie. You get a tiny little table in front of your plush leather seat, complete with a little red call button for your server. It’s wonderful, but it was a strangely luxurious setting for such a harsh movie.


As I watch Glass try to stay alive by eating a rancid piece of rotten sinew off a decaying buffalo carcass, I push my little red call button to signal my server that I need more sour cream for my Loaded Potato Skins.

Glass tries to tend to the gaping claw hole in his neck and the exposed ribs on his back. Our seats are too close to the screen, and I shift in my puffy leather recliner because my neck is getting a little sore from looking up.

Glass has trouble laying down in the snow to drink from the freezing river because of the hole in his neck. I spill a little of my delicious Fat Tire Amber Ale. I push the little red button and my server brings me some extra napkins while Glass cauterizes his neck wound with gunpowder.

Glass is only wearing animal skins and keeps ending up in rivers, having to crawl back out of the thirty-two-degree water to lay in the snow. My jeans have a little beer on them from the spill, and it’s wet on my leg. I’m annoyed. I complain to my wife.

More snot and drool freeze to Hugh’s beard as he struggles to stay warm in a blizzard by stripping naked and sleeping inside a dead horse. I put my hand into my sweatshirt pocket for a while, because the ice-cold beer glass is making it a little chilly.

Glass manages to chase some wolves away from a kill and throws up while trying to force down some raw buffalo liver. My fries don’t come with the side of ranch I ordered. I push the red button forcefully, perturbed.

Glass stumbles into Fort Kiowa through three feet of snow on a crutch made from a tree branch. I remember how the only spaces left were at the far end of the parking lot when we got to the theater and consider ro-sham-bo-ing my wife to see who has to go get the car.


The whole experience reminded me of the time I was reading a book about Navy SEALs and I got a paper cut. I tried to be tough, but paper cuts really sting.

I left the theater feeling soft and weak, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I think the story of Hugh Glass might even cause some Navy SEALs to reevaluate their man cards.

Oh, well. Different times. Maybe I’d have been as tough as him if I was born in the early 1800s.

Probably.

I sure wish my wife would hurry up with the car. It’s really chilly out here.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2016 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 3, 2016

Don't Suck

Our elementary school starts each day at the morning assembly with a motivational quote by someone notable, read to the whole school by one of the students. I enjoy the tradition, but I think a few of the quotes might be a little lofty in their goals.

Now, I realize that this is the greatest country in the world, and as such, our educational system needs to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, but when I hear my three boys being regaled with quotes about changing the world, I often can’t shake the thought that fifteen minutes earlier I was yelling at them to get out the door and they were ignoring me and rolling around on the living room carpet trying to fart on each other.

I’m just saying, some of the quotes might be shooting a little high, that’s all.

I believe I have found a more realistic goal for America’s youth. I saw a guy jogging the other day, and he was wearing a T-shirt with two words written on the back. It said, “DON’T SUCK,” and I immediately adopted his shirt slogan as my new mantra.

I think in a way, DON’T SUCK has always been my unofficial motto. When I sit back and reflect on it, it’s what I’m really trying to do with my life. I may strive for success or even greatness in this little area or that little endeavor, but striving for greatness is tiring. Most days I just don’t have the energy for it, and I have certainly never had the energy or the internal fire to strive for greatness on a large scale. Most days I’m just trying not to suck. Yes indeed, DON’T SUCK guides my life.

DON’T SUCK guides our parenting philosophy as well, both in how we try to conduct ourselves as parents, and what we try to impart to our children. We’re certainly not awesome as parents, but every day we get out of bed and at least try not to suck at it. Some days are better than others; some days we’re the "nutritionally balanced and healthy three-course dinner that everyone thinks is delicious" parents, knocking it out of the park, and other days we’re the “at least we had milk for the dinner cereal” parents, just barely managing not to suck. Call us for free advice!

We have told our children time and time again they can be whatever they want to be. They’re not blowing my hair back just yet, but that’s OK. So far, it seems the first one wants to be an inventor who’s not required to move a lot. Or a paleontologist who is also allowed to sit for extended periods of time. The second one is uncertain, but wants to make sure that no matter what he chooses, everyone else around him will do everything his way. I’m thinking something in government - maybe a dictator. The third one has given us absolutely no clear idea of a career destination other than wanting to scream out everything he says at ninety decibels. Maybe a punk band’s lead singer? Time will tell.

No matter what direction they take, my advice to them will remain the same. Just don’t suck. You don’t have to be the best at everything. You don’t even have to be the best at anything. Like Judge Smails so wisely told Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, the world needs ditch diggers too. If you have that internal drive to be great at something, then great. It’s great to be great. Work hard and go get it! But in everything you do - whether it’s something you want to do, like to do, need to do, or have to do – the baseline remains the same: DON’T SUCK.

I’m thinking of writing a parenting book.

In an effort to be helpful (in other words, to not suck), I suggested my new motto as an obvious addition to the elementary school morning quote pool. I even pointed out that many of the current quotes are so long the kids have to bring the paper up with them to read them off. DON’T SUCK could be easily memorized by your average elementary schooler in just a few short days.

Seems like a no-brainer to me, but the principal hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I can’t figure out why.

See you soon,

-Smidge


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