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,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm Having a Fitbit

I bought my wife a Fitbit for Christmas, so I’m wearing it now. Apparently, buying my wife a fitness and activity tracker as a gift said to her, “I, as your husband, want to trick you into wearing a device that will allow me to track your fitness and activity levels.” She didn’t like that very much.

I am constantly amazed at how much credit my wife gives me for being clever, or devious, or caring. We have been married for almost fourteen years now and she still hasn’t figured out that all the space in my brain is being taken up by five major categories: Sports, song lyrics, random movie quotes, Snapple lid trivia, and thinking about pizza. My brain activity surrounding most everything else is pretty much at a flat line - especially gift giving.

Here’s what my thought process was regarding the purchase of a Fitbit for my wife:

“Crap, it’s almost Christmas. What does Amazon Prime have that could be here in two days? Hey, look at that ad that just popped up on my Amazon page for a Fitbit. Her mom has one of those. And it’s just expensive enough that it can be my one gift to her, but still affordable. Add to cart.”

Like I said, she gives me waaaay too much credit.

So now I have a Fitbit. I have been wearing it for a grand total of three days now, and it has already completely taken over my life. It’s like some kind of brain chip implant from a sci-fi movie that controls my feelings. I have never once cared about how many steps I’ve taken in a day, but now I am utterly obsessed with it.

I went downstairs yesterday after showering and realized that I forgot to put it back on my wrist. I took the shortest route possible back to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up for someone to please go get my Fitbit off the bathroom counter and bring it down to me. Why? Because I didn’t want to waste the trip back up the stairs if I wasn’t going to get credit for it.

I found out after the first day that the Fitbit was not going to work as a watch replacement, however, so I have to wear it on my right arm. I tried it in place of my watch, but I kept having to flick my wrist to get it to come alive and tell me the time without pushing any buttons. I felt like an idiot whipping my hand up to my face more than once if it didn’t work the first time. Plus, I realized I think about time in terms of the face of my analog watch. I can see the space between the hands, representing how long it is until my next scheduled time to do something. Without hour and minute hands to look at, I just have to do too much math. Digital time confuses me and makes me late... Like I said, pretty much a flat line...

So I wear it on my right arm, and luckily on the Fitbit app on my phone, there is a setting to tell it that I’m wearing it on my dominant hand. It is so smart, it accounts for that. I guess so you don’t get credit for running when you’re actually just brushing your teeth.

They haven’t figured out vacuuming yet, though, because yesterday I “traveled” about two and a half miles in twenty minutes behind my Dyson. I’ll take it. If the Fitbit says it happened, that’s good enough for me.

I’m so obsessed with getting my ten thousand steps in every day that I almost hung up on my friend this morning. I answered his call on my walk back from taking the boys to school, and after saying hello, I came to the soul-crushing realization that I was holding the phone up to my ear with my right hand, and therefore not swinging my Fitbit arm, and therefore probably not getting credit for walking! I seriously considered stopping or hanging up on him, because I can’t use the phone with my left ear. It’s like trying to get dressed by putting the other leg into the pants first. It just doesn’t work.

And it even monitors my sleep. Once again, I have never given a second thought to sleep patterns, or sleep quality, or restlessness, but now that my Fitbit shows all that to me on my phone every morning, I’m obsessed. I can show you on my sleeping timeline the red line that indicates the exact time during the night that I got up to pee. I love America!

But now, not only am I obsessed with how many steps I’ve taken, I’m also concerned with all the light blue lines on my sleep timeline. Why was I so restless at 1:32 A.M. and then again at 3:27 A.M.?

I asked my wife about it, but she just mumbled something about “the #*%’ing Fitbit” and rolled over and went back to sleep. I guess maybe I should have waited until morning to ask her.

Oh, well. I’m not sure what I can do about the periods of restless sleep, but there is one huge question that needs to be answered. Namely, if I’m restless during the night, am I at least getting credit for it?

Rolling over in bed has to count for at least a few steps, right?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Surfing Lake Tahoe

My three boys have not had very much contact with snow. That’s mostly due to my wife’s natural allergic reaction to any temperature below 83 degrees Fahrenheit. She gets cold watching snow on TV. But like me, she grew up skiing, and she didn’t want to completely deny her children the experience, no matter how much she might suffer in the process – from the front seat of the running car, sipping hot chocolate with the heater blowing full bore.

The best we can do for them is to let them play in the snow. They won’t grow up skiing or snowboarding with any regularity, because going skiing as a family of five these days literally costs a thousand dollars - four hundred dollars for lift tickets and six hundred for five cheeseburgers and a small water at the lodge. Since a skiing scholarship is a tenuous gamble at best - and only one of the boys is displaying any real coordination - we’re just going to go ahead and save for college instead. We’re actually trying to save for four tuitions – three for the boys and one for me. I want to go back with them. I had a blast in college! That might have been because my dad didn’t tag along, though, but who knows?

We live in California, in the Central Valley that sits next to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sierra Nevada is an old Spanish term that means “steep road to casino covered in ice.” It never snows down where we live, but we can visit the snow like tourists in under an hour, any time we feel like it. Sorry, Wisconsin... and almost every other state.

Not too many people are aware of this, but the California side of the Sierras usually receives some of the highest snowfall totals of anywhere in the U.S., and way more than anywhere in Southeast Asia. I say usually, because in the recent few years we’ve received about half an inch of snow in the spots that normally get thirty feet. As a result, all of our lawns are brown and we can only shower every other week, and only if we pair up.

We’re having our first wet year in a long while this winter, and the snow is once again piled high where we keep it, a convenient fifty-minute drive from our house. Again, sorry, Wisconsin. It was time to head for the snow, so my wife put on twenty-seven layers of clothing and we headed up the hill.  

We are a little light on snow gear and toys, though - again, due to my wife’s severe temperature allergy, and our financial aversion to ski resorts. We go to the beach a lot because it’s free. I never have to pay $185 to get a “beach pass.” The flipside – there are no sharks on the ski slopes. It’s a give and take.

So, we own wetsuits and boogie boards for the kids, but not sleds and skis. Or snow pants. Or snow boots. Or good gloves... nothing, really. So, we borrowed some snow clothes for the boys, conveniently omitting the information that Son Number Three’s snow pants were really owned by a girl in his class, and off we went for a weekend in Tahoe.

The boys had a blast the first day of sledding, zooming down the small hills and flying off the jumps we made. On the second day, we got a little more adventurous and headed up the side of Mt. Rose to the public “snow play area,” which is an enormous steep hill that rockets you out onto a highway if you fail to stop in time. It would have been great, but the weather was not exactly cooperating.

While my wife watched in shock from the car, the three boys and I battled thirty to forty-mile per hour winds across the slope, along with the rest of the other idiots who decided to get out of their cars.

You know, those plastic saucers people have can really get moving through the air in a strong wind, like a sheet of plywood in a hurricane, nearly decapitating you as you hit the deck and watch them travel a quarter mile off into the trees.

We watched one lady, who obviously also favored the non-frozen water sports, chase her inflatable pool mattress all the way across the highway, where it had lodged itself under someone’s pickup truck.

Such rookies! We beach people had the upper hand that day. Boogie boards have leashes on them that attach to your wrist. Sure, the board is almost as big and heavy as the kid, so when the gale-force wind catches it, the kid gets pulled off his feet and his arm almost gets pulled out of the socket, but at least you don’t lose the board.

Those other people are probably still looking for their saucers.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mule Svelte

It’s the New Year, so roughly 99.9% of us are currently “trying” to lose weight. I put trying in quotes, because really about 15% of you are actually trying with an actual plan and a measurable amount of willpower, and the rest of us are just talking about how we’re going to lose weight, and then eating fudge-dipped brownies.

At some point here I’m going to have to put the fudge brownie down and actually do it, though, because unlike most of you “I’d like to be skinnier” people out there, I’m the one that has to ride a mule.

In June I am supposed to get on a mule and ride it down a crack in the wall of the Grand Canyon. If I am even an ounce over two hundred pounds fully dressed, with shoes and underwear and everything, presumably the mule’s legs will fail underneath it and we’ll both plummet to our deaths, and naturally, seconds later you’ll all be able to watch the footage on Twitter and Instagram.

I think the mule tour company is trying to avoid that kind of bad viral publicity, so they won’t let me even get on the mule if I’m not under two hundred pounds. I don’t think they’ll even let me talk to the mule.

If I can’t go, then my mother-in-law won’t go. If she won’t go, then my son can’t go. If my son can’t go, I will never hear the end of it from my wife, and if my mother-in-law won’t go, she might make me pay for it – both literally and figuratively.

Basically, I NEED to get below two hundred pounds.

I can’t really start losing weight in January, because I still have Christmas cookies in the freezer that I need to finish off. We had too many around the holidays, so I wisely froze the extras. And they’re next to the tamales from the various youth sports fundraisers that I purchased, so I’ll need to polish those off too. Then there’s the seasonal holiday beers left in the fridge. You can’t serve those in the spring, and they’re not going to drink themselves.

With the chips and seven-layer dip at the Superbowl party, the Valentine’s Day candy, and the tamales I couldn’t get through in January, February is pretty much shot as well.

So it will be March before I can really commit to eating healthy again. At that point I will only have three months to lose the weight, so I’ll have to get back to eating mule salads for lunch. Mule salad is simply a bowl of iceberg lettuce topped with despair. I can’t wait!

I was at a party a few weeks ago - drinking seasonal holiday beer and eating a giant ham sandwich - when one of my friends suggested I join their team for the Tough Mudder race this year. The race is being held in June, the weekend before we leave for the Grand Canyon trip, and I was seriously considering it as a motivational aid to lose the mule weight. I was seriously considering it right up until the next morning when the effects of the seasonal holiday beer wore off. Then I remembered that I had done the Tough Mudder once back in 2011, and I don’t like throwing up. So that’s out.

I have been out running a little bit over the holidays, just trying to offset as much of the cake and pie intake as I can, but after forty years old, running comes with a price. Let’s just say if there are any calories in Advil, then that’s really working against me.

Before Halloween – the official start to the holiday eating season – I was trying to get a jump on the mule weight. I had implemented the mule salad lunch routine and lost about fourteen pounds, along with most of my will to live. Around that time I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year, and he told me I was looking svelte.

That’s when I knew I had more work to do. Svelte is one of those slightly complimentary terms. People use it as a sincere compliment, but no one ever uses the term “svelte” to describe someone in really great shape. Fitness models are not svelte. They are ripped. Svelte means, “Hey, you’re not as fat as you were the last time I saw you.”

Unfortunately, after this holiday eating season, I’d give my left roasted chestnut to still be svelte. I found a vast majority of that fourteen pounds I’d lost, so I’m pretty much back to square one. Or in this case, round one. Svelte has left the building and won’t be back until early May.

Maybe I should call the mule tour company and give them the recipe for mule salad. If they can start working on getting my mule a little more “svelte,” maybe come June we can work out some sort of mule/rider combined weight average deal.

Or maybe I should skip the chips and seven-layer dip this year.

Naw... let’s not start talking crazy!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

About the Author, 2016

Here at Just a Smidge, we continue to gain new readership each year. This past year alone we have documented as many as two new readers. So, for both of you just joining us, welcome! We like to start each New Year here with a little meet and greet.

I am the 43-year-old husband of one and father of three, living in the idyllic northern California town of Rocklin. Think overpriced coffee and minivan soccer moms. Our crime consists of teenage shoplifters and people wearing last year’s fashions.  

My amazing, wonderful, loving, caring, trustworthy, adorable, extremely intelligent, smokin’ hot wife teaches high school all day so that I can stay home and take naps and occasionally type. Speaking of that, I should really learn to type. I am the lone staff writer here at Just a Smidge. Based on how much money I make writing this column, it would be inaccurate to call this a job, so let’s just go with hobby.

My beautiful, fantastic, perfect-in-every-way wife and I have been blessed with three boys. They have, in turn, blessed us with a marked decrease in our sanity and an ever-dwindling amount of patience. They are known around here as Sons Number One, Two, and Three, and we’ve been calling them that for so long now we don’t actually remember their real names. I don’t consider that to be a huge problem, however, since we know what they look like.

They are currently in fifth, fourth, and second grade.  They have all been at the same elementary school since kindergarten, which never ceases to amaze me. Based on their behavior at home I thought for sure one or more of them would have been kicked out by now. I think my genius wife is secretly paying off the principal, which would go a long way toward explaining why all the money seems to just vanish every month. It’s probably worth it, though.

Anyway, enough about my wife and kids. Let’s talk more about me. Here are twenty other things that you should probably know about me:

1) I am in amazing shape for 43 years old. I actually left my job as an underwear model to do this writing thing.

2) My grandpa killed General Patton's dog. That is the single most outstanding thing anyone in my family has done. We are high achievers.

3) Walking out into bright sunlight makes me sneeze. I inherited this trait from my grandmother. I am one of only an estimated seven people in the world with this disorder. We have a club.

4) I am loosely related to a U.S. president, but I’m not sure which one. I think it's either Grover Cleveland or Woodrow Wilson. I don't care. I would only be excited if it was Teddy Roosevelt, and it isn't.

5) My favorite movie is a three-way tie between Romancing the Stone, Fletch, and Caddyshack. This should tell you a lot about me.

6) Until I was in my teens, I thought that coffee really would stunt your growth, and that drinking alcohol made your beard grow faster, because in the movies, when guys woke up with a hangover, they always had a five o’clock shadow. I wasn’t too bright as a kid.

7) Now that I have kids, I cry at “proud parent” moments in movies. I think this is because based on my children’s behavioral history, I may never have any proud moments of my own.

8) I am slightly over six feet tall, I weigh around 200 pounds, and I have the bladder capacity of a four-year-old. Unfortunately, Son Number Three inherited this trait. He is seven and has the bladder capacity of a hamster.

9) My three favorite flavors are burnt pepperoni, slightly burnt bacon, and well-toasted sesame seeds. Basically, if it has caught on fire, I want to eat it. Except for my s’more marshmallows. Those should only be browned.

10) I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school. I could not swim more than 100 yards today without needing a floatation device, an oxygen tank, and a defibrillator.

11) I love bacon. See number 10.

12) I quit my day job in 2013 to become a professional writer. So far, I have only managed to become a mediocre homemaker, but I hope to get this column syndicated, so if you know somebody, please introduce us. Bacon is expensive.

13) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. This makes driving directions with my wife fun.

14) My favorite joke of all time is:
A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The psychiatrist looks at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts." This should also tell you a lot about me.

15) I like writing dialogue.
“You do?” they asked in unison.
“Yes. I do,” he said solemnly.

16) I love most foods (see number 10), but I have a deep, abiding hatred for cantaloupe. If bacon is a 10, cantaloupe is a negative 3000.

17) I love to travel and I love to stay home, but I don’t want an RV. Go figure.

18) My absolute favorite thing that has ever happened on this earth – and I am including my marriage and the birth of my children in that – was when the Oregon State Highway Division tried to disintegrate a dead whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970. I wasn’t around yet, but thankfully they had video cameras back then. (Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.”)

19) My favorite thing ever said on television – and I am including anything ever uttered on The Newlywed Game – came from KATU Channel 2 newsman Paul Linnman in 1970 after the whale dynamite was detonated. When large chunks of whale rained down on people and cars over a quarter-mile away, Paul noted, completely deadpan, “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

20) My wife is still laughing right now about number 1.

So there you have it, folks. You now know everything you need to know about me. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Classless Action

Burlington Coat Factory has wronged me. Apparently. At least, a law firm just sent me a letter telling me they did.

It seems that at some point during the period of time from February 14, 2010 through January 28, 2015 I used a credit card to purchase something at a California Burlington Coat Factory, and when I did, those no-good bastards requested my telephone number, which obviously violated California Civil Code 1747.08.

So, much to my relief, a bench trial was held in the Orange County Superior Court from January 12th through January 28th of this year, of which I was an unknowing member of a class action lawsuit brought against those lousy, four-flushing, phone number-collecting coat monkeys.

Justice was swiftly served on April 14th, and I and the other hapless victims of this heinous coat monger’s phone number collection spree have been made whole again. The options, however, for our restitution from this (anywhere from one to five year) period of living hell are unfortunately fraught with more peril.

We have been given two choices to compensate us for the mental anguish this unbearable situation has caused:
1) Receiving a cash award voucher for ten dollars, redeemable at any Burlington Coat Factory retail store for cold, hard cash.
2) A merchandise voucher for twenty-five dollars, good at any Burlington Coat Factory location in the United States.

What the hell kind of settlement is that? Either way, you are forcing me back into the lion’s den. Who knows what the BCF will try to take from me next. The last time I allegedly went in there they made off with my entire ten-digit telephone number for goodness sake. What’s going to happen next time?

They might get a hold of my four-digit house number. They might even get my five-digit zip code, or worse yet, they might use sorcery and get my nine-digit zip code, with the extra four digits that I don’t even know.

And what if I have something shipped from them? They might gain complete access to my twenty-two-digit tracking number. The horror.

If I feel like I can muster enough nerve to brave the terrifying BCF long enough to collect my just reward, I’ll need to sign and return my “Election of Class Award” form, stating under penalty of perjury that I actually made the transaction, and the phone number I gave those jackals belongs to me.

Hmm... It’s within the realm of possibility that I went to Burlington Coat Factory at some point in the last five years, although I don’t remember it. But seriously, sometimes I don’t remember what I had for breakfast by the time I eat lunch.

The phone number on the other hand... I have never seen this phone number in my entire life. And I don’t go around making up fake phone numbers. My wife did that the first time we met, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it.

And the class action notice was sent to an address that I haven’t lived at in seven years, so why did they have that as my address from five or fewer years ago?

Something stinks...

Unfortunately, this is not the first class action lawsuit I’ve been Shanghaied into. There was the time I owned a Toyota at some point during a ten-year period, and as a result was sent a check for $16.27 to compensate me for the carmaker’s wrongdoing of some kind.

Or the time I got a check in the mail for $0.51 from a soda company lawsuit, because I may or may not have bought soda at one point in my life, and the soda company was blamed for that in some way.

There have been others, and I never cashed any of the checks, and I’m not about to make the nice folks over at Burlington Coat Factory “pay” for something I don’t care about and they probably didn’t do anyway. They sell clothes. I’m just fine with that and don’t feel they need to be punished in any way for doing so.

What I want to know is can I start a class action lawsuit against class action lawyers, for illegally collecting, storing, and using my personal data - or it seems in this case, simply making it up - to force good businesses to pay for the opportunity to send me pennies while the lawyers themselves reap billions and billions of dollars from them, fundamentally driving up the price of every good and service in the United States of America?

Probably not.

It’s nice to have a dream, though.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Being Santa

All three of our boys still believe in Santa. Son Number One just turned eleven. Either we’re really good, or he’s not that bright.

It doesn’t snow where we live. They never question the probably massive coefficient of friction between metal sleigh runners and a dry concrete tile roof, or the amount of sparks and noise that would occur on a hard landing. We have a glass-encased gas fireplace with a chimney that’s only as big around as a soda can. They never question the logistics of his entry. They leave milk and cookies out in front of the glass for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. The milk and cookies always disappear, and there are muddy reindeer hoof prints on our front walkway and little bits of chewed-up carrots on the lawn every year. They never question how or why the reindeer come down to the lawn to eat, or what happens to the sleigh when they do.

Now, don’t misunderstand. We’re no longer in the starry-eyed new parent phase of trying to “keep the magic alive” for our “precious boys.” Frankly, they’re really not that precious anymore. At this point it’s more of a contest of wills. A Christmastime Mexican standoff between them and us. How long can we continue to fool them?

The boys of Team Slightly Skeptical are starting to question a few things, but so far we parents at Team North Pole are holding our own. Having the kids help with household chores backfired on us a few weeks ago when Son Number Two found the hidden roll of “Santa wrapping paper” behind our bedroom curtain while he was vacuuming. He is by far the sneakiest of the three boys, so he didn’t tell us. Luckily, his best friend’s mom overheard the conversation the next day as Number Two was telling his buddy, “So if Santa’s gifts show up wrapped in that paper, we’ll know.”

We bought a new roll of different paper the other day. Ha! Take that, pal. Score one for Team North Pole.

Last night I was helping my wife wrap the gifts from Santa with the new paper. By helping I of course mean I was on the couch watching TV and giving her moral support and occasional helpful tips. Santa had gotten two of the boys bow and arrow sets, and my wife was getting ready to just wrap them up in their factory packaging.

“Shouldn’t we remove them from the box?” I suggested helpfully.
“Why?” she asked, with an annoyed tone that I just frankly do not understand.
“Because it would look a lot more like an elf-produced toy if we did.”
“OK, maybe so, but all the Legos say ‘Lego’ all over them.”
“Yeah, I told them a few years ago that Santa has an official licensing agreement with Lego.”
“Well played. Do you really think we need to unbox these, though? There’s so many zip ties.”
“I’m just saying. Son Number One is eleven. He might start noticing this kind of thing.”
“OK, are you planning on helping at all?”
“I just did, honey. You’re welcome... honey, holding scissors like that is unsafe... honey!”

The truth is, I’m not sure Son Number One would notice that kind of thing. Or he would simply choose to ignore it. He’s certainly getting a lot of pressure to ask questions from his fellow fifth-graders, but he remains loyal to Kris Kringle. I’m sure he’s in the minority of kids his age who still think a magical jolly fat man performs a flawless B&E on every single house in the world in less than twelve hours.

“A girl in my class doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but she believes in unicorns.”
“Well, son. I’m not sure what to tell either of you, then.”

So far, so good, though, but we had a major hiccup on the parental side of the standoff this year at the family Christmas party. The boys already “know” that not every Santa at the mall is the real Santa – they are Santa’s helpers, hired by the big man himself, so he can stay at the North Pole and supervise the elf toy production. I swear, kids will believe anything as long as they’re getting presents. Anyway, at the last minute I had to step into the big red suit and be Santa for the kids at the party.

Hmm... Can’t disappoint the other kids and not have a Santa, but this is really going to throw a wrench at our story. Our boys will definitely know it’s me...

That voice sounds familiar... and why does Santa’s breath smell like smoked meat and craft beer? That’s what Daddy’s smells like. Hey, wait a minute...

*beard gets pulled down, little children crying*

We needed to avoid that.

“Huddle up, boys. We’ve got a problem. Santa just called and told us his helper who was supposed to be here tonight got stuck in traffic on the 101 and can’t make it. Santa asked me to fill in, and sent the suit and beard over via Amazon Prime. The UPS guy just delivered them. So you guys need to do an amazing job of pretending for all these little kids who don’t know about the whole Santa’s helper thing, OK?”

“No problem, dad. It’s so cool that you got to talk to Santa on the phone!”

Not one of them asked to see the Caller ID. Booyah! Chalk another year up for Team North Pole.

Merry Christmas,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The 2015 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve done it again this year, haven’t you? You waited until the last minute and now here we are, just a few days from Christmas and you don’t have your Christmas letter written, the online shopping you’ve been putting off now won’t arrive in time, and you’ve let yourself run dangerously low on peppermint schnapps.

You fool! There’s no time. Or, is there? Well, I can’t really help you with the shopping or the holiday liqueurs, but I’ve got you covered on the Christmas letter. Yes, once again, ol’ Smidgey Claus is here to pull your chestnuts out of the fire.

I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you crank out your 2015 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. Consider it my Christmas present to you. (I’m fond of cash, in case you were wanting to reciprocate in some small or hopefully large way...)

Christmas 2015

We had another amazingly (blessed/crappy) year here at the _____________ house. I can't count the amount of times this year I sat back and said (wow/damn), what a (wonderful/disappointing) life this is.

Dad is still going (strong/sideways). He's completely retired now from day to day operations at his (company/chop shop), but still drops by occasionally to "check on" his new managers, usually ending up at the (golf course/strip club). He (knows/suspects) they're (managing/skimming from) his business (very well/regularly), even if he’s (hesitant/unable) to (admit/prove) it. Mom keeps telling him to let them (do their jobs/have it), and he just (laughs/drinks more). He built a (great business/shady criminal enterprise) over the years and I think he’s just (protective/worried) about (“his baby”/going back to prison).

Mom is still the same unstoppable (volunteer/drunk) she’s always been. Her (heart/propensity) to (serve/drink) always amazes us. She’s a (Godsend/pain) to so many. She’s still spending most of her time at the (orphanage/corner bar), and she loves (reading/singing) to the (children/juke box). The (kids/drunks) can’t (get enough of/stand) her. When she’s not there you’ll probably find her at the (children’s library/horse track) knee-deep in sorting (books/losing tickets), or at the (church food closet/liquor store) making sure the (homeless shelter/liquor cabinet) shelves stay stocked.

Sister recently (graduated/escaped) from (college/rehab). She earned her (degree/GED) in (criminal justice/county) over the last (four years/three to five months) and is now entertaining (a job offer/truckers) with (the FBI/her exotic dancing). Her (steady/shiftless) boyfriend (Paul/Stingray) says he’s waiting for (her decision/his Grandma’s welfare checks to run out) before he (accepts/looks for) a job. They are making plans to move (closer to each other/into a trailer) after the (holidays/door is replaced). We all think he’s very close to (proposing/bolting).

Brother has been climbing the (corporate ladder/walls) since his (huge promotion/ugly divorce) earlier this year. His wife and kids are (supportive/in Reno) despite his (long hours/repeated calls) and (travel schedule/threatening letters). His (love for them/ankle bracelet monitor) still keeps him home on the (weekends/couch), so he’s not missing the (kids’ sports/Price is Right). He’s (happy/depressed) about (being/not being) able to set his own schedule (for the most part/at all) since his (big promotion/court-mandated house arrest).

As for me, well, my little family is (thriving/imploding). I just switched to a new (firm/Taco Bell) here in town, and my new (commute/sour cream gun) is much easier to handle. I’m now in charge of the entire (west coast/sour cream section), so it’s a pretty (big/irrelevant) move for me. My wife has had another (wonderful/depressing) year as a (teacher/bartender) at the (kindergarten/Holiday Inn). Her (students/patrons) are always such a (blessing/bummer), and continue to fill her (heart/tip jar) with (joy/nickels). The kids are making us both (proud/crazy) with their (accomplishments/complaining). They are both (growing up/devolving) into little (adults/brats) so fast, every once in a while we just wish we could (freeze time/sell them). We know that’s not possible, but we wish it just the same.

As for you, well, our wish is that you have as many (blessings/sedatives) as we (do/need) this holiday season, and that you would share them with us soon.

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gentle Hygiene

This generation of kids is soft. They won’t ever know real pain and real fear like we did as kids. Or, at least, as I did as a kid. I’m not sure what your dental office visits were like, but as for me, well, let’s just say Clint Eastwood and I had the same dentist.

When I tell my kids that we’re going to the dentist for their six-month cleanings, they cheer. They actually want to go. What’s up with that? My mom had to start searching for me three hours before the appointment time, because I had paid my friends to hide me. Our neighborhood had an underground railroad system for kids with impending dental visits.

My kids get SpongeBob SquarePants on a 27-inch flat screen mounted directly over their chair. I had bad ‘70s and ‘80s elevator music that would be drowned out by the sound resonating inside my skull of pointy metal implements being scraped across my molars.

My kids get fluoride that tastes like bubble gum or birthday cake. My fluoride was raw fluoride, freshly mined from the earth, or wherever the hell fluoride comes from. It was probably siphoned from a 55-gallon drum out on the loading dock and applied directly to your teeth, and it damn-sure didn’t taste like birthday cake. It tasted like what a mixture of used antifreeze and charcoal lighter fluid probably tastes like, and you could only spit afterward. If you drank any water to wash the (most likely radioactive) substance out of your mouth, the whole process would be for nothing, and your teeth would surely fall out of your mouth the next day.

My kids get to pick a toy from the toy box after their little dental chair vacation, happily browsing through Frisbees and Matchbox cars while they enjoy the lingering taste of bubble gum.  We were handed a new toothbrush in a lobby that smelled like raw fluoride and fear.

When I say that I had the same dentist as Clint Eastwood, I’m not joking. Dr. Kincade and Clint were college roommates, and remained good friends. Clint would fly into our town for his dental visits. I never saw him in the office, but Dr. Kincade showed me his X-rays once. I think it goes without saying that Clint Eastwood has very manly-looking teeth.

I was a Clint Eastwood fan, so it was kind of cool to have the same dentist, but looking back on it, I’m not sure it was really optimum. Clint is obviously a total badass, and so you have to assume that a college roommate he would remain lifelong friends with would be kind of a tough guy, too. I didn’t think about it at the time, but do you really want your dentist to be a Clint Eastwood-style badass? No, you don’t.

I had a lot of cavities as a kid, despite the fact that my mom did not allow sugar within a hundred yards of our house. I was just born with cavity-loving teeth. (My wife’s teeth, on the other hand, are bulletproof. She doesn’t understand why I don’t like the dentist. I pray that our boys got her teeth.)

Being the rough-and-tumble dentist that he was, Dr. Kincade used to drill and fill my cavities without Novocain. My earliest memories of the dental chair are an awful acoustical version of some Carly Simon song being drowned out by a combination of the high-pitched whine of the drill and the searing pain in my jaw, as the smell of burning tooth enamel filled my nostrils. Can’t wait to get my free toothbrush after this!

I didn’t even know Novocain existed until one of my friends told me about it as he was working to keep me hidden before an office visit one day. When I asked Dr. Kincade if I could have some, he said, “Do you have a brother? I always thought you were the one who didn’t need it.” I guess I looked tougher than I really was. It’s still a toss-up as to which hurt worse, though – the Novocain shot or the drilling without it. Clint’s dentist had big needles.

Son Number One just had his first cavity, and he was in the chair watching SpongeBob last night getting it fixed. He was nervous beforehand, and I tried my best to reassure him that it would all be fine, but I think he could hear the uncertainty in my voice. Or maybe I told him about my cavities as a kid. Either way, he was nervous.

The first thing he got was a delicious swab of numbing gel that tasted just like cherry soda. Yummy. Then he braced himself for the Novocain shot that he actually never even felt. He happily watched SpongeBob’s hijinks down at the Krusty Krab as his cavity was drilled and filled in less than ten minutes.

“What was I nervous about, Dad? I didn’t even know he gave me the shot, and I never felt a thing.”
“I told you it would be fine.”
“I know. I don’t know why I didn’t believe you.”
“Probably because I didn’t believe me,” I muttered under my breath.
“Nothing, buddy. I’m glad it didn’t hurt. You did great”
“SpongeBob is funny. Can we get ice cream like you promised?”
“Clint and I never got SpongeBob.”
“Nothing, buddy. Let’s go get some ice cream.”

I’m telling you. This generation is soft.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Magnifying the Problem

A terrible thing happened over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. It’s almost too painful to talk about, but I feel as though I can use this column as a cautionary tale, so I will press on despite the mental anguish this is causing me.

I sustained an injury just before the holiday that set in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly end in a lifetime of trips to the doctor, and countless hours seeing a specialist.

The gruesome injury? Brace yourself. I got a tiny little splinter in my thumb.

I meant brace yourself for the fact that the initial injury was not really the problem. It’s how I handled the splinter extraction that will have me driving back and forth to the doctor for the rest of my days - if I can even drive myself, that is.

I will do my best to get through this story without any more sobbing. Here goes...

I had noticed the minuscule piece of wood in my thumb during the day, and it hadn’t really affected me much, so I ignored it. Later that night, however, the splinter was interfering with holding my beer comfortably, so I decided it had to go.

My wife had already gone to bed, so I was thoughtful enough to wake her up by thrashing around loudly in her sewing drawer, looking for a needle. She gladly jumped out of bed to help me find one. (Although she claims she thought I was a burglar and she was coming downstairs to defend her children and the house with her ninja karate skills, I know better. She loves to help me.)

Claiming that I didn’t need any more help once she had found me the perfect size needle, I sent her back to bed with a kiss on the cheek, and sat down at the kitchen counter to get to work.

There I was, in the dimly-lit kitchen, just before midnight, digging the splinter out of my thumb with a tiny sewing needle. It wasn’t working.

Then a thought occurred to me. A horrible thought. A thought that would unknowingly change the course of my life forever.

There’s something in that drawer over there that might help me get this thing out of my thumb. But should I use them? I never have for this kind of thing before, but they could help...

I thought about it for another few seconds. I should have just given up and gone to bed right then and there, but no. I am an idiot. Instead, I went to the drawer and opened it, eyeing the implements suspiciously.

Might as well give it a shot. I pulled them out and brought them back to the counter. Sitting back down, I positioned the devices over the splinter and then quickly snapped them into place.

“Ahhhhhrrrrrggghhh! Noooooo!!!” I screamed.

“What happened!?” came my wife’s concerned, almost panicked voice from the top of the stairs.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Sorry to wake you again. I’m just digging this splinter out of my finger and I put on your reading glasses to help me see it better. They help A LOT. When the hell did I get old?”

“About five years ago. Good night, old man.”


I can probably hold out a little longer, but eventually the eye doctor and I are going to be on a first-name basis.

They say it happens to everyone around forty. I guess that’s true, but up until that splinter I was sure it would never happen to me.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I'm Thankful For

It’s once again time to get my list together for our annual around-the-table Thanksgiving tradition of vocalizing our thankfulness. I usually forget a few things, since another one of our Thanksgiving traditions has to do with Bloody Marys, so this year I thought I'd write them down.

Also, I find when I'm thinking about things I'm thankful for, it often helps to balance them against things I'm not at all thankful for. That helps make the things I'm thankful for seem even better.

For instance:
I’m thankful for every day on Earth.
I’m not thankful for that one day I fell off my skateboard really hard when I was in the seventh grade and smashed my face on the asphalt. That sucked.

I’m thankful for beer.
I’m not thankful for that one Keystone Light I picked up out on the patio in college that I thought was mine but turned out to be three weeks old. That was really gross.

I’m thankful for Google.
I’m not thankful for the time I was trying to figure out if our friend’s dwarf hamster was male or female and I foolishly Googled “dwarf sexing.”

I’m thankful for cheese.
I’m not thankful for Limburger cheese. Food should not smell like feet.

I’m thankful that I can still run.
I’m not thankful for my forty-three-year-old metabolism that says I still have to run.

I’m thankful for bacon and Halloween candy.
See slow metabolism note above.

I’m thankful for hot sauce.
I’m not thankful for that one hot sauce at the BBQ place in Seattle that I’m pretty sure singed my nose hairs completely off. That was just ridiculous.

I’m thankful for spicy food.
I’m not thankful for that one pepper I had in Tijuana that made the left side of my face go numb.

I’m thankful for my health.
I’m not thankful for the prostate exam process. Seriously, we have MRI’s and stuff now!

I’m thankful for the roof over my head.
I’m not thankful for the time I fell off that roof. That hurt.

I’m thankful for freedom of speech.
I’m not thankful for freedom of speech for politicians and telemarketers.

I’m thankful for carnitas and chile verde.
I’m not thankful for all the crazy stories of brain-eating worms from undercooked pork that make me think twice at the sketchier-looking Mexican restaurants and then reluctantly order the carne asada instead.

I’m thankful for Amazon Prime, and being able to have a California king mattress pad, garlic pepper, and a Toyota Camry gas cap delivered to me in the same box in two days without getting up from my desk..
I’m not thankful that my Amazon Prime account is linked to my own credit card account. That is unfortunate.

I’m thankful for police officers.
I’m not thankful for that one cop from Lincoln that gave me a ticket for the most ridiculous traffic violation ever known to mankind. So glad I was able to help fill your quota that day, pal.

I’m thankful for garbage disposals.
I’m not thankful that mine magnetically attracts spoons.

I’m thankful for Wi-Fi.
I’m not thankful for the fact that I have no idea what Wi-Fi really is, or whether or not having too much of it bouncing around our house is slowly killing us all.

I’m thankful for my three sons.
I’m not thankful when one of them pees on something or someone at three A.M.

I’m thankful for my wife.
I’m thankful for my wife. (What am I, an idiot? Don’t answer that.)

I’m thankful for the ability to learn from my mistakes. (Especially involving expressing anything other than thankfulness for my wife.)

I love you, honey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This Column is Password-Protected

I have a list of passwords on a spreadsheet. No, you can’t see it. You wouldn’t be able to find it anyway, since my wife made me rename it from its original file name of “passwords.” It’s now called “this is not a list of passwords.” Please forget I told you that.

I had to start a list, because everything requires a user name and password these days. Some make sense, like online banking and email, but I have passwords for church and for baseball. I have passwords to buy eyeglasses and to buy coupons for frozen yogurt. I have passwords to buy plane tickets, concert tickets, amusement park tickets, sports tickets, movie tickets, and to pay for speeding tickets. I have a password to watch TV, and a password to order pizza.

I even have a password for the website of a hardware store in New Jersey, because they sell little plastic keeper pieces for my sons’ dresser drawers, and I have to replace them every time the boys break them off by standing on the drawers, which is always.

I have 156 passwords. Seriously, I counted. That seems excessive.

Amazingly I even have passwords for elementary school. It’s hard to believe elementary school would require passwords, but then again, I wouldn’t have thought I would need one for the dentist, either, but I do. Between my fourth and fifth-graders logging on to Google for homework, the reading program, the lunch program, Lifetouch Portrait Studios, and so on, elementary school requires at least fourteen passwords so far. I even have a password from Costco for the box tops program.

And I have passwords for books. Books! I already had a password for the public library, but recently one of my son’s books came with an online fantasy game, so now I have a Scholastic password. If elementary school requires this much online security, is high school going to require finger print passcodes and retinal scans?

Unfortunately, I don’t see any end in sight of the ever-escalating password list. Until we actually do have retinal scans, we have to have passwords, and they all should be different and long, because there are far too many Chinese hackers, Russian mob IT guys, and pasty-white, unemployed, basement-dwelling losers out there trying to crack your code.

The last thing you want is for someone to hack your elementary school lunch program user name and password and immediately be able to clean out your 401K. Besides the financial hit, you’d be bitter every time you heard the term “chef’s surprise” for the rest of your life, and that’s no way to live.

And along the way, we’ll probably discover that retinal scans cause cancer, or hepatitis, or nose fungus, or something, so we’ll need to figure something else out. Besides, getting the back of your eyeball scanned to buy a thirty-five-cent plastic drawer slide from a hardware store in New Jersey just seems like overkill.

So for now, we’ll need to keep our lists of passwords. As an added security measure, I even have a password to open my spreadsheet of passwords. Yes, you heard me - my passwords have a password. If I ever forget that one, we’ll just have to move to a small cabin in the woods and start over from scratch.

I probably won’t forget it, though, because I made it the same as my two most important passwords – the ones for TV and pizza – so it would be easy to remember. It’s my birthday.

Please forget I told you that. It’s also the one for my 401K.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I'm a Veteran of Red Cups

I am outraged by Starbucks. I can’t believe their marketing department didn’t make the cups red earlier.

Since I own mutual funds, I probably own some stock in Starbucks. At least, I assume I do. Since I want to retire someday, I want to see the stocks I own go up in value. Attracting people to your business usually makes your stock go up. (As long as they’re not looters). Therefore, I want as many legitimate customers as possible attracted to Starbucks, as well as all the other companies I allegedly own stock in.

Red cups have been attracting people for decades. How is Starbucks just catching on to that? I’m not sure about red paper cups like Starbucks has, but red Solo plastic cups bring people like moths to a flame. In college, you couldn’t keep me away from a place that had a sleeve of red Solo cups. Duh.

Apparently, though, I’m in the minority of people who are thrilled with Starbucks’ new red cup. I guess it used to have holiday designs on it or something? I have no idea, since I don’t drink coffee, and if I did, I wouldn’t drive somewhere to buy it for six dollars a cup from a “barista” with a pierced forehead and the audacity to have a tip jar. (But for those of you who do, please continue to do so, as long as I actually own stock in Starbucks... I should check that.)

At least one person somewhere -- either a customer, a shrewd Starbucks marketing genius, or a reporter – was “outraged” by Starbucks’ “war on Christmas” when the red cups without snowflakes were revealed. The internet has since exploded with outrage, and outrage against the outrage. The internet is fun.

Here’s the thing, America – you’re free. And especially today -- on Veterans Day – it’s very important to keep that in mind.

Starbucks is free to make their cup any color or colors they choose.

You are free to not like it.

They are free to put any or no designs on their cups.

You are free to go on the internet and complain about it. Even to be outraged by it.

The other Americans on the internet are free to be outraged by your outrage, and also to call you a snot-nosed whiny little yahoo.

You are free to be outraged by their outrage to your outrage.

You are free to maybe switch to decaf if you’re the type of person who’s prone to being outraged by things like the designs and colors of cups.

You are free to celebrate Christmas.

You are also free to celebrate Arbor Day, Kwanzaa, and Pan American Aviation Day if you want to.

You’re also free to not celebrate any of those holidays.

You’re free to buy coffee from anywhere they sell it.

There’s really no end to it. You are free to buy a clip-in man bun, which they apparently sell now.

And we, as Americans, are free to mercilessly ridicule buyers of clip-in man buns, as they so obviously deserve.

And as far as Starbucks goes, I’m free to tell you that if you were actually offended in some way by the cup decoration choices at a drink and cake chain, you should probably take up some sort of hobby that puts some meaning in your life.

We’re all free. Where did we get all this amazing freedom? It was brought to you (and bought for you, in many cases) by veterans.

So this Veterans Day, you red cup haters can be thankful for the freedom to take your mocha-frappa-latte business to Tully’s, or Peet’s, or Dutch Brothers, or Seattle’s Best, or straight to Juan Valdez if you can catch up to his mule.

And you remaining Starbucks customers can be thankful the red cup haters won’t be clogging up the line.

But above all else, don’t forget to be thankful for our veterans. If you see one, stop them and let them know you are one grateful, freedom-loving S.O.B. Maybe even buy them a coffee.

I’ll be thankful for veterans, and for red Solo cups.

And the freedom to (possibly) own stock in a company that charges you people six bucks for a red cup of something that you could make at home for six cents.

God bless America.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'll Take the 'Merica Training from Here

We have wonderful new neighbors who just moved here from France. The father works for a major U.S. company and their young family of five was relocated to California. The parents speak great English, but their three children arrived a few months ago speaking only French. At least, it sounds like French, but we really have no way of knowing.

Son Number Three became instant best friends with their middle boy, and all three of their kids are rapidly learning English, despite Number Three’s best efforts. My son immediately picked up a weird, high-pitched French accent and ESL speech pattern that he uses to communicate with them. I guess he thinks “You want play ball?” asked in a squeaky Pepe Le Pew voice is helpful. He’s wrong.

One day a few weeks ago, over a beer at the American Embassy (that’s what I’m calling my garage now), my new neighbor informed me that his Americanization training was set for the following weekend. I was justifiably upset, since I thought I was in charge of the ‘Merica training program, but apparently his major U.S. corporation had hired Riverdale Global Relocation Services to teach a “How to be an American” class for his wife and kids, and a “How to not offend everyone in the boardroom” class for him. I was already happily doing all that for free. I guess these big companies just like to waste their money. Go figure.

The training was home-based and took place over two full days. I asked to sit in, but apparently it’s only for employees and their families, and the “instructor” gets pretty annoyed when you question her credentials and ask to observe to make sure all the information she’s going to present is accurate.

My neighbors were kind enough to deliver the class materials over to me after the training was complete, so I could spot check them for accuracy. “Right on the bat” I noticed some flagrant errors in the Popular American Expressions section that was obviously not written by an American or anyone with any baseball knowledge whatsoever.

“Ballgame” was defined as “whatever it is you are doing; refers to a negotiation, a deal, an activity, as in, ‘This has been quite a ballgame.’”

To “drop the ball” was defined as “following through irresponsibly with a task.”
If “following through irresponsibly” means not following through and totally blowing it, then maybe.

A “curve ball” was “an unexpected or difficult remark, usually requiring a defense by the receiver.”
A defensive receiver isn’t even a thing in football. And no, I don’t mean soccer.

A “foul ball,” or “foul play” was “a curve ball in really bad taste, as in, ‘Hey Steve, that remark was a foul ball.’”
No, no, no.

And “the ninth inning” was “the final hour, or the final deadline, sometimes referred to as the ‘top of the ninth.’”
You had a 50/50 shot. Close, but no.

Besides the fact that the baseball idiom section was obviously written by a lifelong cricket fan, what I was most struck by was not the inaccuracy of the information on how to do business in America – most of it seemed to be “right on the baseball” - but rather the fact that any of it needed to be mentioned at all.

Here are Riverdale’s handy tips on boardroom etiquette from the General Principles of Business Communication section.

For U.S. Americans, ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’ They tend to use low-context communication – which is when the speaker relies more on the verbal content of his/her message (rather than on nonverbal or contextual clues) to get the intended meaning across.

That is true. We do not use interpretive dance to let you know that we want to purchase your product for under seven dollars a unit. We’ll just say that. We also don’t tell you we are interested in partnering with your firm while, at the same time, throwing feces at you. We stay away from nonverbal and contextual clues. If we don’t like you, we’ll tell you without lying and flinging dung.

Americans are not comfortable with extended pauses or periods of silence. Conversation goes back and forth in regular ‘beats’ – something like a ping-pong game.

Yes, it is true we don’t like uncomfortable silences, hence the name. But I’m not sure “ping-pong game” is the best way to describe conversational flow here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

“Hey Bob.”
“Yes, Jim?”
“Grab Lunch?”
“You bet.”
“Triple syllable. My point.”

Eye contact is very important. Frequent, though not too intense or prolonged eye contact, expresses to your counterpart that you are sincere and trustworthy.

Yes, eye contact is important. It’s really the main way we know you’re talking to us and not someone on your Bluetooth. Careful with that fine line of “intense and prolonged” eye contact, though. That can take you from sincere and trustworthy to stalker/serial killer in just a few uncomfortable seconds. Frankly, if you don’t already understand appropriate eye contact lengths, you should probably just stay home and keep not looking at your own countrymen.

American business people tend to keep a standard distance of about two feet (roughly an ‘arm’s length’) between themselves and their conversation partners.

This is true, and never to be violated. Also, don’t ever say “conversation partner.”

Apart from handshakes and an occasional pat on the back between men, physical contact is generally not part of the American business culture.

Allow me to make major corrections to this. Let’s replace the term “pat on the back” with “manly slap on the back while guffawing at an exceptionally funny joke.” That way you won’t be confused into thinking that a hand on the other dude’s back should do anything other than leave a red mark. There is absolutely no rubbing or lingering of any kind.

And we need to get rid of the word “generally” and replace it with “absolutely.”

“Hey, Jim, I’m really happy about this plan. Let’s hold hands while we sign the contract. Then, let’s hug it out and go get some lunch. I’ll rub Bob’s shoulders from the backseat on the ride over to Applebees.” These are all things you will never hear in America. Be very careful with this one, or you will find out quickly at what point punching becomes acceptable in the American boardroom.

And lastly, When handing items from one person to another, it is acceptable (and not considered disrespectful) to do so with one hand, or even to gently toss it across the table.

Yes. If you are going to hand me the Peterson file, a one-handed handoff or a table slide is really the only way to go. Handing it to me with two hands would look really weird, and don’t even think about doing anything stupid like bowing during the handoff, or presenting the file to me on a platter or a tasseled pillow. Things like that will never get you invited to Applebees.

There is one last thing that the folks at Riverdale forgot to put in the training manual, but it’s very important. The guy from overseas always buys lunch. And drives. Wait... where are you from again?

Never mind. I’ll drive, but you still have to buy.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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