Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cavepeople Unite

I live in California, and since we don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes to speak of, we got mudslides and wildfires instead. The mudslides aren’t so bad, since they’re never near my house. The wildfires, on the other hand, are scary.

Not many people know this, but California is not one giant beach with Hollywood on one end. Only the left side of the state looks like that. The middle part is covered with food. You’re welcome. The right side is covered in trees and mountains, in an attempt to keep those weirdo Nevadans out. It’s the right side that catches on fire.

We live on the border of the middle and the right side. Tragically, we lost an entire town and a lot of people to a fast-moving wildfire last year. PG&E is our utility company that supplies nearly the whole state with gas and electricity. They were sued because it was found that the fire started at one of their transformers. They declared bankruptcy due to the lawsuit, but somehow, remain our utility company, proving once again that no one knows how bankruptcy works.

Suing them for the tragic fire is a double-edged sword. On the one side, they provide power. Electricity is the only thing that keeps us from being cavepeople, and we take it for granted every day and are very quick to dismiss its true importance.

On the other side, we have been paying PG&E roughly a zillion dollars per kilowatt for the last three hundred years, and the only equipment they have updated regularly are the executive jets.

So, it comes as no surprise that social media is all aflutter today with the latest developments in the PG&E saga. They are now turning off power preemptively, in an attempt to keep another fire from starting. They do this when the winds reach (or might reach) a certain velocity. As of this morning, that velocity seems to be a sliding scale, ranging from “no wind whatsoever” to “kinda breezy.”

We were alerted last night by the school district that some of the schools might be closed today, which caused every school-age child in the district to simultaneously text each other bad information. Parent braced themselves. Local stores sold out of dry ice almost instantly, and everyone went to gas up their cars, which are vital tools in keeping our cell phones alive.

The outages began early this morning. Perishable food, gasoline, and lost episodes of The Voice are not the only things being wasted by these outages. Collectively, the California Facebook users have already wasted two hundred thousand man-days of productivity arguing about why this is or is not a good idea.

Whether or not a planned power outage is a good idea is irrelevant once your power is actually turned off, so in an effort to be helpful in these strange times, I thought I would provide some power outage operational and safety tips.

1) Buy non-perishable snacks, like Twinkies and beef jerky. Keep them out and handy. Eat all these snacks before the power actually goes out, because you were bored and have no self-control.

2) Stock up on batteries. Realize when you get to the store that you actually don’t really know what size batteries the emergency flashlights take, so just buy a lot of each kind. The ones you don’t need can be used as currency in the post-apocalyptic nightmare that will soon become your life.

3) The store you are at is obviously already out of both regular ice and dry ice, so ask the clerk if they know where you can get some. They will say no. Complain to them about their stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise even though you know the bag boy you’re talking to has about as much store management decision making power as the Twinkies you are buying.

4) Since the bag boy was no help, ask on every social media platform about where to get any form of ice. No one will know, but everyone will share a story about not finding any either and a tirade about stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise. #Icemageddon

5) Return home and realize that the batteries you just purchased are worthless because all the dead batteries inside your emergency flashlights have corroded, welding themselves inside the tubes, becoming one with the now useless flashlights forever.  

6) Wait patiently for the power to go out, surfing all the social media posts about whether power is on or off in a particular neighborhood. Post that you still have power, but never give your location. Just assume everyone knows exactly where you live. In the morning, reluctantly get out of bed and start your normal routine when your stupid alarm goes off and you realize the power is still on.

7) If the power actually does go out, turn on your cell phone flashlight and locate the bag of empty, non-perishable snack wrappers. Curse your non-existent willpower.

8) Hunt for candles since all your emergency flashlights are just cylindrical paperweights.

9) Realize the only candles in your house are the scented decorative ones in the guest bath and you’ll be damned if you’re ever going to light those and waste them on this!

10) Settle in on the couch and get back on social media, asking if anyone else just lost power, but again, do not disclose your location. #SoDark #HopeMyPhoneBatteryHoldsOut

11) Realize you no longer have WiFi. Realize that that is probably your biggest problem. Get back on social media to talk about WiFi and data plans, phone carriers, etc. #PG&EBetterPayForMyData

12) Open the refrigerator and momentarily wonder why there is no light. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Close it quickly to keep the cold in.

13) Walk to the bathroom and flip the light switch on by habit. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Wonder if the toilet will flush with no power. It does. Be amazed that you still have water and gas with no electricity to, like, get them to your house and stuff.

14) Realize that you have no idea what you will do if this lasts more than four hours.

15) Feed the kids crackers for dinner by the light of the gas stovetop burner that you lit with the long butane barbecue lighter.

16) Go to bed and pray.

So far, so good here at Casa de Smidge. I just hope they keep our power on long enoug

Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Very Census-tive Subject

I received a letter from the United States Census Bureau the other day, about how my address had been randomly selected to take the American Community Survey. Oh joy.

In the handy pamphlet of FAQ’s under, “Do I have to answer the questions on the American Community Survey?” I was thrilled to read the answer, “Yes. Your response to this survey is required by law under a random title and code section number we just made up for this pamphlet because no one will respond if we don’t threaten them. Also, there will be penalties and fees.”

“We estimate this survey will take about 40 minutes to complete.”


Then, in various different paragraphs, on various different portions of the pamphlets, letters, and website, they told me these three concerning things:

1. By law, the Census Bureau can only use your responses to produce statistics.

2. We may combine your answers with information that you gave to other agencies to enhance the statistical uses of these data.

3. Use of this system indicates your consent to collection, monitoring, recording, and use of the information that you provide for any lawful government purpose.


So what you are saying, Census Bureau, is that you guys are only allowed to use my answers to produce nationally-vital statistics regarding how many bathrooms are in my house, but you have access to answers I gave other agencies that didn’t make that same promise, and oh, also, anything I tell you can be used for any reason, by any government agency, for anything that someone decided to write on page 16,135 of a 17,000-page bill that you voted into law.


Here’s why that concerns me. You told me this would take forty minutes of my life, but around minute twenty or so you asked me very specific questions about my income. And my wife’s income. And the specific sources of that income. And the specific amounts of income from each of those sources.

In order for me to answer those questions EXACTLY like I did on my taxes, I would have to spend an hour or so going through my last tax return, which would mean it would take me eighty minutes to get to the middle of a forty-minute survey.

So, I guessed.

But here’s the problem. There is one currently lawful government agency in particular that loves exact numbers and loves reported numbers to match up exactly, especially when those numbers have to do with income – The Department of Agriculture.

No wait, it’s the IRS.

Your survey forced me to guess about my income, and you might be sharing those guesses with the IRS? I ask you, Census Bureau workers in charge of the American Community Survey, would you want the IRS seeing your reported income numbers for last year varying from place to place? Do you have any idea what an IRS audit is like? Do you want to go through one?

Not unless you are suicidal, which, now that I think about it could very well be the case since the career path you have chosen ended up at the Census Bureau – the lamest and most boring of all the Bureaus. Chin up.

I may have had more time to dig out my tax return and get the numbers right if y’all could somehow figure out a way to shorten your survey.

I happen to have a few suggestions for you:

You asked about my heritage, to which I answered European. You asked about my wife’s heritage, to which I also answered European because we’re both white and we’re all pretty sure her grandpa was making up the whole “part American Indian” thing just to get a discount on tribal liquor and cigarettes.

Previously, you had asked about our kids and how they came into our family. I responded (individually for all three) that they were natural-born children between me and my wife. You then later asked (individually for all three) about their heritage. That question seemed entirely unnecessary given my earlier answers, but since you gave me text boxes to complete, I went with Pacific Islander (other), Andalusian, and Guatemalan, in an effort to help them get into college someday.

You told me that my address was selected at random to participate in the survey, then asked me approximately sixty questions about my house, including number of bedrooms, bathrooms, general rooms that were not a foyer or hallway, lot size, year built, what I think it would sell for right now, and on and on. The only thing you didn’t ask about was the color. (It’s beige, by the way, like everything you own, Census Bureau workers.)

Have any of you ever heard of Zillow? You have my address. Just plug it in and you get all the information, and it will all be correct, because I won’t be guessing!

And speaking of information you already have access to, just get my tax return! It has every answer to all your financial questions, all your car questions, the household questions, the employment questions, as well as the questions about whether any of us are deaf or blind.

And speaking of the questions about our physical limitations, I wasn’t really sure how to answer some of those, so I just did my best.

Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does Son Number One have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?

I’m not sure if being fourteen years old qualifies as a physical, mental, or emotion condition, or if it qualifies as all three, but I answered an emphatic yes.

Do you have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?

I’m forty-seven, so this is a definite yes on days I have gone running, but only a “sort of” on most other days. I went with yes.

Does Son Number Three have difficulty dressing or bathing?

You already know he’s eleven years old. Of course he does! All three boys do.

Do you people even have kids? Who wrote these ridiculous questions?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

What the hECK?

I was recently reviewing my profile on Google Blogger and decided to click on the link to my listed occupation, writer and author.

Much to my delight, I discovered I’m in an elite group of other amazing “writer and author” folks. Most of us listed our interests in our bios.

For instance, a fellow writer and author lady from England listed her interests as: Reading, cooking, gardening...angels, spiritual, paranormal, Finland, cats!

She sounds fun.

A colleague from India listed his interests as: Public relationship Fight againest injustice.

Keep up the Fight, good sir.

It was riveting to read about so many of my professional brethren and what they were up to when not writing or authoring, but one gentleman in particular caught my eye. His listed interests were: Writing, reading, hiking, watching T.V.but within all it's the opportunity to serve as a co-worker with my spiritual guide the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master.

Hmm… interesting. An esteemed colleague of mine from Salem, Oregon has just stumped me, spiritually speaking. What is a Mahanta and a Living ECK Master? Thank God (or whoever), for the internet! I was able to research it all in a matter of minutes.

Eckancar, or ECK: Each of us is connected to God through Divine Spirit (the ECK), which can be heard as Sound and seen as Light. Eckankar offers a spiritual toolkit to help you experience the Light and Sound of God.

(It remains unclear if we’re supposed to be saying each letter in ECK, or if it’s supposed to be one sound, like what you say when you flick something gross off your hand.)

The ECKists are led by none other than Sri Harold Klemp, the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. (There is a picture of the bespectacled ECK Master, in his polyester suit and wide striped tie. He looks like a 1980’s midwestern insurance salesman.)

Sri Harold offers us: simple daily spiritual exercises that can give you the experience of the Sound behind all sounds, and the pure Light of God; techniques for personal experience with dreams, past lives, Soul Travel, and your spiritual destiny.

The super-modern-looking ECK website boasts: tens of thousands of ECKists around the world and Eckankar spiritual study groups in hundreds of cities. This global community is supported by a worldwide spiritual center in Minnesota.

(please keep in mind, I am not making any of this up)

In Chanhassen, Minnesota we will find The Temple of ECK, which would obviously also be a good name for a rock band.

The Temple of ECK in Chanhassen, Minnesota, is the worldwide center for the teachings of the Light and Sound of God. Located at the heart of the Eckankar Spiritual Campus, it is a local community church and a Golden Wisdom Temple. Seekers of truth come here for the spiritual study of past lives, dreams, and Soul Travel.

Speaking of Soul Travel, that adventure just happens to be featured in this weeks’ ECK-tastic Spiritual Exercise of the Week.

First Landmarks of Soul Travel
One way to leave the body via Soul Travel is to lie down after dinner when you are drowsy. Plan to nap for five minutes, and watch the process of falling asleep. If you try the exercise with your spouse, agree to meet outside the body a few minutes later. Then watch carefully as your mate steps free of the physical body and enters the spiritual one in a burst of radiant light.

Sri Klemp then goes on to describe the journey:

The moment Soul leaves the body, It finds Itself in a blue-grey zone near the Physical Plane. This zone is an approach to the Astral Plane. The sensation of moving from the Physical to the Astral body is like slipping through a large iris of mild wind currents; this iris is the Spiritual Eye. Soul enters this neutral zone of blue-grey tones in Its Astral form, a sheath which looks like a thousand sparkling stars.

And the all-important launch zone for the trip:

This buffer zone, or corridor, between the Physical and lower Astral Planes resembles the underground silo of an enormous rocket that is perhaps two hundred feet in diameter and more than two thousand feet deep. The ceiling of this circular pocket is open and may display a brilliant canopy of white light, or you may see a night sky sprinkled with specks of twinkling stars. There may even be a pastoral scene by a river, whose waters murmur their pleasure at life.

I think it’s entirely possible that someone slipped some acid into Harold Klemp’s meatloaf at the Greater Twin Cities Insurance Brokers Association dinner and he later fell down an abandoned well.

Instead of seeking medical attention, he seems to have started a religion.

In a completely unrelated matter, I’d like to announce my new religion. You are all invited to join. It’s called AKC. You may say each letter, or you can choose to make the sound of having a chicken bone stuck in your throat.

AKC will be just like ECK, only cheaper. For the low price of only twenty percent of your gross income per year (before deductions or taxes, of course, praise the Spirit Soul), we will worship all the recognized major dog breeds, and I will instruct you to nap on a daily basis. (Spiritual Soul travel naps, obviously, but with astral canine companions.)

Dog is my copilot.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, September 18, 2019

Cramping Our Style

I recently had a major revelation regarding my youth.

The good people of my parents’ generation arguably saved countless millions of lives by enforcing proper backyard barbecue pool safety, and yet somewhere between being a kid and having my own kids I completely forgot about this steadfast rule.

You may remember it from your own traumatic after-dinner childhood experiences:

Absolutely no swimming for a half-hour after eating. You will cramp up and drown.

This was an indisputable FACT of my youth that I only recently remembered, and now, as a marginally responsible father of three boys, I am beginning to question it.

Since I forgot all about it and therefore it was never enforced, I now have fourteen years of empirical pool data gathered from multiple test subjects that completely refutes the automatic post-meal cramping claim.

Not only do I have no data that supports the “need to wait” claim, I actually have plenty of data that shows a ten-year-old swimmer can actually eat a hot dog while treading water and still not cramp up.

Now that I sit back and think about the thirty-minute rule, it seems laughable. What was supposed to happen? I’d be swimming along while my stomach and small intestines worked furiously on all that potato salad and finally my muscles would just give up?

“There’s just not enough blood for digestion and swimming. We’re shutting down!”

Was my entire body going to cramp into the cannonball position and I would just sink to the bottom of the deep end like a rock? We were in a swimming pool. We could never physically be more than a body-length away from a wall.

Was the thirty-minute rule originally developed by parents of young open-ocean endurance swimmers, and no one ever stopped to think that maybe it didn’t apply to pools that were only nine feet wide?

And believe me, I have children – if this was just a lie the parents were telling us to maintain their sanity by keeping something far more annoying from happening, I would completely understand. We lie to our kids all the time! But the thirty-minute rule had no benefit whatsoever to the adults. All it did was create a situation where the kids would finish dinner then simply stand next to the adults and ask approximately six thousand times if it had been thirty minutes yet. That is waaaay more annoying than having to keep an eye on the kids in the pool.

The adults had to believe it as gospel. So why didn’t I take that rule with me into my own parenting? Why did I forget all about it?

Probably because when I was in high school or college I went swimming right after eating a burrito the size of my head and experienced no life-threatening cramping whatsoever.

Now I find myself questioning everything.

Is that gum I swallowed really going to stay in my stomach for seven years?

Will eating carrots not give me better eyesight?

Does coffee really stunt your growth?

Did that special dye that would turn my pee green if I peed in the pool even exist?

My whole life was a lie.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, September 11, 2019

Property Mismanagement

We had a neighborhood barbecue a while back. It was on a sunny Sunday afternoon this past March, and it was the kind of day just tailor-made for an impromptu get-together out on the street.

We didn’t grill burgers or dogs, though. We cooked a Prius.

Well, I shouldn’t say “we” cooked a Prius, so much as, the meth addict felon who lives down the street cooked his Prius. We just all came out to watch.

That fine afternoon, Sir Meths-a-Lot had somehow caught something in the middle of his driveway on fire. He remedied that situation by intentionally kicking over a large can of gasoline at the top of his driveway, which ran down into the fire and strangely enough, started a much, much larger fire.

By the time I saw the giant plume of black smoke rising above the rooftops, the entire driveway was burning, his Prius, which was parked at the curb in front of the driveway, was ablaze, and a flaming river of gasoline was running down the gutter toward two of his neighbor’s cars.

Good times.

His also-a-meth-head-but-so-far-only-committed-misdemeanors brother managed to get the fiery river put out before any more cars caught on fire, and it wasn’t too much longer before a couple garden hoses had the entire barbecue extinguished and Captain Felony Meth could concentrate on shouting at one of his neighbors to – and I’m not making this up – “mind your own business, bro.”

This fun Sunday afternoon get-together came after at least a year of other amusing antics and shenanigans over at Methtopia, including, but not limited to the following (and keep in mind, I am not making any of this up):

Fights on the front lawn
Homeless lady living in her truck out front and using their potty
Power washing the house/driveway/street at midnight
Throwing two dozen eggs from the side yard onto the neighbor’s house at 3 A.M.
Vacuuming the street with a Hoover upright
Mowing the street with an electric lawnmower
Power washing the lawn
Oh, and a full guns-drawn SWAT team raid on the house

That was all just neighborly fun and games, but apparently I have a limit, and as we found out, that limit is lighting the street on fire.

After the barbecue that no one was invited to, I did some internet research and came up with a few phone numbers. I texted around until I found the property owner and told him that his renters just lit his entire driveway on fire and it was time for them to find other, more suitable accommodations.

He then told me he only managed the property for his son, who owned it, but he would go check things out that day.

When I inquired back about the property visit, he texted back, “Everything looked fine. No problems.”

I decided at that point that an in-person meeting might be appropriate.

At the meeting, which took place at my kitchen table, I informed Roy of all the silly things that have been going on over at his son’s rental property, and that it was definitely time for the renters to fire up the old Prius, as it were, and head on out.

He amazingly tried to make the case that they were really quite nice, but I finally convinced him to give them notice. We settled on a charitable thirty days’ notice, even though three days were all that was required by law, given the many, many drug arrests that had occurred in the home. We shook on it.

He texted me later that week to tell me he changed his mind and they could stay until the lease ran out on August 31st.

I texted him back and told him how small claims court works for a landlord operating a nuisance property.

He ignored me.

During the dedicated public servant portion of the barbecue, Mr. Amphetamines-R-Us got popped for felony possession of a weapon while on parole (parole in this case, I’m assuming, meaning the entirety of his twenties and thirties), so he went back to his home away from home.

My first-ever incarceration report search (God bless the internet) turned up the fact that Doctor Now-I-Have-To-Do-Crappy-Jail-Toilet-Meth was scheduled to be in the slammer until after the lease expired, so I let it go.

A For Sale sign went up on the lawn in July, and things were looking promising until Future Eagle Scout Time-Off-For-Good-Behavior came home in mid-August to resume his standard routine of basically living in the front yard and doing absolutely nothing even remotely productive with his life.

I texted Roy. Here’s how that went.

Me: When will they be out?

[August 31st ]

Me, On August 31st: Will your tenants be gone by the end of today?

[They will start moving tomorrow hopefully . but not later than Tuesday
They are moving to my other house, other house’s tenant be out till midnight,so don’t worry PL try to help me find a nice buyer]

September 2nd: [Because holiday,may be we are running behind ( one day)]

Me: So, will they be out by Wednesday?

[Yes sir (OK hand emoji)]

September 4th: [They are moving since last night sir]

Me on September 5th: Your tenants are still at the house tonight.

[They are moving it may take 3 days to finish,sir]

Me on September 10th: It is Sept 10th. Your tenants were supposed to be out on August 31st. They are still in the house, with no signs of being out any time soon. What is your plan to get the felon drug addict who nearly burned your house to the ground out of our neighborhood?

At this point, I received a text from the second number I had, which I thought belonged to the owner, Roy’s son.

[This is Bea. Im Roy's daughter. I cant help but get your texts everyday. Are you renting the house or buying the house on plum? Whats really going on?]

Me: Sorry to have included you on the text string. I thought you were one of the owners. I'm a neighbor with kids, on a street full of people with children. The tenant is a meth addict, a felon, and the definition of a nuisance. He nearly burned down the house one day, which was when I contacted your dad and told him they needed to go. And I am honestly amazed that he didn't come to that decision on his own! This was after the SWAT team raided the house with guns drawn while my kids were playing in the street, and I don't know how many fights on the front lawn between the felon and his drug addict associates. I met with your dad and he told me in person he would evict them in 30 days. He then went back on that and told me they would be allowed to stay until August 31st. It is now Sept 10th. They need to leave this neighborhood, and I need to know an actual day they will be gone. They are wholly unacceptable, and suing your father for running a nuisance property is the only next step. I already made him aware that each affected family can sue for $5000 per person, including children, which adds up to a conservatively estimated $100,000 lawsuit. Time for them to go, now. That's what's really going on.

[First, I d like to thank you for being a concerned neighbor.

Second, if my dad says he will do something. You can mark my words. He is a man of his word.

3rd, My dad raised 3 kids in the same neighborhood. I want you to know things are being taken care of.

I just need to step off the gas pedal a lil bit and know you have been respectfully heard and my family is making it happen.

My dad stays unwell. Please be respectful. Nobody is ignoring you. We are all families in this community

Contact me directly from now on.

The new family thats moving in has their trucks outside being loaded.]

Me: I was not aware your dad was unwell. I will contact you from now on, but hopefully that won't be necessary. What do you mean when you say the new family moving in has trucks outside being loaded? As of this minute, the Plum house is still occupied by the old tenants.

[Again Marc, I want you to know my dad is under doctor's care and is very fragile. He is a good man. You will be taken care of at any cost. Period.

Have faith and some patience. M working on it too from Chicago as well.

You have our utmost respect n attention. I will personally contact you soon.

I m looking out 4 my dad and his health too. I only got 1 old man.

He dont need threats, your request is enough 4 all of us to step in.

My name is Bea. M his oldest kid. I invite you to be patient with serene calm mind. Universe will return the favor in 10 folds.

Namaste! (prayer hand emoji)]

Umm… say what?

Me: I am nice and serene. You didn't answer the question. What do you mean when you say the new family moving in has trucks outside being loaded? Outside where? As of this minute, the Plum house is still occupied by the old tenants.

[We have new tenants moving in very soon. Be patient, be kind. Everytime u look towards the house, inhale love n exhale love. Right now, you may not be perceiving things as they are, rather how you see!

No need to be on pins n needles. Cuz I got chu! Relax.

Your request has been received, approved, accepted, sealed, stamped!]

What in the actual hell is this idiot talking about? Are there three different people on the other end just grabbing the phone to text random crap at me? Can someone throw the phone to an adult?

Me: What actual date on the calendar will your current tenants be gone?

[I will call you tomorrow with that. Im sending my own tenants from my house to shift over there.]

Me: Text me. I like to have things in writing. It brings me peace and harmony.

[Blessings (double pink and red heart emoji)]

Shocking situation update: I never received a follow-up text.

Pray for us while I inhale and exhale love.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, September 4, 2019

Blinded by the Light

We saw a man holding a sign yesterday.

It was odd, to say the least.

He was not spinning or throwing a big arrow sign inviting us to buy a new home, or get our hair cut. His sign was homemade.

He was not “out of gas – need help,” or “lost job – anything helps.” He appeared to be a sober and employed member of society.

He was not announcing the good news that Jesus loves us. I did not get any sense, one way or the other, of his faith.

He simply was not taking up any of your standard sign-holding causes. Yet, there he was, lobbying the general public for the change he wanted to see in the world.

Alone on the sidewalk at five o’clock in the afternoon, wearing a floppy sun hat to guard against the still-blazing one hundred-degree heat, he held up his sign for the passing cars to read. Or maybe not to read.

Why is the sign blank? Is he holding it backward? Wait, no, I think there might be something written on it. Slow down. What does that say?

The sign appeared to be made in haste, possibly even as few as twenty to thirty seconds before he left the comfort of his air-conditioned home to take up such a noble cause out in the heat of the day. Written in single-line skinny Sharpie marker on a three-foot square piece of poster board was his gripping plea to America:

Ban Blinding LED’s

Umm… huh?

So many questions left unanswered.

Car headlights? Streetlights? Flashlights? Cell phone camera flash/flashlights? Home kitchen lights?

Wait a second! Are my home LED kitchen lights slowly stealing my eyesight from me and I didn’t even know? That would totally explain why I can’t hold the small print far enough away from my face to read it anymore!

It might also explain why I had so much trouble reading his sign, but I had no trouble reading the stop sign he was near, so I think that was on him.

Sadly, his poor sign-making skills may have been preventing his effectiveness in more ways than one. Had his sign been of a more professional and legible quality, he might have been able to market more effectively, and comfortably, to the folks in what I am assuming is his real target audience – nighttime drivers.

Since he was out on the street holding up his nearly blank sign to people in cars, instead of being out front of a Verizon store or a Home Depot, I am assuming the LED’s he wants banned are the car headlight variety. But obviously, he needed to petition us during the day, because his crappy sign would have been impossible to read at night with plain old standard headlights. Only the blinding LED’s he was lobbying against would have been able to illuminate his dull sign enough to be legible, and that would have been completely counterproductive to his worthy cause.

Oh, well.

As bad as he was at being a sign guy, I had to admire his passion for the cause, even if the cause was completely unclear. He was putting himself in harm’s way to get out his faint and confusing message, because it was crazy hot outside, and his legs were insanely white. It was as if they were seeing the light of day for the first time that afternoon.

I’m not sure how much traction he’s going to get on the LED thing, but he’s well on his way to a secondary cause. Ban Blindingly White Legs! Just stand out in the summer sun in shorts holding an illegible sign for an undefined cause until you are lobster-red.

He should Sharpie in “and please bring me aloe” at the bottom of his poster board.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, August 28, 2019

Hit Me Baby, One More Time

We had a fantastic stroke of luck last week when my wife had parked our Honda Accord on the street, and a nice man decided to remove our front bumper for us with his truck. How awesome is that!?

Speaking as someone who has dealt with car insurance agencies following our Suburban being totaled, I am really pumped to get to go through another damage claim.

I say the man who gave us a bumperectomy was nice, because he really was nice. He left a note on our car with all his insurance and contact information, and then hung around long enough to actually meet my wife when she returned to the car. He obviously can’t drive very well, but he acts appropriately after he’s finished hitting your parked car.

His insurance company took all liability for the repair costs, so as far as the world as we know it goes, everything is working as it should.

But that’s not good enough for me. The insurance world, as we know it, sucks.

We didn’t do anything wrong in either of our major insurance claims. We weren’t at fault. In this case, we weren’t even near the car. So why do I still have to take time out of my life to get the car fixed?

Why do I have to meet with a claims adjuster to look at the damage? Why am I responsible for getting my car to the repair shop? Why do I need to drive a rental car in the meantime? Why do I need to return that rental car and go to the repair shop to pick up my car when it’s done being repaired?

I am required by law to have car insurance, and I pay them an insane amount of money every year for the privilege of driving around and not causing accidents. Yet, when someone else hits me, I have to do all the work to get my car fixed. This is obviously a huge injustice that we, as Americans, have let go now for far too long.

Here is my proposal for the 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America – also known as the “This Crap Was Not My Fault” amendment:

Any insured and licensed driver in the United States of America whose vehicle incurs even the slightest dent at the hands of another driver, regardless of the bad driver’s status (i.e. insured/licensed or not, in the country legally or not, high/drunk or not, originally Canadian or not, extremely low IQ or not, etc.), shall be immediately compensated with a new vehicle, at the site of the collision.

The new vehicle shall be the current model year version of the old vehicle, or, if the model is out of production, any comparable new vehicle of the good driver’s choice.

The new vehicle shall be delivered within one hour of the time the collision occurred, regardless of the time of day or night. It shall come with a full tank of gas, and one thousand dollars cash in the glove box to compensate for the one-hour wait and the inconvenience caused by the bad driver.

The new vehicle delivery agent shall transfer all the good driver’s belongings to the new car, then meet the good driver at their home to deliver them a case of expensive imported beer and a predetermined number of bacon cheeseburgers, with a corresponding number of large fries.

While the good driver and their friends/family eat, the agent will take care of setting up the garage door opener buttons, pairing all their phones to the new car, installing car seats, and/or anything else that needs to occur to make it as though nothing ever happened. All DMV paperwork and fees for the car swap will be handled behind the scenes with absolutely no action needed by the good driver.

The good driver will not experience any change in their insurance rates even though the car is newer. The bad driver will not experience a change in their insurance rates either, however, they will be completely on their own for any repair/replacement costs for their vehicle, as well as any beer and cheeseburger-related expenses.

Based on what a ridiculous racket the collision repair industry is, insurance rates should actually go down under the new system.

Contact your congressman today!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Slovak Style Link

God bless the internet.

Never in the history of man has it been easier for two neighbors to be toxically rude and disrespectful to each other without ever having to actually speak in person. And that’s just one example of the amazing benefits the internet has brought us. If I could kiss Al Gore right now, I still wouldn’t.

We could go on for days about how the world wide web has improved interpersonal communications, but today I want to focus on the benefits it brings us in terms of our personal style, wealth, and ability to attract women. Specifically, I want to gush about how the internet has introduced me to Mr. Martin Železník, Slovakian Men's Style Coach.

I was just a regular, boring old day on LinkedIn, until I got the connection invitation that would change my life forever.

Hi Marc,

Nice to “meet” you,

I see you’re a speaker. I help men make more money and triple attention from women by developing their own authentic personal style.

If that's something you're interested in, let's connect.

Martin Železník l Men's Style Coach

This could be the break I’ve always needed. I mean, who doesn’t want more money, but TRIPLE ATTENTION from women!? That would be insane! Where do I sign, Martin?

Wait, I’d better not be too hasty. This is the internet, after all. I need to learn from my past mistakes with all those deposed but still super-rich Nigerian princes. Does Martin even care about me at all, or is this another scam?

Let’s look a little deeper into his LinkedIn profile.

His signature line reads:

Martin Železník l Men's Style Coach
I help men make more money and double their confidence in any situation by developing their own authentic personal style
Slovak Republic

Double confidence and triple attention from women, PLUS more money. This is sounding almost too good to be true, but there is a picture of Martin Železník right there to reassure me. The picture, however, is not insanely reassuring, by American standards, in the style/confidence/women’s attention/money category.

Martin has a thin, weaselly, “I’m super sure that I’m super cool” smile, and thin blonde hair cut close at the sides with an ocean wave-looking section on top that is gelled enough to preserve the individual comb tracks and could likely withstand a forty-knot wind. He does not appear as if he could grow any discernable amount of facial hair.

His shoulders are at a quarter turn, but his head is cocked back to the camera, as if to say, “Hey, what’s up, ladies? As you may have noticed, I have quite a bit of style and personal confidence. I also have an American LinkedIn account. Yes, it’s true.”

Captain Style Coach is rocking a blue Oxford-style button-down shirt, a beige V-neck sweater, and what appears to be a heavy black wool suit jacket of some kind. He scores bonus Slovakian style points by popping the collar on his jacket.

Based on the picture, I have to assume that if Members Only jackets were available in the Slovak Republic, Martin would own as many as he could afford.

All that being said, I’m not current on what is hip and trending in Slovakia at the moment, so maybe Martin is the Tom Selleck of Eastern Europe. I’m inclined to believe he’s on the level, because he seems to really care about helping me develop my own authentic personal style, based on his second communication.

Hi Marc,

Thanks for connecting with me.

I specialize in helping men make more money and double their confidence in any situation by developing their own authentic personal style.

I’m curious, Marc, what do you want to communicate with your clothes?

Wow! I have only recently connected with Martin and he’s already blowing my mind with insightful personal authentic style queries. And he cares enough to ask the tough questions. What do I want to communicate with my clothes?

I took a second to total up the amount of time in the last forty-seven years that I have spent thinking about my clothes. It’s in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen minutes total, so it’s safe to say I have no idea what I’ve been trying to communicate with them. I have given it some serious thought now that Martin has encouraged me, and I have come up with the following.

What I seem to be currently communicating with my clothes is, “Hello. I am a middle-aged man. I am not homeless.”

But is that what I want to communicate? Martin is getting me out of my middle-aged, non-homeless comfort zone and forcing me to come to grips with that tough question. I really don’t know what I want to communicate right now, but one thing is for sure – my current clothes-related communications are not helping me at all in the money/confidence/women attention department. Martin is a Slovakian style genius!

But what to do about it?

As if Martin could read my mind, he just sent me this urgent communique:

Hi Marc,

I’m offering all of my new LinkedIn prospects a free style diagnosis of 1 outfit of your choice to find out how is your current style and appearance helping you reach your goals.

Would you like to take advantage?

My style and appearance are related to my goals!?!? Holy crap, Martin, you are turning my whole world upside down right now. Hell yes, I would like to take advantage.

Free style diagnosis, here I come! I am currently wearing a black San Francisco Giants T-shirt with less than two holes in it, and khaki shorts. I can’t wait to find out if that’s correct or not. I’m really looking forward to doubling my confidence and increasing my income by an unspecified amount.

I’m not entirely sure what will happen when my wife finds out that I am experiencing triple attention from women, however, or how that will impact my confidence/money escalations, but we’ll cross that authentic personal style bridge when we get there.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, August 14, 2019

Teaching Me Happiness

School started today.

Actually, let me write that the way it feels. SCHOOL STARTED TODAY!!!!

That doesn’t do it justice. How about 28-point font and some old-school emojis?

SCHOOL STARTED TODAY!!! :-) :-) :-) WOOT, WOOT!!! (Clinking champagne glasses)

I like summer as much as the next person, but when you work from home, summer can get fairly crowded and loud when three ever-growing boys are around the house all day. Or trapped inside the car with you on a three-week road trip. Always fighting. Just so much fighting.

But everything is better today. Today they went to school. Today, they are not at home with me. They may be fighting, but I can’t hear them, and if the school calls, I’m probably not going to answer. Not today, anyway.

Do you know what it sounds like inside my house right now? It sounds like a yellow Lab snoring. I imagine the angels singing in Heaven sound just like a sleeping Lab.

I woke up this morning, and like every morning in the past month or two, my feet hurt when I got out of bed. I think I have plantar fasciitis. It hurts. Today, however, I don’t care, because school has started.

Running hurts now, due to the probable fasciitis situation, so I’m actually gaining weight instead of losing some like I wanted to do. Bring it on. I don’t care. Not today, anyway, because school has started.

I forgot to put the trash bin out this morning and missed the truck. Now I will spiral into the nightmare of trash hoarding for the next three to six weeks as I slowly work myself out of the collection deficit. Doesn’t bother me a bit today, however, because school has started.

My old Ford Expedition’s driver window switch broke again, and the window is stuck halfway down. Do I care? Not today. School has started.

A couple of weeks ago, our new Suburban’s A/C stopped blowing cold air when a rock punctured the condenser, which apparently, is vitally important to making cold air. It cost $1300 that I didn’t have to get it fixed. It had to be fixed, however, since it’s going to be 105 degrees today. Am I worried about any of that? Nope. School has started.

And speaking of money I don’t have, besides the looming abyss of college costs, our boys are going to start driving soon, which means my insurance rates are about to double with the first boy, triple with the second one, and then the policy will probably just be canceled altogether when Son Number Three gets his license. Doesn’t even faze me today. School has started.

And to top it all off, I had a stiff neck this morning when I woke up, because my wife stole one of my two pillows last night. My neck is still a little sore, but I don’t care, because school has started.

There was no way I was going to try to steal that pillow back and risk waking her up. She’s a teacher. They need all the sleep they can get, because school has started.

Thank you, teachers. We love you. You can have all the pillows you want.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, August 7, 2019

Clash of Siblings

My wife and I caved. We caved hard.

Well, to be fair, since she’s going to read this and I don’t want to get into more trouble than I’m already in, it was probably me who did most of the caving.

OK, all of it.

She already went back to school. That’s essentially the problem. She left me here all alone with the three boys. We had a fun summer, and together we played fairly effective man-down zone defense. But now she’s off enjoying the peace and quiet of teaching high school math, and I’m stranded here, a week before the boys go back to school, hopelessly outnumbered three to one.

There was nothing I could do. They got on my last nerve. I was out of options. I snapped.

Sure, I tried movies. We watched them all. We watched the Batman movies. Everything from Lego Batman to Keaton, Clooney, all the way through Christian Bale, and into the who-paid-to-have-this-guy-cast-as-batman Ben Affleck debacle.

We watched Planet of the Apes, Rise of Planet of the Apes, and Dawn of Planet of the Apes. I have no idea why.

We watched Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2. Twice. You heard me.

When we passed through Ocean’s Eleven and got all the way to Captain Ron, I finally said enough is enough. I was considering calling Child Protective Services on myself.

“Get away from the TV! Go find something to do.”

The things they found to do were argue, yell at each other, get into fights, and cry.

“Go get in the pool!”

In the pool, they forgot to swim. Instead they decided to argue, yell at each other, get into fights, and cry.

“OK, fine. If you can’t get along, we’ll do chores! How do you like them apples?”

We cleaned the house. We cleaned the backyard. We trimmed trees. We cut grass. We weeded vast expanses of lawn. We washed cars. And during it all they decided to argue, yell at each other, get into fights, and cry.

I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Like I said, I snapped.

We have always had a “no video games” rule in our house. In general, my wife and I believe that video games warp their tiny brains and turn them into moody, obsessed, psychotic little blobs of pasty-white flesh.

I still believe that, but I just don’t care anymore.

“Here’s an iPad. Why don’t you get that Clash Royale game you heard about?”

“What? Dad, are you feeling OK?”

“Shut up and get the game.”

They have all since graduated to something called Clash of Clans, and they are officially obsessed. They have learned an entirely new language in just a few short days. The people at Rosetta Stone should look into this technology for language acquisition.

Here’s a sample conversation I just heard when I was able to pry them away from the screens long enough to eat lunch:

“Bro, what if you put your dark elixir in front of your magic archer, with a dragon queen and a scarmy behind them?”

“Dude, then you could totally balloon a city hall with your pekka. But your barracks would be completely hard-pushed.”

“Not if your wall breakers were in front of a barbarian king or an archer queen. Then your goblins could balloon a hog rider, with a lava bowler hound golem….”

I tuned out after that.

We don’t have normal conversations anymore. It’s all they can talk about, 24/7, but I don’t care. Because they are talking, not yelling.

For now, I will take it. I will pull the plug the minute school starts and go back to being a responsible parent who cares about their mental health.

“How much longer can we play?”

“Shut up and play the game. Don’t ask questions.”

Right now, we’re dealing with my mental health.

School cannot start soon enough.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, July 31, 2019

Driving Me Crazy

Here’s the problem: A millennium or so ago, I used to be a sixteen-year-old male with a brand-new driver’s license, and I remember what I was like.

***Spoiler Alert*** I was not a good driver.

Within three days of passing my driver’s test (with a score of one hundred percent, I might add) I managed to get my parents’ car up on its side in a ditch.

I didn’t waste any time proving that test scores and real-life common sense are two completely separate things. I mean, I didn’t even have the actual plastic license yet before I learned my first major motor vehicle physics lesson. I still had the temporary printed half-sheet of paper folded up in my pocket when I stood on the passenger door and climbed straight up out of the driver’s window.

Well over the posted speed limit on a country road, plus a ninety-degree corner, plus an idiot driver equals one pretty banged up Audi 5000, and thanks to the miracle of seatbelts, three unscathed moronic teenage boys.

Fast-forward through many more hair-raising automobile exploits and an eventual increase in calm and skill level, and we arrive at yesterday – the day my wife had me scheduled to take Son Number One, who is almost fifteen, out to an abandoned parking lot somewhere and start the process of teaching him to drive.

I just don’t think that’s a good idea at all.

I successfully stalled long enough yesterday and again today to run out of time. Things just “kept coming up.” But there is very little chance, and by very little, I mean zero, that she’s going to let that happen again tomorrow.

She keeps saying, “He has to learn, and the sooner the better,” but I just don’t agree. I see no upside for letting him get his license. Ever.

I know what he will do. It will not be pretty. Tires will smoke. Brakes will howl. Metal will crumple. Insurance claims will be processed. Sleep will be lost. Metric tons of money will vaporize from our bank accounts.

She keeps trying to make the argument that he won’t be as bad as I was. I keep agreeing with her. Based on what I’m seeing from him, he’ll be much worse.

But she won’t listen to reason. In the end, she keeps defaulting to the argument I hear other people make all the time. They say it’s great when the first kid starts to drive because they can take over shuttling the younger siblings to school and sports.

But as far as I can tell, that’s probably the worst argument for it. When I put our Audi on its side, I was with two guys I actually liked. We were all getting along, and no one was mad or yelling at each other.

I can’t imagine what will happen inside the car when it is only occupied by our sons, whom, based on our observations, alternate rapidly between hating each other and just barely tolerating each other.

They might drive off a cliff. (Which, incidentally, I also almost did in my parents Jeep, about three months after getting my license.)

Please pray for our family. And our eligibility for auto insurance.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, July 24, 2019

Thou Shalt Not Floss

Our three boys spent the last week off at church camp. The two younger ones were here in town, while Son Number One went all the way down to Los Angeles with his high school group.

He and I got up before dawn on Saturday to head off to the busses. His bag was ninety-nine percent packed the night before. When we woke up, he was supposed to brush his teeth and then pack his toiletries and his phone charger.

Off we went to the church to get him loaded up onto his bus. “Do you have everything?” I asked him.

His ears filtered my question through his small, inoperative fourteen-year-old brain, and he answered, “Yes! Quit asking me!”

I wrestled a hug out of him and sent him on his way. Fast forward to last Thursday afternoon when I picked him up. We had no contact with him all week, since the youth group leaders took everyone’s phones away on the bus trip there, and gave them back on the bus trip home. That made packing his phone charger the morning of the trip kind of a moot point.

What wasn’t supposed to be a moot point was packing his toiletries. As we were walking to the car and he was busy answering my questions about the week with super-descriptive one-word answers, he suddenly remembered something noteworthy.

“I forgot my toiletries bag, so I couldn’t brush my teeth all week.”

*record scratch*

“What?” I asked, hoping I had misheard his incredibly long sentence.

“Yeah, I totally thought I packed it, but it wasn’t there.”

“I watched you pack it,” I said.

“I know, I thought I did. I thought I put it in the same pocket as my phone charger.”

“I think you did, too. Did you take everything out of the bag to look?”

“Trust me, dad, I looked a bunch of times.”

“So, you just didn’t brush your teeth all week?” I asked, still not having fully wrapped my brain around what was coming out of his mouth, besides the halitosis. “Did you at least floss?”

“I chewed a lot of gum.”

Oh, great, those four out of five dentists will be thrilled. *sound of a blood vessel bursting in my brain*

“Did you tell somebody?”

“I’m not going to use someone else’s toothbrush. That’s gross.”

*sound of an even larger blood vessel bursting in my brain* “Um… not to use someone else’s toothbrush. To get you your own!”

“No. No one’s going to have an extra toothbrush, dad. Geez.”

*more blood vessels breaking, calming breaths*

“Why didn’t you at least ask someone to borrow floss? That’s a one-time use product.”

“I told you, I chewed a lot of gum.”

“Where did you get all this gum?”

“Our group leader took us on a walk to a gas station to get snacks. I bought a two-liter of root beer, too.”

“That’s nice. Do you know what else they sometimes sell at gas station convenience stores?... You know what, never mind.”

I opted to simply drive out of the parking lot in silence and continue the silence all the way home, for fear of having a full-blown stroke while operating a moving vehicle. I tried to think about dogs playing fetch. That’s a nice thought.

When we got home, he grabbed his sleeping bag and pillow and asked if I would get his duffel bag.

“Sure,” I said, still thinking about Labs and border collies leaping in the air for sticks and Frisbees. I carried it by the shoulder strap and was halfway to the front door when I looked down and saw it.

*second record scratch of the day*

I walked into the house where my wife was already getting super-descriptive one-word answers to her questions.

“Please tell me this whole thing was just some kind of elaborate and really stupid joke,” I said, falsely hopeful. “You brushed your teeth all week, right?”

*first record scratch of the day for my wife*

“You didn’t brush your teeth?” she asked.

“No, I couldn’t. I forgot my toiletry bag.”

“This one?” I asked, trying very hard not to have a totally paralyzing stroke, even though I was not driving anymore. “This one, here, in the end pocket of your duffel bag? The MESH end pocket!? The pocket on the outside of the bag that I can see right into without opening the bag or even needing to unzip it? This toiletry bag right here under your phone charger!?!?!?”

“What? There is no way that was in there the whole time. I totally looked, like, a bunch of times.”

As I stared into my wife’s beautiful eyes for some shred of logic or reason, I heard the sweet, welcomed sound of the rest of the blood vessels in my brain exploding.

No, no. Don’t call me an ambulance. Just get me some gum.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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!