Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Property Mismanagement - Repost

This month marks the second anniversary of us living in a meth-free neighborhood (as far as we know). We were unable to celebrate the first anniversary due to COVID restrictions, but we’re partying this year! Here’s the account of what went down two years ago:


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)]


They did finally move out, but it took another week. I spent that week wondering if I was perceiving things as they really were, and concentrating on inhaling n exhaling love.

I’m fairly certain I was communicating with Bea’s idiot boyfriend more than half the time during that week, and I’m positive he was inhaling n exhaling something entirely different.


See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Group Text Hell

“I’ve never been held hostage, but I have been on a group text.”

If you own a smartphone, I’m sure that rings true for you. And if it doesn’t, then I’m terribly sorry that you were held hostage at some point in your life. I hope that’s not still going on!

I, unfortunately, have found the fourth level of group text hell. I am currently on a GroupMe with the seventh- and eighth-grade flag football teams. Not the parents. The actual seventh- and eighth-graders.

Like his brothers before him, Son Number Three won’t get a cell phones until high school, but I’m pretty sure every other kid on both teams has a phone and is on the GroupMe. The coach is young enough that he just set up the GroupMe and added the kids. I’m not even sure he was planning to communicate at all with the parents. For the first week of practice, I had no actual written or verbal proof that my son was even on the team.

I guess the coach is too young to realize that it used to be just the parents on the group communication, because we’re the ones that actually need to know the practice and game schedule.

Now, since all the kids have phones, they’re on, too. Here’s the first reason why that’s dumb: the parents still need to be on, because the last person you can trust to relay information correctly is an eighth-grade boy. My son cannot accurately explain to me a single solitary event of his entire day.

The second reason it’s dumb is that now the coach and whatever parents are unfortunate enough to be on the chat are stuck there with forty middle schoolers.

Allow me to illustrate the situation with a recent text string:


Coach: Our game this Thursday the 2nd is an away game. Please arrive at Johnson Middle School by 3:30pm for our 4:00 game time. Remember to wear your red away jersey.

Player 1: cool who are we playing

Player 2: johnson idiot

Player 3: hahaha

Player 4: ok

Player 4: are we home or away?

Player 1: coach said red jersey so were home

Player 2: we are away dude  we are only home when we playat our field idiot

Player 4: So white jersey?

Player 3: white jersey is home coach said red for away

Player 2: ya

Player 5: yep

Player 4: ok what time is the game? i need to find a ride. my mom is working i think

Player 1: the game is at 3:30 idiot you have to read coachs text

Player 2: the game is at 4 idiot we have to be their at 330 you have to learn to read hahahaha

Player 5: cool

Player 6: ok

Player 7: coach I dont want to play center I want to play a catching position I can catch you just have to see me

Player 2: dude you cant catch

Player 7: shut up

Player 4: hahahaha

Player 8: coach am I allowed to play in the game if I haven’t been to practice because I was sick but im not sick anymore?

Player 1: ya you should come. you can play

Player 9: What time is the game? who we playin?

[And on and on for another 24 texts]

Parent who didn’t start at the top of the 48-text string: Hi Coach, can you let us know the location and arrival time for this Thursday’s game, please?

Me on the couch listening to my phone beep like it’s a bomb about to go off: *just shoot me*


I’m starting to think it might be less of a headache if I just gave Son Number Three a cell phone and the car keys. Being off this GroupMe would probably be worth it.

I mean, he’s already thirteen. What could go wrong?

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Hot Dog Diet Plan

From time to time, I try to provide a public service with this column, since you receive basically zero useful information from me for a vast majority of the year. I’m here today to tell you I have solved the mystery of weight loss once and for all. You’re welcome.

Like almost every guy over forty, I am constantly waging a half-assed attempt at losing a little weight. Deep in the back of my brain, I know exactly what I need to do to shed unwanted pounds, but pizza and chocolate covered almonds exist, and that’s where the problems arise. My portion controls usually revolve around how big my plate is, and if there are seconds available.

There was one specific time in my life when I actually needed to lose weight in order to be allowed to go on vacation. We were scheduled to ride the mules down into the Grand Canyon, which is a thrilling, spine-chilling, hair-raising, intensely painful, once-in-a-lifetime adventure that I would highly recommend to anyone with a large life insurance policy.

You had to be under 200 pounds in order to ride, which was a bit of a challenge for me, to say the least. I came up with a diet plan that worked, mustered the willpower to pull it off over many months, and climbed the little step ladder onto Lucy the Gigantic Mule’s back at 196 pounds.

That was five years ago, and back then I lost the weight by cutting out excess sugar and eating a Mule Salad for lunch every day. If you are unfamiliar, and Mule Salad is a large bowl of lettuce topped with lite Italian dressing and despair.

I have since searched the burger joints of North America and found all that weight I lost, re-lost some of it, and re-found most of it again. This last month, however, has been a different story. I have cracked the code on efficient, no-nonsense weight loss, and thankfully for all of us, the Mule Salad is not in the equation. I have replaced it with a pastrami-wrapped hot dog covered in cheese.

You heard me. I have invented the pastrami cheese dog diet, and it works like a charm. You still have to cut out excess sugar, unfortunately, but you get to eat hot dogs instead of salad! Like I said, you’re welcome.

Here’s the entire diet plan, free of charge, that helped me drop more than ten pounds in the month of August:


Breakfast: Fruit smoothie and maybe some sourdough toast with butter and jam if you’re in the mood.

Daily Hydration: Coffee and LaCroix

Lunch: Nathan’s bun-length hot dog, wrapped in pastrami, with melted cheddar cheese, sliced dill pickle, ketchup, and mustard on a standard-length regular hot dog bun.

Afternoon snack: Nuts (not coated in chocolate) or a piece of fruit, if required.

Dinner: Whatever is for dinner, in a sensible portion.

COVID: Eighteen days of COVID, insane cough, crazy fatigue, becoming a completely worthless heap on the couch, sleeping all the time, not eating anything for a week and then only soup for five days, lots of Gatorade.

Dessert: Only on special occasions, no more than twice a week.


There you have it, folks. It’s a simple diet plan with amazing results. The only problem is, I’m not sure I would wish it on my worst enemy.

Except for the pastrami cheese dogs, that is. Those come with my highest recommendation.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Light at the End of the Carpool

Kids are weird these days. They don’t seem to care about driving.  It is impossible to find someone my age who was not at the DMV on their sixteenth birthday, knocking on the glass door three hours before they actually opened, begging to take their driving test and get their license.

This is not the case for today’s sixteen-year-olds. At least, not many of them. And certainly not mine. Today’s youth don’t seem to care very much about getting their driver’s license. Some of them wait until they’re eighteen! That is certifiably insane.

I obviously blame the internet, smartphones, and text messages. Those are the big differences between how they are growing up and how we did, so they are surely the cause.

Kids today can communicate with their friends any time they want, and they have unlimited access to every video ever made of people eating weird things and guys getting accidentally hit in the nuts. As such, they don’t seem to have any need to leave the house on Friday night and go to the AM/PM and hang out in the parking lot to see those things happen live. What a bunch of freaks.

Son Number One would probably still not have his license if we hadn’t pushed the issue. We never forced him to drive if he wasn’t comfortable, because that is a recipe for roadside information exchanges and much higher insurance premiums. But we did use all of our parental cunning and wit to convince him that driving might not be so bad. (And I may have said, “Get in the damn car,” a time or two…)

And I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it was easy. My wife refused to help with the driver training out of fear for her own life, so it was up to me. Early on in the process I formed a support group with the other dads of teen drivers in our neighborhood. It was mostly just a lot of beer and wide-eyed tales of merging gone wrong, but it helped to know I was not alone.  

Anyway, there was a very good reason for us cajoling our oldest son into getting his license, and it wasn’t because we love higher insurance premiums. It was carpool.

I have been driving kids to school in the carpool for roughly two hundred years now, and it’s starting to lose its luster. I actually enjoyed it when it started long ago, but that enjoyment has now been firmly replaced with dread and dismal monotony.

The bright side is, with Son Number One’s license, I have reduced my total number of school carpools from two down to one, and this is the last year I will have to drive carpool ever again. Son Number Three will be at the high school with his older brothers next year, and will be responsible for not pissing them off enough to get left at home. If he fails at that, he knows where we keep the bikes. Yay!

It’s hard for me to express the joy I feel when I think of never driving carpool again, but to try to put it into monetary terms, it is totally worth the $28,000/month that it costs to insure a sixteen-year-old male to drive a 2003 Ford Expedition.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Catch Up if You Can

Motivating your children can be hard to do, especially these days when they all seem to be inexplicably drawn to a life of drooling in front of a tiny screen watching thirty-six-hour YouTube compilations of cats getting scared by cucumbers.

Son Number One is sixteen years old, and he was born with a little more than his share of the “I want to sit in front of this screen for the rest of my life” gene. As such, apparently, I am not above using a criminal as a motivational role model. I found that out the other day when I was watching the movie Catch Me if You Can. Number One came in and I paused the action to catch him up, explaining who Frank Abagnale, Jr. was, and what he had accomplished in just a short period of time.

If you are unfamiliar, Abagnale was a con man and a forger. He wrote his first bad check at the age of fourteen, and in the early 1960s, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, he was impersonating an airline pilot in order to cash fake payroll checks and get free rides all around the country riding in the spare seat in the back of the cockpit.

My dad was an airline pilot and remembers getting the FAA memo about an imposter riding jump seats posing as a Pan Am pilot.

Abagnale pioneered several check forging techniques before he was caught, and afterward, worked with the FBI to help them catch other forgers.

There’s really no telling what Abagnale could have done if he’d had the computer and internet tools at his disposal that kids have today. He had to steal all his money using a typewriter, for goodness sake.

The other day, I needed to pay Son Number One some money and I didn’t have enough cash on me, so I wrote him a check. He’s had a checking account for a few years now, and uses his debit/ATM card to buy things and get cash, but apparently no one had ever written him a check??

He kept it sitting on his desk for a week before he came to me and said he had no idea what to do with it. He didn’t use the vast resources of the internet to even attempt to figure out how to deposit it. He just stared at it for a week and then complained.

It was at that point that I used a con man and a thief as an example of what to live up to. I’m not saying I’m proud of that, I’m just saying it happened.

Come on, man! Frank Abagnale was actually making fake checks when he was your age, and you can’t even be bothered to try to figure out how to deposit a real one into your account? He was impersonating an airline pilot, and you don’t even have a job at a pizza place. Those are federal crimes, man! Not just some little local misdemeanors. Show some initiative, will you?

Follow me for more parenting tips.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Drunk History

The kids went back to school this week, and so in honor of the return to learning, I decided to brush up on my history.

What better way to do that than by binge-watching Drunk History on Comedy Central. I am very late to the party, as it were, but I am glad I finally found my way in. This could be the single greatest way to learn about history that was ever devised.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, the host, Derek Waters, and a guest host drink themselves to the raggedy edge of consciousness, and then sit down to share the exciting tale of someone from history.

The stories are true, but the storyteller’s brain is in the process of shutting down, so there is obviously a heavy level of ad-libbing involved with the point A to point B.

If there’s one thing that drunk people have, however, it’s passion in their storytelling. They also invariably have the hiccups, a lot of spit, and very long pauses. This is what makes this method of learning history so riveting.

The actors tasked with enacting the stories are required to lip-sync and act to the insanely drunk person’s voice over. The results are magical and can make even the dullest historical figure or event come to life in front of your eyes. Much like witnessing a train wreck.

I would highly recommend this method of expanding your historical knowledge, but get it while it lasts. I have to assume that Derek Waters is dead by now, because he gets just as drunk as the guest host does in order to interview them, and there are three historical tales with three different guest hosts per episode.

I’m sure his liver must have just exploded right out of his body at some point, but I’m only on season four, and thankfully he’s still with us.

Happy learning.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Serious Wedgie

Do you ever have those times when a story about a celebrity seriously injuring themselves in the ocean makes you feel instantly cooler about yourself?

Yeah, I didn’t think I did either until recently…

Allow me to explain. Our epic summer of a thousand road trips has come to a close, with the final stretch being way down in southern California to visit various family members.

We ended up getting quite a few beach days in, with some fantastic boogieboarding in San Diego and Newport. On a particularly big surf day, we drove the boys and their cousins down to the end of the Balboa peninsula to show them The Wedge.

The Wedge is a man-made phenomenon bought about by the huge rock jetty of Newport Harbor, and its odd angle to the end of the peninsula, combined with a very steep beach. The steepness of the beach on the end of the Balboa peninsula creates what is called a shore break. That’s when the swell coming in waits until it is right on top of the beach to form the wave. Shore break is also what happens to your bones if you don’t time the wave correctly.

The Wedge is a particularly insane shore break, because the jetty/beach angle collects the swells from two different directions and stacks them up on top of each other, forming a weird double wave shape that gives the crazy break its name. For a certain part of the year, the lifeguards don’t even allow surfboards or boogieboards to go out – only bodysurfers. I guess they are trying to minimize the different ways you can snap your neck.

When I was in college, our water polo team traveled down to Newport for a tournament, and the local guys insisted that we all go to The Wedge one afternoon. I had never heard of it, and I will never forget seeing it for the first time. It was profoundly frightening. I had no business being out there, but when you are in college, you fancy yourself to be bulletproof, and if those crazy kids out there can bodysurf that insane monster of a wave, then so can I, dammit.

What ensued was probably one of the most terrifying and thrilling twenty minutes of my life thus far. Even when you are successful in catching the wave at The Wedge, there is no way out of it, so you just end up getting rag dolled up onto the sand anyway. When you are unsuccessful in timing the wave, things get a lot worse.

If you miss it on the bottom, it’s a lot like a semi truck landing on you while you are getting waterboarded. If you miss it on the top, it’s a lot like getting flung up onto the beach by a catapult with a rocket launcher attached to it, and then having a semi truck land on you while you are getting waterboarded.

I even fell out of the middle of the wave once. I remember falling past two or three other people suspended in various elevations in the green wall of foam and landing on my back in about six inches of water, before getting waterboarded by the aquatic semi.

I will always remember the experience fondly (except for the various parts erased by the multiple concussions), but seeing The Wedge again recently made me just shake my head. I can’t believe I ever went out in that crazy surf.

I recently learned the story of another college student who fancied himself bulletproof and took on The Wedge. It didn’t go so well for him, but the results changed the world.

It seems our USC football player was friends with an Olympic gold-medalist in swimming, named Wally O’Connor. Wally was a Wedge pioneer, being one of the strongest swimmers on the beach at the time. This was a little before my time, actually – 1926 to be exact.

Wally showed his friend how it was done, riding one of the hellacious waves right up onto the sand. When it was time for the man with the USC football scholarship to give it a try, it didn’t go quite so smoothly.

On his first attempt, the young man caught the wave briefly, but ended up out of position only to learn how unforgiving The Wedge can be. He snapped his collarbone and dislocated his shoulder, simultaneously ending his football and college careers, and dashing any hopes of the law profession he was planning.

His is not a sad story, however. He knocked around a bit after that, finally ending up working a low-paying job in the props department at 20th Century Fox. It was there that he was discovered as an actor and went on to become a household name synonymous with pure manliness itself.

I’m glad I only recently heard this story of a day at the beach that changed the course of history for the better. If I had heard it beforehand, I may not have gone out into that water back in the early nineties.

I certainly didn’t bodysurf The Wedge with any kind of measurable style or grace that day, but at least I can say I did it a little better than John Wayne did.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Tenth Open Letter to the School District

Dear folks in charge of the decision making down at the School District,

I know you have been working 24/7 over the summer trying to figure out how to possibly have school happen for all our kids next month. It must be stressful since there is no historical year-after-year blueprint for how to operate schools and educate young people in a world that also has diseases. But you guys are smart. I’m sure you’ll think of something.

Speaking of all the thinking and planning you’ve been doing, I wanted to highlight one area you have been working diligently on – masks. Specifically, who needs to wear a mask and when. I received a copy of an email from an anonymous source the other day, laying out your new “policy.” (I put policy in quotes since I didn’t know what else to call this, but it’s clear that you need to look that word up in the dictionary.)

You started by mentioning that all the students needed to wear masks, but you wanted to focus on getting back to community building within the classroom and not to have the teachers become strident mask enforcers.

You don’t want to further aggravate the current politically divisive climate of mask vs. no mask, in an attempt to avoid the hostile atmosphere we saw last year.

So, your “policy” is that students, no matter their vaccination status against whooping cough, diphtheria, or COVID-19, 20, or 21, are supposed to come into the classroom wearing a mask. But if the student is not following that rule and a teacher asks them to comply and the student refuses, the teacher is asked to not further engage in forcing the student to comply.

Your “policy” goes on to restate that you wish to focus on creating community and to that end, you provided some helpful tools for the teachers to employ.

Teachers could:

A) Share that wearing a mask indoors is respectful to those in class who may have immunocompromised family members.

B) Share that they too have family members.

C) Talk about respecting choice and taking care of self.

But above all else, teachers are not to become aggressive in mandating they wear the mask. Also, teachers are going to need to be conscious of not bullying each other on the masks. (I am assuming you meant the kids bullying each other, and not the teachers bullying other teachers? Or are you worried about that, too?)

So, since I am assuming you didn’t roll play your new “policy” down at the district office, for fear of accidentally bullying each other, allow me to give it a shot.

Student: *walks into class with no mask*

Teacher: Please put your mask on.

Student: No.

Teacher: I respect your choice. You need to take care of yourself and do what’s right for you.

Student: Thanks.

Teacher: But did you know that one of your classmates might have a grandma who could have to go to the hospital and be put on a ventilator because of your choices? Does that sound like you are respecting them? Did you know that I also have a grandmother?

Student: Umm…

Teacher: I apologize for bringing up the whole mask thing. You are a valuable part of our classroom community and I want you to feel emotionally safe here, so please let me know if anyone bullies you.

Student: Umm, didn’t you just…

Teacher: OK, we need to get started with today’s lesson.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think my teacher in our little fictional conversation just followed your new “policy” to the letter.

Let me know how it works out in real life.

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A Cautionary PeePee on the Potty Tale

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. This story is going to be hard to read if you are a grandparent. It’s going to be even harder to read if you’re a mom of boys. But it’s going to be especially hard to read if you’re a guy. A guy of any age. It’s not pretty.

But you need to read it, nonetheless.

I don’t know if this story will just make you feel better about whatever is going on in your life, or if you are in a position to use this painful knowledge as a cautionary tale for a small boy or boys in your life. I hope the latter is the case, since, as you will soon agree, we as a people never want this to happen again.

I was told this story by family members, and I recently spent the week with the young man in question. He is a brave lad, but to keep his story anonymous we’ll call him Cooper.

Cooper is kindergarten age now, courageously moving on with his life after that fateful day a few years ago.

Cooper’s grandparents had rented a house in Tahoe for a fun week of summer vacationing with their kids and grandkids. They were there a few days early to get everything ready. They could never have known what dangers that innocent-looking vacation rental was hiding.

When Cooper and his family pulled into the driveway after a long car ride, Cooper needed to pee. He needed to pee bad. There was no time to waste.

He jumped out of the car and ran past the open arms of his loving grandparents, making a beeline for the nearest bathroom. A fateful decision that haunts the entire family to this day, but none more than little, innocent Cooper.

Cooper had spent his entire life to this point in a modern house. One with modern toilets that had modern features. Unbeknownst to him, he had just sprinted into a rustic Tahoe toilet time warp.

These toilets had wooden toilet seats. Heavy wooden toilet seats. Cooper’s toilet seats at home were the light plastic variety.

Cooper had recently graduated to big boy status and was all potty trained. He exercised his God-given ability as a male of the species to pee standing up. But Cooper was a tiny little guy still, and as such, he wasn’t much taller than the toilet itself. The geometry of bowl height and leg length lined up just wrong on that fateful day, and the bowl of the toilet was just the perfect height to rest his little ding-a-ling on while he peed.

His Grandma made her way to the bathroom just about the time he was finishing up. Now Cooper, as most boys his age are, is always in a hurry, and that day was no exception. Add to that the fact that Cooper’s modern toilet seats at home have another feature that the hellish, deathtrap of a vacation home bathroom did not – slow-close technology.

Cooper was used to reaching up and ripping the toilet seat back down when he was all finished, because at home it lowered slowly and safely back down to the bowl. His grandmother screamed “Nooooo!” in vain as she helplessly watched the poor young lad innocently do what he always did after rocking a whiz in the big boy potty.

Cooper reached up and slammed that heavy, wooden, non-speed-buffered, bastard of a toilet seat right down on his poor little ding dong that was still positioned on top of the hard porcelain edge of the bowl.

The howl could be heard clear across the lake. When they got his grandma calmed down, it was apparent that Cooper was crying as well.

That poor, brave little man spent the entire first day of his Tahoe summer vacation week with his pants down and an ice pack on his goodies, nursing one heck of a blood blister.

Gentlemen, take as much time as you need and just breathe. There you go. Deep breaths in and out. Good.

Like I said, I don’t know what you will do with this knowledge now that you have muscled your way through this tragic tale, but I pray that we can all use this difficult information to make sure no other boy ever has to go through anything like that again.

I’m happy to report that Cooper came out of the situation with a healthy and perfectly functioning plumbing system, but the emotional scars remain. Two years after the fact, he still asks the owners of any new house he visits if they have “hard toilets.”

We love you, Cooper. Be strong.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Dumbest Rule I've Ever HOA'd of

Smack dab in the middle of our summer of endless road trips, bookended by two very long drives, we had a magical week of not getting in the car very much when we stayed at a rental house in Sunriver, Oregon. If you have never been to Sunriver, you should really go. And if you have been to Sunriver, chances are you’re still trapped there, because it is an insane maze of roundabouts and bike paths that looks like the planner’s three-year-old just scribbled all over the blueprints five minutes before the deadline.

It is a wonderful place to visit, nestled alongside the Deschutes River, with golf courses, waterfalls, hiking, biking, and some of the world’s finest microbreweries just down the road in Bend (if you can find your way out to get there).

All that being said, I don’t think I’d ever want to actually live in Sunriver. It has nothing to do with the area. Like I said, it’s fantastic, and I’m sure I would eventually figure out the road system. It’s just that I don’t think I would get along with the homeowner’s association very well.

If you have an HOA where you live, chances are Sunriver’s HOA makes yours look like a Libertarian convention. You are allowed to walk or ride a bike on the Sunriver paths, but never ever should you even think about riding a scooter or a pair of rollerblades. You can keep your overpowered e-bike in the garage and don’t even get me started if you think you’ll be riding a skateboard anywhere around here.

If you think you are going to have an RV or a boat, you’d better start planning your fully-enclosed structure in which to hold it now. And when you are done planning that structure, you can just shoot those plans over to the design committee, where we will completely change them to our liking. And don’t even thing about trying to build that structure yourself. All contractors must be registered with the HOA. None of those “outside” bozos.

Thinking of trimming your tree? Think again. You need a permit for that. Did one of your trees fall down? Don’t touch it until you talk to us and we see fit to grant you a permit to do so.

If you are planning to have firewood, you had damned well better stack it in a rectangular fashion. No linear stacking! This is not a third-world nation.

Paint color. Exterior light diffusing. How long the refrigerator repair guy can park at your house (four hours max). The list goes on and on.

Like I said, it’s a great spot to vacation, but if you’re going to try to fine me for cutting a branch off my own tree near my linearly-stacked firewood, we’re not going to be friends.

My absolute favorite of all the Sunriver HOA rules, however, came to light when we planned our patriotic three-hour Fourth of July tube float down the Deschutes. Our rental house was close to the river, and I scouted out (on my traditionally leg-powered bicycle) the perfect spot to get out of the river and walk about forty yards down the path back to our house.

When I went down to inspect the perfect little disembarking beach, it had a sign that said No River Float Take-Out Here. The sign went on to helpfully explain that no one on a tube is allowed to get out of the river anywhere in Sunriver, except at the marina (which is a private, members-only club and therefore off limits to you) and a public canoe take-out area four river miles further down.

You are more than welcome to enter the river here and swim, and then get out of the river here. You are welcome to enter the river here with a tube, and splash around right here, and then get out here. You are forbidden, however, from floating down river from anywhere else on a tube and getting out here.

Hmm… that’s pretty funny. I think we’ll just get out here.

Of all the crazy HOA rules – or just rules in general – that I’ve ever heard of, this one seems to be the least enforceable. This could actually be the world’s most unenforceable rule.

“You aren’t allowed to get out of the moving river.”

That is so stupid it’s humorous. I’m having real trouble trying to imagine anything as asinine as someone standing on the shore of a lake, river, or the ocean, and trying to tell someone else that they aren’t allowed to get out of the water.

We went ahead with our delightful float and got out of the river where we wanted to, because we’re logical American humans. I was actually hoping some HOA-loving homeowner, or better yet, a member of the board, would be there when we got out of the river next to their nice sign. I was really looking forward to someone trying to explain to me how attempted murder was one of their sacred bylaws. But alas, our river extrication was uneventful.

One of my goals in life is to never be involved in a lawsuit, but if someone tried to sue me because my family got out of a river, it would totally be worth it. I would have the time of my life tearfully explaining how my emotional support river otter (that I met that fateful day) can’t even curb the nightmares from the PTSD of my wife and children almost drowning at the hands of an evil HOA.

The only problem would be that I’d end up owning one or more Sunriver houses in the court settlement and then I’d have to follow all their other crazy rules.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Shotgun Wedding? - Repost

My wife and I celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary yesterday as we do most every year – on a long drive in the car with our kids and her mom. Don’t be jealous just because we know how to party!

In honor of another successful year of marriage (and another successful summer road trip), I thought I would once again regale you with the heartwarming tale about the night after the night I met my wife.

Unfortunately, the night I met my wife was fairly uneventful. (Besides the fact that I met the love of my life, of course.)

So instead, I will tell you the shocking, explosive, frightening, and downright weird tale about the following night. It’s a tale of a dive bar, a truck, a barefoot man, a policeman, a bathrobe, and a shotgun.

A guy walks into a bar. It was me. I met my wife in a bar.

That’s not the whole story. It gets better.

It was only my first or second time at this particular bar, but she had been there for thirty-two nights in a row. She and her best friend were going for a combined personal record. It was her initiative and dedication to the endeavor that drew me to her. We were both college students in San Luis Obispo, CA, and she was working at a pizza place that summer. She would get off work at midnight and meet her friend at Bull’s Tavern to shut the place down. We met one evening, talked until closing, and said goodnight.

I thought she was really neat-o, so having heard about their record-breaking attendance goal, I had a good idea of where I might find her again the next evening. After missing her a few times, between the bar and the pizza place, we finally connected, and had another delightful evening of bar-booth conversation. This was the kind of bar where “delightful conversation” means you sat in a red Naugahyde booth, taking turns shouting into each other’s ears, in an attempt to carry on a conversation over the AC/DC blaring out of the jukebox.

After the last-call light came on at two A.M. – this was back when we could stay up until two A.M. – we walked back to the pizza place where my truck was parked, and carried on our conversation in the cab of my Ford F150. By about three A.M. I had convinced her that kissing me wouldn’t be so bad, and just when I was about to plant one on her, a sonic boom came rolling down the street. It would have been much cooler if we had heard the explosion as we kissed, but you just can’t plan for these kinds of things.

She said, and I quote, “That sounded like a twelve-gauge!”

I replied, scoffing-ly, “There is no way that was a twelve-gauge shotgun. It was probably just a car backfiring.” In my head I was thinking, Cool. She knows her shotguns. But that couldn’t have been a shotgun.

Roughly four minutes later a barefoot man in a bathrobe came walking down the street carrying a twelve-gauge shotgun.

Now, if I can paint the scene for you - It is past three o’clock in the morning, and the town has completely shut down. We are the only car parked on the street, directly across from the pizza parlor. The only other car that we can see belongs to a police officer who is parked in a parking lot across the intersection from the pizza place. The police officer is standing outside of his car, chatting with a man on a bicycle. They have apparently not heard the big bang and seem very relaxed. The pizza place is located on the corner of the intersection, and the man in the bathrobe with the heavy artillery is walking past the pizza place, toward the cop, but neither one of them can see the other yet. We are parked across the street and have a clear view of both of them, and a pretty good idea of what is about to happen. Between the five of us, we are the only people still awake in the whole town, and two of us are a whole lot more awake than we were a minute ago.

The bathrobe-clad gentlemen rounded the corner and came into view of the police officer, and they saw each other at about the same time. We were positioned at just the wrong angle, so when the cop drew his weapon, he was pointing it right at us. We both did that thing where you slide down below the dashboard in case the bullets start flying, but foolishly keep your head up high enough to see, because you don’t want to miss the action.

The policeman immediately started asking the nice man to kindly set his shotgun down. By “kindly asking,” I mean he instantly began shouting, “Drop the #$*%&@ gun right now! Drop it, #$@*&%!!!” I thought he was handling himself very well given the surprising circumstance he had just found himself in. The bicyclist he had been talking to before the rude interruption did something that still to this day I cannot believe, even though I saw it with my own two barely-visible-above-the-dashboard eyes. He dropped his bike to the ground and fit himself completely underneath the front bumper of the police cruiser. Next time you see an old 1990s police cruiser, take a look at the ground clearance. I think it might have been Houdini himself in that bike helmet.

Well, the nice man with the twelve-gauge didn’t drop his gun right away. He just sort of stood there, trying to have a conversation with the cop. He was holding the gun at a forty-five-degree angle toward the ground, not exactly pointing it at the cop, but not exactly pointing it away from him, either. As the police officer walked closer and closer to the man, yelling commands louder and louder, I was sure we were about to witness something very unpleasant on what had, otherwise, been a really nice night.

Thankfully, for everyone involved, the man finally decided to set his shotgun gently on the ground, and seconds later, the police officer set his knee not-so-gently on the man’s neck, and the standoff was over. As Captain Bathrobe was led to the police car and Harry Houdini extricated himself from underneath the Caprice Classic, I started the truck and drove my date home in stunned silence.

Fortunately, she didn’t hold the incident against me, and we continued to see each other. We searched the local paper for two weeks straight after that night for some mention of the incident, partially to prove to people that we weren’t making it up, but mostly to find out for ourselves what we had seen. Why was there a man firing a shotgun in sleepy, downtown San Luis Obispo, and why was he then walking the streets with that shotgun, barefoot, in a bathrobe? We never found a single mention of it, and to this day, have no idea what happened.

We graduated, parted ways, and met again six years later at a mutual college friend’s housewarming party. We have been together ever since.

After meeting her father, I finally understood her knowledge of shotguns. And after getting to know my father-in-law, I had a strong suspicion that he and my wife might have known more about that night than they were letting on. He was a great guy, and he may have been accused a time or two of being “slightly overprotective” of his only daughter.

Now, he certainly wasn’t a bathrobe type of guy, but he did own a number of twelve-gauge shotguns, and if he was in town visiting and staying at a hotel, he would have had easy access to a nice terrycloth robe.

Where exactly was he that night? Out looking for his little girl, perhaps?

She still claims it wasn’t him, but she always smiles when she says it. And after questioning, he was never able to produce a good alibi. I remain skeptical.

I also remain very thankful to have lived through that night and been able to celebrate nineteen amazing years of marriage.

Happy anniversary, baby!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

An Open Letter to the Chevrolet Engineering Group

Dear Chevrolet Engineering Group,

I am in the middle of a series of very, very long family road trips this summer. I just spent eighteen days in our Chevrolet Suburban with my wife, mother-in-law, and three teenage sons. We traveled over 4000 miles across the southwestern United States in just under 600,000 hours.

We’re back on the road again now for the second trip of the summer. Yesterday a wildfire had forced the closure of our highway, which added two hours to what would have already been an eight-hour drive. We had to take a few “scenic byways,” one of which was getting restriped, so six hours into the drive we got to spend a half hour driving exactly eight miles an hour behind a paint truck. Did I mention the whole family was in the car?

Situations like that can cause a man to start thinking. Deep thinking about a number of different subjects. Like whether or not your life insurance policy would still be payable to your family if you faked your own death successfully. And how best to go about faking your own death while on a road trip. And car design.

This brings us to the reason for today’s letter. I have a few ideas for improving the Suburban.

I’m sure when you all designed the interior of the eight-passenger SUV, you were mostly concerned about leg room, cup holders, seat belts, etc. That’s all well and good, but let’s dive a little deeper. You gave us eight seats, but who’s in those seats? Answering that question opens a lot more possibilities for design improvements and add-ons.

For instance, in my case, three of the back seats are being occupied by my teenage sons. This is where a targeted individual seat Taser system would come in very handy. After the first zap or two, I suspect all I would need to do is hover my finger over the Taser control panel to get one of them to remove his hand from the other’s throat.

And why is everyone in the car so close to me? The Suburban is long, and that's great, but can we make it longer? I'm talking six, maybe even seven or eight rows. I’m talking long enough that an intercom system would be required. I don’t care about parking. We can gas up at truck stops.

How about an individual seat belt locking system, accessed with a password, to go along with the Taser control panel? I would like the option to lock one, two, or all of the seatbelts so I can get out of the car and no one can follow me, in case I need some alone time.

And how about one of those glass limousine partitions behind my driver seat? The only controls for it would be up front, of course, and it would obviously need to be soundproof. The option for clear glass as well as blackout glass would be great.

Come to think of it, that glass partition needs to be airtight as well as soundproof. This would solve some obvious problems and also open us up to a bunch of new ideas.

Teenage boys smell, so just closing it would be beneficial in many cases, but what if we added an aggressive air freshener option? Close the partition and nuke the back with a Febreze bomb! That’s what we need.

And as long as we’re exploring gas deploying technology, why not a menu setting for choosing a mild sleeping gas? Nothing major. Just enough to knock out four to six adults for a few hours. Quiet time for the driver at the push of a button.

I think that would be a top selling option on the new and improved Extended Length Family Road Trip Edition Suburban.

We just need to make sure that partition is really airtight. Eight miles an hour is already enough to make you want to nod off.

Thanks for your attention. I look forward to seeing the new improvements.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Google Maps Timeline Alert

From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: May 8th, 2020

Re: Your April 2020 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (1) city and visited (17) places

You traveled (110) miles, totaling (8) hours

Hmm, looks like you’re staying close to home and following COVID quarantine guidelines. Thanks for doing your part. We’ll all get through this together. Stay safe!




From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: May 8th, 2021

Re: Your April 2021 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (4) cities and visited (37) places

You traveled (460) miles, totaling (26) hours

Well, it’s been a year and it looks like you are getting out a little more. That’s great, but let’s all remember that we are still being advised to limit our travel to only the necessary trips. Take care!





From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: June 6th, 2021

Re: Your May 2021 Update

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Here’s your new Timeline update!

You visited (6) cities and visited (56) places

You traveled (800) miles, totaling (54) hours

OK, let’s all remember that we’re not out of the woods yet. We still need to get a lot of people vaccinated before we can put this thing behind us, and you seem to be getting out quite a bit more. Looks like it’s mostly carpool type stuff between school and home, but we see you’re taking more trips out of town as well. Be aware that we all haven’t been advised that unnecessary travel is OK yet. Take care!




From: Google Maps Timeline

Date: June 23rd, 2021

Re: Emergency June 2021 Intervention

This Timeline email is an automated summary of places you’ve been, which may be fewer this month due to the COVID-19 response in your area.

Emergency June Timeline update!

You visited (54) cities and visited (232) places, a lot of which we’re not even sure were actual places.

You traveled (4385) miles in just the last 18 days, totaling more hours than we could count, even with our giant supercomputers.

We really need to check in with you! You seem to have gone crazy. We have record of you being at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, so “bat guano crazy” might be a real possibility for you.

Look, man, Carlsbad is so hell-and-gone in the corner of New Mexico that there is no way you can convince us that was necessary. And speaking of unnecessary – the Roswell, New Mexico International UFO Museum? Really, bro?

You also stopped in a place called Cuba, New Mexico. Not sure what business you could have had there, but we have record of a post from your wife, laughing about “peeing in Cuba,” so it doesn’t seem like it was a work-related visit.

Speaking of peeing, we also have record of a post about your whole family peeing “on the middle of Hoover Dam.” We certainly hope there was a restroom involved.

Capital Reef National Park in Utah? How could that have been essential? According to our maps, there is no actual way to even get there from anywhere. We don’t even know what that place is. A reef in the middle of Utah? Sure, pal!

And what the hell is Dead Horse Point State Park? That sounds cheery. Looks like it is near Canyonlands National Park in Utah, but who has ever even heard of that place. Why, man? Why?

And then there were a bunch of places we thought you had just accidentally dropped your phone until we realized you were staying there.

Taft, California?

Glendale, Utah?

Primm, Nevada?

Dolores, Colorado?

I mean, what could possibly be in a place called Dolores, Colorado that you needed to go to? A cattle ranch? An alfalfa field? Besides being close-ish to Mesa Verde National Park, those seem to be the only two things happening in Dolores, according to our satellites.

Look, we’re glad you’re home safe and sound, but you need to settle down. Based on your phone movement, it doesn’t look like you’ve even left your living room today, so that’s a step in the right direction.

We also want to take this opportunity to introduce a new feature of Google Maps Timeline – the Family Factor Adjusted Equivalent Milage Calculator. Your actual map milage in the last three weeks was over 4300 miles, but based on the fact that your wife, children, and mother-in-law were in the car with you, that is the equivalent of driving across the United States, coast-to-coast, 78 times.

Congratulations on a record year!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

I Herd You're on Vacation

We are still on our road trip. Our long, long, long road trip. So far, we have seen every national park in the entire United States, and somehow, there are four more left on the schedule we haven’t been to yet.

Our family travel agent, aka my beautiful wife, is very good at her job. She is a master of finding us unique and interesting places to stay. With six of us (remember – try to curb your jealousy – my mother-in-law is with us), hotels are really not an option, financially. Also, our teenage boys, when confined together in small spaces, become feral beasts that can easily get us banned from entire hotel chains.

Thankfully, because of the existence of Airbnb and Vrbo, we are still able to travel. And as educational as our tour of the gas stations and national parks of the southwest has been for the boys, our Airbnb experiences have been even more so.

One case in point was the animal husbandry aspect of our rental property in Glendale, Utah. Our Airbnb was described as “a rustic farmhouse” on a ranch. Upon arrival, it became apparent that our accommodations were actually in a barn. The inside of the barn had been renovated to look and act just like a regular old house, complete with non-barn stuff like a working kitchen and bathroom and beds and such.

The outside of the barn, however, had not been moved from its original pasture-side barn location, so the twenty-five head of cattle (that’s ranch talk for a bunch of cows), would still instinctively come to our house every evening around dusk. And by “come to our house,” I mean walk up to the raised, covered concrete porch we were sitting on, and stand right next to it, so that, if there was no fence separating us, I would have been able to step off the porch and walk across their backs. (I was told that would not go well, so I did not attempt it, no matter how tempted I might have been.)

We would retreat into our housebarn at night, and the cows would sleep six feet from our front door. Literally six feet. You don’t get that at a major hotel chain. You also don’t get the chance to spend a late afternoon on the porch, smelling fresh cow poop and pondering with your family whether the cow that was continually mounting the other cows was in fact a cow (female) and not a bull (male), and if so, why a cow would do that.

Staying at the Hilton almost never presents the opportunity to Google “why would a female cow mount another cow?” and I would venture a guess that no one at a Marriott ever learned about the phenomenon of female cows “bulling” when one or more of them are in “oestrus,” or to use the technical scientific term, “ready for some action.”

I gotta tell you, if you are sitting around the pool at the Hyatt with your family, instead of counting how many times Mocha Latte Cow has mounted Dark Brown Cow versus how many times she has mounted Small Tan Cow, and theorizing why she is focusing so much of her energy on Dark Brown Cow, you are really missing out.

On something…

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Can You Desert a Road Trip?

We are on a road trip. For many, many days, spanning many, many miles.


I don't want you to be jealous, but our first leg was over five hours and we ended up in Taft, California. What's that? You haven't heard of Taft, California? That's not really much of a surprise.

You don’t go through Taft unless you are going there on purpose, so no one ever goes there. It's the kind of town where you stay at THE hotel and eat at THE restaurant.

We stopped at the Taft hardware store to buy some duct tape and when the woman at the register asked me how I was doing, I said, "Living the dream."

She laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, right. In Taft?"

Why Taft, you might be asking, like the lady at the hardware store apparently asks herself every day? Taft exists solely because of oil. When you drive into and out of Taft, you drive past forests of oil derricks on both sides of the road. Some are pumping. Some are still. All of them are stained dark brown. The whole town is the same hue – crude oil brown.

My wife's grandfather worked the oil fields in Taft as a young married man, and my mother-in-law lived there when she was little. She wanted to see the town again.

Oh, did I not mention that my mother-in-law is with us on this long, long, long road trip? Like I said, I don't want you to be jealous.

We stopped in Taft for an overnight and went to the West Kern Oil Museum. Again, please attempt to curb your jealousy. Does the West Kern Oil Museum have an exact life size rebuilt replica of the Old Jameson #17 wooden derrick, you ask? You can bet your sweet ass it does! What color is that derrick, you ask? Crude oil brown, of course. It is located in Taft, California, after all.

I was kidding about the only one restaurant thing, though. There are actually two. We ate dinner at the other one – the Black Gold Brewing Company. They serve their own brewed beers, cook burgers, steaks, and Thai food, and sell guns and ammo. I am not making that up.

Speaking of places that are both crazy and all brown, after we’d had so much fun in Taft we couldn’t stand it anymore, we drove another five hours through the God-forsaken Mojave desert to the depression in the Nevada desert where they keep Las Vegas, for some reason.

Las Vegas happens to be on the way to all the Southwestern national parks that are the actual reason for this road trip, and when my wife was planning the route, she thought it would be cool if we took the boys to see Matt Franco, a magician that they all liked from America’s Got Talent, season 217.

So, she booked us for two nights in Vegas, but when it later came time to get the Matt Franco tickets, it turned out that we would have to choose financially between having two and a half of us go see the show and then live out the rest of our lives in Taft, or do the whole road trip and see all the parks.

So, instead of a magic show, we saw an acrobatic gymnast act and two juggling plate spinners for free at the Circus Circus midway. Both acts were really solid, but just to make sure our boys got the full flavor of Vegas, we spent an entire morning walking the length of the strip to show them why staying in school and not doing drugs is important.

I’m not sure if it was the two fights on the sidewalk, or the homeless woman bathing in a fountain at the Venetian that did it, but they all promised to stay clean and get a good education. I’ll bet Franco doesn’t offer that kind of impact from his little magic show!

We escaped Vegas with our lives and most of our dignity and drove through – you guessed it – more God-forsaken desert. But we made it to Zion National Park yesterday, and as you enter the park the landscape changes almost instantly from hellish desert to red rock canyons and rivers, like nothing you’ve ever seen. The scenery is so breathtaking it can almost make you forget you ever stayed in Taft or saw a homeless fountain bather on the strip.


The next two weeks promise to be a whirlwind of long car rides and more amazing sites, and I’ll give you another update or two if I live through it all.

Until then, stay in school and stay off the drugs, kids.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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