Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Going Bald

I started to lose my hair about six years ago. At this point, I am at least half way to being totally bald. Apparently it is a slow process. That is probably so you will have time to adjust. (My oldest son is six and a half. I don’t think that is a coincidence.)

I really miss my hair, but not why you might think. None of my reservations about going bald have anything to do with vanity. I will not miss my hair for one minute from a looks standpoint. I just never cared about it very much. If you took a look at my school pictures from K through 12, you would see that I never put much time into trying to have cool hair.

It appears that there was a brief period in the eighties when I actually tried to have a hair style, but unfortunately, like so many other things in the eighties, it was ill-advised. Apparently – and fortunately – it lasted less than a year, because it is captured for posterity in only one of my school pictures. Seventh grade will forever be known as the year of the part down the middle with super-cool feathered bangs. This was the same year that I had braces with headgear, so looking back on it, I was probably trying desperately to compensate for having a stainless steel wire sticking out of my mouth, attached by rubber bands to a “flesh colored” (read: pink) neck strap. That would also explain the rolled up cuffs on my jeans with the black-and-white checkered slip-on Vans with no socks. Trust me, at the time, that seemed to be the height of fashion. But like I said, it was the eighties. Bad choices all the way around.

I either got rid of the headgear, or just got tired of paying attention to my hair, because by the eighth grade photo I was back to short hair. I have kept it short ever since. Up until I went bald, I had never viewed my hair as an asset. I never really thought of it as a liability, either. I think I just never thought much about it at all. It has always been just a line-item on a to-do list. Morning: wash hair. Every two weeks: cut hair. In that regard, my hair is a lot like the front lawn. I don’t give either one much thought; I just water and cut them both on a regular schedule. Like the front lawn, I don’t mind cutting my hair, but past that, I want no other maintenance activities taking up even an extra minute of my time.

So, given that I put my hair in the same category as lawn maintenance, you may be asking yourself, why would he miss it? Seems like it would be a good thing not to have to deal with it anymore. I agree. I was actually pretty excited about the less-maintenance aspect of my hair loss. Until I went outside…

I’m not sure you can fully appreciate this unless you yourself have actually gone bald, but the hair on top of your head is an amazing source of insulation. When I go outside now in the slightest whisper of cold air, I am instantly freezing. If the sun is out and it’s over 65 degrees, I’m burning up. For the first time in my life, I am a wuss. I need a hat at all times.

I was blown away by what a difference having no hair makes on my body temperature. Apparently, it doesn’t take very much hair to keep you insulated, either, since my hair was never over a half-inch long. I guess as long as it’s evenly distributed, length really doesn’t count for too much.

This constant need for a hat has thrown me for a loop. It has introduced a whole new level of planning into my formerly simple life. I used to just go places. Time to go? Let’s see… I’m wearing clothes… OK, I’m ready! Now, when it’s time to go, I have to make decisions. Where are we going? What are we doing? Is it an indoor event? Is there even the remotest possibility that we will be outside, even for a few minutes? Not sure? Better bring a hat just in case.

Now I am forced to find a hat that will “go” with my clothes, or my wife won’t stand next to me. I am forced to choose from a selection of baseball-type caps, since I am not anywhere cool enough to be able to pull off the fedora or the Kangol driver’s cap look, and my cowboy hat always seems a bit much for a backyard barbeque. In hot weather, I always really want to wear one of my wide-brimmed, floppy, “boonie” hats, but they are all some sort of camouflage pattern, so I end up looking like I am there to invade the backyard, not just visit.

You would think the baseball cap would be good enough, but let me tell you, they are not without challenges to the bald man. The adjustable size varieties have the open semi-circle in the back. I found out the hard way that I still need to apply sunscreen to the back of my head to avoid a second-degree half-moon burn. Even if the cap is fitted and does not have the dangerous rear opening, it is still not 100% safe. I have had occasions when I have sat still in the sun for long enough – at a baseball game or an outdoor concert – that I have received six tiny little circular sunburns on the top of my head, through the pin-hole air vents on the top of the cap. Come on!

In the summer time, I just sunscreen my whole head on the weekends. It’s just safer that way.

It is a cruel trick played on the bald man. Whether he cared about his hair when he had it or not, as soon as it’s gone he is forced to accessorize. Coming from a guy who never accessorized anything, and always just had clothes instead of “outfits,” this has been a pretty big adjustment for me. My wife has started to look into online tests for colorblindness, just to make sure I’m not a total idiot. (I think she’s going to be sorely disappointed!)

Well, I’ve got to go. We’ve got a wedding to attend. Honey, which one of these ball caps goes with my suit?

I miss my hair.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

Headline from the recent tech industry trade publication, Really Wired:

“Savvy IT Jock Uses Social Networking to Find his Idiot Boss “Better” Gig, Avoids Being Fired”

The following was taken from our reporter’s recent interview with “Mike” the IT guy:

Look, although I think I’m pretty justified in my actions, some of the things I did could be construed as illegal, or at least really unprofessional, so I don’t want to use my real name. Let’s call me “Mike,” and let’s call my idiot ex-boss “Frank.”

This all happened last Wednesday at the office. I was in the hallway on a ladder with my head up above the acoustical tiles re-routing some network cables in the ceiling near the wall of the break room. I heard my idiot boss, Frank, go into the break room for some coffee, and I overheard him mention in confidence to one of his idiot cronies that the IT staff was bloated, and he was cutting me loose at the end of the day, since I was the last one hired. The IT department was actually hopelessly understaffed, and Frank had been robbing our budget pretty regularly to cover the cost overruns from the marketing department’s monthly “Team Building Trips” to Las Vegas.

Now, I could have probably landed another job at a better company in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this yahoo slamming my already overloaded IT buddies with the extra burden. I decided to get rid of him. The way I saw it, it was either him or me, and he messed with the wrong geek.

I put my network cable project on hold and went back to my terminal, logged on to GoDaddy.com, and bought the domain “TRGCorp.com.” I then banged out some really quick HTML code to create a dummy corporation’s home page, “about us” page, and “contact us” page. It was really third-grade type stuff. The whole thing took me twelve minutes. For the “corporate vision statement,” I just used the word synergy nineteen times in a paragraph with a bunch of other corporate-speak. “TRG Corporation has a synergistic, forward-focused, strategic synergy,” etcetera, etcetera. Frank eats that crap up.

Then I created two LinkedIn accounts. The first was Chet Manley, TRG’s Director of Global Development. For Chet’s profile picture, I scanned in the face of a male model from Cindy in accounting’s Abercrombie and Fitch shopping bag. Besides kicking butt internationally at TRG, Chet also enjoys golf, scuba diving, heli-skiing and triathlons. The next fake LinkedIn account was a corporate headhunter, Jennifer Fetching, from a major New York placement agency that Frank was sure to have heard of. For Jennifer’s profile picture I just used a Victoria’s Secret model from the active wear section of their website.

I then hit Frank’s LinkedIn account with five e-mails from Jennifer and four from Chet, back-dating them so it appeared as if they had both been trying to get ahold of him for a week. Jennifer was seriously considering him for a VP position at another top-rated global company, and she was very anxious to speak with him, because she knew he was being heavily recruited by TRG. Her last e-mail was deflated, as she explained that the position she had sought him for was gobbled up by another executive. If only they had been able to get in touch with each other earlier.

Chet couldn’t wait to talk with Frank, and was really “pumped” at the opportunity to get him on board with TRG. He had asked around with “everyone who matters,” and Frank was the perfect guy for their new VP slot.

Then I went to Facebook and found Frank’s friend list. I found the name of one of the guys I had heard him talk about playing golf with pretty regularly. His friend, Bob, was offline, so I quickly hacked his account by cloning the email address he had listed and resetting his password. Once I was in Bob’s account, I made sure that my boss was at his desk, and sent him an instant message from Bob saying, “Wow, Frank. I just heard through the grapevine that you were the top pick for the new VP slot at TRG. I’ve been watching them for years. That company is golden. Congratulations on the move! You’re a smart man!”

I then drafted a quick, fake inter-office memo from the CEO to all the upper management stating that “as we all know, TRG Corporation has been a thorn in our side for years, but lately they have been gaining some serious ground on us.” We needed to forward-focus our core competencies, harness our synergies, etcetera, “or TRG is going to end up owning us and all of our clients!”

I e-mailed the memo to Frank from the CEO’s mailbox, and counted to fifty. Then I made a call to Frank’s office and told him that the IT department had just updated the falangy valve on the McGruder switch, and some people were reporting problems logging into their company e-mail. Other people had reported problems with internet services like LinkedIn and other business-related networking sites. “Please check and make sure you are good, and get back to me if you have any problems.” Then I left the building.

I walked three blocks to the 7-11 and paid cash for a disposable cell phone. Then I went to the Starbucks on the next block and sat down in the corner, activated the phone, and called the office.

“Chet Manley for Frank Dumkopf”

Frank was very eager to talk with Chet. Chet explained that he had been out of the country, tying up some Chinese contracts, and was “totally slammed” until now with no time for a phone call. He had done his due diligence on Frank and wanted him on the TRG team, ASAP. Chet explained that he was a mover, not a sideline sitter, and knew that Frank was a man of action as well. Frank gushed about how he had been following TRG for years, and was totally in sync with their corporate vision statement. Chet explained that he was not big on a lot of interviews and meet-and-greets. If Chet sees something Chet wants, Chet gets it. Frank agreed that was the only way to operate. Chet told Frank to name his price. Frank did. Chet stifled a laugh, then told Frank, “Hell, Frank, a man’s gotta eat. Let’s double that! Welcome aboard. I want you at corporate tomorrow morning. Can you do that?”

Frank excitedly told Chet he would be there. I hung up the phone, wiped it down with a napkin, and threw it in the trash. I ordered a coffee and waited about a half-hour, then headed back to the office.

When I arrived, the receptionists and the Human Resources department were buzzing with the scuttlebutt. Frank had cleaned out his desk, sent a one-sentence resignation e-mail to the CEO and the head of HR, and walked out the door ten minutes ago.

“Weird,” I said, as I shrugged my shoulders and headed back to my desk. I logged into the company e-mail server and sent an e-mail from the generic “info@” address to our CEO with the subject line “Frank.” In the body I wrote, “Inconsistencies with marketing budget ‘team building’ expenses and IT budget reason for sudden departure?”

Then I deleted the fake website, cancelled the two fake LinkedIn accounts, logged off, and got back to my network cable project.

Like I said, he messed with the wrong geek.

The really funny thing was, I never put a corporate address on the website. I wonder where my idiot ex-boss tried to report to the next morning?

All of us here at Really Wired say, nice one, “Mike.”

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Garage Sales

Last Saturday we had roughly 3000 garage sales in my neighborhood. We have a local real estate broker named Kiki who takes it upon herself to organize garage sales for five or six adjoining neighborhoods all at once. She provides the marketing and advertising, complete with teenage sign wavers at every street corner inside a six mile radius, all handing out maps to the sales, free water, and wearing matching red “Team Kiki” shirts. It is really something.

Obviously, she puts in so much of her own time, energy and money in order to find clients, either by contact with the local homeowners who might want to host a garage sale, or the shoppers. After witnessing the clientele that arrived in my neighborhood on Saturday, I’ve got to assume she’s in it more for the homeowner contacts than the garage sale shoppers. I didn’t see too many garage sale shoppers that looked like they might be in the market to buy my house. Rob my house… maybe. Buy my house? No.

If you have ever hosted a garage sale, then you know what I’m talking about. There is a certain element that is instantly attracted to the prospect of buying someone’s used shirt for twenty-five cents. Now, don’t get me wrong. My wife is an avid garage saler. She loves a good bargain on kid’s toys and floor lamps. You have met her, too, if you have ever had a garage sale. She was one of the 6 people out of the 200 that showed up that day that didn’t park on your lawn or walk through your flower bed.

We were not having a garage sale this weekend, but two of our immediate neighbors were, so I had the opportunity to sit leisurely and observe some of the shoppers in their natural bargain hunting environment.

The thing that struck me first about people’s garage sale day behavior was the driving. For starters, there were easily 20 times more cars on our street Saturday morning than on a normal day. This only seemed to encourage some of the drivers to go faster than they normally would on a deserted street. Apparently, cars parked at 45 degree angles out into the middle of the street with crowds of people darting back and forth through traffic says to some folks, “I’d better drive really fast into that mess and park hurriedly at a precarious angle to avoid having these other people get all the good deals before I do.”

And I’m not sure what it is about garage sales, but if there is more than one sale on a particular street, that is apparently viewed by the shoppers as an open license to park in front of anyone’s driveway. There is no other day when anyone would find that even a remotely acceptable option, but on garage sale day, anything goes.

On the other end of the traffic hazard spectrum, I also witnessed some incredibly slow moving vehicles that were perhaps more of a danger. Garage sales tend to bring more octogenarians to your street than a church parking lot on bingo night. Many of the older crowd perform what I like to call the “rolling recon” maneuver, where the wife walks in and out of the sales, while the husband, who may or may not want to be there, judging by the expression on his face, stays behind the wheel and rolls slowly down the side of the street, a car-length behind her. He’s the one you really have to watch out for when you’re crossing the street, because he nods off every once in a while.

If you see a large panel van or U-haul truck, these are the professionals. You probably won’t see them though, because they don’t just stumble upon your neighbor’s house at 10:00 in the morning. They plan a very precise route the night before and assault your neighbor’s house at 6:00 am while Bob is still in his jammies and just pouring his first cup of coffee. They knock on his door, apologize profusely for the early hour, and buy every last tool and piece of furniture that Bob has to sell. They were already selling Bob’s stuff at the flea market in the next town by the time you got out of bed.

Now, besides the professionals and the folks like my wife who browse your trinkets and happily give you your full dollar asking price for your kid’s old set of Star Wars action figures, you will find two main groups of buyers. We will call the first group the English as a Second Language crowd, and the second group the Employment as an Unappealing Lifestyle crowd. The ESLs and the EULs.

The ESLs tend to be made up of decent, hardworking, low-wage couples with thirteen kids and questionable immigration status. They buy your old clothes and shoes, and occasionally any furniture or tools that the professionals missed. For the most part they are polite and fair, but occasionally someone will employ the “no habla ingles” negotiating tactic of handing you half of your asking price for a certain item, saying “Is good, yes?” and then pretending not to understand the word “No,” even though it translates perfectly. Do not be fooled. Or, just take $2 for the mirror. Who cares? It’s leaving your garage for good. Any haggling that has occurred does tend to lose its luster when the ESL father comes to pay for the pile of shirts and shoes and starts peeling bills off a stack of money the size of a Stephen King paperback. Just remember, he only has that much cash on him because he doesn’t like banks and all of their questions.

The EULs are the real winners of the day. This is the crowd that thinks Wal Mart is super-fancy. This is the lady with the lit Menthol 100 dangling from her bright pink upper lip as she tries on your winter coats and complains about how hot it is on your driveway. These are the people that will not pay your asking price for anything, under any circumstance. “You want ten cents for this baseball mitt? It’s all worn out! I’ll give you a nickel.” These are the people who get indignant that you would ask fifty cents for a pair of jeans, because they have a hole in the knee, “and they’re not even acid-washed or nothin’.” These are the people who go to their car and bring back an old hair dryer and a pack of Marlboros and try to trade you for the blender you’re selling. These are the people that make you never want to have a garage sale again.

“You want two dollars for this coat? It’s got pink lipstick stains and cigarette burns on it!”

Thanks, Kiki, for making my Saturday a little more interesting. And for inadvertently inviting so many EULs into my neighborhood. They were a real treat. Many of them seemed to take a real interest in our cars, and I even saw a few of them peering inside some of the unattended garages, perhaps looking for bargains of a different kind.

Maybe I will be getting in touch with you sooner than I thought about my next move. Perhaps a neighborhood with a gate, and a no garage sale policy.

Naw! Where would the fun be in that?

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Golfing with Bob

Bob is 93 years old. He can't hear, can't see very well anymore, and can't walk very fast. He has his own golf cart, and when we drive up to the first tee, the starter knows him by name.

I am 39 years old. I can hear and see just fine, and I can run when I need to. I don't own my own golf cart, and the starter doesn't know me from Adam.

We step up onto the first tee box at Morro Bay on a beautiful summer morning with the slight ocean breeze making a gorgeous day just that much better. Bob has lived in this idyllic beach paradise for 60 years. I just visit occasionally.

I swing my club back and forth in large exaggerated arcs, trying to stretch the muscles in my back. Bob laughs at me and says that I'm wasting a lot of precious energy. He does not warm up.

It is the 4th of July weekend, and my family and I are in town to celebrate our nation’s independence with my wife’s family. Bob knows a thing or two about liberty, and what it takes to keep it. He was the pilot of a Navy bomber at an early age during WWII. He fought for the freedom of the civilized world, and returned home in one piece to tell about it.

His commitment to liberty has remained strong his entire life. He has been retired for many, many years now, never having had a boss. He worked for himself his whole life, free to schedule in as much golf as he could get away with. He scheduled in a lot of golf! I only manage to find time for golf when I’m on vacation. I don’t play much.

It’s time for us to tee off on the 480-yard par-five. I'm up first. I square up with my driver and let it rip. My backswing comes way over my head with the club shaft coming parallel with the ground, and my follow through comes all the way around so the club's shaft is vertical behind my back. It's a picture-perfect amateur’s swing. My ball takes flight and rockets out away from the tee box. As I admire its trajectory, it defies my wishes, slicing to the right, leaving the airspace over my own fairway and ending up coming to rest 270 yards away under a small tree on the other side of the cart path. Bob laughs at me and says, "Boy, if I could hit the ball as far as you do, I'd be unstoppable." He takes his driver out of the bag and shuffles up to the box. His backswing barely gets more than 10 degrees behind his legs, and his follow through is non-existent. He hits it 100 yards. It goes straight up the middle of the fairway.

We hop in Bob's cart and drive to his ball. He gets the 3-wood out of his bag and hits it again, 100 yards, straight up the middle of the fairway. He keeps the 3-wood handy as he gets back in the cart, knowing he'll need it again. We drive straight up the middle of the fairway to his ball, which he hits again, 100 yards, again, right up the middle of the fairway.

We then take a sharp right turn off the fairway to find my ball. My ball is under a tree and the tree is between my ball and the green. The smart move is to hit a short sideways shot back onto the safety of my own fairway. Not always one for the smart move, I opt to try and knock down a 3-iron, under the tree, at a slight angle to the green, making up some ground and possibly getting to the edge of the green for a chance at birdie. I let it rip. I am an idiot. My ball skips off the side of the tree I was under, and hits the neighboring tree square in the trunk, sending my ball ricocheting backward at a 45- degree angle onto my own fairway. I have lost 50 yards with my second shot. Bob chuckles and tells me that I’m going the wrong way. I thank him.

We drive the cart away from the green toward my ball. I really get ahold of my 3-wood on my third shot and hit the ball almost 250 yards again, slicing to the right again, landing almost pin-high, but to the extreme right of the green, almost on the tee box of Hole 2.

Bob hits his fourth shot 100 yards, straight up the middle of the fairway.

Bob hits his fifth shot 70 yards, onto the green, 5 feet from the pin.

I chip my fourth shot all the way over the green, landing near, but luckily not in, the sand trap on the left side of the green.

I re-chip for my fifth shot, onto the green, 17 feet from the pin.

I putt my sixth shot to within 6 feet of the hole.

Bob easily makes his 5- foot putt for a bogie six.

I miraculously toilet-bowl my 6-foot putt into the hole for a double-bogie seven.

Bob has beaten me by a stroke on the first hole. This continued all morning.

He never hit the ball more than 100 yards at a time the entire round. I got ahold of one drive on Hole 13 that I swear went 320 yards. Big deal. He beat me by 11 strokes.

Bob shot his age. At 93 years old, he shot a 93. I don't want to talk about my score.

Bob has shot his age every year of his life since he was in his 60's. If you aren't a golfer, suffice it to say, that is something that all golfers – including the pros - wish they could do.

I have had the pleasure of getting beat by the old man for quite some time now. Bob is my wife’s grandpa, and a fantastic Great Grandpa to my boys. When I started playing golf with him, he was in his early 80’s and he beat me by 20 strokes or more every game. I’m not getting any better.

He teaches my boys to putt whenever they slow down long enough for him to hand them one of his ancient wood-shafted putters and show them how to line up to play the break of the game room carpet. Maybe they’ll be good.

On this Independence Day weekend, when I reflect on my many blessings as an American, getting to spend time with Bob is on my top-ten list. He is one of the people in my life that I hold in the highest regard.

He has taught me a lot about the importance of controlling the golf ball over the years, and one day I might just start listening.

He has taught me much more about the importance of liberty over the years, and I have hung on every word.

He has never needed to lecture me greatly about either subject. His actions, his happiness, his success, and the story of his life do the majority of the talking for him.

Thanks, Bob. Happy 4th of July!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!