Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Jigsaw is Up

I always knew my wife was smart. She’s an accomplished mathematician, a master statistician, and a wonderful teacher. She can even keep the official score at a baseball game. Also, she’s a whiz with whodunits. Here’s a typical one-hour murder mystery TV viewing experience with me and her:

Show begins:
Me – Glued intently to the screen
Her – Barely paying attention while playing on laptop and/or phone
5 minutes into show:
Her: “Bob did it.”
Me: “Who’s Bob? Did what?”

So, this weekend, when I discovered she was brilliant, it came as no surprise. It did come as a shock, however, when I realized she was using her powers for evil. She is brilliantly devious. I did not see that coming.

Truth be told, I can see now that she has been manipulating me for our entire marriage. I am sad to say I just figured it out this last weekend, but it’s all so clear to me now. My epiphany came on Sunday while I was on a ladder, 15 feet off the ground, painting our shutters.

Son Number One had a sleep-over at a friend’s house Saturday night, and I drove over to pick him up on Sunday morning. That was just the situation that my wife was looking for. In fact, I think my going to pick him up was no accident. The sleep-over itself might have been part of the master diabolical plan for all I know. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

I arrived back at the house with our son, and there it was. The setup. I have seen it before a hundred times, and it all seemed so innocent. The paint cans were out on the workbench in the open garage. The hand-held power sander was plugged into a 50-foot extension cord, strung out to the front yard. The extension ladder was extended, leaning up against the house at a funny angle. And there was my loving wife, standing below the ladder. Pretending to be just about to climb up.

We have three pairs of decorative window shutters on the front of our house. The lowest pair is easily 15 feet off the ground, and you have to walk up the steep concrete roof tiles to get to them. The other ones are higher, and can only be accessed directly from the ladder, leaned up against the house. It’s a toss-up which ones are more precarious to get to.

“Hi, honey. I decided I would paint the shutters today. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour. Do you think this ladder looks OK like this? I’m not really sure how to set it up to get up there. I’m a little nervous about it, really. That roof looks so steep and slippery. Oh, well, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

I hadn’t even been out of the car for two minutes and I was standing on the steep, scary roof tiles, sanding the peeling paint off our decorative shutters. That was at 10:00 A.M.

It was at 5:00 P.M., when I was putting the first coat of paint on shutter number five of six, that it all became clear to me. Son Number Two had been hounding me from below all afternoon about helping him with a birdhouse project that he wanted to make out of Home Depot paint stir sticks. I kept putting him off, telling him I would help him when I was finished with the shutters. He was getting impatient, and it was a little hard to blame him, since he’s six years old and he’d been waiting for seven hours.

My wife, (probably feeling guilty, now that I can see it all so clearly), offered to help him with his project since I was tied up. Off they went to the garage, and up I stayed, paintbrush in one hand, ladder death-grip in the other. Ten minutes later he was back playing on the front lawn underneath me.

“Why aren’t you doing your project with your mommy? Did she have to go do something else?”
“No, we’re done already.”
“What do you mean? It’s only been ten minutes.”
“Yeah. She went really fast.”

I had some idea of what his project was going to entail, so I was very curious. Down the ladder I came, and when I looked in the garage, I knew immediately that I had been lied to for years and years. There, sitting on my workbench, was a birdhouse made out of paint stir sticks. By my estimation, at a minimum, she had used my back saw and miter box, brad nails, my cordless drill, my combination square, and the wood glue. There sat a bird house, firmly clamped in three of my bar clamps, letting the glue dry.

She never came out to ask me what tools to use. She never came out to ask me how to use the tools. She never came out to ask me where the tools were. She never came out to ask me anything. I didn’t even think she knew I owned bar clamps, let alone where they were or how to use them. But there it was. The evidence.

She’s handy!

Big deal, you say. She’s handy with tools. A lot of women are.

You don’t understand. For ten-plus years I’ve been tricked. Let’s say my wife wanted shelves put up in the bathroom. Did she ask me to put shelves up, letting me give input on design and schedule? No. She simply spread the shelf pieces and directions all over the bathroom, got most of the tools required for the job and some that were all wrong for the job, (on purpose, now that I can see it all so clearly), and then proceeded to ask me a question like, “Should I use the Sawzall or the claw hammer to make a hole in the wall for the shelf mount bracket?”

“What are you talking about? Neither. It should just screw into a stud. Let me see the directions.”

I was walking past the bathroom from my office to the kitchen when she asked me the question. Two and a half hours later, she’s getting home from the gym just about the time I’m finishing hanging the last shelf.

That scenario, in one form or another, has been happening for our entire marriage, but it took me until this past weekend, seven hours into a painting project I never consciously started in the first place, to realize what has been going on. I am a grown man, fully capable of making my own decisions, and I woke up that day having no intention whatsoever of painting shutters. Yet there I was.

It was then and there that I realized I have been continuously tricked into doing home improvement projects against my will for years now. Projects that she, herself, was more than capable of completing. The birdhouse was masterfully-built proof. She has been feigning incompetence this whole time! My wife has been manipulating me like a puppet on a string. She is an evil genius.

Oh, well. I guess it’s no big deal really. I mean, the shutters do look good, and the home improvement projects are few and far between. I’m just glad she doesn’t have that kind of manipulative power over me with anything else!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I just heard the buzzer on the clothes dryer. I have to get the clothes out and fold them right away. They’re too hot for my wife’s fingers when they’re just out of the dryer, but you have to fold them when they’re that hot or else they wrinkle permanently and you have to throw them away.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to 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, August 22, 2012

Soccer Season

My boys started school this week, which is just wrong, because it is still August. School is not supposed to start until after Labor Day. That is how it was when I was a kid, so that is how it should be. School in the middle of August should be illegal. Anyway… as happens every year, along with the beginning of school comes the beginning of soccer season, and the end of parental free time as we know it. Now we have a very regulated schedule as to when and where we will sit in our lawn chairs and sweat, as opposed to July when we could sit and sweat anywhere and at any time we chose.

So there I sit. In my chair, at the park. Inexplicably watching a soccer practice. If you read my August, 2011 column “Soccer as Birth Control,” you already know all about my feelings on this subject. Somewhere on the timeline between when I was a kid and when I had kids of my own, parents developed the need to attend their children’s sports practices. My parents never attended a single one of my practices, and I think they would have been asked to leave by the coach if they had. Nowadays, parents are almost required by the coach to help out, and if you just drop your kid off at practice and leave, you are known as “those parents.”

“Billy fell down and scraped his knee. Quick, where are his parents?”
“Oh, they’re not here. They just dropped him off and left.”
“Oh, they’re one of those families, are they?”

So there I sit. In my chair, at the park. Watching Son Number Two’s soccer practice. Watching the poor coach try to get thirteen six-year-olds to all do the same thing at the same time. That is a statistical impossibility. Have you ever tried to get two six-year-olds to do the same thing at the same time? Very difficult. Five or more? Not going to happen. Do I feel sorry for him? No, because I coach T-ball, and as far as I’m concerned, he has it easy. Try to teach thirteen six-year-olds the rules of baseball some time. Talk about impossible. At least soccer only has four rules. Don’t touch the ball with your hands unless you’re the goalie, don’t kick the other guy above the waist, drink lots of water, and don’t kick it into your own goal. How hard can that be?

The infield fly rule. Now that’s hard to teach a six-year-old!

Actually, there may be a few more rules to soccer than that, but no one knows them. I’m pretty sure that is why the league was very adamant that every parent receive a copy of the “code of conduct” this year. We were even required to sign that we had read and understood it, and promised to abide by it. Strangely enough however, the code of conduct had very little to do with the player’s conduct. It was mostly about the conduct of the fans, meaning the parents.

We’ve all heard stories and maybe even seen first-hand the “nightmare parents” at kid’s sporting events. Those marginally sane people who take their child’s sports “career” way too seriously, and voice their opinions about the coaching decisions and referee’s calls obnoxiously from the sidelines. They exist in all sports, but soccer is the only sport where I have ever had to promise in writing that I wouldn’t yell at the ref. I would never yell at the ref anyway, but I can sort of understand why someone might. Americans don’t understand soccer. There is a good reason for that. Soccer is not understandable. Plus it is insanely boring.

The pros play for about ten hours on a field the size of Rhode Island, getting near the actual goal an astonishing three times, resulting in a 0-0 tie at the end of regular play. The referee then adds an additional 45 minutes of “stoppage time” at his or her discretion, resulting in a 1-1 tie after numerous “free kicks.” Thrilling!

The referee might give you a yellow card if you cause a foul, but he might also allow play to continue under the advantage rule, if your foul would have helped your team unfairly. If play stops, the clock doesn’t, so a common tactic is to fake injuries to run the clock down. Corner kick, goal kick, free kick, indirect free kick, penalty kick. Charging, sandwiching, worrying the goalkeeper, cautioning, dangerous play, encroaching, fair charging, obstructing, impeding, late tackling, off sides, on sides, yellow cards, red cards. I am willing to bet that at any soccer match at any time in the United States, only four people actually know what is going on. They are the ref, one of the two coaches (the one who played soccer in high school), and the European couple in the stands.

So, of course some of the parents are yelling at the referee. We’re not yelling, “What was that?” in the context of, “Are you crazy, he was totally off sides!” We’re yelling, “What was that?” in the context of, “What does off sides mean? I totally don’t even understand which team you just called a foul on, if indeed you just called a foul. You stopped the entire play, but the clock is still running, so shouldn’t someone turn it off? I have no idea what is happening, and I feel like I need to yell because you are out in the center of the field which is 2000 feet away from my lawn chair.”

Since I signed the code of conduct, I will refrain from yelling, “What was that?” at the ref. It won’t be hard, since I have no interest in soccer in the first place. I will simply keep watching my sons play, cheering them on in a positive and encouraging manner while not disparaging the other team’s players or their efforts, per the code of conduct, patiently waiting for the day they decide to skip the next soccer season to concentrate on baseball.

And if, while I’m trying not to be one of “those parents,” the coach asks me to help out at practice, I’ll do my best. I will encourage my son and his teammates to drink lots of water and kick the ball toward the correct goal. Hopefully that will be helpful. The most help I could really offer our coach however, is a simple suggestion. Have the rest of the kids always pass the ball to Felipe, the Brazilian kid. He’s the only one out there who looks like he knows what's going on.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to 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, August 15, 2012

Caber Tossing Pongers

Last week I wrote about Michael Phelps, and what an amazing career he has just capped off at the 30th Olympiad in London.  As a swimmer, he competes in a sport where it is possible to win a medal for each event he is entered in, and he is ending his career with a second-to-none count of 22 medals to his name. That makes him hard to compare on an apples-to-apples basis to a decathlete, who can earn just one medal while having to compete in more events than Phelps ever swam in any one Olympics. Medal count aside, however, there is no doubt that Phelps is one of the greatest Olympians of all time.

You know who is not one of the greatest Olympians of all time? Any ping pong player.

I have nothing against ping pong as a hobby. It goes great with beer and it’s a good way to kill a half-hour in a rec room. And I have absolutely no problem with professional ping pong players - especially the ones at the Olympics. They are phenomenal. I even enjoyed watching it for about three minutes. What I do have a problem with is the fact that someone can go to London, play ping pong really well, and end up with the same gold medal that Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis, and Usain Bolt currently have around their necks. That is ridiculous.

To keep everyone on a level playing field, all the Olympic athletes are rigorously drug tested. If ping pong is considered an Olympic sport, then the International Olympic Committee has obviously lost sight of the reason for drug testing in the first place.

The IOC needs to apply a theoretical drug test to their screening process. They need to sit down and look at the list of events they are offering at the Olympic Games and decide if taking performance enhancing drugs would actually help the competitor win. If the answer is no, it should not be an Olympic event. Ping pong? No.

They try to dress it up by calling it “table tennis,” but let’s all be serious for a minute. You’re hitting a little plastic ball with a tiny wooden paddle. Take all the steroids you want. Get steroid injections between matches. Who cares? You’re still just playing ping pong. It’s not a sport.

If they don’t want to apply the theoretical drug test, they could apply a very simple theoretical alcohol test instead. If the game in question can be played while holding a beer in your other hand, it should not be an Olympic event.

Hammer throw – Pass. Ping pong – Fail.

Hammer throw. Now there’s an Olympic event. Pick up a 16-pound lead ball on the end of a steel cable and throw it as far as you can. A gentleman from Hungary just won the gold medal in London by tossing that measly little hammer 264 feet. He could probably eat a ping pong table. The hammer throw has deep Olympic roots, and is also an integral part of the Scottish Highland Games, which also features the caber toss, the only throwing-heavy-stuff event that is cooler than the hammer throw. A caber is a log that is 19 feet long and weighs 175 pounds. Pick it up and throw it. Plain and simple.

It is patently obvious that the caber toss should be immediately added to the Olympics to take the place of ping pong. And on top of that, every medalist in ping pong since its bewildering inclusion to the Olympic Games in 1988 should be forced to enter the caber toss in 2016, just so they can get a feel for how ridiculous their medals for ping pong really are. We could force them to enter the swimming events, but I thought it would be a little harsh to actually drown them, which is what would obviously happen.

I am not saying that professional ping-pongers don’t need a competitive venue to showcase their “sport.” Like I said, I think they are amazing, but let’s remove it from the Olympics and leave the table tennis pro tour where it belongs – in Las Vegas at the Horseshoe on a Wednesday.

If the IOC fails to take my incredibly insightful advice and get rid of ping pong, then the least they could do is make the medal sizes proportionate to the events. If you medal in the decathlon, you should get a medal the size of a truck tire. If you medal in ping pong, it should look like a dime on a string. The silver medal could be an actual dime.

Other dime-sized medal “sports” would include race walking, badminton, and trampoline. Come on, IOC! Really? The race walking course was 31 miles long. Big deal. It’s still walking. My mother-in-law just did a fundraiser where she walked 30 miles in a day, three days in a row. I guess that means she’s a three-time Olympic hopeful! Badminton is just a larger, but somehow less exciting version of ping pong, and don’t even get me started on trampoline. Have you ever seen a kid throw a 16-pound lead ball on a steel cable 264 feet in the backyard for fun? Enough said.

The medal ceremonies should be proportionate also. Actual Olympic-caliber events can maintain the current pomp and circumstance, but the ping pong players should just be handed their dime-sized medal on their way out of the arena by one of the ushers. “Here you go, big guy. Great match.”

To any Olympic ponger, fast walker, shuttlecocker, or bouncy-bouncer that disagrees with me, I offer this simple solution: Get a tape measure and lay out 29 feet on your floor. Now stand back and look at it.

That’s how far Carl Lewis flew in a single long jump.

By the way -- huge congratulations to Jike Zhang, Long Ma, Hao Wang, and Xiaoxia Li for their amazing gold medal wins at the 2012 Olympic Games.


Exactly. Good luck in the caber toss, boys.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to 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, August 8, 2012

Marc Spitz Hot Dog at Phelps

Michael Phelps just turned in one of the most amazing sports careers of all time. He leaves the sport of swimming at the end of the London Olympic Games with a career 22 medals, an astounding 18 of them gold. No other single Olympian in history even has double digits in gold. In fact, he has more gold medals than the entire country of Argentina. He has more career Olympic medals than India.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Phelps made history by winning eight gold medals in eight straight events. He broke the long-standing record of fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz, who went seven golds for seven events in Munich in 1972. When Phelps broke Spitz’ medal record, the world crowned him as the new “Greatest Olympian,” and there was very little public debate about it. Now, as Phelps finishes up with his astonishing career medal count, crushing former Soviet female gymnast Larisa Last-name-ina for all-time individual medals won, and ending up with twice as many career medals as Spitz, he will be written into the history books as the greatest, bar none.

I am here today to dispute that. I am here today to tell you that Spitz was better.

My case for Spitz being a more dominant swimmer doesn’t even take into account that he won most of his 1972 Olympic races by body lengths, or that he set new world record times in all seven swims. I’m not even focusing on the fact that he swam without goggles, that he swam without a cap, or that he swam with an afro, all of his rather prodigious underarm hair, and a Tom Selleck moustache. My argument even ignores his 1970’s red, white, and blue Speedo, which is hard to ignore.

My argument has to do with eating. A lot of fuss was made during the 2008 Olympic coverage about how much Michael Phelps ate every day. While it was certainly a lot, in the world of competitive swimming, it was pretty standard. World-class swimmers do two things. Swim and eat. When I was swimming in high school, I would come home from practice and eat the entire right side of the fridge. That’s just par for the course, swimming-wise.

The amount of food that Spitz and Phelps put away during their swimming days is not where my argument lies. My case for Spitz’ athletic superiority comes from the amount of food he could put away during a race.

When I was in high school, our swim coach told us a story about Mark Spitz. Back when Spitz was in high school in Santa Clara, California, Coach Pete had seen him race at a nationals meet. Spitz already held national high school records in every stroke, and he was heavily favored in every one of his races, but when the swimmers took the blocks for one of his events, he was absent.

His name was called over the loudspeaker, and everyone at the pool and in the grandstands began looking around for him. When the race officials called his name again, telling him to report to his lane to start the race, he was seen jogging toward the starting blocks from the snack bar. He had three hot dogs in one hand, and he was eating another while he was running toward the pool.

He reached his starting block at one of the middle lanes of the pool, chewing the last of the hot dog he had been eating while he ran. He handed two of the three remaining dogs to the timer behind his block, asking the man to please save them for him. He then joined his opponents, stepping up onto his starting block, still holding a hot dog.

Now, let’s be clear for a minute. We’re talking about an Oscar Mayer wiener, in a bun, with the condiments of Spitz’ choice. In his hand. On the starting blocks. Of a nationals race. He had just wolfed down one of them while running. He was now standing over the end of his lane holding another.

As the crowd looked on in awe, amazement, and amusement, Mark Spitz proceeded to stuff the entire hot dog into his mouth, reach down to touch the block at the “take your marks” command, and dive into the pool with seven other swimmers, starting his race while chewing and swallowing a whole hot dog on lap number one.

He beat the nearest finisher by almost two body lengths.

Michael Phelps is undoubtedly awesome, but all he ever did was swim. It probably never even occurred to him to combine competitive eating with competitive swimming. Mark Spitz was a trailblazing, groundbreaking, lightning fast, “I can eat a hot dog during this race and still whip your ass” kind of an athlete. Wait 30 minutes after eating before getting in the pool? No thanks. I’ll eat while I’m swimming.

Phelps says he did everything he set out to do. That may be true, but until he can do that, Spitz is still the greatest swimmer that ever lived. In my book, anyway.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to 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!