Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Real Estate Disclosures

I read an article this week about a California woman who moved to Pennsylvania with her two daughters to be closer to her family after her husband had died. She purchased a house, and a few weeks after they had moved in she found out from a neighbor that there had been a murder-suicide in her master bedroom the previous year. She claims that there is no way she would have bought the house having known that, and she is appealing to the state supreme court to get the sale rescinded and her money back, after both the regular court and the appeals court ruled against her.

Here’s the timeline:
February 2006 – Man shoots his wife and then himself in the home
October 2006 – Couple buys the tainted house, knowing about the deaths, for $450,000.
June 2007 – California lady buys the house from the couple, without the deaths being disclosed to her, for $610,000.

She and her lawyer, who are suing the sellers and their real estate agents, maintain that sellers should be required to disclose troubling events "at least for some period of time."

I am sure, given her situation, that she would not have purchased the house if she had known the gory details of its recent past. It is an unfortunate situation for her, but I’m going to have to side with the two court opinions on this one. The logical side of me can’t make an exception in any case, no matter how troubling the event may be. If "troubling events" need to be disclosed, where does that end. How troubling is “troubling,” and how long is “some period of time?”

“Troubling” is completely subjective. I have friends who would hold a four-day candlelight vigil to mourn the loss of a goldfish, and I have other friends who would buy the house and volunteer to help clean up the bodies if it meant a lower purchase price. Pennsylvania may be holding firm, but I live in California, the land of regulations. What if I want to sell my house?

Since I’ve owned it, no one has died in the house, so I might be in the clear, but how far will California take it. I mean, I’ve had relatives die while I owned the house, and I was in the house when I found out, and it was very troubling for me. Does that count?

Our three-year-old son broke his leg in this house. Do we need to disclose that? I can assure you, it was a very troubling event, both for him and his mom!

What if no one died, but 37 family pets met their demise on the property? Still noteworthy? What if no person or animal ever died in the house, but it was used for a nefarious purpose, like slave trafficking, or drug dealing, or headquarters for the Russian mob’s door-to-door candy and magazine subscription sales?

Where will it end once it starts? “The buyer of this real property, commonly known as 123 Main Street, located on Lot 34-A of the Peterson Tract of the Sunshine Estates Subdivision, as shown on Placer County plat map number 882, shall be hereby officially notified that on or about the date of 3 November, 1986, one William “Billy” Johnson, aged eight years old at the time, had his feelings severely hurt in or near the living room.”

Believe me, in California, the slope on that argument is not that slippery. My natural skepticism combined with my logical mind leads me to believe there is more to this story. If she doesn’t like the house any more, she should sell it. One of my favorite old sayings when trying to get to the bottom of a convoluted mess is “follow the money.” That is helpful advice in most mysteries, including this one. Let’s look again at the timeline of the sales:

October 2006 – House sells to couple for $450,000
June 2007 – Couple re-sells house to lady from California for $610,000

So, in the span of eight months the house gained $160,000 in value? I don’t know anything about the Pennsylvania real estate market, but I know that gains of $20,000 per month in value are the stuff of magical dot com stocks, not real estate. I do know a little about the California real estate market, and $610,000 for the relatively modest house I saw pictured in the article seems high even by our inflated west coast standards. The first sale price of $450,000 even seems high.

Again, I’m sure she wouldn’t have bought the house had she known about its creepy history, but let’s be serious. She moved from California, land of overpriced housing, and blindly paid California prices for a Pennsylvania house. Two weeks later, she found out about the murders. My guess is, at that same time, she also found out about the last purchase price. Like I said, if you don’t like it, sell it. And if you can’t sell it for what you paid for it two weeks later, you paid too much.

I like old sayings. I always figured if a saying wasn’t useful or worth its weight, it wouldn’t be an old saying. One of my other favorite old sayings is, “buyer beware.” It is not practical to operate under the rule that the seller of anything is responsible for how the buyer will feel about their purchase. Especially things with a price tag as high as a house.

You should not be finding out about the murders or the home’s actual value two weeks after you buy it. You should be finding out two weeks BEFORE you buy it. Or in her case, before you don’t buy it.

The internet exists everywhere. Even in Pennsylvania. Use it!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

School Holidays

It has become obvious to me that the teacher’s union in this country is even more powerful than I thought. It didn’t occur to me until Monday, which was Martin Luther King Day. I realized Sunday night that the kids didn’t have school on Monday. By realized, of course I mean that my wife told me. Martin Luther King Day is one of those holidays like Columbus Day or Abe Lincoln’s birthday. The only people who take the day off are the schools, the post office, and the government. The rest of us have to work. That got me thinking about school holidays, and how many of them there are, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Ever since I left school and entered the work force, I have wondered about summer vacation. I obviously enjoyed it when I was a student, but now that I’m on the other side of the fence I have questioned why it exists. Why can’t students and teachers work all year just like the rest of us? I never took my thinking on the subject any farther than that until Monday. On Monday I hit upon the real question. The question is not why we have summer vacation. The real question is, if we’re going to have a vacation at all, why is it in the summer? I mean, look at the calendar!

In January we have Martin Luther King Day, but even before that, we had the end of Christmas break. They didn’t start back to school until the second week in January.

In February we have Ground Hog Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, and Washington’s Birthday. Most of those are not school holidays, but they might as well be for all the actual school work getting done, what with all the in-class celebrations going on. They scoot Abe and George’s birthdays around to “observe” them on a convenient Friday/Monday combination to create a four day mini holiday called President’s Day Weekend. Did you miss that last year? That’s because you were at work. With only 28 days in the first place, February is a write-off.

In March we have Easter break, now commonly known as Spring Break. There’s a week gone, plus the recent addition of Easter Monday becoming a school holiday. Add in Daylight Savings Time Day and St. Patrick’s Day and you’ve got a lot of clock lessons, leprechaun traps and colored eggs to take the place of math and English.

April has April Fools’ Day, Earth Day, and Administrative Professionals’ Day. While the other two might not take up much class time, Earth Day promises to take up a week. (Come to think of it, April also used to have a day called “Secretary’s Day.” I wonder what happened to that one? Oh, well, never mind.)

In May we have Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day. Mother’s Day is a big detractor from book learnin’, and Cinco de Mayo burns a day drawing Mexican flags. Memorial Day is an actual holiday that is conveniently always on a Monday. That one doesn’t count, because everyone gets it. (Pipe down, retail and restaurant workers, you can have Flag Day off. Maybe.)

Speaking of Flag Day, that’s in June, along with Father’s Day. Two more days of no homework to grade. Then comes summer and no one is in school. The sum total of holidays in the summer break months of June, July, and August is one: The Fourth of July. That’s it.

School starts back up in late August or early September, just in time to take a day off for Labor Day, the only holiday in September. (Actually, my calendar also lists “Grandparents’ Day” on September 8th, but let’s face it, every day is Grandparents’ Day. They’re retired. My kids’ grandparents are so retired, none of them ever know what day of the week it is!)

Late September and early October is serious buckle down time, until Columbus Day rolls around; another teacher and mailman-only holiday. Then there’s Halloween, which kills a minimum of two full days of schoolwork with costume contests and candy trading.

Halloween marks the beginning of the “holiday season.” November begins, and we might as well not have school at all. Veterans’ Day is observed on a Monday for another three day weekend, and the rest of November is spent drawing pictures of pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys. They are out of school for the last week of the month for Thanksgiving break and National Shopping Friday. Back to school for a few days in December to play some secret Santa and draw snowmen, then off on Christmas break until the middle of January.

On top of the holidays and breaks there are always a few “staff development” days when the kids stay home, and keep in mind, we live in a part of California that doesn’t see snow more than once every ten years. Add in winter snow days for the folks in the upper two-thirds of the country, and it gets even more ludicrous.

So if you look at the calendar in terms of national holidays and weather, and your goal was to have kids get the absolute most out of the school year, where would you put your three-month break? You would naturally start it at Thanksgiving and come back at the end of February. Actually, if your goal was to maximize the school year, you wouldn’t have a three-month break. You would simply have school all year.

Now, this whole summer break business came about in the first place due to farming. When you lived on a farm, and you were the farm labor, you worked in the summer. No sense keeping the school open if no one will be there to drool on the desks. I think we can safely say that the days of desperately needing our children to sow, cultivate, and pick crops are behind us. So why do we still have summer break at all?

The answer must be the teacher’s union. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Since teachers don’t get paid nearly enough, they must supplement their income by picking crops in the summer, and the powerful teacher’s union has kept the summer break in place to allow them to do so. That must be it.

Although, that still doesn’t explain all the other breaks in the school year. Hmmm.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Athletic Cup

Last year when Son Number One moved up out of T-ball into the big leagues, one of the new requirements was a cup. All boys playing in the league were required to wear an athletic cup, to protect all the boys’ boys. Never mind that at seven years old there isn’t much to protect. Rules are rules. As near as I could tell, the cups did three things. They made all the kids walk funny, they made all of them constantly adjust their crotches on the field, and they made it very difficult to strip down in a hurry to pee. As far as if they protected anything, I’m not really sure.

When I was playing little league we were only required to wear a cup if we were playing catcher. The proximity to the fast-moving baseball, either from the pitcher or the bat, combined with the rather exposed position that the catcher’s squat leaves the goods in, makes a cup almost mandatory behind the plate, no matter how old the catcher may be. In my day, the hard plastic cups at the sporting goods store came in three sizes. Small, medium, and large. At nine years old, the small was still five times larger than I needed it to be, but it was my only choice. Then began the conversation that every parent in America who has ever shopped for a cup with their nine-year-old son has had:

“Take that off your face!”
“But, I’m pretending to be a jet pilot. It’s my oxygen mask.”
“It is not a mask! Take it off your face!”
“But, why?”
“Because it’s gross, that’s why.”
“It’s not gross.”
“Yes it is. Just stop it. It just is. Give that to me.”

The small-size cup fit over my nose and mouth just fine. I could have worn the large cup home as a hat.

Back then, the athletic supporter, commonly known as a “jock strap,” was the only means of holding the cup in place. They consisted of a fabric pouch to hold the cup, an elastic waistband, and two elastic bands sewn on either side to keep it in place. The elastic bands were there to go around either side of your butt and hang on to the bottom of the pouch at your crotch, thus alleviating the need for it to be an athletic thong. While the thong would have no doubt been much less comfortable, the two elastic bands still sat in places that no underwear had gone before. This made you, the novice jock strap-wearer, walk like you were trying to shake something loose inside your trousers. You were constantly reaching around, behind, and up trying to grab the straps to reposition them, but you were never able to get a hold of them through the back of your pants. It was impossible to walk in a straight line while wearing your jockstrap and cup.   

Fast-forward to today, and the world of crotchal-region protection has improved greatly. Material science technology and common sense sizing have caught up to the cup industry. When we went to buy Son Number One’s first cup last year, I was amazed at the advancements. For starters, the days of the traditional jock strap are over. Actually, I think you could probably still get one if you wanted, but I don’t know why you would. Cups are now held in place with regular cotton briefs and tight-fitting boxer trunks, with the cup pocket built right in. Genius! Was that so hard to think of, cup manufacturers of the 70’s and 80’s? We already had briefs, but you just couldn’t make the connection, huh? Oh, well. No elastic straps in strange places for today’s youth. Good for them.

Also, somewhere along the line, the industry realized that kids between seven and eighteen years old come in more than three sizes, so the cups are now on a graduated, albeit confusing, scale. After figuring out if we were “youth” or “peewee,” and “regular” or “large,” we settled on a peewee large, youth size 6-7. I found it kind of humorous that the manufacturer apparently shied away from the term “small,” but was OK with “peewee.” I guess it’s always going to be a terminology minefield when you’re trying to place names on the different sizes for that region of the male anatomy.

The cup was much more size-appropriate than mine was back in the day, and it was better contoured and even semi-flexible. Mine was like shoving an empty tuna can down your pants. Things have come a long way since I was a kid playing little league. Although, some things won’t ever change, I guess. It was promptly removed from the package and placed over the nose and mouth, like a strange miniature flight attendant giving a really weird safety briefing.

“Take that off your face!”
“But, I’m pretending to be a jet pilot. It’s my oxygen mask.”
“It is not a mask! Take it off your face!” 

Well, the new cup technology and the “classic peewee briefs” did their jobs last season, keeping Son Number One safe and sound on the field, and making it difficult for him to walk in a straight line. We’re getting ready for another season now, and Son Number Two is moving up into the cup leagues this year. We were talking about cups the other day, and how he would need one this year, and Son Number One decided, due to his vast experience on the subject, to handle the explanations for me.

“It protects your penis.”

They both thought that was endlessly funny, and I just left it at that, because I didn’t really have the energy to get into the discussion about the rest of its job.

My wife just went shopping at the sporting goods store again, this time without bringing the boys with her, and she came home with a brand new cup and brief combo set. However, as will happen with siblings and articles of clothing, the new one was the next size up, and it was for Son Number One again. She handed it to him and told Son Number Two, “You get his old one.”

Some hand-me-downs are a little weirder than others.

“Take that off your face!”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Apparently, there is something very honest-looking about your forehead and ears, because when you hide them, you look like a criminal. At least, I do.

Ever since I lost the majority of the hair on top of my head, I have been either too cold or too hot. I need to wear a hat outdoors for almost 10 months of the year just to remain at a reasonable temperature. Most of the year a baseball cap works just fine, but for the brutal 15 days of winter here in California, I need something a little warmer on top of my exposed dome.

I got out of the car the other night at Chipotle -- where I was picking up a very nutritious dinner for my wife and I, while our kids were at home with her, eating leftovers and complaining that they didn’t get Chipotle -- when I saw my reflection in the window. I had on my winter beanie cap, and as usual it was pulled down over my ears. If I was the guy at the register inside Chipotle and had seen me coming, I would have assumed I was there to rob the place. I simply look like a ne’er-do-well when I wear a beanie cap.

Women tend to be able to pull the beanie cap look off a lot better than men, but it’s not universal. Most women look cute in a beanie, but occasionally on the wrong woman it can backfire and make her look either homeless, or like your uncle Frank. The beanie doesn’t work on guys at all. There is something about covering up a guy’s ears with a woolen hat that makes them look either untrustworthy, or at the very least, unmotivated. Those are really the only two choices for guys. If you want warm ears you are bound to look like a total slacker or a total hoodlum.

And speaking of hoodlums, let’s not forget the origin of that word. There is also something about your ears that makes you identifiable, or at least recognizable, because in the old days, wearing a hood was all you had to do to conceal your identity during a robbery.

“What did the scoundrels look like?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t see their ears.”

The term “hood” has never once been used to describe anything good, except maybe the hood over your stove. Those are handy. In describing people and places, it is less than complimentary. I even dislike the word “hoodie.” It has always left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s another hip shortening of a perfectly good word or term, like “vacay” instead of vacation, or “froyo” instead of frozen yogurt. Are we really so lazy or so busy now that we need to shorten “frozen yogurt” to save time? In my mind, that hipster language is indicative of the disturbingly numerous twenty-something slackers I see walking slowly, iPod ear bud cord protruding from under their hoodie, head down, slack-jawed, skinny jeans hanging low, with an eight-dollar cup of coffee in their hand.  Half the time I can’t honestly tell if the particular societal all-star is male or female. Stand up straight and watch where you’re going! But I digress…

I had never owned a hooded sweatshirt until my mother-in-law unknowingly bought me one last Christmas. I politely said thanks while thinking, “Oh great, a ‘hoodie.’ What am I, an unemployed 20-year-old?” I was planning to give it to my wife to sleep in (she gets very cold when the house dips below 68 degrees), but on a whim, I tried it on first. Suddenly I could see -- or I should say, feel -- what all the fuss was about. My neck was really warm. I didn’t even have to be wearing the hood, and it still kept my neck warm. None of my other clothes had ever done that before. Put the hood all the way on, and forget about it! Total head and neck warmth, all in one. It’s like a balaclava without the terrorist undertones.

The warm factor is great and all, but I still don’t really like wearing the hood. It cuts off all my peripheral vision, and I can’t stand that. Plus there is the hoodlum factor. Literally. I look even more like a criminal in a hoodie than in a beanie. In fact, in a hoodie, I look downright menacing, like I might be there to rob you, or I might be there to Taser you and steal your spleen to sell it on the Chinese black market. It’s not a good look for me. If I were to combine the hoodie with a goatee, I would expect any rational police officer to arrest me on general principle.

My kids, on the other hand, love hoods. Apparently they have not been blindsided by enough fast moving objects yet to fully appreciate their peripheral vision. They don’t look nearly as menacing as I do with the hood up, but they can’t escape the inevitable, so I have a strict “no hoods indoors” rule. It’s partly out of good manners, like “no hats at the dinner table,” but mostly to get them into the habit of removing their hoods before going inside so when they grow up and look like me, they don’t get tackled in the bank lobby.

Speaking of that, have you seen the new trend in kids’ hoodies? They now come with built-in masks. You can zip them up to your neck, and they look just like a regular sweatshirt, but the hood has two front flaps made out of mesh, so if you put the hood up and keep zipping, the hood closes up completely over your head with the mesh front panel completely covering your face. Apparently, based on my observations at the playground, the kid can see just fine out of the mesh mask, but you cannot see their face. The masks and sweatshirts have designs on the front to make the wearer look like a skeleton or a zombie when it is zipped all the way up. What drug cartel or gang syndicate came up with these? Talk about the perfect accessory for your next bank robbery. No more having to borrow your girlfriend’s Pantyhose, or sweating inside an itchy ski mask in July. Perfect for a night on the town, or an impromptu carjacking. Get yours today! 

They even have a version that has a Mohawk sewn into the top of the hood. My boys have expressed great interest in the masked hoodies. Not gonna happen, kid. I’m trying to raise you to look less like a criminal, not more. Trust me, son. When you get to be my age, you don’t want ladies pulling their kids away from you and security guards reaching for their can of pepper spray every time you walk by.

As for me, both my beanie hat and my hoodie are black, the universal color of the bad-guy dress code. Maybe a lighter color would help?

Probably not.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

About the Author

I thought we should start the New Year off with a little meet and greet.  Just a Smidge has gained quite a few new readers in 2012, so I thought an "about the author" segment would be helpful. I am the 40-year-old husband of an amazing woman, and father of three boys, affectionately known as Son Number One, Two and Three, currently ranging in ages from eight to four years old. My beautiful wife and I are raising/corralling them in Northern California, where we were both born and raised.

I think we should really start with my name. The following is a segment from “The Name,” the very first Just a Smidge post I ever wrote, way back in June of 2008. It is also the forward of my latest book, The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories.

I am a fourth-generation American who was born and raised in California, but you would never guess that when looking at my name, so I really feel like I should start with an explanation. It's spelled Schmatjen. It's pronounced "Smidgen", like a smidgen of this, and a smidgen of that. No one in the family knows why. It's German, but some kind of strange hill-people German that were more Austrian, or more Swiss, or more drunk than regular Germans.

So we all went by "Smidge." Once you pronounce it for people, that's your nickname. No getting around it, and all in all it's a pretty good deal for a kid. If you're destined for a certain nickname, it's nice to know ahead of time that it's going to be palatable.

In the Schmatjen clan, there is a general rule that because of the last name's inherent spelling and pronunciation issues, the first names had better be fool-proof. So, inexplicably, my folks named me Marc with a "C." I'm not sure what they were thinking at the time, but looking back on it, it seems ill-advised. I have always liked it, but it invariably adds an extra dimension to the name-explaining process that we Schmatjens constantly go through.

So that’s the story on the name. Now, here are 23 other facts that you should know about me:

1) My wife thinks I am a great driver.
2) My grandpa killed General Patton's dog.
3) Bright sunlight makes me sneeze.
4) I am related to a U.S. president, but I forget which one. I think it's either Grover Cleveland or Woodrow Wilson. I don't care. I would only be excited if it was Teddy Roosevelt, and it isn't.
5) My favorite movie is a tie between Romancing the Stone and Fletch.
6) Until I was in my teens, I thought that coffee really would stunt your growth, and that drinking alcohol made your beard grow faster, because in the movies, when guys would wake up hung-over, they always had a five-o’clock shadow.
7) I cry at the end of Rudy.
8) I am slightly over six feet tall, I weigh just over 200 pounds, and I have the bladder capacity of a four-year-old.
9) My two favorite flavors are slightly burnt pepperoni and toasted sesame seeds.
10) I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school.
11) I can remember movie quotes and song lyrics from 20 years ago, but I can't remember what my wife just told me three minutes ago.
12) I did a flying squirrel off of a 60-foot-tall rock into Lake Havasu, and I have very mixed feelings about my kids ever trying something like that.
13) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. It makes driving directions with my wife difficult.
14) My favorite joke of all time is: A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The psychiatrist looks at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts."
15) My basic math skills leave something to be desired.
16) I cannot stand cantaloupe. Fruit salad that contains cantaloupe is completely ruined.
17) I was born without the ability to have any sympathy whatsoever for stupidity.
18) I have had the controls of an airplane for about 10 seconds. I was not good at flying straight or level.
19) I crossed into Switzerland underground briefly while in a salt mine, but I have never been there above ground.
20) My favorite place to be is on a boat.
21) I have never wanted to be younger.
22) I truly like almost everybody I meet.
23) My wife is still laughing right now about #1.

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

Happy New Year, everybody!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

The Just a Smidge Anthology (Volume I) has arrived!
Get your copy today for only $0.99!
Go get your copy of "The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories" for your mobile device’s free Kindle, Nook, or iBooks app. You’re going to love it!