Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Prestigious Address

I have always disliked the fact that the post office keeps pushing me to add another four digits to ZIP codes. I take it as a sign of their obvious laziness. They already make me write a five-digit ZIP code that represents the city and state, even though I already wrote the city and state on the envelope. The four extra numbers represent the actual street that the mail is going to, but I already wrote the street name on the envelope. Why do they need it in number form? Are they hiring the illiterate now? The extra four numbers make even less sense for PO boxes. If you send something to a PO box and include the full nine-digit ZIP code, it looks like this:

Bob Johnson
PO Box 1225
Wichita, KS  67207-1225

The extra four numbers are the PO box number. Why would I want to write it twice for them? That seems redundant, and like I already did it once.

Well, the other day I received a letter from my sister, and I happened to notice that the post office’s automated machinery -- the cost of which was in no way fully covered by my already overpriced stamp -- had printed my full ZIP code on the bottom of the envelope. And by full, I mean my eleven-digit ZIP code.

You thought ZIP codes only went up to nine numbers? You were wrong! The first five numbers are the city, the extra four are the street, but the magical, heretofore missing, last two digits actually represent your actual house! Now we’re getting somewhere, post office! I don’t mind writing extra numbers on the envelope if it’s all I have to write.

After I discovered this wonderful hidden nugget of postal knowledge, I ran a test, just to be sure. I mailed a letter to myself. The envelope had only two things on it. An overpriced stamp that in no way covers the cost of the bloated bureaucracy that is the post office, and an eleven-digit number. No words of any kind. No name, no street, no city. Nothing except my full ZIP code.

Bang! Two days later it showed up in my mailbox with a postmark. It worked.

Suddenly I am a fan of ZIP codes. They are finally useful, and non-redundant. My house has its very own ZIP code, and so does yours. Who knew? Figure out what it is, and that’s all the address anyone needs in order to send you a letter. So simple. So efficient.

As easy as that sounds, however, I don’t hold out much hope for my new streamlined addressing system to catch on. People like their addresses too much. We are so impressed with where we live these days that we have even started naming our neighborhoods.

“Where do you live, Bob?”
“The Enclave at Cedar Point. How about you, Fred?”
“We just moved to Parkwood Terrace at Oakview Springs Ranch.”
“Oh, great. I heard of all the Terraces, Parkwood Terrace was the best. Who was your builder?”
“Rentwood Homes.”
“No kidding! We’re in a Rentwood over at the Enclave! We should get the families together and compare granite backsplashes and toilet fixtures. What’s your address?”
“17534 Twenty-Mule-Team Chuck Wagon Ranch Drive. How about you?”
“We’re at 487278 Sunflower Mesa Creek Falls Circle.”
“Super! We can barbecue at our outdoor kitchen areas. Can’t wait to see your floor plan.”

First of all, if you guys were to look at the county assessor’s plat map, your “Enclave at Cedar Point” is actually officially known as Phase Two of the Smedley-Herndorfer Tract. Second of all, you guys live in Hogsass, Wisconsin, not the Riviera. Stop trying to make it magical.

There is no way that the folks living at “The Enclave” want to shorten up their mailing addresses to just a long ZIP code number. Most of them probably wish that people were required to include their made-up neighborhood name in their address. What are we, England?

Have you ever seen an English address? They look like this:

Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Donald Henry Robinson III
15 The Cottage Row
Huntsman’s Wood Lane
The Shepherd’s Green
Linsingtonham
Kensington upon Brighton
Hertfordshire
England  SM12 5WP

It takes you fifteen minutes to address the envelope because you get writer’s cramp halfway through. If we’re not careful with all this neighborhood naming, we could end up with that someday.

While we might never get to the point of having to include “The Promontory at Eagle’s Perch” on the envelope, we probably can’t go down to just the eleven-digit ZIP code either, because a post office employee still has to hand-deliver the mail. Since they routinely give my mail to my neighbor across the street, I think we need to keep names on the envelopes, and since I routinely receive mail for people on completely different streets, we should probably keep street addresses written on them as well.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

41 at 41


I am turning 41 years old this week, and since I have inexplicably made it this long, I thought I might as well share some of my thoughts, observations, and acquired wisdom from my life thus far. I pared it down to one for each year. You’re welcome.

1.  There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who prefer the toilet paper to come off the top of the roll, and those who prefer the bottom. The people who like it to come off the bottom of the roll are wrong.

2.  If beds were advertised the same way as tents, a queen-size mattress would sleep nine adults comfortably.

3.  The three second rule has almost infinite extensions depending on how much you like the food that dropped.

4.  You never fully appreciate how crazy your family is until you have to explain them to your new wife.

5.  I don’t understand why disappointed is not the opposite of appointed.

6.  Pi and the circumference of a circle have a similar relationship to pie and the circumference of a person.

7.  Here’s the difference between men and women: Men can look at a picture of women's underwear and get excited. Not women in underwear, just the underwear itself. Women do not get excited looking at pictures of boxer shorts.

8.  The toothpaste tube is the most amazing invention ever. You get four days of toothpaste out of the large main body of the tube, and six weeks of toothpaste out of the last 10% of the tube, up by the cap. If we could make automobile gas tanks out of the same stuff that the last 10% of the toothpaste tube is made of, cars would get 700 miles per gallon.

9.  The clearest evidence that America is the greatest country on earth is that the Red Bull beverage company put a man in space. Take that, Belgium.

10.  If you give enough money to the right charities, you will never have to buy address labels again.

11.  I have reached the electronic tipping point. At this point, I would much rather lose my wallet than my phone.

12.  A really good financial goal in life is to have your bank account balance be larger than your bank account number.

13.  Life without beer and cheese would be horrible, but life without bacon would be pointless.

14.  When packing thirteen suitcases into the car for your wife, is it impossible to have ten of them be “on top” so she can get to them easily.

15.  Never get a woman personalized license plates like "HOT QT" or something like that, because eventually the boyfriend or husband will have to drive the car, and he will be mercilessly ridiculed by the other male drivers.

16.  You can ask someone to do something, or you can tell them how you want it done, but you cannot do both.

17.  A good indicator of where you are in life is this: Does the advertisement of free food still affect your decision making?

18.  It makes more sense to become a strong swimmer than a strong runner. You don’t die when you stop running.

19.  There is no “t” or “t” sound in the word across. There is no “b” or “b” sound in the word supposedly. Please pronounce accordingly.

20.  Men are far more likely to clean things with spit than women are.

21.  Money and toilet paper have something in common – They are both easy to take for granted until you run out. Also, in totally opposite, but equally dire situations, they can be substituted for each other.

22.  Pets and skull tattoos have something in common - Just because yours is badass does not mean you are badass. In fact, it usually means the exact opposite.

23.  If you ask a guy to tell you a story about a time he almost died, he will have four stories just off the top of his head, and one will be from this year. If you ask a woman the same question, she will look at you like you’re crazy.

24.  One sure sign of getting old – When you start sitting down to put your pants on.

25.  Children and ceiling fans are incompatible. Plain and simple.

26.  In life, it is very important to remember where you are and why you're there. That way, when your podiatrist tells you to drop your shorts, you ask some questions first.

27.  The hotel alarm clock - You can either take the time to figure out how it works before you go to bed, or you can figure it out in the dark at 4:30 A.M. when it unexpectedly goes off.

28.  Probably the funniest thing ever written is this: “We’ve upped our contribution. Up yours!”

29.  People who don’t use their cruise control on the freeway should be pulled over and arrested.

30.  There are 21 words in the English language that need to be used more. They are: Bailiwick, Hootenanny, Skullduggery, Scofflaw, Ballyhoo, Shenanigans, Donnybrook, Catawampus, Chicanery, Cajoled, Hullabaloo, Besmirch, Boondoggle, Haberdashery, Melee, Befuddled, Flummoxed, Hoosegow, Wiseacre, Tomfoolery, and Kerfuffle.

31.  Nothing is more interesting to a child than what you are doing, provided that what you are doing is easier without children involved.

32.  You cannot claim to be a grown woman, fully capable of taking care of yourself, and also claim that you do not know how to operate a toilet seat.

33.  Fried chicken and touch screen devices do not mix well.

34.  A carsick child and a blender without a lid have a lot in common.

35.  To be or not to be is not the question. The real question is, which towel in the guest bathroom am I supposed to use to dry my hands?

36.  Give a boy enough time with any object, whether it be a stale Cheerio, a bouncy ball, a doll, or a book, and he will eventually turn it into a weapon.

37.  "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys" is a pretty accurate saying, but it leaves out the other major difference: the speed at which they heal when they fall off those toys.

38.  The best thing to do when your infant cries at night is to set a timer for ten minutes. If the timer runs out before the baby stops crying, reset the timer.

39.  The people investigating alternative energy sources should take a look at my wife's side of the bed. When she comes to bed she is in a near-frozen state, but the bed somehow heats her up to roughly 8,000 degrees in the middle of the night. I have never once plugged the bed in or recharged it in any way.

40.  As I get older, I find myself dividing the people of the world into two categories: People I would let watch my kids for five minutes, and people I wouldn’t.

41.  The person who invented the hotel shower curtain rod that curves out away from the tub so the shower curtain doesn’t stick to your arm should receive the Nobel prize.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Give Me Your Money


I was browsing my way through the Yahoo headlines today, keeping abreast of the hard-hitting news items of the day, such as what dress Kim Kardashian was wearing inappropriately this week. (Abreast… get it?) Anyway, after I got done being outraged at the fact that a New York City traffic officer would have the unmitigated gall to give J Lo a parking ticket, I came across a headline that caught my eye in a different way.

New utility scam is popping up across the nation

Hey, wait a minute. This actually looks like something that could affect my life. This actually sounds like something I should read in order to better protect myself against the seemingly ever-increasing population of no-good, rotten scammers out there. Someone named Cameron Huddleston apparently has penned an article for Kiplinger.com, a well-respected financial magazine’s online presence, that will equip me to do battle with thieves. I’m interested.

The Better Business Bureau says that a new utility bill scam is popping up throughout the U.S. and Canada. And it involves an approach to get people to part with their money that's been growing in popularity over the past couple of years: prepaid debit cards.

Huh? I thought this was going to be about someone piggybacking onto my gas or electric bill? Debit cards? OK, I guess I’ll read on.

The BBB reports that scammers are calling people and claiming to work for a local electric, water or gas company. The callers tell people that they're late on a utility bill and that their service will be cut off if they don't pay immediately. Then they instruct people to purchase a prepaid debit card to pay their bill and call them back with the card number. Thieves then drain the value from the card.

Huh?

Scammers have turned to prepaid debit cards recently because wire transfer services have increased their fraud detection systems -- making it more difficult for them to use this once-popular method of stealing money from people. Scammers also like prepaid debit cards because they don't have to show a photo ID to collect or spend money on the cards.

Huh?

For help spotting a utility scam, the BBB offers these tips:

Then the article listed helpful tips like, “Utility companies would never operate with high-pressure tactics like this,” and “it’s a red flag if you are asked to pay by prepaid debit card.”

Huh?

Who is falling for this? How do you not know if you are behind on your gas payments, and even if you know you’re behind, who would go buy a prepaid debit card to pay the bill? Apparently it works, or it wouldn’t be “growing in popularity” among our nation’s degenerate scallywags.

Since there are obviously people out there who need my help, I have done the Better Business Bureau one better, and developed Smidge’s BBBB tip for spotting a utility scam: Live until you’re old enough to be responsible for paying the utility bill somewhere, then if you are still na├»ve enough to fall for a scam that idiotic, stop what you are doing and call me. I will walk you through whatever process we need to use to have you send me your entire life savings. I will give it all to charity, and you can consider it a valuable lesson and thank me later.

The article reminded me of a letter I received a while back from Ruby Addo Mills. She was the second wife of the late Ghanaian president who died not long ago. She was contacting me in view of the fact that we could be of great assistance to each other. She currently inherited the sum of ninety five million US dollars ($95,000,000.00) which she intended to use for investment purposes, specifically in my country of origin. She was very adamant about the fact that she would obviously never ask me for any of my account details until we met face-to-face in the bank’s vault in any of these three countries of my choice: Madrid, Spain, Johannesburg, South Africa or Kampala, Uganda. For security reasons, she wanted all communications go through her son. She wanted me to send her son, Samuel Kofi Atta Mills, the details to enable her contact me for more details, and she would explain more to me in next detailed fax to me.

Sam never did show up in Kampala like he promised.

Anyway… The end of the Kiplinger.com article had this to say:

Also, a utility bill scam that began last year has resurfaced. Utility companies in several states, including Kentucky and Tennessee, have received reports from customers who have received calls claiming that the federal goverment will help pay their electric bills. Click here to learn more about this utility bill scam and how to avoid it.

Since “government” was misspelled in the last paragraph, I’m half wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a brilliant double-reverse by some hacker, and the link to learn more was really going to steal my money somehow. Maybe it was going to trick me into paying to read the rest by entering a prepaid debit card number. The only problem with that is, I have an I.Q. above room temperature, and since I have been living a normal financial existence where I keep my money in something called a bank, and pay my bills with things like checks and credit cards, I have no idea where I would go to buy a prepaid debit card.

If it really was a real article, I guess maybe it was aimed at the same folks who care if J Lo is getting a parking ticket, or know where to buy a prepaid debit card.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Boys' Mother's Day


My wife is a mother of boys. When she was younger, and dreaming of getting married and having her own family someday, she always said she wanted to have four boys. That’s the only part she ever tells me. She won’t tell me what kind of husband she dreamed she would have, so I will have to assume that I obviously met or surpassed all of her expectations.

While she likely met 400% of her goal in the husband department, we ended up with only three boys, so she made just 75% of her goal in the offspring department. That is just fine with her. After we had Son Number Two she began to question her earlier logic, and by the time Number Three was on the scene, she knew that four was just crazy talk.

Every once in a blue moon she will see a cute little baby girl, or one of our nieces all decked out in a pretty dress, and she will make that “awww” sound that women make when they find something unbearably adorable. Then she hears a story from a friend about eight-year-old girl drama, and breaths a quiet sigh of relief. (And so do I.)

While we both think that having only boys takes a lot of the stress off us as parents, I don’t think she was fully prepared for all the fighting. She may not have been prepared for all the peeing, either.

Fighting, to boys, is like climbing. It is ingrained in their DNA. See a tall, dangerous-looking structure or tree? Climb it. See your brother over there looking smug or having fun? Go tackle him. It’s just a fact of life. They start very young by wrestling each other down as toddlers. It’s a fact that infant boys with older brothers learn to roll themselves over at an earlier age, due to the desire to keep from getting pinned and avoiding the three count.

She was initially concerned with how much fighting was taking place between the first two, but by the time the third one was in the mix, she had resigned herself to the inevitable melees. I knew she had finally come around one day when I heard her tell Number One regarding his youngest brother, “Be gentle if you’re going to fight with him.” No one but a mother of boys would ever utter those words.

As far as the peeing goes, she definitely wasn’t prepared for that. Truth be told, I wasn’t really either. This is the area where the parents of girls probably gain back some ground. Sure, there’s drama and fashion and hairstyles to deal with, but the peeing is at least straightforward. Or should I say, straight down. With boys, there’s a moving part to the equation, and it can be unpredictable.

Son Number One summed it up for her about a year ago when she was questioning him outside a public restroom. We were all dressed up for a wedding rehearsal dinner, and he came out sporting wet underwear, with his pants still undone, looking for some help. When she asked, slightly exasperated, how his underwear and his nice dress pants had become covered in pee, he explained, “My penis just went wild.”

When she brought him back and told me the story, I just nodded. “Yep, sometimes that happens.”

I knew exactly what my son had meant, and I could even envision the whole thing happening. The mistake I made was assuming he also knew what had happened and why, and he was just giving his mom the condensed version of the events. As it turns out, maybe I should have been doing a little more coaching with the boys when it comes to peeing. That became evident recently.

Son Number Two came out of our downstairs bathroom the other evening with a forlorn expression on his face.

“Mom, something just happened.”

Nothing good has ever preceded those words. Since it was obviously a bathroom incident, and my wife happened to be cooking dinner at the time, I bravely stepped in to help.

“What’s up, buddy?”

“Well, I started to pee, and then all of a sudden, instead of going down, it was going up.”

As we rounded the corner and stepped through the door to the little bathroom, I was amazed at what I saw. There was pee on the toilet seat, on the top of the toilet, on the wall behind the toilet, on the step stool next to the toilet, and all over the floor. There was even a puddle of pee on the floor all the way behind the toilet, between the base of the toilet and the wall. How do you get a puddle directly behind the toilet??

It took me a whole roll of toilet paper to clean it all up.

“What happened, buddy?”

Not one for long detailed explanations, and perhaps to try and figure it out himself, he opted for a reenactment. He dropped his drawers in front of the toilet and said, “I don’t know. I was standing here like this, and then it just went all over the place.” He was standing with both hands down at his side, simply thrusting his hips forward.

“Well, it helps to aim it down.”

“Is there a hole or something?”

Come again? Is there a hole or something? You can’t be serious right now.

“Uh, yeah, buddy. Right there. That’s where the pee comes out. You need to aim it.”

“OK, dad. I will next time.”

What was that all about? How have you had this penis for seven years and not figured out how it works?? Depending on the time of day, that thing can be pointing anywhere. You’ve got to aim it, man!

Oh, well. I guess I need to do a little better job explaining the obvious to my boys. We should probably go over the wonderful benefits of wiping your butt again, as well.

Happy Mother’s Day, sweetheart! You are doing a fine job of being a mother of boys. I on the other hand, am obviously falling down a little bit on the fatherly end. I was concentrating on teaching them important man skills like how to field a grounder and how to use a saw without removing any of your fingers. I figured peeing was self-explanatory. I guess not.

I will try to stay on top of all the bodily function-related issues, and I promise I will be all over the future penis conversations when it comes time to talk about its other function!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mowing the Lawn


Either I'm a genius or just really dumb-lucky. I’m not sure which. I think if I really examined my past and took an honest look at it, the answer to that question would be clear, but we don’t have time for that. Let’s just go with genius.

Here’s why I’m a genius: My two oldest boys now constantly ask me if they can mow the lawn and all three of them beg to wash the cars, and they fight over who gets to do it. You heard me.

Do I pay them? No.
Am I a genius? Obviously.
Do I know how I made this happen? Never mind about that.

OK, I’ll admit, my genius is subtle. So subtle, in fact, that even I didn’t realize what I was doing until the results made themselves clear, but the results speak for themselves. I have three sons begging to do chores.

The key to my genius was making the activities forbidden for a long time. With the car, the secret was never letting them play with the hose. At first I thought I was making the hose off limits because I didn’t want to be sprayed, and I was too lazy to get out of the way, but that’s the thing about the depth of my genius. Even I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. By keeping the hose from them, I was actually creating little minions who will do anything to be able to operate a high-pressure spray nozzle.

“Dad, can we wash the car?”
“I don’t know… will you promise to be careful with the hose, and not spray me or the house?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
“I don’t know… are you sure you can handle it?”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
“OK, you can do it. But make sure to take turns with the hose so Number Three gets a turn. Don’t hog it.”
“OK, we will! Thanks, dad!!!”
“You’re welcome.” (smirk)

This last time they washed the car, Son Number One felt like he didn’t get enough hose time, so he asked if he could wash down the driveway after they finished the car. I said, “I guess so.” He and his younger brother cleaned out every crack in the driveway and blew all the dirt down to the street. I waited until they had it completely clean and then said, “You’ve been playing long enough. Time to turn it off.” (smirk)

Genius.

The older two have just begun to mow the lawn this year, and if the hose is considered a 7 on a 10-scale of fun, the gas-powered push mower is a 200. They fight over who gets to go first.

Genius.

Unlike the hose, I was keeping them away from the mower for obvious safety reasons. Mowers on their own are pretty dangerous pieces of machinery even for adults, but on top of that, I keep my lawn mower's deck set fairly high. I'm not running a golf course here, and I have found that if I leave the grass a little longer, it hides the bare spots a little better than if I cut it super-short. I would be fired as a greens keeper. Anyway, when you combine the high deck height with my boys’ propensity to relocate sticks and rocks into the lawn and leave them there, my grass and the surrounding 100-foot radius can resemble an artillery range on mow day.

Safety glasses and closed-toed shoes are mandatory. Shin guards are a good idea.

Now, I think my dislike of lawn maintenance is fairly well documented. One must look no further than my lawn itself to understand my level of enthusiasm for spending any amount of my free time taking care of something that should be able to fend for itself. Given my distain for this suburban chore, I was really looking forward to passing it off to my boys. I told my wife that I was waiting until they were big enough to handle the mower safely. That was true, but what I didn’t say was that we also needed to wait until they had a large enough overall blood volume that they can lose a few pints and still live through it. Just in case. Shin injuries can bleed like the dickens, believe me.

After watching them operate the mower the first time, I made up a few new safety rules on the fly, so to speak. The first one is no other brother is allowed within 50 feet of the guy running the mower. There was always an unofficial 25-foot shrapnel safety zone, but the first time I saw one of them spin the mower around, I extended it. They are still short enough that to get the mower up on its back wheels to spin it around, they have to tilt the push handle way down close to the ground, presenting the spectators with the full underside of the mower and its spinning blades of death. Back up a little more, boys.

The second new rule is that all mower operators that aren’t daddy should wear their baseball cups when mowing. Like I said, they’re short, and a misplaced ricocheting object that catches me in the shin might catch them in a far more important body part than just a leg bone. I want to have grandkids one day, after all. Safety first.

We boys are a funny breed. When you sit us down to tell us how dangerous an activity can be if done wrong, that only makes us want to do it more. If I told them they had to wear a full suit of armor to mow the lawn, they would be salivating to get started. So basically, I’m a genius for having boys, and since I provided the Y chromosomes, I can take full credit.

Unfortunately, as my wife reminds me frequently, that also means I have to take full credit when their male genes direct them to jump off the roof into an inflatable pool, or attempt to ride the ceiling fan.

Oh, well. I’ll take it. I’m just happy to finally be able to sit and watch the chores get done. Maybe I should start telling them it’s really dangerous to clean up their room?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

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