Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let's Keep Mom Happy, Boys

My wife scares me sometimes. Normally it’s just when she’s driving, but last night was an entirely different kind of fear. You see, I’ve never needed to dispose of a body, but last night my wife changed that.

She arrived home from Costco and asked for our help out on the driveway to unload the car. While the kids were busy struggling to move the fifty-five gallon drum of laundry soap and the five-gallon pails of peanut butter into the house, my wife was nudging me with her elbow and speaking in whispered code about the “item” in the trunk.

When I went to investigate she hissed “Not yet!” at me with a look in her eyes that made me shiver. I found myself glancing nervously up and down the street, afraid one of the neighbors might become suspicious.

What is in the trunk?” I whispered through my teeth while deliberately not making eye contact and trying to appear as if I was just inspecting one of our drought-stricken bushes.

We’ll talk later,” she whispered back, sternly. “We have to wait until it gets dark.”

OK, now I’m more than a little nervous. My flight instinct is in full gear. I want to run, but I can’t leave the kids. Must stay calm.

After an hour or so of my mind and pulse racing with all possible scenarios running through my head, we put the kids to bed. I kissed them each on the forehead and said a little prayer that I might get to see them again. Who knows what this night will bring?

Back downstairs on wobbly legs, I nervously followed my mysterious and scary wife out to the car. As she popped the trunk latch I instinctively flinched. And there he was.

“What did you do!?” I half yelled.

“Keep your voice down! The neighbors might hear.” She shot back. “It was on sale. I couldn’t help it. It’s for Christmas.”

There, taking up every cubic inch of air space in our Toyota Camry’s trunk, was the largest teddy bear I have ever seen. It was easily twice as big as my mother.

“Christmas!? It’s September. I have to hide this thing??? They already have two hundred stuffed animals, and you bought one that is bigger than all of them put together?”

“They saw it last time we were at Costco, and they loved it,” she said.

“Doesn’t Costco sell anything that’s normal size? It’s bad enough that I have to have a ten-quart plastic barrel of mayonnaise, but do they have to sell teddy bears the size of Smart cars, too?”

“Oh, relax. It’s not that big.”

“Not that big!? You couldn’t fit a breath of fresh air into this trunk with this thing. Did you have to remove the spare tire to get it in there?”

“OK, OK, just help me get it out.”

Just like a typical Tuesday night in New Jersey, there we were, pulling the body out of the trunk. I got him under the arms and she took the legs, and we moved him into the garage.

“OK,” she said, slightly out of breath after we’d gotten him up on the workbench. “Now just bag him up and hide him.”

I have fifty-gallon black plastic garbage bags that I use in the fall. They are massive. I got them at Costco. You can fit all the leaves from a medium-sized tree into one bag. I opened one of them and wrestled it over the bear’s head. When it was completely down over the top of him, it only came to his waist. There were two furry legs sticking out the bottom like a back alley crime scene in Disneyland’s Critter Country.

“What do we do now?” I asked. “He doesn’t fit.”

“Well, honey, it’s simple. Normally you just cut off their legs, but in this case, we are keeping him, so you just need to fold him up a little.” She then proceeded to fold, stuff, lie on, and seal up the garbage bag, with a very compressed giant Costco bear inside. “See, there you go.”

“What do you mean, ‘Normally you just cut their legs off..’?” I asked.

“Never mind,” she said, glancing away. “Just stuff him in the back of the closet, OK?”

“Anything you say, honey. I love you so much!”

I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t digging a hole in the middle of the night by the glow of a Lincoln Town Car’s headlights, but that whole thing left me a little on edge.

Merry Christmas, boys. Don’t ever do anything to anger your mom.

I think I’ll try to learn how to sleep with my eyes open.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Dictionary Stinks

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly and formally apologize to Hunter and Sabrina, two of Son Number Three’s first-grade classmates.

Dear Hunter and Sabrina,

While volunteering in your classroom last week I inadvertently contributed to setting back your education, and for that, I am truly sorry. This is especially painful and embarrassing for me, as a professional author and writer, because I misled you about the veracity of a word that you both so brilliantly came up while completing a “words that rhyme” worksheet. There can be no excuse for my ineptitude while trying to help with a first grade English lesson.

I was wrong. There is no other way to put it. I was just plain wrong. Apparently SHAT is a word. You were supposed to come up with three words that rhymed with CAT, and I made you both erase SHAT and come up with a different word, telling each of you, “That’s not a word” in the process. My sincerest apologies for the error.

I feel as though I should explain the reason for my error, since I will be volunteering in your class every week and I want you to trust my judgment in the future. You see, I have an old-fashioned paper dictionary here at home. I know, right? What a fossil. My archaic book of words doesn’t include profanity, so while I might have been able to help conjugate the verb DEFECATE, or identify the noun EXCREMENT, I just wasn’t up to date on all the different tenses of the word SHIT.

On a whim the other day, I looked up the word SHAT on the internet - the place where you will get all of your knowledge in your lifetime - and lo and behold, there it was. I found it on both the websites of the major dictionaries – Oxford and Merriam-Webster. Did you know that they used to print big paper copies of their dictionaries? Crazy, huh? The paper copies were really hard to change, so for a long time, all of us adults just spoke and wrote Standard English. Well, we don’t have to worry about all that foolishness anymore!

Both the Oxford Dictionary (Ironic tagline: “Language Matters”) and the Merriam-Webster (Archaic tagline: “An Encyclopedia Britannica Company”) listed our new favorite word SHAT as “the past tense and past participle of shit.”

So, according to two incredibly reputable online sources, “My fat cat shat rat scat on the mat” is a completely legitimate sentence. If only Dr. Seuss had been alive for this news.

You guys are so fortunate. They can add new words at any time now. Words like TWERK and AMAZEBALLS and ADORBS have just recently been added. You have no idea how lucky you are. Us oldsters had a standard boring language that we all agreed upon and could understand. You guys can just make up new words any time you want. That is SCHWEEEEET. I just made that word up. I like it. I think I’ll add it to your dictionary. You’re welcome.

This language breakthrough, fueled by the ease of amending and updating an online dictionary, is rooted in a new and innovative principle. Apparently now, as long as enough people who don’t own paper dictionaries agree that a word means something, then it’s a word. How amazeballs is that? It just makes me want to twerk!

Not only are they conveniently adding words for you all the time, but words can change meaning now, too. Adorbs! This will alleviate a lot of stress for folks like me who actually like words. For instance, I have been hearing people misuse the word LITERALLY literally my whole life. When I heard someone say “My head is literally going to explode,” I used to duck and cover. Now I totally don’t have to worry about getting brains on me, because the folks at Oxford and Merriam-Webster are changing it for us! Yep, LITERALLY is being revised to mean both LITERALLY and FIGURATIVELY. Woo hoo! Why would they do this, you might ask? The explanation is simple and totally rational. “If enough people use it in a certain (wrong) way, then that’s what it means.”

Like I said, you guys are sooooo lucky to have thinkers like that in charge of the language now. I am literally green with envy. Seriously, literally. No… the other one.

I will try to keep up with all the new words as I continue to help out with your educations, and again, I sincerely apologize for the whole SHAT incident. One thing is for sure. Your rhyming assignments just got a whole lot easier. All you have to do now is just add letters in front of the root sound and you’re in business. Your teacher and I don’t think STMAT is a word? No problem. Just get all the rest of the first-graders to agree that it is and bam! Aced that worksheet!

In fact, I noticed that many of you really like to leave out some or all of the vowels when you spell our “traditional” words, but us pesky adults keep correcting you. Don’t stand for it any longer! Get all your friends on the same page and then let the teachers know that the Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries will be listing WTR as an acceptable alternative spelling of WATER any day now.

With the dictionaries constantly changing to stay hip to your new groove, your education will be a breeze. In no time flat you will have aced high school and college and be living the dream. Spending all your days having a swm parts, splashng n the wtr at the pul, and lang n the sn.

Good luck with your continued education,

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soccer Season, Again

We are in our fifth (and hopefully final) soccer season as parents. I can say with all honesty that I am not the type of parent who seeks to reenact the sports glory days of my youth through my own children. Mostly because that would be unfair to them, but also because I was a mediocre athlete as a kid and never really had many “glory days” to speak of anyway.

I will leave their sports glory, or lack thereof, up to them, but I will definitely choose their sports for them. More to the point, I want to choose what sports they don’t play. Soccer, specifically. We are graciously allowing them to play soccer while they are young, mostly out of a mixture of fairness and stupidity. We foolishly let Son Number One play soccer when he was five or six, not realizing how detrimental children’s soccer can be. Not for the players, mind you, but for the parents.

We won’t let them play football due to the high potential for player injury, but we really need to limit soccer for the high potential of parental heart failure. When Son Number One played his first game back in the fall of 2010, I nearly had three heart attacks and a stroke in the span of forty-five minutes.

The stress wasn’t due to too much excitement. It was just the opposite. It was from the very justifiable expectation of excitement followed immediately by absolutely nothing happening. The ball would get right up to the goal line and then seemingly every player would simply stop playing. No matter how much or how loud us helpful parents yelled “KICK IT!!!” no one would kick it. It was gut-wrenching and heart-stopping to come so close to a goal, only to have everyone stop and not kick it into the goal. And it happened over and over and over. And over.

We should have just stopped after the first season, but again, we were idiots. Son Number Two was eagerly waiting his turn to play, and we were weak and just couldn’t bring ourselves to say no. (We kick ourselves now for that moment of lily-livered parenting.) So when soccer season (or the dark times, as it is known around our house) arrived the next year, Number One and Two were both playing on different teams. If we thought one soccer season was bad, two at once was excruciating.

Son Number Two’s team continued the rich tradition of painful inaction in front of the goal, but Son Number One’s team brought us a new frustration. They had graduated to a much larger field, and while the players were a little more aggressive and skilled near the goal, they almost never got there. The field was so large, ninety percent of the game was spent passing the ball back and forth from one team to another out in the middle of the four-acre Bermuda grass rectangle of despair. “PASS IT TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!” we yelled helpfully. They did not.

Early on in his second season, Son Number One showed us a glimmer of hope. Not hope of making soccer more palatable for his parents, but of us possibly being able to get out of this mess. He gave us a light at the end of our long, dark soccer tunnel. Thankfully, Number One was born with my inherent laziness. Given the choice between motion and rest, ninety-eight percent of the time he will choose rest. He did not like the big field at all. He was quoted by his coach as saying, “You know, Coach, I don’t really like to run, so if you could put me on defense or at goalie, that would be great.”

This was good news and we nurtured it. “Boy, that field sure is large, isn’t it, son. It’s waaaay bigger than last year. Must be hard to run all the way up and all the way back every time. I’ll bet you’re tired! I know I would be. You know, the field will be even bigger when you move up again next season. Think ya wanna play again next year?”

There was no way he was going to opt for a third season. The parents shoot… they score! Unfortunately, while we were happily listening to Son Number One complain about being tired, his gung-ho younger brother, Number Two, seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously out on the pitch. Uh-oh.

Youth sports are not a one-way street. It is not “all about the kids,” as some positive coaching organizations want you to believe. Youth sports are somewhat about children learning skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship, but mostly about what the parents are able to handle. We just couldn’t afford to go through heart attack and stroke-inducing soccer for any longer than absolutely necessary, so we needed to act fast to discourage Son Number Two. We saw our opening with Son Number One and took it.

New family rule: Each child gets to play soccer for two years and then it’s on to swimming and/or baseball. That way, dad should still be around to enjoy it all.

Kids are not really deep philosophical thinkers – at least, my kids aren’t – so they don’t tend to question their lives too much as long as everything seems fair to them. “I’m forced to do manual labor all weekend? Well, OK, as long as my brothers have to also.” So Son Number Two fell right into line with the soccer moratorium. He played his two years and hung up his cleats at the ripe old age of six, just like his older brother. Did he want to play longer? I never asked him and I don’t care. Like I said, youth sports are a two-way street, and my arteries have the right of way.

I’ve had a few scares that just turned out to be indigestion from the snack bar food, but luckily no actual heart attacks yet. Son Number Three is now in his second (final) soccer season, out on the big field, so my heart just has to stay strong for two more months and we can all move on with our lives. Please keep me in your prayers.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alaska, Part II

My wife and I are back from Alaska, and someone seems to have sabotaged our house while we were away. Everything is swaying back and forth. My parents stayed with our boys for the week while we were away on our amazing adventure at a floating fishing lodge. When we returned I tried to ask my folks if they felt the swaying also, but they were too busy running out the door to listen to me, yelling over their shoulders something about being tricked and never spending an entire week with all three of our boys ever again. Hmm… they looked tired.

I just assumed our boys would behave better for their grandparents than they do for us. I guess I was wrong. I had all sorts of assumptions about our Alaska trip before we left, and they all turned out to be wrong, too. For instance, the fishing lodge we went to had very strict luggage limitations, complete with a pre-printed packing list. I had assumed that the reason they were only allowing me to bring two pairs of pants had something to do with weight limits on the float plane. I was wrong. I now understand that the lodge sets clothing limits because they are helpful and kind. They want to help minimize the amount of your wardrobe you will lose when you inevitably set fire to your luggage once you’re home.

Burning your clothes is the only proven method to eliminate the stench infused in them after five days of salmon fishing in an 18-foot boat. You see, fishing on the ocean in Alaska is brutal and messy. I assumed our once-in-a-lifetime trip would be a lot more like a relaxing vacation, but I was wrong. Our days were filled with slipping, slamming, flopping, cutting, bruising, stabbing, and bleeding. And that was just trying to get the bait on the hook. You should have seen what happened once a fish was actually in the boat!

I had also assumed, based on all the talk about how many fish we were sure to catch, that catching said fish would be easy. I was wrong. Before arriving, I just figured you would put the line in the water, move the boat forward, and fish from all over the surrounding ocean would come to you. Not so. It turns out you are supposed to know where they are, using something called “local knowledge,” and you have to actually take the boat to them, and you are supposed to know what they are thinking based on a whole host of considerations.

Factors that affect where the fish are and how and why they might eat your bait include, but are not limited to: tides, currents, water depth contours, kelp, lure color, spinning lure accessories, spinning lure accessory color, spinning lure accessory spin rate, bait freshness, whale activity, boat speed relative to current speed, and direction of boat travel. We were also told later in the week that it was important to make sure your bait and lures were actually underwater, down where the fish are, and not skipping across the top of the water while you eat a sandwich, drink a beer, and look for whales. So many technical considerations.

All the other people who were staying at the lodge seemed to know all this beforehand, but I was the fishing equivalent of a hunter all decked out in camouflage with a deer rifle, wandering around the inside of a Macy's department store wondering why he’s not seeing any big bucks.

After re-watching the lodge’s orientation video a few times, my wife and I finally figured it out and started catching a lot of salmon. (Unfortunately, it was on the last day of our trip.) Apart from salmon tips, the video also explained how to operate the harpoon when landing a halibut. I had assumed I would not need to harpoon anything while in Alaska, but again, I was wrong. Sort of. You see, I am male, so naturally I have wanted to harpoon something since I first heard the word harpoon as a small child. My interest in harpooning something grew exponentially when I found out what a harpoon actually was. However, since I didn’t grow up in a family of 16th century Dutch whalers, I never had too many opportunities. I did try to harpoon my older sister once with a full-sized shovel when I was five, but I only hit her in the thumb, and I forgot to attach a rope, so she got away.

On day three, exhausted from hearing everyone else’s amazing salmon catching stories, my wife and I tried halibut fishing. This required an entirely new set of considerations, mostly revolving around how to keep the boat over the same spot on the bottom while being pushed and blown all over the place by the tide and the wind up on top. Fortunately, the boat was equipped with about $10,000 worth of navigation and sonar equipment that proved to be absolutely no help with this task. We finally decided that the only way it would work was if I just drove the boat in reverse while she fished. I was fine with that though, because I knew if she did catch a halibut, I would be the one to get to harpoon it.

After about forty-five minutes of my wife questioning me on why I was unable to keep the boat in one place, and me trying to explain to her why the earth/moon azimuths were working against me, not to mention the severe tidal friction, she finally hooked into the big one. Two hundred feet straight down, Moby Halibut was on the other end of her line. She fought and reeled for what seemed like hours as I scrambled around the deck readying the harpoon. The harpoon’s detachable razor-sharp steel tip was attached to a sturdy rope, tied on the other end to an orange float buoy, in case the monster got away from you once harpooned, he wouldn’t be able to swim too far, just like when they attached the barrels to Jaws.

Up came the denizen from the deep, and in went the harpoon, just behind the pectoral fin, just as the video had shown. He thrashed and flipped and gnashed, but he was no match for the mighty seagoing duo of Mr. and Mrs. Alaska Tourism Board. We finally wrestled him into the boat, and after ten minutes or so of figuring out where we were, we raced back to the lodge to offload the beast. Back at the dock I was beaming with pride.

Me - “Did you see where I harpooned it? Just like the video, right? Nailed it!”
Johnny the deck hand – “Yeah. Good placement, but… uh… why did you harpoon it?”
Me – “I thought you were supposed to.”
Johnny – “No, not really. I mean, it’s fine, we just really only use the harpoon for the big ones.”
Me – “This isn’t a big one?”
(Sound of the entire Alaskan fishing lodge crew laughing)

Apparently, Moby Halibut was only seventeen pounds. A “harpoon-worthy” halibut in Alaska is closer to one hundred pounds. Basically, I harpooned a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich.

I don’t care. It was awesome.

Another assumption I had made was a long-standing one, and not related to the trip specifically. I had always assumed that my wife was a nice, kind-hearted person. No so. At least, not under certain circumstances in Alaska. When we were catching big Coho salmon, many fish were lost due to poorly set hooks. They fight and thrash like crazy, so getting them into the boat can be challenging, and given the high skill level required to actually find them and hook them in the first place, losing them was more than mildly defeating.

So there I was, happily living my life one sunny morning, smiling under the assumption that I knew my wife, until I accidentally missed netting one of her salmon, sending him jumping and thrashing away from the boat. He was still hooked, but my beautiful wife began swearing at me like an angry, drunken longshoreman. I tried to calm her down by pointing out that he was still hooked and we hadn’t lost him yet, and I even reminded her of how well I had harpooned the halibut, but she just told me to shut my #@!&* and %$#!@ and net her $@!#& fish this time. Alaska is no place for the tame. (Or for children, if you happen to miss netting one of my wife’s fish.)

Hmm… I really liked it up there, but I’m glad to be back on dry land, even if it is still moving around a little. My wife hardly ever swears at me here at home. Any assumptions I may have made about her being sweet, I surely had made the reverse assumptions when envisioning the staff of an Alaskan fishing lodge. Before arriving I had imagined a team of gruff, surly, smelly seadogs, barking orders and generally being salty, since all Alaskan fishermen are obviously like the crabbers on Deadliest Catch. I was wrong yet again.

The folks at the Sea Otter Sound Lodge are some of the nicest people on planet Earth.

At least I think they are. I never accidentally missed netting one of their fish. Who knows what they might be like then?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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