Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Refi'd Liens

I’m supposed to be refinancing my mortgage right now, but I decided to write this instead. I was supposed to be refinancing my mortgage yesterday and the day before that, too, but I decided to clean our driveway expansion joints with a toothbrush and spit-shine all of our corn on the cob forks instead.

I guess some might say I’m avoiding it, but our light switch cover screws slots were in desperate need of alignment. And those drawer pull knobs aren’t going to just tighten themselves.

OK, fine, I’ve been avoiding it. I even went jogging once when I couldn’t find anything else to do. That’s how much I’m avoiding it. Sadly, after the jogging incident, I had to spend three days motionless on the couch to let my hamstrings recover, so I couldn’t work on the refi then, either.   

Financially, avoiding a refi doesn’t make any sense. Interest rates are around 3.5% right now. (At least, they were a few months ago when it was suggested that I refinance.) Based on the size of our mortgage, dropping down from our current 4.25% will save us approximately three million dollars a month. Or something like that. I forget exactly what the guy said, but I know it was a lot.

Why would I be so financially inept? Why would I choose to inspect and lube the garage door guide cables instead of refinancing?

Simple. I have refinanced before. I know what’s going to happen, and I can’t bring myself to get started on the paperwork.

The Patriot Act is, quite simply, a bitch.

Right after 9/11 the CIA learned that terrorists are funding jihad all over the world by, apparently, refinancing the suburban home mortgages of middle-aged natural-born American citizens who have nine to five jobs and own minivans and spend all their Saturdays watching their children play sports. So, the process has become rigorous to say the least.

The list of documents just to get started is almost too much. Two months of paystubs, two years of W2’s, three years of employment history, two years of federal tax returns, two months of bank statements, most recent retirement savings statements, most recent mortgage and homeowners insurance statement. I mean, I’m pretty sure all of those things are in this house somewhere, but it’s going to take me another month to find them all. Plus, that’s only half the list.

And once you have actually found all the paperwork, you need to re-learn how to use your printer’s scanner function. By the time you get that figured out, everything you have ready to scan is out of date because you’re into another month now. That doesn’t even matter though, because the entire refi process on their end takes two months, so you will have to re-scan and email everything two more times anyway.

“Sorry about asking for this again. The lender is a bit squirrelly.”

Get used to hearing that on the phone if you decide to bite the bullet and refi. The process is so crazy that seemingly every single deposit that has ever been made into your bank account for any reason needs to be looked at with the banker’s version of a proctologist’s scope.

During my last refi, on the day the new loan was supposed to close, after two months of scanning and emailing slightly updated version of the same documents, the guy called me asking about “one more deposit in question.”

I had to drop what I was doing and physically drive to the bank and physically go inside and talk to a physical person. Can you imagine? They had to physically look up a check image for me that dated so far back I think they had it on microfiche.

“This is definitely the last one,” he said that day, which turned out to be the day before I had to do the same thing again for another deposit that was THE EXACT SAME AMOUNT FROM THE EXACT SAME PLACE.

So for me, refinancing is like needing to go to the dentist to fix a tooth that I’ll lose if I don’t go. I can feel the tooth falling out of my mouth, but I’m still sitting at home thinking, “Do I really need that tooth that bad?”

Actually, it’s more like that same dentist analogy, except the dentist is going to fix my tooth for free and give me three thousand dollars after he’s done, and another five hundred dollars a month for the next thirty years, but I’m still thinking, “Naw, it’s just gonna be too much of a pain. I’ll just lose the tooth and watch the baseball game instead.”

Now, deep down, as a patriotic American, I know that if I don’t refinance then the terrorists have won, so I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen. I will refinance soon.

I will.

In fact, I’ll get started on the paperwork today.

Right after I go put a new coat of varnish on those croquet mallets.

Summer is right around the corner, you know.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drought Intolerance

If you are reading this in any other state besides California, congratulations, you probably have water. Here in the Golden State we’re almost out. It hasn’t rained here since 2012.

I received a threatening letter from the Placer County Water Agency the other day, cleverly disguised as a “notice.”

On April 1, 2015, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order mandating a 25 percent reduction in water use in comparison to 2013.  In response to the Governor’s action, on April 16 the PCWA Board adopted Resolution 15-10 declaring a water shortage emergency.

Here’s the problem: They’re not really serious yet, because Outdoor Water Use Mandate Number One was Limit landscape watering to a maximum of 2 days per week during the months of April through November. 

If they were serious, we wouldn’t be allowed to water anything. Personally, I completely stopped watering everything in my yard in 2013. The plants that survived are feral at this point. The lawns are in bad shape. I can’t even really call them lawns anymore. “Boys, why don’t you go play on the back dirt.”

I actually stopped watering back then to save money, and as an added bonus, to eliminate the need for mowing. Then it never rained again and I stumbled into this whole “drought awareness” thing. But now I can hold my head high as I stand on the brown cracked earth in my five-thousand-degree front yard.

I care.

So, here’s the real problem. Governor Brown is mandating me, (using an Executive Order, which is capitalized to make it appear more official), to reduce my water usage by 25 percent based on what I used in 2013. Well, if I completely stopped watering everything on my property in 2013, I’m not sure I’ll be able to reduce any more than I already have. Certainly not by 25 percent.

So, for me, the accidentally ahead-of-the-curve drought-conscious citizen, will I now be penalized by an Executive Order for conserving too early? I have a bad feeling the answer is YE$$$.

If you folks at the PCWA are not so serious about the situation that you’re still letting me water my lawn, then I really don’t feel the need to comply with your Indoor Water Use Mandates, the first of which is, Limit showers to 5 minutes or less.

We can stop right there. That is quite simply impossible.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not Kramer from Seinfeld. I’m not planning on adding a garbage disposal to my shower and spending half a day in there making a salad. But the PCWA gave us a little hourglass shower timer that suction cups to the shower glass, and I can tell you it is physically impossible to complete a shower in the forty-five seconds worth of sand they’re calling five minutes.

And even if it really was five minutes, I have to take a longer shower than that. I do all my best thinking in the shower. I solve plot problems. I come up with storylines. I think of humorous anecdotes. All while in the shower. My long showers are part of my job. It’s literally (and literarily) my job to take long showers.

The PCWA is basically telling me to stop doing my job. They are trying to fire me. I take that rather personally.

And I shave in the shower, too. I cannot shave anywhere else. Once you have experienced the unbridled comfort of shaving your face in the hot shower, you can never go back to the sink. I might as well just spray carburetor cleaner on my face and rub it with a cheese grater.

In essence, Governor Brown has written an Executive Order telling me that I have to choose between growing a beard or submitting to torture. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I believe that is a violation of my follicular rights. Or a violation of the separation of personal hygiene and state. One of those.

Now, recognizing that I require longer showers than the average non shower-thinker, I have already done my part to reduce shower times on aggregate in our house. We are only requiring the boys to shower once a month during this water crisis, whether they need to or not.

So at this point, if we’re going to achieve a 25 percent reduction from our already reduced consumption, we’re going to have to pull a Kevin Costner from Waterworld and start distilling our own pee for drinking water.

And speaking of Waterworld, if Costner’s character had a distillery that could render his pee drinkable, why didn't he just distill the seawater?

Are the people running our government here in California the same yahoos from Hollywood that couldn’t see that plot hole in Waterworld? If so, that would actually explain why we don’t have desalination plants providing us with all the fresh water we could ever hope to use. This state only has eight hundred miles of coastline. Maybe we should look into it, because we’re not going to get water from anywhere else.

Our neighbors won’t be much help. Mexico? Even if they had any water to spare, it comes with the trots, so no thanks. Arizona and Nevada? They are currently sucking on cactus leaves and thinking we’ve got it made. Oregon? Don’t make me laugh.

I can tell you, having lived in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the people of Oregon are going to shoot at us long before they give us any of their water. They are very jealous of our weather, and rightfully so. It has been raining continuously there for the last two hundred years. We can’t trade them sunshine. Water is all they have. They won't give it up without a fight.

So, that’s where I stand, PCWA and Governor Brown. I stand in my shower. And until you’re willing to tell us we need to stop watering the outside decorations, or willing to build some desalination plants, I’m not willing to quit my job or grow a beard for you.

You can take my shower when you pry it from my warm, pruned hands.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, April 15, 2015

Traffic School

You know how when you are driving with your mother-in-law in her car, and it’s your turn to drive, and minutes after you get behind the wheel you’re telling a really funny story and not paying attention to exactly how fast you’re going on the ridiculously straight and deserted downhill stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, so because the fact that it’s not your car and you had no idea how fast it could go without feeling like it was going very fast at all should really be a very compelling reason why the cop should be lenient and just let you off with a warning, and besides, it’s a small car, and small cars always look like they’re going faster than they really are, so that probably totally messes with the accuracy of the laser radar, and also because it was a really funny story and the blue lights and sirens really kind of killed the punchline, which is really punishment enough, don’t you think?


The cop didn’t either.

So there I was, out in the middle of the desert, the proud owner of a yellow citation documenting the fact that my mother-in-law’s car, while more than a few years old, can go slightly faster than the speed of sound.

(By the way, if you happen to be from my insurance company, this story is totally fabricated. All lies. Just for fun. Not that I’m a liar, though. I mean, this is just artistic license. I’ve never lied to you guys about anything, including my annual mileage, or how that very minor house fire got started, and I’ve never even been on Highway 41 near Avenal, CA, and I’ve certainly never had any contact whatsoever with CHP Officer Kennedy, badge number 16452. So, you can probably just stop reading now and go on about your busy day. OK? Great. All my best.)

“Call the number at the bottom of the ticket in about a month,” said the friendly CHP officer.
“A month?”
“Yes, we’re very backed up.”
“Well, I mean, if everything is so backed up, I see no reason why we should clog the system any more with this one?”
“Have a nice day, sir, and drive safe.”
(grumble, grumble) “You too!”

Very backed up, huh? So you’re telling me I’m not the only one who’s been blindsided by this infernal middle of nowhere/downhill/someone else’s car trifecta of bad luck?

Maybe we could spend some of this ticket revenue on a flashing “Watch Your Downhill Speed” warning sign or something.

Or I guess maybe I could learn to watch my own damn downhill speed. Oh, well.

So I called the Kings County Superior Court about a month later. They told me they were still very backed up and I should call them back in three weeks. Three weeks later they told me to call back in two weeks. Wow, does that cop out there ever get a coffee break? Two weeks later they told me to call back in two weeks. (I am not making this up.) Three weeks later my ticket was finally in their system.

Wow, three hundred dollars? That’s great. What a deal. Hang on, let me do some math… You guys should really hire more people to process that backlog of yours, because if my quick calculations are correct, Officer Kennedy out there is making you guys about six thousand dollars an hour.

The good news? My request for Traffic School has been approved!

I sent extra money in to be able to go to traffic school because: “If you do not attend a traffic course and return your Certificate of Completion to the court by the due date listed above, a conviction will be reported to the DMV.”

Now, I couldn’t really care less what the nice folks at the Kings County Superior Court report to the nice folks at the DMV. They can tell them I speed recklessly all over the country. They can tell them I have no regard for the rules of the road or the law in general. They can even tell them I’m a huge Justin Bieber fan. What do I care?

I’ll tell you what I do care about, though. I do care about what the nice folks at the DMV might tell the nice folks at my insurance company.

(And again, if you happen to be one of the nice folks from my insurance company and you’re still reading, please keep in mind that this is all just a big, fun, harmless, made-up story, but again, the fact that I’m making up this tall tale does not in any way mean that I am a serial liar who would ever even entertain the thought of giving you less than one hundred percent of the facts when it comes to our treasured (and, might I add, very much appreciated on this end) insurance relationship.)

So, traffic school it is. I have been given three choices for attending a classroom-based traffic school, but I think in my case it’s really only two choices since one of them is La Academia de Trafico en Espanol. Unfortunately, the two presumably English-based schools are in Hanford, CA and Lemoore, CA. Notwithstanding the fact that both of those cities are actually just 10,000-cow dairy farms with a post office, they are also both a seven-hour round trip from my house. I could probably do it in about five hours or so, but that’s how I got into this predicament in the first place.

(Again, insurance folks, please ignore that last comment.)

Luckily, I have been given the option of completing my traffic school obligation online. Kings County included a handy list of my approved online options. And by a list, what I mean is a legal-size sheet of paper with three columns of website addresses covering the entirety of the front and back, listed in no discernible alpha or numeric order, in what appears to be negative twelve-point font. The font is so small, it just looks like three columns of smudges.

There are at least seven hundred and fifty online companies listed on this single piece of paper. I’m not making that up. I got a magnifying glass and figured out how many companies per inch were listed, then measured the paper.

Just in the upper right corner, in the first half-inch, my magnifying glass shows that my choices include “,” “,” “,” “,” “,” “,” and “”

What fun-sounding options those are, just in that half-inch. And that’s literally just a half-inch of my choices in literally five and a half feet of list. I am not making that up. I wish I was.

And I have to read and pick from this list, because if I Googled a traffic school that had good recommendations (like that would ever happen), and then tried to make sure it was on this list so it counted, I would still be trying to find it on this completely random list when it was time for my great-grandkids to take away my car keys anyway.

I guess I’ll just pick one. At this point it’s a toss-up between Big Mama and Atomic. I’ll let you know.

If we can’t get a big flashing “SLOW DOWN” sign out on Highway 41, maybe we could spend some of this ticket revenue on larger font. Or maybe alphabetizing.

Just a thought.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, April 8, 2015

Tahoe Glaceau

Amid the many news reports and ripe opportunities for new taxes brought about by the severe drought in California, one crucial element to the story may not be getting the attention it deserves.

Lake Tahoe is low.

The water level in the usually pristine lake is now as much as a full few inches lower than normal. This has caused a mild panic among the lake’s well-heeled gentry. Many shoreline homeowners have been forced to gasp in disbelief, as their once unparalleled view now includes slightly more of their dock pilings than normal and sometimes even unsightly mud.

But if you think these captains of industry and third and fourth-generation trust fundees are going to take this lying down, you’ve got another thing coming.

We caught up with Lars Networth, President of the Establishment for a Lifelong Ideal Tahoe Experience - Shoreline Owners Brotherhood, or ELITE SOBs for short, who outlined the bold initiative for us.

“The plan is simple. Simply brilliant, that is,” Lars explained, on the deck of his seventy-foot Princess M-Class yacht earlier this month. (A yacht, by the way, that Lars is now being forced to moor a full two feet farther off shore.) “We are simply going to raise the lake back to its appropriate level by filling it back up.”

So, the ELITE SOBs have devised a simple and clever plan to get things back to normal. How will it work?

“Bottled water,” Lars explained. “Simple and easy.”

Bottled water?

“Of course,” Lars replied impatiently.

How much will you need?

“Well, we’ve dropped below the natural rim of the lake, and we need to get it back up there. But we certainly don’t need to spend any more money getting it up any further than that. If we did, our investment would just be pouring out into the Lower Truckee River. We certainly don’t need to be providing Truckee and Reno with anything for free, now do we?” Lars replied with his trademark knowing grin.

Why bottled water?

“Well, that should be obvious, even to someone such as yourself,” Networth replied. “There isn’t enough good non-bottled water around here, as if there is such a thing, or we wouldn’t find ourselves in this sticky predicament, now would we?”

Interesting. How is the plan progressing?

“There is no doubt that the Establishment will go through with the plan,” Lars replied indignantly. “It’s going to happen. We are simply stalled in a debate concerning which brand to use.

We’re obviously going to save the Acqua Panna and the San Pellegrino for drinking. I mean, we can’t be running out of those, now can we?” Lars chuckled.

“But you know how it is. Well, you might not, actually. But anyhow, when you have a committee situation, there is always give and take. We’re currently locked in a debate over the two obvious choices; Fiji or Evian.

We have a faction insisting on filling the lake with Perrier but there is some debate over what the bubbles might do to the fish. Off the record, we only eat Japanese sushi and Chilean sea bass, and none of us fish for sport, so we don’t really care, but there is the whole ‘green appearance’ issue to consider. More importantly, there is some concern over at the Tahoe Yacht Club about the effects of carbonation on the finish of our Gar Woods and Chris Crafts. Lots of things to consider, don’t you know?” Networth said, standing up to strike a gallant pose at the ship’s railing.

“Would you believe we even have a member who wants to use Aquafina because it’s cheaper? Can you imagine? We might as well use Dasani or tap water from Kansas, for goodness sake. I don’t have to tell you he’s not old money. Owner of a construction conglomerate of some sort. I don’t think you’ll be shocked when I tell you he’s on the south shore. The Nevada side, obviously.”

Lars gazed out across the ever-so-slightly-receding water at his kingdom.

“If only Glaceau made a blue vitamin water,” he added wistfully.

“Well, anyhow, obviously, once the plan has been put in place and the lake has been restored to its proper viewing level, we ELITE SOBs will need to enforce a strict no usage policy for any non-shoreline owners. Everyone will still have the benefit of the view of the lake, as before, but we can’t have just anyone swimming or boating in our investment, now can we?”

Obviously not.

“And we’ll finally be rid of that infernal eyesore of a paddle boat, the Tahoe Queen,” Lars said, maniacally stroking his well-manicured goatee. “Finally.”

OK. Well, thanks for your time, Lars. And good luck to you and the other ELITE SOBs. We appreciate your efforts and wish you all the success in the world.

“Obviously,” returned Lars Networth. “We’re doing this for everyone, after all.”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, April 1, 2015

Tax the April Fools Day

April Fools! Your taxes are due in two weeks. Sorry, that’s not a joke. Don’t blame me, I voted against them.

Anyway, a few years ago I thought I would try to make us all feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So I went to (motto: “Because we can, that’s why”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with a ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters K, Q, X, Y or Z.

I have updated the list for you this year. Here’s the fun places your 2014 tax dollars are headed:

Administration on Aging (motto: Nope, we still can’t do anything about it)

Broadcasting Board of Governors (Check out DJ Cuomo on hip-hop Fridays)

Chief Human Capital Officers Council (motto: We WILL defeat the cyborgs!)

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (motto: What’s the Pentagon?)

English Language Acquisition Office (motto: OMG LOL)

Federal Voting Assistance Program (motto: We gave up on Florida, too)

Government Ethics, Office of (Entire office currently on ten-month team-building retreat in Fiji)

House Office of the Clerk (main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up)

Inter-American Foundation (motto: We found Kansas!)

Joint Fire Science Program (Chill, this isn’t about weed. We totally swear, man.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (motto: If they would stay in one place, this would be easier)

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (motto: We don’t understand the hyphen either)

Office of Compliance (motto: You are out of compliance. We don’t even have to investigate. We already know.)

Presidio Trust (motto: We don’t know what a presidio is either)

Regulatory Information Service Center (motto: Talk to the Office of Compliance first)

Surface Transportation Board (motto: There might be some overlap with the regular Transportation Board – we’re looking into it)

Taxpayer Advocate Service (motto: Just kidding. You’re screwed)

U.S. Access Board (motto: Access denied)

Voice of America (motto: Now broadcasting exclusively in Spanish for your convenience)

Weights and Measures Division (motto: We’re going to the metric system any day now)

Keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

In true federal government style, the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies doesn’t list all of them. If you can stand to be on for a little longer, you can find even more agencies listed under the authority of the executive branch. There’s the list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, the list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, the list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, the list of Quasi-Official Agencies. Super.

But, as you marvel over your tax bill this year, and wonder what righteous deeds will be wrought with your offered treasure, I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, and ponder this:

According to Congress, it takes $5.3 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Five and a third billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Five thousand millions.

They work about 175 days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work 12 hours per day, that’s $2.5 million an hour.
That’s $42,000 per minute.
That’s $700 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

If you have a million dollars, you can run Congress for 24 minutes. If we were super-generous with the math and said that they work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that same million dollars would buy you a whole hour and a half.

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $7000 of your money on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

April Fools’ Day is not on April 1st. It’s on April 15th!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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!