Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Real Last Day of School

We are down to the last two weeks of school, and frankly, everyone has quit trying. I say two weeks, but really it’s eight school days. Seven if you don’t count the last day, which is on Thursday next week. We can’t even make it all the way to Friday.

Next Thursday is officially the last day of school, but the real last day of school was the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. That was when the last bit of actual learning took place for this school year. Homework has stopped. Spelling and math tests have stopped. Everything educational has stopped. This week and next are just movies and cupcakes and field trips.

And when I say field trips, I don’t mean a trip to a museum or a historical monument. I mean walking to the movie theater and walking to the park. Why walking? Because it takes up more time than riding the bus. They’re just looking for activities to fill the time at this point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing. I’m not concerned about this at all. I don’t blame the teachers for un-educational time-fillers. I empathize. I feel their pain. And I totally understand the logic behind it.

You have to have the useless weeks at the end.

Here’s the real-world scenario they’re dealing with: Imagine the office where Bob has come down to his last week before retirement. The last five days at a job before he will never go there again. Now imagine you’re Bob’s manager or coworker.

“Hey Bob, can you handle the really annoying and overtime-filled Jenkins account for the last five days you’re here, until you’re gone forever?”

“Sure, I’ll handle it,” says Bob, with a smile on his face.

Bob is still smiling later that morning as he hands the Jenkins file to the janitor and heads out for lunch.

It’s just like that for the teachers, except they have twenty-five little Bobs.

Bob’s last week is filled with sleeping in, leaving early, extended lunches with his favorite clients, spider solitaire, and Facebook and Twitter updates (#FourDaysTillPermanentVacationEqualsFourMartiniLunch, #DontBeJealous, #ImOuttaHere, #9to5OnTheGolfCourse).

Ending a long-term endeavor like a job or a school year is a paradox. It goes like this:

What are we here to do?
Be productive.
Can we really be productive on the last day?
Then should we have the last day?
OK, we’ll get rid of the last day. Now the second to last day is the last day.
Can we really be productive on the last day?
Then should we have the last day?

You see the problem. If we eliminate the useless last two weeks of school, then we have a new end date, which will naturally be preceded by two weeks of uselessness. So we get rid of those two weeks and move it back again.

You have to have the two useless last weeks or pretty soon we just show up for the first day of school and they say, “Great job. See you next year.”

So here we are. In the eight-day window of time-fillers.

Classroom pajama parties – Maybe if we tell them to wear their pajamas and bring pillows they’ll actually lay on the floor instead of climbing the walls. It’s worth a shot.

Walking trip to the water park – Sounded like a good idea, but in drought-stricken California at the moment, the water park consists of colored pipes sticking out of the ground with no water coming out of them. Whatever, let’s go anyway. It’ll burn a day.

The talent show – School-wide time-filler consisting of 473 acts. The acts have a 100% bravery ratio but, sadly, only a 9% talent ratio. Gets us out of the classroom, so let’s do it.

Walking trip to the movie theater – What’s playing? Who cares?

Day on the green – Put them all out on the soccer field. Activities? They’ll probably figure something out. Just lock the doors so they don’t come back in. Teachers can take turns rotating to their classrooms to sit in the quiet.

And finally…

The last day of school – It’s a minimum day. School ends at 12:20. Why do we even go through the charade of keeping them here for four hours? We’re not going to actually do anything. Shouldn’t we just show up in the morning, check them out on the clipboard, gather up the stuff from their desk and hand them off to the parents?

Come to think of it, why can’t we just check them out when they get picked up on Wednesday afternoon?

That’s a good idea. Next year we’ll just eliminate this useless last day. Have a great summer, Bob.

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, May 20, 2015

Spray on the Glamour

A long time ago when I was up way too late watching TV, I saw an infomercial for spray-on hair. If you had a bald spot, you could simply take the handy aerosol can of hair helper - expertly color-matched to your actual hair - and spray hair back onto the top of your head.

The possibly patented and expertly color-matched hair restoration formula would go to work by attaching to the hair follicles around the bald spot, thickening your existing hair. This would help cover the bald spot, and if the bald spot was too large, the amazing hair restoration formula would simply cover that bald spot all by itself, without needing to cling to and thicken existing actual hairs.

This amazing process would give your hair a natural, full, manly look. Your confidence would be restored, and instantly the world would think you had gone insane, because you just spray-painted the top of your head.

Sadly, spray-on hair only came in black or brown “hair.” Bald blonde guys had to just buy regular beige spray paint at Ace Hardware. The lack of hair color selection is probably why the product didn’t make it to the mainstream. Either that or Rust-oleum was just cheaper. Who knows?

I was reminded of that wonderful and amazingly short-lived product the other day when I read an article about Xtreme Green Grass. This is a company here in Sacramento that will come to your house and spray-paint your lawn. I’m not making that up.

In case you haven’t heard - or you live in another state and just don’t care - California is in a severe drought. We have about nine gallons of water left for the whole state. Those of you in other parts of the country may be thinking, “Ha! Have fun with that, morons.” That is a common (and often warranted) reaction to Californians’ problems, but in this case, just a heads-up; if you enjoy eating fruits, vegetables, rice, or nuts, you’d better start thinking about building a greenhouse and growing them yourself. Colorado can help you with the logistics.

Anyway, since we’re seeing the bottoms of all the lakes here, we’ve been asked to cut back drastically on the outdoor watering. I actually stopped watering my lawn a long time ago – well before the drought. Truth be told, it was because my lawn mower broke, and I was too lazy to fix it. I ended up on the leading edge of the water conservation movement by accident.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse, and watering anything unnecessary has become a bad idea. Not everyone considers their lawn to be unnecessary like I do, however, and some folks here are still watering their lawns regularly. You can all feel free to knock on their doors the next time you need to make a salad.

They just can’t seem to let their green lawns go. I, on the other hand, have embraced my brown, scrubby lawn much the same way I embraced going bald. It’s more convenient. Less maintenance. And I’m not at all concerned with how it looks.

I was already married when I lost my hair, so no problem there; I’m not trying to impress anyone anymore. My wife is stuck with me. Same with the lawn - I already had friends when the drought hit. I’m not trying to impress anyone. If you don’t want to come over to my house because my lawn is brown, I probably didn’t want you to come over in the first place.

Plus, I haven’t had to mow my lawn in over a year. Score another point for water conservation.

As we know, however, not everyone embraces the loss of their hair or their green grass with quite the same level of enthusiasm as I do. So, Xtreme Green Grass was born. The perfect company for those that have given in to the peer-pressure of stopping the sprinklers, but can’t stand to be seen with a brown lawn.

Dave Bartlett, owner of Xtreme Green Grass, and his crackerjack crew will come out to your house and spray-paint your brown lawn green.

Again, I’m not making that up.

Isn’t that bad for the environment? you might ask. Not at all, says Dave. Apparently, the dye is an “all-natural earth pigment,” whatever that is. I’m not sure how you get the color green from dirt, and if he’s using ground-up live plants to color the paint he’s using to color the dying plants, that just seems unsustainable. But, what do I know? Dave is the plant painting expert, here, not me.  

So it’s all-natural. That’s really all we need to know. Dave says it’s not harmful to people or pets, either. Your pets, your guests, and your children can continue to eat your newly-painted lawn as they normally would, without fear of any side effects.

I’m almost sold, Dave, but just like that late night infomercial, I’m still a little skeptical.

I mean, imagining my lawn with a pleasingly-natural, unidentified earth pigment tone of green applied to all the scorched, brittle, brown blades of Tall Fescue is certainly tempting. And while the estimated five hundred-dollar price tag to paint my yard is almost too good to be true, I think my lawn might have the same inherent problem as my head.

I don’t think spray-painting the bald spots is really the fix we’re looking for.

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, May 13, 2015

The Real Tree of Death

Son Number Two got himself some birthday money last month. So, what did our newly-minted nine-year-old want to do with the loot? Buy plywood, obviously.

While many other American nine-year-olds would beg to be driven to the toy store, the sporting goods store, or the ice cream store, my son wanted nothing more than to go to Home Depot. I love him so much.

Off we went to the lumber aisle. His eyes lit up when I showed him four by eight-foot sheets of plywood for only eight dollars each. His eyes got even wider when we found eight-foot-long two by fours for three bucks. He was positively vibrating with excitement when I told him they would cut the plywood for him for free.

I know, buddy. I know. Home Depot is awesome.

Then we both went nuts when we found the cull cart. Seventy percent off. SEVENTY! Sure, they were random, twisted, splintered boards from the island of misfit lumber, but they were seventy percent off! The sixteen-foot-long pressure-treated two by four that has an eighty-degree twist in it would suck for building a house, but it’s worth every penny of four dollars to a nine-year-old building a backyard fort.

Backyard forts built by nine-year-olds do not need to be straight. I don’t think they physically can be. They always look like they were built by Dr. Seuss, not Bob Vila.

So we loaded up the truck with cheap twisted lumber and plywood and headed home. Son Number Two got to work immediately, with his main task, seemingly, consisting of spreading all my nails into the back lawn. Mowing next time is going to be an adventure.

Things were going well until halfway through his construction project I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

It seemed so innocent at the time, like uttering the words, “We should totally go to Mexico for spring break,” then the next thing you know you’re sharing an Ensenada jail cell with a three-hundred-pound ex-wrestler named Julio “El Papi Gordo” Valdez.

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

Anyway, I looked at his fort - which was starting to look like a cross between an Alaskan outhouse and the rec center at a refugee camp – and foolishly said, “We should put a thatched roof on it.”

If only I had known what hell those words would lead to.

I figured if we put some palm fronds on the roof it might look a little classier when company comes over, in an island slum classy kind of way.

I have never put palm fronds on a roof. How hard could it be? I have never owned a palm tree, so I had no idea.

Our good friends own a palm tree, and when I texted them, they said I could have all the palm fronds I wanted, as long as I came over and got them.

This is the problem with texting – you can’t hear the maniacal laughing on the other end.

In order to cut the old palm frond off a palm tree, you have to put a ladder against the tree and climb up inside all the hanging fronds. If you have never been inside a palm tree, let me try to describe it for you:

Imagine you are sitting under a willow tree in the cool green grass near a babbling brook. You are barefoot, peaceful, and happy. Then imagine you decided to climb up into that willow tree.

It’s absolutely nothing like that.

Now imagine that the tree trimming people show up and cut some of the branches off the willow tree. Then they take them and feed them into the chipper behind their truck that chews the willow branches into tiny woodchips and spits them out at five hundred miles an hour into the back of the truck.

The inside of a palm tree is exactly like the inside of the chipper. Only scarier.

Palm trees look pretty straightforward and non-threatening from the outside. It turns out, however, that each palm frond is really hanging from the tree trunk on a four-foot-long machete blade, lined down both edges with giant curved thorns. Palm fronds make a sawfish’s snout look like a cuddly baby toy.

If you remember the scene in Return of the Jedi, when Jabba the Hut is trying to have Luke thrown into the scary-ass spine-covered hole in the desert, the inside of a palm tree looks a lot like the inverted version of that thing.

Since I am an idiot, I decided to give it a try and get some palm fronds for my boy.

“I have gloves on. I’ll be careful,” I told myself.

That was really stupid.

I was being attacked from every angle. In order to get any fronds I had to saw them off at the trunk. That required actually moving around inside the palm tree chamber of doom instead of staying perfectly still like all my survival instincts were telling me to do. Five minutes into the project I looked like I’d been in a knife fight.

I got hopelessly stuck a few times. I had to climb back down the ladder twice without my hat and once without my shirt. Do you have any idea how hard it is to climb down a ladder inside a cylinder of shark teeth with your shirt getting pulled up and over your head? I didn’t either until I stupidly suggested that my son thatch the roof on his new fort.

A palm tree is built to keep its fronds at all costs. I don’t know why they are called “palm trees” anyway. They should be called sawfish trees. Or band saw trees. Or dragon trees.

I actually managed to get a few fronds off before I had to stop when I finally nicked an artery. I was afraid I was going to bleed out on top of the ladder, and the firemen would not be able to extricate my body from the dragon tree. That’s no way to go out. Not for a backyard fort.

I had to give up. There was no way I was going back in. Son Number Two would just have to use what we had. It turned out that I had managed to retrieve just enough palm fronds to cover the roof on half the fort. So at the end of the day, I made it look like an unfinished island slum. Not what one might call an improvement.

Live and learn.

I have always thought that the Tree of Death was in my front yard, but now I know that’s not the case. My tree may smell like rotting flesh each spring, which is bad, but so far it has never actively tried to kill me when I wanted to pick a few leaves off of it.

Palm trees are mean. Palm trees are evil. Palm trees should be known as the Tree of Death. Or Dragon Tree at the very least.

Excuse me now; I need to continue to apply steady pressure to the arterial bleeding.

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, May 6, 2015

The Husband's Guide to Shopping for Mother's Day

As a public service to all man and womankind, I like to post something about Mother’s Day each year. Mostly they have been cautionary tales, because it’s important to write what you know, and I have a long history of screwing Mother’s Day up somehow.

This year, I have drawn on my many years of inadvertent research to provide you men out there with a handy Husband’s Guide to Shopping for Mother’s Day. Now, I know we men can be stubbornly independent, so many of you may not heed this advice. To you I say, good luck, and I hope you can dodge flying cookware. If this only serves to remind you that Mother’s Day is this weekend, then I’ve done all that I can.

For the rest of you who are wise enough to listen to advice from a guy who’s been through the Mother’s Day school of hard knocks, here are some categorized gift suggestions and advisable parameters. You’re welcome.


Starting Point: Chocolates
Recommended: Chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne
Avoid: Asking her to make you chocolate chip cookies

Starting Point: Flowers from the garden
Recommended: Large, expensive flower bouquet with balloons
Avoid: Suggesting that she weed the garden while you catch a nap


Starting Point: You and the kids clean the house
Recommended: A whole-house deep cleaning by a professional cleaning service
Avoid: A new bottle of Windex with a bow on it

Starting Point: Hand-made cards from the kids
Recommended: Hand-made cards and hand-made gifts from the kids
Avoid: Asking her to watch the kids while you golf

Health and Beauty

Starting Point: Coupon for massage at the gym
Recommended: Swedish massage at luxury day spa
Avoid: Telling her that if she rubs your feet you’ll make it worth her while *nudge, wink*

Starting Point: A home pedicure kit
Recommended: Manicure/Pedicure appointment at luxury day spa
Avoid: Suggesting that if she would simply stop buying purple blocks of pumice and metal rasps to sand down her feet with, the calluses would eventually just form and protect the skin underneath, thereby eliminating the need for any future foot maintenance, using your own gnarly, callused feet as a helpful example


Starting Point: Gift certificate to Macy’s
Recommended: Gift certificate to Tiffany & Co.
Avoid: Gift certificate to AutoZone

Starting Point: Perfume
Recommended: Gift certificate to her favorite cosmetics counter and a shopping day with her girlfriends
Avoid: Deodorant

Food and Entertainment

Starting Point: Breakfast in bed
Recommended: Champagne brunch at her favorite restaurant
Avoid: Suggesting that if she doesn’t want to make everyone breakfast, you could all go out to The Waffle Barn

Starting Point: Taking her to the movies
Recommended: Tickets to the theatre, complete with a romantic dinner
Avoid: Tickets to the demolition derby… for just you and only some of the kids… and your dad

Starting Point: A nice bottle of wine
Recommended: A membership to the wine club at her favorite vineyard
Avoid: Box of Franzia White Zinfandel from Chevron     

That should be enough to get you started. Good luck, men!

None of this stuff is in our budget this year, so I’m not actually going to do any of these. I’m just making her a quick card with some printer paper and crayons. And maybe I’ll get her a nice three-dollar box of Riesling.

She’ll love that, right?

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!