Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Classless Action

Burlington Coat Factory has wronged me. Apparently. At least, a law firm just sent me a letter telling me they did.

It seems that at some point during the period of time from February 14, 2010 through January 28, 2015 I used a credit card to purchase something at a California Burlington Coat Factory, and when I did, those no-good bastards requested my telephone number, which obviously violated California Civil Code 1747.08.

So, much to my relief, a bench trial was held in the Orange County Superior Court from January 12th through January 28th of this year, of which I was an unknowing member of a class action lawsuit brought against those lousy, four-flushing, phone number-collecting coat monkeys.

Justice was swiftly served on April 14th, and I and the other hapless victims of this heinous coat monger’s phone number collection spree have been made whole again. The options, however, for our restitution from this (anywhere from one to five year) period of living hell are unfortunately fraught with more peril.

We have been given two choices to compensate us for the mental anguish this unbearable situation has caused:
1) Receiving a cash award voucher for ten dollars, redeemable at any Burlington Coat Factory retail store for cold, hard cash.
2) A merchandise voucher for twenty-five dollars, good at any Burlington Coat Factory location in the United States.

What the hell kind of settlement is that? Either way, you are forcing me back into the lion’s den. Who knows what the BCF will try to take from me next. The last time I allegedly went in there they made off with my entire ten-digit telephone number for goodness sake. What’s going to happen next time?

They might get a hold of my four-digit house number. They might even get my five-digit zip code, or worse yet, they might use sorcery and get my nine-digit zip code, with the extra four digits that I don’t even know.

And what if I have something shipped from them? They might gain complete access to my twenty-two-digit tracking number. The horror.

If I feel like I can muster enough nerve to brave the terrifying BCF long enough to collect my just reward, I’ll need to sign and return my “Election of Class Award” form, stating under penalty of perjury that I actually made the transaction, and the phone number I gave those jackals belongs to me.

Hmm... It’s within the realm of possibility that I went to Burlington Coat Factory at some point in the last five years, although I don’t remember it. But seriously, sometimes I don’t remember what I had for breakfast by the time I eat lunch.

The phone number on the other hand... I have never seen this phone number in my entire life. And I don’t go around making up fake phone numbers. My wife did that the first time we met, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it.

And the class action notice was sent to an address that I haven’t lived at in seven years, so why did they have that as my address from five or fewer years ago?

Something stinks...

Unfortunately, this is not the first class action lawsuit I’ve been Shanghaied into. There was the time I owned a Toyota at some point during a ten-year period, and as a result was sent a check for $16.27 to compensate me for the carmaker’s wrongdoing of some kind.

Or the time I got a check in the mail for $0.51 from a soda company lawsuit, because I may or may not have bought soda at one point in my life, and the soda company was blamed for that in some way.

There have been others, and I never cashed any of the checks, and I’m not about to make the nice folks over at Burlington Coat Factory “pay” for something I don’t care about and they probably didn’t do anyway. They sell clothes. I’m just fine with that and don’t feel they need to be punished in any way for doing so.

What I want to know is can I start a class action lawsuit against class action lawyers, for illegally collecting, storing, and using my personal data - or it seems in this case, simply making it up - to force good businesses to pay for the opportunity to send me pennies while the lawyers themselves reap billions and billions of dollars from them, fundamentally driving up the price of every good and service in the United States of America?

Probably not.

It’s nice to have a dream, though.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Being Santa

All three of our boys still believe in Santa. Son Number One just turned eleven. Either we’re really good, or he’s not that bright.

It doesn’t snow where we live. They never question the probably massive coefficient of friction between metal sleigh runners and a dry concrete tile roof, or the amount of sparks and noise that would occur on a hard landing. We have a glass-encased gas fireplace with a chimney that’s only as big around as a soda can. They never question the logistics of his entry. They leave milk and cookies out in front of the glass for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. The milk and cookies always disappear, and there are muddy reindeer hoof prints on our front walkway and little bits of chewed-up carrots on the lawn every year. They never question how or why the reindeer come down to the lawn to eat, or what happens to the sleigh when they do.

Now, don’t misunderstand. We’re no longer in the starry-eyed new parent phase of trying to “keep the magic alive” for our “precious boys.” Frankly, they’re really not that precious anymore. At this point it’s more of a contest of wills. A Christmastime Mexican standoff between them and us. How long can we continue to fool them?

The boys of Team Slightly Skeptical are starting to question a few things, but so far we parents at Team North Pole are holding our own. Having the kids help with household chores backfired on us a few weeks ago when Son Number Two found the hidden roll of “Santa wrapping paper” behind our bedroom curtain while he was vacuuming. He is by far the sneakiest of the three boys, so he didn’t tell us. Luckily, his best friend’s mom overheard the conversation the next day as Number Two was telling his buddy, “So if Santa’s gifts show up wrapped in that paper, we’ll know.”

We bought a new roll of different paper the other day. Ha! Take that, pal. Score one for Team North Pole.

Last night I was helping my wife wrap the gifts from Santa with the new paper. By helping I of course mean I was on the couch watching TV and giving her moral support and occasional helpful tips. Santa had gotten two of the boys bow and arrow sets, and my wife was getting ready to just wrap them up in their factory packaging.

“Shouldn’t we remove them from the box?” I suggested helpfully.
“Why?” she asked, with an annoyed tone that I just frankly do not understand.
“Because it would look a lot more like an elf-produced toy if we did.”
“OK, maybe so, but all the Legos say ‘Lego’ all over them.”
“Yeah, I told them a few years ago that Santa has an official licensing agreement with Lego.”
“Well played. Do you really think we need to unbox these, though? There’s so many zip ties.”
“I’m just saying. Son Number One is eleven. He might start noticing this kind of thing.”
“OK, are you planning on helping at all?”
“I just did, honey. You’re welcome... honey, holding scissors like that is unsafe... honey!”

The truth is, I’m not sure Son Number One would notice that kind of thing. Or he would simply choose to ignore it. He’s certainly getting a lot of pressure to ask questions from his fellow fifth-graders, but he remains loyal to Kris Kringle. I’m sure he’s in the minority of kids his age who still think a magical jolly fat man performs a flawless B&E on every single house in the world in less than twelve hours.

“A girl in my class doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but she believes in unicorns.”
“Well, son. I’m not sure what to tell either of you, then.”

So far, so good, though, but we had a major hiccup on the parental side of the standoff this year at the family Christmas party. The boys already “know” that not every Santa at the mall is the real Santa – they are Santa’s helpers, hired by the big man himself, so he can stay at the North Pole and supervise the elf toy production. I swear, kids will believe anything as long as they’re getting presents. Anyway, at the last minute I had to step into the big red suit and be Santa for the kids at the party.

Hmm... Can’t disappoint the other kids and not have a Santa, but this is really going to throw a wrench at our story. Our boys will definitely know it’s me...

That voice sounds familiar... and why does Santa’s breath smell like smoked meat and craft beer? That’s what Daddy’s smells like. Hey, wait a minute...

*beard gets pulled down, little children crying*

We needed to avoid that.

“Huddle up, boys. We’ve got a problem. Santa just called and told us his helper who was supposed to be here tonight got stuck in traffic on the 101 and can’t make it. Santa asked me to fill in, and sent the suit and beard over via Amazon Prime. The UPS guy just delivered them. So you guys need to do an amazing job of pretending for all these little kids who don’t know about the whole Santa’s helper thing, OK?”

“No problem, dad. It’s so cool that you got to talk to Santa on the phone!”

Not one of them asked to see the Caller ID. Booyah! Chalk another year up for Team North Pole.

Merry Christmas,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The 2015 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve done it again this year, haven’t you? You waited until the last minute and now here we are, just a few days from Christmas and you don’t have your Christmas letter written, the online shopping you’ve been putting off now won’t arrive in time, and you’ve let yourself run dangerously low on peppermint schnapps.

You fool! There’s no time. Or, is there? Well, I can’t really help you with the shopping or the holiday liqueurs, but I’ve got you covered on the Christmas letter. Yes, once again, ol’ Smidgey Claus is here to pull your chestnuts out of the fire.

I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you crank out your 2015 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. Consider it my Christmas present to you. (I’m fond of cash, in case you were wanting to reciprocate in some small or hopefully large way...)

Christmas 2015

We had another amazingly (blessed/crappy) year here at the _____________ house. I can't count the amount of times this year I sat back and said (wow/damn), what a (wonderful/disappointing) life this is.

Dad is still going (strong/sideways). He's completely retired now from day to day operations at his (company/chop shop), but still drops by occasionally to "check on" his new managers, usually ending up at the (golf course/strip club). He (knows/suspects) they're (managing/skimming from) his business (very well/regularly), even if he’s (hesitant/unable) to (admit/prove) it. Mom keeps telling him to let them (do their jobs/have it), and he just (laughs/drinks more). He built a (great business/shady criminal enterprise) over the years and I think he’s just (protective/worried) about (“his baby”/going back to prison).

Mom is still the same unstoppable (volunteer/drunk) she’s always been. Her (heart/propensity) to (serve/drink) always amazes us. She’s a (Godsend/pain) to so many. She’s still spending most of her time at the (orphanage/corner bar), and she loves (reading/singing) to the (children/juke box). The (kids/drunks) can’t (get enough of/stand) her. When she’s not there you’ll probably find her at the (children’s library/horse track) knee-deep in sorting (books/losing tickets), or at the (church food closet/liquor store) making sure the (homeless shelter/liquor cabinet) shelves stay stocked.

Sister recently (graduated/escaped) from (college/rehab). She earned her (degree/GED) in (criminal justice/county) over the last (four years/three to five months) and is now entertaining (a job offer/truckers) with (the FBI/her exotic dancing). Her (steady/shiftless) boyfriend (Paul/Stingray) says he’s waiting for (her decision/his Grandma’s welfare checks to run out) before he (accepts/looks for) a job. They are making plans to move (closer to each other/into a trailer) after the (holidays/door is replaced). We all think he’s very close to (proposing/bolting).

Brother has been climbing the (corporate ladder/walls) since his (huge promotion/ugly divorce) earlier this year. His wife and kids are (supportive/in Reno) despite his (long hours/repeated calls) and (travel schedule/threatening letters). His (love for them/ankle bracelet monitor) still keeps him home on the (weekends/couch), so he’s not missing the (kids’ sports/Price is Right). He’s (happy/depressed) about (being/not being) able to set his own schedule (for the most part/at all) since his (big promotion/court-mandated house arrest).

As for me, well, my little family is (thriving/imploding). I just switched to a new (firm/Taco Bell) here in town, and my new (commute/sour cream gun) is much easier to handle. I’m now in charge of the entire (west coast/sour cream section), so it’s a pretty (big/irrelevant) move for me. My wife has had another (wonderful/depressing) year as a (teacher/bartender) at the (kindergarten/Holiday Inn). Her (students/patrons) are always such a (blessing/bummer), and continue to fill her (heart/tip jar) with (joy/nickels). The kids are making us both (proud/crazy) with their (accomplishments/complaining). They are both (growing up/devolving) into little (adults/brats) so fast, every once in a while we just wish we could (freeze time/sell them). We know that’s not possible, but we wish it just the same.

As for you, well, our wish is that you have as many (blessings/sedatives) as we (do/need) this holiday season, and that you would share them with us soon.

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

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, December 9, 2015

Gentle Hygiene

This generation of kids is soft. They won’t ever know real pain and real fear like we did as kids. Or, at least, as I did as a kid. I’m not sure what your dental office visits were like, but as for me, well, let’s just say Clint Eastwood and I had the same dentist.

When I tell my kids that we’re going to the dentist for their six-month cleanings, they cheer. They actually want to go. What’s up with that? My mom had to start searching for me three hours before the appointment time, because I had paid my friends to hide me. Our neighborhood had an underground railroad system for kids with impending dental visits.

My kids get SpongeBob SquarePants on a 27-inch flat screen mounted directly over their chair. I had bad ‘70s and ‘80s elevator music that would be drowned out by the sound resonating inside my skull of pointy metal implements being scraped across my molars.

My kids get fluoride that tastes like bubble gum or birthday cake. My fluoride was raw fluoride, freshly mined from the earth, or wherever the hell fluoride comes from. It was probably siphoned from a 55-gallon drum out on the loading dock and applied directly to your teeth, and it damn-sure didn’t taste like birthday cake. It tasted like what a mixture of used antifreeze and charcoal lighter fluid probably tastes like, and you could only spit afterward. If you drank any water to wash the (most likely radioactive) substance out of your mouth, the whole process would be for nothing, and your teeth would surely fall out of your mouth the next day.

My kids get to pick a toy from the toy box after their little dental chair vacation, happily browsing through Frisbees and Matchbox cars while they enjoy the lingering taste of bubble gum.  We were handed a new toothbrush in a lobby that smelled like raw fluoride and fear.

When I say that I had the same dentist as Clint Eastwood, I’m not joking. Dr. Kincade and Clint were college roommates, and remained good friends. Clint would fly into our town for his dental visits. I never saw him in the office, but Dr. Kincade showed me his X-rays once. I think it goes without saying that Clint Eastwood has very manly-looking teeth.

I was a Clint Eastwood fan, so it was kind of cool to have the same dentist, but looking back on it, I’m not sure it was really optimum. Clint is obviously a total badass, and so you have to assume that a college roommate he would remain lifelong friends with would be kind of a tough guy, too. I didn’t think about it at the time, but do you really want your dentist to be a Clint Eastwood-style badass? No, you don’t.

I had a lot of cavities as a kid, despite the fact that my mom did not allow sugar within a hundred yards of our house. I was just born with cavity-loving teeth. (My wife’s teeth, on the other hand, are bulletproof. She doesn’t understand why I don’t like the dentist. I pray that our boys got her teeth.)

Being the rough-and-tumble dentist that he was, Dr. Kincade used to drill and fill my cavities without Novocain. My earliest memories of the dental chair are an awful acoustical version of some Carly Simon song being drowned out by a combination of the high-pitched whine of the drill and the searing pain in my jaw, as the smell of burning tooth enamel filled my nostrils. Can’t wait to get my free toothbrush after this!

I didn’t even know Novocain existed until one of my friends told me about it as he was working to keep me hidden before an office visit one day. When I asked Dr. Kincade if I could have some, he said, “Do you have a brother? I always thought you were the one who didn’t need it.” I guess I looked tougher than I really was. It’s still a toss-up as to which hurt worse, though – the Novocain shot or the drilling without it. Clint’s dentist had big needles.

Son Number One just had his first cavity, and he was in the chair watching SpongeBob last night getting it fixed. He was nervous beforehand, and I tried my best to reassure him that it would all be fine, but I think he could hear the uncertainty in my voice. Or maybe I told him about my cavities as a kid. Either way, he was nervous.

The first thing he got was a delicious swab of numbing gel that tasted just like cherry soda. Yummy. Then he braced himself for the Novocain shot that he actually never even felt. He happily watched SpongeBob’s hijinks down at the Krusty Krab as his cavity was drilled and filled in less than ten minutes.

“What was I nervous about, Dad? I didn’t even know he gave me the shot, and I never felt a thing.”
“I told you it would be fine.”
“I know. I don’t know why I didn’t believe you.”
“Probably because I didn’t believe me,” I muttered under my breath.
“Nothing, buddy. I’m glad it didn’t hurt. You did great”
“SpongeBob is funny. Can we get ice cream like you promised?”
“Clint and I never got SpongeBob.”
“Nothing, buddy. Let’s go get some ice cream.”

I’m telling you. This generation is soft.

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, December 2, 2015

Magnifying the Problem

A terrible thing happened over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. It’s almost too painful to talk about, but I feel as though I can use this column as a cautionary tale, so I will press on despite the mental anguish this is causing me.

I sustained an injury just before the holiday that set in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly end in a lifetime of trips to the doctor, and countless hours seeing a specialist.

The gruesome injury? Brace yourself. I got a tiny little splinter in my thumb.

I meant brace yourself for the fact that the initial injury was not really the problem. It’s how I handled the splinter extraction that will have me driving back and forth to the doctor for the rest of my days - if I can even drive myself, that is.

I will do my best to get through this story without any more sobbing. Here goes...

I had noticed the minuscule piece of wood in my thumb during the day, and it hadn’t really affected me much, so I ignored it. Later that night, however, the splinter was interfering with holding my beer comfortably, so I decided it had to go.

My wife had already gone to bed, so I was thoughtful enough to wake her up by thrashing around loudly in her sewing drawer, looking for a needle. She gladly jumped out of bed to help me find one. (Although she claims she thought I was a burglar and she was coming downstairs to defend her children and the house with her ninja karate skills, I know better. She loves to help me.)

Claiming that I didn’t need any more help once she had found me the perfect size needle, I sent her back to bed with a kiss on the cheek, and sat down at the kitchen counter to get to work.

There I was, in the dimly-lit kitchen, just before midnight, digging the splinter out of my thumb with a tiny sewing needle. It wasn’t working.

Then a thought occurred to me. A horrible thought. A thought that would unknowingly change the course of my life forever.

There’s something in that drawer over there that might help me get this thing out of my thumb. But should I use them? I never have for this kind of thing before, but they could help...

I thought about it for another few seconds. I should have just given up and gone to bed right then and there, but no. I am an idiot. Instead, I went to the drawer and opened it, eyeing the implements suspiciously.

Might as well give it a shot. I pulled them out and brought them back to the counter. Sitting back down, I positioned the devices over the splinter and then quickly snapped them into place.

“Ahhhhhrrrrrggghhh! Noooooo!!!” I screamed.

“What happened!?” came my wife’s concerned, almost panicked voice from the top of the stairs.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Sorry to wake you again. I’m just digging this splinter out of my finger and I put on your reading glasses to help me see it better. They help A LOT. When the hell did I get old?”

“About five years ago. Good night, old man.”


I can probably hold out a little longer, but eventually the eye doctor and I are going to be on a first-name basis.

They say it happens to everyone around forty. I guess that’s true, but up until that splinter I was sure it would never happen to me.


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!