Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Verizon Wireless

Dear Verizon Wireless,

I fell in love with you all over again last week. I’ll admit, my love for you was waning a little, especially after our trip to Europe this summer. I brought you along to help with navigation and translation. Your translator function did great helping me order beers, and your map navigated us successfully across four countries and back, but I have to say, you were expensive.

You lured me in with your economical international voice and data plan, but then once we were actually in Europe, you kept charging me another thirty dollars every two days because my wife’s phone was using too much data. Your text messages were less than helpful. “We are charging you thirty dollars because this phone exceeded the data allowance” isn’t very useful when we have no idea what one phone was doing differently than another. A message more like “Tell your wife to stop playing Candy Crush until you get to Germany” would have been much more informative.

Europe aside, we had a great year with the new phones, but my love for you took a big hit a few weeks ago when my phone stopped being a phone. I guess at this point what I carry around in my pocket is tough to call a ‘phone’ anymore. It’s really an amazingly small television set that also has an amazingly good camera that also lets me read books, and read and send emails and texts, and allows me access to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and lets me order things and track them to my doorstep on Amazon Prime, and keeps track of my entire life with an amazing calendar feature, plays all my music, and lets me search literally the entire world’s collective store of information while I sit on my toilet, and also happens to have a phone feature.

I know some of the kids out there don’t even know or care that these things come with a phone feature anymore, but I’m over forty and still communicate with voice, so the phone part is still important to me. Especially since we got rid of our home phone last year. I know what you’re thinking – “What’s a home phone?” Never mind.

Anyway, my phone stopped being able to make calls without the person on the other end of the line sounding like I called a fax machine. I know what you’re thinking – “What’s a fax machine? And the other end of what line? What’s he talking about?” Never mind.

Frustrated, I arrived at your store at 10:01 A.M., which had opened at 10:00 A.M. I was fifth in line. I waited an entire ten minutes (I know, right?) before I was called to one of your space age-looking white oval desks and helped by your guy Jared. I explained the problem with my phone and tried to hand it to him. He didn’t want it. He just started typing on his handheld tablet.

“Do you have any kind of warranty on the device?”

Device? What happened to phone? “I didn’t purchase a warranty plan for this one. I bought an extended warranty for my wife’s device because she sits on it all the time. Hers works great, except in Europe.”


“Never mind. No, I don’t have an extended warranty.”

“OK, because this device only came with a one year warranty, and you’ve had it longer than that.”

Here we go. This is where you’re going to tell me I need to give you $400. I will end you and your hipster sideburns, Jared.

“No problem, though. We’re in open enrollment right now, so I can add a device protection plan to your account and get you a new device coming.”


Tap. Tap. Tap. “OK, your new device will arrive at your house tomorrow. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Uhhhhhh. No. I think that will do it. Thanks. By any chance, does Verizon have a health insurance branch?”


“Never mind. Have a great day!”

Sure enough, my replacement ‘device’ arrived the next day. I used Samsung Smart Switch just like Jared told me to do and it worked great. An hour later I was up and running with a new device, ready to proclaim my undying love for you from the mountaintops.

Sure, the replacement device shut itself off and rebooted a few times during the switch over, but I chalked that up to all the updating of apps and whatnot and so forth. It’s all very technical.

Then it kept shutting itself off and rebooting, and freezing up.

Hmm... This is actually starting to feel more like health insurance after all. My replacement device now makes great phone calls, but nothing else works right.

Yes, my replacement device is broken.

I read the fine print. The device you received may be a reconditioned Certified Like-New Replacement... I’m falling out of love with you again at this point. My original device worked fine when it was new. This is nothing Like-New.

Back to your store I went yesterday, making sure to arrive at 9:50. I was first in line when the door opened promptly at 10:00 A.M., and I was walking out the door at 10:06 with a second replacement device on its way. Fareed was faster than Jared, and his shoes and sweater were Verizon red. Jared was in all khaki and white. He’d better watch his step. Fast Fingers Fareed is gunning for top dog in Verizonville.

Triple-F has once again fanned the flame of my love for you, as my second replacement device arrived on my doorstep today.

I hope this one behaves Like-New, or you and Jared and Fareed and I are going to have to go to counseling.

Fingers crossed,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Seventh Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Here we are on letter number seven and I still have never heard back from you. I’m not expecting flowers and candy, but I haven’t even received so much as a short handwritten thank-you note. Nothing. Nada. I’m beginning to think that you guys don’t fully appreciate all the free business advice I’ve given you over the years.

Never fear. Because of my selfless humanitarianism, I will keep giving you helpful advice despite your apparent lack of gratitude.

I’m writing you this time to give you a friendly heads-up regarding spring pictures this year. And also to apologize again. I really don’t mean to keep sabotaging your efforts. Really!

First the heads-up. You are going to want to staff up for retakes again this year, and this time, unlike last spring pictures, it’s not entirely my fault. I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but you scheduled picture day for the Tuesday after our four-day Presidents weekend. At the morning assembly, out of umpteen hundred kids, I saw four that looked like they were dressed for picture day.

I’m not sure if any of you have school-age kids, but the first day back after a long weekend is a terrible time to schedule anything that a parent might need to remember. We’ve just spent every minute of every day with our children, for much, much longer than the natural forty-eight hour weekend window that God barely prepared us for in the first place. And the kids spent much, much longer with their siblings than normal, so they naturally fought and argued for what seemed like three hundred hours straight. And we were right there with them for the whole five hundred-hour argument. It was seven hundred hours of pure hell.

We weren’t planning for, or packing for, or paying attention to what was happening at school on Tuesday. We were just trying to get them there as fast as possible without having to justifiably murder one or all of them.

Now as you know, I couldn’t care less about spring pictures. It has become a source of amusement to me, really, to see how many pounds of unordered pictures and plastic trinkets you will send me of my three boys with sleep hair and food on their faces. You guys are hilarious. But I did see a number of students somewhat upset that their parents had forgotten it was picture day.

I passed one little girl on the way into school who was visibly upset. When I asked what was wrong she said, “Today is picture day and my mom forgot, and the spring pictures are the ones that go in the yearbook!”

I did my best to cheer her up by saying, “Our school has a yearbook?”

Maybe you guys can answer that question. Why do we have a yearbook for elementary school? That seems a lot like a graduation ceremony from preschool – just totally unnecessary. Yearbooks are for high school, and even then, they’re only marginally useful. The only time I ever looked at my high school yearbook after graduation was twenty years later before the reunion to try to remember who everyone was. And I won’t ever let my kids see it, because all the notes from my friends say stuff like “Party hearty with Bacardi!” We were soooo cool.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. You’re going to have a lot of retakes, and I need to apologize again, because some of them are my fault. We had a very similar art docent incident again this year, as we did last year. Like I told you last year, I don’t schedule these things myself, and I don’t choose the art lessons. It’s all just crazy coincidence, I swear.

Last year we had a very unfortunate chalk and glue art lesson with Son Number Two’s class right before they went to get their pictures taken. This year, I’m happy to report, there was no chalk or glue. It was worse, actually... The art lesson that – again, completely coincidentally – occurred on picture day this year involved securing small pieces of brightly-colored tissue paper to a white background using liquid starch.

As it turns out, when you soak tissue paper in liquid starch, the colors tend to bleed out, creating a multi-hued industrial-strength dye that stains the skin. If you examine the photos you took of Son Number Three’s class yesterday, you’ll probably notice that over half of them had managed to touch at least one spot on their face with their liquid starch/tissue paper dye hands. Sorry about that. We scrubbed as best we could, but chemistry fought back and won. Maybe you’ll have better luck with Photoshop than we did with paper towels.

Also, we learned that starched tissue paper scraps bond almost permanently to second graders’ hair.

Again, very, very sorry.

Regretfully, and again, completely unintentionally,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Glass Man Card

My wife and I just went to see The Revenant, which is a movie that examines the age-old question: How long can frozen snot stay attached to a man’s beard in South Dakota in the winter? Spoiler Alert: The answer is six weeks.

While on a fur trapping expedition in 1823, Hugh Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear. He survived the attack, even helping to kill the bear in the process, apparently because he was the manliest mountain man who has ever lived. He is probably still alive. Because no one on earth was even a tenth of the man he was, his hunting partners ended up being less than honorable. They left him for dead without any weapons or food. They didn’t even leave him a car or a cell phone, both of which would have been super-helpful.

Was Hugh Glass just going to give up and die? Of course not. He can’t be killed. He just blew some snot onto his manly mountain man beard, which immediately froze since it was minus three thousand degrees for the entire movie, set his own broken leg, and crawled back home wrapped in the skin of the same bear that tried to kill him. That’s right. Suck it, bear. Not only did you not kill me, but now you’re dead and I’m going to wear you home.

He crawled two hundred miles back to Fort Kiowa just to kill the guy who left him for dead. Nowadays we’d complain if we had to crawl twenty feet to hurt a guy’s feelings. Two hundred miles! I wouldn’t even drive two hundred miles to seek revenge. At mile thirty I’d pull off at a burger place and decide to forget the whole thing.

Speaking of food, I was struck by the irony of my comfy modern surroundings while I watched Hugh Glass show the world what manly really looks like. We saw the movie at Studio Movie Grill, which is a new theater in our town that serves you real food and drinks during the movie. You get a tiny little table in front of your plush leather seat, complete with a little red call button for your server. It’s wonderful, but it was a strangely luxurious setting for such a harsh movie.

As I watch Glass try to stay alive by eating a rancid piece of rotten sinew off a decaying buffalo carcass, I push my little red call button to signal my server that I need more sour cream for my Loaded Potato Skins.

Glass tries to tend to the gaping claw hole in his neck and the exposed ribs on his back. Our seats are too close to the screen, and I shift in my puffy leather recliner because my neck is getting a little sore from looking up.

Glass has trouble laying down in the snow to drink from the freezing river because of the hole in his neck. I spill a little of my delicious Fat Tire Amber Ale. I push the little red button and my server brings me some extra napkins while Glass cauterizes his neck wound with gunpowder.

Glass is only wearing animal skins and keeps ending up in rivers, having to crawl back out of the thirty-two-degree water to lay in the snow. My jeans have a little beer on them from the spill, and it’s wet on my leg. I’m annoyed. I complain to my wife.

More snot and drool freeze to Hugh’s beard as he struggles to stay warm in a blizzard by stripping naked and sleeping inside a dead horse. I put my hand into my sweatshirt pocket for a while, because the ice-cold beer glass is making it a little chilly.

Glass manages to chase some wolves away from a kill and throws up while trying to force down some raw buffalo liver. My fries don’t come with the side of ranch I ordered. I push the red button forcefully, perturbed.

Glass stumbles into Fort Kiowa through three feet of snow on a crutch made from a tree branch. I remember how the only spaces left were at the far end of the parking lot when we got to the theater and consider ro-sham-bo-ing my wife to see who has to go get the car.

The whole experience reminded me of the time I was reading a book about Navy SEALs and I got a paper cut. I tried to be tough, but paper cuts really sting.

I left the theater feeling soft and weak, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I think the story of Hugh Glass might even cause some Navy SEALs to reevaluate their man cards.

Oh, well. Different times. Maybe I’d have been as tough as him if I was born in the early 1800s.


I sure wish my wife would hurry up with the car. It’s really chilly out here.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Don't Suck

Our elementary school starts each day at the morning assembly with a motivational quote by someone notable, read to the whole school by one of the students. I enjoy the tradition, but I think a few of the quotes might be a little lofty in their goals.

Now, I realize that this is the greatest country in the world, and as such, our educational system needs to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, but when I hear my three boys being regaled with quotes about changing the world, I often can’t shake the thought that fifteen minutes earlier I was yelling at them to get out the door and they were ignoring me and rolling around on the living room carpet trying to fart on each other.

I’m just saying, some of the quotes might be shooting a little high, that’s all.

I believe I have found a more realistic goal for America’s youth. I saw a guy jogging the other day, and he was wearing a T-shirt with two words written on the back. It said, “DON’T SUCK,” and I immediately adopted his shirt slogan as my new mantra.

I think in a way, DON’T SUCK has always been my unofficial motto. When I sit back and reflect on it, it’s what I’m really trying to do with my life. I may strive for success or even greatness in this little area or that little endeavor, but striving for greatness is tiring. Most days I just don’t have the energy for it, and I have certainly never had the energy or the internal fire to strive for greatness on a large scale. Most days I’m just trying not to suck. Yes indeed, DON’T SUCK guides my life.

DON’T SUCK guides our parenting philosophy as well, both in how we try to conduct ourselves as parents, and what we try to impart to our children. We’re certainly not awesome as parents, but every day we get out of bed and at least try not to suck at it. Some days are better than others; some days we’re the "nutritionally balanced and healthy three-course dinner that everyone thinks is delicious" parents, knocking it out of the park, and other days we’re the “at least we had milk for the dinner cereal” parents, just barely managing not to suck. Call us for free advice!

We have told our children time and time again they can be whatever they want to be. They’re not blowing my hair back just yet, but that’s OK. So far, it seems the first one wants to be an inventor who’s not required to move a lot. Or a paleontologist who is also allowed to sit for extended periods of time. The second one is uncertain, but wants to make sure that no matter what he chooses, everyone else around him will do everything his way. I’m thinking something in government - maybe a dictator. The third one has given us absolutely no clear idea of a career destination other than wanting to scream out everything he says at ninety decibels. Maybe a punk band’s lead singer? Time will tell.

No matter what direction they take, my advice to them will remain the same. Just don’t suck. You don’t have to be the best at everything. You don’t even have to be the best at anything. Like Judge Smails so wisely told Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, the world needs ditch diggers too. If you have that internal drive to be great at something, then great. It’s great to be great. Work hard and go get it! But in everything you do - whether it’s something you want to do, like to do, need to do, or have to do – the baseline remains the same: DON’T SUCK.

I’m thinking of writing a parenting book.

In an effort to be helpful (in other words, to not suck), I suggested my new motto as an obvious addition to the elementary school morning quote pool. I even pointed out that many of the current quotes are so long the kids have to bring the paper up with them to read them off. DON’T SUCK could be easily memorized by your average elementary schooler in just a few short days.

Seems like a no-brainer to me, but the principal hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I can’t figure out why.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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