Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I'm Drawing a Red Line on Misbehavior

I read an article in the Sacramento Bee the other day. For those of you not from the greater Sacramento area, the Sacramento Bee is our pretend newspaper. For those of you under the age of twenty-five, a newspaper is how roughly six hundred remaining subscribers in the country still get their daily information. It’s words printed on paper and usually has nothing to do with the Kardashians or Jay Z and Beyonce. I know, right?

The article was about how the Sacramento Regional Transit folks were planning to “ward off loiterers and fare cheats” at the train stations. Like so many other things about the “big city” of Sacramento, it seems that the RT system is just a Fisher-Price version of the real thing.

The plan? They’re going to draw red lines on the ground.

It seems that the light rail stations in and around the greater Sacramento area have become rife with loiterers, skateboarders, homeless people, drug dealers, and general miscreants, none of whom have ever bothered to purchase a ticket for the train. This has led to a revenue shortfall, which has led to budget cuts, which has led to some serious outside-the-box thinking from the RT muckety-mucks.

The area inside the new red lines “will be designated as a ‘Paid Fare Zone,’ where smoking, bike riding, skateboarding, and open containers of alcohol are prohibited.” It seems, after reading the article, that painting the red lines on the ground and putting up signs was found to be a significantly cheaper solution than actual fences and turnstiles.

I’m not making this up.

The payoff quote from Sacramento RT’s new red line visionary – “We want to start that process of getting people to think of our stations requiring fares.”

Yes, I guess that would be good. And I think a line on the ground – especially the “we really mean business” color red – is a great place to start. I can’t wait to read how this “solution” works out. If the Sacramento Bee stays in print long enough, I look forward to the follow-up article.

Here on the outer edges of the greater Sacramento Metropolitan Region, we have no trains. We have a few buses, though. I see them every once in a while cutting me off to get back into traffic after loading on another passenger to bring their total ridership into the low single digits. While we might not be cool enough to have any trains out here in Rocklin, I am still adopting Sacramento RT’s visionary light rail station policies into my parenting strategy.

I am immediately implementing the painted-line-on-the-ground system for a number of different trouble areas with my children. Son Number Two and Three, for instance, are much like oil and water. Or fire and ice. Or incredibly annoying to be around together - however you want to look at it. I have already painted an orange line around our entire house, designating the area inside the line to be an argument and whining-free zone. That should solve that issue.

Spills and generally eating like wolves has been another trouble spot, so I’ve painted a yellow line around the entire kitchen and dining area, designating it a spill and mess-free zone. Problem solved.

Proper aim and location of urine is always an issue near the toilets, so I’ve painted a blue line on all the toilet rims, designating the area outside the lines as a pee-free zone. If the lines are ever green, we’ll know there’s been a violator.

Getting the three boys to stay on task at homework and piano practice time has always been a major challenge, but not anymore! The purple lines around the piano and kitchen table have successfully designated them as slack-free zones. We’ll be laser-focused now!

Barefoot carpet Lego injuries have continued to plague our household, but the gray line I painted across the doorway to the game room has now designated the rest of the house as a Lego-free zone. Happy feet!

And lastly, as our children get older, we’re letting them have more freedom to roam during play time. They range up and down our long street with their friends, but we’ve yet to let them head over to the park by themselves, or down to the store. I know this is a concern for all of us, not just the folks in my neighborhood, so I’ve broadened my vision on this one. I’ve contacted the City of Rocklin, and we’re currently talking about a plan to get a red line painted around the entire city to designate all of Rocklin as a creep-free zone.

The idea was well received at City Hall, and they’re currently talking to the folks in Sacramento to make sure they get the line specifications correct. No sense painting a line around an entire city and then finding out it’s useless because it’s the wrong width or the wrong shade of red to keep the bad guys out.

Thanks, Sacramento RT, for all the great ideas. Keep up the good work over there. I can’t wait to ride one of your new, safer, cleaner trains one of these days.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain the lines again to my kids. They seem to still be arguing even though they’re clearly inside the orange argument-free zone. I don’t understand how that’s possible.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

We Interrupt this Column to Roof in a Drawl

I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to write this column this week. I have to be up on my roof.

Have you ever been dumb enough to start a project? Yeah, me too.

The whole thing started when my wife said she wanted to put ceiling fans up under our patio roof.

That shouldn’t take me too long to do, I foolishly thought.

Then over this winter we noticed that a considerable amount of water actually makes its way through the patio roof and down onto the patio when it rains. We hadn’t noticed it before, because prior to this winter it hadn’t rained in California in twenty-eight years.

Now, I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I know very little about how electricity works, but I am confident that water leaking down into a ceiling fan is bad for both the fan and the electricity inside the fan. And the electrons connected to my inside house wires from the outside fan wires. It could all end up being bad for my toaster and my refrigerator. It’s very technical.

All I know is life without toast is one thing, but warm beer is completely uncalled for. I needed to get that leak under control.

So, last week I was dumb enough to go up and tear off the old shingles. Once I was up there a thought occurred to me. The leaking might have something to do with the fact that the patio roof has almost no slope at all. That might also be why (at least as of this writing) I haven’t fallen off of it yet – a fact that my wife points out, rightfully, is amazing. Fingers crossed for more of that success!

Right after I was done removing the old roof, the full realization of the fact that I now had to install a new one hit me. As with so many other things in my life, I’m great with the demolition, but unfortunately, a little light in the rebuilding skills department. (Food, cars, etc.)

This should be no problem, though. I’m fairly confident that I know almost enough of the basic principles behind roofing to be ninety percent sure I’m going to get most of it right. I’m a little under the gun, however, since we have rain forecasted for Friday. So I need to put this column on hold this week and get to work.

(By the way... Does anyone out there know a lot about installing asphalt shingles on a low-slope roof? Please PM me. Asking for a friend.)

There has been a lot of measuring, calculations, research, and purchasing so far. For instance I know that to roof a 30’x14’ patio cover with Owens Corning Desert Tan asphalt three-tab shingles, you’ll need to buy approximately 420 square feet of shingles, or in terms of weight, 28,000 pounds worth. My back hurts.

And I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos, but they’re mostly Southern good ol’ boys up on a roof filming a how-to video with a cell phone about drip edge flashing and shingle starter rows. Between the thick drawls and the phones picking up the wind noise, not all of them were helpful, but I did end up with a lot of good info on what’s hot in camouflage baseball hats these days.

And I have a lot of new words in my vocabulary now, most of which I can say in both Standard English and Southern-American English, thanks to the YouTube videos.

Drip edge, hips, valleys, gables, eave edge flashing, rake edge flashing, asphalt underlayment, standard and increased overlap, ice dams, wind lift, wind-lifting dam ice flashing rake underlayment, etc. I have no idea what any of it means, but I really sound like I know what I’m talking about now, especially when I say it in my Southern drawl while wearing my new camo baseball cap.

So I should be all set. Sorry about the column this week, but the rain’s a’ comin’, y’all.

If you need me, I’ll be on the roof, probably swearing in my new drawl. By the way, don’t tell anyone about this in case I’m supposed to have a permit or something.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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 13, 2016

Your Tax Dollars at Play

Your taxes are due in two days. Don’t blame me, I voted against them.

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 of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2015 tax dollars are headed:

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee (motto: The slowest moving agency in the business.)

Bureau of the Public Debt (motto: Yep, still going up.)

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (motto: It goes in the upper right corner, dammit!)

Delaware River Basin Commission (motto: Getting paid to stare at water since 1961.)

Economic Adjustment Office (motto: Please be patient. We’re redistributing your money as fast as we can.)

Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (motto: Just kidding, we have no standards.)

Government Ethics, Office of (motto: We can’t even fit all the irony into one building.)

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

Innovation and Improvement Office (motto: We’ll be with you shortly after we work to innovate and improve our internal processes.)

Joint Fire Science Program (Seriously, bro, it’s not about weed. It’s totally about science, man, we totally swear. And no, you can’t come in. Unless you have brownies. Or chips, Or pizza.)

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

Minor Outlying Islands (Yes, we consider Hawaii to be minor. That’s why we’re headquartered here.)

National Ocean Service (motto: Now offering two oceans for your convenience, one on each side of the country.)

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

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Just kidding, we spent it all. Here’s a third of what you were promised. We borrowed it from social security. Don’t tell them!)

Research and Innovative Technology Administration (There might be some overlap with the Innovation and Improvement Office folks. We’re currently working to innovate and improve our process of checking on that.)

Susquehanna River Basin Commission (motto: We just steal all the Delaware River guys’ notes and do whatever they do.)

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (We changed our name from “Taxpayer Advocate Service” because too many people thought we would actually help. You’re still screwed.)

U.S. Arctic Research Commission (Who we are: “The U.S. Arctic Research Commission develops and recommends a national Arctic research policy.” I am not making that up.)

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

Weights and Measures Division (motto: There are six firkins in a hogshead.)

(It bothers me that we don’t have K, Q, X, Y, or Z agencies. I really don’t think our government is applying itself here. We’re only five more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head, I can suggest the Kentucky Derby Oversight and Fairness Commission, the Quicksand and other Swamp Dangers Mitigation Exploratory Committee, the Xylophone Standardization Council, the Yo-Yo Injury Prevention Task Force, and the Zeppelin and Lighter-than-Aircraft (Unmanned) Aviation Standards Advisory Board. Get on that, will you Washington?)

As far as the current agencies go, 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 around $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 one hundred seventy-five days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work twelve 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 twenty-four minutes. If we were super-generous with the math and said they work twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five 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 $8500 of your money on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

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

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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 6, 2016

Fine Portraiture

My wife got an email the other day that she promptly forwarded to me. Two lines into the text and I was hot with anger, reliving a confounding scenario from a few years back - The time we had family pictures taken. Excuse me. The time we had “fine portraiture” done of our family. I won’t tell you the name of the fine portraiturist, but his initials are TB, like tuberculosis.

Getting family pictures taken is normally a happy time... for the mom. It’s usually an intolerable pain for the husband and children, but a happy time for the mom... until everyone starts griping. Then it’s an annoying time for the mom who can’t figure out why her family can’t just take ten damned minutes out of their little lives to appreciate the fact that she worked very hard to set all this up, not to mention how hard she works every damn day for all you ungrateful little snot-nosed punks, and can’t everyone just shut the hell up and smile?

That’s why family pictures always show forced smiles. Because all the smiles are forced.

This particular fine family portraiture session was nothing like that. It was magical. TB, the portraiturist, was engaging and funny, great with the kids, and he took the best pictures of our family that have been and probably will ever be taken. We look so good it’s actually hard to believe it’s really us. When we were done he even gave us twenty bucks to go get the kids some ice cream. It was the best picture taking experience ever, even though the made-up word 'portraiture' bugs the crap out of me almost more than 'artisanal.'

Then three weeks later my wife and I went back to look at the pictures. We got a babysitter because they told us specifically not to bring the kids. Hmm...

We had booked this particular fine portraiture studio for only one reason: We ended up with a $500 gift certificate from them at our elementary school charity auction. It consisted of a $250 sitting fee credit and a $250 credit toward the portraiture. It was a sweet deal for us, because my wife had helped with the auction and not all of the gift certificates had been bid on, so we ended up with one for free. Score! We thought...

My wife had even made a trip over to the portraiture studio to have a pre-session wardrobe meeting, which I thought was ridiculous, but she thought was classy. At that meeting they collected a $100 deposit from her that would be “fully refundable if not used.”

“No problem,” she thought. “We have $250 in credit toward our pictures. We’ll get the $100 back.”

They even gave us a postcard-sized piece of cardboard that we were supposed to tape on the wall where we thought we wanted our pictures to hang. We took a picture of it with our phone to send to them. With that cardboard marker as a reference for their computer software, they were able to show us a virtual picture of our new fine portraiture hanging on our own walls. I was already excited about the cool technology.

We arrived to look at our pictures and TB was nowhere to be found. We met with a fancy woman whose name was either Candi or Barbie. I can’t remember which. She sat down at her expansive oak desk and fired up the projector while I ate complimentary chocolate chip cookies and drank complimentary water from the classy little short plastic bottle. The projector came to life and there were all of our shining faces on the screen, arranged magically above our crappy upright piano. A good-sized family shot was surrounded by 8x10 individual pictures of the kids and a slightly larger one of me and my wife and in a loving embrace.

My God, we look amazing!

Then CandiBarbie started talking about prices. The family shot is just $700, and since you’re buying that, the 8x10’s which are normally $250 will be thrown in for only $200 each...

*record scratch*

“Hold on a second,” I said, utterly befuddled, as complimentary chocolate chip cookie crumbs fell from my open mouth. I did some rudimentary public school math in my head. “The wall you’re showing us costs over $1700?”


I looked over at my wife, and she was crying.

We will never own all these amazing pictures of our beautiful children, because TB the fine portraiturist does not sell the digital files. Just galactically overpriced canvas prints. Holy crap, we wasted so much of our time, and now this TB SOB and his fancy minion just made my wife cry. I’m pissed.

I hold my tongue for a minute while I calm down. CandiBarbie waits quietly behind her giant oak desk.

“OK,” I finally say. “Let’s concentrate on the family shot. Figuring in our deposit, we have $350 to work with. What is the largest size we can get for that?”

“A single 9x12,” says CandiBarbie.

Sounds totally reasonable. I started to ask my wife, “OK, is that a size that we can get an off-the-shelf frame for?”, but I stopped and asked CandiBarbie the question instead, since she was the portraiture expert in the room.

She looked me right in the eye and said, “You know, I’m really not sure.”

My wife’s teary eyes flared like an angry dragon. If she actually had the power to shoot flames from her eyes, CandiBarbie would have been a smoking pile of ashes on the floor behind a flaming oak desk.

Later, after we had extricated ourselves from their den of inequity, my wife clued me in on CandiBarbie’s apparent frame ignorance. “Their frame shop is right behind her office. That was going to be the next part of the sales pitch.”


In the end, we only paid $100, but if we’d walked in off the street with no “gift certificate,” that stupid little 9x12 piece of fine portraiture would have cost us $600.

Just wow.

The email my wife forwarded to me that brought back this wonderful memory, you ask? Apparently it has come time for old TB to retire from fine portraiture, and he’s now able to offer us all of our digital files on a CD for only $325.

Hmm.. I think instead of taking him up on that amazing limited time offer, I’ll just take a picture of our family portraiture and email it back to him. I nailed it to the boys’ bathroom wall with a roofing nail. Off center.

"Dear TB and CandiBarbie, Thanks for the great offer, but we’ll have to pass. We’re thrilled with our $600 single 9x12. FYI – no commercial frames available for this size.”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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!