Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Run, Walk, and Wheeze Rocklin

Every year in the early spring, or “monsoon season,” as it was known this year, I sign our three boys up for our elementary school’s running club. Every Tuesday for seven weeks after school, the boys run for an hour. It’s great! For me. I’m at home in my office getting work done. It’s probably not so great for them, because they have to run.

The program is run (literally) by our amazing husband and wife PTA president and vice president team. They are an awesome family, who all seem to be constructed out of rubber, steel, boundless energy, and good looks. I don’t know how they do it, but they’re definitely keeping up the average for all the rest of us slacker families at the school.

Each week when they send out the reminder email, they politely ask for any parental help we’re willing to offer. Here’s the thing - I don’t sign my boys up for running club every year for physical fitness reasons, or togetherness. They get plenty of exercise just beating each other up at home every day, and I get plenty of interaction with them breaking up the fights. I sign them up so I can get an extra hour in my office on Tuesdays. Since I’m two years behind on my current book, that’s a good thing.

So, I have yet to show up and help with running club. I am beginning to regret that decision.

You see, the whole point of running club (from the running club organizer’s point of view, anyway), is to lead up to the big final event - our town’s most popular annual foot race, the Run Rocklin. Every year so far, I have gone along with the charade that we were all just doing this to train for the 5K, and not to gain an extra hour in my day, so I’ve run the race with my boys. And every year so far, I have survived. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case this year.

The race is this Sunday, and as of today, I have logged exactly no training miles. None whatsoever. In year’s past, I have always put in some miles each week for four or five weeks before the race so I was at least prepared to not die mid-race.

This year, however, things kept getting in the way of my ability to train. Things like nachos. And beer. And naps. There was a lot on my plate. (Actually, there was nothing on my plate by the time I was done eating, but by then there was just no way to go for a run without turning my after-nachos beer into a foamy mess. And what happens when that beer is gone? You can’t run with a cooler. You see the problem.)

I’m already past the point of no return. It’s too close to race day. Any training runs I manage do now will only hurt me, since I’m about to turn forty-five years old. These days my muscle and joint recovery time from a thirty-minute run is about a month and a half.

The only problem is, I need to keep up the charade. I need to keep that extra hour in my week next year, so I need to run with my boys on Sunday.

Since a traditional training regimen with actual running is out of the question, I have cleverly devised a new plan. The Advil Training Regimen should be my ticket to surviving the race.

Here’s the plan:
I’ll start with a standard dose of the anti-inflammatory wonder drug today, taking 800mg on four-hour intervals. Tomorrow, I’ll up the dosage to 1500mg and slowly decrease the interval times, so by race day I’ll have worked up to 20,000mg every eleven seconds.

That should get enough ibuprofen in my system to allow me to walk under my own power back to the car after the race, and at least army-crawl out of bed on Monday morning. Sure, it may not be as wise as simply preparing for the race by actual training, but that ship sailed, my friend. Now we must get creative. And I really think this is the best course of action, because a side benefit of the Advil Training Regimen is that you can wash ibuprofen down with beer. That just makes good sense.

While compatibility with beer is a major plus, unfortunately, the ATR will do nothing to prevent my lungs from collapsing and coming out my nose if I try to keep up with Son Number Three. It will also do nothing to keep my heart from simply exploding directly out of the front of my chest and onto the pavement if I try to keep up with Son Number Two. Ibuprofen and beer can only do so much.

Luckily, I think I can still pace with Son Number One, who is not a fan of running at all, and will be complaining that 5K’s are stupid before, during, and after the race, especially on the hills.

I hear you, man.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to Costco for some more Advil. And beer.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Other Tree of Death

I have a standing Google search that sends daily content from the web to my inbox. Just standard keyword searches for stuff I’m interested in, like “Nachos” and “Beer plus Nachos” and “Bacon plus Beer plus Nachos”, etc.

One of the handful of searches unrelated to nachos is “Tree of Death.”

I keep the Tree of Death search active to keep track of my book by the same title, not necessarily because I love reading the frighteningly common news stories about someone being crushed to death by the tree that they themselves were either: a) standing next to while cutting down, or b) actually standing in while cutting down. (And newsflash: It’s always men. There has never been a single story about a woman cutting a tree down on top of herself. Us males are the only ones dumb enough to do that.)

The “Tree of Death” book is named after the fruitless pear tree in my front yard. It blooms beautiful white flowers every spring that smell like rotting meat. That wouldn’t be so bad, except we live in the house that the front yard is attached to. Also, these ridiculously stinky trees are in every front yard on our street, and every other street in our entire neighborhood. So, for two weeks in the spring, our whole world smells like a decaying rat at low tide. It’s magical.

I first wrote about my Tree of Death in 2011 - which is almost six years ago by my public school math - and I started the standing Google search shortly thereafter. So, how come, Mr. and Mrs. Google, you people are just now alerting me to another tree that is apparently widely known as El Arbol de la Muerte?

We speak Spanish here in California, but in case you don’t, el arbol de la muerte translated literally is “the tree of the death.” There is another tree of death out there, and I’m just now hearing about it. I’m not sure Google really works right all the time.

Daksha Morjaria from – tagline “Fodder for young minds” (perfect for me, since my brain never really grew up) – brings us the headline, Behold, The World's Most Dangerous Tree!

With its wide canopy of leaves, the majestic 50-feet tall manchineel tree that is native to the Caribbean, Florida, the northern coast of South America, Central America, and the Bahamas, looks particularly inviting, especially on a hot summer day. But you may be wise to heed the warning signs given that the deceptively innocuous tree holds the Guinness World Record for “the world’s most dangerous tree.”

(Exactly how young are the minds that is targeting if they are throwing out “deceptively innocuous” in the first paragraph? Even I had to look that up. Also, how many trees were in the running for the Guinness “most dangerous foliage” category? Anyway...)

The deadliness begins with the sweet-smelling fruit that is often found strewn on the sandy beaches where the trees grow.

Apparently, if you even take a single bite of the fruit, your throat tightens up to the point of you almost dying, and you stay that way for about eight hours, as long as you don’t die. If you die, you stay that way a little longer.

David Nellis, author of “Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean,” says the manchineel fruit, aka "beach apple," can also result in abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding, and digestive tract damage. However, the expert says the symptoms are temporary, and rarely result in death.

Bleeding? From where? And “temporary” digestive tract damage? Hmm... That all sounds great and everything, but I’ll just have a regular non-beach apple instead. Those rarely result in death either, and have none of the other fun side effects.

The tree’s thick and milky white sap that oozes out of its leaves and bark is equally dangerous. According to Nellis, contact with the skin can lead to symptoms that range from blisters to rash, headaches, and respiratory problems. The researcher says exposure to the eye can even cause "temporary painful blindness." Given that the sap’s most dangerous toxin, phorbol, is highly water soluble, experts advise not using the tree for shade during a rain shower, as raindrops carrying the diluted sap could easily scald your skin.

Blinding and skin-scalding sap. Yowza. (Side note: “Blinding Sap” would be a great name for a rock band.)

And can we talk for a minute about the fact that there are apparently enough poisonous plants and animals in this region to fill a four hundred and sixteen-page book? I don’t care how nice your weather is, Miami. You can keep it, along with your poisonous, scalding, blinding trees. And your alligators, which are not poisonous, so they’re not even in the book!

Novices planning to chop down the tree and use the wood for a beach bonfire should be aware that just inhaling the sawdust and smoke could burn their skin, eyes, and lungs! It is no wonder that Spanish-speaking cultures refer to the manchineel as arbol de la muerte, or tree of death.

The tree of death. Six years! Where were you on that one, Google?

And, unless we’re talking about castaways here, who goes to the beach and chops down one of the beach trees for a bonfire?

Beach cop: Where’d you get that tree in your fire?
You (standing on stump holding axe): Uh... we brought it from home.
Beach cop: Hmm... OK, good luck. Make sure you stand in the smoke. It’s great for your skin.

The tree’s sturdy wood is very popular with Caribbean carpenters who have learned to neutralize its poisonous sap by drying the bark in the sun. In Central and South America, the locals use the bark to treat body swelling caused by injury and inflammation and the dried fruit as a diuretic.

This tree grows on the beach. It’s already in the sun. How do these wily Caribbean carpenters cut el arbol de la muerte down without getting their skin and lungs scalded by the vicious, blinding sap and sawdust? And as far as using the tree of death for medical purposes – two words, Central and South Americans: Rite Aid.

This manchineel tree sounds downright scary, but do you know what the article didn’t mention about it? The smell. If it smelled awful, they would have said that. In fact, the poisonous fruit is described as “sweet-smelling.” Dead rat is not sweet-smelling.

And I never hang out under my tree in the front yard. I have a patio in the backyard, where I can still smell my nasty tree, but my patio cover never drips scalding sap on me, so I’m good there.

If I must have a Tree of Death in my front yard, the Caribbean Arbol de la Muerte is actually sounding a lot better than the one I currently have, as long as I don’t eat the fruit and I don’t hang out under it.

Shouldn’t be an issue. I think I’ll make the switch.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go gas up the chainsaw. Does anyone know the phone number for Florida?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health - Repost

Every year there is an obligatory news story about how some state legislator has a bill ready to end the ridiculous time change. I am still here holding my breath. I guess maybe it’s the same guy who's in charge of balancing the budget and managing our water supply and fixing the roads and stuff. He’s probably busy not getting any of that done either. Anyway, here’s what I had to say about the time change a few years ago:

Dear People in Charge of Daylight Savings Time,
Stop it. (Oh, and bite me.)

I would actually print and mail that letter if I had any idea where to send it, but it still wouldn’t do any good. Not because of its surly and abrupt tone, but because even if you put it directly into the hands of the person in charge, they still work for the government. They either don’t know they are in charge of it, or they will say, “We have to take that to committee.” Nothing ever gets decided in committee, because “committee” is an old English Parliament word meaning “cocktail party.”

Since Arizona and Hawaii and half of Indiana don’t change to Daylight Savings Time, I assume having us mess with our clocks and sleep patterns twice a year is the responsibility of state governments. I live in California, and our state government has been successfully making the federal government look efficient and trustworthy by comparison for years.

I would move to Arizona, Hawaii, or the correct half of Indiana, but sadly, all three of those places are uninhabitable. (You may be arguing that point concerning Hawaii, but never forget: it might be a nice place to visit, but the entire state is the size of your living room, and the whole thing is literally floating on molten lava.)

I have railed against messing with the clocks on numerous occasions in this column and in person. (I’m sorry if you were ever unlucky enough to be around me at the beginning of March or November.) Mind you, I don’t care about it for myself. It never affects my body. It does affect my head, though, in the form of giving me headaches dealing with my children and my wife.

I have discussed this as far as the children go. I think we have all experienced the dread as we changed the clocks, knowing what is to come on Monday morning. In November, they will be knocking on your door at five A.M., and in March you will need to use a pneumatic jackhammer to dislodge them from their beds in time for school.

I have never discussed how Daylight Savings Time affects my wife, however. It’s far more insidious than the problems with the kids.

First, here’s a general outline of my typical day:
Alarm goes off.
I get out of bed and do things.
I am awake and functional all day.
I go to bed when all the things are done.

Here is how my wife’s perfect day would go:
No alarms exist in the city in which she sleeps.
Darkness, silence, and sleep prevail until at least ten A.M.
A slight head nod shall be given when it is acceptable to give gentle hugs.
No speaking aloud until two P.M.
Wide awake and productive from three P.M. until eight.
Total brain shutdown begins promptly at nine.
In bed at ten o’clock.

We have been running into quite a few snags in her perfect day schedule ever since we had children, and things got really bad when I quit my real job to become a professional writer. Since we all enjoy eating, it is very important that my wife gets out of bed and goes to work every day now.

Under normal circumstances, the six A.M. alarm is met with severe groaning and scowling disapproval directed at me, but the weeks surrounding the Daylight Savings Time changes are just downright scary.

We really need her to keep getting out of bed each morning, and you Daylight Savings Time idiots over in Sacramento are not helping. You have made me the bad guy. With the kids, I can just yank the covers and roll them onto the floor. But with my wife I have to lovingly remind her that it really is six o’clock even though it should obviously still be five, and even though it’s obviously way too early to get up, it’s still time to get up, and it’s not my fault, and please put down the knife.

I hate you, Daylight Savings Time.

Or is it Daylight Saving Time? Is it plural or singular? Dammit. Hang on, let me Google it.

Oh, great. There’s even a debate about that. I just found one more reason to hate you, Daylight Whateverthehell Time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, March 8, 2017

The Whale Will Not be Exploded

“The whale will not be exploded.”

That’s not something most state agencies would need to announce when a thirty-six-foot sperm whale washes up on one of their beaches, but most states are not Oregon when it comes to exploding whales.

The headline in the Oregonian’s Twitter feed this week: Very dead sperm whale washes up on Oregon coast, will not be exploded. (The Oregonian is the state’s only surviving newspaper, and when I say ‘newspaper,’ I of course mean two part-time employees, one IT manager/pizza delivery guy, a laptop, and a smartphone.) (And when I say ‘surviving,’ I mean dying.)

“Why would they be mentioning anything about a whale exploding?”, you may be asking yourself, if you’re a rational adult human from any other state besides Oregon. To answer that question, we must go back all the way to 1970, two full years before I was even born, to the best thing anyone ever did on planet Earth in the 1900s, bar none. (And note, I am including the moon landing and the conception and birth of Clint Eastwood in there.)

In 1970, a forty-five-foot, eight-ton Pacific Gray whale washed ashore near Florence, OR. Oregon’s own KATU Channel 2 newsman Paul Linnman and his faithful crew were there to document all the action for posterity.

What action is involved in a dead whale, you ask? Well, normally not much, but that answer changes dramatically if you bring in the Oregon State Highway Division, because apparently, they have dynamite.

In 1970, the highway guys were brought in to help get rid of the rotting whale carcass that was beginning to stink up the coast. What to do with it was the question of the day.

Bury it?
Naw, it might just resurface.

Cut it up?
We don’t have enough gas masks.

Hmm... You know... we could blow it up with dynamite.
Yes! We’re guys who have access to a lot of dynamite. Why didn’t we think of that earlier?

Let’s put on our hard hats to look official, and then we’ll start packing dynamite under this thing.

How much should we put under it?

Hmm... Well, the dead whale weighs approximately eight tons, so calculating for explosive yield minus target weight and density, I’d say we need about a quarter-ton of dynamite.

But we have a half-ton of dynamite.

Cool! Let’s just put it all under there.

How far should we move all these people back?

I dunno. Maybe to the road?

Hmm... this is a thousand pounds of dynamite we’re talking about. Why don’t we move them all to the next beach parking lot down the road. That’s like a quarter-mile away.

Great. That’s pretty far away, though. I hope they’re able to see and hear the awesome explosion from there!

The general idea was to use high explosives to blow the offensive-smelling animal into bite-size chunks for seagulls and crabs to feast on. And if you were to pack the boxes of dynamite just right, you’d be sure to blow most of it straight back into the ocean.

I’m not sure what was going through the trigger man’s head as he detonated that half-ton of dynamite under that wayward Oregon gray whale, but I do know what happened next, and it is fantastic!

As the KATU cameras rolled from the “safe zone,” we were initially ecstatic about the size and relative loudness of the explosion. It was amazing. The explosion created a sand cloud so huge that nothing could be seen down on the beach. Was the whale gone? Who can tell with that giant dust cloud, but wasn’t that explosion awesome?... uh, what was that?

Umm... whale parts, I think... Raining down on us from the explosion.

Whale parts? How can that be... Holy Crap! Look out!

As the crowd from the not-so-safe-zone started to duck and cover, it became clear what was going on. Whale blubber is strangely resistant to dynamite, but it does act as a large floppy projectile when properly motivated.

As people in polyester clothing ran for their actual lives, a chunk of whale so large it could total a car landed on top of someone’s Oldsmobile, completely totaling the car, as advertised.

Amazingly, no one was seriously injured in the hail storm of whale parts, so Paul was free to make light of the event in his voiceover for the evening news.

Completely deadpan, he noted, “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

When the sand and dust and whale parts had cleared, it turned out that a half-ton of dynamite just doesn’t cut it against an eight-ton whale. Almost the entire stinky mammal was still on the beach, right where it had been sitting before some of it was rudely interrupted by a bang.

As night closed in, the highway division’s tractors could be seen burying the remaining parts of the whale. Just like they probably should have done in the first place.

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Oregon news outlets need to say that we won’t be exploding this new whale.

(Don’t believe me? Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.” You won’t be disappointed.)


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hands-Free CB

Here in California, our legislators have recently made the roads safer by passing a new law, which always works. We have been required to be “hands-free” with our cell phones in the car since 2008, but now they really mean it. No, really this time.

In 2008, we could still touch our phones while driving, and we could make a phone call while driving, but we weren’t allowed to hold the phone up to our ears. So what that meant was if you were on the phone and held it up to your ear during the conversation, you were breaking the law. But if you were on speaker phone and held a banana up to your ear during the conversation, you were well within your rights as a California motorist.

Also, if you simply held a banana up to your ear while not on the phone, that was OK, too. And presumably, if your phone was turned off and you held it up to your ear while driving, that would have been OK, since at that point your phone is really just an expensive plastic and glass banana, communication-wise.

Since January, however, we are now no longer even allowed to touch our phones in the car. We are still allowed to have a conversation on the phone, but the call has to be initiated without ever touching the phone. We can touch buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard of our space-age cars that will make our phones call someone, but we can’t touch the actual phone itself. It is now required to be duct taped to the roof of the car at all times. There has been no official word on where the bananas need to be.

We are also still allowed to talk directly to the other people in the car, but they will not respond, because they’re all texting each other.

omg. lol.

So here’s my question, oh-so benevolent leaders of this great state: What’s up with CB’s? I saw a trucker the other day just chatting away with someone (presumably another trucker, or possibly a truck stop hooker), holding the CB microphone right there in his hand, which was not even on the wheel of the enormous eighteen-wheeler he was piloting down the freeway. What’s up with that?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a CB is exactly the same thing as a phone, only with less dropped calls. I realize that you only have to hold the CB microphone up to your mouth, instead of the entire side of your head, as with a phone or a banana, but something tells me lack of peripheral vision is not what you guys are trying to legislate. So why can’t I hold my phone in my hand and talk on speaker phone, but I’m perfectly welcome to hold a CB microphone and do the same thing?

Although, if I got a CB, I’d have to learn an entirely different language, so that may not be the best option. I’ll constantly be having to ask if other truckers have their ears on, and alert them to my 20. I’ll need to let them know if they have Smokey the bear knocking on their back door, and whether it’s Evel Knievel, a gumball machine, a county Mountie, or a plain brown wrapper. Or maybe it’s a Kojak with a Kodak, in which case they’d better listen to their bird dog and slide off the hammer.

That sounds like too much work, especially since most of my car trips are just taking the kids to and from school. I barely remember when to do that, so I can’t be keeping track of all the bears as well. Plus, I’m not sure I could fit an eighteen-wheeler into the school parking lot. And besides, I like my phone and I want to keep it. So I’ve come up with a plan.

Here’s the next big new idea that someone else can make millions on, since I’m too lazy to do it myself. We need CB radio microphones that plug into the headphone jack on our smartphones. That way we can all talk to each other on speaker phone, just as before, but now we’re perfectly legal again, since it’s a CB microphone and all. Sorry iPhone 7 users. You guys are out of luck on this one. You won’t get to have a cool trucker handle, or say ‘over’ after every sentence like we will.

So, anyway, I’m thinking we need those, or as an alternative, phones cleverly disguised to look like bananas.

Either way will be fine with me. Just let me know when they’re available on Amazon.

See you soon, I’m 10-7. Y'all keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down. Tome Raider over and out.


Copyright © 2017 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!