Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vanity Sizing

The other day we visited some friends that were having a garage sale. My buddy’s wife had ransacked his closet and had a lot of very nice clothes out for sale. Figuring that I would get the friends and family discount, I dived right in. It was at that moment that I discovered perhaps the most disturbing and diabolical issue facing America today.

I was amazed by the variety of different brands of clothing that they were selling. It became obvious that our friends shop for clothes at higher-end retailers than I do. I get all my clothes from Costco and Target. This was my chance to score some good quality clothing at rock-bottom prices! The problem arose with the sizing.

The pants were OK, because all pants are sized in inches with a waist measurement and an inseam measurement. I know my numbers for those. I wish I could buy my pants as “large” or “XL,” but I understand the need for having a true measurement system, what with all the short, fat men and the tall, skinny men, and the short, skinny men, and the medium-sized slightly overweight men out there. The waist/leg discrepancies are widely varied.

Men’s torsos, on the other hand, come in six general sizes. Small, medium, large, XL, 2XL, and NFL linebacker. If you want to, you can get a lot more refined than that if you are shopping at one of those stores that have people that actually help you. They have shirts that use numbers, just like the pants. Shirts that are only sized in numbers might seem like a logical way to go for all shirts, but that would really be adding unnecessary complication. I would then have to remember my shirt numbers. I think I’m a 46 with a 17 neck, but I’m not really sure. Long or regular? Come on! I already have to remember my pant numbers, as well as my address, my zip code, and my phone numbers. That is plenty. I can’t have my life get any more complicated.

I wear an XL shirt, and I have since high school. Up until this point, if the shirt said XL, it fit me just fine. Not so, however, with the higher-end shirts at the garage sale. I pulled out one of my buddy’s golf shirts that had “L” on the collar. Normally I would have passed it right by, but it looked like the right size. Sure enough, it fit great. Hmm… That’s weird. I pulled out another one that said “XL” on the collar. Normally I would have bought it without trying it on, because I am a man, and we don’t like trying on clothes. This XL, however, looked more like a medium to me. I pulled it on over my t-shirt and sure enough, it was tiny.

I remarked at how small the “XL” was, accusing them of selling it because they had accidentally shrunk it in the wash, when I was corrected and told that it was actually a result of vanity sizing.

Vanity sizing!?! For a men’s golf shirt!?! Come on! For dudes?

As limited as my fashion knowledge is, I have actually heard of vanity sizing for women, and in their case, I can almost understand it, based on their seemingly endless preoccupation with their dress size. They don’t seem to mind that they are anywhere from a size 2 to 14 depending on the brand. That is probably due to the fact that they love to try on clothes. Men, on the other hand, do not love to try on clothes. We don’t even like to try on clothes. Actually, we hate to try on clothes. We don’t even like being in the store.

I don’t even understand the concept of vanity sizing with men’s clothes, since apparently, the change in sizing goes both ways. Some companies are catering to men who want to seem smaller than they really are. We will call that group the wo-men. Others brands are catering to men who want to pretend they’re bigger than they really are. We’ll call them the gro-men.

This must end. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, you corporate clothing company executives in charge of this sort of thing, I implore you, please stop. Whatever small percentage of wo-men and gro-men are out there that you are trying to garner favor with by messing around with sizes in some crazy plan to stroke their egos by making them feel either smaller or bigger than they really are, you need to think about the rest of us. The rest of us are actually grown men, and as I’ve stated, we hate trying on clothes.

We had a deal. We expect a “large” from your company to be the exact same size as a “large” from your competitor. We expect to be able to buy shirts and jackets out of catalogs and online, because we are not always near a Cabela’s or an L.L.Bean. We expect to be able to take a blue shirt off the rack, because we need a new blue shirt, and if the tag says “XL,” to be able to proceed immediately to the register and buy it in order to get out of the department store as fast as possible. If the sleeves are a little longer or shorter than our other shirts, we’re willing to live with that in exchange for not having to go into a dressing room and try it on. Provided, that is, that you kept up your end of the bargain and made the torso part of the shirt the size you said you did.

The common sizing rules are what knits this country together. When you start messing around with that covenant so some yahoo can feel good about buying one size smaller or larger than he actually should for some God-only-knows-why idiotic reason, the system starts to unravel. Darn it, if you keep this up, the very fabric of our society will be hanging by a thread! (Note to the general public – Sorry for all the clothing-related puns there, but I was trying to use language that fashion people would relate to. It seamed like a good idea at the time.)

Maybe, instead of punishing the rest of us by messing around with the sizes, you could keep the sizes the same and market a high-priced line of fake size labels that these ridiculous hyphen-men could iron into the collars of their shirts. You could market these tags in whatever magazines these wo-men and gro-men read. I’m assuming Vogue and Soldier of Fortune, respectively, would be a good start.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smuggling Made Easy

Since we are right in the heart of baseball season, I thought I would write a “public service” type column this week in an effort to help you, the baseball fan, combat the high price of ballpark food and beverages.

I can get you into the park with your own beer. No longer will you need to pay $27 for two Miller Lites. It’s simple. It’s ingenious. It’s a little weird.

You just need to buy a used breast pump.

You see, my wife and I, through some strange circumstances, stumbled upon the absolute best way to smuggle almost anything you want into a sports venue.

When Son Number Three was just a baby, we received two San Francisco Giants home game tickets as a gift. They were phenomenal seats, right behind home plate, at one of the best ballparks in the major leagues. They were not to be missed.

Son Number Three was only a few months old at the time, and my wife was right in the thick of the breastfeeding. He was drinking a lot, and she was making a lot. That presents a problem when said mother needs to be away from said child for eight hours. Her body would keep making milk for him, even if he wasn’t there to drink it.

If you have never witnessed the miracle of breastfeeding, you are really missing out. If a mother is on a regular schedule with a constantly hungry child, her body produces milk at very regular intervals. When a mother’s milk “comes in,” it is something very akin to inflating balloons from a high-pressure helium tank. Wham-o! Not wanting her breasts to explode in the fifth inning, and not wanting to miss going to the game, my clever wife devised a plan.

She would bring her breast pump to the game, excuse herself to the family restroom when the time came, depressurize her chest, pour the milk down the drain, and return to her seat where I would fill her in on what she missed. Brilliant.

We drove to San Francisco, pulled into our complimentary parking spot that came with the tickets, and made our way to the turnstiles. Prior to entering the park, we had to stand in line for a bag check. It was there that our great discovery was made. I naturally assessed line length versus apparent line speed and chose the optimal line. It happened to be manned by a twenty-something-year-old male bag checker. When we got up to his table, my wife opened her purse for him to peer into. Satisfied with her purse, he then asked to inspect the rather large pouch hanging from her other shoulder.

The modern-day breast pump is an efficient machine. It is made for ease of use, and ease of portability. This model had an integral carrying case, with two main access panels. The first access panel revealed the working front of the pump, with all its hose attachments, knobs, and buttons. The second access hatch opened to a rather good-sized storage compartment, ostensibly to hold the bottles and suction cup devices necessary to do the job.

My wife set the breast pump down on the inspection table, with all the flaps still closed.

“What is this?” the young man inquired, as he opened the first flap, revealing all the knobs, buttons and hoses.

“It’s a breast pump.”

“A what?” he asked, as he bent down to squint at the strange apparatus.

“A breast pump,” my wife repeated, as he began spinning it around to look at the back side. “I just had a baby, and I’m breastfeeding. This is a pump that…”

She didn’t get to finish her sentence. A light went on inside the young man’s head, and all at once he realized just what it was he was touching. He recoiled straight backward, five feet away from the table, as if he had found a coiled rattlesnake under the flap of the bag.

He continued to back farther away from the table with both his hands up in the “I surrender” position as he begged us to not only have a great day, but also enjoy the game. We were to immediately leave his table area and go about our business, no further questions asked. He was fifteen feet away from the table and still backing up when we thanked him and passed through into the park.

It’s that simple, ladies and gentlemen. Go to the second hand baby stuff store and buy a previously-owned breast pump. You could easily fit three or four cans of beer in the standard storage area, but if you felt the need to smuggle in a six pack and some sandwiches, you could always cut open the bottom and hollow out the inside. Just make sure to leave all the knobs, hoses, and buttons, and at least one of the suction cups visible under the first flap.

At today’s ballpark concession prices, a $50 to $100 investment will pay for itself in no time. There are only two cautions with this ingenious new smuggling plan. First, you need at least one lady with you, so this won’t work on the guys-only outings. Second, and most importantly, you need to go to a young man for the bag check. The 50-year-old mother of three will tear that thing apart, because she knows all about the storage compartment, and she won’t be afraid to touch it!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Lemonade Stand

The other day, my boys got a good lesson in business, economics, marketing, and most importantly, what it’s like to do business in California. They had their very first lemonade stand. Actually, it was a combination lemonade stand and bike and scooter wash. They figured a diversified product and service offering was key to their success.

My wife had bought them a four-foot-tall, $20 cardboard lemonade stand kit, which I was tasked with assembling. The boys “helped,” so it only took us a few hours to put together. We brought it out to the front yard, and the education began. They just thought they were having fun and making money, but unbeknownst to them, they were learning valuable business lessons all day.

We started the day by scouting our neighbors’ lots for good lawn sign locations, then knocking on doors to ask if it would be OK to put a sign on their lawn for the day advertising the new business. We live in a nice neighborhood, so that went really well.

Site Layout
With an operation that put off a lot of drain water combined with an operation that relied on a cardboard structure, they had to be careful. We ended up locating the bike wash on the opposite side of the front yard from the lemonade stand.

Supplier Issues
Their business model depended on providing customers with “Homemade Lemonade,” or at least, that’s what the pre-printed sign said on the lemonade stand. Their supplier could only deliver lemon-flavored Crystal Light drink mix. Since Mom, Inc. has a monopoly on the food service supply chain in their region, all they could do was cross their fingers and hope the public wouldn’t know the difference.

Workers Comp Claims
Son Number Two took a chunk out of his finger while messing around with a bike chain during a wash, and a lost-time accident occurred. He was rushed to the kitchen first-aid station and was allowed to return to work later that day, but the damage was done. The “Days Without an Injury” sign went to zero, and upper management was not pleased. Neither was Son Number Two!

Health Code Violations
Shortly after his return to work, Son Number Two’s Band-Aid came off and he ended up bleeding on the lemonade stand. Thankfully there were no customers present at the time, but upper management was not pleased.

Disaster Recovery
In the late morning, the wind picked up a little and blew the cardboard lemonade stand down the street. All business activities ceased as the employees rushed to re-build their storefront, weigh it down with rocks, and get their mom to make them some more Crystal Light.

Human Resource Issues
The two main business partners had some tough decisions to make regarding a certain employee. Their younger brother, Son Number Three was simply not pulling his weight. At four years old, he could not be trusted to serve lemonade or make change, and instead of helping with the bike and scooter wash, he would tend to just splash in the buckets, put soap in his hair, and wander off during the slow times. They really needed self-starters.

Staying Focused
The long-term sustainability of their business model was brought into question when two of their friends came over and the entire organization abandoned the business to go on a scooter ride. Upper management was not pleased.

For all the challenges they faced, there was one area where they excelled: Sales.

The Art of the Sales Pitch
It helps to have a diversified product line, but you have to know how to sell it. A week earlier we had been given a large box of individually wrapped gummy treats in the shape of spiders, and my wife and I did not want the kids to eat all of them, so she suggested they offer them for sale along with the lemonade as a way to make more money. When the first customer pulled over and got out of her car, Son Number One looked her square in the eye and asked, “Would you like to buy a glass of lemonade or a tarantula?”
Who could resist that sales pitch? She bought two lemonades and eight gummy spiders.

Unfortunately, besides being good at sales, they were also a little shady with their business practices.

The Bait and Switch
The sign for their bike and scooter wash operation advertised a bike wash for 50 cents and 25 cents for a scooter wash, but when I pulled my mountain bike out of the garage, they charged me three dollars! They claimed that the 50 cent price tag was only for kid-sized bikes, but later in the day when their grandparents showed up, they only charged them two dollars to wash their Toyota! Upper management was not pleased.

Besides being mildly worried about their business ethics, I was also concerned that they might get an inflated sense of value and worth, since every single adult who came to purchase lemonade and spiders ended up paying them 3-5 times the asking price of 25 cents. Because of that, they ended up having a pretty good day, despite a pretty low sales volume. They brought in $21.75, and to make it even better for the two business partners who were really pulling their weight, their mom was able to convince their younger brother, the soap-haired slacker, that his take-home share of 25 cents was a pretty good deal. Four-year-olds are really gullible. (I wonder where they get the questionable ethics from?)

Not wanting them to have an overly Pollyanna view of doing business in the great state of California, I stepped in before the money went in the piggy banks. Time for the real lesson of the day.

I explained that before they counted their “profits,” there were still a few costs to deal with. They still owed me for lemonade stand set-up construction costs, driveway rent, leasing the $20 cardboard lemonade stand, sidewalk rent, water costs, soap costs, sign rental, material costs for the Crystal Light, and of course, consulting fees. While they thought that they had each made $10.75, in reality, they each owed me $734.

To make it even more realistic for them, I also charged them a business license application fee, deducted income tax, slapped them with an excessive wastewater output fine, and then sued them for fraud and false advertising.

I also threw in lawsuit for emotional distress, claiming that I had spilled some of their excessively cold lemonade on my pants.

That will teach them!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Independence Day

The 4th of July holiday is known all over America for its fireworks. I happen to live in California, however, so municipal firework shows are all we have. Personal fireworks are a no-no. Good ones, anyway. This year, we ended up at my sister’s house in Oregon on the 4th. I was excited, because I thought I would have more access to better personal fireworks in Oregon. Unfortunately, it turns out they are just as lame as California. When we pulled into town, I went to the Junior League’s firework stand in the Safeway parking lot, hoping, at a bare minimum, to buy some honest-to-goodness Black Cat firecrackers. No such luck. The selection was exactly the same as the stand in my own town, at my own Safeway parking lot. I left with the $50 “Safe and Sane” Family Disappointment Package, cursing the leaders of both states under my breath.

So-called “Safe and Sane” fireworks really suck. There is no better way to put it. They just suck. The sparklers even suck. I’m not sure how it was possible to make a sparkler lamer than the ones I grew up with, but they managed to pull it off. To make it worse, we had spent the whole day of the 4th driving, so my wife was insistent on getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour, so they wouldn’t be cranky the next day. The sun doesn’t go down in northern Oregon until 9:30 at night in the summer, so my after-dinner fireworks non-extravaganza took place in the daylight on my sister’s driveway.

By the fourth fountain it was obvious that the safe and sane package has exactly four tricks up its sleeve: White shower of sparks, colored shower of sparks, crackling shower of sparks, and whistles. The “large” fountains reached the staggeringly breathtaking height of three feet. Happy birthday, America! Sorry this sucked.

Our boys actually enjoyed the first few, but even at seven, six and four years old, they are still male, so they became bored rather quickly. They began to ask impatiently for me to “do bigger ones.” I was then faced with the challenge of trying to explain that we were celebrating the birth of the freest nation on earth with ridiculously bad fireworks because we were not free to buy the good ones in this particular part of that same nation. I was halfway through the explanation when our savior arrived.

Matt, my sister’s neighbor from down the street, came strolling up to the driveway with his wife and daughter, two armloads of fireworks, and a big smile on his face. We had heard some very loud explosions from the direction of his house earlier in the evening, and when we asked if they were from him, he replied with a wink and a nod that he had no idea what we were talking about. He had the larger $80 Safe and Sane Family Disappointment Package under his left arm, and a bulging brown paper bag under his right arm.

We invited them to join us, and now with more safe and sane firepower, we began clustering four to six of the “large” fountains together and lighting them all at once. That made them mildly tolerable. When I inquired as to what might be in the unmarked bag, Matt said, “I’m glad you asked.”

Matt had gone to Washington, just north of Oregon, a state that still believes that Americans should be able to celebrate Independence Day in style. Matt had a bag full of mortars. Mortars are not safe. They are not sane. They are, however, awesome! Mortars are basically a 1/4 scale of a real municipal firework. They rocket out of the tube with a bang, straight up, 150 feet into the air and explode with a huge shower of colored sparks. And when I say explode, I mean feel-it-in-your-chest explode. When he set off the first one from the middle of the street, I knew we were destined for a much more exciting 4th of July. Our boys were loving it.

It turned out that Matt, being the kind of courageous American male that is willing to cross state lines with illegal fireworks in order to have a good time, was also the kind of American male that makes his own fireworks. He had some homemade “firecrackers” made out of something called flash powder, that apparently burns three times faster than gunpowder. They looked like a two-inch-wide triangular piece of flat cardboard with a fuse sticking out. When he lit the first one and threw it across the street, we immediately knew where all the loud explosions had been coming from. It shook the windows! Our boys were loving it.

At that point, my sister’s slightly eccentric neighbor, Mark, from across the street, came out to join us with some Roman candles. We held them up and shot flaming colored balls down the street. Now we’re getting somewhere! When Mark decided that the Roman candles weren’t good enough, he went across the street and came back with his own mortars. Now Matt was busy operating two mortar stations, sending fireworks high into the air to the delight of the crowd that was gathering. Our boys were loving it!

Not one, apparently, to waste an opportunity to party, Mark kept going back and forth across the street bringing different items over to the driveway. He had quite a collection of illegal fireworks, along with a speaker/amp for his iPod to add some music to the festivities, and some bootleg whiskey that his friend had sent him, to warm up the crowd. It turned out that Mark owned a gun manufacturing facility a few towns over, and he jokingly (I thought) asked me if I wanted to shoot some blanks out of an M-16. I, of course, said yes.

It was starting to get dark when things started to get a little out of hand. Some random guy from down the road wandered over wearing Coke-bottle glasses and rubber boots, with a beer in one hand and a mortar shell in the other. As people were lighting Mark’s spinning and flying fireworks left and right out in the street, Matt and captain rubber boots were trying to figure out which mortar tube would be best for the new random mortar shell, and Mark, wearing a white dress shirt, shorts and sandals, was standing in the middle of the street holding a glass of whiskey in one hand and an M-16 in the other.

Now, as an American male, I am pro-mortar. I am also pro-homemade fireworks, pro-loud music, pro-beer, pro-whiskey, and pro-machine gun. At 10:00 P.M. on the 4th of July, however, when I surveyed the scene that had developed in the street in front of my sister’s house, I decided I am not necessarily pro-all-those-things-at-once when my boys are running around in the middle of it. It was starting to look more like a war zone than a barbecue. 

I packed up the kids into the car, and dragged my wife kicking and screaming away from the festivities. Mind you, this was the same woman who was insistent on getting the kids to bed right away – two hours earlier. Deep down, she’s secretly pro-all-those-things-together, too, which is why I love her.

We said goodnight, and left one heck of a party in our rearview mirror. I guess I’m becoming more prudent in my old age, or my parent-age. One thing is for sure, the younger, single me would have braved the flying fireworks and stuck around in hopes of firing some blanks out of that M-16! Oh, well.

We went back to my sister’s house the next morning to help clean up, and the house was still standing, so I guess the party didn’t get too out of hand.

Happy birthday, America!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Dad-cation

What’s the next best thing to going on vacation?

When your wife takes your three kids and goes on vacation, and leaves you home. It’s called a dad-cation. You still have to go to work during the day, but you are back to being a bachelor in the evenings. My wife gave me a dad-cation recently when she took the kids to the coast for a week. She even helped out by emptying the refrigerator and taking all the food with her, so my temporary bachelorhood was more authentic. The only thing I ever had in my fridge when I was single was hot sauce, beer, and olives.

A dad-cation differs greatly from the old bachelor days in one regard. What the old bachelor me would have considered a very boring evening, the dad-cationing me considers bliss.

I would come home from work and the house would be quiet. For a while each night I would just listen to the quiet. Then, I would go up to my office and pay bills, or organize the health care files, or balance my checking account. It was great! And I would sit and think.

I never get to sit and think anymore. I’m fairly sure the human brain is only good for so many minutes of hard work in any given day. When you come home from work to a house full of kids, the brain up-time you have left over from work is quickly exhausted by your children. Rapid-fire questions, helping with projects, refereeing disputes, coloring, reading children’s books, and pretending to be the leader of a gang of puppies who are also spies who have laser beams and force fields and can also be cheetahs who are also truck drivers and jet pilots takes a lot out of you. By the time all the force field cheetah pilots go to bed, your brain just needs to be off. There is no thinking power left over for anything else. On the dad-cation, however, a man can think.

A man can also watch his own TV on a dad-cation. One of the big problems with trying to raise kids who are only allowed limited screen time each day is that you, yourself, get limited screen time as a result. During a typical day, the only thing I ever see on my TV is a Disney show. By the time the kids are in bed, I am too tired, or have too much to do, to watch a grown-up show. On the dad-cation I rented an R-rated movie and watched it while I ate dinner! How crazy is that? I also watched an entire baseball game, and even a comedy with questionable language. It was awesome.

I slept soundly on my dad-cation, too. Ever since we had kids, my nights have involved a lot of pee. I occasionally wake up to pee, but with three boys down the hall, someone else always has to pee, and 99 times out of 100, I am involved somehow. I either hear it, hear about it, help with it, or clean it up. There are far less pee-related activities on the dad-cation.

I slept well, too. When my wife is gone, the hump is available. You know the hump. The big ridge in the middle of the mattress that separates the 10-year-old sleeping divots on either side. I moved to the middle of the bed and slept on the only part of the mattress that still has its original firmness. My back loves the hump!

When my wife returned with the kids, I was well rested and in good spirits. I was also totally unprepared for their return. Now, don’t misunderstand. I missed them and was very happy that they were home, and thankful that they were home safely. I missed being a truck driving spy puppy, and I had been looking forward to their return, but as it turned out, I wasn’t totally ready for it.

Two minutes after I walked into the house from work I was refereeing an argument about who called who a butt face. Three minutes later, when one of them came to me complaining that his brother had punched him in the stomach, I looked at my wife incredulously and asked, “What happened while you were away? Have you been feeding them sugar the whole time?”

She smiled sweetly at me, the way you smile at an idiot, and said, “Honey, they’ve always been like this. Have we been gone too long?”

It’s amazing how fast you can slip back into bachelor mode on a dad-cation. They’re my own kids, but after a week off I was on total patience overload inside of a half-hour of their return. It was as if I was brand new to the whole thing. So, I have decided there needs to be an ease-in period from the dad-cation, much like getting into a hot tub slowly. You either need to be re-exposed to one kid per day for three days, or all three kids for 20 minutes the first day, an hour the second day, and so on, to ease yourself back into full-strength parenting.

The only problem with that is, your wife has been a single parent for a week and wants nothing more than to throw the children at you and run back out the door.

Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. Bachelors don’t know what they’re missing. It’s loud, you can’t think, you can’t watch TV, you can’t sleep, and your back hurts, but you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Bachelors hardly ever get to be motorcycle-riding saber-tooth tigers with jet packs and exploding throwing stars.

I do all the time.  

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to www.smidgebooks.com today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!