Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Throwing Money Away

The other day I was at Sports Authority picking up a baseball duffle bag for Son Number Three. They have a no-frills $20 version that has a long pocket for your bats, and a main pocket for your glove and helmet. I made sure the shoulder strap fit me comfortably, since he is five years old, so inevitably, if I want the bag to make it all the way from the car to the field, I will end up carrying it myself. It went over my shoulder just fine. Sold!

I went to check out, and the girl scanned the barcode on the bag. Beep went the computer, and she read the screen, then looked up at me and asked, “Would you like to buy a protection plan for this item? If anything happens to it in the next two years, we will replace it for free. It’s only six dollars.”

I looked at the screen in front of me. $19.99

I looked at her, to make sure she wasn’t kidding. She wasn’t.

I asked, “What if I lose it? Will you replace it, and all of its contents, including my cell phone and wallet?”

“No, the protection plan doesn’t cover loss, or other items. Just damage.”

Hmm… Let me think about this for a minute. You want me to insure a $20 nylon bag for a third of its value against the off chance that something might happen to it that you wouldn’t already cover in your standard returns policy? Good one.

“No, thanks,” I politely declined.

I left the store shaking my head. Could there be a worse use for my money? As it turns out, there is something worse. Something much worse, and I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what it was.

That night, cleaning up after dinner, I pulled the trash can out from under the kitchen sink and stopped dead in my tracks. There, sitting right on top of the refuse, was eleven dollars. A five and six ones.

“What the… Why is there money in the trash can!?!” I inquired rather loudly, holding up the sticky bills, my gaze fixed upon the likely culprit, Son Number Three.

My wife gasped, “Oh my gosh, no. That was me. I did that last night. Whoops.”


“I had a lot going on!” she explained.

“Huh!?! You had a lot going on? So, you threw money away… literally? Do I need to keep digging? Is there more? Should I go paw through the outside trash bin?”

“No, of course not,” she answered, slightly indignantly. “That was the only time.”

“How do you know!?!” I asked, exasperated, and marveling at the fact that she thought there was any room for indignation on the part of someone who was just found to have thrown money in the trash can.

I stood there in shock. A whole new world had opened up. I had never even dreamed it was possible to actually throw money away. I mean, literally throw it away, until now. A chill shot through me. What if we were rich? I never fully understand where all the money goes, but now a new scenario was possible. What if we could be rich, but my wife keeps throwing money away, keeping us in a perpetual state of “not even close to rich.”

After I got through shuddering at that thought, and regained some amount of composure, I asked the next obvious question.

“Are you pregnant?”

“What? Of course not!”

“I’m just asking, because of all the times I found the remote control in the refrigerator.”

“That only happened once!”

(Once per week, maybe.)

“I promise, this was a one-time thing. I just got very busy. Number Two owed me money for duct tape.” (The boy goes through a tremendous amount of duct tape. So much so, that we stopped supporting his habit.) “I got the money out of his piggy bank, and I was throwing something else away right after that.”

OK. I understand the mechanics of the accident, but that still doesn’t explain why you didn’t know that it happened. I mean, I have been incredibly busy. So busy that my head was spinning, in fact, and I still never came within a mile of putting U.S. currency in the trash can, let alone leaving it there.

My wife always makes fun of me for being a terrible multi-tasker, and she is right. Forget about two things at once. Anyone who can do one and a half things at the same time is a better multi-tasker than me. But I think she needs to cool it on the criticism now. No matter what you tell me, I am going to seriously doubt your ability to focus on multiple tasks after I find out you literally throw money in the trash.

This has been a fairly traumatic event for me, psychologically. It’s one thing when I come home and find out you bought an extended warranty for the couch. It’s quite another when I find out that throwing money in the trash is not only a possibility, but it has happened. I’m a wreck. It’s always in the back of my mind. I now stop and look into every trash can in the house when I pass by. I can’t even bring myself to look in the shredder.

Trash day is going to be interesting.

“Can you dump it in slowly? I want to watch. You know, just in case we’re really rich and I don’t know it.”

“Get the hell off my garbage truck!”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Observing a Deficiency

The other day, I stared at my wife as she walked into the room.

Hmm… I think something is different… did her neck get longer? No, it’s her hair.  Maybe... Yes, it’s her hair. I think it’s shorter… and possibly blonder.
Uh-oh, she saw me staring at her and now she’s smirking like she knows I see something different, but can’t figure it out… I’d better act fast.

“You did something with your hair,” I mumble. She laughs. “It looks GREAT,” I exclaim, trying to recover.

“It wasn’t today,” she says. “It was two days ago.”


Apparently she had cut about four inches off it, and it was at least three to four shades lighter. (As if I understand the blond shading scale!)

I am the most unobservant person I know. I would be a terrible cop. Actually, I think I would be great at high speed chases, and tackling bad guys, and Taser-ing people, but if the perp got away, my sergeant would probably ask me, “What did he look like?”

“Uh, you know. He was a dude. You know, kinda about this height, sorta thinnish.”
“A dude?”
“Yeah. He was white and had darkish hair. Or maybe he was Mexican. He was either Mexican, or a really tan white guy. Or he could have been Asian.”
“You talked with him for five minutes before he ran, right?”
“Yeah. You know, come to think of it, he kinda looked like a tanner version of my buddy John.”
“OK… Can you describe John?”
“Um, you know. He’s a dude. You know, kinda about this height, sorta thinnish… He was wearing a blue jacket. Or maybe dark grayish. It might not have been a jacket, actually. It might have been a long sleeve shirt…”

I expect that would be about the point where my police career would end.

I think I was just born without the part of the brain responsible for remembering what things look like. And it goes beyond hairstyles and bad guys. You could rearrange all the furniture in my house and I wouldn’t notice until I tried to sit where the chair used to be and hit the floor. And it works for adding and removing familiar things as well. If my wife hangs a new picture on the wall, or removes one that has been there for three years, my brain reacts the same way to that. A month later I will have a vague notion that something is different about that spot on the wall, but I won’t be able to put my finger on it. When she adds things, I have a little bit of an advantage, but when she removes things, I’m almost hopeless. My brain has no stored imagery of what it used to look like at all.

If I came home and my house was painted an entirely different color, I would probably just have a strange notion that something was off, but not what it was. If I did notice that it was a different color, that would be the only thing that I could tell you. It’s different. There is no way I would be able to tell you what color it was before.

I saw a good friend of ours at a gas station a few month ago. I was driving a company car, but it happened to be the exact same make and model as my own car, just gray instead of blue. The first thing she asked me was, “Did you get a new car?” I was amazed by that. She obviously got all of the part of the brain that I am deficient in, because I would be very hard-pressed to tell you what make and model car any of my friends drive, let alone what color they are. They are stored in my head in general categories; Jenna: SUV, Mark: pickup, Bill: small sedan, Jaime: toaster-looking car, etc. As long as they show up in the same class of vehicle, my brain will register no difference at all. The color doesn’t even register with me. I’m not color-blind (although, my wife might argue that point based on some of my clothing choices), I’m just color-impaired.

I think whatever brainpower is responsible for the high level of information gathering and storage required to remember what things look like – the part that I obviously lack -- was re-routed to other functions. I remember events, and text, and speech. I can tell you exactly what someone said years ago, and usually with the same inflection. I remember the lyrics to almost every song I have ever heard, and I know movie lines forward and backward. I am the official keeper of long-ago vacation memories, if someone has a question about what we did or what was said. I just have no idea what color the outside of my house is. Same thing with my wife's hair. I see her every day, and I sleep next to her every night, but if she changes her hair I might notice that it is different, but I would not be able to tell you what it looked like before.

And don’t even get me started on clothes. I am barely aware of what the clothes I own look like. How am I expected to keep track of anyone else’s? Luckily, my wife has learned to live with my deficiencies, for which I am grateful. She just laughs at me when I ask if the jacket that she’s had for six months is new.

She doesn’t laugh when I tell her exactly what she said two years ago, though. I don’t think she likes that very much.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day, Part II

This is a public service announcement. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Men, you only have a few hours left before all the cards are sold out and all the flowers are gone. You can read this later – Get moving!

Valentine’s Day is a confounding “holiday.” The number of people around the world who actually enjoy Valentine’s Day is very, very small. Most women will probably tell you that they enjoy the day, but they’re lying. They’re only saying that because they don’t want to be seen as “anti-romance.” Truth be told, Valentine’s Day is very stressful for most people, men or women.

Let’s try to figure out who really likes Valentine’s Day. No man in the history of the world has ever liked it, so take out roughly half the population of the earth. Sure, it’s a day dedicated to romance, so if a guy plays his cards (and flowers) right, he might get rewarded for his efforts. However, this is a day where he is expected to be romantic, no matter what. If he happens to forget and go about his business as usual, he will be in deep trouble. Birthdays and anniversaries are one thing, but Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year where every guy in the world can simultaneously get into a special, life-long, still bringing it up 25 years later kind of trouble, just for doing the same thing we did the day before. By the mere act of being yourself, you can be branded for life as an uncaring idiot, if you happen to forget the 14th of February. Who needs that?

By my (incredibly limited) experience, cards and flowers have a much more positive impact on her emotions (and on your love life) if they are given when she is not expecting them. A specific day of the year when they are mandatory?  Far too much pressure. And speaking of pressure, it is entirely one-sided. There has never been a man in the history of the world who’s has had his feelings hurt when his wife or girlfriend didn’t get him a card on Valentine’s Day. The onus is all on the men. Heaven forbid you screw it up, boys. If you do, Valentine’s Night will be pretty lonely. It’ll just be you and your onus.

As I said at the beginning, no man has ever liked Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t mean they all dislike it. Single men who are not dating have no particular feelings towards it one way or the other. They could care less about it. Single women who are not dating, however, hate Valentine’s Day. This is due to the fact that men and women are polar opposites when it comes to feelings about anything other than food and shelter being good things. Valentine’s Day for the single female is a myriad of emotions, all of them probably serving some sort of anthropological function, but none of them that you want to get anywhere within 40 feet of. Most of these emotions will be doused with wine, which can either have a suppressive effect, much like throwing a bucket of gasoline on a single match, or in most cases, an accelerant effect, much like throwing a bucket of gasoline on a campfire. Either way, it is best to observe the 40-foot perimeter.

Valentine’s Day for the single male means a shorter wait at the pizza place.

For women who are dating or married, Valentine’s Day is stressful. Not as stressful as it is for their men, but some amount of the man’s stress is transferred to the woman. That’s because the women know that we won’t get it right, no matter how hard we try, so they spend the weeks before Valentine’s Day worrying about what we’ll get wrong. Will he screw it completely up like I think he will, or will he surprise me and get it almost right? Never mind perfect. That ain’t happening.

Women who are dating someone casually worry that their significant other will go overboard and try too hard, making Valentine’s Day awkward instead if nice. Women who are dating someone seriously worry about the marriage proposal. If she feels that the proposal is imminent or overdue, she will worry that he won’t ask her to marry him. If she feels like it isn’t proposal time just yet, she will worry that he will ask.

In my estimation, women who are already engaged to be married are the only ones who truly enjoy a stress-free Valentine’s Day. If a lady’s fiancé has a track record of forgetting Valentine’s Day, she probably wouldn’t be engaged to him in the first place, so there is much less of a chance that she’s worried he will forget. (Naïvely, she thinks he will always remember the day once they are married. Boy, is she wrong!) There is no proposal pressure or worry, since that already happened, and since both parties are in constant communication about romantic stuff like wedding plans, chances are the guy will have a pretty good idea of what to do for the gift. Jewelry, flowers, chocolates, just a simple card… He is about as locked in as he’s ever going to be on what she wants. He will never know for sure, however, because reading a woman’s mind is a lot like reading Sanskrit in the dark. You’re never going to get it exactly right.

So, of all the people currently on the planet, the only ones who enjoy a truly worry-free and relaxing Valentine’s Day are most of the engaged women, and a handful of female newlyweds.  That probably works out to be far less than one percent of the population.

This leads me to the question of why we still have Valentine’s Day in the first place.

I don’t buy the argument that it’s just a day created by the greeting card, flower, and chocolate industries. It goes deeper than that. We all feel like we have to participate, because the men don’t want to be seen as the Scrooge of February, and the women don’t want to be left out. Truth be told, everyone would be a lot happier and less stressed if the day just went away, but stopping Valentine’s Day is an all or nothing deal. If there is one single solitary guy left on the earth still buying flowers for his fiancé on the 14th of February, the rest of us are going to hear about it.

Until those engaged guys can stand up and say no, we’re all going to have to keep going with it. Those engaged guys are weak. They are scared to screw anything up, and rightfully so. They don’t know what they’re getting into, and they know they don’t know. They are yes men, just trying to survive. They will never help us.

So, we’re stuck with it. Do your best, and hope for the best. That’s all we can do.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go see if they have any Valentine’s cards left at the gas station mini-mart. My wife loves those cards. I think.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013


There are probably a ton of helpful books on potty training kids. I’m just assuming this, because I haven’t read any of them. My wife may have read some of them, but I have a more wild west, seat-of-my-pants parenting style where I don’t seek out too much expert advice. It makes it more interesting that way.

Without having read or even seen any of the potty training manuals out there, I can assure you that not one of them has ever offered any helpful advice on sleep-peeing. Now, I’m not talking about peeing in the bed while sleeping. That can be handled with rubber sheets, some wipes, dry jammies, and a washing machine. I’m talking about the dreaded combination of sleepwalking and peeing.

Son Number One is the only one of our three boys that sleep-pees, but believe me, one is enough. My wife and I first noticed this unbecoming behavior a few years ago when he was six. After bedtime, we were downstairs and heard the very familiar – especially to guys – pee hitting the ground noise. I went to investigate and found Son Number One standing at the top of the stairs, adjusting his pajama pants. I asked him what he was doing, and he didn’t answer me. He just turned and walked back into his bedroom. Puzzled, I walked up the stairs and stepped in a puddle on the third stair from the top. This was our first experience with sleep-peeing, so we were a little skeptical and confused, but all the evidence pointed to the fact that our son had just gotten out of bed and peed down the stairs. When I went into their room to question him, he was under the covers, snoring.

Any doubts my wife and I may have had about what actually happened that night were answered a few weeks later when I heard the same noise while I was upstairs, and came out into the hallway to investigate. This time, he hadn’t even made it out of the room. He had simply opened the door, and was standing in the doorway, peeing into the hall. I walked over to him, straddled my legs wide and bent down to his eye level, six inches from his face, and asked, “Whatcha doin’ buddy?” while he peed onto the carpet between my legs. He never said a word. He just stared at me blankly, finished up, shook it off, tucked it back into his jammies, and got back in bed. Totally sleepwalking. Totally peeing on the carpet.

Over the last few years, since we have become aware of the issue, we have decided that Son Number One probably never actually fully wakes up to go pee, but he gets to the toilet 95% of the time, since the bathroom is right next to his bedroom, and he’s on familiar turf. Out the door, two right turns, through the door, toilet is on the right at the end of the bathroom by the tub. Whether or not he empties his bladder entirely into the toilet is another matter.

For a little while prior to this revelation about our son’s strange nighttime urination choices, I had suspected their toilet needed repairs. I kept finding puddles of what could only be pee on the floor around the base of the toilet in their bathroom. I assumed the wax ring under the toilet had gone bad, and the toilet was leaking. I overlooked the now obvious other possibility that one of them was peeing on or near the toilet instead of in the toilet.

Actually, the wet bathroom floor is not solely a nocturnal consciousness issue. Number One has pretty good aim with number one when he’s awake, but the other two boys are wild cards. Son Number Two is constantly in a hurry, and Son Number Three combines a lack of coordination with a propensity to go no-handed. I am trying to instill the belief in them that “on and around the toilet” is not the same as “in the toilet.” I don’t think I’m making any headway.

Since Son Number One is on familiar ground at home, the sleep-peeing usually occurs where it is supposed to, since the bathroom is always right where it’s supposed to be. We have to be on our toes when we travel, though.

“Sorry about our son peeing in your closet. Urine comes out of suede, right?”

Sleepwalking is a strange thing. His eyes are open, and he navigates around obstacles like he’s awake, only a little wobbly, like he’s been drinking beer or cough syrup. He appears to simply be sleepy, but in reality, his brain has only powered up the walk-around functions. The good decision making part of the brain is still out cold. His bladder is the only thing that triggers the events, so unfortunately, we don’t have any cute sleepwalking stories about him drawing a picture or rearranging the furniture. They all end in pee.

The key is the lack of conversation. If you see him out of bed and walking around and he won’t answer you when you say his name, you’d better start moving, because he’s about to pee in the kitchen pantry. The potty training manuals won’t be any help with this one, because there isn’t anything you can do to prevent it. You just have to hope he grows out of it, and resign yourself to the fact that you won’t own nice carpet until he leaves for college. That, and eliminate asparagus from his diet.

I have to go now. I just heard the bathroom door, but no toilet noises. It’s more of a hollow sound… I think he just peed in the tub.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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