Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Defending the Tooth Fairy

The other day I went to our kids’ elementary school and had lunch with Son Number Two for his birthday. I got to sit at the table with his class, and let me tell you; if you ever have the chance to go to an elementary school and eat lunch in the multi-purpose room with 200 little kids, go ahead and pass on that. Just take your lunch and eat it quietly in the car by yourself. Holy crap. The twenty minutes I was in that lunch room took at least three years off my life.

The noise level alone is enough to make you nuts, but when you also factor in the constant barrage of questions directed your way by your tablemates and the children from the surrounding tables, your head is spinning the entire time. Yes, I can help you open your applesauce. Yes, I am his dad. No, I am not as bald as your dad. Yes I am much balder than her dad. No, I am under seven feet tall. Yes, I do like guacamole. No, I do not have a riding lawn mower. No, I do not want any of your yogurt. No, Pluto used to be a planet, but now it’s just a rock, I guess. And Mickey’s dog. No, seven million is much smaller than infinity. Yes, I do know how to play kickball. Yes, George Washington was the first president. No, I don’t know what your front door looks like. Yes, we do have a backyard at our house…

Amid the myriad of questions, one of my son’s classmates pipes up out of nowhere with a statement. Sam, we’ll call him to protect his identity, since I suspect he will be in trouble with the law one day, says, “There’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy.”

Why, Sam? Why do you have to be like this? My son, who is about to lose another tooth, is sitting right here. Why are you undermining me by trying to disprove this universal parental lie?

“That’s crazy talk, Sam. The Tooth Fairy is totally real. Why do you think she (or he?) doesn’t exist?”

“Because my tooth has been under my pillow for a week, and I haven’t got any money.”

OK, Sam, I can see your point.

“Do your parents know you lost the tooth and put it under your pillow?”


OK, Sam’s parents, you’re killing me here! Write yourselves a note and put it under YOUR pillow! Come on brain, work with me, here. I know you’re tired from all the questions and the noise, but we need to focus on solving this problem. Must lie convincingly…

“OK, Sam, here’s what you need to do. Ask your parents to call the Tooth Fairy hotline. In emergencies like this, we parents have a special number to reach the Tooth Fairy. She was obviously too busy to get to your house the first night. That happens sometimes when lots of kids lose teeth on the same day.” (Or when your dad has too much of his “special drink” and forgets to take care of business before his head hits the pillow.) “Usually she just comes the next night, but your name must have fallen off the schedule somehow due to a clerical error at Tooth Fairy headquarters. It’s rare, but it happens.”

“Are you sure? I think you’re making that up. I don’t think she’s real.”

“Of course she’s real.” Work with me, kid. “Who do you think takes your tooth and leaves you money?”


“What?!? Parents? That’s crazy talk. I have never left a nickel under any of my kids’ pillows.” (I leave gold presidential dollar coins, not nickels.) “Why would we want your teeth, anyway?”

“I don’t know, but you do.”

This isn’t going well. This kid is not buying any of this. Sam’s parents, this is all your fault! If you were here right now, we would be having some words!

Just when I thought the ship was sinking and I was going to lose the battle, and my son’s reality would be shattered right in front of my eyes, my own child came to the rescue. Son Number Two, who had been listening intently and rather wide-eyed to this whole exchange, suddenly had a flash of brilliance. He said to his doubting classmate across the table, “There has to be a Tooth Fairy, because there is no way your mom or dad could put their hand under your pillow without waking you up.”

“That’s true,” said Sam.

Nice going, Number Two! Never mind the fact that at eleven o’clock at night I could grab you by the ankles, drag you out of your bunk bed, stuff the dollar coin up one of your nostrils, and throw you down the stairs without waking you up, but OK. I guess when you’re debating a seven-year-old, it helps to use seven-year-old logic.

“See, I told you so. Have your parents call the hotline.”

Crisis averted. The lunch may have taken three years off my life, but it was totally worth it. I helped keep my kid, and hopefully a bunch of other kids in his class, from growing up too quickly. Plus, I got to trade my lame Cheez-Its for someone’s awesome fruit roll-up.

I answered about 30 more random questions and opened five or six more yogurts and snack packs, and then it was time to be dismissed for after-lunch recess. As we were about to get up from the table, Drew, one of my son’s best buddies from class pipes up, “Well, there might be a Tooth Fairy, but there’s no Santa Claus.”

Come on, Drew’s parents! Give me a break.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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 17, 2013


A few weeks ago, I received one of the most dreaded pieces of mail an American can receive. I was being summoned to the DMV. My driver’s license was about to expire, and if I wanted to continue to operate motor vehicles legally, I was required to actually go to a DMV location to take a vision test, take a new picture, and most importantly, I suspect, pay $32.00.

My immediate reaction was, “Nooooo! Not the DMV!!! Why do I have to get a new license, anyway? I’ve only had this one a few years. Nothing has changed!” My wife then pointed out that I had a full head of hair in the picture, so it had obviously been a few more than a few years. She might have a point. As I was admiring my hair in the photo, a thought occurred to me. “Man, I was good looking with hair…” Just kidding, that’s not what I thought… What I thought was, “Why am I smiling in this picture?”

Only two groups of people ever see your driver’s license. People you are buying something from, and police officers. I couldn’t care less what the Safeway clerk and the bartender think of my picture, and I really don’t care what the cops think of it either, but if I were to get pulled over by a patrolman, I don’t think I want him looking at a jovial smiling idiot picture of me. I want the picture to be useful to me in some way. I will no doubt be trying to talk my way out of whatever traffic violation he has me dead to rights on, so I want that picture to be helping my case.

But, what look should I go for in the new picture?

Sad and pathetic? Never good.

Surprised? Like, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that! That is literally the first stop sign I have ever rolled in my whole life. I don’t know what came over me!” Probably not.

What about tired? No… exhausted! That’s the ticket. Or should I say, my ticket to no ticket. My story will be this: With the seven little mouths to feed at home, I am forced to work three jobs (due to the economy and so forth) just to make ends meet. Meat. There’s something we haven’t had in a while. Things are tough, but we don’t complain. We have our health, for the most part, although, momma’s cough is getting worse. How much do these tickets normally run, anyway? I guess we could take it down to one meal a day for a while to pay for the ticket, but with junior being as skinny as he is now, I sure hope it doesn’t take too long to pay off. I know I broke the law, and I hate to be a pain, but I’m almost late for my shift at the manure factory, and I really can’t afford to lose that job, due to all the aforementioned reasons… Yes, exhausted it is!

The letter I received in the mail strongly suggested that I make an appointment at my local DMV branch. Based on my past DMV waiting room experiences, I thought an appointment sounded like a really good idea, so I went on the DMV’s handy website and used their appointment system. I clicked on the DMV branch in my town and they gave me an appointment time for three weeks later on a Thursday at 9:10 A.M. Now, normally I’m working on Thursdays at 9:10 A.M., but I took it, no questions asked. I had the option to pass on that one and see what else was available, but that option scared me to death. We’re talking about the DMV here. If I tried for something else, it was surely going to be worse, and there would be no going back. The next available appointment was probably ten weeks after my license would expire. Thursday at 9:10 A.M. it is!

I walked into the brightly-lit, modern-looking DMV office at 9:05 A.M. There were about 8 or 9 DMV employees behind the counters, and no less than 75 people sitting forlornly in the waiting area that consisted of two large banks of plastic chairs on either side of the spacious facility. There they sat, dead silent, staring straight ahead, each holding a paper ticket with a letter and a number. A woman holding A32 was sitting next to a man with G14. Holy crap, I’m going to be here all day! What was the point of the appointment?

I stood in the three-person line at the ticket dispensing lady, and when I got to the counter, she asked if I had an appointment. I said, “Yes!” with a non-DMV-ish level of hopefulness in my voice. She smirked and gave me ticket H42 and told me to have a seat. I walked to the waiting area with the proper DMV-ish level of dejectedness. I will be here well past dinner time.

My butt was not in the molded plastic seat for more than 15 seconds when “H42. Now serving number H42 at window 12,” could be heard echoing through the facility. H42! That’s me! I sprang out of my seat with renewed non-DMV-ish vigor, and stepped quickly away from the waiting hordes over to window 12.

The lady behind window 12 asked me a few questions and had me sign my form in her presence, swearing under penalty of law that I was me and I was being truthful to the best of my knowledge. Then she took my thumbprint, and had me write her a check for $32.00. She took my check and then asked me to cover my left eye and read line 3 on letter chart B hanging from the ceiling behind her desk. I contemplated asking her why she took my money before she verified that I was able to see well enough to renew my license, but I figured I already knew the answer to that question, so I just went ahead and read line 3 to her.

When I was done with the left eye, she apparently had some more typing to do, so there was a lull in the conversation. I figured it was a good time to ask her a few driver’s license-related questions that had been on my mind. Namely, how come somebody who doesn't have a driver’s license qualifies to be your passenger in the carpool lane? I mean, if they can’t drive, you're not carpooling, you're just being a taxi service. And what qualifies no-passenger Prius hybrids and motorcycles for the carpool lane, and not my Partial Zero-Emission 4-Cylinder Camry? I mean, I burn less gas than the passenger-less guy in the big pickup truck. Shouldn’t I get to use the bonus lane for at least part of the time? And, really, when we get right down to it, shouldn't the people who pay the most taxes get to use the carpool lane whenever they want? I mean, they paid for it, right?

She just looked at me blankly and said, “Please proceed to the picture area.”


The moment of truth. I have been working on my “exhausted and earnestly struggling to make ends meet” look for three weeks.

There were three people ahead of me in the picture line, but it moved very quickly. When it was my turn, the picture lady asked for my paperwork, and then said, “Step to the blue screen place your feet on the marks on the floor look straight ahead OK done.”

What? Did you take it already?

“You should receive your new license in the mail in three to four weeks please exit to your right have a nice day next.”

Dammit! I didn’t even have time to do my exhausted look. I have no idea what look I was doing. I don’t even know at what point the picture was taken. Maybe I’ll end up with surprised. That’s better than nothing.

Oh, well. Even though the picture didn’t turn out like I had hoped, the upside was I was in and out of the building in 11 minutes. Every one of those 75 people were still sitting there when I walked out the door. Make an appointment, people!

I would have been in and out in more like eight or nine minutes, but I stopped to question the security guard at the exit door. He didn’t know anything about the carpool lane, either.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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 10, 2013

Tax Day

Your taxes are due on Monday, so I thought I would try to make you feel a little better about your tax bill by calling to your attention some of the wonderful government agencies that your hard-earned dollars go to fund. So I went to (“Government Made Easy” is their catchy tag line), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies.

After reading for a while, I decided that there isn’t too much that is going to make you feel better about this, 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 was wrong. I could not easily 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.

Here’s where your tax dollars are headed:

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee
Bureau of the Public Debt
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
Delaware River Basin Commission
English Language Acquisition Office
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration
Helsinki Commission
Indian Arts and Crafts Board
Japan-United States Friendship Commission
Legal Services Corporation
Millennium Challenge Corporation
National Mediation Board
Open World Leadership Center
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Rural Utilities Service
Susquehanna River Basin Commission
Tennessee Valley Authority
U.S. Access Board
Voice of America
Washington Headquarters Services

Keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list could have gone on for days. I will guarantee that in each one of these agencies, their whole years’ worth of “work” consists of compiling reasons why they need funding for next year.

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 $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 175 days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work 12 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 24 minutes. If we were super-generous with the math and said that they work 24 hours a day, 365 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 $7000 of your money on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

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

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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 3, 2013

Family Pictures

My wife announced the other day that we were all leaving in 20 minutes to go get family pictures taken professionally. I immediately protested. “We just did that!” I guess she was prepared for that argument, because she brought me Son Number Three and stood him next to the wall where our last family portraits are displayed.

OK, you have a point. He’s almost five years old now, and he looks to be about one in these pictures.

I tried a different resistant approach. “Why are you springing this on me 20 minutes before we have to go?” I guess she was prepared for that one too. “This has been on your calendar for the last two months, and I have reminded you about it at least six times. Would you like to see the list of dates and times that you were reminded? I wrote them all down for you.”

No, thanks. I guess I’ll just go get ready. She was definitely prepared for that. “Don’t you dare try to dress yourself! Here, put these on,” she said as she handed us all shirts we’d never seen before.

Now, I have to give her credit, in that, if it wasn’t for her, we would have a total of seven cell phone pictures of our kids, because the only time I take pictures of them is when they are wearing something on their heads, or have something stuck to their faces, that I find funny. My main problem with organized family photos is that they are all the same. And they are unrealistic. And kind of annoying.

They have always been this way. In the days before digital cameras, all family portraits were very rigid, in-studio affairs, with the whole family standing around mom seated in the middle. Muted purple-black background, frost the edges to give it the “this picture is magically hanging in a cloud” look, and you’re in business. Now that everyone has digital cameras, we’ve left the studio in favor of the field.

Everyone’s family photos today take place in a field. There are also the auxiliary action shots of the family walking to the field, either down an old dirt road, or down an old set of railroad tracks, and the intermediate stops at the old wooden structure, or the old brick wall, or both. But, we always end up in the field.

There we all are, wearing jeans and solid-color Oxford shirts, un-tucked, with bare feet, hanging out in a field. There are occasions when we’re on vacation or happen to live near the water, and the beach is substituted for the field. In many of those cases, the jeans are substituted for a pair of khakis, rolled up to the calf as we stand carefree in the ankle-deep sparkling water. Magical.

Here’s my issue with the whole thing. The only time my family has ever sat under an oak tree in a grassy meadow was for this picture. We had never even been to this field until we met the photographer here, because it’s one of her favorite shoot locations. (Oh, yeah, I think I remember this meadow from the Smith’s family pictures.) Come to think of it, we really don’t even have good access to a field of our own, even if we did want to hang out in one.

We have never walked down any type of dirt road while holding hands, five-abreast, taking up the entire road, and we sure as hell never do that on train tracks. Normally when we come across a rustic, wood-planked building from the 1800’s my wife is yelling at the kids to stay away from it, for fear it will fall on them, or they will get punctured by a nail. But on picture day, we’re all over that thing. If I tried to walk with my kids on railroad tracks on any other day, I would never hear the end of my irresponsibility and poor example setting, but on picture day, we’re like five happy-go-lucky drunk hobos.

And un-tucked Oxford shirts with jeans and bare feet? I have never in my entire life dressed like that. When I do go to a field, I wear boots. When I go to the beach, I wear shorts.

Then there’s the photographer. In the days of the studio, I think there was a little more quality control involved with the person behind the camera, due to some company training, and the facts that they were using expensive film and the studio lighting never changed. Now that everyone has digital cameras, it’s like the photography wild west out there. Seemingly half of the photographers out there today have not been trained in anything. They bought an expensive camera that came with a removable lens, took a couple thousand pictures of their dog/cat/child/fruit bowl, and answered the call when one of their friends said, “These pictures are great, you should do this for a living.”

That is not to say that there aren’t some talented self-trained folks out there, but for many, simply owning the expensive camera seems to give them the idea they are a pro. You may be holding the Nikon XP48 there, with the 9-inch parabolic f-stop, but if you don’t have the patience to wait for all three of my kids to be looking at you, I have to question your qualifications. And no, I’m not interested in coming to your computer and searching through 5000 pictures with you to find the one where all five of us happen to be looking at the camera at the same time, and you finally got all the shadows to cooperate. I thought that was your job.

Then there’s the fact that professional pictures cost money, and they seem to be the only ones my wife is willing to hang on the wall. Before we left I offered to take some less costly, more realistic photos for her, but she wasn’t interested. I guess pictures of the boys fighting, or pictures of her behind the wheel driving them somewhere, or pictures of them drooling in front of the TV, or pictures of us drooling in front of the TV after they’ve finally gone to sleep just don’t do it for her.

I guess moms get enough realism during the regular days, and want the pictures on the wall to be a fantasy land.

Oh, well. Off we go to the field.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 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!