Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Soaked by Printer Ink

My mother-in-law gave me printer ink for Christmas. Some people are just better gift givers than others. There is simply no better gift for a writer than a full printer cartridge. We writers print a lot of stuff, and most of us are broke. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if printer ink wasn’t apparently made out of liquid platinum and powdered diamonds.

In the shady world of “factory-authorized” parts, there is no group more skilled in the fine art of price gouging than computer printer manufacturers and their ink, with HP leading the league.

I think if we were forced to buy drinking water from HP it would go something like this:
The super-cool stainless steel flip-top sippy straw container would cost 99 cents, and would come “pre-filled” with water, but really only filled 25%.
Refilling the container with delicious HP water would cost roughly $6000 per sip.
The flip-top sippy straw would immediately close and lock if the bottle was ever filled with tap water, and you would receive a corporately polite, yet obviously testy “courtesy email” from HP reminding you that your state-of-the-art HP water bottle can only perform correctly with genuine HP fluids.

We have an HP Photosmart printer that takes six separate ink cartridges. Why? Because I print a lot of high-quality, high-gloss photos that I take on my cell phone camer… No, that’s not it. I really only ever want to print in black and white. We have this printer because friends gave it to us for free when our old one stopped working. Six separate ink cartridges you ask? Why, yes. That would be Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, and Light Magenta. Hmm… Light Cyan and Light Magenta? I guess HP couldn’t figure out how to just use less regular Cyan when the print called for a lighter blue.

Just in case you got the notion that you didn’t need all those different colors, HP found a way to prove you wrong. On the face of each cartridge there is a raised plastic molded shape, like the preschool peg-in-hole star and half-moon shapes. Each color has a unique shape that has to line up with that same shaped hole in the printer body before the cartridge will seat properly, preventing you from substituting Cyan for, let’s say, Light Cyan. I know this is obviously not a ploy to restrict my freedom of choice if I am the type of person who could care less about color accuracy. I’m sure it’s a well-meaning way for HP to protect its good name in case I would have the gall to swap colors and make outrageous accusations about them printing mottled browns instead of vibrant greens. It is obviously not just a way to make me buy more ink cartridges. They would never do that.

Although… My printer did seem to get pretty testy a while back when I tried to put a cheaper refilled ink cartridge in it. (By cheaper, I mean cheaper the way buying one hamburger at a McDonald’s in town is cheaper than buying all the McDonald’s franchises in town.) I received an error message telling me, in essence, to get that interloping piece of non-gold-plated garbage out of there at once, or the printer may be forced to explode just to teach me a lesson about brand loyalty. The Corleone family could learn a thing or two from HP.

Undeterred, I did manage to find the LD brand of “remanufactured” ink cartridges that work in the printer and don’t require taking out a second mortgage to acquire. Take that, HP! My printer no longer threatens me with inaction or malfunction, but I did receive a pretty shady message from its LCD screen the other day.

Warning: Printer ink cartridge expiring.
Please replace, or hit arrow key for more details.
When I hit the arrow key, I got this condescending follow-up message:
The warranty will not be honored for damage due to expired cartridges. Press OK to continue anyway.

It no longer threatens me directly, I guess I should say. We’ve moved to vague threats about possible damage and warranty waiving “if, God forbid, sumptin should happen to this beautiful printer yous gots here.”

Come on guys! You already try to get me to replace the cartridges six weeks early as it is. You start warning me about low ink levels and suggesting cartridge replacement 500 pages before it actually runs out, and even then, I’m not really sure if it did or not, because I never get to see the words slowly get dimmer and then disappear off the page. The last page out of the printer looks perfect and then you just refuse to print anymore, citing an empty cartridge. What am I to do but take your word for it?

“Empty” cartridges or not, this expiration thing is a new low. I mean, really fellas? I’m not buying cartridges fast enough for you? Now you're trying to scare me with threats about disavowing my warranty because I apparently don't use my Light Magenta as often as you'd like? That’s pretty weak.

If you really want me to use more ink, why don’t you just make me print “test pages” every week or so, using a thinly-veiled ruse of “needing to check the printer alignment,” as if that’s even a thing. You could also double down on that idea and require “test pages” every time I change an ink cartridge. And no matter what cartridge I changed, each one of these “test pages” could use an inordinate amount of all the ink colors, so much so that the page is limp and wet when it comes out of the printer, making me afraid to get it near my clothes or the furniture.

Oh, wait… You already do that.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, January 22, 2014

Drought Tolerance

Here’s the thing about water: We have the same amount of water on the earth that we’ve always had, and always will have. It does not evaporate into space. It changes forms and locations, but it doesn’t disappear. What does that mean to you? For one thing, it means at this time in the history of the earth, every drop of water that you drink has probably been pee at some point. Fun, huh?

Water changes locations all the time, and currently there is none in California. Whatever the hell a “Polar Vortex” is, there seems to be one gripping the entire country except California. It has basically been spring here in California since fall. We are apparently just going to completely skip winter. With no rain or snow to speak of, we are in the midst of the driest winter months ever since they started keeping track of these sorts of things.

We took a drive out to Folsom Lake near Sacramento this weekend to gawk at the astounding lack of water. At one point in December the lake level was dropping one foot per day, and it is looking a lot more like a mud puddle at this point than a reservoir. The marina docks are all sitting in the dirt on the bottom of the lake. We went out to see the remains of an old gold-mining town that was abandoned and flooded when the Folsom Dam was built to create the lake. We even walked across a really nice old stone bridge that has been uncovered, still in great shape after 60 years underwater. There are multi-million dollar homes up on the hills above the lake that now boast the impressive view of looking down on hordes of tourists walking around a dry lakebed.

Never afraid of making a profit from catastrophe, the state of California was charging $12 per car to come view the horror. Based on the parking lot traffic we saw while we were there I would estimate the state made well over $20,000 that afternoon, minus the salaries of the two gate personnel and the upkeep cost on the ONE functional port-a-potty at the entire lake. Nice job, California.

Things are looking bleak for The Golden State, which is great news for me.

As you probably know, I hate lawn care. I don’t like spending my time mowing and trimming, and I hate spending my money on water to attempt to keep my lawn green and therefore requiring more mowing and trimming. It’s a vicious cycle. It rained about an eighth of an inch in late September, and that was the day I shut my automatic sprinklers off for the summer. I foolishly thought we would have more rain during the fall and winter months. By the end of October my wife was asking me to turn them back on, but I refused, saying, “It has to start raining at some point.”

I was wrong. I think it has rained once since then. By mid-November my lawn was so yellow it made the house look abandoned. I was afraid my neighbors would stage an intervention. It was looking like I might be forced into action by the ridiculous social convention of year-round green lawns, but then I got really lucky and everyone noticed that we hadn’t been getting any rain or snow. By mid-December all anyone could talk about was how dry it had been. Excellent! I’m off the hook.

This is a double boon for me. Not only am I going to have a summer of almost zero lawn care, as the impending drought forces all of us to give up watering, but I can be smug about it, too. If anyone comments on my dead grass I can look down my nose at their green lawn and say something like, “Still watering, huh. I guess some of us care about preserving our natural resources more than others.”

This whole thing is making me look like I was drought-conscious before it was cool, and that’s what it’s all about, right?

The good news – besides of course my lawn care reprieve and impending smugness – is that the water is out there somewhere, and it will eventually return to California. The bad news, at least in the short term, is that we might not have any food later this year.


Food concerns aside, luckily quite a bit of the nation’s beer is brewed in other states, so we should be all right there. A big thanks to Colorado, Missouri, and Wisconsin. You guys are really saving our bacon out here! Triple win for me, since I will have more time to drink beer this summer due to the cessation of lawn care activities. Droughts are fun!

While it appears we’ll be fine beer-wise, you wine drinkers out there might want to stock up now. I don’t mean to be a doomsayer, but it’s looking like the only thing the folks in the Napa Valley will have to irrigate the grapes with this summer is their own pee.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, January 15, 2014

Schooled Lunches

My boys surprised me yesterday, in a good and also annoying way. I was running late in the morning, and I arrived downstairs in the kitchen about fifteen minutes behind schedule to help them with their breakfast and to make their lunches for school. I was not concerned, because I had plenty of time to get everything done, but I became concerned when their plastic lunch containers were nowhere to be found.

As soon as I began to search for them, the boys piped up and said, barely able to contain their self-satisfied mirth, “Dad, you might want to look up on top of the fridge.”

I keep their insulated lunch bags on top of the refrigerator, and there they were, stacked neatly just like I had left them the day before. When I picked them up, however, they felt heavy, and the boys started giggling. They were all zipped closed, and when I opened them, there were the missing plastic lunch containers, filled with carrots, and crackers, and sandwiches. The boys had made their own lunches.

This was an unprecedented event, and a big surprise. I was initially filled with pride that my boys had been so industrious. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying my boys are geniuses for being able to put turkey and mayonnaise on two slices of bread. I realize kids their age in Bangladesh already know how to make Nike tennis shoes and sew Martha Stewart Collection pantsuits, but we’re talking about three boys who normally can’t work together long enough to build a blanket fort over a coffee table without starting a fist fight.

I hugged them and thanked them and beamed with pride for about fifteen seconds.

Then I started to get mad.

The lunches were perfect. They were well balanced and nutritious. I looked around. All the food was put back into the correct places in the refrigerator and the pantry, with all the lids snapped back on. The counter was clean. The utensils were rinsed and in the sink. Everything was done and done really well. I did the math. They told me they had gotten their little brother out of bed as his alarm was going off, so I knew what time they started. I knew what time they had finished. I subtracted. Holy crap.

They made their own lunches ten minutes faster than it takes me to do it, and the kitchen was cleaner than after I am finished. Holy crap.

I’m bad at my job!

My three little kids just schooled my ass in lunch making. I realize there are three of them and only one of me, but the fact that they are 9, 7, and 5 and I’m 41 should definitely cancel out that argument.

I have been making their lunches every day for six straight months and apparently I suck at it. Well, thanks for that slap in the face, you ungrateful little overachievers. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you just keep making your own lunches. Maybe you can cook yourselves dinner, too. While you’re at it why don’t you just do the grocery shopping, also? No car? I’ll give you the car. You’re probably better at driving than me, too.

Actually, now that I think about this a little more, I’m really not that bitter. I think this lunch situation just bought me another half-hour of sleep every morning. That’s huge. Come to think of it, I really should start teaching the oldest one to drive. That could really help out a lot.

I may be bad at my job, but at least I’ll be well rested.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, January 8, 2014

Glory Chores

I’m discovering something about myself as I get deeper into my Mr. Mom role here at home. I’m tidy, but I’m not very clean. Not me personally, mind you, I mean the house. I myself shower every day and I smell terrific. Ask anyone near me.

The house, on the other hand, does not get cleaned nearly as often as I do. Neither do the kids come to think of it. The boys are lucky to get a bath twice a week, but that is really a conscious parenting decision, and not at all an obvious sign of laziness or neglect. We do not want our boys staying too clean. If we constantly remove all the bacteria from their little bodies they may be so clean they never get sick. That might be a convenient short-term parenting plan, but it will no doubt lead to adulthoods fraught with illness, possibly one day culminating in losing that coveted Taco Bell front counter cashier position to Timmy, who hasn’t had a sick day in five years because his genius parents hardly ever bathed him. No, we respect our children’s career ambitions too much to risk their future for our convenience. We’re good like that. Plus, cleaning up after a sick kid every so often, while disgusting at the time, is actually less work that bathing three squirmy boys every night, so it’s really a win-win.

Anyway, back to the house. Ever since I took over the housework duties, my wife has been nearly constantly reminding me of parts of the house that require cleaning, like countertops, and floors, and carpet, and bathroom mirrors. At first, I kept asking her, “Why? Did one of the boys throw up or pee on something?”, but as time went on and her answer to that question remained, “Of course not, you idiot,” I began to realize that she expected me to clean those things with startling regularity, just because.

I was quite taken aback by this. After further questioning, it came out that she expected me to be mopping our hardwood floors once a week. Once a week, people! What is this, Michael Jackson’s crazy hypoallergenic cleanroom?

As it turns out, when she was in charge of the cooking and cleaning, she would wipe things down and sweep things up every day. EVERY DAY. That’s crazy talk. This unnerving revelation has caused me to examine some things about myself.

I thought back to my days as a bachelor, and tried to remember what my cleaning habits - if any - were. I remember my little apartments always being tidy. I don’t like piles or clutter, except on my desk. My desk piles may look disorganized and random to the casual observer, but they are actually purposeful and well thought out. My desk piles are a sophisticated filing system consisting of nine specific categories:
Things I am meaning to read, but haven’t
Things I did read, but didn’t want to file or throw away for some reason
Things that will jog my memory about stuff I need to do
Things I need to do, but haven’t
Things I am blatantly ignoring until an unspecified time in the future
Things that need to be filed, but haven’t been
Things that don’t have a file yet, but need one
Things I need in the next month, so no sense putting them away in a file
Miscellaneous things I don’t know where to file

Besides my desk, I have always kept the rest of my square footage clutter-free. For instance, as a bachelor, I always kept the empty beer bottles nice and neat, back in their original carrying cases for easy disposal. I kept my kitchen mess-less by only eating food out of cardboard boxes or Styrofoam containers, and because I always made it a point to eat on the couch in front of the TV, the dining room table never had a spec of food on it. Dust, yes. Food, no.

I just don’t think it’s in my DNA to want a dust-free house, but apparently it’s important to my wife. This leads us to the thing I realized about myself the other day. There I was, standing in the kitchen looking for something to clean, and it hit me. I don’t look at the stovetop and think, “That really needs a wipe down.”  I look at it and think, “Would my wife think that needs a wipe down?” If my answer is yes, only then do I consider cleaning it.

I’m cleaning for the glory, not the actual cleaning itself. I am only wiping and sweeping and mopping to prove that I'm doing my job. More to the point, to prove that I'm not slacking off completely. I’m in it for the recognition. I have no real tangible personal need to keep things clean. I vacuum, but only when my wife is home to hear it. I sweep and wipe, but only when it can be readily seen that I, in fact, did it. Wiping down the counter every day without my wife noticing seems like a total waste of time to me.

Am I deeply flawed or just male? No telling.

One thing working to my advantage(?) in this situation is my apparent dust-blindness. I either don’t see dust, or it doesn’t register to me that it’s a problem, until after my wife has called me over, put her hands on her hips, and pointed out how dusty the top of the (insert any household surface here) is. Here’s where I’m in kind of a strange situation. When I do finally clean that surface, and she uses her magical dust vision to see that it is finally dust-free, I feel good about it because she can see that I actually cleaned something, and she feels like I am moderately competent for the time being. However, there is the problem of her feeling like I am totally useless on all those days leading up to the day I cleaned, when the invisible-to-everyone-else-but-her dust layer is building up.

It’s that time between cleanings that’s the problem.

I guess that could be solved by cleaning every day, but where’s the glory in that?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, January 1, 2014

About the Author, Again

I thought we should start the New Year off again this year with a little meet and greet.  Just a Smidge gained quite a few new readers in 2013, so I thought another "about the author" segment would be helpful. I am the 41-year-old husband of an amazing woman, and father of three boys, affectionately known as Son Number One, Two and Three, currently ranging in ages from five to nine years old. My beautiful wife and I are holding them against their will in Northern California, where we were both born and raised, and where they will be, too, if we can keep them from escaping.

I think we should really start with my name. The following is a segment from “The Name,” the very first Just a Smidge column I ever wrote, way back in June of 2008. It is also the forward of my book, The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories.

I am a fourth-generation American who was born and raised in California, but you would never guess that when looking at my name, so I really feel like I should start with an explanation. It's spelled Schmatjen. It's pronounced "Smidgen", like a smidgen of this, and a smidgen of that. No one in the family knows why. It's German, but some kind of strange hill-people German that were more Austrian, or more Swiss, or more drunk than regular Germans.

So we all went by "Smidge." Once you pronounce it for people, that's your nickname. No getting around it, and all in all it's a pretty good deal for a kid. If you're destined for a certain nickname, it's nice to know ahead of time that it's going to be palatable.

In the Schmatjen clan, there is a general rule that because of the last name's inherent spelling and pronunciation issues, the first names had better be fool-proof. So, inexplicably, my folks named me Marc with a "C." I'm not sure what they were thinking at the time, but looking back on it, it seems ill-advised. I have always liked it, but it invariably adds an extra dimension to the name-explaining process that we Schmatjens constantly go through.

So that’s the story on the name. Now, here are twenty other facts that you should know about me:

1) My wife thinks I am a great driver.
2) My grandpa killed General Patton's dog. That is the single most important thing anyone in my family has done. We are high achievers.
3) Walking out into bright sunlight makes me sneeze. I inherited this trait from my grandmother. I am one of only an estimated seven people in the world with this disorder. We have a club.
4) I am related to a U.S. president, but I forget which one. I think it's either Grover Cleveland or Woodrow Wilson. I don't care. I would only be excited if it was Teddy Roosevelt, and it isn't.
5) My favorite movie is a three-way tie between Romancing the Stone, Fletch, and Caddyshack.
6) Until I was in my teens, I thought that coffee really would stunt your growth, and that drinking alcohol made your beard grow faster, because in the movies, when guys woke up with a hangover, they always had a five-o’clock shadow. I wasn’t too bright as a kid.
7) Now that I have kids, I cry at “proud parent” moments in movies. I think this is because based on my children’s behavioral history, I may never have any of my own.
8) I am slightly over six feet tall, I weigh just over 200 pounds, and I have the bladder capacity of a four-year-old.
9) My two favorite flavors are slightly burnt pepperoni and toasted sesame seeds.
10) I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school. I could not swim more than 100 yards today without needing a floatation device and a defibrillator.
11) I love bacon. See number 10.
12) I quit my day job in July to become a professional writer. So far, I have only managed to become an amateur homemaker, but I hope to get this column syndicated soon, so if you know somebody, please introduce us. Bacon is expensive.
13) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. It makes driving directions with my wife fun.
14) My favorite joke of all time is: A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The psychiatrist looks at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts."
15) Beer is in the top three on my list of most important inventions of all time, with only toilet paper and nachos beating it out for the top spot.
16) I have a deep, abiding hatred for cantaloupe. If bacon is a 10, cantaloupe is a negative 3000.
17) I was born without the ability to have any sympathy whatsoever for whining. This makes parenting difficult sometimes.
18) My father was a commercial airline pilot, and observing him while growing up has made me completely unqualified to fly anything.
19) My mother is a published author, and observing her while growing up has made me completely unqualified to write anything, but I’m doing it anyway.
20) My wife is still laughing right now about number 1.

So there you have it, folks. You now know everything you need to know about me. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

Happy New Year, everybody!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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!