Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Golf Ball Car Stop

Our house is pretty good-sized, at two stories and over three thousand square feet. We need that much space to raise our three boys. Actually, three thousand square feet is the bare minimum space in which my wife and I are willing to attempt to contain our three little tornados of joy. Three thousand square feet per kid would be a lot better, but no one wants to clean that much house. We have fantasized about building a barn in the backyard to keep them in, but it turns out the county frowns upon that sort of thing, not only from a zoning perspective, but also from a child welfare point of view. Go figure.

Even if we were allowed to build a barn, we wouldn’t have the room to do it. Our three thousand-plus square foot house is built on a lot that is roughly two hundred square feet. In order to accommodate the house and still have a backyard at least large enough to turn around in, the builder conveniently made the “three-car” garage just big enough to comfortably fit one mid-sized sedan, if you angle it in. So, naturally, we park the giant SUV in the garage.

After I sanded the first few layers of paint from the top of the garage door wood trim, and deflated the tires a little, we were able to squeeze the Ford Expedition into the garage. When the front bumper was within thirteen inches of the back wall of the garage, the garage door was able to close, missing the rear bumper by about three inches on its way down. It was clear that we would need some sort of indicator for my wife to be able to know when she was far enough in, but not too far in. To make things easy, I got out my big cordless drill and drilled a hole through my finger. After I stopped the bleeding with toilet paper and electrical tape, I managed to also drill a hole through a golf ball, which was actually my original goal. I hung it on a string from the ceiling, so it would contact the windshield directly in front of the driver’s face. Drive in until the golf ball touches the glass, and you’re there. What could be simpler?

Well, if you are my wife, I guess a lot of things might be simpler, because the golf ball was obviously not a good solution. I knew right away that we might be in trouble with the concept when my mother-in-law saw me installing the golf ball and asked, “What the hell did you do to your finger?” Then she added, “Aren’t you worried that the golf ball will crack the windshield?”

Hmm… Well, when the ball touches the windshield, the front bumper of the three-ton SUV is about a foot from the living room wall, so if she’s coming into the garage fast enough to crack the windshield with the stationary hanging golf ball, I think we’re going to have bigger problems than minor glass repair…

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

It turns out that I really didn’t have to worry about that problem at all, because unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife was never planning on actually hitting the golf ball at all. She likes to drive up close to it, but not actually touch the windshield to it.

When I questioned this method she said, “Well, I get close enough to it.”

“Well, maybe, but when the ball is touching the windshield, the rear bumper is only three inches from the door, so if you’re more than three inches from it, the door is going to come down on the car.”

“Well, I get closer than that.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

Do you know how you could know for sure? HIT THE BALL!!

“I’m just worried that if you don’t hit the ball, you might be too far away.”

“Oh, relax. The door has never hit the car.”

That may very well be the case, but I have gone out into the garage and seen the ball inches away from the windshield, and gone to the back of the car to see the door so close to the back bumper that you couldn’t have slipped a playing card between them. How does she do that? Why does she do that?

Well, I still have no idea, but my wife and I switched cars a while back, and now I am finally in charge of parking the Expedition correctly in the walk-in closet cleverly disguised as our garage. It was going great for a while. I would drive in, snuggle the windshield right up to the ball, and get out of the car, happy in the knowledge that the door would come down ridiculously close to the rear bumper, but at least not on it.

Until yesterday. Yesterday something went horribly wrong. Yesterday the Expedition was parked safely in the shoe box garage. The golf ball was resting exactly where it should have been; on the windshield, directly in front of my face. I loaded up the boys, hopped into the driver’s seat, smiled at the golf ball, and turned the key in the ignition. Now, nothing bad happened with the garage door or the rear bumper, but it turns out that at some point between parking the car and getting back in to leave again, one or more of the boys had been sitting in the driver’s seat, playing with the switches and knobs.

As soon as the car sprang to life, all sorts of new things were happening. The radio was blaring a Spanish channel, we were signaling for a left turn, the high beams were on, and much to my dismay, the windshield wipers came sweeping across the glass. The main wiper blade teed off on the golf ball like a three iron, but instead of heading for the green, the string from the ceiling sent the ball in a wide circular trajectory, coming right back around to bounce off the windshield high on the passenger side. It was spinning its way back for a second ricochet off the glass as the wiper blades were coming back down to their home position. I frantically grabbed for the wiper controls on the turn signal lever, but it was down lower than it should have been because we were also turning left in this imaginary midnight Tijuana rainstorm. I fumbled for the controls as I watched the string get caught by the passenger-side wiper blade, and as I accidentally wrenched the wiper speed control knob all the way in the wrong direction, I saw my golf ball get unceremoniously torn off its ceiling mount, string and all, by my wiper blades which were now slamming back and forth across the glass on the highest setting. The boys were hooting and hollering in the back seat as I sat quietly and watched my golf ball get whipped back and forth across the windshield at 800 MPH.


Maybe my wife had a point. Is it possible that she too was once subjected to the old Mexican Hurricane gag? Did she hold out on me about her reasons for never quite reaching the golf ball?


Probably not. But I can tell you this: When I put the new golf ball up, it was three inches closer to the living room wall, and now I just drive up close to it.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Worst Umpire in the World

We had a wonderful baseball season with my boys. By wonderful, I mostly mean nobody got hurt. Son Number Two took a line drive right in the face mid-season while pitching, but he is as tough as they come, and was looking to take his turn at bat while his nose was still bleeding. Son Number One, in the next division up, led the league in being hit by pitches. It was a combination of just bad luck, nine and ten-year-old wild pitchers, and him having the reaction time of a drunk koala bear, but he managed to get through the season with only minor bruising. On the plus side, he had a great on-base percentage. Son Number Three made it all the way through his T-ball season with no incidents, but I had one close call as his coach. I narrowly escaped serious injury while placing the ball on the tee for one of his teammates. The kid decided not to wait until I was actually done letting go of the ball before swinging, and clipped my thumb with the aluminum bat as I frantically jumped out of the way. Fortunately, it was not serious, mostly due to the fact that I have lightning-quick reflexes. I’m not sure where Son Number One got his lackadaisical synapses, because I have the reaction time of a ninja. OK, maybe a drunk ninja, but still…

Anyway, as I sit here reflecting on the season, I can’t help but think of the officiating. Son Number One’s league had an umpire behind the plate for every game, and we had some good umpires and some not-so-good umpires. We had some clearly blown calls, but mostly good calls. We had some tiny strike zones, some giant strike zones, some random strike zones, but mostly just fair balls and strikes. Umpires are human, and no one knows that better than me. I will never complain about the officiating of a ball game too much, because I happen to have been the worst baseball umpire this world has ever seen.

It happened when I was in college. So many of life’s biggest blunders happen in college. That’s because when you’re in college, you think you’re a genius. It is only many years after college that you realize you don’t know anything at all, and you knew far less than that when you were a genius college student. I worked as a little league umpire in my sophomore year, and like my son’s league, there was only one umpire per game, calling all the plays from behind the plate.

I don’t remember how old the kids were, but looking back on it now, I would guess they were about eight years old. Most of the pitchers were just lucky to get the ball across the plate, but there were two kids in the league that could really throw. One of them even had different pitches, so he was well ahead of his fellow players. He had a good fastball, a decent changeup, and he could even throw a curveball. It was this kid who tricked me into being a terrible umpire. Actually, it was him and his catcher.

His catcher during the fateful inning was a really cool kid. Most of the kids were scared to death of the umpire and wouldn’t say a word to me, but this kid joked with me and talked to me behind the plate. He would comment on his pitcher’s performance, and he generally made it a lot more fun to be back there calling balls and strikes. I blame him, mostly.

There we were. One out in the inning with a runner on second base. The catcher calls for the pitch and the ace pitcher starts the third batter off with a curveball. The batter swings over the top of it as it drops off the table into the dirt in front of the catcher. Strike one. His next pitch was a changeup, and the batter swung three feet in front of the ball. Strike two. The catcher then says to me, “Watch this,” as he gave the sign to his man on the hill. The last pitch was the heater. A fastball straight across the center of the plate, chest-high. The batter stood staring at it, never moving the bat from his shoulder. Strike three. He had sat him down looking.

I was caught up in the moment. My “strike three” call got a little wild. I stood up, turned around, went down on one knee, pumping my fist wildly, sawing an imaginary log in the air. “Steeeeeerike Threeeeeeee!”

I stood up, very pleased with myself. That was easily the best, most theatrical third strike call in history. I was very sure that the fans as well as the players would be impressed. I turned around to face the field again, to accept praise for my fantastic umpireness. What I received instead, were stares. The catcher was standing up, without his helmet or mask on, staring at me. The pitcher was staring at me. Neither one of them had the ball. The runner that was previously on second base was lying on the ground with his foot on third base, staring at me. The third baseman, with the ball in his mitt, resting on the runner’s leg, was also staring at me.

The kid on second had stolen third base on the third pitch, and the catcher had thrown it down to try and get him out. There had been an entire play happening while I was turned around making the best third strike call in history. I am a moron.

I began walking as calmly as I could up the third base line. The only two umpire-specific thoughts I could muster in my genius college kid brain were, “tie goes to the runner,” and “close call, big arms; easy call, small arms.” OK, you yahoo, that means that you should make a very nonchalant call as if you totally saw what happened and it was an easy decision, and I guess we’ll just go with safe since the tie goes to the runner. What a great plan, you ridiculous idiot.

When I was half way to third base I stopped, made a very small “safe” motion with my hands, said “Safe,” in a normal speaking voice (albeit, probably shaky with fear), and turned around with my head down, walking back toward home plate, ready for all hell to break loose from the stands. I was expecting to have to sprint to my car, followed by angry hordes of parents hurling epithets and soda cans at me.

To my great surprise and enormous relief, I made it back to the plate without being killed. In fact, there wasn’t even a murmur of disapproval from the stands or the players. Apparently, the kid was obviously safe. I had a fifty-fifty chance, and I guessed correctly. And thankfully, everyone else at the ballpark had been actually watching the play (much like the umpire is supposed to do), so no one had noticed that I was too busy making the best strike three call in the whole world and had neglected the part where I was supposed to be doing my job.

I called the rest of the game with wide-eyed, rapt attention, and left as quickly as I could. I considered myself very lucky to get out of there with my skin, and decided not to push my luck any further. I gave up umpiring after that season and got a job at a gas station. I didn’t mention that I was the worst umpire in the world, and they didn’t ask. It was great. The entire time I worked there no one ever stole third without me knowing it.

Years later, now that I’m a baseball coach for my sons’ teams, I still argue with the umpire if I think they made a bad call, but my heart isn’t in it. I feel their pain.

Sometimes, purely out of the goodness of my heart, I even let them know that the Chevron station down the street is hiring.

They don’t seem to take it well. Go figure.

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, June 11, 2014

The Ultimate Father's Day Gift

Father’s Day is right around the corner. My boys are young, so I still get homemade cards, but it won’t be long before I start receiving ties that I will never wear and bottles of cologne that I will never open. My dad still has twenty-six bottles of Old Spice from me, and not one of them has ever been opened. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized he never wore cologne in the first place. I want to avoid this with my own kids before I have to find a spot to store thirty-five gallons of Axe body spray.

So, I am hereby publicly announcing what I want for Father’s Day. I would like my three boys to invent something. Something specific. Something that could change the world. Something that will benefit not only me, but possibly every father on the planet.

I want my boys to invent The Blanket Anchor.

Here’s the problem: I sleep in a king-size bed with a wife that has major temperature swings. You would think that the king-sized sheets, blankets, and duvets on a king-size bed would be more than enough to cover two people adequately. You would be wrong, in our case.

Depending on the time of year, my wife comes to bed either on the verge of sweating profusely or on the verge of freezing to death. There is no middle ground. At no point since having children has she been comfortable from a temperature standpoint, especially at bedtime.

And, no matter what her starting state, at some point in the middle of the night, her temperature completely reverses. During the winter, she can reach up to two thousand degrees by midnight. By morning, she is usually back to where she was when she came to bed.

These extreme swings in spousal temperature lead to a lot of blanket movement. There are times when I wake up noticing that I am a little warm and my movements are slightly restricted, only to find I am under a three-foot-thick pile of bedding. Most of the time, however, it is the opposite. Nine days out of ten I wake up without any covers to speak of.

My wife is in denial. I have tried to explain to her that while sleeping she tends to mimic an Australian crocodile doing a death roll, gathering all the sheets and blankets in a horizontal tornado-like fashion, wrapping herself up like a roll of toilet paper. She refuses to believe that she even moves during the night. She has gone as far as to accuse me of pushing the covers over onto her side. When I asked her to show me how exactly to push a blanket across a bed she just changed the subject.

All I can tell you is at the first sign of movement from her side of the bed, I grab onto the sheet and hold on for dear life. It usually doesn’t help. Anyone who thinks women are the weaker sex should try to get the covers back from one of them. During the day, I can beat my wife in any sort of physical strength competition like arm wrestling, but not at night. She is approximately twenty to thirty times stronger when she is asleep. The perfect tug of war team would be six sleeping women all holding onto the same bed sheet.

And if I ever have to get out of bed to pee (or in many cases with my boys, to clean up pee), I can simply forget about having any covers when I get back to bed. Now, many of you unmarried men out there are probably asking, “Why don’t you just wake her up and get your covers back?” That’s cute. I miss those days when I was young and carefree. I’m not going to begin to try to explain to you why that is such a bad idea. Just suffice it to say that I would rather simply get dressed and leave the house in the middle of the night, find a flock of sheep, shear some of them, and attempt to make my own blanket instead. That would be less troublesome.

So there it is, boys. All I want for Father’s Day is The Blanket Anchor. I want something that insures that the blankets and sheets I have when I go to bed get to be at my disposal for the entire night.

I don’t know what it will look like. I don’t even know how it will work. All I know is I want covers.

Until such time as the invention has been completed, I do not want ties and cologne as Father’s Day filler gifts. I would simply appreciate more homemade cards, with progress reports on The Blanket Anchor (TM pending).


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, June 4, 2014

The Talent Show

Each year in the last week of school, our elementary school holds a talent show. It is always in the last week, so it was obviously created as filler for teachers who are simply looking to keep the students busy until that final summer dismissal bell rings. Nothing productive at all happens in the last week of school. Nothing ever has in the history of education. Academically speaking, you could eliminate the last week of school without losing any learning, but it’s a paradox… or a conundrum… I don’t know which. Anyway, as soon as you get rid of it, it appears again out of thin air. You always have to have a last week, so it will always be there, just wasting everyone’s time.

Schools have actually been trying to get rid of it for years now. The school districts have been adjusting the calendar every year, desperately trying to eliminate the week where all the teachers stop being educators and start being a cross between sheep herders and concert security, just trying to keep all the kids together and under control for four more days. Each year they cut off the last week, but are forced to add it back to the beginning of the year. That’s why school ends so early now, and the kids go back in August instead of September. We might as well not even have Labor Day anymore if we’re not going to use it for its originally intended purpose; marking when school will start.

So, in an act of pure selfishness, the teachers dragged us, the parents, into their last week of school nightmare by creating a talent show. Sure, it keeps the kids busy for a while for them, but if your child signs up, you, as a parent, are stuck. You must go or you will be letting your child down by not being present at every single significant minute of their lives. Son Number One and Two signed up to play the piano. Thanks a lot, teachers!

“Welcome to the talent show. Let’s get started right away, since we have thirty-five acts.”

Excuse me? Thirty-five!? Oh, sweet mother, we will never get out of here.

OK, time to get comfortable… I’m on a folding metal chair… comfortable is not going to happen. OK, we’re starting with two brothers, a sixth-grader on guitar and his younger brother on drums. Good start. They rock. This is a rock concert. The sixth-grader is singing and I can't understand any of the words, but these kids are really solid. OK, the song is going a little long. Remember kid, thirty-five acts!

Great first act. I am hopeful. Curtain just went down. Oh man, I think they have to break down the drum set. This is going to hurt us on time.

OK, they brought out a comedian in front of the curtain. Good job on the time management. What do you get when you cross a spider with a computer? A web page. Nice one, kid. He was funny and quick. I like him.

My butt is falling asleep on this metal chair, and we are only on act three.

Two girls singing the Taylor Swift song “You Belong to Me” a cappella. They're good, but I think they're going to sing the whole song. OK, they cut it short. Good.

Two third grade girls doing a dance/gymnastic routine to some hip-hop song. Short. OK. One of them cartwheeled off stage and almost collided with stage hand kid. Comic relief for the crowd of students. Collisions are hilarious to elementary schoolers.

Second grade hula hoop routine. Two little girls alternately jumping rope, walking on two little buckets with ropes attached to them, hula hooping and occasionally doing some gymnastics. That might have been the longest two minutes of my life. I am dying.

Piano now. Fifth grade girl. “Let it Go” from Frozen. OK. First appearance of Frozen. Surely more to come. She is wearing a dress.

Now another kid on piano. He played the Star Wars theme and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Dammit! His songs are cooler than my kids’ songs. My boys are playing some snake charmer song and some Russian dance song that no one knows. Now I’m starting to think my boys’ real talent might be picking obscure piano songs that no one can ba-da-da-dum along with. This kid is also well-dressed. Hmm…

My butt is completely asleep.

Now two girls and more hula hoops. Shakira song. I hate this song. The girls are really good at hula hooping. They even go down to their knees and still hula hoop. There is no way I could do that. The lyrics of this song are not appropriate for elementary school. At least, I don't think they are. I can't understand the words. I hate this song so much.

Two girls doing the cup song from Pitch Perfect. I can only hope that their parents never let them watch the movie, because, wow, not kid-friendly. They did good, but "two bottles of whiskey for the road" might not be the most appropriate elementary school lyric ever, even though two bottles of whiskey is exactly what I want right now.

There is a small fog machine on the back of the stage. It just let off a puff of fog, and for a brief moment I had hope that the stage was on fire and we could leave. No such luck.

Now two girls doing a hip-hop dance routine to “Dynamite.” One of the lyrics is "it goes on and on and on." The song is right. It does. This might never end. We are only on act ten. We really do need whiskey. I whispered to my wife, but she refused to go get some. She is not a team player.

Third grade boy dancing by himself to “Party Rockin’ in the House Tonight.” Crowd favorite. The kids love this guy’s dance routine, which is kind of a mix between the Russian deep-knee-bend dance, break dancing, and a seizure. It was short. I love this kid, too.

Second grade girl with an a cappella version of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from Frozen. Only our second Frozen sighting. Not bad.

I no longer have a butt.

Gymnastics now. Two girls ballet dancing and gymnastics tumbling. OK. Too bad the swimmers and baseball players couldn't showcase their after-school sports as well.

The next act is almost identical. Why couldn't they have combined them and had four girls on stage tumbling at once. That would have added a fun and more entertaining level of danger. Remember, kids love collisions. Who’s running this thing?

My boys are up on piano. They rocked it. They absolutely rocked those two songs no one has ever heard of. They are both wearing soccer shorts and stained T-shirts. Were we supposed to dress up for this?

Another piano girl. She is wearing a dress. Whoops.

Now another girl in a nice dress singing a song I don’t know. She’s good. Hey… wait a minute… she was one of the Taylor Swift girls. That isn’t fair! She is extending the time we must be in this room by going twice. She's really good, but she shouldn't get to go twice. One of my legs is going numb and my wife just shoved her elbow into my ribs to keep me from squirming.

Here’s something new. A fourth-grade boy with a round plastic trash can. There is a hole in the bottom and the top is covered with clear plastic. His little sister just filled it with fog from the fog machine. When he slaps his hand on the plastic cover, it shoots twelve-inch smoke rings out over the audience. The kids love it! That is very cool... Hang on, kid… is your talent having a dad who built you a smoke ring machine? This smacks of the solar system model that "my son made" a few weeks ago. Parental involvement is obvious and necessary for the science fair project, but let's keep the dads out of the talent show, shall we? I need to build one of those and get a fog machine. How cool would it be to have a fog machine in the house?

More Frozen. Two sisters, second grade and kindergarten, doing a “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” duet. They are in full-on Disney Frozen dresses and tiaras. I can’t see them anymore, because their mom is sitting in front of me recording them with her iPad, which is blocking my view of the stage. I am now watching them on the iPad screen instead. They are very cute, but no, I do not want to build a snowman. Quit asking.

Now two girls wearing feather boas and lip-syncing a song I don't know. It’s girl band complaint rock. No like. My boys have already gone. Can we leave yet? My wife says we have to stay until the end. I do not understand her sometimes. My other leg is starting to go numb. My butt is gone.

Wait. There's another girl who is going twice. We are going to be here forever. I am going to die in this room.

Sixth grade girl belting out “This Girl is on Fire.” She is awesome. She gives me goose bumps. She gives me hope. For the first time since the guitar/drum kids I do not want to run out of this room. There is no way I could run out of this room anyway. Not on these legs and without a butt.

Sixth grade boy doing a solo hip hop dance routine. I can't concentrate because my feet are now going to sleep. He is good. He can spin on one knee. I would try that right now if I thought it would fix my butt and leg problems.

More piano. Another girl wearing a dress and heels. I’m really starting to think we should have dressed our boys a little better this morning. She curtsied at the end. Wow, professional.

Older girl now on piano. She is wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Vindication! Holy cow, she is really good. She is better than really good. I guess when you're that good you don't need to dress up. My boys are not that good. We need to put our boys in tuxedos next time. Some kids’ cell phone just rang in the middle of her performance. I have no words for how wrong that is on so many levels.

Sixth grade girl with legs as tall as she is. Ballet/ hip-hop/gymnastics. If she ever grows into her legs she will be six-foot-six.

Two more little girls singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” Their cuteness can no longer outweigh my growing distain for this song. I hate Frozen.

Yet another girl wearing a Frozen dress. Kindergartner. She is signing “Let it Go.” I would let it go, but you elementary school girls won't let me. I might not be able to walk, but I’ll bet I could crawl out that side door right there.

Three sixth grade girls in tutus and Mexican hats singing “I'm a Little Teapot.” Now another one is rapping about a teapot. What fresh hell is this? The other three just came back on stage to a hip-hop song. One of them is dressed in a cow costume complete with udders. I have no words for how much I don't want to be here.

More hip-hop dance. Large group of sixth-graders. I think I blacked out during their routine and came to during the applause. It’s over. Is it really over? A teacher is speaking and the kids are getting up. It really is over.

I tried to stand on my dead legs, but they would not cooperate. I have fallen and I can’t get up. Drag me, honey. Just drag me. We need to get out of here before they realize it was only thirty-one acts!

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!