Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fifty Shades of Shark

This past week the internet was all abuzz with the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie version of the number one best-selling “adult erotica” book ever, written by a previously unknown British woman. It’s basically the Harry Potter of sex books. Never have so many housewives been so openly and publicly (I hope I spelled that correctly) excited about a porn movie coming out. Anne Rice could be heard saying, “Aw, come on, man!”

My guess is that married men accounted for at least half the book sales, although not a single man was actually reading the book. Men were buying the shelves clean of Fifty Shades on the advice of buddies, who were reporting major upticks in bedroom activity while their wives were reading the book. No one knew what the book was about, and frankly, no one cared. The results seemed fairly universal, and no one was going to question it.

To date, I believe Dave Barry is the only man to have actually read it, and that was purely for research, since his wife had not read it (yet). My wife hasn’t read it (yet) either, and I am just not willing to duplicate research, so I just read Dave’s take on it to get the gist. Apparently, women like poorly-written stories about hot single billionaires who like kinky sex. As average-looking, married, non-billionaire men who are just fine with regular sex, we all had no idea this was the case. If we had known, we all would have sat down and penned our own poorly-written stories like that to give to our wives.

You see, a man’s interest in sex stays at the exact same level his entire adult life, and that level can generally be described as, “high” and “ever-present.”

Whereas, women’s interest in sex seems to take a rather dramatic downturn when children are introduced into the picture. This may be - at first, anyway - because children are usually introduced through one of the fun parts and then claim immediate ownership of the others. After that initial phase is over, but still not helping the situation at all, the kids tend to hang around. This leaves all of us married men wondering what the hell just happened and how to get things back to the way they were. None of us have come up with any good long-term answers yet, mainly because asking the kids to leave the house and not come back is frowned upon for the first eighteen or so years. So we swarm to any temporary solutions we hear of, and the aforementioned best-selling socially-acceptable book full of smut seemed to be one of those temporary solutions.

While my wife is well aware of our differences in what is an assumed good time for “it” - meaning she understands the difference between anytime and not tonight - I was recently able to really highlight the difference through a deft and rather humorous analogy with a household appliance.

We have a Shark steam mop for our hardwood floors. Operation of said steam mop over the last year has fallen to me in my capacity as Mr. Mom. It had been almost a year since she had used it when she fired it up to mop the floors last month. She was halfway through when she started to get frustrated.

“This thing keeps stopping!”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It stops steaming every once in a while and you have to wait for it to start again.”

“I know,” I said, “it always does that.”

“No it doesn’t! It never did that before.”

“It’s done that ever since I started using it,” I said.

“It’s broken. How can you stand it?”

Hahahahaha, snort! (sound of me laughing hysterically)

“What’s so funny?”

“Well,” I laughed, “I guess I’m just used to having to wait for things to get steamy, whereas you are used to dealing with things that are always ready to go.”

I’m pretty sure she enjoyed the humorous and incredibly insightful analogy as much as I did. Or was it a metaphor? Who cares, it was funny. And I’m fairly sure she took it to heart, too, because for our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, she got me a brand new Shark steam mop.

Oh, yeah! You know what that means! My wife is very, very interested… in clean floors.

Oh, well. At least she has a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. She hasn’t read it yet, despite the many, many times I have moved it to the top of her stack, but it’s only a matter of time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Extreme Home Repair

I think every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive. Either that, or because of our male DNA, we just keep doing really stupid things, surviving them somehow, then telling ourselves that every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive.

Since I gave up professional snowmobile motocross and extreme cage fighting, I tend to mainly cheat death these days with home repair. It’s a win-win, really, because not only do I get to feel truly alive, but occasionally I accidentally fix something. This last time was not one of those times.

Our air conditioner quit working last week. That was a very unfortunate situation, since our house is currently sitting on the surface of the sun. It was 104 degrees the day it died. That is not cool. Fortunately - for her anyway - my wife was leaving with the kids the next day for a week-long excursion without me. That meant I would be left to sweat profusely by myself until the air conditioner guy could come out. “No problem,” I thought, as I dialed up the repair man, “I can make it a day or two.”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re scheduled out past a week at this point. We can be there next Wednesday.”

“Uhh… Can you repeat that? I had sweat inside my ear and I thought I just heard you say next Wednesday.”

It turns out that air conditioner problems are a pretty common occurrence here on the sun, and I had heard him correctly. I reluctantly scheduled my convenient four-hour window of time, and hung up the phone. As I wiped my face sweat from the phone’s front screen, I vowed to try and fix it myself in the meantime. I was mildly concerned that I might accidentally dehydrate until I remembered that beer is full of water. No problem there, but I really just wanted to be cool, and I could always cancel the appointment. Besides, I hadn’t cheated death in a while.

Through some very high-level troubleshooting at the circuit breaker panel on the side of my house, I had noticed that the breaker was tripping when the air conditioner tried to come on. I also noticed that the breaker would trip even when I had the A/C turned off. I obviously had a bad circuit breaker! I can fix that! I think…

I know what I’m doing with electricity in the same way that a teenager knows how to drive a car. I am familiar with the main concept, but I am severely lacking in skill and comprehension on some of the finer points.

What I do know is that electricity is amazing. Take a refrigerator for example. Electricity runs the compressor that makes the refrigerator cold, in turn, making your beer cold. Electricity also runs the little light bulb inside the refrigerator, making it possible to find the cold beer, even in the dark. Light bulbs are hot. Electricity is responsible for both cold and hot in the same machine, all resulting in the ability to find and drink a cold beer, any time of the day or night. Simply amazing!

I also know a little about the units involved in describing electrical circuits. Many people are confused by the relationship between Amps and Volts, and many others simply don’t know what they are at all. It’s really quite simple, actually.

Amps are the measurement of electricity’s ability to kill you, in units of consecutive missed heartbeats. Getting shocked by a 3-amp circuit will probably be survivable, but a 30-amp circuit will do you in. You simply cannot survive missing thirty consecutive heartbeats.

Voltage is the measure of how far the electricity will throw you while the amps are killing you. Volts are measured in inches per death. For instance, a 480-volt circuit will throw you 480 inches, or 40 feet, while the amps are turning you into a baked potato.

The circuit for my A/C unit has a 40-amp breaker. Forty consecutive heartbeats are too many to miss. I think it is also 220 volts, which means if I screwed up, my body would be found a little over eighteen feet away from the panel. That would put me squarely in the middle of my neighbor’s driveway.

Speaking of my neighbor, I was a little conflicted there. My family had left, so I was all alone. I wanted someone to know that I was about to attempt to cheat death, on the off chance that I had only missed ten or so heartbeats and was only blown five or six feet from the panel and clinging to life. On the other hand, our neighbor is old and I didn’t want to scare her. I decided someone was bound to drive by and see me smoking on the driveway, so I didn’t bother her.

I removed my wedding ring. I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is necessary, but I just know that professional electricians don’t wear them. I think it’s so when your wife is collecting your personal belongings after you die, she doesn't have to try and pull it off your charred ring finger.

I then watched a few YouTube videos on how to change a breaker, and instantly became an expert. I got my screwdriver and approached the electrical panel, mostly almost confident. I carefully unscrewed the panel cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. I was sweaty.

There, behind the circuit breakers, I could now see the “bus bar,” which is a Latin for “metal strip of death.” It is a large copper plate that all the circuit breakers clip onto, and it is brimming with kill-you-instantly electricity. I was fairly sure that I could disable the bus bar by switching the large main circuit breaker off. I could see another copper plate coming from under another protective cover that looked like it was going to the main breaker, but I wanted to be sure.

I carefully unscrewed the other cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. There behind the panel, I was face-to-face with all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood, coming in from the street on two wires as thick as Costco polish sausages. This was not on any of the videos.

I should not have removed this cover.


Sure enough, they were attached to the plate running to the main breaker, so I was almost confident that shutting the main breaker off would kill the bus bar, but I knew for a fact there was no way to shut off the power to the two giant cables of doom that I had just uncovered.

I was now sweating and moving like the guy diffusing the bomb in the action film. If I accidentally touched the metal cover or my screwdriver to either of these humongous wires, I would receive enough Amps and Volts to miss a month’s worth of heartbeats and weld my body to the stop sign at the end of the street. Despite the gallons of sweat and nervous hand tremors, I managed to replace the cover and screw it down without incident.

Crisis averted. Death cheated, yet again.

I switched off the main, removed the old 40-amp breaker, and took it to Lowe’s to find a new one. They had an exact match, and new one in hand, I drove back to my house confident and even a little proud. Today, I know everything there is to know about electricity. Today I am an electrical super-genius. Today I am Tony Stark from Iron Man.

I slapped that new breaker in, buttoned up the panel cover, and flipped the main back on. Confidently, I flipped the new 40-amp breaker on… only to have it trip right back off.

Hmm… Electrical super-genius Tony Stark did not seem to fix anything here. In fact, all I seemed to have accomplished was spending eleven dollars on a breaker I didn’t need and getting to reset all the clocks inside an 85-degree house. Not awesome.

After spending the majority of the rest of the week in my car with the A/C running, I’m now in the middle of my convenient four-hour window, waiting for the real electrician to arrive and actually fix something. I don’t think I’ll tell him this story.

Oh, well. At least I cheated death. I feel truly alive!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lions and Tiger Sharks and Bears, Oh My

My wife’s folks live in Morro Bay, California, and we have traditionally loved to go and visit them in their sleepy little beach town, but at this point, we may need them to move. Apparently, all the dangerous animals in North America are descending on Morro Bay, no doubt lured in by the bargains on touristy sea shell art and good clam chowder.

We were there with them last week, and everything with large teeth showed up at the same time. We were greeted with the news that a shark had bitten a surfer’s board just south of the bay two days before our arrival. The surfer was uninjured, but the board did not fare as well. Officials said the eleven-inch diameter bite ring left in the board suggested a shark length of approximately “holy-crap-who-the-hell-cares-how-long-it-is-its-mouth-is-a-foot-wide!” That was obviously just an estimate, since officials were unable to determine the species, but one unnamed Fish and Game officer was quoted as saying, “Whatever kind of shark we’re dealing with, it’s not too bright. It chose to bite into the hard foam surfboard, when the soft, tasty surfer was right there.”

Choosing to believe that the bungling shark, which may or may not have learned from its culinary mistake, would obviously go further south in search of warmer waters and softer prey, we bravely made our way down to the beach. We were greeted by flyers posted at all the public beach access points, warning us of a “Confirmed Shark Sighting” in north Morro Bay the day before. The flyer advised us to “enter the water at your own risk,” and to “keep away from marine wildlife.” In an apparent jurisdictional mix-up between the coastal first-responders, the flyers were printed and distributed by the fire department. No one could figure out why, since, as far as anyone can remember, no sharks in Morro Bay have ever caught on fire.

Since none of us had brought surfboards - the obvious preferred dining option of central coast sharks - we were reluctant to venture too far out into the water, for fear of becoming the backup meal plan. We did allow the children to play in the ocean - in this case, the ocean being defined as the wet sand instead of the dry sand - and considered ourselves to be perfectly safe. Boy, were we wrong!

Little did we know, the water may have been the safest place. We returned to the house later that day to the news of three confirmed mountain lion sightings in and around Morro Bay that morning. We had foolishly been facing the ocean all day, paying no attention to the trees and bushes behind us that could have contained a deadly beast. We considered ourselves lucky to be alive, having literally been surrounded by dangerous wild animals all day. One official from the Harbor Patrol was quoted as saying, “Now we need the fire department. It’s a cat.”

We stayed inside for the rest of the trip and played gin rummy.

This infestation of carnivorous beasts is nothing new. In May of 2013, morning surfers alerted city officials that there was a bear wandering around on Morro Rock, which sits on a small peninsula, basically out in the middle of the ocean. After drug testing the surfers and coming up negative, the officials were forced to look into their story. Sure enough, there was a 250-pound black bear sitting in the bushes at the base of the big rock, less than fifty feet from the beach that would soon be populated with tourists.

Since there were apparently no concurrent shark or mountain lion sightings to deal with, almost every agency within a thirty-mile radius was called in for support. State police, local police, firemen, State Parks, Harbor Patrol, Fish and Game, the marines, guards of the national, life, and coast varieties, EMTs, meter maids, boat captains, a small detachment from the local VFW, and even the janitor in charge of the Morro Rock Beach public bathroom were all on-scene and available to help.

The bear caused such a panic among the Morro Bay officials that the high school, over half a mile away, was put on lock-down. The Morro Bay High School principal ignored the opportunity to have one of the most epic impromptu all-school field trips ever, in favor of locking the kids in their classrooms to stare down at their phones some more. That seems short-sighted to me, but in all fairness, he might have been worried that many of his pasty-white, video-game-generation students would simply not be able to physically make it a half-mile down the beach. It’s all about the children’s safety, after all.

Despite the fire department’s insistence on being the lead agency, stating repeatedly that the bear looked awfully dry, the California Department of Fish and Game finally took control of the scene. They shot the bear with a tranquilizer dart and relocated it to California Valley, which was viewed by many to be inhumane, since California Valley is nothing but hundreds of thousands of acres of dry brown grass, and does not have good fish tacos. In any case, the wayward bear was certainly not the first Morro Bay tourist to take drugs and wake up in an unfamiliar place, but he was definitely the hairiest.

The Morro Rock bear was by far the most exciting thing to happen in the little tourist town last year. I’m fine with a little excitement once in a while, but it really seemed like the animals were ganging up on us this trip. We will probably still keep visiting, though, if for no other reason than the fantastic local news coverage of these events.

The 2013 bear news highlight had to be this gem of an observation by one local reporter: “While this is the first sighting of a bear at Morro Rock, bears have been spotted just south of here in Los Osos.”

That revelation may have even prompted the first-year Spanish students at Morro Bay High School to glance up from their phones long enough to say, “Duh!”

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, July 9, 2014

Sleeping Around

My back hurts. It always has some level of ache going on, but today it hurts. That’s because we’re on vacation. When you’re on vacation, you sleep somewhere other than your own bed, and for the over-forty-year-old male human, that usually means back pain. Or neck pain. Body part pain of some kind, anyway.

Vacations, in that way, are a conundrum for us over-forty males. We enjoy getting away from the day-to-day routine, but we know it’s going to hurt. So far this summer my family has been camping twice, where I got to sleep on a nice comfortable layer of stones and twigs, to two vacation homes where I got to sleep in little miniature versions of actual-sized beds, and to my in-law’s house at the beach, where the bed is almost life-sized, but about as comfortable as sleeping in or on my car.

All this rest and relaxation may just kill me. I’m starting to make groaning noises every time I transition in or out of a chair, and if I could figure out how to stay upright, I would seriously consider trying to sleep standing against the wall while we’re away from home. This is not to say that our bed at home is perfect. Far from it. It causes aches and pains, too. It’s just that it’s the home field, and I know how to play it. Our mattress is made out of an acceptable blend of coil springs and padding, whereas all the other mattresses I have slept on recently, in hotel rooms or people’s guest rooms seem to be filled with either 100% marshmallow cream or a mixture of rocks and scrap metal. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Our mattress at home is relatively new. Or, should I say, relatively pre-owned. About a year ago, when our old mattress finally developed two sleep valleys so deep that we could not see each other over the middle hump, we decided it might be time to get a new one. We went to Sleep Train, which, much to my disappointment, was not located on an actual train. We went into the boring, completely motionless building and lay/sat on about eight different mattresses while our three boys jumped/tackled each other on the remaining thirteen. Many of the mattresses on the showroom floor seemed very comfortable, but they all cost roughly twenty thousand dollars each, or thirty thousand if you wanted the matching box spring. After reviewing the pricing, I decided we would just have to suck it up and sleep on our couches. The manager, sensing my hesitation at spending more for a bed than a new car, suggested we might want to look at some of their used mattresses.

I was interested, but my wife balked at the idea, citing the fact that we bought our last mattress new, and she didn’t understand what my problem was. I tried to explain to her that just like a new car, a new mattresses will lose over half its value the minute we drive it off the showroom floor, and nearly every mattress we have ever slept on has been “used,” but she remained unconvinced. The manager, with his years of mattress selling experience, kept her from running out the front door by asking me politely to shut up, and telling her that “used” meant the previous owner had it for less than two days, and returned it in like-new condition. Sleep Train (which, as I mentioned before, is incomprehensibly stationary) had then cleaned the returned mattress, just a precaution, mind you, with rubbing alcohol – apparently the universal pre-owned precautionary mattress cleaning agent - and offered it at a drastically reduced price, which was more in the range of what one might pay for a late model used car.

I was sold. My wife begrudgingly went along with the transaction, and we had our like-new mattress delivered that day. I slept alone in our new used bed for a week or two until my wife was sure that I hadn’t contracted any diseases, venereal or otherwise, then she finally joined me. While this mattress is still much better for my rapidly disintegrating body than any surface I have encountered this summer, it is not exactly perfect, as I mentioned. The other day while we were at home, I woke up with my hip hurting. I limped for two days, but I had gone to bed that night feeling just fine. I had just slept “funny.” That’s not right. Sleep is supposed to be a time of rejuvenation. There is something very wrong with getting hurt while you sleep. It seems unfair.

Getting old is rough. I didn’t used to have these problems. When my wife and I got married we were thirty years old. I could sleep anywhere on anything. We started out with my old bed from college which consisted of nine springs under a thinning sheet of quilted fabric, held together with lint and duct tape. When she wanted to replace it I seriously questioned why. I saw nothing wrong with it. I would bounce out of that bed every morning, ready to take on the world, not an ache to be found.

We just had our twelve year anniversary, and things have definitely changed. Now I wake up more sore than when I went to sleep. That’s probably not a good sign for the future…

Oh, well. It’s been a great twelve years otherwise, and my wife sure is lucky. A little over a decade later, and she gets to sleep in a newish used bed soaked in rubbing alcohol with an old man who smells like Bengay. Happy anniversary, honey!

I guess if she ever gets nostalgic for our twelve-year-old bed with the worn out springs and the deep sleep valleys that we purchased new, she’s in luck. It’s right down the hall in our guest room.

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, July 2, 2014

The Chair of Death

I think my distain for garage sales is fairly well documented. Every year around the beginning of July, Kiki the Rocklin Super Realtor holds a community-wide garage sale in our neighborhood, where she convinces three thousand people to sell things on their driveways all on the same morning. That means everyone living in the twenty-block radius is simultaneously held hostage by hordes of terrible drivers unleashing infantry divisions of bargain-savvy shoppers onto our quiet streets, all looking for deals on used pants and decorative felt Elvis paintings.

Since I don’t like explaining to people who may or may not understand me why seventy-five cents isn't too much to pay for a pair of jeans, I don’t usually participate. This year, however, since I am an idiot, I decided to haul some of the bigger items out of my garage that were merely taking up space, with no hope of ever being used. I ended up displaying a table saw, a drill press, and a welder. It was the manliest garage sale ever. You could smell the testosterone in the air. Or maybe that was my sweat from having just dismantled my entire garage to extract a table saw, a drill press, and a welder from under the twenty-five hundred pounds of other stuff I never use either.

Unfortunately, the clientele were not in the market for the more manly, big-ticket items I was selling. I sat in a lawn chair on my driveway for three hours and managed to only sell a box of welding rod that came with the welder. I made ten dollars.

Meanwhile, my wife was out cruising all the other garage sales in the area. Right about the time I made my incredible sale, she pulled back up to the house with a big white rocking chair hanging out of the trunk.

“How much did you pay for that?”

“Ten dollars.”

Great, now I'm back to even. I mentally scanned our entire house and backyard. There is no place to put a large rocking chair.

“Where are you going to put that?”

“On the front porch!”

She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. As if we have had a dire need for seating on our front porch forever, and she couldn't believe I was even asking. As if she was bringing home a new stove and I was asking where it was supposed to go.

Turns out, in her mind, we have had a dire need for front porch seating ever since we moved in. I just didn't know it. Actually, in her mind, I think we have had a dire need for front porch decoration. Now, I realize lots of people sit on their front porches, but we can't. Our porch is about the size of a postage stamp and it faces southwest, so for most of the day, it is hotter than the surface of the sun.

I brought these things up to her. “That's not the point,” she said.

Hmm… So you have purchased a chair that no one will ever sit in?

“I’m planning on painting it brown to match the front door.” (Translation for the unmarried – “I am going to have you paint it brown one day instead of letting you watch the game.”)

“Well, that’s nice, but changing the color of it won’t change the fact that we can’t sit on our porch. For starters, there’s only room for one chair, so it would be kind of creepy for someone to sit there, plus you would burn up into a heap of ashes.”

“I’m going to get a little table and put a potted plant next to it.”

“I hope the plant is fireproof.”

“Shut up.”

I gave up arguing the point and went back to my sale. I decided it was time to abandon hope of selling any more of my manly merchandise, so I closed up shop. After I moved all my giant power tools back into the garage and rearranged the two tons of other crap to its original configuration, I was exhausted. I needed to sit down. Do you know where it never occurred to me to sit down? Our front porch.

Later that day my wife came back from the store with a new cushion for the unusable porch chair.

“What was wrong with the cushion that came with the chair?”

“It was red!” (Same exasperated how-can-you-not-know-the-answer-to-your-inane-question tone.)

“Was that cushion free?”

“Of course not. Why?”

“No reason.” (I am no longer even on this day. Why on earth did I dismantle my garage?!)

I graciously offered to put the new cushion on the chair. I retrieved the old red (obviously wrong) cushion and set it aside. I sat down in the new chair. I rocked back and forth, enjoying the three thousand degree heat radiating off the stucco all around me and soaking in the view of the backside of my porch support column. Let’s just say you brought your flame-retardant space suit with you, and you could actually stand the heat. You could always pull the chair out from behind the big post. If you did that you would have a pretty good view of the Tree of Death and the street. The only problem is you would be blocking the front door and rocking on the doormat. That seems ultimately problematic from an ingress/egress perspective.

Those things, however, aren’t the real problem here. The biggest issue I see with our new front porch decoration is a long-term one. I am afraid we are installing a lethal booby trap. You see, we have black widow spiders around our house, and anything that sits idle outdoors for any length of time is a good candidate for one of their sticky webs. Add in the decorative table and potted plant, and that chair will be a death trap inside of a month.

While The Tree of Death only smells bad, I’m afraid The Chair of Death might actually be able to kill you. Fair warning, folks. If you come over, I would advise against sitting until you get inside. If the venomous spiders don’t get you, the heat stroke might finish you off.

I sure am enjoying the comfort of my new red cushion on my desk chair, though.

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!