Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Classless Action

Burlington Coat Factory has wronged me. Apparently. At least, a law firm just sent me a letter telling me they did.

It seems that at some point during the period of time from February 14, 2010 through January 28, 2015 I used a credit card to purchase something at a California Burlington Coat Factory, and when I did, those no-good bastards requested my telephone number, which obviously violated California Civil Code 1747.08.

So, much to my relief, a bench trial was held in the Orange County Superior Court from January 12th through January 28th of this year, of which I was an unknowing member of a class action lawsuit brought against those lousy, four-flushing, phone number-collecting coat monkeys.

Justice was swiftly served on April 14th, and I and the other hapless victims of this heinous coat monger’s phone number collection spree have been made whole again. The options, however, for our restitution from this (anywhere from one to five year) period of living hell are unfortunately fraught with more peril.

We have been given two choices to compensate us for the mental anguish this unbearable situation has caused:
1) Receiving a cash award voucher for ten dollars, redeemable at any Burlington Coat Factory retail store for cold, hard cash.
2) A merchandise voucher for twenty-five dollars, good at any Burlington Coat Factory location in the United States.

What the hell kind of settlement is that? Either way, you are forcing me back into the lion’s den. Who knows what the BCF will try to take from me next. The last time I allegedly went in there they made off with my entire ten-digit telephone number for goodness sake. What’s going to happen next time?

They might get a hold of my four-digit house number. They might even get my five-digit zip code, or worse yet, they might use sorcery and get my nine-digit zip code, with the extra four digits that I don’t even know.

And what if I have something shipped from them? They might gain complete access to my twenty-two-digit tracking number. The horror.

If I feel like I can muster enough nerve to brave the terrifying BCF long enough to collect my just reward, I’ll need to sign and return my “Election of Class Award” form, stating under penalty of perjury that I actually made the transaction, and the phone number I gave those jackals belongs to me.

Hmm... It’s within the realm of possibility that I went to Burlington Coat Factory at some point in the last five years, although I don’t remember it. But seriously, sometimes I don’t remember what I had for breakfast by the time I eat lunch.

The phone number on the other hand... I have never seen this phone number in my entire life. And I don’t go around making up fake phone numbers. My wife did that the first time we met, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it.

And the class action notice was sent to an address that I haven’t lived at in seven years, so why did they have that as my address from five or fewer years ago?

Something stinks...

Unfortunately, this is not the first class action lawsuit I’ve been Shanghaied into. There was the time I owned a Toyota at some point during a ten-year period, and as a result was sent a check for $16.27 to compensate me for the carmaker’s wrongdoing of some kind.

Or the time I got a check in the mail for $0.51 from a soda company lawsuit, because I may or may not have bought soda at one point in my life, and the soda company was blamed for that in some way.

There have been others, and I never cashed any of the checks, and I’m not about to make the nice folks over at Burlington Coat Factory “pay” for something I don’t care about and they probably didn’t do anyway. They sell clothes. I’m just fine with that and don’t feel they need to be punished in any way for doing so.

What I want to know is can I start a class action lawsuit against class action lawyers, for illegally collecting, storing, and using my personal data - or it seems in this case, simply making it up - to force good businesses to pay for the opportunity to send me pennies while the lawyers themselves reap billions and billions of dollars from them, fundamentally driving up the price of every good and service in the United States of America?

Probably not.

It’s nice to have a dream, though.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Being Santa

All three of our boys still believe in Santa. Son Number One just turned eleven. Either we’re really good, or he’s not that bright.

It doesn’t snow where we live. They never question the probably massive coefficient of friction between metal sleigh runners and a dry concrete tile roof, or the amount of sparks and noise that would occur on a hard landing. We have a glass-encased gas fireplace with a chimney that’s only as big around as a soda can. They never question the logistics of his entry. They leave milk and cookies out in front of the glass for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. The milk and cookies always disappear, and there are muddy reindeer hoof prints on our front walkway and little bits of chewed-up carrots on the lawn every year. They never question how or why the reindeer come down to the lawn to eat, or what happens to the sleigh when they do.

Now, don’t misunderstand. We’re no longer in the starry-eyed new parent phase of trying to “keep the magic alive” for our “precious boys.” Frankly, they’re really not that precious anymore. At this point it’s more of a contest of wills. A Christmastime Mexican standoff between them and us. How long can we continue to fool them?

The boys of Team Slightly Skeptical are starting to question a few things, but so far we parents at Team North Pole are holding our own. Having the kids help with household chores backfired on us a few weeks ago when Son Number Two found the hidden roll of “Santa wrapping paper” behind our bedroom curtain while he was vacuuming. He is by far the sneakiest of the three boys, so he didn’t tell us. Luckily, his best friend’s mom overheard the conversation the next day as Number Two was telling his buddy, “So if Santa’s gifts show up wrapped in that paper, we’ll know.”

We bought a new roll of different paper the other day. Ha! Take that, pal. Score one for Team North Pole.

Last night I was helping my wife wrap the gifts from Santa with the new paper. By helping I of course mean I was on the couch watching TV and giving her moral support and occasional helpful tips. Santa had gotten two of the boys bow and arrow sets, and my wife was getting ready to just wrap them up in their factory packaging.

“Shouldn’t we remove them from the box?” I suggested helpfully.
“Why?” she asked, with an annoyed tone that I just frankly do not understand.
“Because it would look a lot more like an elf-produced toy if we did.”
“OK, maybe so, but all the Legos say ‘Lego’ all over them.”
“Yeah, I told them a few years ago that Santa has an official licensing agreement with Lego.”
“Well played. Do you really think we need to unbox these, though? There’s so many zip ties.”
“I’m just saying. Son Number One is eleven. He might start noticing this kind of thing.”
“OK, are you planning on helping at all?”
“I just did, honey. You’re welcome... honey, holding scissors like that is unsafe... honey!”

The truth is, I’m not sure Son Number One would notice that kind of thing. Or he would simply choose to ignore it. He’s certainly getting a lot of pressure to ask questions from his fellow fifth-graders, but he remains loyal to Kris Kringle. I’m sure he’s in the minority of kids his age who still think a magical jolly fat man performs a flawless B&E on every single house in the world in less than twelve hours.

“A girl in my class doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but she believes in unicorns.”
“Well, son. I’m not sure what to tell either of you, then.”

So far, so good, though, but we had a major hiccup on the parental side of the standoff this year at the family Christmas party. The boys already “know” that not every Santa at the mall is the real Santa – they are Santa’s helpers, hired by the big man himself, so he can stay at the North Pole and supervise the elf toy production. I swear, kids will believe anything as long as they’re getting presents. Anyway, at the last minute I had to step into the big red suit and be Santa for the kids at the party.

Hmm... Can’t disappoint the other kids and not have a Santa, but this is really going to throw a wrench at our story. Our boys will definitely know it’s me...

That voice sounds familiar... and why does Santa’s breath smell like smoked meat and craft beer? That’s what Daddy’s smells like. Hey, wait a minute...

*beard gets pulled down, little children crying*

We needed to avoid that.

“Huddle up, boys. We’ve got a problem. Santa just called and told us his helper who was supposed to be here tonight got stuck in traffic on the 101 and can’t make it. Santa asked me to fill in, and sent the suit and beard over via Amazon Prime. The UPS guy just delivered them. So you guys need to do an amazing job of pretending for all these little kids who don’t know about the whole Santa’s helper thing, OK?”

“No problem, dad. It’s so cool that you got to talk to Santa on the phone!”

Not one of them asked to see the Caller ID. Booyah! Chalk another year up for Team North Pole.

Merry Christmas,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The 2015 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve done it again this year, haven’t you? You waited until the last minute and now here we are, just a few days from Christmas and you don’t have your Christmas letter written, the online shopping you’ve been putting off now won’t arrive in time, and you’ve let yourself run dangerously low on peppermint schnapps.

You fool! There’s no time. Or, is there? Well, I can’t really help you with the shopping or the holiday liqueurs, but I’ve got you covered on the Christmas letter. Yes, once again, ol’ Smidgey Claus is here to pull your chestnuts out of the fire.

I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you crank out your 2015 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. Consider it my Christmas present to you. (I’m fond of cash, in case you were wanting to reciprocate in some small or hopefully large way...)

Christmas 2015

We had another amazingly (blessed/crappy) year here at the _____________ house. I can't count the amount of times this year I sat back and said (wow/damn), what a (wonderful/disappointing) life this is.

Dad is still going (strong/sideways). He's completely retired now from day to day operations at his (company/chop shop), but still drops by occasionally to "check on" his new managers, usually ending up at the (golf course/strip club). He (knows/suspects) they're (managing/skimming from) his business (very well/regularly), even if he’s (hesitant/unable) to (admit/prove) it. Mom keeps telling him to let them (do their jobs/have it), and he just (laughs/drinks more). He built a (great business/shady criminal enterprise) over the years and I think he’s just (protective/worried) about (“his baby”/going back to prison).

Mom is still the same unstoppable (volunteer/drunk) she’s always been. Her (heart/propensity) to (serve/drink) always amazes us. She’s a (Godsend/pain) to so many. She’s still spending most of her time at the (orphanage/corner bar), and she loves (reading/singing) to the (children/juke box). The (kids/drunks) can’t (get enough of/stand) her. When she’s not there you’ll probably find her at the (children’s library/horse track) knee-deep in sorting (books/losing tickets), or at the (church food closet/liquor store) making sure the (homeless shelter/liquor cabinet) shelves stay stocked.

Sister recently (graduated/escaped) from (college/rehab). She earned her (degree/GED) in (criminal justice/county) over the last (four years/three to five months) and is now entertaining (a job offer/truckers) with (the FBI/her exotic dancing). Her (steady/shiftless) boyfriend (Paul/Stingray) says he’s waiting for (her decision/his Grandma’s welfare checks to run out) before he (accepts/looks for) a job. They are making plans to move (closer to each other/into a trailer) after the (holidays/door is replaced). We all think he’s very close to (proposing/bolting).

Brother has been climbing the (corporate ladder/walls) since his (huge promotion/ugly divorce) earlier this year. His wife and kids are (supportive/in Reno) despite his (long hours/repeated calls) and (travel schedule/threatening letters). His (love for them/ankle bracelet monitor) still keeps him home on the (weekends/couch), so he’s not missing the (kids’ sports/Price is Right). He’s (happy/depressed) about (being/not being) able to set his own schedule (for the most part/at all) since his (big promotion/court-mandated house arrest).

As for me, well, my little family is (thriving/imploding). I just switched to a new (firm/Taco Bell) here in town, and my new (commute/sour cream gun) is much easier to handle. I’m now in charge of the entire (west coast/sour cream section), so it’s a pretty (big/irrelevant) move for me. My wife has had another (wonderful/depressing) year as a (teacher/bartender) at the (kindergarten/Holiday Inn). Her (students/patrons) are always such a (blessing/bummer), and continue to fill her (heart/tip jar) with (joy/nickels). The kids are making us both (proud/crazy) with their (accomplishments/complaining). They are both (growing up/devolving) into little (adults/brats) so fast, every once in a while we just wish we could (freeze time/sell them). We know that’s not possible, but we wish it just the same.

As for you, well, our wish is that you have as many (blessings/sedatives) as we (do/need) this holiday season, and that you would share them with us soon.

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, December 9, 2015

Gentle Hygiene

This generation of kids is soft. They won’t ever know real pain and real fear like we did as kids. Or, at least, as I did as a kid. I’m not sure what your dental office visits were like, but as for me, well, let’s just say Clint Eastwood and I had the same dentist.

When I tell my kids that we’re going to the dentist for their six-month cleanings, they cheer. They actually want to go. What’s up with that? My mom had to start searching for me three hours before the appointment time, because I had paid my friends to hide me. Our neighborhood had an underground railroad system for kids with impending dental visits.

My kids get SpongeBob SquarePants on a 27-inch flat screen mounted directly over their chair. I had bad ‘70s and ‘80s elevator music that would be drowned out by the sound resonating inside my skull of pointy metal implements being scraped across my molars.

My kids get fluoride that tastes like bubble gum or birthday cake. My fluoride was raw fluoride, freshly mined from the earth, or wherever the hell fluoride comes from. It was probably siphoned from a 55-gallon drum out on the loading dock and applied directly to your teeth, and it damn-sure didn’t taste like birthday cake. It tasted like what a mixture of used antifreeze and charcoal lighter fluid probably tastes like, and you could only spit afterward. If you drank any water to wash the (most likely radioactive) substance out of your mouth, the whole process would be for nothing, and your teeth would surely fall out of your mouth the next day.

My kids get to pick a toy from the toy box after their little dental chair vacation, happily browsing through Frisbees and Matchbox cars while they enjoy the lingering taste of bubble gum.  We were handed a new toothbrush in a lobby that smelled like raw fluoride and fear.

When I say that I had the same dentist as Clint Eastwood, I’m not joking. Dr. Kincade and Clint were college roommates, and remained good friends. Clint would fly into our town for his dental visits. I never saw him in the office, but Dr. Kincade showed me his X-rays once. I think it goes without saying that Clint Eastwood has very manly-looking teeth.

I was a Clint Eastwood fan, so it was kind of cool to have the same dentist, but looking back on it, I’m not sure it was really optimum. Clint is obviously a total badass, and so you have to assume that a college roommate he would remain lifelong friends with would be kind of a tough guy, too. I didn’t think about it at the time, but do you really want your dentist to be a Clint Eastwood-style badass? No, you don’t.

I had a lot of cavities as a kid, despite the fact that my mom did not allow sugar within a hundred yards of our house. I was just born with cavity-loving teeth. (My wife’s teeth, on the other hand, are bulletproof. She doesn’t understand why I don’t like the dentist. I pray that our boys got her teeth.)

Being the rough-and-tumble dentist that he was, Dr. Kincade used to drill and fill my cavities without Novocain. My earliest memories of the dental chair are an awful acoustical version of some Carly Simon song being drowned out by a combination of the high-pitched whine of the drill and the searing pain in my jaw, as the smell of burning tooth enamel filled my nostrils. Can’t wait to get my free toothbrush after this!

I didn’t even know Novocain existed until one of my friends told me about it as he was working to keep me hidden before an office visit one day. When I asked Dr. Kincade if I could have some, he said, “Do you have a brother? I always thought you were the one who didn’t need it.” I guess I looked tougher than I really was. It’s still a toss-up as to which hurt worse, though – the Novocain shot or the drilling without it. Clint’s dentist had big needles.

Son Number One just had his first cavity, and he was in the chair watching SpongeBob last night getting it fixed. He was nervous beforehand, and I tried my best to reassure him that it would all be fine, but I think he could hear the uncertainty in my voice. Or maybe I told him about my cavities as a kid. Either way, he was nervous.

The first thing he got was a delicious swab of numbing gel that tasted just like cherry soda. Yummy. Then he braced himself for the Novocain shot that he actually never even felt. He happily watched SpongeBob’s hijinks down at the Krusty Krab as his cavity was drilled and filled in less than ten minutes.

“What was I nervous about, Dad? I didn’t even know he gave me the shot, and I never felt a thing.”
“I told you it would be fine.”
“I know. I don’t know why I didn’t believe you.”
“Probably because I didn’t believe me,” I muttered under my breath.
“Nothing, buddy. I’m glad it didn’t hurt. You did great”
“SpongeBob is funny. Can we get ice cream like you promised?”
“Clint and I never got SpongeBob.”
“Nothing, buddy. Let’s go get some ice cream.”

I’m telling you. This generation is soft.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, December 2, 2015

Magnifying the Problem

A terrible thing happened over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. It’s almost too painful to talk about, but I feel as though I can use this column as a cautionary tale, so I will press on despite the mental anguish this is causing me.

I sustained an injury just before the holiday that set in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly end in a lifetime of trips to the doctor, and countless hours seeing a specialist.

The gruesome injury? Brace yourself. I got a tiny little splinter in my thumb.

I meant brace yourself for the fact that the initial injury was not really the problem. It’s how I handled the splinter extraction that will have me driving back and forth to the doctor for the rest of my days - if I can even drive myself, that is.

I will do my best to get through this story without any more sobbing. Here goes...

I had noticed the minuscule piece of wood in my thumb during the day, and it hadn’t really affected me much, so I ignored it. Later that night, however, the splinter was interfering with holding my beer comfortably, so I decided it had to go.

My wife had already gone to bed, so I was thoughtful enough to wake her up by thrashing around loudly in her sewing drawer, looking for a needle. She gladly jumped out of bed to help me find one. (Although she claims she thought I was a burglar and she was coming downstairs to defend her children and the house with her ninja karate skills, I know better. She loves to help me.)

Claiming that I didn’t need any more help once she had found me the perfect size needle, I sent her back to bed with a kiss on the cheek, and sat down at the kitchen counter to get to work.

There I was, in the dimly-lit kitchen, just before midnight, digging the splinter out of my thumb with a tiny sewing needle. It wasn’t working.

Then a thought occurred to me. A horrible thought. A thought that would unknowingly change the course of my life forever.

There’s something in that drawer over there that might help me get this thing out of my thumb. But should I use them? I never have for this kind of thing before, but they could help...

I thought about it for another few seconds. I should have just given up and gone to bed right then and there, but no. I am an idiot. Instead, I went to the drawer and opened it, eyeing the implements suspiciously.

Might as well give it a shot. I pulled them out and brought them back to the counter. Sitting back down, I positioned the devices over the splinter and then quickly snapped them into place.

“Ahhhhhrrrrrggghhh! Noooooo!!!” I screamed.

“What happened!?” came my wife’s concerned, almost panicked voice from the top of the stairs.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Sorry to wake you again. I’m just digging this splinter out of my finger and I put on your reading glasses to help me see it better. They help A LOT. When the hell did I get old?”

“About five years ago. Good night, old man.”


I can probably hold out a little longer, but eventually the eye doctor and I are going to be on a first-name basis.

They say it happens to everyone around forty. I guess that’s true, but up until that splinter I was sure it would never happen to me.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, November 25, 2015

What I'm Thankful For

It’s once again time to get my list together for our annual around-the-table Thanksgiving tradition of vocalizing our thankfulness. I usually forget a few things, since another one of our Thanksgiving traditions has to do with Bloody Marys, so this year I thought I'd write them down.

Also, I find when I'm thinking about things I'm thankful for, it often helps to balance them against things I'm not at all thankful for. That helps make the things I'm thankful for seem even better.

For instance:
I’m thankful for every day on Earth.
I’m not thankful for that one day I fell off my skateboard really hard when I was in the seventh grade and smashed my face on the asphalt. That sucked.

I’m thankful for beer.
I’m not thankful for that one Keystone Light I picked up out on the patio in college that I thought was mine but turned out to be three weeks old. That was really gross.

I’m thankful for Google.
I’m not thankful for the time I was trying to figure out if our friend’s dwarf hamster was male or female and I foolishly Googled “dwarf sexing.”

I’m thankful for cheese.
I’m not thankful for Limburger cheese. Food should not smell like feet.

I’m thankful that I can still run.
I’m not thankful for my forty-three-year-old metabolism that says I still have to run.

I’m thankful for bacon and Halloween candy.
See slow metabolism note above.

I’m thankful for hot sauce.
I’m not thankful for that one hot sauce at the BBQ place in Seattle that I’m pretty sure singed my nose hairs completely off. That was just ridiculous.

I’m thankful for spicy food.
I’m not thankful for that one pepper I had in Tijuana that made the left side of my face go numb.

I’m thankful for my health.
I’m not thankful for the prostate exam process. Seriously, we have MRI’s and stuff now!

I’m thankful for the roof over my head.
I’m not thankful for the time I fell off that roof. That hurt.

I’m thankful for freedom of speech.
I’m not thankful for freedom of speech for politicians and telemarketers.

I’m thankful for carnitas and chile verde.
I’m not thankful for all the crazy stories of brain-eating worms from undercooked pork that make me think twice at the sketchier-looking Mexican restaurants and then reluctantly order the carne asada instead.

I’m thankful for Amazon Prime, and being able to have a California king mattress pad, garlic pepper, and a Toyota Camry gas cap delivered to me in the same box in two days without getting up from my desk..
I’m not thankful that my Amazon Prime account is linked to my own credit card account. That is unfortunate.

I’m thankful for police officers.
I’m not thankful for that one cop from Lincoln that gave me a ticket for the most ridiculous traffic violation ever known to mankind. So glad I was able to help fill your quota that day, pal.

I’m thankful for garbage disposals.
I’m not thankful that mine magnetically attracts spoons.

I’m thankful for Wi-Fi.
I’m not thankful for the fact that I have no idea what Wi-Fi really is, or whether or not having too much of it bouncing around our house is slowly killing us all.

I’m thankful for my three sons.
I’m not thankful when one of them pees on something or someone at three A.M.

I’m thankful for my wife.
I’m thankful for my wife. (What am I, an idiot? Don’t answer that.)

I’m thankful for the ability to learn from my mistakes. (Especially involving expressing anything other than thankfulness for my wife.)

I love you, honey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, November 18, 2015

This Column is Password-Protected

I have a list of passwords on a spreadsheet. No, you can’t see it. You wouldn’t be able to find it anyway, since my wife made me rename it from its original file name of “passwords.” It’s now called “this is not a list of passwords.” Please forget I told you that.

I had to start a list, because everything requires a user name and password these days. Some make sense, like online banking and email, but I have passwords for church and for baseball. I have passwords to buy eyeglasses and to buy coupons for frozen yogurt. I have passwords to buy plane tickets, concert tickets, amusement park tickets, sports tickets, movie tickets, and to pay for speeding tickets. I have a password to watch TV, and a password to order pizza.

I even have a password for the website of a hardware store in New Jersey, because they sell little plastic keeper pieces for my sons’ dresser drawers, and I have to replace them every time the boys break them off by standing on the drawers, which is always.

I have 156 passwords. Seriously, I counted. That seems excessive.

Amazingly I even have passwords for elementary school. It’s hard to believe elementary school would require passwords, but then again, I wouldn’t have thought I would need one for the dentist, either, but I do. Between my fourth and fifth-graders logging on to Google for homework, the reading program, the lunch program, Lifetouch Portrait Studios, and so on, elementary school requires at least fourteen passwords so far. I even have a password from Costco for the box tops program.

And I have passwords for books. Books! I already had a password for the public library, but recently one of my son’s books came with an online fantasy game, so now I have a Scholastic password. If elementary school requires this much online security, is high school going to require finger print passcodes and retinal scans?

Unfortunately, I don’t see any end in sight of the ever-escalating password list. Until we actually do have retinal scans, we have to have passwords, and they all should be different and long, because there are far too many Chinese hackers, Russian mob IT guys, and pasty-white, unemployed, basement-dwelling losers out there trying to crack your code.

The last thing you want is for someone to hack your elementary school lunch program user name and password and immediately be able to clean out your 401K. Besides the financial hit, you’d be bitter every time you heard the term “chef’s surprise” for the rest of your life, and that’s no way to live.

And along the way, we’ll probably discover that retinal scans cause cancer, or hepatitis, or nose fungus, or something, so we’ll need to figure something else out. Besides, getting the back of your eyeball scanned to buy a thirty-five-cent plastic drawer slide from a hardware store in New Jersey just seems like overkill.

So for now, we’ll need to keep our lists of passwords. As an added security measure, I even have a password to open my spreadsheet of passwords. Yes, you heard me - my passwords have a password. If I ever forget that one, we’ll just have to move to a small cabin in the woods and start over from scratch.

I probably won’t forget it, though, because I made it the same as my two most important passwords – the ones for TV and pizza – so it would be easy to remember. It’s my birthday.

Please forget I told you that. It’s also the one for my 401K.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, November 11, 2015

I'm a Veteran of Red Cups

I am outraged by Starbucks. I can’t believe their marketing department didn’t make the cups red earlier.

Since I own mutual funds, I probably own some stock in Starbucks. At least, I assume I do. Since I want to retire someday, I want to see the stocks I own go up in value. Attracting people to your business usually makes your stock go up. (As long as they’re not looters). Therefore, I want as many legitimate customers as possible attracted to Starbucks, as well as all the other companies I allegedly own stock in.

Red cups have been attracting people for decades. How is Starbucks just catching on to that? I’m not sure about red paper cups like Starbucks has, but red Solo plastic cups bring people like moths to a flame. In college, you couldn’t keep me away from a place that had a sleeve of red Solo cups. Duh.

Apparently, though, I’m in the minority of people who are thrilled with Starbucks’ new red cup. I guess it used to have holiday designs on it or something? I have no idea, since I don’t drink coffee, and if I did, I wouldn’t drive somewhere to buy it for six dollars a cup from a “barista” with a pierced forehead and the audacity to have a tip jar. (But for those of you who do, please continue to do so, as long as I actually own stock in Starbucks... I should check that.)

At least one person somewhere -- either a customer, a shrewd Starbucks marketing genius, or a reporter – was “outraged” by Starbucks’ “war on Christmas” when the red cups without snowflakes were revealed. The internet has since exploded with outrage, and outrage against the outrage. The internet is fun.

Here’s the thing, America – you’re free. And especially today -- on Veterans Day – it’s very important to keep that in mind.

Starbucks is free to make their cup any color or colors they choose.

You are free to not like it.

They are free to put any or no designs on their cups.

You are free to go on the internet and complain about it. Even to be outraged by it.

The other Americans on the internet are free to be outraged by your outrage, and also to call you a snot-nosed whiny little yahoo.

You are free to be outraged by their outrage to your outrage.

You are free to maybe switch to decaf if you’re the type of person who’s prone to being outraged by things like the designs and colors of cups.

You are free to celebrate Christmas.

You are also free to celebrate Arbor Day, Kwanzaa, and Pan American Aviation Day if you want to.

You’re also free to not celebrate any of those holidays.

You’re free to buy coffee from anywhere they sell it.

There’s really no end to it. You are free to buy a clip-in man bun, which they apparently sell now.

And we, as Americans, are free to mercilessly ridicule buyers of clip-in man buns, as they so obviously deserve.

And as far as Starbucks goes, I’m free to tell you that if you were actually offended in some way by the cup decoration choices at a drink and cake chain, you should probably take up some sort of hobby that puts some meaning in your life.

We’re all free. Where did we get all this amazing freedom? It was brought to you (and bought for you, in many cases) by veterans.

So this Veterans Day, you red cup haters can be thankful for the freedom to take your mocha-frappa-latte business to Tully’s, or Peet’s, or Dutch Brothers, or Seattle’s Best, or straight to Juan Valdez if you can catch up to his mule.

And you remaining Starbucks customers can be thankful the red cup haters won’t be clogging up the line.

But above all else, don’t forget to be thankful for our veterans. If you see one, stop them and let them know you are one grateful, freedom-loving S.O.B. Maybe even buy them a coffee.

I’ll be thankful for veterans, and for red Solo cups.

And the freedom to (possibly) own stock in a company that charges you people six bucks for a red cup of something that you could make at home for six cents.

God bless America.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'll Take the 'Merica Training from Here

We have wonderful new neighbors who just moved here from France. The father works for a major U.S. company and their young family of five was relocated to California. The parents speak great English, but their three children arrived a few months ago speaking only French. At least, it sounds like French, but we really have no way of knowing.

Son Number Three became instant best friends with their middle boy, and all three of their kids are rapidly learning English, despite Number Three’s best efforts. My son immediately picked up a weird, high-pitched French accent and ESL speech pattern that he uses to communicate with them. I guess he thinks “You want play ball?” asked in a squeaky Pepe Le Pew voice is helpful. He’s wrong.

One day a few weeks ago, over a beer at the American Embassy (that’s what I’m calling my garage now), my new neighbor informed me that his Americanization training was set for the following weekend. I was justifiably upset, since I thought I was in charge of the ‘Merica training program, but apparently his major U.S. corporation had hired Riverdale Global Relocation Services to teach a “How to be an American” class for his wife and kids, and a “How to not offend everyone in the boardroom” class for him. I was already happily doing all that for free. I guess these big companies just like to waste their money. Go figure.

The training was home-based and took place over two full days. I asked to sit in, but apparently it’s only for employees and their families, and the “instructor” gets pretty annoyed when you question her credentials and ask to observe to make sure all the information she’s going to present is accurate.

My neighbors were kind enough to deliver the class materials over to me after the training was complete, so I could spot check them for accuracy. “Right on the bat” I noticed some flagrant errors in the Popular American Expressions section that was obviously not written by an American or anyone with any baseball knowledge whatsoever.

“Ballgame” was defined as “whatever it is you are doing; refers to a negotiation, a deal, an activity, as in, ‘This has been quite a ballgame.’”

To “drop the ball” was defined as “following through irresponsibly with a task.”
If “following through irresponsibly” means not following through and totally blowing it, then maybe.

A “curve ball” was “an unexpected or difficult remark, usually requiring a defense by the receiver.”
A defensive receiver isn’t even a thing in football. And no, I don’t mean soccer.

A “foul ball,” or “foul play” was “a curve ball in really bad taste, as in, ‘Hey Steve, that remark was a foul ball.’”
No, no, no.

And “the ninth inning” was “the final hour, or the final deadline, sometimes referred to as the ‘top of the ninth.’”
You had a 50/50 shot. Close, but no.

Besides the fact that the baseball idiom section was obviously written by a lifelong cricket fan, what I was most struck by was not the inaccuracy of the information on how to do business in America – most of it seemed to be “right on the baseball” - but rather the fact that any of it needed to be mentioned at all.

Here are Riverdale’s handy tips on boardroom etiquette from the General Principles of Business Communication section.

For U.S. Americans, ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’ They tend to use low-context communication – which is when the speaker relies more on the verbal content of his/her message (rather than on nonverbal or contextual clues) to get the intended meaning across.

That is true. We do not use interpretive dance to let you know that we want to purchase your product for under seven dollars a unit. We’ll just say that. We also don’t tell you we are interested in partnering with your firm while, at the same time, throwing feces at you. We stay away from nonverbal and contextual clues. If we don’t like you, we’ll tell you without lying and flinging dung.

Americans are not comfortable with extended pauses or periods of silence. Conversation goes back and forth in regular ‘beats’ – something like a ping-pong game.

Yes, it is true we don’t like uncomfortable silences, hence the name. But I’m not sure “ping-pong game” is the best way to describe conversational flow here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

“Hey Bob.”
“Yes, Jim?”
“Grab Lunch?”
“You bet.”
“Triple syllable. My point.”

Eye contact is very important. Frequent, though not too intense or prolonged eye contact, expresses to your counterpart that you are sincere and trustworthy.

Yes, eye contact is important. It’s really the main way we know you’re talking to us and not someone on your Bluetooth. Careful with that fine line of “intense and prolonged” eye contact, though. That can take you from sincere and trustworthy to stalker/serial killer in just a few uncomfortable seconds. Frankly, if you don’t already understand appropriate eye contact lengths, you should probably just stay home and keep not looking at your own countrymen.

American business people tend to keep a standard distance of about two feet (roughly an ‘arm’s length’) between themselves and their conversation partners.

This is true, and never to be violated. Also, don’t ever say “conversation partner.”

Apart from handshakes and an occasional pat on the back between men, physical contact is generally not part of the American business culture.

Allow me to make major corrections to this. Let’s replace the term “pat on the back” with “manly slap on the back while guffawing at an exceptionally funny joke.” That way you won’t be confused into thinking that a hand on the other dude’s back should do anything other than leave a red mark. There is absolutely no rubbing or lingering of any kind.

And we need to get rid of the word “generally” and replace it with “absolutely.”

“Hey, Jim, I’m really happy about this plan. Let’s hold hands while we sign the contract. Then, let’s hug it out and go get some lunch. I’ll rub Bob’s shoulders from the backseat on the ride over to Applebees.” These are all things you will never hear in America. Be very careful with this one, or you will find out quickly at what point punching becomes acceptable in the American boardroom.

And lastly, When handing items from one person to another, it is acceptable (and not considered disrespectful) to do so with one hand, or even to gently toss it across the table.

Yes. If you are going to hand me the Peterson file, a one-handed handoff or a table slide is really the only way to go. Handing it to me with two hands would look really weird, and don’t even think about doing anything stupid like bowing during the handoff, or presenting the file to me on a platter or a tasseled pillow. Things like that will never get you invited to Applebees.

There is one last thing that the folks at Riverdale forgot to put in the training manual, but it’s very important. The guy from overseas always buys lunch. And drives. Wait... where are you from again?

Never mind. I’ll drive, but you still have to buy.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Sixth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I sincerely hate to keep bugging you guys, but I just had to bring a new development (get it?) to your attention. Actually, I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, or with the bad photo developing jokes, especially since you probably don’t develop film anymore, since everything is digital now, which would explain why it’s apparently economically feasible for you to send me reams and reams of pictures every spring that I never ordered in the first place of all three of my boys in T-shirts with uncombed hair and food stuck to their faces because we didn’t care that it was picture day again, because we already got our fall pictures like only three months before... where was I?

Oh, yeah... I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, since I never hear anything back from you, but as I have stated in the past, I am a selfless humanitarian – I do it for the good of all mankind. You’re welcome.

Actually, I have to take that back. I did sort of hear back from you once. I got an email from one of your young photographers a while back, responding to one of these letters. It was adorable how she tried to explain to me why I was legally required to return pictures you sent me that I never ordered, of my children that I never asked you (or even authorized you) to photograph.

I never told you her name, since her total lack of understanding of what “legally required” means gave me the distinct impression she didn’t have the authority to speak on the company’s behalf. She seemed like a nice kid and I didn’t want her to get in trouble with you management types, if in fact you do exist.

A few weeks ago I thought I was “hearing from you” in an odd passive-aggressive move when Son Number Two’s fall picture packet didn’t show up with the rest of them. His pictures were the only ones in his class to be missing, and for a moment I thought that might be too much of a coincidence given our history.

I jumped to the conclusion that you were being petty and you didn’t really appreciate all the free business advice I’ve so graciously given you all these years. I’m sorry that thought even entered my mind. His pictures had simply been misplaced, and they showed up about a week later. It was not your fault and I feel bad for even entertaining the thought that you would be anything less than professional.

Anyway, back to the current matter at hand. As you folks obviously know, picture retake day is today at my sons’ school. Sorry about writing you with this problem so late, but I just connected the dots and figured you guys probably hadn’t done so, so better late than never.

Your picture retake day poster in the front office window advertises that today is the day students can “get a second chance at a picture-perfect image.”

That might be difficult.

As you are obviously not aware, this is “Red Ribbon Week” at the school. Each day of the week we are fighting the scourge of drugs and promoting healthy lifestyle choices in a fun and positive learning environment. In other words, the kids are dressing up with a different theme each day.

Wear all red, wear team jerseys, wear patriotic clothes, etc...

Anyway, long story short, you scheduled picture retakes on pajama day.

Like I have told you, I’m a selfless humanitarian. I’m bringing this to your attention purely out of support for your company, and not for any personal reasons. This issue doesn’t affect me at all. That’s because miraculously, for the first time since all three of our boys have been in school, we don’t need retakes.

As you know, Son Number Two has always been our solid producer. He’s good in front of the camera. The other two are spotty at best.

Son Number Three is allergic to napkins. He’s spent approximately nine total minutes of his seven-year life thus far without food stuck to his face, and up to this point, none of those nine minutes lined up with picture day.

And obviously, Son Number One has Chronic Forced Smile Disorder, or CFSD, which has plagued him his whole life. Tell him a joke and he beams like a golden ray of sunshine. Try to take his picture and he smiles like he was just stabbed in the foot with a screwdriver.

But this year, somehow, the camera gods smiled down upon us, the heavens aligned, and when the shutter snapped, you produced three pictures of normal smiling, foodless versions of the boys we know and love.

However, for all the folks that needed retakes today, I’m guessing that if little Aiden’s picture showed him with a mustard stain on his shirt, the fix his parents were looking for was not to replace it with a picture of little Aiden in his Lightning McQueen jammies.

I know in the past I’ve given you amazing and free advice on how to improve your business model, but in this case I’ve got nothing for you. Nothing other than a few words of encouragement about looking on the bright side:

At least you didn’t schedule pictures on Friday. That’s Halloween costume day.

Best of luck,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shear Pain

Have you ever seen someone shear a sheep? They tip them over and sit them up on their rump so their legs aren’t on the ground. That way the sheep is less annoying while you’re removing its wool. I’m not that smart. I shear all my livestock while they’re standing up, and they’re incredibly annoying about it.

Of course, even if I put them back on their rumps, they’d be just as annoying, because mine can talk. Ever since we first started shearing them, our three boys have taken haircuts to be a personal attack on everything in their lives that is good. They whine and complain as if their whole sense of happiness and contentment is connected to their hair.

We had always buzzed them short, but about a year ago we gave in. In this life you must pick your battles, and my wife and I use up a vast majority of our will to live every day just with homework and dinner time.

So now they all have long hair. By “long,” I of course mean one inch. That’s as long as it’s going to get. There will be no man buns around these parts, Fabio. I’m even seeing dudes at the gym wearing head bands in their hair. Not sweat bands, but skinny elastic hair bands to make the front of their hair stand up. Sorry, boys, but if you ever decide you need to use one of your mom’s stretchy hair bands to manage your flowing locks, it’s all coming off with a razor.

One inch-long hair allows sculpting of the fauxhawk, which was the impetus behind all the whining about wanting longer hair. “What’s a fauxhawk?” you might ask, as I did, if you are as tragically unhip as me. A fauxhawk is basically a short Mohawk but without the shaved sides. You just stick the middle of your hair up in the air with gel, as if you’re a surprised cartoon character.

I was against this hairstyle from the beginning, and I remain against it a year later. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care what my son’s hair looks like on any given day, as long as it’s not long. I’m against the fauxhawk because it requires gel.

But we gave in, and now we own Gorilla Snot. That’s the name of the hair gel. We have fauxhawks held up with Gorilla Snot. I wish I was making that up.

Gorilla Snot has a holding power somewhere in between asphalt sealant and Krazy Glue. Between the hair gel and the toothpaste residue left over after they get ready for school, you could trap and hold an adult male grizzly bear just by luring him onto our boys’ bathroom counter.

Besides the fact that I’ve actually glued my shorts to the sink, I’m also against the new long hair because of the haircuts. The whining and complaining remains the same from the boys, but the actual cutting of the hair is more difficult. I’m fighting my way through more hair now, which is no small task with Son Number One. His hair is so thick it’s actually like shearing a sheep. We go through clippers at an alarming rate. I would buy some real sheep shearing clippers, but those things are deadly serious. I don’t want to actually be able to cut an ear off.

A while back, I nicked an ear with our standard clippers on the third haircut. There was so much hair already in the sink, when we combined some blood it looked like we’d murdered a family of chinchillas.

Plus, it’s a lot tougher to see what I’m doing with the long hair. All three boys have a knob on the back of their heads that really doesn’t like to be pushed on by clippers. I can’t see where it is, so I get a lot of complaints about my style, mostly focusing on how much better mom is at cutting hair, and how I push too hard. I tried to buy louder clippers, but they don’t sell them.

It takes weeks of mental preparation and often a few stiff drinks to get through haircut day. And that’s just for the boys. Plus, after it’s over, there is no immediate sense of relief for any of us, because we still have to get through round two after the mom critique phase. “You missed some long hairs on top here,” or, “You forgot the whole left side of his head.”

Sorry honey, but do you have any idea how much they complain during the haircut? Sometimes I just need to be done.

I guess I could spend the money and take them to the barber shop, but that just seems cruel. I mean, what did that barber ever do to me?

I think I might just get some sheep. They’d probably be less of a hassle to shear, and I could sell the wool. Plus sheep probably don’t hold a grudge for so long when you nick their ears.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, October 14, 2015

You Can't Spell Doughnuts with an E

I am here today to help set your mind at ease about our elementary school educational system. The kids are going to be fine.

I know there has been a lot of concern lately about Common Core, mostly centered around the fact that we parents no longer understand the new math, so we can no longer help our children with their homework. I personally fail to see why me getting out of homework time is a bad thing, but to each their own.

I will admit, however, I heard some disturbing things at Back to School Night. Four instants, I herd that hour children our know longer re choired two take spelling tests, cents they will all ways have spell Czech. That’s probably knot a grate idea, cents their our know red lines under any words in this pair a graph, butt its chalk full of miss steaks, May king IT con fusing and hard too reed.

I was also told that the new math program doesn’t focus so much on getting the right answer these days, but more on the students’ ability to collaborate in a group. I find that utterly offensive. Why are my children being offered this insanely awesome math utopia and I was not? I would have loved that system!

I used to collaborate all the time with my fellow students during math, but my teachers always called it “cheating.” Now students are being asked to talk to each other, and graded on how well they do it? Come on! That’s just salt into my report card wounds. I could’ve had straight A’s with this new system.

We had to slave away at our desks by ourselves with no Google at our fingertips to help us solve for X. Now the kids can just pull out a phone, fire up the math solver app, take a picture of the problem, and email the answer to the teacher. Then, as long as they all cheerfully agree on which math solver app is the best, and someone in the group can articulate a half-coherent reason for wanting to know what X was in the first place, (or at least what an X looks like, lol), they all get an A in math.

Actually, they all get a B or a T in math. Apparently, traditional letter grades are really only useful when you want to know if a student knows the right answers. A, B, C, D, and F have been abandoned in favor of E, S, N and T, B, L.

When you get rid of the standard letter grades, it also apparently makes sense to get rid of report cards, too. We’ll now just get “progress reports” rating our child’s development of the “characteristics of a successful learner” with either an E (excellent), an S (satisfactory), or an N (needs improvement).

As far as the individual subjects go, they’ll be rated with T, B, or L. The T stands for “progressing Toward meeting standard expectations in the reportable area.” The B definition, on the other hand, also has the word “toward” in it, but means “progressing toward Basic understanding in the reportable area.” That made me wonder why the T wasn’t an S, until I remembered that S means my child has developed “satisfactory characteristics of a successful learner.” Maybe the T should be an M? Who knows? Anyway, the L stands for “demonstrating Limited progress toward basic understanding and proficiency in the reportable area.” I personally think the L should just be replaced with a thumbs down emoticon, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

I don’t have the energy to begin to pretend like I understand any of it, but I do see one glaringly obvious problem with the new grade reporting system right off the bat – doughnuts.

Krispy Kreme used to give me one doughnut for every A on my kids’ report cards. Sometimes I would even let the kids have one of them. And I don’t like to brag, but between their mom’s brains and my height, they’re all pretty smart. Up until now, I would get A LOT of doughnuts at report card time.

But this new system has the potential to completely derail my gravy train of delicious glazed goodness. How the hell am I supposed to get free doughnuts with a “progress report” full of T’s?

Is all of this concerning? Of course. Has anything I’ve shared with you put you at ease? Of course not. The doughnut issue alone should have you feeling sick to your stomach - much like the day after report card doughnut day.

But don’t despair! The news from the classroom may be bleak, but there is still hope. The news from the playground is an entirely different story. The news from the playground will lift your spirits and set your mind at ease. The kids are going to be all right. How do I know? Four Square. That’s how.

Son Number One came home the other day and started telling me about playing Four Square. Like math, I foolishly thought I already knew all about it, but then he then started speaking another language, so I slowed him down and had him explain the new Four Square to me.

Back in my day, Four Square was just a game with four players in four squares and a bouncy ball that could only bounce in your square once before you were required to catch it. If it bounced twice, you were out. Like ABC or 123, plain and simple.

Four Square today is an entirely different animal. I had my son explain all the different rules to me. After a half-hour of nonstop machine gun-like information, I had to stop him, because my head was spinning.

The four squares are now named. They are King, Queen, Servant, and Jail. The king always starts with the ball. There is still what’s known as “regular” rules, where the one bounce applies. However, now there are approximately a thousand variants.

Tennis; Around the World, the more confusing, Reverse Around the World, and the incredibly difficult variant, Around the World Headers; Pac Man; Bus Stop; Back Stop; Edges, which may or may not be the same thing as Bus Stop; Apple Cider, and the more difficult Apple Cider variant, Poisonous Spider; Story Time; Watermelon; Out of the Box; Glass Ball; Cherry Bomb; Ghost in the Halls, and the confusing variant, Ghost in the Halls Touch Up; and the list just kept going, each with an intricate set of rules and regulations, many of which didn’t even involve the ball.

It was mind boggling. When I was his age we could all barely agree on the rules for a simple game of Red Rover. These kids are way more inventive than we were, and way smarter, too. They may or May knot no how to spell, but they’re going to be fine.

I’m a pretty decent speller, but I would get an F in Four Square today. Or an N. Or an L. I’m not sure.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to draft a letter to the president of Krispy Kreme explaining the new grading system.

Can someone please explain it to me, first?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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, October 7, 2015

Cross Country Gap

I have decided that the only way to have any consistency in behavioral outcomes when parenting your children is to have only one child. If you have more than one kid, they’ll be completely different. At least, ours are.

As far as we know, we didn’t do anything differently with our parenting from one kid to the next, so it must be the kids’ relationships with each other that change them. Either that or they’re totally different people with different hopes and dreams, but I fail to see how that could be the case based on how much they look alike.

Whatever the cause, we have three boys who are vastly different on the inside. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, though. I don’t like to brag, but they all have huge heads, which they get from me. Consequently, they’re all very smart, which, quite obviously, they get from their mother’s side. Facial features, intelligence, and adult-size bike helmets, however, is where their similarities end. Their differences lie in what motivates them.

Son Number One is motivated by remaining as still as possible while staring at any screen emitting light. One day he will make a fantastic computer programmer, or some other job that involves sitting perfectly still and not being required to spell.

Son Number Two is motivated by competition. He has a multitude of varied interests, centering mostly around total domination of any contest or hobby. It seems blatantly obvious that he will one day become a Navy SEAL.

Son Number Three is motivated by the voices in his head that tell him to scream wildly and run in circles. One day he will make either a good stunt man or a troublesome inmate.

The differences in Son Number One and Two are currently being highlighted every week by the sport of cross country. Much to Son Number One’s dismay, our elementary school does not have a four square league. Long distance running is the only “school sport” there is.

Unfortunately for our school’s overall win record (but fortunately for the coaches) the runners have to be in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, so our second-grade Tasmanian Devil, Son Number Three, is not eligible yet.

Son Number One was eligible to run on the team last year, but we didn’t even bother mentioning it. This is a boy who, at five years old, told his soccer coach, “It would be great if I could just play goalie, because I don’t really like to run.”

Son Number Two, on the other hand, asked his soccer coach, “I’d like to score as many goals as possible, so can I play forward all game?”

(Son Number Three yelled to his soccer coach, “Wooooohoooo!” as he ran at the speed of light in the wrong direction.)

So, this year when it was time to sign up for cross country, I took Sons One and Two aside individually. I talked to Number One first.

“I’m signing you up for cross country.”
“I don’t want to run.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have fun,” I lied. I agree with him. Running is never fun.
“No I won’t. It’ll be lame.”
“It’ll be fun,” I lied again. “Besides, your brother is doing it, and you don’t want him to get all the glory, do you?”
“OK, I’ll do it.”

Son Number Two took less convincing.
“I’m signing you and your older brother up for cross country.”
“I’m going to beat him.”
“Glad you’re on board.”

An elementary school cross country meet is an activity where 1500 kids, 20 coaches, and 2500 parents all show up at a park and wonder where the course is, while the one teacher in charge from the hosting school has a nervous breakdown and hides in the play structure.

A typical course is one mile, and is delineated by three traffic cones, one twenty-foot piece of caution tape, and two curved arrows spray-painted on the grass. The start of a race is like a scene out of Braveheart, but with less spears. Then they all get to the first turn and all bets are off. There are still nineteen kids missing from yesterday’s meet who took wrong turns somewhere on the course.

The main problem I am seeing with my sons’ performance at the meets is they are not in the same grade, and the heats are run by grade level. At the first meet, Son Number Two’s goal was to finish in the top twenty to get a medal, and he did. Son Number One’s goal was simply not to finish last. He also accomplished his goal. He finished second to last.

We have been to five meets already and Son Number One’s goal has not waivered. Just don’t be last. I would like him to aim a little higher, and train a little harder, but it’s not going to happen. Son Number Two is racing everyone in his heat. Son Number One could really care less about beating anyone except his younger brother. The physical ability is there. We’re just lacking motivation. Lacking drive.

The only thing that would truly motivate Number One is a format change in the race. If his younger brother was in the same heat, they would finish first and second. There is no doubt in my mind. I have seen them wrestle each other. It’s the only time Son Number One won’t let up.

So we obviously need to combine the fourth and fifth-grade boys. It’ll be a win-win across the board for our school, and for my oldest son’s confidence level. Plus, if we get more kids on the course at once, maybe fewer of them will get lost. I really hope they find at least some of those nineteen kids before the next meet.

I’ll try to suggest the fourth/fifth combo to the hosting team’s lead teacher at the next meet... if I can manage to find her in the play structure.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 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!