Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Have Plunger, Will Educate

There are a lot of things they don’t tell you before you have kids of your own. That’s because “they” are your parents and they want to become grandparents, and they know that won’t happen if they tell you everything.

Last year at almost this exact date I wrote about one of my sons (who shall remain nameless in this, to keep his future dating prospects alive) and his questionable toilet-using skills. At the time last year I was concerned about our water bill, because I sat on the couch one night and counted his flushes. I intervened after flush number twenty-six (I am not making that up) and questioned him on why he felt the need simultaneously deplete my wallet of money while depleting the state of California of one of its most precious and currently scarce resources; my TV time. No… water.

His answer was that he was trying not to clog the toilet by going with the wipe/flush/wipe/flush/wipe/flush technique. My next question was the very obvious, “You mean to tell me you have wiped your butt twenty-six times?”

Forget the water bill; my toilet paper bill just eclipsed the mortgage. It was then that I told him we would obviously need to go over wiping techniques, but we’d take care of that in the morning.

Apparently I forgot to follow up on that whole toilet paper usage/wiping technique conversation, because it’s a year later and I’ve been getting a lot of, “Dad, the toilet’s clogged again,” this past month. It’s been happening so much I thought about starting to keep my plunger in a holster on my hip, but that would be gross. And it would make it harder to get in and out of the car.

The other day when I was responding to a clog the situation became a little clearer. There, floating in the bowl, was what can only be described as a giant toilet paper ball. My bathroom-challenged son has apparently been taking a tremendous amount of paper off the roll for each wipe, and rolling it up in a tight sphere the size of a regulation baseball, much like you would do if you were wrapping twine into a ball, only presumably a lot more comfortable to wipe your butt with.

I worked my plunger magic and then went to talk with him.

“Dude, you’ve got to stop making balls out of the toilet paper by wrapping it around itself a hundred times. That’s what’s clogging the toilet. Just take a little off the roll and wad it up.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do I mean?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just wad it up. It makes the same shape, but uses a lot less paper.”
“I’ve always wrapped it. Mommy told me to wrap it all the way around my hand, but I don’t get that, either. That’s just weird.”
“You’re right, that is weird. Don’t do that. Just wad it up instead.”
“I don’t get it.”
(sigh) “OK, I’ll show you next time.”
“Next time you poop?”
“No. Next time you poop. I’m not the one clogging up the toilet.”

It never occurred to me to have any formal toilet paper training sessions. I was just assuming they were paying attention when we were wiping their butts for them at the start of potty training. I mean, come on, it’s right there in the name, kid. Potty training. Pay attention.

Maybe we should have the whole family attend the new training session. That way mommy can be there to explain this wrap it around your hand thing. That seems problematic at best.

Proper butt wiping technique seminars and differing viewpoint discussion panels - this is the kind of thing “they” don’t tell you before you have kids. In retrospect, it was wise of the grandparents to omit the “crying baby throwing up on you at two in the morning” thing, and the “non-crying seven-year-old throwing up on you at two in the afternoon” thing. We may never have had kids. But I wish they would have mentioned this. I could have saved thousands of dollars on water and toilet paper.

I wonder what else they left out?

Excuse me; I have to go call my mom.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Third Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I wrote you two previous letters back in March of last year, and I’m not totally sure if your corporate office got them or not. The gist of both letters was this:

You guys show up at my sons’ elementary school in September every year to take school pictures, which is great. Thanks for doing that. Then, for some reason, you also show up again in February, which, if my calendar is correct, is only five months later. I never order any of the “spring pictures,” but for reasons known only to your marketing department, you guys take pictures of my kids anyway.

Then, apparently to really sweeten the deal for me, the guy who didn’t want spring pictures at all, you print those unwanted pictures out on everything from regular picture paper to laminated plastic keychain fobs and send them to me. Between my three boys, they bring home thirty-five pounds of unwanted photos and photo-emblazoned useless plastic trinkets in March, showing them in T-shirts and uncombed hair.

The reason for the letters was not necessarily to question your strange business model of sending folks stuff they didn’t ask for. It was to explain to you why I wouldn’t be sending the photos back. Short answer: If I want to keep them, I’ll gladly pay you for them. If I don’t want them, I’ll get rid of them myself. I trust myself to do it correctly more than I trust you (no offense intended), and I won’t waste the school’s time recollecting them for you. I have a perfectly good shredder here at home.

So that was the main focus of the first two letters, but like I said, I never heard back from anyone at headquarters. I did receive a rather emotional email from one of your photographers in some other state, explaining to me all the good reasons why you send me pictures I don’t order and why I am legally required to send them back if I don’t want them.

I was kind enough to take some time out of my day to respond to her and explain exactly what “legally required” actually means and why, as such, I was not required - legally or otherwise - to spend half a second of my time returning something I didn’t order in the first place.

Since I am a really nice guy, I also didn’t forward her ridiculous email on to you. She took it upon herself to speak on behalf of your company when she obviously had neither the authority nor the actual ability to do so, but I didn’t want her to lose her job just because she was a little na├»ve. She was obviously passionate about her work, and we need more of that these days, not less.

Anyhow, I didn’t really need a response from you, but I did want to write to you again today just to give you a heads-up and to apologize.

I sort of accidentally sabotaged this year’s spring pictures yesterday. Just for Son Number Two’s class, mind you, and not the whole school, so there is that, but the bottom line is you’re going to get a lot more retake requests this year.


I want you to know that I harbor no ill-feelings toward your company. While I am truly baffled by the amount of money you choose to spend trying to get me to buy pictures of my children with mustard stains on their shirts, it is your money. This is America. You can blow your money however you want. I like freedom, so I’m cool with that. My thwarting of picture day was purely unintentional, I assure you.

If I may explain… I serve as the art docent for Son Number Two’s third grade class. Once a month I go to their class and pretend that I know something about art. (Me posing as an authority on art is hilarious, believe me, but I have managed to fool the children. I prefer to think of it as “necessary staged confidence” instead of “lying and ad-libbing.”)

Anyway, back in September I scheduled out the entire year’s art lessons with Son Number Two’s teacher, so March 17th had been on the calendar for months. Unfortunately for you and any of the parents who actually planned on buying spring pictures this year, it also happened to be picture day.

I, of course, was not aware it was picture day. I mean, I got your flyer back in January, but I never bothered to add the date to our calendar, because I believe one picture of my children’s painful forced smiles is enough for a school year.

Well, the scheduling conflict wouldn’t have been so bad, except this art lesson happened to be with chalk pastels. In case you are not familiar with the use of chalk pastels on construction paper, it involves a lot of hand-rubbing to mix the color palette to achieve rich, vibrant, lifelike tones. (Sounds like I know what I’m talking about, right?)

So basically, I took a classroom full of kids - one of whom actually stayed in at recess earlier that day so her dress wouldn’t get dirty – and gave them each their own tray of what is basically high-quality playground chalk. Then I told them to draw a horse and a full background, filling the 9x12 page with rich, vibrant, lifelike hand-rubbed tones.

This all happened before they got called to go get their pictures taken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It wasn’t pretty. Every kid ended up with chalk on them. There was chalk in their hair, chalk on their faces, chalk on and in their ears. One kid even ended up with green chalk all over his neck. I’m not sure if he was rubbing his own neck or if one of his classmates was trying to choke him, but there it was.

And their clothes… Apparently kids rub their hands on their clothes quite a bit. I thought that was only at meal time, but I guess not.

Now, all the chalk might not have been so bad, except the second part of the lesson involved Elmer’s glue.

Again, back to the rubbing of the face and clothes and hair… any chalk that may have been able to be washed off was eventually just glued in place.

Have you ever seen pictures of people after one of those color run events, where you show up in white clothes and run a 5K while people throw colored chalk dust at you?

It was a lot like that… only worse… you know… because of the glue.

So, yeah… sorry about that.

On the bright side, the horse pictures turned out great. Maybe the parents will just send those to the grandparents instead of the Lifetouch school portraits this spring.

Again, very sorry.



Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hospital Agreement

I drove a good friend of mine to the hospital yesterday for a minor medical procedure that required me to hang around and drive him home. (For those of you under thirty, "minor medical procedures" for us over-forty crowd can be anything from a hernia to a heart bypass.) I will spare you the details, but my friend was having a procedure that involves sticking scopes and tools up an opening that is normally devoted to one-way operations. You don't want to know any more, and neither do I.

When we arrived, the admittance nurse had him sign a Hospital Conditions of Admission form, and then she very thoughtfully told him to give me his wallet. I guess we know who’s buying me lunch! After he had been whisked through the big swinging double doors, I sat down and assessed my cash situation in his wallet. Not bad. Then I actually read the form he had just signed.

1. Consent to Medical Care
The undersigned hereby consents to the procedures that may be performed during this hospitalization, including emergency services, which may include but are not limited to laboratory procedures, X-ray examinations, nursing care, medical or surgical treatment or procedures, anesthesia, or other hospital services rendered under the general and special instructions of my physicians.

This first one seems a little silly. We wouldn’t have driven here if he didn’t consent to medical care. And I would hope that the procedures performed here today include medical and nursing care. This is a hospital, after all. We didn't come here to get the oil changed in his car. (At least, not literally.) I think for his sake he is really hoping today's procedures involve the anesthesia you mentioned, also.

2. Educational Consent
The hospital is an educational facility participating in the training of physicians, medical students, student nurses, and other health care personnel, and they may participate in the patient's care to the extent deemed appropriate by the Medical Staff or hospital personnel.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I understand that people need to learn their jobs, but why does this say "Medical Staff" and "hospital personnel," and not "doctors." If Skippy the freshman med student is going to be operating any tools near or in me, it damn-well better have been a doctor that OK'd it, and not just "hospital personnel." It’s not OK for Janet in human resources to send Skippy down the hall to the O.R. to practice whatever he wants.

3. Personal Valuables
It is understood and agreed that the hospital maintains a fireproof safe for the safekeeping of money and valuables, and the hospital staff shall not be liable for the loss or damage to any money, jewelry, glasses, dentures, documents, furs, or other articles of unusual value and small size unless placed in the safe.

So unless I put my dentures and fur coats in the safe, you guys are just washing your hands of the whole thing, huh? And I'm not sure I fully understand your lawyerish here with "other articles of unusual value and small size..." So if I have something that is crazy-expensive and really big, like my life-size cashmere inflatable elephant, or something small that is expensive but of standard price, such as a diamond-encrusted Rolex with Brazilian platypus-leather band that I bought at market value, you're saying you ARE liable for that?

4. Discharge Agreement
Hospital Discharge Hour is 11 A.M. In order to permit the hospital to properly prepare the bed and room for another patient, the undersigned agrees that the patient will vacate the room by the Discharge Hour.

Did your lawyer used to work for Marriott or Hilton? I didn't realize hospitals had check-out times. I always assumed they just told you to leave whenever you were better. What if 11 A.M. rolls around and he’s not out of the O.R. yet? What if they don’t finish until 2 P.M.? Can we get an extended checkout, or will he be charged for another night’s stay? What about the complimentary continental breakfast? More importantly, is there a minibar?

5. Consent to Photos
I consent to the taking of photographs, videotapes, digital or other images of my medical or surgical condition or treatment, and the use of images, for purposes of my diagnosis or treatment or for the hospital's operations, including peer review and education or training programs.

Yeah, right... "peer review." Don't you mean, “the surgeon's Instagram account?” And you can't fool me with "education and training." Let's call it what it really is: The surgery blooper reel at the hospital Christmas party. All I can say is, I'd better not see anything end up on the hospital's Facebook page.

6. Consent to Telehealth
I consent to the use of telehealth for the delivery of health care services. Telehealth includes telemedicine, and involves the use of audio, video, or other electronic communications to interact with you, consult with health care providers, and/or review your medical information for the purposes of diagnosis, therapy, follow-up, and/or education.

Was this written in 1952? Are you planning on interfacing with me via telex or possibly that new-fangled invention, the fax machine? Will you send my diagnosis and/or therapy over the telegraph wires? Should I head down to the Western Union office when I'm discharged and await your electrical correspondence? I'm thinking here in 2015 we can probably update number six to read: “We will email you.”

I stopped reading after that, because my brain was starting to ache. Items seven through ten could have included a release to sell his vital organs on the black market, or an agreement to be liable for the surgeon's ex-wife's Visa bill. I just didn't care anymore.

There are probably a number of good reasons why signing that document might not be advisable, but his biggest mistake of the day, by far, was handing me his wallet. That steak and lobster combo I had for lunch was phenomenal. I hope they gave him enough anesthesia for me to drop him off at home before he thinks to check his wallet.

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, February 4, 2015

The DMV Again

Cascading tidal waves of dread washed over me, growing more powerful with each mile as I hurtled toward my doom… OK, that’s a bit much, but still… I was not looking forward to my destination. I was going to the DMV.

Like any American with a pulse and an IQ above room temperature, I avoid the DMV like the plague. Literally, I think if there is another outbreak of the plague, it will start at the DMV. Have you seen some of the people in line? Seriously.

But, alas, I had to take care of something that could not be handled through the mail. The last time I was forced by bureaucracy and bad luck to go to the DMV, I made an appointment. Appointments are really the way to go. Last time, I was in and out of the building in eleven minutes, and luckily, plague-free.

This time I could not make an appointment. This time I just needed to go and get it over with if it took all day. This time I would have to sit in the plague section and wait with the masses. This time was going to suck. I just knew it.

The DMV office opens at 8:00 A.M., but the school won’t let me drop the kids off any earlier than 7:30. Something about not having anyone ready to supervise them, blah, blah. At 7:30:01 I sped past all the idling cars to the front of the drop-off line, shoved the boys out of the car, threw their backpacks out the passenger window onto the pavement, and squealed out of the parking lot. I could see one of the teachers on parking lot drop-off duty in my rearview mirror, running after my car with her hands in the air shouting something. Probably, “Good luck at the DMV!” or something like that. A few of the parents parked in the drop-off lane gave me the good luck thumbs-up. At least, I think they were thumbs…

Who cares, I’m late.

With a string of broken and fractured traffic laws behind me, I wheeled into the DMV parking lot at 7:55 A.M. There were already twenty-two people standing in a line that stretched from the door all the way across the lot. Just for a split second I contemplated stepping on the gas and removing the back half of the line, but decided against it. I just parked instead.

The first guy in line up by the glass doors has a sleeping bag. He's a pro. Or homeless and just needs to use the restroom. Maybe there’s only twenty-one people in front of me?

I reluctantly take my place in line as plague victim number twenty-three.
More people arrive every minute.
The guy two people behind me is very chatty. It’s almost as if he doesn’t mind being here. He is obviously deranged.
In very un-DMV fashion, the doors open promptly at 8:00 A.M.
The line surges forward three feet.
We wait.
Chatty guy is a personal trainer. He’s excited about fitness and all things fitness-related. If that’s the case, why would he come to ground zero for the plague?
I am finally at the glass doors.
I make it to the front desk at 8:10 A.M. and get my number.
I am number B012.
Twelve. OK, twelve is not bad.
I sit down in the least plague-looking seat I can find.
Personal trainer guy is questioning people on what gym they go to. He is looking for new clients. Does he not know this is the DMV? Look around, dude. Most of these folks look like they can’t even spell gym. Or Jim. Or DMV. I don’t think “get a personal trainer” is high on their to-do list.
They are now serving G002.
I am B012. What does that mean?
I am momentarily distracted from my number confusion by the signs attached to the counter. All of them are missing letters. One says, “Please ot leai children unattended.” There is also “lease do e c ildren on counter,” and “as do o hld e ate d.”
That last one looks more like an eye chart now than a sign.
They are now serving B006 at Window 11. OK, I think that's good, we’re in the B numbers again. Although I don't really know how many people are between B006 and B012 with this system.
Personal trainer guy has found someone who has an actual gym membership.
We are now on B008. Excellent.
I need to use the restroom. Not excellent. I am scared to leave the lobby and miss my turn. I am also scared of the bathroom at the DMV, or Plague Central, as it’s probably known. I will hold it.
They just called another G number. What does that mean?
Personal trainer guy is explaining to gym membership guy that he doesn’t have any actual clients yet, but he does train his little brother. Hmm… I worked out with a family member once, too, but I never called myself a personal trainer.
They just called A001. What does that mean!? We went from G’s to A’s? I’m a B. How many people are in front of me? Are there people who were left over from yesterday that slept here in the chairs? That guy over there looks like he might have.
B009. OK, good. I think.
Family fitness guy is still working the room. He’s just begging for the plague. He still doesn’t have any clients besides his brother.
B010. OK, we’re staying in the B’s. This is good.
I really need to pee.
B011. Sweet, I’m next.
G008. Dammit!
Someone behind me just coughed. Plague alert! I’m moving.
A004. How in the hell does this number system wor…
That’s me!
Reporting to Window 7!
Here’s my forms. Here’s my check. Everything is in order. Boom! Three minutes at Window 7 and I’m outta here!

A mere twenty-eight minutes after the doors had opened, I walked out of the DMV plague-free (to the best of my knowledge), and with a solid lead on a new personal trainer with a very positive outlook on life.

Maybe the DMV isn’t so bad these days?

Well… let’s not get carried away.

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!