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

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 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

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!