Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Birthday Meal Comp

“We’re going to comp your lunch.”

Unless you’re at Denny’s on your birthday, nothing good has ever happened prior to that statement from the restaurant manager. It usually means you’ve just spent twenty minutes in the bathroom trying to clean the chocolate shake and cheeseburger off your shirt and pants after the new trainee waiter lost control of his tray on the way past your table.

I heard those six words this past weekend at the poolside bar and restaurant at the swanky Marriott Newport Coast Villas, where my family and I were pretending to have enough class to actually fit in. We were having lunch with my sister at a poolside table while the kids swam in the giant pool. (At least, I think they were swimming in the pool. I had kind of lost track of them after I stopped caring where they were or what they were doing. It’s a big place, but they were basically trapped in the resort since they didn’t have a car, so my parental watchfulness kind of went on vacation, too.)

It was our replacement waitress bringing me the confusing news of my unexpected dining windfall. Connor, our original waiter, had vanished mid-meal, but no one cared at the time, since the second pitcher of margaritas was still over the halfway mark.

I had asked for the check, and our replacement waitress was having a hard time locating it. We got the feeling Connor didn’t give her much of a briefing before he left. After sifting through seven or eight different bills with her, we did the logical thing and claimed the one with the lowest total. Unfortunately it was still over a hundred dollars, and even more unfortunately, it was actually ours. They don’t exactly give the margaritas away at places like that.

I’d told her that I’d given Connor my credit card to start our margarita tab, and when we finally found the right bill, she walked back to the bar mumbling something about not having seen the card. Hmm...

She came back to our table about ten minutes later and broke the happy news to us. “So, um, we’re going to comp your lunch.”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Free margaritas!
Secondary reaction: Wait... she didn’t spill anything on us. Did someone spill something on the kids?
Tertiary reaction: I wonder where the kids are?
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: Oh, crap. My credit card.

That was it. She was holding the bill, but not my card. My whole life flashed before my eyes. Not again!

I haven’t had the best credit card luck in the past few years. The information sharing policies at Target’s IT department have caused my credit card company to issue me new cards twice now, and a few months ago my wife had one card number stolen, and completely lost another card, all in the same weekend. Authorities believe margaritas may have been involved.

Every time we get a new credit card number it takes three days off my life. Literally. We have nearly all of our bills on auto pay with our credit cards, so every time I get a new card it takes me three days of logging in and trying to figure out where to update my billing information, or contemplating hanging myself while on hold in a soft rock phone tree maze of despair.

“Um, why exactly, are you buying our lunch?”

“Well, funny story. Connor, your first waiter... His wife went into labor and he accidentally took your credit card with him to the hospital... ha!”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Who has a baby on spring break? That’s just bad scheduling.
Secondary reaction: I guess we should tip him pretty good. He’s going to need it.
Tertiary reaction: I better not be paying for the delivery!
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: That’s actually pretty funny.

“Would you like anything else?”

“Two more pitchers of margaritas, obviously. So, when will I be getting the card back?”

“We’re working on that.”

Twenty-four hours later and I still don’t have my card back. Connor has not charged any medical, gift shop, or champagne and cigar purchases on it, so I am rolling the dice and not canceling it, since I would almost rather lose an arm than have to get a new credit card number. Back at the pool bar they assure me that they have a call into him.

“I’m driving home tomorrow, and that card is my gas card. I need it back tonight!”

“We will definitely make that happen, sir.”

Four hours later I get a call from George, the front desk manager. He does not have my card, but he does have some “options,” and wants to meet in the lobby. I can’t figure out why George is in the lobby and not in a car retrieving my card. I am not happy with George. Or Connor. I meet with George and sit down in the comfortable and inviting lobby relaxation area.

“Well, here’s the thing,” says George. “Connor is six hours away from here.”

Primary inside-my-brain reaction: Why does he work six hours away from where his wife is giving birth?
Secondary reaction: Such bad spring break scheduling, bro!
Tertiary reaction: Does the front lobby here have margaritas?
(I don’t know the word for Fourth-i-ary) reaction: This George guy is about to really piss me off, isn’t he?

“Go on, George.”

“He has mailed the card back to me, but it won’t be here until Monday. I was told you were driving back home to Sacramento tomorrow, is that correct?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“When I get the card, I will overnight it to your home address. In the meantime, I will send someone right now to go buy, let’s say, two hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards to cover your gas on the way home. Will that be an acceptable solution to this embarrassing problem we’ve created?”

I try desperately to maintain my angry face, fighting back my smile. I don’t need the card for gas. My wife has the same card in her purse. At least, she did before the margaritas.

“I think that will be acceptable, George. When can I expect those?”

We got back to our villa that night to two hundred dollars in Amex gift cards and a nice bottle of red wine on the counter, courtesy of the Marriott. It’s not a pitcher of margaritas, but I guess it’ll do.

We drove home the next day and got back to an empty fridge. My wife promptly went off to Costco with two hundred dollars in free Marriott bucks.

Thanks, Marriott. You didn’t just comp our lunch. You comped our whole family’s next ten meals. And a nice bottle of Kirkland pre-mixed margaritas.

Cheers. And congratulation, Connor! I hope you still have a job when you get back.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tanning Season

We are on spring break, which means one thing – the beginning of tanning season. Baseball coach tanning season, that is. The baseball coach tan is a very unique look. It’s a lot like the traditional farmer’s tan look, only the baseball coach adds in tan legs from the knees to the socks. The upper half of the tan remains the same – tan arms to the shirt sleeves and tan face, ears, and neck, with a starkly-contrasted white forehead. It’s a special look.

For us bald baseball coaches and farmers, the look gets extra special, since the stark whiteness covers the entire upper head area as well. And depending on the league’s hat style choice, the look can get even more refined with the tan sideways D shape, or semicircle, in the middle of the back of the head, caused by the snapback hat gap. It can get to the point where your wife starts requesting that you just wear your baseball hat to church.

“God won’t mind, honey. Your head looks like a kindergarten paint and stencil project without it.”

(Side note: “Snapback Hat Gap” would be a great name for a rock band.)

This year our baseball league has thrown me a headwear curveball, sticking with the snapback, so my ultra-tan semicircle will remain, but going with a mesh back cap for this season. I’m not thrilled. An amazing amount of heat enters and escapes your body through the top of your head, and you can’t fully appreciate that fact until you lose your hair.

It has been a wet winter here in Northern California, and the few practices and games we’ve been able to squeak in between rainstorms have been rather cold-weather affairs. I have been freezing in my new mesh hat. Conversely, I know when it’s a hundred degrees out there at the end of May I’m going to be dying of heat stroke. Plus, when the sun does come out, now I’m going to end up keeping the front half of my head stark white, while tanning the back half through the mesh around the deep red semicircular burn, with the tan/white line of demarcation going straight across the North Pole of my head from ear to ear. My wife may eventually just not want to be seen with me anymore.

All concerning head tan issues aside, what is actually concerning me is my legs. My sock tan lines have always been even starker than my hat lines, because my feet rarely ever see the light of day. My feet are so white they’re almost see-through, yet my shins are out in the sun almost year-round. It literally looks like I’m wearing white socks when I’m barefoot.

It’s not the tan lines that are the issue, however. It’s the hairlines. Back when I had a real job and went to an office, I used to wear tall socks every day. My shins went bald years ago. I always attributed this disappearance of hair to the socks. It has been quite a while now since I made the transition to full-time writer/author/stay-at-home dad, and so naturally, it has been quite a while now since I have worn pants.

The standard uniform for the California home office professional is shorts. At least, I assume it is. I haven’t actually asked any of the other ones, but it just kind of has to be, right? Most of them probably go with flip flops, too, but I have old man arthritis in my big toes, so I have old man orthopedic inserts for my shoes that are not conducive to flip flops. I am stuck with shoes, so when I made the transition to an all-shorts existence I also made the transition to ankle socks. So for a very long time now, my shins have not seen a sock.

I naturally assumed I would see some hair regrowth on them, but the opposite seems to be the case. The mid-shin hair timberline has actually moved up to an elevation higher than my tallest real job socks ever were, and now I have lost the hair on the back of my calves, as well. It has become very apparent that socks had no part in the balding of my lower legs.

If my head started going bald around the same time as my shins did, and both my head and my lower legs are only getting smoother, only one conclusion can be reached: I am going bald from the top and the bottom of my body simultaneously. That is very disconcerting.

The balding of my head and lower legs has taken quite a long while. If this truly is a totally converging baldness, how long will it take? Or is this more of a hair migration? I have certainly noticed an increase in hair growth on my neck, shoulders, and upper back. And don’t get me started on my eyebrows and nose. In the first thirty years of my life I probably spent a sum total of three minutes tending to my eyebrows and nose hair. These days it’s a constant battle to keep them from taking over my face like an unchecked jungle.

And my ears! I have found some hairs growing on and out of my ears in the past few years that make me wonder if I’ve been exposed to excessive radiation.

So which is it? Am I slowly going to go bald until I only have a small patch of body hair somewhere around my belly button and the rest of me looks like a seal, or is all my hair just relocating itself, and I’m destined to look like a chimpanzee with a bald head and bald legs and Brillo pads for eyebrows?

It’s inconclusive now, but either way, I’m starting to think my weird baseball coach tan lines are the least of my worries.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, March 16, 2016

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health - Repost

I have heard that our elected officials in Sacramento are “working” on getting rid of the time change. I will hold my breath. Here’s what I had to say about it last year:

Dear People in Charge of Daylight Savings Time,
Stop it. (Oh, and bite me.)

I would actually print and mail that letter if I had any idea where to send it, but it still wouldn’t do any good. Not because of its surly and abrupt tone, but because even if you put it directly into the hands of the person in charge, they still work for the government. They either don’t know they are in charge of it, or they will say, “We have to take that to committee.” Nothing ever gets decided in committee, because “committee” is an old English Parliament word meaning “cocktail party.”

Since Arizona and Hawaii and half of Indiana don’t change to Daylight Savings Time, I assume having us mess with our clocks and sleep patterns twice a year is the responsibility of state governments. I live in California, and our state government has been successfully making the federal government look efficient and trustworthy by comparison for years.

I would move to Arizona, Hawaii, or the correct half of Indiana, but sadly, all three of those places are uninhabitable. (You may be arguing that point concerning Hawaii, but never forget: it might be a nice place to visit, but the entire state is the size of your living room, and the whole thing is literally floating on molten lava.)

I have railed against messing with the clocks on numerous occasions in this column and in person. (I’m sorry if you were ever unlucky enough to be around me at the beginning of March or November.) Mind you, I don’t care about it for myself. It never affects my body. It does affect my head, though, in the form of giving me headaches dealing with my children and my wife.

I have discussed this as far as the children go. I think we have all experienced the dread as we changed the clocks, knowing what is to come on Monday morning. In November, they will be knocking on your door at five A.M., and in March you will need to use a pneumatic jackhammer to dislodge them from their beds in time for school.

I have never discussed how Daylight Savings Time affects my wife, however. It’s far more insidious than the problems with the kids.

First, here’s a general outline of my typical day:
Alarm goes off.
I get out of bed and do things.
I am awake and functional all day.
I go to bed when all the things are done.

Here is how my wife’s perfect day would go:
No alarms exist in the city in which she sleeps.
Darkness, silence, and sleep prevail until at least ten A.M.
A slight head nod shall be given when it is acceptable to give gentle hugs.
No speaking aloud until two P.M.
Wide awake and productive from three P.M. until eight.
Total brain shutdown begins promptly at nine.
In bed at ten o’clock.

We have been running into quite a few snags in her perfect day schedule ever since we had children, and things got really bad when I quit my real job to become a professional writer. Since we all enjoy eating, it is very important that my wife gets out of bed and goes to work every day now.

Under normal circumstances, the six A.M. alarm is met with severe groaning and scowling disapproval directed at me, but the weeks surrounding the Daylight Savings Time changes are just downright scary.

We really need her to keep getting out of bed each morning, and you Daylight Savings Time idiots over in Sacramento are not helping. You have made me the bad guy. With the kids, I can just yank the covers and roll them onto the floor. But with my wife I have to lovingly remind her that it really is six o’clock even though it should obviously still be five, and even though it’s obviously way too early to get up, it’s still time to get up, and it’s not my fault, and please put down the knife.

I hate you, Daylight Savings Time.

Or is it Daylight Saving Time? Is it plural or singular? Dammit. Hang on, let me Google it.

Oh, great. There’s even a debate about that. I just found one more reason to hate you, Daylight Whateverthehell Time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, March 9, 2016

Family Life Class

There comes a time in every unsuspecting fifth-grader’s life when school suddenly becomes really weird and icky, and for some reason your parents want to talk to you about weird, icky stuff too. All you want to do is go outside and play some kind of animal/space invasion/kickball game, but the adults at home and at school want to talk about kissing and boy parts and girl parts and babies. It’s gross.

Son Number One is only about a week or two away from the “Family Life” portion of the fifth grade curriculum, and he’s not thrilled. “It’s going to be weird,” he says with an uncomfortable grudiggle (equal parts groan/shudder/giggle).

Since I have my finger on the pulse of American education, I was surprised when he told us.

“That’s in the fifth grade?” I said to my wife, incredulously.

“Yes, dear. Don’t worry, I’m on it.” Apparently, she actually talks to people, and she’d already gotten a book recommended by a friend, and she and Son Number One were already reading it together.

Hmm... Either she doesn’t trust me to handle this sort of thing, or else she asked me to handle it when I was watching TV and I didn’t hear her. That one could go either way, but I’m leaning toward her wanting to handle it herself. She is probably – very rightfully – worried about what I would tell him without a strict script. Can’t blame her there.

We got a consent form the other day from the school. I had to laugh. It said if you wanted to opt your child out of the Family Life class, they would do other work in an alternate classroom.

That’s pretty funny to me. I don’t care what classroom you send them to, they’re still going to be out on the playground. If you don’t want them to get Family Life information, the form should really just say, “Pull them out of school now.”

Without homeschooling, you’ve got two real choices: If you want them to get the actual Family Life information, have them stay with their class. If you want them to get a skewed, eleven-year-old-crowd-sourced, wildly inaccurate interpretation of the Family Life information, opt them out and they can hear all about it at recess.

Have you ever tried to extract verbally communicated information from a fifth-grader?
You: “Hey Jimmy. Tell your mom that we have her casserole dish. And the enchiladas were delicious.”
Jimmy’s mom the next day: “Jimmy told me you think we should enroll him in Make a Wish? And go to Ensenada for some fishes? What’s that all about?”

Good luck with that.

Our boys share a room, so all I know is by the time Son Number Three gets to the fifth grade (God willing), he’ll probably think he could teach the class, since he’s heard all about it after lights out. The information will have been so poorly transferred that he’ll think all babies are born in Virginia and circumstantial evidence means someone’s peep got cut off, but at least he’ll have the information.

The consent form also said that we could go to the district office on a particular evening to preview the material and the videos that the kids will see. I pointed that out to my wife and started to say, “Maybe we should...”

“No!” she shot back, not letting me finish my sentence.

She is, of course, afraid I’ll bring popcorn and narrate from the back of the room. She’s obviously right, but I don’t think that’s any reason not to go.

So I guess she’s going to handle the information dispensing for now, and she’ll probably hand the reins off to me when they get to high school. I’m still not sure why she doesn’t want me to impart my wisdom right now about the direct correlation between Chardonnay prices and pregnancy rates, but I guess it can wait.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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, March 2, 2016

Can We Opt In for Once?

This column shall serve as adequate public notice that you (yes, you), as a citizen of the world, are hereby required to send me five hundred dollars (500 USD) immediately. If I do not receive five hundred dollars from you, postmarked by March 7th, 2016, your primary bank account will be debited, and/or your wages will be garnished to collect this mandatory fee.

You may opt out of this fee by sending, via FedEx overnight priority, a notarized, handwritten letter on 7-1/2” x 13mm, 32# bond, seafoam green paper, sealed in a #10 string and button manila envelope with a red wax seal securing the string. The seal shall consist of fifty percent beeswax and fifty percent carnauba wax, be on the chromatic scale between cardinal and chestnut red, be no smaller than a nickel but no larger than a drachma at its widest dimension, and be embossed with a round stamp containing my initials in Comic Sans font.

Your opt-out letter must be in both English and Spanish, must make grammatical sense, and must not contain any vowels. It must be received by close of business tomorrow.

Please include the five hundred dollar fee with your opt-out letter, which will be refunded to you if you have met the opt-out criteria. You must also include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the same envelope and sealing requirements as above to be eligible for a refund.

Thank you,

While you’re making out your checks, let me tell you a little story. We received an email from our school district here in California telling us that unless we mailed opt-out letters to a judge in Sacramento, all of our children’s personal information would be sent to the court, due to a lawsuit not involving our district in any way. It seems a group cleverly named ‘The Concerned Parents Association’ sued the California Department of Education, claiming they weren’t doing something or other correctly.

The United States District Court, which is apparently staffed entirely with stupid, stupid, stupid idiots, decided that because someone somewhere was concerned, every single student in the state of California should have to hand over their personal, confidential education file - complete with their name, social security number, address, date of birth, etc., etc., etc. - to another group of stupid, stupid, stupid idiots.

So here is the “opt-out” form that I had to fill out three times by hand and mail in an envelope with a stamp, because doing this sort of thing online in this day and age makes no sense:

I, the undersigned, being a parent/guardian, or an adult student who is eighteen (18) years of age or older, object to the disclosure by the California Department of Education of protected personal information contained in records of my/my child’s student records in the lawsuit entitled, Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association, et al. v. California Department of Education, USDC-Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:11-cv-03471-KJM-AC:

First of all, how did you idiots write the word “protected” with a straight face? If it was actually protected, we wouldn’t be doing this. That’s like a bank telling me, “Your money is totally protected here. Unless, you know, like, someone comes in and asks for it. Then we just totally give it to them.”

Second of all, this letter I’m sending you isn’t really an ‘opt-out’ at all, is it? It says that I object to you disclosing my children’s information. Nowhere in this letter does it say you can’t do it if you want to. Last time I watched Making of a Murderer, objections could be overruled by judges. Especially idiot judges.

After the information I had to fill in, you included a comments section with the hilarious parenthetical “optional,” as if commenting on this inane failure of sanity and reason was actually optional for me.

Here’s my comments: To the ‘Concerned Parents Association’ - If you were actually concerned parents, you wouldn’t be asking for other people’s kids’ private information.

To the courts - How about an opt-in form next time? “Yes, I would love to release all my sons’ personal data so that you folks can figure out why Hayden failed geometry after his parents so helpfully ignored an entire school year’s worth of  progress reports and emails from his teacher until the last week of school.” Laws are written by people. Stop doing what you think is legal and start doing what you know is right. This is wrong and you know it. Don’t hide behind a lawsuit.

And I’m talking to you, too, California school districts. The email I received from my district urged me to send in my not-really-an-opt-out “opt-out” letters because “the release of this information is completely out of our control...” I would argue that. You and the courts are all on the same team, and it’s supposed to be my team. If you all stood up to the court and did what you know is right, instead of what they’re telling you is “legal,” they wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

“Give us the information.”
“But you have to. We said so.”
“Bite me.”
“What now?”
“Why don’t you put away some criminals?”
“OK. We haven’t been focusing on that. Good call.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I know you have a check to mail to me, and I have to get back to hand-writing my comments on these forms. I need to go look up how to spell ‘asinine’ and Google whether I can be held in contempt of court for calling a judge a dumbass on paper.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2016 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!