Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Get the LED Out

Once again, Early January Smidge has screwed over Late November Smidge. Thanks for writing me a note or something, you idiot. I honestly don’t know what I’m thinking sometimes.

If you have read this column for any length of time, you know how I feel about Christmas lights. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief summary: I hate them. And I love them. It’s complicated. I love to see them on my house when they’re all working. It’s magical. I don’t really mind the chore of putting them up and taking them down, either. I just despise them more than anything on the planet when they don’t work. The five-foot section of uncooperative lights in the middle of the string is my mortal nemesis. “Hate” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my feelings toward non-functional light strings.

Apparently, for me, owning and operating Christmas lights is like having a baby. Sure, lights can be expensive and uncooperative like kids, and some are brilliant and some are not so bright, just like kids, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way that God doesn’t allow you to remember anything about what it was really like when you had the newborn, or you’d never do it again.

It’s only when you have the second kid and you’re going through all the sleepless nights of crying and wailing - some of it even from the baby - that you remember what the first one was like. It’s then that you stare at each other and say, “What were we thinking?” Then you do it a third time and start to question whether or not you are really truly sane.

Much like the first few months with a newborn, I only have a foggy memory of my struggle with the lights last year. I seem to recall a few issues with outages, but when it came time to put them up again this year, they weren’t there. All I know is when I opened up the plastic tub that was supposed to contain my icicle lights, there were no icicle lights.

Where are they? I opened up a tub marked “Extra X-mas Lights” but they weren’t there either. I picked up a random string of old mini lights and saw the black film on the inside of one of the bulbs and it all came flooding back to me. The bitter cold January day. The bitterness in my heart. The ladder. The trash can directly under the ladder receiving the light strings as they came off the eaves...

It seems I threw out all my old icicle lights last year when I took them down, and I was either so upset at all the five-foot outages, or so traumatized by the sheer amount of little incandescent bulbs that had gone completely black on the inside, never to light up again, that I must have completely blocked out the incident.

Thanks again for the heads up, Early January Smidge. You can be a real pain.

Just like with our three boys, I decided to take the lemons life had handed me and make lemonade. (The boys love to have a lemonade stand when the neighbors bring us lemons. What did you think I meant?) Late November Smidge put a smile on his face and declared, “This is the year we will upgrade to the completely hassle-free LED icicle lights! They don’t burn out.”

Then I realized I was alone in the garage talking to myself, so I went inside and declared the same thing to my wife.

“Great weekend to buy lights,” she said. “Good call, Einstein.”


This was, of course, happening this past weekend on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is National Husbands Put up the Christmas Lights Day.

The Thanksgiving week schedule is as follows:

Pre-Black Friday Sales Wednesday
Thanksgiving Thursday
Black Friday
Put up the Christmas Lights while your Wife goes to the Black-Friday-All-Weekend-Long Sales Saturday
Leftover Turkey and Football while your Wife Mops up at the Black-Friday-All-Weekend-Long Sales Sunday
Cyber Monday
Giving Tuesday (and Last Chance for Cyber Monday Deal Extensions Tuesday)
Look up the Credit Card Balance and Have a Mild Cardiac Incident Wednesday

There are only two things in the entire known universe not on sale the weekend after Thanksgiving: Christmas lights and extension cords. Thankfully, I also needed a new extension cord.

I pried the smoking credit card from my wife’s hand and headed to my local Home Improvement Warehouse. I knew right where to go, since the Christmas decorations section has been up since August. With six strings of amazing LED icicle light technology and one extension cord, I smiled at the checkout lady, inserted my credit card into the chip reader, then closed my eyes, stuck my fingers in my ears, and said la-la-la-la-la until the transaction was complete.

Back to the house I went, impending joy brimming in my heart at the thought of never having to chase down an icicle light bulb outage again. LED’s, after all, are magical computer-like technology, or something. Who knows what they really are, but they don’t burn out like regular light bulbs, so I’m happy.

Up they go onto the eaves, powered up by the brand new extension cord, just as dusk is falling on a brisk November evening. Brilliant electronic artificially bright white light illuminates the front of our house making all my Christmas wishes come tru... What in the actual hell is that?

Five stinkin’ feet of LED icicle light string, completely dead, right in the center of the house.

Get the trash can. I quit.

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, November 23, 2016

I'm Thankful for Witches and Cereal

The list of things I’m thankful for is long, and includes my family, nachos, our church, orthopedic insoles, my health, generic Advil, good friends, and pretty much any pork product, just to name a few.

I am also very thankful for my job as an author, because it allows me to visit so many elementary-age students and attempt to inspire them to do big things. I even get to create stories with some of them. I’ve been writing progressive fairy tales with the kindergarten classes at our elementary school for years now. Each child adds the next sentence to the story, and they are hilarious.

On this Thanksgiving eve, I am especially thankful for an organization called RPAL – the Roseville Police Activities League – and for its director, Vivi Nevarez, and all the volunteers that help run this great after school and summer activities program. The mix of kids is everywhere from your run-of-the-mill elementary schooler looking for a fun afternoon program all the way to some very at-risk youth who could be one misstep away from a much different life. Most of the kids come from low-income, single-parent homes or foster care.

RPAL and programs like it all across the country are known to be the largest organized crime prevention programs we have as a nation, and the people who dedicate their lives to facilitating these programs cannot be thanked enough.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to come do an author workshop with the RPAL kids yesterday, and we wrote a progressive fairy tale with a group of twelve young people ranging from second grade to high school.

It was a room full of wonderful imaginations. An obvious love of cereal, combined with some Harry Potter and Hansel and Gretel influences, as well as a ton of good old-fashioned making stuff up brings us this:


The Cinnamon Toast Crunch Incident (Alternate title: Maybe We Just Go to the Store Next Time)

By Oliver, Marvin, Messiah, Aiden, Jonathan, Kimberly, Carolyn, Jazmin, Jasmine, Cassie, Gianna and Cianna

Once upon a time there was a funny talking robot tennis ball named Jack, who bounced around from place to place. He was friends with a fast orange turtle named Raisin who was generally mean to everyone he met.

One day they desperately wanted to eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, but they had no milk. They naturally decided to go look for a magical cow to milk in the deep dark forest. After three suns and two moons of fruitless searching for a milk cow, they encountered a dark, evil witch.

Before they could resist, the witch cast a spell on them with her twisted magical wand that was made with the feather of a Phoenix, and they found themselves floating into her dark, creepy house.

Jack and Raisin were floating past the witch when Jack used his extendable robot arm, that could extend over five hundred million thousand feet. He extended his arm like lightning and grabbed the magic wand out of the evil witch’s hand.

Unfortunately, she had a second wand, and she pulled it out of her cloak and used it to continue levitating them into her huge oven. The door slammed behind them and the fire came to life under them.

Jack, thinking quickly, used the first wand that he was still holding in his extendable hand to conjure up a full-size cow inside the oven with them. The cow broke the oven open with its enormous body, and immediately kicked the evil witch right in head and sent her flying one thousand billion trillion feet into the air.

With the witch gone for good, the black and white cow just stood there mooing at the two friends. Jack used the magic wand to levitate their Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal to the witch’s kitchen table, then politely asked the cow if they could milk her.

The cow was nice enough to say yes, and the two friends finally enjoyed their delicious breakfast. After they were done eating, Jack and the cow jumped onto Raisin’s back, and the super-fast turtle ran them all the way home. When they got there, they filled their whole house with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and milked the magical cow for one trillion years until the whole house was a gigantic bowl of cereal.

The end.

Thank you Vivi, and all the other RPAL rock stars, for the opportunity to come hang out with your kids for a few hours and bring this story to life. I am very thankful for your tireless dedication. Keep up the good work!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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, November 16, 2016

My Nerves Have Expired

Attention young people: You’re screwed.

No, this is not another column about the election. No one wants that. This is about getting old. No one wants that either, but like this last election, apparently we can’t avoid it.

Depending on your age, you may hear “getting old” and think about mortgages, or having loud, snot-covered children, or being forced to drive a minivan. There must be some sort of federal law or something requiring it, right? Why else would people drive minivans? No one would do that voluntarily, right?

You have a point about the minivans, but those things are not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about joints. No, not that kind of joint, California voters. I told you this wasn’t about the election. Try to focus, you bunch of stoners. I’m talking about knees and shoulders.

If you are still in your twenties or early thirties you never think about your joints, because you are still made of rubber and steel. If you are in the vicinity of forty, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Forty years old is the exact warranty expiration date on the human body. Things just give up. Things just quit working. Some parts can be fixed with a tiny pill, but those little Advils don’t work on everything. Wait... what did you think I was talking about? Oh, you! Never mind that, I want to talk about shoulders.

A few months ago while coaching baseball, my forty-four-year-old arm threw a ball high into the air to a waiting little-leaguer in the outfield. Unfortunately, it was the first baseball I had thrown that day. That was a huge mistake. When your arm is past its expiration date like mine is, you are required to swing it around a little and stretch it for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a day and a half before trying something crazy like throwing a ball.

I immediately felt a twinge in my shoulder and heard the distinct ‘pop’ of physics colliding with old age in my rotator cuff. I did not find it the least bit humerus.

Now, if I were a forty-four-year-old woman, I would have simply stopped throwing baseballs. But since I am a forty-four-year-old man, I said to myself, “No problem, I’ll just swing my arm around a few times before I throw fifty more baseballs to these kids.”    

I spent the next month not being able to throw a baseball at all while my expired tendons and muscles, bathed in two hundred thousand milligrams of ibuprofen, struggled to repair themselves. When I was in college I could have broken my leg in the morning and it would have healed by dinnertime.

Since I knew exactly what caused the injury, I never bothered to see a doctor or do any research. I just washed some more Advil down with a beer that I opened left-handed. Eventually it healed up and I was once again in prime shape. Fast forward to this past Thursday when I woke up with the same shoulder aching.

Thursday morning: Ouch. My shoulder aches.
Thursday afternoon: Man, this is getting worse.
Thursday evening: I can no longer use my right arm for anything useful.
Thursday night: I’m going to take a thousand milligrams of Advil and try to sleep.
Late Thursday night/Early Friday morning: [awake] Ow!
Friday morning: I can’t do anything except hold my arm against my body. Someone please soap me.

What did I do to my arm? I can’t for the life of me remember any baseball throwing, aggressive gardening, making a bed, grocery bag lifting, or any of the other diabolical activities that take down us old people. I didn’t do anything! Why does my arm hurt so bad?!?

There was only one thing to do. What every old person with an unexplained pain and a computer does - go to WebMD.

Oh, great. Frozen Shoulder. Starts from under use or over use. I’ve done both. Comes on after an injury. Check. Due to scar tissue. I’m sure I have some of that.

The really good news - Takes a year to heal. Super, I’m going to need to hire an assistant to wipe my butt. How much do you have to pay that person per hour? Try not to think about it.

Friday afternoon: My left arm is stuck in the steering wheel trying to get the keys in the ignition.
Friday night: I yearn for the sweet release of death.
Late Friday night/Early Saturday morning: [awake] Ow!
Saturday morning: Hmm... I think the beer and Advil are working. Feels slightly better this morning.
Saturday afternoon: The pain is going away really fast. It almost feels good now.
Saturday evening: It’s like it never happened. My arm is perfect.

I have completely conquered frozen shoulder! One year, my patootie. Try one DAY! I’m like Superman!

Hmm... Superman might be a stretch. Maybe I should check back on WebMD. Hmm... Pinched Nerve. That’s a new one. Symptoms sure do line right up, though.

So, I pinched a nerve in my shoulder Wednesday night. That’s just great. Superman apparently hurt himself while sleeping.

I’m telling you, young people, you’re screwed. My advice to you – buy stock in Advil. And enjoy your bodies while they still work!

I would say enjoy your joints, but I don’t want you California voters to get the wrong idea.

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, November 9, 2016

The Breakfast Club

It’s the day after election day in the craziest and most undesirable presidential election any of us have ever seen. Since Just a Smidge is not a political column, the only endorsement you’ll find here is for the Nacho Party. We love nachos here, and this is nacho political endorsement. I’m not here today to discuss the candidates or the new president, even if you wanted to, which you really don’t. You just want a drink. Go get one and come back. I’ll wait...


Even if I wanted to discuss how deeply ridiculous and troubling the quality of this presidential race was - which I don’t - that would be the wrong thing to worry about in this process. We should really be focusing on how ridiculous our election system is.

Don’t even get me started on the electoral college. Seriously, I can’t start. I don’t know what it is or why it is whatever it is. I was apparently absent during that day/week/month of middle school or junior high or high school or college when I was supposed to be taught how this whole thing works.

What I do know about it is that if you live in a state that doesn’t agree with your political views, it totally invalidates your vote.

Imagine this scenario. Ten people are trying to choose a movie to watch. You vote for Movie A, but you are sitting on a couch with four other people and three of them chose Movie B. The other couch had four people choose Movie A and only one chose movie B. Your Movie A won the popular vote six to four, but since your couch can only hold five people, and the other couch can hold eight, you all have to play Jenga instead of watching a movie. That’s how the electoral college works.

But never mind that. Just put that out of your head because there’s nothing we can do about the electoral college. Majority voting is unthinkable, and besides, counting every single vote, preventing people from voting twice, and preventing non-citizens or people who aren’t registered to vote from voting in this day and age is completely unrealistic.

We simply don’t have the technology. It’s not like we all have unique numbers assigned to us at birth that could be tracked in some sort of electronic database or something. That’s just crazy talk. Hang on, let me use my phone to track the exact location of my UPS package real quick...

OK, I’m back. That only took four seconds. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. We don’t have the technology to get rid of the electoral college. Let’s focus instead on the fact that we have a multiple political party system where only two of the parties ever get to debate for your vote. Sure, Washington D.C. likes to placate you with some preliminary debates with a stage full of candidates, but come closer to election time the “presidential debates” only feature two out of the six candidates.

If they let all six candidates debate, you the voter might screw up the nice two-party system they love so much. It would be a whole lot harder to funnel all those tax dollars into their brother-in-law’s pockets if a bunch of Libertarian or Peace and Freedom party losers were hanging around D.C. watching what’s going on.

Since the two-party system is the only way to keep all the money and power in the hands of the little club that knows what’s best for you, the lowly voter, it’s best if they don’t let you get too out of control with a lot of choices.

Think of it in terms of breakfast cereal, since it’s harder to do this example with nachos.

You can only have one breakfast cereal for the next four years, but since this is a free country, you get to choose. There are at least six cereals to choose from. One out of six is pretty good odds. You should be able to find one you like.

OK, let’s get to taste-testing.

Great. Here are your two choices.

Wait, what about the six?

We decided you didn’t need to sample the other four.

But I wanted to try all six.

No. Two is enough for a taste test.

But you didn’t even let me choose which two I get to taste.

These two are our best sellers. Just taste these two.

But I want to taste all six.

We don’t have the time or the money for all that tasting.

That’s ridiculous. Just give them to me and I’ll taste them all.

No can do. Just taste these two here and choose one.

What if I don’t like either of them?

No problem. You can always choose any one of the six.

But I have no idea what they taste like!

Look at the boxes.

How do I know what’s inside?

We labeled them for you.

That’s ridiculous. I can’t choose without tasting them.

You have to pick.

This is ridiculous.

It’s time.

Well, crap. I guess I’ll take this one.

Sorry, you’re on the wrong couch.

That’s the U.S. election process, folks. Until we vote them ALL out, nothing changes. Enjoy your crap-tastic flax nuggets with extra yellow dye number five.

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, November 2, 2016

Flaming Surgical Laser Farts

You might think you’re having a bad day. Things aren’t going well at home or at work. Your cat ran away and no one on the internet has been able to locate it for you. Your kids are misbehaving at school and no one on the internet has any good answers. Your boss is an idiot and he noticed that you mentioned that fact on the internet. You have slow internet.

Hey, you may have even voted by mail already, and had to write your own name in for president because, even with no political experience whatsoever, you’re still the most qualified name on the paper.

Whatever it is, I understand. Things look bleak.

But it could always be worse. Your bright side? Flaming surgical laser farts, of course.

A headline in my news feed yesterday caught my eye and once again proved that Japan is still leading the league in weird.

Tokyo, Japan - Woman passes gas during surgery; suffers burns, causes fire in operating room

A woman passed gas during a surgical procedure, sparking a fire in the operating room and even caused her to be seriously burned, according to the Miami Herald.

A fart bomb lit an operating room on fire, and the only U.S. news source to cover the story was the Miami Herald? Hey, New York Times, take a five-minute break from the mon-crap-strosity that is the election and focus on some news we can all appreciate.

The fire happened in April at Tokyo Medical University. Reports say the patient, who was in her 30s, was undergoing an operation which involved applying a laser to her cervix.

“Applying a laser to her cervix.” Ouch. Even if this story didn’t involve serious burns in an operating room fire caused by a giant fart, you are still having a better day than anyone getting a laser applied to their cervix. I don’t even know where my cervix is, but I damned sure don’t want a laser pointed at it!

And this happened all the way back in April? Why on earth didn’t the news reach us until now!?  Is it because everyone involved was embarrassed and tried to keep it quiet, or are the Japanese just trying to keep all the weird to themselves? Either way, not cool, Japan. Not cool.

According to reports, the laser is believed to have been ignited by the gas she passed. The fire burned much of her body, including her waist and legs. Her condition is unclear.

I am not making that up. Laser-ignited fart fire.

A spokesperson for the hospital said, “When the patient’s intestinal gas leaked into the space of the operation (room), it ignited with the irradiation of the laser, and the burning spread, eventually reaching the surgical drape and causing the fire.”

So given the translation of events from the Japanese hospital’s Flatulence and Anal-Related Trauma (FAART) department spokesperson, I am left with two possible – both awesomely nightmarish – scenarios.

Scenario One: The patient was gassy enough over a long enough period of time that the operation room was filled with methane, which was then touched off by the cervical laser, igniting a mushroom cloud-like explosion that charred everything inside the blast zone.

Scenario Two:
The gas was accidentally lit at the source, creating a laser-ignited butt flamethrower that had enough internal pressure and firepower to then light the “surgical drape” and everything else ablaze.

(Note to the eventual producer of the mini-series: I like Scenario Two better.)

Wow. Either Japan doesn’t have the “No eating for forty-eight hours ahead of major surgery” rule, or this unfortunate woman ignored that rule to her severe detriment. While “Weaponized Anus” would obviously be a great name for a rock band, it’s not a smart thing to bring to your surgery.

Anyway, I hope this helps. You may have thought you were having a bad day, but when you put it into perspective with a flaming surgical laser fart, you’re doing great!

Get well soon, flatulent unnamed thirty-something Japanese patient. And for goodness sake, stay away from any more ignition sources.

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!