Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I have been trapped in a tornado of idiots for the past four months. It started with one idiot who decided not to chain up his car in the snow. My family met that idiot head-on in our Suburban in January. The collision seemed to open some sort of space/time crack in the galactic idiot-o-sphere, unleashing dozens more idiots into my life.

I spent the next three months swirling around and around with a gaggle of insurance estimator idiots and collision repair shop idiots, all of whom thought it was possible to repair a Suburban back to showroom quality after an eight-airbag head-on collision without actually doing any work on the frame.

I foolishly thought I had been thrown clear of the idiot tornado when I finally received a total loss settlement check. Three months after the wreck some idiot reluctantly did an actual frame inspection and declared, “Wow. This thing looks like it’s been in some sort of collision. We’ll need a new one of these.”

If I was ever clear of the swirling mass of idiots for any amount of time, that’s over now. I’ve been sucked back in.

I found myself on Interstate 680 in the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday, at four o’clock in the afternoon, driving home at anywhere from zero to eighty miles an hour, depending on which ten-foot section of road I was on. I don’t live in the Bay Area on purpose, and I avoid driving there whenever possible, due to the high concentration of idiots on their roads. If you’ve never driven in the Bay Area, try to keep it that way. It’s a lot like driving in Tijuana, only with more idiots. And more Porsche drivers. But I repeat myself.

Part of the reason for the insane stop-and-go traffic I was in had to do with how many accidents there were on the side of the road from all the insane stop-and-go traffic. I was more than a little perturbed already from my experience at Idiot Chevrolet of Fremont earlier in the day, and all I could think was, “If some idiot rear-ends me in this traffic – the traffic that I’m in only because of car dealership idiots, stemming from my original January head-on meeting with Idiot Zero – and I have to be involved in a second insurance claim because I’m here as a result of the first insurance claim, I might actually completely lose it.”

Fortunately, I made it out without any more collisions, and my nerves are slightly less frayed today. Had I been involved in another collision yesterday, I have a feeling I might have been taken to jail for a psych eval. I’m glad that didn’t have to happen, because jail is not the place to go if you’re trying to have less idiots in your life.

Why was I so incensed, you ask, if you’re the kind of person who uses words like ‘incensed’? Because Idiot Chevrolet of Fremont is 130 miles from my house, that’s why. They had a 2016 Suburban that was priced way under blue book value, and looked great in the pictures. After some checking by Idiot Car Salesman One, the car was still in their inventory, and he had enlisted the help of Idiot Car Salesman Two, who was holding it for me until I arrived. I dropped what I was doing and jumped in the car. Two and a half hours later, I was behind the wheel of what would soon be my new beautiful underpriced 2016 Suburban, on a test drive with Idiot Car Salesman Two.

Leather everything. Automatic everything. It tells me when I drift out of my lane. It alerts me to an impending front impact collision. It has heated seats and dual memory seat positions. The dashboard screen links to my phone and the screen becomes my phone’s screen. And if I push a little button, the screen magically rises out of the dashboard and reveals a hidden storage compartment – with a USB port! It has great tires. It mows the lawn. It does your taxes. It watches your dog while you’re on vacation. It buys my wife flowers.

I’ll take it!

Idiot Car Salesman Two begins the paperwork. I text my wife. New car! Idiot Car Salesman Two busies himself with car salesman tasks. I sit in my new car and admire the thirty-nine thousand new features. Idiot Car Salesman Two comes out and says that unfortunately the car is on hold for another buyer.

Sorry, I must not have heard you correctly after my 130-mile drive. Idiot Car Salesman Two says someone was there on Sunday, but there was a problem with his payment, but it’s worked out now and he’s buying the car. My right eye begins to twitch.

Idiot Car Salesman Two introduces me to Idiot Car Dealership Manager, who explains that their entire system is run by idiots. I explain that it is a 260-mile round-trip from my house, and I dropped everything and drove here because Idiot Car Salesman One - who seems to be absent – assured me the car was available. Idiot Car Dealership Manager explains again the idiotic idiosyncrasies of Idiotville.

I somehow manage not to punch anyone, and begin my 130-mile drive home through a swirling mass of idiots. At an average of seven miles per hour.

At least it's not snowing.

It’s possible that there’s a reason for all this. God may have me trapped in this idiot storm in order to get me ready for a situation down the line involving an even larger group of idiots.  

At this point, however, I don't see how that could be possible.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, April 19, 2017

Extreme Home Repair - Repost

I cheated death again last week. I managed to successfully add onto an existing 20-amp GFI circuit from my pool’s 30-amp sub panel. (I really don’t know if I used all those electrical terms correctly, but it sounded cool, didn’t it?)

I managed to install two new outlets and two ceiling fan boxes under our backyard patio cover - wired them and everything - and they actually work! And as of today, the patio cover has not exploded into a fireball, so that’s a big win. (I didn’t bother to get a permit, so don’t tell anyone. Also, if you see a big fireball in my backyard, just ignore it, please.)

I learned three things in my triumph over electricity this past week:
1) If I didn’t love being an author so much, I could probably go equally as broke being a slow and unknowledgeable electrician.
2) Using a screwdriver and pliers near a stucco wall shreds your knuckles faster than jamming your hand into a Cuisinart.
3)  Blood doesn’t come off stucco very easily, and if you try to do it wrong, you just add more blood.

My knuckles are still a little too swollen to type effectively. (I have typed this entire thing with my elbows and my nose. It has taken six hours.) So instead, I am revisiting a column from a few years ago about a slightly less successful electrical project.


I think every once in a while, a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive. Either that, or because of our male DNA, we just keep doing really stupid things, surviving them somehow, then telling ourselves that every once in a while, a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive.

Since I gave up professional snowmobile motocross, I tend to mainly cheat death these days with home repair. It’s a win-win, really, because not only do I get to feel truly alive, but occasionally I accidentally fix something. This last time was not one of those times.

Our air conditioner quit working last week. That was a very unfortunate situation, since our house is currently sitting on the surface of the sun. It was 104 degrees the day it died. That is not cool. Fortunately - for her anyway - my wife was leaving with the kids the next day for a week-long excursion without me. That meant I would be left to sweat profusely by myself until the air conditioner guy could come out. “No problem,” I thought, as I dialed up the repair man, “I can make it a day or two.”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re scheduled out past a week at this point. We can be there next Wednesday.”

“Uhh… Can you repeat that? I had sweat inside my ear and I thought I just heard you say next Wednesday.”

It turns out that air conditioner problems are a pretty common occurrence here on the sun, and I had heard him correctly. I reluctantly scheduled my convenient four-hour window of time, and hung up the phone. As I wiped my face sweat from the phone’s front screen, I vowed to try and fix it myself in the meantime. I was mildly concerned that I might accidentally dehydrate until I remembered that beer is full of water. No problem there, but I really just wanted to be cool, and I could always cancel the appointment. Besides, I hadn’t cheated death in a while.

Through some very high-level troubleshooting at the circuit breaker panel on the side of my house, I had noticed that the breaker was tripping when the air conditioner tried to come on. I also noticed that the breaker would trip even when I had the A/C turned off. I obviously had a bad circuit breaker! I can fix that! I think…

I know what I’m doing with electricity in the same way that a teenager knows how to drive a car. I am familiar with the main concept, but I am severely lacking in skill and comprehension on some of the finer points.

What I do know is that electricity is amazing. Take a refrigerator for example. Electricity runs the compressor that makes the refrigerator cold, in turn, making your beer cold. Electricity also runs the little light bulb inside the refrigerator, making it possible to find the cold beer, even in the dark. Light bulbs are hot. Electricity is responsible for both cold and hot in the same machine, all resulting in the ability to find and drink a cold beer, any time of the day or night. Simply amazing!

I also know a little about the units involved in describing electrical circuits. Many people are confused by the relationship between Amps and Volts, and many others simply don’t know what they are at all. It’s really quite simple, actually.

Amps are the measurement of electricity’s ability to kill you, in units of consecutive missed heartbeats. Getting shocked by a 3-amp circuit will probably be survivable, but a 30-amp circuit will do you in. You simply cannot survive missing thirty consecutive heartbeats.

Voltage is the measure of how far the electricity will throw you while the amps are killing you. Volts are measured in inches per death. For instance, a 480-volt circuit will throw you 480 inches, or 40 feet, while the amps are turning you into a baked potato.

The circuit for my A/C unit has a 40-amp breaker. Forty consecutive heartbeats are too many to miss. I think it is also 220 volts, which means if I screwed up, my body would be found a little over eighteen feet away from the panel. That would put me squarely in the middle of my neighbor’s driveway.

Speaking of my neighbor, I was a little conflicted there. My family had left, so I was all alone. I wanted someone to know that I was about to attempt to cheat death, on the off chance that I had only missed ten or so heartbeats and was only blown five or six feet from the panel and clinging to life. On the other hand, our neighbor is old and I didn’t want to scare her. I decided someone was bound to drive by and see me smoking on the driveway, so I didn’t bother her.

I removed my wedding ring. I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is necessary, but I just know that professional electricians don’t wear them. I think it’s so when your wife is collecting your personal belongings after you die, she doesn't have to try and pull it off your charred ring finger.

I then watched a few YouTube videos on how to change a breaker, and instantly became an expert. I got my screwdriver and approached the electrical panel, mostly almost confident. I carefully unscrewed the panel cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. I was sweaty.

There, behind the circuit breakers, I could now see the “bus bar,” which is a Latin for “metal strip of death.” It is a large copper plate that all the circuit breakers clip onto, and it is brimming with kill-you-instantly electricity. I was fairly sure that I could disable the bus bar by switching the large main circuit breaker off. I could see another copper plate coming from under another protective cover that looked like it was going to the main breaker, but I wanted to be sure.

I carefully unscrewed the other cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. There behind the panel, I was face-to-face with all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood, coming in from the street on two wires as thick as Costco polish sausages. This was not on any of the videos.

I should not have removed this cover.


Sure enough, they were attached to the plate running to the main breaker, so I was almost confident that shutting the main breaker off would kill the bus bar, but I knew for a fact there was no way to shut off the power to the two giant cables of doom that I had just uncovered.

I was now sweating and moving like the guy diffusing the bomb in the action film. If I accidentally touched the metal cover or my screwdriver to either of these humongous wires, I would receive enough Amps and Volts to miss a month’s worth of heartbeats and weld my body to the stop sign at the end of the street. Despite the gallons of sweat and nervous hand tremors, I managed to replace the cover and screw it down without incident.

Crisis averted. Death cheated, yet again.

I switched off the main, removed the old 40-amp breaker, and took it to Lowe’s to find a new one. They had an exact match, and new one in hand, I drove back to my house confident and even a little proud. Today, I know everything there is to know about electricity. Today I am an electrical super-genius. Today I am Tony Stark from Iron Man.

I slapped that new breaker in, buttoned up the panel cover, and flipped the main back on. Confidently, I flipped the new 40-amp breaker on… only to have it trip right back off.

Hmm… Electrical super-genius Tony Stark did not seem to fix anything here. In fact, all I seemed to have accomplished was spending eleven dollars on a breaker I didn’t need and getting to reset all the clocks inside an 85-degree house. Not awesome.

After spending the majority of the rest of the week in my car with the A/C running, I’m now in the middle of my convenient four-hour window, waiting for the real electrician to arrive and actually fix something. I don’t think I’ll tell him this story.

Oh, well. At least I cheated death. I feel truly alive!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, April 12, 2017

Your Tax Dollars? Look at these Cartoons Instead

Your taxes are due in five days. Don’t blame me, I voted against them.

A few years ago I thought I would try to make us all feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So I went to (motto: “Because we can, that’s why”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with a ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters Q, X, Y or Z. (I’m happy to announce that the government was able to add a K agency since last year.)

I have updated the list of current agencies for you again this year. Here’s the fun places your 2016 tax dollars are headed:

Administration on Aging (motto: Good for wine and cheese, bad for people’s bodies.)

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (motto: Buyer beware. And seller, too. We’re coming for all of you.)

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (motto: It goes in the upper right corner, dammit!)

Delaware River Basin Commission (motto: Getting paid to stare at water since 1961.)

Economic Adjustment Office (motto: Please be patient. We’re redistributing your money as fast as we can.)

Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (motto: Just kidding, we have no standards.)

Government Ethics, Office of (motto: We can’t even fit all the irony into one building.)

House Office of the Clerk (Main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up.)

Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group (We’re using your money to figure out how to play nice. It’s not working.)

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (motto: We will sue you in as many places as possible.)

Kennedy Center (motto: Please stop asking about Marilyn.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Marine Mammal Commission (We’re investigating the narwhal. He seems like a troublemaker.)

National Technical Information Service (motto: Dumbing everything down for you as fast as we can.)

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (This is not where we hide all the bribes and kickbacks and stuff. We swear.)

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (Just kidding, we spent it all. Here’s a third of what you were promised. We borrowed it from social security. Don’t tell them!)

Rural Business and Cooperative Programs (motto: We don’t trust you rednecks to handle things on your own.)

Surface Transportation Board (We don’t trust those Department of Transportation guys to handle the surface. There’s just too much of it. It covers the whole country, you know?)

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (We changed our name from “Taxpayer Advocate Service” because too many people thought we would actually help. You’re still screwed.)

U.S. Election Assistance Committee (motto: Helping you get crappy officials for generations to come.)

Veterans Day National Committee (We’re thinking November 11th again this year.)

Washington Headquarters Services (We are here to serve headquarters. In Washington. Don’t ask a lot of questions, OK?)

It bothers me that we don’t have Q, X, Y, or Z agencies. I really don’t think our government is applying itself here. We’re only four more ridiculous money-wasting agencies away from having the whole alphabet covered. Just off the top of my head, I can suggest the Quicksand and other Swamp Dangers Mitigation Exploratory Committee, the Xylophone Standardization Council, the Yo-Yo Injury Prevention Task Force, and the Zeppelin and Lighter-than-Aircraft (Unmanned) Aviation Standards Advisory Board. Get on that, will you Washington?

As far as the current agencies go, keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

Even more disturbing than the fact that the lists grow each year, is the fact that not all the agencies are listed under the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies. And here’s what’s really scary – you used to be able to dig a little deeper on under the Executive Branch and find the rest of the disheartening lists – a list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, a list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, a list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, a list of Quasi-Official Agencies.

But now all those lists are gone. When you click on the Executive Branch now, you get moved to a Kids.USA.Gov site with an animated Ben Franklin taking us on a Learning Adventure, explaining how government “works” to second-graders.

Umm… Is there an agency that can look into why someone is hiding quasi-official agencies from us using a cartoon? No? OK, never mind then, I guess.  

If that isn’t scary enough for you, then I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, that we may or may not be allowed to know about and simply ponder this:

According to Congress, it takes around $5.3 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Five and a third billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Five thousand millions.

They “work” about one hundred seventy-five days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work twelve hours per day, that’s $2.5 million an hour.
That’s $42,000 per minute.
That’s $700 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

(And, let’s keep in mind that it was Congress themselves who told us how much they are spending. So, in reality, it’s probably a much higher number, since they stopped letting us know about all the agencies and stuff and gave us a cartoon instead.)

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $8,500 of your money (or probably more) on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more hidden quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

But never mind. Just look at the fun animated Ben Franklin and forget about what you were concerned with. Ben has video games for you, too!

Holy crap.

The real April Fools’ Day is not April 1st. It’s April 15th.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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, April 5, 2017

This Will Be Painful, I Insure You

Three months ago, some yahoo up in Oregon talked himself out of chaining up his two-wheel-drive Nissan sedan in a blizzard, then promptly slid across the highway in front of our Suburban. Unfortunately, both vehicles were moving at the time, and the end result was a pretty decent head-on collision, followed by four hours of standing on the side of the highway in a snowstorm.

Good times.

When our vehicles collided, all eight of the airbags in our Suburban deployed. ("Deploy" is a fun euphemism for "loudly explode into your face and fill car with smoke.") When that happened, the OnStar system immediately sprang into action and alerted insurance agents and adjusters in three states that it was time to do their jobs very poorly.

I like my insurance company. Or at least, I want my insurance company to keep liking me, so I’m not going to mention their name here. The other guy’s insurance company rhymes with Allstate.

The next morning, I spoke on the phone with the third-party insurance adjuster who would be collecting the scrap heap that was our car, and described the collision, the damage, and the fact that all the airbags had gone off. She told me that the car was definitely totaled, and we would never see it again. So, we fished all the loose change out of the ashtray and left the wreckage of our Suburban at Caveman Towing in Grants Pass, Oregon, heading home to California, where we would eagerly await our total loss settlement check.

A week later some idiot from some third-party adjuster company called me to say that my Suburban was at a salvage yard in Eugene, Oregon, and good news! – It looks like it’s repairable!

I realize you guys legalized weed up there, but I really don’t think that means that it’s OK to smoke dope while you’re on the job, dude. Say again? You want to repair it? Might I remind you that all eight air bags went off? The interior of the car looks like a one-star hotel room in Fallujah, and the front looks like it was hit with the same Stinger missile that dropped the hotel rating down from a three.

Well, we need to do a full estimate on it, but it looks promising. Do you have a favorite repair shop?

A favorite repair shop? In Eugene, Oregon? A town where I don’t live in a state where I don’t live? Hmm… Is Big Tony’s Creole Grill and Auto Body still in business? No? OK, then, I guess you can pick your favorite, Skippy.

A week later the good news came down from the north. The Suburban is repairable! The Oregon estimate came back at $12,000.

Uh… $12,000? Was that just the interior estimate, or did you make the common mistake of confusing my Suburban with that Maserati that had a scratch on the hood?

Can I see a copy of that estimate, please? Uh… You guys only have an hour and a half of “frame inspection and repair labor” listed on here. Did you miss the part about how it was a head-on collision that reduced a Nissan sedan to the size of a juice box? And what an adorable labor rate you used. Why don’t we tow it down here for a California estimate, where they aren’t planning to repair it at the preschool with clay and Legos.

Fast forward another week and the California repair shop calls to tell me that the Suburban arrived and has some rear bumper damage. Hmm… Nope. The rear bumper was the one part of the car not involved in the accident.

Yeah, the tow truck driver seemed to think that might be fork lift damage. The drive shaft is separated and laying on the ground, too.

Oh, goody. Was my car being scavenged for parts at the Oregon salvage yard before someone said, “Whoops. Hey, put that transmission back in, they want to tow it down to California instead.”? And, great news about the new bumper damage! I was beginning to worry that no one would get to pick my car up with a forklift during this process. I’m glad we checked that box off.

I was skeptical before, but if we’ve been sticking giant steel beams under my car and lifting it up like it was a pallet of Huggies at Costco, I really want it back now! Get going on that estimate!

Fast forward what seemed to be nine or ten years and the California shop calls with the good news. The estimate is up to $19,000 now, but it’s not a total loss, yet. It’s still repairable!

Wow, that is fantastic news, a full two months after the crash. How much “frame inspection and repair labor” do you have in there? Oh, an entire two hours this time. That should be plenty. Let’s get going on the repairs. We crashed on January 2nd, and I’d like to have my car back for next New Year’s, if possible.

Fast forward another month, and almost exactly three months after Captain Slides-A-Lot ruined our travel plans, the California repair shop called back with the “bad” news.

Wow, so sorry to tell you this, but after getting your car up on the frame measuring machine, it turns out that the frame will need to be completely replaced. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be a total loss.

Yeah, wow, what an unfortunate turn of events that I never could have seen coming. Gee, I’m so sad for your repair shop’s loss of revenue. Too bad we didn’t put it up on the frame measuring machine THREE MONTHS AGO!!

Like I said, I’m not going to mention their name here, but I would venture a guess that I have one of the best insurance companies a driver can have, and they still suck this bad. How on Earth is frame measuring machine not the first thing they demand from whatever third-party stoner organization is tasked with inspecting the vehicle? Do they just love spending my money? Don’t answer that.

And as far as the other guy’s insurance company goes – don’t even get me started. My wife was bruised pretty heavily by the seatbelt, and when we mentioned that, they immediately went into frantic mode while trying to use their caring and compassionate voices.

I almost believed they cared until I received the letter explaining how they would calculate an injury settlement, if there needed to be one. They explained that injuries and their associated monetary values are calculated with their handy insurance computer program named… wait for it… “Colossus.”  – I am not making that up.

Colossus? Are you nice folks so far removed from the realm of actual humanity that you can’t even hear how ridiculously ominous that sounds? Seriously? I have an idea. Let’s be real. Let’s all just cut the crap and rename it to sound even more truthful. That way you don’t have to go through the charade of using your caring voice.

I’m thinking the “We’re Going to Screw You Over-inator” has a better ring to it.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 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!