Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rewards Card Fraud

A few years ago, I became our household’s primary grocery shopper. “No problem,” I thought. “I got this. I totally know where everything is.” Upon returning from my first trip to the store, my wife informed me that we, as a family, needed more than just Fritos and beer, and I needed to go back and try again. Apparently, there’s a list with lots of other stuff on it.

I have since gotten the hang of it, and I now know where everything is inside of our local Winco even better than I do our Home Depot, which is really saying something. I even write out the grocery shopping list in order of the route I will take through the store. I’m that good.

So, when a friend was raving to us about another grocery store’s online shopping system, where you just tell them what you want and set a time to pick it up, I surprised myself by immediately dismissing the idea.

My stated reason for wanting to continue shopping for my own groceries? I don’t want someone else picking out my tomatoes.

After my wife stopped rolling on the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter, I had a quiet moment of self-reflection and realized why she thought that reaction was so funny. Namely, we both know I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing at the grocery store.

Sure, I’m efficient in my shopping route through the store, but the actual shopping itself – picking out the best produce, for example – remains a complete mystery to me. I am pretending to know what I’m doing the entire time.

Is this melon ripe? Let me knock on it and listen. What am I listening for? No idea, but I saw someone else do that once. Sounds great. I’ll take it.

How firm or soft should a tomato be? Beats me. These look red. I’ll take them.

Are these pineapples ripe? Great question. No clue. I’ll take that one.

What constitutes a good onion? That lady who looks like she knows what she’s doing just grabbed one that looked kinda like this one. Perfect.

And don’t even get me started on cilantro and Italian parsley. Why do they keep those two things even remotely close to each other? They look IDENTICAL! Do you know what doesn’t enhance salsa very much? Italian parsley. Do you know what makes pasta carbonara taste weird? Cilantro. They should be on opposite ends of the store with large identification signs. Not sitting right next to each other, dammit!

At least with grapes I can actually eat one. I’m amazing at picking out grapes. They look at you funny when you start munching on the Italian parsley.

The only thing on the list besides grapes that I’m truly qualified to choose with any authority is beer. I don’t need to taste it to pick out a good one. (FYI – If they do catch you in the walk-in beer cooler wearing a parka and sampling the different varieties, they kick you out of the store. Happened to a friend…)

Then there’s the other problem of me constantly buying things that aren’t on the list because I see them on the shelf and think, “Ooh, do we need mustard? I don’t remember seeing any last time I looked in the pantry. Better grab a couple bottles.” Then I get home and set the two new bottles in the pantry next to the fifty-two bottles of mustard currently taking up an entire shelf. Perfect.

Then there’s the irrational fear I have every single time I’m in the store - the fear of leaving my cart alone. Every time I park my cart outside the beer cooler, I have the same idiotic thought run through my head as I reach for the door handle - “What if someone steals my stuff?”

I’m still inside the damn store! I haven’t paid for any of this yet. What am I worried about? If someone takes something from my cart, it would just be annoying. I haven’t been harmed in any way. And it wouldn’t even be considered stealing on their part. At worst, it’s just a dick move, and at best, it’s just a convenient mobile shelf they happened to pass by. Yet, every time I leave my cart alone, I feel like I’m leaving all my worldly possessions out on the sidewalk in front of the 7-Eleven while I go inside to use the restroom.

Besides not being very good at it, I guess shopping is a little stressful for me as well. This online ordering thing might not be a bad idea after all. Let’s face it, the person who is going to pick out my tomatoes works at the store. They are probably infinitely more qualified to get me the perfect tomato than I am.

I think I might give it a shot. I’ll have to look into… wait a second. I forgot. What about samples?

If I use the online ordering, they meet me at my car with the groceries. I never even get to go inside. How will I get the samples from all the little stations around the store?

Forget it. I’m not willing to sacrifice my store sample lunch for a little convenience and an actually ripe pineapple. I’ll do my own stressful shopping, thank you very much.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Clean up on Child Three

The hardest part about going on vacation is coming home. That’s probably mostly because of the stress of smuggling five suitcases full of tequila, illegal Mexican fireworks, and my cool new switchblade past the customs agents at the airport. But also because we had to come back to the reality of having kids.

We were only in Mexico for five days, but, apparently, God thought we were getting a little too comfortable in our south-of-the-border kid-less bliss So, He smacked us straight in the face - mostly the nose, really – with reality. Literally the first thing we had to do when we saw the kids was clean up vomit.

My wife and I flew back from Mexico into the San Francisco Bay Area and stayed the night, and Grandma drove the boys to us the next morning so we could all continue on a family vacation for a week. Grandma has apparently lost the ability to say no, or the ability to make good decisions, or both, because on her way she said yes to cherry-red Slurpees for breakfast on the road. Son Number Three’s body rejected the eight A.M. overload of high-fructose corn syrup and red dye #40 about a block from our hotel.

Welcome back. There’s red puke all over the inside of your car. And your son. And one of your other sons. Road trip!

There’s not too many things that can make me miss the unpleasant wafting aroma of the under-engineered Mexican sewer system, but cleaning bright red Slurpee vomit off the back seats of the car with a baby wipe at a gas station is one of them. It’s great to be back with the kids. Thanks for watching them, Grandma. I guess we forgot to mention it, but “No” is an acceptable word to use with the children when inside a 7-Eleven.

(Please don’t misunderstand – even though Grandma seems to be losing it, we will still gladly use her babysitting services in the future. It takes a lot more than projectile Slurpee to get fired from that job!)

Our destination was San Diego to stay with relatives for a few days in their beautiful, upscale, clean, well-appointed home. We arrived and promptly took over their laundry room to de-puke-ify the contents of our quarantined trash bag. After the laundry was finished we went to bed happy that the clean-up was behind us.

I guess God thought we hadn’t quite paid for all the time off.

The next morning, I woke up to Son Number Two in the kitchen with bright blue hands and ten dismantled ball-point pens on the granite countertop, trying to wash off the blue ink that had spread everywhere inside his backpack. He was busy trying to wash the pens. The pens! Because to my eleven-year-old, saving the twenty-four cents’ worth of crappy pens was the main concern.

I traced the ink spill back to his bed on their living room couch, where he first discovered the Bic-xon Valdez had run aground. There I found the backpack, and various items from within, all a vibrant fresh blue ink color, many of which, in his haste to save the precious disposable plastic pens, had found their way onto the sheets, the staircase next to the couch, and the large area rug.

After I collected all the little pieces of my head that exploded all over the room, I spent the next hour perfecting the technique of using rubbing alcohol to get ink out of a carpet. Given enough time and excruciatingly-manufactured patience, rubbing alcohol and an endless supply of clean rags removes bright blue ink from carpet fibers amazingly well, which is the only reason Son Number Two is still with us here on Earth.

It was starting to look like penance for a week off from parenting was going to involve a crazy mess from each child. We’d had bright red and bright blue, so it was looking like a patriotic theme was developing.

We kept Son Number One away from marshmallows and milk for the rest of the trip.

It’s great to be back.

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, June 14, 2017

Bat Demo

Mexico update numero dos.

In update numero uno, we discussed some of the major cultural differences between Mexico and Los Estados Unidos. Now that we’re back on U.S. soil and off the ridiculously slow, and possibly bugged, hotel Wi-Fi, I feel safer about bringing you the second update. As it turns out, wild drivers and El Hombre de Viagra and his burro smuggling operation were not the only parts of our Mexican experience that differed from our regular life.

Another change was the relative security we experienced. One morning after breakfast we came back to our hotel room to find the door wide open, with no maid or maid cart in sight. While none of our possessions were missing, we were understandably concerned. Thankfully, our Mexican hotel security team was all over the problem.

The jefe de seguridad plugged in the electronic scanner to our door lock, downloaded the entry and exit log, informed me that he needed to go back to the security office to print it out, and promptly disappeared. I guess he must have had a paper jam or needed to change the ink cartridge, because a mere five hours later, another hotel security professional showed me the handy printout which informed me that I was the last one in or out of the room, so it was probably all my fault.

Hmm… seems legit. I have never ever left a door unlocked and open in my entire life, so Mexico seems like the place I’d start. Thanks for the super-realistic and timely report, fellas!

If we had any mild security concerns inside our hotel, thankfully they quickly escalated when we went out walking in town. To prove that the neighborhoods are safe, Mexico conveniently displays their militarized police forces for you to inspect. Every other police vehicle was a pickup truck with five or six men dressed like a commando strike force, complete with face masks and M-16’s, standing up in the back, rifles ready for action.

We were impressed with the show of force, which even included an armored truck with a M-60 mounted on a swiveling turret. The locals, however, seemed to display less reverent awe than we did. We got that impression when we watched the ice cream man cut in front of the armored truck and proceed to ignore the surprisingly whiny honking from the driver of the three-axle, heavily-armed, bulletproof vehicle. It was almost as if the ice cream man knew the police budget didn’t include bullets for the machine gun.

Security differences aside, our hotel had some other striking differences to what you might experience in the United States. Mainly, that they were tearing it down while we were there. Sure, they tried to disguise the demolition as a “pardon our dust, we’re making more fun for you” kind of renovation, but there was no mistaking the fact that they were really dismantling the building.

That might have been because when we arrived, the entire right half of the hotel was a seven-story gaping hole, with tile and siding hanging loosely around the area that looked like it had just been hit with a scud missile.

As our week at hotel Fallujah progressed, more and more of the front of the hotel was broken apart by large pieces of heavy equipment and men with sledge hammers. By the time we left, I was getting legitimately concerned about the structural integrity of the building.

The first few mornings, we were nudged awake by the melodious tones of five or six back-up alarms on the heavy equipment all singing out their one-note songs in perfect non-harmony. One particularly exciting morning, we were jolted out of bed by what sounded like someone trying to enter our room through the wall directly above our heads, using a Sawzall. He must have just been cutting up the bed or the couch in the adjoining room, however, because he never actually came through the wall.

Need to get to the pool? Check with the crossing guard in the hard hat. He’ll keep you from getting run over by a front-end loader. The view from the pool? To the south, the beautiful ocean. To the north, heavy equipment plucking the palm trees out of the ground in the hotel’s large horseshoe-shaped interior garden area. What’s that pleasant banging and crackling sound? Just another overhead beam going up near the pool bar, with the welders fitting it into place. No wonder we got so pink out by the pool. Half of our “sunburns” were probably flash burns from the welders.

I’ve stayed at a number of U.S. hotels that were doing some construction onsite, but it never seemed to affect my stay the way it did in Mexico. For instance, in America I’ve never actually had to walk through the construction (or destruction) as part of the only route to my room. In Mexico, six times a day, we walked right through the ten guys removing the tiles from the walls in the main hall. The guys down on the ground with us had all been issued hard hats to protect them from the team on the scissor lift removing the tiles from twenty feet overhead. We protected our heads with beach towels.

My wife even helped out a little and removed a few souvenir tiles from one of the walls by hand. I’m not sure why the guys in hard hats were bothering with tools. The tiles seemed to be attached with the same stuff that sticks your new credit card to the paper.

Despite the fact that four out of our hotel’s five stars were being jackhammered apart, we actually had a relaxing and enjoyable time. Do you know why? Because our kids weren’t with us. Now, don’t get me wrong, we love our three boys to death. I’m just saying, never underestimate how much your children are sucking the very life out of you, that’s all. This vacation proves it. We slept in a construction/war zone, and it was honestly more relaxing than being at home with our boys.

In fairness to the boys, the food had a lot to do with our overall enjoyment of the vacation. Besides the fact that we never had to break up a single fight at any of our meals, the food was amazing. Which brings us to my favorite difference – besides El Hombre de Viagra, of course – between Mexico and America: the wildlife in the bars. Literally.

We saw plenty of wildlife (mostly iguana-looking lizards) on our walks to and from the restaurants, but the wildlife inside the restaurants was what caught my attention. Most places were more or less open-air. If they weren’t completely patio-style, they would certainly keep the doors open. On more than one occasion we saw birds flying in and out over our heads during meals, but it was the bat that made me sit up and take notice.

We were at a table down at the Fish and Grill, having some of the most amazing tacos on planet Earth and watching game two of the NBA finals on the big screens over the bar. We’d had a few birds fly in and out, but just after the start of the third quarter, Mexico upped the ante and added a bat. He (or she) wasn’t much bigger than a flying mouse (which if you think about it, that’s pretty much what it was), and it zipped in through the doors and zig-zagged all over the place up near the ceiling beams.

Then, it made the fatal mistake of wanting to check out the game, or order a tequila. I’m not sure which, and we’ll probably never know. I don’t know if all Mexican bat sonar is defective, if this particular bat was on his fourth or fifth bar visit that night and was drunk as a tiny flying skunk, or if ceiling fans create some kind of magnetic field and are confounding to all North American bats, but things didn’t go well.

He zig-zagged out of the rafters and headed straight for the bar. He made it under his own power just as far as the large ceiling fan above the bar, and then the ceiling fan took over the flight planning. He flew straight into the path of the rotating blades and got hit like a hanging curve ball, straight across the bar and smack into the middle of the big screen TV. He hit the flat screen with a thud and dropped straight down past the impressive selection of local tequilas to the floor behind the bar.

Well, that was a first for me. (And probably a first and a last for him.)

Two bartenders and a waiter behind the bar looked down at the unfortunate winged rodent, shrugged, and went about their business.

Nice one, Mexico.

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, June 7, 2017

Mucho Caliente

Update from Mexico – It’s different than the U.S.

I’m not sure if you knew that or not, but I’m here at the southern tip of Baja California, and I can tell you from firsthand experience this week, it’s definitely different.

For starters, everyone here speaks Spanish. Like, one hundred percent of the people. That’s different than where I live in California, where only eighty-five percent of the people speak Spanish.

Secondly, the drivers here are suicidal, but also incredibly polite. If you are in another car, they will do everything in their power to run you off the road. If you are a pedestrian at a crosswalk, however, they could not be nicer or more accommodating. Imagine having crosswalks on the track at a Nascar race, and all the drivers are required to stop to let any pedestrians across or their cars will instantly explode. It’s kinda like that.

Sidewalks are also a major difference. Here in Mexico, sidewalks seem to be something they thought were a nice idea, but not necessarily mandatory. Often times your sidewalk will simply end, replaced by a field of rubble where the old sidewalk was inexplicably demolished and the remnants left in place. Other times the sidewalk will simply disappear, becoming a sand or dirt path for twenty or thirty feet before becoming a sidewalk again.

Occasionally the sidewalk will become impossibly skinny, as if the buildings all moved out toward the street and swallowed it. This usually happens somewhere with an incredibly high curb, so you end up negotiating the skinny section of sidewalk like a mountain climber moving across a narrow shelf on the face of a cliff.

And you can’t walk on the sidewalks with your head up, looking at the scenery. If you do, you will fall into one of the many open manholes and electrical or other utility boxes in the middle of the sidewalks without covers.

And there is construction everywhere, which isn’t that amazingly different, except here it occurs with no safety barriers in place for the general public. America has much more of a “We need to protect you from the dangerous work happening here” mentality, whereas Mexico has obviously adopted a more “Hey, idiot. Watch your own ass” philosophy. You are free to walk right up to the man operating the jackhammer and step through his rubble pile, but you do so at your own risk. Someone welding near your dinner table? That’s just how it goes. It’s on you to keep the hot slag and sparks out of your ceviche.

The language, construction, and driver differences are all very interesting, but they might be too subtle if you aren’t paying attention or if you’ve had one too many watermelon margaritas (which are phenomenal, by the way).

One international difference that is anything but subtle down here? The marketing of male erectile dysfunction drugs.

In America, Viagra and Cialis are marketed on television with almost appropriate for all ages television commercials. Usually, a rich and powerful salt and pepper-haired corporate executive and his beautiful younger wife are seen on vacation or out at a fancy dinner. They hold hands and gaze at each other lovingly as they make their way back to the well-appointed hotel room. “When the time is right, will you be ready?” the understanding and non-judgmental voiceover asks.

The commercials are very targeted in their vagueness. The people who ask, “Ready for what?” are not being marketed to. Then, in keeping with the “we need to protect you from everything” American way, they strongly advise you, the powerful and soon-to-be virile again CEO, to consult your doctor to make sure your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity.

(News flash – no man in the world has ever worried if his heart was healthy enough for sexual activity. The most infirmed of us might worry if we’re healthy enough for a light jog, or a brisk walk, but given the opportunity, sexual activity is always a green light. That’s how we all want to die, anyway.)

Not necessarily surprisingly, they took a different route here in Mexico. They decided the best way to advertise a pill for erectile dysfunction would be to make the blue Viagra pill into a cartoon character for window posters at pharmacies.

He stands at least six feet tall. His torso is the chiseled muscular semi-diamond-shaped blue Viagra pill. He has muscular arms and legs, and vibrant bushy eyebrows, narrowed across his brow in a triumphant smile. He is Viagra Man, or as they say here in Mexico, El Hombre de Viagra.

He has the word VIAGRA tattooed on one of his manly arms, and “MUCHO CALIENTE” scrawled in front of him, indicating – as if you didn’t already know – that he is very hot and spicy.

He stands with his feet spread wide and his hands victoriously on his hips. He wears a traditional huge round sombrero, dazzling white teeth, and the commanding jawline of a hero.

His only article of clothing is a bright red speedo, in the front of which he appears to be smuggling a medium-size burro.

Subtlety is not an issue with El Hombre de Viagra.

Well done, Mexico. Thanks for being so caliente!

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!