Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Something Stinks at the DMV

We have had a major shift in our public services. The script has been flipped, as the cool kids say. The Department of Motor Vehicles used to be the gold standard for government inefficiency, but not so anymore. Based on a few news items that caught my attention recently and my own personal DMV experience this week, I would have to conclude that the DMV is greased lightning compared to our justice system.

Don’t get me wrong. The DMV still sucks immensely. They’re just doing it much quicker now. I had a DMV appointment at 8:30 A.M. on Monday to get new license plates. I walked out at 8:32 A.M. with my new plates. The thing that took the longest was having to walk all the way around the line of eighty-five people without appointments to get out the door. Moral: Don’t go to the DMV without an appointment. And also, based on a recent news story, if you have an appointment to get a commercial drivers license, but can’t pass the test, you should bring bribe money. Apparently, it speeds the process along.

Yes, the headline reads: Two California DMV managers investigated in bribery scheme.

For the second time in just over a year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is dealing with a federal investigation for bribery.

According to court documents obtained by KCRA 3 Investigates, Kari Scattaglia and Lisa Terraciano, both managers at the DMV in the Los Angeles area, accepted bribes to allow drivers to get commercial drivers licenses that allow people to drive semi trucks, tour buses and other large commercial vehicles.

You read that correctly. People who had no business doing so were driving tour busses and semi trucks, thanks to the California DMV.

The complaint… states that the two managers had been taking money to give passing grades and commercial licenses since 2013.

Over the last year, federal agents set up sting operations at least six times where they asked the two managers to change failing grades and grant Class C licenses.

So, here’s my problem with this. It’s not that two government employees thought they could use their positions of power to cheat and steal. That’s like breathing for a lot of government employees. Sad, but not shocking. My problem is with the federal agents who felt the need to set up six separate sting operations over an entire year, and apparently have known about these two idiots for FIVE years.

Hey, federal agents, how about just one single sting operation and remove them from their jobs right away, huh? Throw them in jail or don’t, but get them out of the DMV so Bad Choices Bob, the Unsafe Truck Driver, isn’t hurtling his massive rig down the highway near my family while he smokes crank and continues not knowing what the minimum safe following distance should be for an 80,000-pound Peterbilt with forged maintenance records.

And these two ladies weren’t the only DMV employees in on this lucrative off-books retirement plan. There have been investigations in Sacramento and San Joaquin County as well, both spanning multiple years!

Ultimately, the DMV admitted that more than 600 illegal commercial licenses were issued in the Northern California scheme. The office would not reveal how many more commercial licenses were allegedly issued by the two Los Angeles-area managers, claiming that it was an open investigation.

Six hundred truck drivers on the road in Northern California, and an untold number in Southern California, all of whom had no business driving a Miata, let alone a semi or a tour bus. That actually explains a lot about the state of things out on the highways these days, but it does not explain this: How, in this situation, are the good guys as slow as the DMV, and the DMV is finally efficient, handing out bogus licenses as fast as McDonald’s hands out heart disease.

I mean, maybe the federal investigators didn’t have an appointment and had to wait in that line. Maybe that’s why it took five years to stop these people. Who knows?

The other news item that caught my attention was from all the way over in Kansas City, Missouri, but ties in perfectly in my mind with the California DMV story. The headline reads: Suspect's farting shuts down interrogation.

A police interrogation of a Kansas City man charged with drug and gun offenses ended prematurely when an investigator was driven from the room by the suspect's excessive flatulence.

A detective reported that when asked for his address, 24-year-old Sean Sykes Jr. "leaned to one side of his chair and released a loud fart before answering."

The Kansas City Star reports that Sykes "continued to be flatulent" and the detective was forced to quickly end the interview.

How could these two stories be related, you ask? Simple. If our federal justice system is really concerned with justice, those bribe-taking California DMV employees will all be flown out to Kansas City and put in the same air-tight cell with Sean Sykes Jr.

Having Mr. Sykes transported on a plane to California just seems too risky for everyone involved.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

High School Knowledge Week

I went back to high school today. Not my own high school, but a very similar one. It felt the same. The smell of gym socks and mysterious cafeteria “food” has not changed much in thirty years.

It’s career week at Rocklin High, and they invited me to speak about being an author. I wanted to speak about being a bullfighter, but they said it was better to stick to things I’d had direct experience with, so whatever. Author it is.

I really had a fun time sharing my knowledge and insights with the students about authoring, but I also felt like I left a lot on the table, advice-wise. I mean, I gave them plenty of advice about being an author, such as, “If you want to be able to afford food and clothing, be a dentist instead,” and “Never name your evil villainess after your mother-in-law if you can help it.”

But I really wished I could have gone a step further and given them general high school life advice. The format and time constraints of the day wouldn’t allow for it, but there was definitely more wisdom I wanted to impart, such as:

- Talk to the girl. She’s nervous and self-conscious just like you are, even if all you see is her being amazing and you having zits. If she wants nothing to do with you, smile and say, “OK, no sweat. I hope you have a great day.” Or cover her front yard in toilet paper at midnight. Either way you want to play it is cool.

- Pay attention, you idiot. The things they are teaching you do not suck and are not lame. This is all stuff you will need in life. Except algebra. Algebra does suck and is lame. No one uses algebra in their job.

- Here’s a good joke for your math teacher:
What does the little mermaid wear to math class?
An algebra.
You’re welcome.

- While you are here, learn to form grammatically correct sentences on paper and with your face. If you can’t do that, you will always work at the car wash.

- Drive while driving. And drive as little as possible while you’re in high school. You think you’re amazing at it, but you’re not. You suck at it. So much.

- Stand up straight, look people in the eye, have a firm handshake, and speak clearly. In other words, stop being you and start acting like a human. It’s time.

- Quit wearing beanie hats unless it is below 45 degrees. Never wear them indoors, unless you work in a walk-in freezer.

- Be extra nice to your joints – your knees in particular. Trust me.

- Go to any other country before you start college. Just go. You don’t need any money.

- Get your hair out of your eyes. For you boys, it makes you look like a lazy slob. For you girls, it makes you look like Cousin It. Not good, either way.

- Go to any other country after you finish college. Just go. You still don’t need any money.

- Sit up straight.

- Your parents know a lot of useful information, and they want you to have it because they love you. You don’t know anything useful at all. Listen to them and stop being a turd.

- And no, having “likes” on your selfies is not useful. Stop taking selfies and learn how to cook a steak properly.

- Pronounce words correctly.

- You will get out of college exactly what you put into it. So be sure to study. Also, be sure to learn how to do an upside-down keg stand properly. Both are vitally important to college.

- Seriously, stop wearing beanie hats.

- Get a job if you don’t have one yet. You are not too busy. Throw your cell phone away and you just freed up 80% of your day.

- Once you learn something, start your own business with zero dollars in your bank account. If you fail, big deal. You’ll still have zero dollars. If you succeed, you’ll have more than zero. It’s just simple math.

- Deodorant. Always.

- Don’t say, “To be honest with you...”
It gives the impression you aren’t being honest all the other times.

- And above all else, remember -  Us adults are just as lost as you, but we have mortgages. Stay in high school. You have no idea how good you have it.

I’m going back tomorrow to talk to more students. Maybe I’ll find time to fit some of this good stuff in.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 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, January 17, 2018

Pinewood Derby

Son Number Two is a builder. He started with Legos, but long ago abandoned them in favor of my Dewalt driver drill and 4 x 8 sheets of plywood. He has his own tool belt. His favorite Christmas gift this year was a Home Depot gift card. He buys construction screws in bulk.

He builds mostly weapons and shelters. He would have been a good medieval villager. He has a “fort” on the side of our house – fully visible from the street, so as to curry favor with our neighbors – made of OSB plywood, discarded fence wood, and random 2 x 4’s. It looks like an Afghan refugee camp from the outside, but inside it has furniture and running water, which most Afghan refugees would probably love. Come to think of it, his fort might actually have an afghan inside since he also crochets.

So, when our neighbor came over and asked if he would like to compete in their cub scout troop’s annual Pinewood Derby race, he naturally said, “What’s a Pinewood Derby?” After they explained that you built a car and raced it, he was all in. He was slightly less enthusiastic later when I explained that he wasn’t allowed to add a motor to the car, but he got over it and remained adequately enthused.

We have never been involved in scouting, but we did see the movie Down and Derby, so we were already alert to some of the tendencies of dads to take over the project, to the detriment of the child’s overall experience. No way was I going to make that mistake! As a recovering engineer, I would definitely need to refrain from interjecting myself into the design of his car. I would help with the cutting of his wood block, but past that, I’d let him do all the work.

After discussing his plans with him, it turned out he was only planning on sanding, painting, nailing, and gluing. When I asked about his plans for 3D prototype printing, honing, powder coating, dynamic balancing, and wind tunnel testing, he just stared at me blankly. It was his project, so I let it go.

One minor area I helped with was reading the instruction sheet. He was given an official Pinewood Derby kit, with all the materials included he would need to build the car. Immediately sensing the piece of paper with all the annoying words was useless, he tossed it aside and got right to work. I had a feeling that whoever bothered to type the words on the paper might know a little more about the Pinewood Derby rules and car specs than us, so I retrieved it from the garage floor, making an old man noise as I bent down, as is my custom, and read the instructions.

You are allowed (and encouraged) to sand your axles down for less wheel friction. Since the axles provided were basically just nails, I seconded the encouragement to sand them down. He sanded for a few minutes and got bored. I tried to explain the disastrous negative effects on forward gliding motion as a result of increased wheel bearing friction to him, but he just shrugged. I found some time to sand in the evenings.

The car can’t be longer than 7 inches. He drew his car-shaped design on the side of the pinewood block provided in the kit, and asked me to cut it out. I told him no way I would consent to cut it out, because his design was less than 7 inches long. Why would you shorten a car that is supposed to go fast? Who does that?

Once we had a 7.000-inch-long car cut out, it was time to think about where to mount the axles and wheels. The car came with standard slots for the axle nails, and guess what? Captain Derby wanted to use those. Hello?? McFly??? The rules state that you could increase the wheelbase, as long as the wheels don’t stick out past either end of the car. Why would you use the shorter wheel base? Are you trying to lose? We will of course be drilling new axle holes for the longest wheel base possible.

You can only use dry lubricant on the axles. He asked me if we had any and I said no. He just shrugged and said, “I guess we won’t use any then.”

What? Are you crazy? No lubricant? Didn’t it ever occur to you that we could go online and order a special aircraft-grade Teflon/graphite blend, guaranteed to obliterate the standard dry metal-on-plastic coefficient of friction, from a custom dry lubricant manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio? What the hell are they teaching you in the sixth grade?

The car is allowed (and encouraged) to be painted. He just wanted to use spray paint from the garage shelf. Well, that sounds like a great way to lose. Why don’t we just put glue and feathers all over the outside to slow it down even more? No, we’ll be getting a three-part acrylic resin underlayment with an epoxy top coating that we can buff to a mirror shine. You go to bed, I’ll handle the fourth and fifth coats.

The car can’t weigh more than 5 ounces. When I explained that you wanted it as heavy as possible, he actually said, “We’ll just get close.” Good call, son. Maybe when we drive to the race, we can just get close, but not actually go inside. Not only do we need to be 5.0000 ounces on race night, but we need to run a whole battery of tests to decide proper weight placement and distribution. I’ll take it from here if you want to go play.

In the end, we had a great time building the car together, but I really wish I had more time to dedicate to the project. I wasn’t totally happy with the car on the morning of race day, but I was able to take the day off and do some tweaks and modifications while he was at school. By race night I thought we had a pretty decent product. Certainly good enough to take first place in this small town rinky-dink division.

We came in fourth out of eleven cars. Fourth! I’m deeply disappointed, not in our design, but with the other dads. I am seriously questioning the shaping and ground clearance specs on Dad Number Three’s car. I guess nothing else got done that week at his aerospace firm. I’m assuming Dad Number Two owns a machine shop specializing in turning, grinding, and polishing miniature axles, and don’t even get me started on Dad Number One’s custom recessed underside lead weight arrangement. Talk about hijacking the project from the kids.

I’m glad my son and I didn’t fall into that same trap. We had a great time together designing the car. I think he really enjoyed penciling in the car’s initial profile on that block of wood. And I think he learned a lot when I explained to him why his design was crap.

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to get back to the design and prep work for next year, and I need to figure out where those other dads buy their wheel lubricants.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 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, January 10, 2018

What's in a Name?

Usually, at the beginning of each year I do an “About the Author” column to help our new readers get to know me a little better by learning some incredibly interesting facts, like my favorite breakfast cereal, and which shoe I put on first.

Recently, however, I have begun to notice how many other Marcs there are on, so in lieu of a “getting to know you” column this year, I thought I’d go with a “getting to know who I’m not” theme.

When you go to Amazon looking for one of my books (two-thirds of my sons think they’re really great), and you start typing my name in the search bar, things can get confusing.

For instance, if you just type in “Marc,” there can be a lot of misleading suggestions dropping down for you.

Marc Jacobs is not me. Apparently, he’s some big shot fashion guy from New York. He seems to only design things for women. In contrast, I know nothing about women and even less about women’s fashions.

Marc Anthony is a singer who is also not me. I can’t sing. I think he also dances, so that’s strike two. He might also have a line of expensive women’s hair care products. I don’t know anything about women’s hair care or even men’s hair care. I don’t even have any hair to care for. Strike three.

If you type in my first name, but have no idea how to spell my last name (and who could blame you?), but you suspect it might start with a consonant, you’d be right! Being the shrewd guesser you are, you would probably choose the right one and type “Marc S.” This still presents problems.

One of the first drop-down suggestions Amazon will give you is Bruno Marc shoes. Marc is my first name, not my last, and I don’t make shoes. I own shoes, but none by Bruno Marc. His shoes seem fairly affordable, though, so maybe I’ll grab a pair.

Marc Secchia might be your next choice. You’re getting closer, because he’s an author too, but he writes prolifically about dragons. I can’t even spell prolifically, and I don’t write about dragons.

You might be tempted to click on Marc Singer, but I’ve already told you, I don’t sing. And I was also not the super-buff star of the 1982 smash hit The Beastmaster, even though people get me confused with that guy all the time.

I am also not Marc Shapiro, even though he’s an author as well. He seems to write unauthorized biographies on semi-famous people. If I were going to write a biography on someone, chances are I would get their permission first. I hate getting sued.

If you happen upon Marc Stevens in your drop-down choices, beware. He writes what appears to be very low-budget erotica. I am a children’s book author. Those two things don’t go together.

Marc Simont and Marc Silvestri are also not me. They are illustrators of books. I am not. I wish I was, but my stick figures don’t even look like people. It’s sad, really.

If you have a near-photographic memory and somehow remembered that my last name starts with “Sch,” you can still get into trouble. Typing in “Marc Sch” brings up more issues.

Marc Schelske is a Christian author and also seems to be a singer. I’m a Christian, and also an author, but “Christian author” usually gets you a specific type of book. And we’ve been over the whole singer thing. The world does not need to hear me try to sing. The unruly crowd at the karaoke place made that abundantly clear.

Marc Schoen, a man who is also not me, is a Ph.D. in something or other who has also written books, two of which are entitled When Relaxation is Hazardous to your Health, and Your Survival Instinct is Killing You. He sounds fun, huh? I, on the other hand, want you to live a long, healthy life. And I think you should relax and take a break whenever you want, unless you’re my pilot.

Marc Schorin is not a real person, but I am. His name comes up because a lot of people who want to learn how to stop relaxing keep misspelling Schoen.

Marc Schiller is a real person, who wrote a real book about his really weird life story. He’s the real-life victim of the insane kidnapping and murder plot by three steroid-junkie Miami personal trainers known as the Sun Gym Gang in 1994. Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson play two of the idiot bodybuilding criminals in the recent movie, Pain & Gain. I have never, to my knowledge, been kidnapped by muscular lunatics.  

Once you’ve got as far as “Marc Sch,” if you’re good enough to guess the next letter correctly as “m,” you should be home free. I think I’m the only “Marc Schm” on the Amazon suggestions list.

So there you go, new readers. Now you know a little about who I am and a lot about who I’m not, as well as how to avoid the pitfalls and successfully navigate to “Marc Schmatjen” on Amazon. Thanks for joining us! Browse around a while and see if there’s anything that catches your eye. And for any of you veteran readers who already have some or all of my books, I would sincerely appreciate an honest Amazon review from you or your kids. Thanks in advance!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 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, January 3, 2018

The Roar of the Antioxidants

I know what you did on Sunday night. No, not that. The other thing. Yes, on New Year’s Eve you declared to yourself and the rest of the party guests that you had a resolution. Some of you may have even remembered what it was the next morning.

This is the year you’re finally going to eat healthy.

You fool. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Sure, healthy eating sounds great and all, until you really hear it. It made me deaf.

I was like you once. All full of New Year’s resolution, ready to kick those junk food habits and eat clean. It was going to be great. A few years ago on January 1st I fired up my new healthy diet. And what’s healthier for breakfast than a fruit smoothie? Answer: nothing.

Bananas, apples, peaches, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, and even some spinach thrown in there. How could I go wrong? Just toss it all into my wife’s Vitamix blender and flip the switch.

Holy horsepower, Batman, this thing could blend a brick. And wow is it loud! I mean, I’ve made my fair share of margaritas over the years, but those old blenders never sounded like this. Even crushing ice with the “frappe” button when the Oster was switched to “high” wasn’t half as loud as this Vitamix just chopping up some fruit.

Sweet mother, I’m only at 7 on the 10 dial. What the hell does the “high” switch do? Oh, it makes the blender sound less like a NASCAR engine and more like one of the jets on a 737, that’s what.

Wow! This thing is insane. Our antioxidants are going 400 mph. I just made a fruit smoothie in 2.6 seconds. I love this blender!!

Turbo smoothies became a morning staple, and eating clean was going great until one night a few months ago my whole family started getting agitated and walking around the living room saying things like, “Where is it?”, “Who has it?”, and “Is it in the couch?” Everyone was annoyed but me, and I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

“What are you looking for?”
“The watch!”
“What watch?”
“You don’t hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“You’re joking, right?”
Now they were all staring at me incredulously instead of looking for some watch.
“You don’t hear the watch alarm going off in this room right now?”
“What watch alarm?”
“You have to be kidding.”
“Here it is,” said one of our boys, finding the offending digital watch under the corner of the couch. He held it up. “Hear it now?”
“Hear what?”
At this point they all can’t believe what they’re hearing (or more to the point, what I wasn’t), and I think they’ve all conspired against me in some half-assed and altogether idiotic plot to make me think I can’t hear anything. Then they handed me the watch. Holding it in my hand, I was still convinced I was being punked. But when I held it up to ear – literally pressed against my ear - I could finally hear the beeping. Faintly.

Hmm… that can’t be good.

A few weeks ago I took the boys to their annual check-up visit at the doctor. As part of the initial tests, the nurse put headphones on them and checked their hearing. All three boys laughed and told the nurse that I was the one he should be checking. He offered to check my hearing when he was done with them, so I put the headphones on and prepared to raise my hand when I heard the beep.

It was a long time before I ever raised my hand.

At one point, I stopped and told the guy I thought the headphones weren’t working. He assured me they were working fine. He knew they were because everyone else in the room could hear the beep coming from the headphones – located ON MY HEAD – and I still hadn’t raised my hand.

Apparently, as kids we are supposed to be able to hear sound frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Your standard middle-aged man can hear between 20 and 16,000 Hz, and an old man should be able to hear between 20 and 8,000 Hz.

Normal conversation happens at 4000 Hz and below, which is good news, because I could hear the beeps below 4000 Hz. It’s above that where my problem lies. I seem to be just fine from 20 – 4000 Hz, but severely iffy between 4000 and 5000.

Above 5000 Hz I have the hearing of a grapefruit. Nada. Zip. I max out 11,000 Hz below my own age group, and old-timer grandpa can hear 3000 Hz more than me.

Drastic measures need to be taken. Hearing aids? Of course not! Hearing aids are for old people. I’m just going to stop using the Vitamix. Fruit smoothies have obviously destroyed my hearing, so fruit smoothies must go before I start hobbling around with a cane saying “Eh?” to everyone I meet.

Be careful what you wish for. Eating clean has been proven to be incredibly dangerous. That’s why this year my New Year’s resolution is to get back to my old habit of eating Oreos for breakfast. Oreos are silent. Oreos can’t damage your hearing. It’s science.

Happy New Year,


Copyright © 2018 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!