Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Frightfully Safe 2019

I hope everyone had a safe and sane Halloween last year. It is my sincere wish, as well as the wish of our National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that none of you or your children were injured, sickened, traumatized, frightened, scared, worried, startled, disturbed, rattled, jolted, displeased, inconvenienced, set on fire, or over-exercised.

You may be saying right now, “Well, yes, Smidge. As a matter of fact, my children were slightly startled in one brief instance last year, and I’m still hopping mad about it.”

If that’s the case, you probably did Halloween wrong. You may not be current on all the latest Halloween safety tips and procedures. Unfortunately, that makes you a bad parent. But before Child Protective Services needs to get involved, we’ve all decided to give you one more chance this year.

Please spend as many hours as necessary (minimum six) reviewing the list below so you’re ready to be a good parent tomorrow night.


Select a safe area for trick-or-treating.  Choose streets that are well lighted and landscaped so you can be seen.  Avoid trick-or-treating on streets you are unfamiliar with, and try to go out before it gets dark.

Were you trick-or-treating after 3:30 P.M.? Shame on you. Did you go to the porch of a house that didn’t have perfectly manicured front hedges? That was incorrect.

Always keep the adult who is watching you in sight.  Never go into a stranger’s home while trick-or-treating.  Never get into a stranger’s car or go anywhere with a stranger.

Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.  Do not walk out from behind parked cars or try to cross in the middle of the block.

Did you let your kids jump into the stranger’s van to go get the candy that they forgot at their other house? That was wrong. Don’t do that. Did you cross your neighborhood streets at any place other than an intersection? You are an idiot.

Wait until you get home to eat your treats.  Your parents should inspect each item carefully, looking for needles, open packages and other signs of tampering.  Do not eat homemade items prepared by strangers.

This is equally important – If you did find needles, it is not OK to re-use them.

Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility.

If any part of your child’s costume was a dark, non-reflective, or ill-fitting garment, your children probably already realize you don’t love them.

Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes. Makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises on the big day.

If you have found the first properly-fitting decorative hat in the history of the world, please let the rest of us know where you bought it. Any makeup or face paint that says “made in China” is radioactive. Seeking medical attention at this point is futile since you already touched it. Smear it all over and enjoy what time you have left.

When shopping for costumes, wigs, and accessories look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.

This is especially important for wigs, since every trick-or-treater attempts to stick his or her head inside your jack-o’-lantern, as is customary and traditional.
(Side Note: While fire retardancy is a paramount issue on All Hallows Eve, “The Flaming Wigs” would obviously be a great name for a rock band.)

Do not carry or wear sharp objects that may poke others or damage eyes.  Objects like swords, wands, canes, etc., should be left at home.  Do not carry toy guns that look like real guns.  A citizen or a police officer can mistake a toy gun for a real gun.

Did your child lose an eye last year? That plastic Harry Potter wand was the problem in that instance. Were your kids pinned down behind your neighbor’s SUV for hours in a firefight with local law enforcement officers? Next time simply leave the toy guns at home.

Carry a flashlight to light the way and to alert motorists of your presence.  Never carry candles or any other flammable object.  Do not use candles for decorations or displays.  They can easily be knocked down or can set fire to a nearby curtain or costume.

Did you set yourself, your curtains, and your neighbor’s curtains on fire last year? The candelabra you were using to light your way was the problem. Most cell phones have a flashlight app now. Look into it.

Motorists need to be extra careful on Halloween.  Watch out for careless children who may run into the street without looking.  Expect the unexpected, and anticipate the actions of others.

If you were not “expecting the unexpected” last year, I am incredibly disappointed in you. Sit down and make a list of all the unforeseen issues that might arise tomorrow night so that you may stop sucking at life.

Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.

Correction – No one should ever carve pumpkins. It’s a slimy, messy job that attracts fruit flies and makes your hands stink like pumpkin guts. We should all stop.

Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and not on a porch or any path where visitors may pass close by. They should never be left unattended.

In summary, a concrete and stucco porch is no place for a small flame encased inside a wet, sticky, flame-retardant gourd. Keep the fire inside your home, on a surface made entirely of combustible materials.

A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.

We’re not sure who wrote this, but they obviously had never met a youngster before.

Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.

Definitely consider doing this if you’re tired of not having toilet paper in your trees, eggs on your house, and soap on the windows of your cars.

Hopefully this list will help you have a much safer and more enjoyable Halloween this year. I know that was a lot of information at once, but if you are ever in doubt, just use common sense. You can start by asking yourself five simple questions.

Have I fastened my child to his trick-or-treat buddy with reflective tape?

Is my child carrying anything other than a piece of Styrofoam that I bubble-wrapped for safety?

Is the sun still high in the sky?

Are there any dangerous jack-o’-lanterns with insane open flames inside them within a two hundred-foot radius of my child?
You are doing great.

Have we come into contact with any candy whatsoever?
You are a great parent!

Enjoy your Halloween done right this year!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, October 23, 2019

A Cautionary Tale-whip

I can tell this story now, because the statute of limitations has probably expired. Approximately a thousand years ago, when I was in college, I got a temporary job working as a car valet (pronounced: “valet”) at a very fancy oceanside hotel near Pismo Beach, CA. One of the regular guys hurt his foot somehow and was unable to put in the hustle it takes to be a fancy valet, so my roommate got me hired on to fill in for a month.

It was a great job for a college kid, because the wealthy people who wanted their cars parked almost always recognized that you were a pathetic, starving college student and tipped well out of pity.

The valets were almost always the last to leave for the night because the hotel had a nightclub attached, and we stuck around to park and retrieve cars after last call. Two late-night incidents occurred while I worked there that highlighted for me the fact that not everyone is always qualified for their job.

We valets rarely went inside the hotel, but one night when I was the only valet left, the fire alarm went off around one in the morning. I was all alone out on the front driveway, and not sure what to do, so I wandered into the lobby to ask a desk clerk what was going on. That was a mistake. There were no visible desk clerks, bellhops, managers, assistant managers, custodians, concierges, or any other type of hotel employee within a sixteen-block radius of the hotel lobby, except me.

I found myself in the middle of a vast expanse of marble floor, surrounded by an angry, pajama- and bathrobe-wearing mob, demanding answers, of which, I had less than none. I made the mistake of smiling to myself as I truly grasped how ridiculous it was that these people thought I was in charge, which angered a businessman in boxer shorts. I received a pointy-fingered tirade about how none of this was funny at all. I had to agree with him, but somehow, “I’m sorry, I’m just the valet. This is only the second time I’ve even been inside the hotel,” didn’t ease his frustration.

Fortunately, there was no actual fire, and we got out of it without a fancy riot. I dodged a bullet on my other late-night adventure as well, thank God.

Later that month, one of the front desk staff called me in and told me the shuttle bus driver had gone home for the night, but there were four guests up the hill at F. McLintock’s Saloon that just called for a ride back to the hotel. She gave me the keys to the bus and told me to go get them.


I had never driven the shuttle bus before, but how hard could it be? It’s just a big car with lots of seats, right? Off I went up the hill in the dark of night to retrieve my passengers, as a light fog rolled in off the ocean. I had a little wait in the parking lot for all four of them to muster to the bus, since it appeared they had become quite familiar with the offerings from the bar during their dining experience. When my two slightly toasted couples were on board, we set off back down the hill in a much heavier fog than I had experienced on the way up.

Now, college kids aren’t exactly known for their amazing decision-making skills, or conservative risk assessment, or extreme caution behind the wheel, but the one thing they do have is fantastic reflexes. That’s why when the hard ninety-degree left turn snuck up on me in the fog while I was busy driving far too fast for the road and weather conditions, I was able to keep the giant shuttle bus on the road. An unfortunate byproduct of my deft maneuvering however, was throwing one of the ladies across the bus into the opposite row of seats, and flinging the other lady out of her seat and literally rolling her down the aisle of the shuttle bus in her fancy cocktail dress.

One of the guys (presumably the least drunk of the four) had a few constructive comments regarding my driving style, but fortunately the other three were just howling with laughter, including the nice woman that I had just transformed into a well-dressed human pinball.

I drove much, much slower the rest of the way back to the hotel and apologized profusely to the four hotel guests as they exited my shuttle bus carnival ride. Thankfully, no one was injured, presumably from being very loose and relaxed during all the flinging. (A big thank you to the F. McLintock’s bartenders and staff!) And thankfully for my employment status, I never heard another word about it.

So, remember, when you’re out there this holiday shopping season, that young (or old) clerk who has no idea how to give you the discount shown on the tag is not incompetent. They’re just not properly trained. And if they are a college student, remember to have some patience. They have the mental capacity of broccoli.

And in this holiday travel season, if your shuttle bus driver looks to be nineteen or twenty years old, catch the next bus.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, October 16, 2019

Plumb Loco

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Newlyweds, Ricky Joe and Darlene Stump, of Centerburg, OH were staying at a Columbus area Holiday Inn Express this past weekend when they were caught off guard by the shower controls. When Ricky Joe stepped into the tepid spray on Saturday morning, he said he wanted the water just a tad hotter. What came next was quite a shock for the twenty-four-year-old part-time Autozone employee and father of “six or so.”

“I reached down and turned that knob toward the HOT to warm the water up a bit, and man! It shot down ice cold on me! It was a real shriveler if you know what I’m sayin’. I damn near fell outta the tub.”

Ricky Joe explained to this reporter that he had absolutely no idea that almost every hotel shower control knob in America is plumbed backward.

“Over the years, customers have just come to expect it,” explained Holiday Inn Express manager Doug Stevenson. “There was an industry push in the early ‘90s to try to correct the issue, but the major U.S. hotel chains got more complaints about the controls being right than we ever did about them being backward. Our guests had apparently gotten used to it. Our goal,” he added, “is a minimum of ninety-six percent backward throughout our family of hotels.”

We interviewed another Holiday Inn Express guest in the lobby for her thoughts. “Oh, sure, of course the shower knob is backward. They always are,” said Sharon Matson, a pharmaceutical sales representative from White Plains, NY. “I don’t make the mistake much, but just the other day I ice-bathed myself for a split second at a Comfort Suites. I think that one might have been plumbed correctly. I had to laugh at myself. I should know better by now.”

Darlene Stump, Ricky Joe’s new bride, was amused by the incident. “I’ll tell you what,” said the twenty-two-year-old Arby’s employee and mother of three, chuckling, “he screamed like a twelve-year-old girl at a sleepover.”

“I don’t think it’s very funny at all, Darlene,” said Ricky Joe. “And you know what else?” he told us. “They’re damn lucky I’m a reasonable guy, because this being Darlene and me’s honeymoon and all, that ice bath really killed the mood, if you know what I’m sayin’. Not cool man. Not cool.”

When asked if the hotel had offered any sort of apology, Ricky Joe grinned. “They did better than a sorry, that’s for sure. I drive a hard bargain,” the cold and shriveled newlywed told us. “I got them to give us free breakfast for the whole two days we’re here in the big city.”

Manager Doug Stevenson confirmed Mr. Stump’s story. “I tried more than once to tell him the continental breakfast served in our lobby from 6:00 to 9:30 AM each day is complimentary to all guests, but he kept calling it a ‘freebie to make up for the shrivelidge.’ I finally just gave up and told him I would be happy to ‘comp’ their breakfasts for the entire stay.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Darlene. “That waffle station is somethin’ else, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” agreed Ricky Joe. “First class all the way on this honeymoon, baby. I even had them throw in unlimited ice for my Monster Energy drinks and Darlene’s Red Bulls. We can use that machine at the end of the hall whenever we want, for free.”

Mr. Stevenson confirmed the ice machine conversation. “Yes, we are ‘comping’ their ice as well,” he told us, using finger quotes with an exasperated expression.

“My man sure it somethin’ else, isn’t he?” Darlene inquired to us.

This reporter would certainly have to agree.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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, October 9, 2019

Cavepeople Unite

I live in California, and since we don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes to speak of, we got mudslides and wildfires instead. The mudslides aren’t so bad, since they’re never near my house. The wildfires, on the other hand, are scary.

Not many people know this, but California is not one giant beach with Hollywood on one end. Only the left side of the state looks like that. The middle part is covered with food. You’re welcome. The right side is covered in trees and mountains, in an attempt to keep those weirdo Nevadans out. It’s the right side that catches on fire.

We live on the border of the middle and the right side. Tragically, we lost an entire town and a lot of people to a fast-moving wildfire last year. PG&E is our utility company that supplies nearly the whole state with gas and electricity. They were sued because it was found that the fire started at one of their transformers. They declared bankruptcy due to the lawsuit, but somehow, remain our utility company, proving once again that no one knows how bankruptcy works.

Suing them for the tragic fire is a double-edged sword. On the one side, they provide power. Electricity is the only thing that keeps us from being cavepeople, and we take it for granted every day and are very quick to dismiss its true importance.

On the other side, we have been paying PG&E roughly a zillion dollars per kilowatt for the last three hundred years, and the only equipment they have updated regularly are the executive jets.

So, it comes as no surprise that social media is all aflutter today with the latest developments in the PG&E saga. They are now turning off power preemptively, in an attempt to keep another fire from starting. They do this when the winds reach (or might reach) a certain velocity. As of this morning, that velocity seems to be a sliding scale, ranging from “no wind whatsoever” to “kinda breezy.”

We were alerted last night by the school district that some of the schools might be closed today, which caused every school-age child in the district to simultaneously text each other bad information. Parent braced themselves. Local stores sold out of dry ice almost instantly, and everyone went to gas up their cars, which are vital tools in keeping our cell phones alive.

The outages began early this morning. Perishable food, gasoline, and lost episodes of The Voice are not the only things being wasted by these outages. Collectively, the California Facebook users have already wasted two hundred thousand man-days of productivity arguing about why this is or is not a good idea.

Whether or not a planned power outage is a good idea is irrelevant once your power is actually turned off, so in an effort to be helpful in these strange times, I thought I would provide some power outage operational and safety tips.

1) Buy non-perishable snacks, like Twinkies and beef jerky. Keep them out and handy. Eat all these snacks before the power actually goes out, because you were bored and have no self-control.

2) Stock up on batteries. Realize when you get to the store that you actually don’t really know what size batteries the emergency flashlights take, so just buy a lot of each kind. The ones you don’t need can be used as currency in the post-apocalyptic nightmare that will soon become your life.

3) The store you are at is obviously already out of both regular ice and dry ice, so ask the clerk if they know where you can get some. They will say no. Complain to them about their stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise even though you know the bag boy you’re talking to has about as much store management decision making power as the Twinkies you are buying.

4) Since the bag boy was no help, ask on every social media platform about where to get any form of ice. No one will know, but everyone will share a story about not finding any either and a tirade about stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise. #Icemageddon

5) Return home and realize that the batteries you just purchased are worthless because all the dead batteries inside your emergency flashlights have corroded, welding themselves inside the tubes, becoming one with the now useless flashlights forever.  

6) Wait patiently for the power to go out, surfing all the social media posts about whether power is on or off in a particular neighborhood. Post that you still have power, but never give your location. Just assume everyone knows exactly where you live. In the morning, reluctantly get out of bed and start your normal routine when your stupid alarm goes off and you realize the power is still on.

7) If the power actually does go out, turn on your cell phone flashlight and locate the bag of empty, non-perishable snack wrappers. Curse your non-existent willpower.

8) Hunt for candles since all your emergency flashlights are just cylindrical paperweights.

9) Realize the only candles in your house are the scented decorative ones in the guest bath and you’ll be damned if you’re ever going to light those and waste them on this!

10) Settle in on the couch and get back on social media, asking if anyone else just lost power, but again, do not disclose your location. #SoDark #HopeMyPhoneBatteryHoldsOut

11) Realize you no longer have WiFi. Realize that that is probably your biggest problem. Get back on social media to talk about WiFi and data plans, phone carriers, etc. #PG&EBetterPayForMyData

12) Open the refrigerator and momentarily wonder why there is no light. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Close it quickly to keep the cold in.

13) Walk to the bathroom and flip the light switch on by habit. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Wonder if the toilet will flush with no power. It does. Be amazed that you still have water and gas with no electricity to, like, get them to your house and stuff.

14) Realize that you have no idea what you will do if this lasts more than four hours.

15) Feed the kids crackers for dinner by the light of the gas stovetop burner that you lit with the long butane barbecue lighter.

16) Go to bed and pray.

So far, so good here at Casa de Smidge. I just hope they keep our power on long enoug

Copyright © 2019 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, October 2, 2019

A Very Census-tive Subject

I received a letter from the United States Census Bureau the other day, about how my address had been randomly selected to take the American Community Survey. Oh joy.

In the handy pamphlet of FAQ’s under, “Do I have to answer the questions on the American Community Survey?” I was thrilled to read the answer, “Yes. Your response to this survey is required by law under a random title and code section number we just made up for this pamphlet because no one will respond if we don’t threaten them. Also, there will be penalties and fees.”

“We estimate this survey will take about 40 minutes to complete.”


Then, in various different paragraphs, on various different portions of the pamphlets, letters, and website, they told me these three concerning things:

1. By law, the Census Bureau can only use your responses to produce statistics.

2. We may combine your answers with information that you gave to other agencies to enhance the statistical uses of these data.

3. Use of this system indicates your consent to collection, monitoring, recording, and use of the information that you provide for any lawful government purpose.


So what you are saying, Census Bureau, is that you guys are only allowed to use my answers to produce nationally-vital statistics regarding how many bathrooms are in my house, but you have access to answers I gave other agencies that didn’t make that same promise, and oh, also, anything I tell you can be used for any reason, by any government agency, for anything that someone decided to write on page 16,135 of a 17,000-page bill that you voted into law.


Here’s why that concerns me. You told me this would take forty minutes of my life, but around minute twenty or so you asked me very specific questions about my income. And my wife’s income. And the specific sources of that income. And the specific amounts of income from each of those sources.

In order for me to answer those questions EXACTLY like I did on my taxes, I would have to spend an hour or so going through my last tax return, which would mean it would take me eighty minutes to get to the middle of a forty-minute survey.

So, I guessed.

But here’s the problem. There is one currently lawful government agency in particular that loves exact numbers and loves reported numbers to match up exactly, especially when those numbers have to do with income – The Department of Agriculture.

No wait, it’s the IRS.

Your survey forced me to guess about my income, and you might be sharing those guesses with the IRS? I ask you, Census Bureau workers in charge of the American Community Survey, would you want the IRS seeing your reported income numbers for last year varying from place to place? Do you have any idea what an IRS audit is like? Do you want to go through one?

Not unless you are suicidal, which, now that I think about it could very well be the case since the career path you have chosen ended up at the Census Bureau – the lamest and most boring of all the Bureaus. Chin up.

I may have had more time to dig out my tax return and get the numbers right if y’all could somehow figure out a way to shorten your survey.

I happen to have a few suggestions for you:

You asked about my heritage, to which I answered European. You asked about my wife’s heritage, to which I also answered European because we’re both white and we’re all pretty sure her grandpa was making up the whole “part American Indian” thing just to get a discount on tribal liquor and cigarettes.

Previously, you had asked about our kids and how they came into our family. I responded (individually for all three) that they were natural-born children between me and my wife. You then later asked (individually for all three) about their heritage. That question seemed entirely unnecessary given my earlier answers, but since you gave me text boxes to complete, I went with Pacific Islander (other), Andalusian, and Guatemalan, in an effort to help them get into college someday.

You told me that my address was selected at random to participate in the survey, then asked me approximately sixty questions about my house, including number of bedrooms, bathrooms, general rooms that were not a foyer or hallway, lot size, year built, what I think it would sell for right now, and on and on. The only thing you didn’t ask about was the color. (It’s beige, by the way, like everything you own, Census Bureau workers.)

Have any of you ever heard of Zillow? You have my address. Just plug it in and you get all the information, and it will all be correct, because I won’t be guessing!

And speaking of information you already have access to, just get my tax return! It has every answer to all your financial questions, all your car questions, the household questions, the employment questions, as well as the questions about whether any of us are deaf or blind.

And speaking of the questions about our physical limitations, I wasn’t really sure how to answer some of those, so I just did my best.

Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does Son Number One have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?

I’m not sure if being fourteen years old qualifies as a physical, mental, or emotion condition, or if it qualifies as all three, but I answered an emphatic yes.

Do you have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?

I’m forty-seven, so this is a definite yes on days I have gone running, but only a “sort of” on most other days. I went with yes.

Does Son Number Three have difficulty dressing or bathing?

You already know he’s eleven years old. Of course he does! All three boys do.

Do you people even have kids? Who wrote these ridiculous questions?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2019 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!