Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021, A Spacey Year in Review

Well, we all had high hopes for 2021 and, other than all the space travel, it came up remarkably short. Let’s recap, shall we?


The year started off with a bang here in the US, as some of our more zealous political supporters decided to graduate from rallies and speeches to treason and domestic terrorism when they stormed the United States Capitol building. In January of 2020, if you’d told me that Murder Hornets were going to be our smallest problem, I wouldn’t have believed you, but here we are.

Ironically, four days later, the thing that all the Capitol stormers thought was happening in their country actually happened in North Korea, as the insane life-size hybrid of the kid from Up and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was “elected” to also be the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party, a party that the actual workers have no say in whatsoever. He took over the title from Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, his father, who died in 2011. Apparently, Jong-il was so Supreme, he was able to manage the secretarial duties for ten years, even while being dead.

Three days after that, in Lyon, France, the first transplant of both arms and shoulders was performed on an Icelandic patient. Bernie Sanders was kind enough to donate his extra pair of mittens to the patient. Buoyed by their success, the surgeons graduated to an entire head transplant for Tessica Brown of Louisiana, who had accidentally substituted Gorilla Glue for her normal hairspray.



A joint World Health Organization–China investigation into the source of the COVID-19 outbreak concludes a Wuhan laboratory leak to be "extremely unlikely," with a "natural reservoir" in bats being the more likely origin. In unrelated news, the WHO, a division of Enron, received a sizeable anonymous donation to its executive retirement fund following the release of the report, all in Chinese Yuan.

As the Snopocalypse gripped Texas, leaving over 900 billion people freezing and without power all over the greater Houston area, the United Arab Emirates, and actual country, orbited an unmanned spacecraft around Mars. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, delayed because of bats, was landing on Mars at almost the same exact time, after seven months of travel. No one at NASA in Houston knew about it, though.



Oprah interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle about the disruption in global trade due to the week-long blockage of the Suez Canal by Ever Given, one of the largest container ships in the world, that ran aground after the crew was attacked by bats.



Japan approved the dumping of radioactive water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, over the course of 30 years, into the Pacific Ocean. The decision came with the full support of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but was opposed by China, who stated, “For Heaven’s sake, people, the ocean contains bat rays!”

Amazingly, a team of Chinese and U.S. scientists announced they had successfully injected human stem cells into the embryos of monkeys. Everyone in the world who wasn’t on the team said, “What in the actual hell?” There is no report on whether the experiment took place in Wuhan, but we have our suspicions.

NASA flew a helicopter on Mars, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched four people to the International Space Station. Not to be outdone by a guy who owns a car company, the China National Space Administration launched the first module of its Tiangong Space Station, beginning a two-year effort to build the station in orbit. Elon Musk then launched a second rocket, aimed at China’s new station and filled entirely with bats.



While the world gasped and swooned at Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez getting back together, Elon Musk brought the four people back from the International Space Station, but declined to comment on any plans to retrieve the bats.

The China National Space Administration, still miffed that the dude that started PayPal got to space faster than they did, landed a rover on Mars, making China the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the planet, behind the United States, Elon Musk, and Red Bull Energy Drinks.

The Friends TV show reunion special aired in every country in the world except North Korea, causing Kim Jong-un to become so upset about missing it he launched a missile at Hollywood. Sadly, he missed and hit China’s new Mars rover.



El Salvador voted to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender in the country, alongside the U.S. dollar. Elon Musk immediately sold El Salvador to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle so they could start fresh in a new country.

China sent its first three astronauts to occupy the Tiangong Space Station, still under construction. They returned to China almost immediately in a rocket provided by Elon Musk, citing concerns about an “unidentified infestation.”



The 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup was held in, and won by, the United States, prompting every single American except for the actual players to ask, “What sport are we talking about, here?”

Blue Origin, another space company owned by a dude instead of a country, successfully conducted its first human test flight, with a reusable rocket, the Amazon Prime, delivering owner Jeff Bezos and three other people into space with free two-day shipping and free returns. Elon Musk released a statement saying, “First human test flight, huh? That’s adorable.”

Virgin Galactic, yet another private space company, also sent owner Richard Branson into space. We are not making this up. Virgin Galactic doesn’t use the traditional space rocket, opting instead for flying a modified Southwest 737 passenger jet into space. Branson and three very surprised Southwest flight attendants spent ninety minutes in space, prompting Elon Musk to ask, “Who is Richard Branson? Never heard of him.”

China responded to the increase in private US space travel by releasing a bunch of bats into a North Korean Chuck E. Cheese, totally ruining Kim Jong-un’s birthday party.

The 2020 Summer Olympics officially began in Tokyo, Japan, after being delayed a full year by the blockage of the Suez Canal. Elon Musk won gold in freestyle skateboarding.

Russia’s Roscosmos space laboratory launched and docked with the International Space Station. Just hours after docking, a malfunction of its thrusters causes a temporary loss of control of the station, spinning it 45 degrees out of whack. Elon Musk fixed the problem from his iPhone while on the medal podium in Tokyo.



Spencer Elden, the naked baby on the cover of Nirvana’s album, Nevermind, now thirty years old (both Spencer and the album), sued North Korea and the Olympics for seeing his ding-ding.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake, caused by radioactive bat rays in the Pacific, struck Haiti. The Taliban saw the earthquake as the perfect opportunity to retake Kabul, and, confused, the Afghan government immediately surrendered to Kim Jong-un.

A suicide bomber killed at least 182 people at the Kabul airport, including 13 US service members. The US responded with an airstrike, using $600 million worth of equipment to kill one guy, who, unfortunately, was not Kim Jong-un.

Hurricane Ida slammed into New Orleans, as the US military withdrew the last remaining troops from Afghanistan. The last guy on the plane reportedly said, “We dipped a bunch of camel spiders in radioactive seawater. Good luck.”



Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un shot two short-range ballistic missiles that landed just outside Japan's territorial waters. Japan then gave the head nod to South Korea, who hours later demonstrated their first submarine-launched ballistic missile. Jong-un said, “Crap! You guys have bat rays!?”

Inspiration4, launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, became the first all-civilian spaceflight, carrying a four-person crew on a three-day orbit of the Earth. Each person was able to flip off China and Kim Jong-un from space a record forty-eight times before returning to Earth.



Delayed for a year due to bat rays clogging the Suez Canal, the 2020 World Expo in Dubai began. Attendance was low because everyone was in space.

Roscosmos launched one cosmonaut and two Channel One Russia reporters to the International Space Station, who immediately reported that it was Elon Musk who knocked the station sideways in July, but superior Russian engineers fixed it. Meanwhile, NASA launched the Lucy spacecraft, the first Cuban-based slapstick comedy mission to explore the Trojan asteroids, wherever the hell those are.

In response to the worsening situation in the Suez Canal, the World Health Organization endorsed the first malaria vaccine.



Elon Musk launched four more people to the International Space Station. We are not making that up. Three days later, UberLyft, a joint space start-up, launched Tony and Marge Rapinski of Akron, Ohio to the International Space Station in a Nissan Sentra.

Unfortunately, Russia conducted an anti-satellite weapon test on the same day that created a cloud of space debris, threatening the International Space Station. UberLyft was forced to abort the mission, causing Marge to accuse Tony, once again, of “never taking her anyplace nice.”

The #FreeBritney movement was delighted to learn that a supreme court ruled to end Britney Spears’ fourteen-year-long conservatorship, causing a vast number of Americans to Google, “what is a Britney Spears?”

NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART); the first attempt to deflect an asteroid for the purpose of protecting Earth. Jenifer Lopez immediately sued NASA on behalf of Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi, and her boyfriend, Ben Affleck, for copyright infringement.

The World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting in Geneva after learning that the Omicron Variant, another massive container ship, was entering the Suez Canal.



In a strongly worded memo, the United States announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in response to China's human rights record. The athletes would still compete, but no diplomats from the US would attend. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia followed suit with their own memos shortly after. China was quoted as saying, “Oh, darn.” Kim Jong-un announced he would compete against Elon Musk in freestyle snowboarding.

To round out the year of space travel, NASA, ESA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Space Telescope Science Institute launched the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA hopes that the new telescope will finally put an end to the twice-daily calls it receives from India regarding the Hubble’s extended warranty.

As we raise a glass this week and toast the end of 2021, let’s all just give thanks that 2022 is on its way. This will certainly be the year that we can finally catch a commercial flight to Mars to get away from all the damn bats.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The 2021 Do-It-Yourself Christmas Letter

Welp, 2021 came and went so quickly you completely forgot to write your Christmas letter again this year. Hey, it’s not your fault, it was crazy-fast for all of us. It’s the PTSD from 2020. Don’t beat yourself up.

But it’s three days ‘til Christmas and there’s no way you can get a coherent letter put together in time now. Not with all the residual 2020 traumatic stress and whatnot.

Well, once again, ol’ Smidgey Claus has got you covered. I have created the 2021 DIY Christmas Letter Grid. Just pick one item from each column in order to string together a sentence that captures the essence of your 2021 experience. Repeat as needed to fully recap this whirlwind of a year.

Now, get to it. There’s no time to lose.










We lost

our child tax credit checks


the harassment charges.

We sheltered with


Simone Biles


the labor shortage.

We opened


toilet paper, again


school and pro sports.

We cried about


booster shots

in the middle of

Ted Lasso.

We prayed for


Harry & Meghan


the trip to space.

We freed


Elon Musk

prior to

Olympic skateboarding.

We bought


the supply chain


the conservatorship.

We gained


Britney Spears


the Delta variant.

We worried about




the Capitol riot.

We abandoned




the flooding.

We lived without


Andrew Cuomo


a Zoom meeting.

There you go. Now add a “Merry Christmas,” sign, and send. You’re all set.

No need to thank me. It’s what I do. Now crack open that second bottle of spiked eggnog and let’s all pray this next year is a lot less weird than the last two.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Supply Chain Salvation

Well, you’ve done it again, haven’t you? Christmas is right around the corner, and once again you’ve procrastinated your shopping list. In normal years, you’d be screwed, as usual. But not this year! This year you can blame the evil “global supply chain problems” with absolute impunity.

To help you out, I have created a letter you can use. (I will, in no way, be using this ploy myself for my lack of planning with regard to my wife’s gift). Just come up with a great gift idea and fill in the appropriate blanks. Bing, bang, boom.


Dear __________,

We regret to inform you that we see no way to get you the __________ you so thoughtfully ordered many, many months ago, before the Christmas rush.

We know from your previous earnest communications that this incredibly expensive and rare __________ is a gift for your __________. While we regret not being able to help you fulfill that amazing act of Christmas generosity and thoughtfulness, we hope that your __________ can take some solace in the fact that you are probably one of the greatest and most selfless people we’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter.

As you know from our previous correspondence, your __________ is still aboard the Hapag-Lloyd container vessel Mauritania, in Wan Hai container number WHLU0473956. Also, as you know, the Mauritania has been anchored off the Port of Long Beach for two months now, is still thirteenth in line, and has no estimated time for docking.

We want to commend you on your valiant effort three weeks ago of chartering that yacht and personally sailing out to the Mauritania. We were so sorry to hear that the Coast Guard wouldn’t let you board. We were also very sorry to hear about the ensuing kerfuffle, the sinking of your chartered yacht by the Coast Guard patrol boat, and the resulting short stint in the brig at the U.S. Coast Guard Base Los Angeles.

On the bright side, the captain of the Mauritania said he really appreciated the EXPENSIVE bottle of scotch you brought him, even though he couldn’t help. He also said that he and the crew were pulling for you during the whole chase.

Sadly, we can’t offer you a refund, since your __________ is technically “in transit,” still being on the ship and all. Unfortunately, if the Mauritania gives up and sails back for her home port of Panama, as we suspect she will, that could delay things for many more months or even years.

Our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience this global supply chain catastrophe has caused you. Again, your ___________ is very lucky to have such an unprecedentedly amazing gift giver as you in their life.

Best wishes for the happiest of holidays,

Edwin R. Straithmoore III

Director of Global Logistics

__________ Corporation


There you go, folks. Just fill in the blanks and include this letter with the five-dollar Starbucks gift card you’ll pick up for them later, and you’re all set.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Long Live the iPod Shuffle

I don’t like Apple products.

I realize I just made half of the population gasp, but it’s true, ApplePeople. There are actual humans out there that don’t think iPhones are just the best thing ever.

Apple is a cult, like CrossFit or “high-demand religions.” (I’d say you know who you are, but you don’t… yet.) Everything costs four to five times what it should, and doesn’t communicate well with anything other than other Apple products. (Much like high-demand religions, come to think of it.)

Let’s use text messages as a quick iPhone for-instance. Apple decided that having an Apple-only iMessage texting platform was a good idea. It wasn’t. The rest of the free world (using that term literally, cult members) uses the SMS texting platform.

Hey ApplePeople, has an outsider ever told you that they didn’t get your text? They weren’t lying. Your phone never sent it to them. Did you assume it was their fault because they have a stupid Samsung that doesn’t work right? It wasn’t. It was your fault. You can read that as many times as you need to.

Buried in your iMessage settings, six layers deep, is a button that should not even have to be there that says, “Send our ridiculous iMessage text as a real text if the other person doesn’t have an overpriced cult phone.” (It might be worded slightly differently.)

Oh, and don’t worry, you have to do the same thing to your iPad, but it’s more complicated.

And don’t even get me started on Ethan, the twenty-something “customer service Genius,” (currently gagging again at that title) at the Apple store the time I had to go with my mother-in-law. I’ve never met a human that was so smug about not being able to answer a SINGLE technical question I asked him. He was visibly shocked that I wanted to know about anything other than the color of her new computer. (Which she was buying because you stopped supporting her “old” one from two years ago.) I would have slapped Ethan, but I didn’t want to hear him scream.

All that being said, Apple, I will give credit where credit is most definitely due. I own an iPod Shuffle, 2nd Generation, released in September of 2006, and it is an absolutely amazing piece of equipment.

You probably stopped supporting it in October of 2006, but I don’t care, because it is bulletproof. And beautiful. And small.

So very, very small.

It’s smaller than a pack of matches. (Kids, you’ll need to get a size reference from your parents here. Matches are what people used to use to light their vapes, back when vapes were made of paper and you actually lit them on fire on purpose, instead of waiting for the crappy knock-off Chinese battery to light it on fire for you.)

My iPod Shuffle has no pesky screen. It’s a sleek piece of aluminum and white plastic with one set of selector buttons, two switches, and a headphone jack, because it’s old-school and doesn’t screw around with Bluetooth. It clips onto the pocket of my shorts and plays twenty songs in order, or on shuffle. It blares music through my headphones while I run, as loud as I can stand it, and I only have to charge it once every few months.

It is simple, and at the same time, amazing. I can’t speak for any of the other iPod Shuffle generations, but the Gen2 is phenomenal. The battery, the storage, the size and weight, the clip, the simplicity – it’s all perfection.

So, thank you, Apple, for the amazing iPod Shuffle. You help make my runs as enjoyable as runs can be.

Now please fix the damn texting thing. And fire that idiot, Ethan.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Duty-Free Shopping, Perhaps

I want to point out to the wonderful and kind folks over at the California Franchise Tax Board and the amazingly benevolent and totally cool (and not at all “universally disliked”) people at the IRS that the following tale could be completely hypothetical in nature.

Let’s just say, for the sake of telling a fun story, that my family recently traveled via our Chevrolet Suburban up to Oregon, where we have other family. We potentially traveled there to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. It was, hypothetically, a great trip!

If Son Number Two had happened to catch wind of a smokin’ deal that Verizon was having where he could somehow trade his current iPhone in as long as the screen wasn’t cracked and magically get the latest iPhone 13 for free, he would have been really excited about that.

The one catch to getting a “free” iPhone here in California with a possible Verizon program would be that you would still have to pay the sales tax on the $900 “value” (using that term ironically, Apple) of the phone. That could, in theory, run you as much as $92 in tax in some parts of the Golden State.

If Number Two happened to hear about this program the night before we left for the alleged trip, he would have been pestering me to take him to a Verizon store the minute we had a free minute. I would have buckled under his teenage endurance for pestering and taken him to a possible Verizon location close to our accommodations on Sunday.

We then might have been informed about the true nature of this hypothetically amazing deal, whereas every one of the family’s lines potentially had an $800 or $900 credit for a brand-new phone, due to our possible customer loyalty.

If that had been the case, we surely would have all arrived at that same Verizon store on Monday, fifteen or so minutes before they opened, ready to upgrade all of our phones for free. And during the ostensibly fictional transaction, we may have discovered that my wife’s phone was ineligible due to a previously unnoticed small crack in the corner of the screen.

Getting some fictional advice from a helpful Verizon employee we’ll call Mike, we would then have tracked down a brand-new older model phone, still in the box, being sold, potentially, four miles away on Facebook Marketplace, and jumped in the car to race over and buy it with cash for far less than the sales tax would have been had this alleged transaction been taking place one state to the south.

And after spending, potentially, three hours of our Monday morning at the Verizon store and/or on Janet’s porch paying cash for a phone her daughter ended up never using, we might have walked out with five top-of-the-line, brand-spankin’-new cell phones for a hypothetical grand total cost of $175 in data transfer fees and cash for Janet’s daughter’s phone she didn’t want.

I would have been very pleased, ostensibly, because what we would have avoided, in theory, was upward of $450 in California sales taxes by having this entire theoretical situation occur on the fertile soil of our friendly neighbors to the north.

And if I had purchased a new wallet-style phone case for my wife on Amazon Prime and had it shipped to our Oregon accommodations, I would have, in theory, also avoided paying any sales tax on that.

Had any of this actually taken place, rest assured that come January, I would be reporting those sales to the IRS and the California Tax Board so that I made darn sure to pay 100% of my fair share of the tax revenue they so richly deserve. But, of course, as stated, this tale is speculative. Merely a “for-instance.”

Later that week I also hypothetically put new sales tax-free tires on the Suburban. They rode, in theory, quite nicely back down south.

Duty-free has a nice relaxing hum to it.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ask Smidge - The Turkey Edition - Repost

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and if you’re like most of our Ask Smidge readers, you’re just now realizing that you might have to start cooking a big meal in a few hours from now. Just like last year, your extended family may not be able to join you – not because of COVID lockdown restrictions, but because all the time apart has made them realize they never really liked you that much.

So, this whole meal might be up to you to prepare. It’s a scary situation. Believe me, we understand. Many of you know nothing about cooking anything other than Pop-Tarts and Cheerios, so naturally you have turned to the only truly trusted source for all things culinary – the Ask Smidge advice column.

Our inbox has been inundated with poultry-related questions. You ask, we answer! (As always in a fact-based, scientific, and completely non-made-up-on-the-spot manner. We’re here to help, after all.)




I know absolutely nothing about cooking a turkey. What temperature do I use and how long should I cook it?

Novice in Norfolk


Dear Novice,

There is nothing to it. First you have to weigh the bird. Do this while it is still alive, so you can just walk it onto your bathroom scale. Once you remove the feathers and the feet, you’ll cook the bird on high for 90 minutes per pound. Carve and enjoy.





This is my first time doing anything at all with a turkey. We bought a frozen one at the store this week. Do I need to thaw it before cooking?

Frozen in Fort Worth


Dear Frozen,

Thawing is a personal choice. A thawed bird will be slightly juicier, but a frozen turkey will have a crispier skin. If you put it in the oven frozen, simply add five minutes per pound to your cook time.





I have never purchased or cooked the turkey before, and I don’t know what size to get. Do they even come in different sizes? We have three teenage boys and my sister has two teenage girls and a grown son. Please help.

Shopping in Santa Barbara


Dear Shopping,

Yes, turkeys do come in various sizes. Economy, Compact, Intermediate, Standard, Midsize, Full Size SUV, Convertible, Luxury, and Luxury Elite Platinum. You want to plan for about ten pounds of bird for every high schooler, so look for one at your store in the 70-80 pound range to be safe.





I’ve helped with the turkey before, but I’ve never been in charge of the stuffing, and I’m lost. Where do I start?

Breadless in Bangor


Dear Breadless,

Stuffing could not be simpler, because the turkey does all the work. Stuffing is nothing more than full-size dinner rolls that cooked down inside the bird. As the turkey cooks, the rolls break apart naturally and form into the smaller stuffing pieces that you know and love. Just buy a couple extra packages of dinner rolls and cram as many of them as you can into that bad boy before you pop it in the oven. The turkey does the rest!





I’m in charge of everything this year, and I don’t know anything about how to make gravy. Do you even make it, or do you buy it? Help!

Dry Dinner in Denver


Dear Dry Dinner,

As with stuffing, gravy is a breeze because the bird does all the work. Gravy is not sold in stores, because it is a natural byproduct of the turkey cooking process. All turkeys are fed a rich diet of corn starch, flour, and butter from a young age, so as they cook, the carcass secretes the ready-to-eat gravy. Yum! That’s why you always cook a turkey in one of those big pans. Makes sense, right? Enjoy!





I’m cooking the bird for the first time this year, so I’m thinking about switching it up and deep frying it in oil. What do you think?

Oiled in Omaha


Dear Oiled,

Deep frying a turkey can be a great option, depending on where you live. You’re in Nebraska, where it’s likely to be cold this Thanksgiving, so I’d say go for it. If you were in a warmer climate, I would probably advise against it. That’s because there is a 100% chance that you will set your house on fire when attempting a turkey deep fry. You folks in the frigid Midwest will enjoy the extra warmth, while the raging grease fire would just be an inconvenient distraction for people in Florida and California, really adding no benefit to the day.




Well, there you have it, America. You’re all set to cook the perfect turkey and have an enjoyable day with whomever still wants to come to your house this year.

Have a tasty Thanksgiving!


See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Please Stop Disclaiming

There is something we need to fix, America. Everything else seems to be running like a Swiss watch out there except this one item. Can we please tell the radio stations they can stop saying, “Message and data rates may apply” when they ask us to text or call into a contest?

I mean, come on! Aren’t we past that by now? Are there actually cell phone users out there that don’t understand how their message and data plans work? And maybe more to the point, who is still out there worrying about their plan’s limits? I guess data is one thing, but do cell companies even have limited text plans anymore?

And why do the radio stations even feel the need to add that disclaimer? What are they afraid of? Someone suing them for not knowing, let alone explaining to them, how their own cell plan works? Who in the hell is going to win that court case?

Plaintiff: “Your honor, this radio station owes me $57.23, because when I texted into their Workday Payday contest it put me over the limit on both my messages and my data.”

Judge: “You are a moron. Leave my courtroom before I have you arrested for being too stupid to be left on your own.”

And why did the radio station lawyers pick that one obvious thing to point out over every other obvious radio station disclaimer they could have?

Caution, you probably won’t love 100% of these songs.

Caution, listening to our ads might give you the impression that you have a rare disease that no one has ever heard of. Talk to your doctor about endocrine pancreatic insufficiency today.

Caution, playing air drums in your car at a red light may permanently ruin your chances with that good looking stranger to your left.

Caution, listening to this station at an extremely loud volume can make your wife annoyed at you later in life when you can’t hear anything she says from the other room.

Seriously, guys, please! Message and data rates haven’t applied in a long time. Let it go.

Now, can we move to the all-Christmas format already? It’s almost Thanksgiving.

Caution, this station will make your wife bug you about putting up the Christmas lights.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Veterans Day

I am proud to say I have quite a few veterans in my family tree, including my own father, his father, and my wife’s grandfather. The old war story that always makes me smile, however, is one from my mom’s side of the tree.

Brad Dolliver, my mom’s Uncle Brad, was a WWII and Korean War veteran. He was the Captain of a B-24 Liberator in WWII, a bomber named the “What’s Cookin’ Doc?,” complete with Bugs Bunny painted on the nose.

He received his plane and his crew here in the U.S., and they had to fly from his home state of Colorado to Kansas for training, and then make the long trip overseas. On the day they were leaving, he called his wife, who worked at the courthouse, and told her to come out onto the front steps on Main Street at noon.

She assumed he was going to drive up with flowers or a box of candy, so you can imagine her surprise when Uncle Brad’s shiny silver B-24 roared over the center of town, less than 500 feet above Main Street. He was so low she said she could clearly see the face of his tail gunner, smiling and waving from his little bubble window in the back of the plane.

When Uncle Brad got to the end of the street, he pulled back on all the throttles momentarily, then slammed them all forward to the stops, backfiring all four engines on his way out of town. An exhaustive “I Love You” courtesy of Pratt & Whitney, and a crazy-dangerous stunt.

He and his crew continued their low-altitude midwestern barn burning run all the way across two states. He was flying so low over some farms that his tail gunner radioed up to the cockpit to announce that the prop wash from the engines was picking chickens up off the ground and flipping them around in the air behind the plane.

Captain Dolliver only decided to put a little more sky between his plane and the ground when the tail gunner radioed back over Kansas to let them know they’d just sent a farmer diving for his life into the dirt off a moving tractor.

(That incident could very well have been the first chance meeting between the families, since my dad’s side were Kansas farmers, but, alas, we’ll never know.)

Brad said, when interviewed later in life about the flight, quite simply, that none of them knew if they were ever coming back, so they were having as much fun as they could along the way.

As it turns out, thankfully, his whole crew did make it back. Captain Dolliver and his nine men flew thirty missions over Europe, only sustaining one single crew injury, when flak shrapnel hit one of his gunners on their final mission over Germany. That was an amazing feat, since their campaign tour included being shot down on Christmas Day, 1944.

They were hit hard by anti-aircraft fire that knocked out three of his four engines, and he knew they couldn’t make it back to their airfield in England. He was losing altitude fast and heading for the Allied lines in France when he told the crew to bail out. There was heavy ground fog, and he had his eye on a large clearing, but had no way of knowing if it was a field or a lake.

His crew unanimously disobeyed his order and they all stayed with him in the crippled plane. As he recalled, he made the smoothest landing of his entire career that day, thankfully, in what turned out to be a plowed field. He and his crew hitched a ride with a French farmer in a pickup truck, and Uncle Brad assumed they were being taken to the nearest Allied forces.

Fortunately, the navigator didn’t stop doing his job after he got out of the plane. He was paying attention, and informed Captain Dolliver that they were being driven in the wrong direction, toward the Germans. The way Uncle Brad told the next part of the story speaks volumes about his generation and their matter-of-fact style. As he put it, “Somehow my .45 ended up in that Frenchman’s ear, and we got that truck turned around the right way.”

Got to love it.

Uncle Brad and his crew were some of the lucky ones that returned home from the wars they fought. Tomorrow, on the very special day we set aside to remember and thank our veterans each year, let us not forget those who gave their lives for our liberty, and the liberty of other nations. It’s the men and women that no one ever got a chance to thank who deserve our utmost appreciation. Their lives were cut short on our behalf, and that is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

I can’t imagine a sacrifice more grave or selfless than the one the soldier makes when he or she leaves their family behind to fight on foreign soil on our behalf. The physical, mental, and emotional toll must be staggering, but we are reminded of the caliber of people who stand at our defense when we hear them say, as Brad Dolliver said, “We were just doing our jobs.”

The humility and grace of our nation’s finest always strikes and inspires me, and I am always at a loss for words of gratitude when I get the chance to express my appreciation. It’s always just a simple “thank you,” because anything else I would or could try to convey would fall well short of the reverence deserved.

So, from this grateful American to all you VFW’s out there, all I can say is, “Thank you for your service.”

God bless you all.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

An Open Letter to the Medical Insurance Industry

Dear Medical Insurance Folks,

Do you guys remember a couple years ago when I took all three of our boys in for their annual “wellness visits?” Those visits that are supposed to be free under your plan in an attempt to make us think that you care about us getting regular check-ups and staying healthy?

Remember when the doctor noticed a wart on Son Number Two’s foot and offered to freeze it off real quick? I was there, so I remember. He grabbed a spray can of freon (or something else really cold) out of the cabinet on the wall and sprayed the wart. The entire process, including asking if he wanted it done, took less than fifteen seconds.

Do you guys remember that the visit then became a “surgery” in your insanely whacked out system, and you charged me $450 for his free annual wellness visit, instead of the customary zero dollars?

Yeah, that was fun. Good times.

I thought your system was broken back then, but Monday you proved to me that I hadn’t seen anything yet.

Monday was annual wellness visit day, and their doctor confirmed medically what my wife and I had suspected – their feet are huge! He was also able to confirm that Son Number One has a very mild case of regular old teenage acne. While he was checking him out, he wrote him a prescription for some acne cream that is a little stronger than the over-the-counter stuff, hoping to just completely clear him up.

When he examined Son Number Two, he noted that he had an even milder case of teenage acne than his older brother, but asked me if I wanted him to prescribe the same thing.

“Sure,” I said, naively, not believing that even your malfunctioning system could screw something as simple as this up. Ha! I went to the pharmacy later that day to get my dose of reality slapped across my face.

“I have two prescriptions to pick up for my sons. They are both the same thing.”

“OK, yes, we have them right here. This one will be $10, and this one is $147.53.”

I am not making this up.


“Yeah, that’s weird,” said the pharmacist, frowning at the computer screen. “They are the same exact thing. What happened there? Do you have individual deductibles?”

“Yes, but neither of them have racked anything up this year. We haven’t been to the doctor at all.”

“Weird! Let me run it again… nope, came up the same.”

“OK, well, I think I’ll just take the $10 one and they can just share.”

The nice pharmacist promised that she would keep looking into why the prices were so whacked out, but she hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Do you know why I think that is? Because she can’t figure out your insane system either.

Two boys on the exact same insurance plan get prescribed the exact same medicine on the exact same office visit, and Son Number One’s bill is $10, and Number Two’s is $150. How on God’s green earth can you look me in the eye and tell me this system is working?

The only possible explanation I can come up with is you think the acne cream is some sort of follow-up treatment for his wart “surgery.”

Your system is completely and utterly broken.

I’d ask you to fix it, but I have a strong hunch that “broken” is exactly the way you want it.

Kindly bite me,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Try Number Two

Son Number Two is getting close to being off the Christmas list. He’s making me go to the DMV more than I should have to. The DMV! That’s almost grounds for being kicked out of the house.

Because we just love inordinately high auto insurance premiums, we’re going to let him get his driver’s license and have two teenage boys on our policy. Son Number Three has already been informed that he needs to either win the lottery or help me rob a bank before he can be the third teen driver.

Anyway, Number Two just turned 15-1/2, and off we went last week to the DMV to take his written test and get his learner’s permit. While I appreciate any government organization’s efforts to make sure you are a legal citizen, the DMV’s system for getting a teen driver’s license is a little over the top.

As the parent, I should simply be able to show my official documentation that I am who I say I am, and then tell you who this kid is. That should be the end of it. That would make sense. Instead, we have to prove that the kid standing next to me was actually born, and then prove that he lives with me, and then prove that we both live in California. OK, fine, but without any sort of official photo identification for the kid, there is a certain level of guessing still happening on the DMV’s part. I mean, without photo ID, I could take your kid in and pretend they’re mine.

But when the kid actually has official photo ID, in the form of a valid U.S. passport, why the hell would Shirley behind the counter with her ridiculous cat pictures on her coffee mug care for even half a second whether the birth certificate that matches the name on the freakin’ passport is a photocopy or not!?!

But I digress…

Shirley’s supervisor was able to find “a workaround” to a problem that never existed in the first place, and the paperwork was filed. The $38.00 was paid, and it was time to get Son Number Two his permit. Just need to head over to those computers and handle that written test.

Twenty minutes later, Number Two found me in my super-comfortable plastic chair to let me know that, “Yeah, so I kinda didn’t pass…”

“Could you speak up a little, Son? It sounded like you said you didn’t pass the test.”

“Well, there were all these stupid questions about how far you have to stop from a safety zone, and the allowable blood-alcohol percentages if you’re 21 or 18. None of that stuff was in my online course.”

“Hmm… Is that right? Is that the same online course I saw you taking on your computer while you were also looking down at your phone?”

“Well, I mean, I might have been playing Clash Royale sometimes when I had to listen to the long stuff, but I was listening the whole time. I totally studied.”

[sound of tiny blood vessels exploding inside my brain]

After some time to relax a little and get a quick CT scan, I informed Son Number Two that I would drive him back to the DMV one more time for the written test. He promises that he has studied “super hard this time.” He knows he’s on thin ice and if he fails a second time, he’ll need to figure out another way to get there for try number three.

We have waited the required seven days, and we go back tomorrow to take the test again. Supposedly, we just walk in and get in line for a computer, but I swear, if I have to wait to go to a window and deal with Shirley again, Number Two is walking home, passing grade or not.

We’ll see about any Christmas presents.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Deal of the Century

So, there I was, putting six million miles on my car, driving all over the place yesterday buying used snowboard boots. You see, we have a thirteen-year-old, Son Number Three.

The next time you come across a thirteen-year-old boy, have them sit down for a few minutes and observe their feet. You can actually see them growing. If you can keep them still long enough, you’ll witness their toes popping right out the front of the pair of sneakers their parents bought a week ago.

Over this past year and a half I have been slowly but surely outfitting all three boys with boards, boots, and helmets so that I never have to fill out another ski rental form, hopefully for the rest of my life. If you are willing to do the searching, and you get lucky, you can get almost brand-new gear for less than a few rental fees.

Yesterday was going well, and I was able to score one pair of boots that will fit Son Number Three now, and one pair that will fit him fifteen minutes from now. I was back home in the afternoon and very tired of driving. I plopped down on the couch and got on Facebook Marketplace one last time to check the listing on a pair of his old boots I was selling, that his growing toes, luckily, had not rendered useless.

Then I saw a listing I hadn’t seen that morning.

“$40, Auburn, CA. K2 snowboard, Salomon bindings, size 11.5 boots, helmet, gloves.”

Huh? $40? For which thing? He’s listing everything at once. For $40? That can’t be right. Let me read that again…

OK, so it shows a picture of all the stuff. The boots are even strapped into the bindings… it isn’t saying anything about separate sales. Just lists everything and says $40…

This can’t be right… Let me just text this guy… and then I saw it. “Listed 26 minutes ago.”

Oh, holy crap! This is brand new. This just showed up. No one has seen it yet. This could be for real!

Auburn is 18 miles from my house, right up I-80.

Me on Facebook messaging app – “Hi Larry, is this package still available?”

Immediate response from Larry, which is unheard of on Facebook Marketplace – “Yes.”

OK, OK, play it cool, man. Don't spook him... “Great. Is there any chance you're available right now? I happen to have some time right now and can jump in the car right now.”

I would have left my own open-heart surgery to get in the car. For those of you who don’t ski or snowboard, allow me to explain. What I was looking at in the picture was no less than $1000 worth of gear, purchased new. Sold used at reasonable prices on Facebook Marketplace, it was anywhere from $200 to $400 worth of gear.

I didn’t even want the snowboard. I wanted the bindings, maybe, but it was really just the principle of the whole thing. And if the boots really were a men’s 11.5, Son Number Three would probably be able to use them sometime next week.

I hit send on the text and then endured five minutes of agony.

Larry – “Yes, let me know when you're getting in the car and I'll text you my address.”

Why the hell wouldn’t you just tell me your address now?!? OK, OK, remain calm. Play it cool…

Me – [already in the car and doing 90 mph toward Auburn] “OK, great. Just getting in the car now. What's your address? No big deal. It's all good. Everything is cool and casual. Totally all good and cool.”

Larry – [sends me address]

Me – [has minor in-car early celebration dance-a-thon as I type the address into Google maps while punching it up past the triple-digit mark.] Kids, don’t try this at home, but I honestly figured if I got pulled over, I could show the cop what was happening and probably get a code-three police escort the rest of the way.

Eighteen miles and three minutes later I slid around the corner onto Larry’s street and then forced myself to slow down and drive like everything was cool. I pulled up to Larry’s house very calmly and casually, and did my best not to sprint to the door.

Larry came out of the house to meet me, carrying everything that was in the picture, all hooked together in one big bundle. Sure enough, it was a K2 snowboard ($500 new), big enough for Number Three to grow into, Salomon bindings ($300) that were perfect for me, Burton Moto boots ($250) that really were a men’s 11.5, an XL helmet ($100) that will actually fit one of our XL heads, and a pair of Burton gloves ($40), just for fun.

Stay calm. Everything is cool…

“This looks great, Larry. I think this will work for my youngest son.”

“Well, it was my son’s stuff, but he shattered his heel jumping off the roof of a church,” said Larry, with some obvious residual disgust regarding the incident still showing on his face.

“Wow, no kidding.” Your son sounds smart…

“Yep, so he hasn’t used any of it in a few years.”

“Oh, wow, that’s too bad.” Your son isn’t home right now, is he? He can’t be OK with this price…

“I don’t know too much about this stuff,” said Larry, “but it all looks like it will still work for your son.”

“Yep, I think it will.” Deep breaths. Remain calm…

**moment of truth** “So, you said $40?” I asked, very cool, calm, and casual.

“Yep,” said Larry.

Me, reaching into my pocket while trying not to scream, “Holy crap!”

“Here you go.” OK, well, I should go before your son hobbles out here swinging a crutch and yelling NOOOOOO!!!

“We’re actually moving to North Carolina soon,” said Larry.

OK, great. Please just take these two twenties from me so I can run to my car and drive away before anyone inside your house realizes what you’ve done... “Wow. Good for you. Good luck with the move and safe travels.”

“Thanks,” said Larry, claiming his prize money. “You too.”

My travels will be a lot safer once I’m done sliding out of your neighborhood and back on the freeway and I’m sure your son isn’t chasing after me… “Thanks. I’d better get back. Take care.”

Just walk casually back to the car… Don’t run… Be cool… OK, start the car…

[sound of my screeching tires]

What a thrill! I think I finally understand the extreme couponing phase my wife went through a long time ago, when we ended up with twenty-six bottles of ranch dressing for seventeen cents. It wasn’t that we needed any ranch dressing, it was that it only cost seventeen cents. She knew how much it would cost retail and simply couldn’t leave that ranch dressing on the shelf.

I get it now, honey! And you’ll be happy to know the boys are all set for this winter.

Assuming we can keep them off the church roof.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Let Ugly Dogs Lie

I blatantly lied to someone’s face this morning, and they knew it, and I’m not sure how I feel about it…

There I was, walking our dog, Remington. We call her Remi for short. She is a four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever.

Now, I’m not telling you this story to brag about our dog, but I need you to know some things for context. These are just pure, unbiased facts:

Our dog is gorgeous. She is a purebred Lab with papers. She is the picture of what a Lab – America’s favorite dog – is supposed to look like. She could be the poster girl on a bag of premium dog food or on the front cover of Field & Stream. Her coat is shiny. Her coloring is perfection. She runs with me three times a week, so she is muscular and lean.

When she sits up tall and looks at you, you almost want to salute her. When she lays next to you, you are comforted, because you know all is right with the world because amazing dogs like her exist. Again, these are just the unbiased facts that you need for this story, nothing more.

She’s also really smart, and although that played a role in what happened this morning, it doesn’t really factor into the main point of the story. I just thought you should know.

So, there I was, walking Remi. We were almost home when a lady came around the corner toward us. She was walking what I am still assuming was a canine, but it is very hard to think of Remi and that thing as the same species. For the sake of the story, I will refer to it as a dog.

If this dog was full sized, you would run from it in fear for your very life, thinking it had just escaped from Hell. Thankfully for the world, it was the size of a shoebox, so instead, you just recoil slightly at the sight of it, trying not to be rude, but desperately wanting to avert your eyes.

It didn’t have fur. It had hair that was sparse and wiry. Each hair was spaced much further apart from the next hair than it should have been, like a child’s drawing of a very ugly dog. The front of the dog was much wider than the rear for some reason, and its front legs were bowlegged, like an old cowhand named Slim. Its face gave you the distinct impression that, among other things, it could have been a cross between a rat terrier and an actual rat.

It was butt ugly.

Remi, when confronted by small dog breeds, simply ignores them. Ninety-nine percent of the time the small dog will be growling and yapping at her, as per typical small dog protocol, and she couldn’t care less. She acts as if they are not even there. This situation was immediately different. As soon as the woman and her dog came into view, I felt Remi tense up on the leash.

We said good morning to each other, and then as we passed, the woman forced my hand.

“What a beautiful dog,” she said.

Well, crap.

I didn’t feel comfortable just saying thank you. I felt like that would be rude. I mean, she had a “dog” also. For a brief moment I considered, “Thanks. Is yours a dog?” but that seemed possibly more rude and definitely more awkward.

“Thanks, you too.”

It just came out of my mouth. I said it right to her face. Then I quickly averted my gaze from both of them. Was it the shame of the lie? Was it the embarrassment about the truth? I don’t know how to feel about it.

I mean, she obviously knew I was lying. She knows her dog is the opposite of beautiful. Does the lie make her smile, thinking, “Oh, he’s being nice. Isn’t that sweet.”

Or does it make her sad, since it was obvious that I was lying and it forces her, once again, to confront the fact that her dog looks almost exactly like that monkey-lizard thing that sat next to Jabba the Hut, stealing food and mocking visitors.

As we passed, and the little monkey-lizard growled, Remi actually growled back, barked, and made a move for it. I was very surprised, and pulled her back and swung her around to look at me. She whined and shook, like she does when the garbage truck comes to steal our hard-earned refuse.

She stared wide-eyed at me, trying to get loose of my grasp. It was as if she was trying to tell me, “We need to get outta here, man. That thing isn’t a dog.”

I told you she was smart.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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