Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Thumb Drive

The thing you have to realize as a parent is that kids – especially teenagers – are genetically programmed to argue with you. It is basically their job, and they will never stop and they will never tire. They will argue with you continuously until you actually die of starvation and they will still be going strong. They are like little arguing robots with an infinite loop nonsense-generating algorithm and a small onboard nuclear reactor for power.

This is tolerable for the seasoned parent when they choose to argue with you about their hair, or their bedtime, or the laughable idea of getting a cat. We can deal with that stuff. The problems arise when they try to defend utterly ridiculous positions on important topics such as professional sports.

These arguments cannot be tolerated by the responsible parent, because we are tasked with eventually sending them out into the world to do good and be smart. If they leave the house with the idiotic notion that playing a football video game and playing an actual football game are even remotely similar to each other, then we have failed them, ourselves, and society at large. We can’t have that.

Case in point – yesterday at the beach. We are on spring break from their rigorous schedule this year of staying home from school, so we decided to pack up and head for the beach to visit their grandma. She was nice enough to get a friend who happens to be a retired professional surfer to give Son Number Two a surf lesson yesterday.

He did really well and spent a couple hours out in the surf, paddling his butt off, missing waves, falling off, getting rolled, choking on salt water, and occasionally catching a wave and standing up to surf it. We were proud of him.

As we were packing up to leave, we watched and laughed as a guy standing on shore near the water was putting on a little show. He had a small motorized remote-controlled surfboard, about a foot long, with a little plastic surfer riding on top. It was zipping around out in the water surfing up and down the waves. When it crashed, it just popped right back up and kept zipping around.

Apparently, there are quite a few folks who have these little things, and they get together and hold surf contests. Son Number One, who had decided not to try surfing and instead sat on the beach for two hours, then amazingly attempted to make the argument that actual surfing and remote-control toy surfing were almost indistinguishable from each other in skill level.

I had been out in the water for a couple hours too, so I was tired and my head was cold, but I still managed to nearly roll my eyes out of my skull. As I began to open my mouth to set him straight, the sheer insanity of his position triggered a repressed memory from three days earlier on the drive down to the beach.

Somewhere on Interstate 5, Son Number One made the ridiculous claim that me watching professional athletes play sports on TV was exactly the same as him watching YouTubers play video games with each other.

“Because it just isn’t and that is just super obvious” was, of course, not a good enough reason for his little, non-functioning teenage brain.

This was not one of those arguments that I could just let go, because as we discussed earlier, I would be failing all of humanity if I produce a working-age human who thinks this way.

He continued spouting his ridiculous, mind-numbing arguments for why being a professional athlete was totally the exact same thing as being something he called a “professional gamer.”

I quickly got to the point of almost not being able to keep the car on the road due to the mental anguish I was experiencing from the conversation, even though I-5 is probably the straightest freeway in America. I needed to stop the conversation, for the safety of the whole family.

I settled on this: “Getting out of bed when everything hurts to go again. That’s the difference.”

“But when you lose at Fortnite for the hundredth time in a row, it’s the same thing to go back and try again!”

“Oh, my God, you’re just using your thumbs! Shut up!”

“You use more than your thumbs, dad.”


The conversation on the beach didn’t go much better.

I don’t know what worries me more – the fact that kids these days aren’t making a distinction between actual sports and “e-sports,” the fact that kids actually spend their time watching other kids play video games, or the fact that they probably all think that’s the same thing as watching people play an actual sport.

And Son Number One is only a couple of years from going off to college. We obviously still have a lot of work to do to get him ready to go out into the world.

Speaking of colleges, the situation with this e-sports nonsense is far more dire than you might think. Did you know there are actually colleges that are offering scholarships for e-sports?

And I’m not talking about ITT Tech, either. Formerly respectable institutions like Ohio State University, Hawaii Pacific, University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of California at Irvine all offer some level of scholarship for you to come there and play video games.

Arcadia University in Glenside, PA actually has a $25,000 scholarship for e-sports! Can you believe tha…

Wait, what? Twenty-five grand?

Hey, son, how are you at something called League of Legends? I’ve been hearing great things about Pennsylvania these days…

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A Sixth Open Letter to the School District

Dear folks in charge of the decision making down at the School District,

As a reminder, we are on school day 292 of our 14-day quarantine to flatten the COVID curve, and I wanted to write again to let you know that apparently, all trust has been lost between us. Which is weird, because our relationship is predicated on me trusting you to educate my children, so I would have thought there would be an equal reciprocal trust on your end toward me, but I guess not.

I received an email last night from one of the high school coaches, relaying a message he had received from the Athletic Director. Since spring has sprung here in California, allergy season is ramping up quickly.

Here’s the note from the AD:

With allergy season upon us, if your athletes have a runny nose/red eyes/etc. they will be sent home from school and quarantined if nothing is in their file regarding allergies. I would encourage them to have their parents call the school nurse and get their allergies logged into their health profile.

Now, I realize that common sense is a 2019 thing, so I won’t take up any of your time with my thoughts on the insanity of quarantining a kid whose only symptom is itchy eyes and is standing there telling you they have allergies.

I discovered our trust had evaporated when I followed the AD’s advice this morning and phoned the school to update Son Number One’s health profile because he does, in fact, have allergies.

I was told that there was no possible way they could update his health profile based on my word alone, and they would need a note from the doctor to confirm that he really, truly does have seasonal allergies.


We here at the house have been providing his direct and total care since he first saw the light of day. That has been sixteen years, now. I can assure you we are not pumping him full of Zyrtec and Flonase because we love spending the money on it.

I’m not 100% sure why you think I should trust you implicitly with the education of my children if you are unwilling to trust me as a parent on the simple fact that pollen really irritates my oldest son’s nasal passages. That seems “fairly academic,” to put it in school terms.

Since we give him what we out here in the real world call “over-the-counter” medication for his seasonal allergies that did not need official medical diagnosis here in the central valley of California, where seasonal allergies were invented, I can’t provide a doctor’s note in this instance.

Being as such, I thought I’d take this opportunity to alert you of some other possible non-officially-diagnosed situations that might arise with my boys while they are at school.

Son Number One swims and plays water polo, so occasionally in the pool he will cough. The non-official term for this is “choking on a bunch of water.” This is not COVID related.

Son Number Two plays lacrosse on a turf field. When he falls on that field while running, he can get what we call “turf burns” on his knees, elbows, etc. These rashes will be red and angry looking, but rest assured they are harmless and non-communicable.

All three of my sons tend to sneeze when exposed to clouds of dust or pepper. This reaction is a natural bodily function, I’ve been told, so no need for alarm or any quarantining in those situations.

Son Number Three also plays lacrosse, but in a hilarious turn of events, does not enjoy running. He is also quite dramatic, as seventh graders can be, so after a practice, game, or workout, he tends to fake limp around to let you know how much effort he gave and that it is almost killing him. This limp, real or for show, is not a sign of muscle cramping due to COVID or any other current pandemic disease we are employing to keep kids out of your hair.

All three of my boys will occasionally become very thirsty. This is because they are teenagers who forget to drink water regularly, not a sign of illness-born dehydration. You can just point them toward the nearest drinking fountain that you have shut off because drinking fountains don’t spread diseases, but better safe than sorry.

Speaking of thirst, it’s about to get hot again here in the Golden State. Since my boys play sports and compete outside, they do tend to warm up a tad when the mercury starts rising. I know you are all armed with handy touchless thermometers, but be aware they might register a little on the warm side when out in the blazing sun. Remember, 98.7 is not cause for quarantining. In fact, if they are below 103, please send then for another lap.

Lastly, with regard to my last letter to you folks, you have been handing out some pretty questionable “food” in your free grab-n-go lunches. (And by “free,” I obviously mean they will be paid for by my grandchildren’s grandchildren, at this point.) Please be aware that as teenage boys, my sons will eat anything you hand them. Due to their teenage metabolism, they are in a perpetual state of near-starvation no matter how much food we give them, so please don’t take their willingness to eat the highly processed, should-be-illegal-in-schools crap you are handing them as a sign of any lost sense of smell or taste. They are just boys.

I hope that we can someday build back the trust that we’ve lost between us, but the ball is squarely in your court on that one. I look forward to you taking my word unconditionally on the health and safety of my own children in the very near future. That would be neat, wouldn’t it?

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cinco de Ulysses Patrick's Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, so I am obviously wearing my “Kiss Me, I’m Irish-ish” shirt, but I’m not very festive, otherwise. “Why?”, you might ask. Because today is Wednesday. Who has a holiday on a Wednesday?

St. Patrick’s Day is a strange “holiday.” It’s the Cinco de Mayo of March, and both are on a fixed calendar date, which makes no sense. Both have some amount of green added to the beer, and no one from the holidays’ countries of origin celebrates them. Here in the USA, however, we embrace them like they were the Fourth of July or New Years. And much like New Years, no one knows what we’re celebrating or why. But we’re all Irish for one day in March, and we’re all Mexican for one dia in Mayo.

The problem is the only people who get to celebrate these two “holidays” with any regularity are students. Specifically, college kids and elementary schoolers. The college kids use the days as excuses to party, and the elementary schools use them as excuses to make leprechaun traps, Mexican flags, and most importantly, eat cookies.

Meanwhile, we adults have to wait until March 17th or May 5th land on a weekend before we get to party anymore. Why should the students get to have all the fun? Why shouldn’t the parents get to participate?

We used to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day. We used to drink green beer and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

We used to have fun on Cinco de Mayo. We used to drink Corona with lime and eat discounted tacos by the truckload while wearing giant sombreros, and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

Did we know why we did any of this? Of course not. Did we care that we didn’t know? Of course not. We cared about doing our part to uphold centuries of fake traditions. We cared about beer with the appropriate green holiday additive. We cared about pinching cute members of the opposite sex. We cared.

I’m tired of being left out. I’m tired of not caring. I want to care again. We should get to party, too. It’s only right, since we’re the ones paying for all of this anyway. Why shouldn’t we get these days off work?

Why? I’ll tell you why. Probably because someone still needs to pay for all this, that’s why. But are we going to let that stop us? Heck no! There are plenty of other days during the year we can work. Although, we do already have a lot of holidays…

OK, let’s compromise. We could combine St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo into one holiday to minimize the work stoppage but still have some fun. What do you say?

I knew you’d be on board!

Ladies and gentlemen, I officially propose a new national holiday.

We will compromise on the month and have the new holiday in April, since it has always been a travesty that we don’t get April 27th off for President Ulysses S. Grant’s birthday either. We will anchor it around that date but it will need to float, of course, to always fall on a Friday so this party is a three-day weekend. It’s only fitting to include Grant, since he really should be the patron saint of these two holidays anyway. You may not know this, but in addition to being a war hero and a Roman god, Ulysses was a prolific inventor and actually invented, among many other things, the taco, green beer, the piñata, and Ireland.

We shall call the new holiday either Dia de St. Mayo Patrick de Grant, or Cinco de Ulysses Patrick’s Day. We can vote on that later.

As far as logistics go, we will simply combine all the current fake holiday traditions into one big three-day weekend of awesome.

The holiday uniforms can remain mostly undefined, but should include the required holiday colors; green, white and red, with an obvious emphasis on green and large sombreros.

Mariachi bands will need to shift their focus a little and include bagpipes and plaid. Irish heel-clicking salsa dancing with be a natural follower to the new groove.

The main holiday beverage will obviously be green Corona with yellow lemon wedges instead of limes to signify lucky gold. Cuervo gold tequila will remain unchanged, since it satisfies both holiday motifs. As an alternative to Mexican tequila, Irish mojitos will be made out of crushed clover and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Red, white, and green tortilla chips will be served with cabbage salsa, and children across the land will spend the new holiday smacking leprechaun-shaped piñatas filled with gold coin chocolates and corned beef taquitos.

We can work out the rest of the details later. I’m not really sure who’s in charge of new holiday creation over in D.C., so if one of you could forward this on to them, that’d be great.

I’m going to get back to my green Corona.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

He’s Thirteen – That’s Ninety-One in Internet Years

Big news here at Just a Smidge World Headquarters – Son Number Three is turning thirteen next month, and you know what that means! No, not that.

It means he’s only a few weeks away from computer independence! That makes sense, since under the HIPAA laws, he became medically independent last year at age twelve. It only follows that he would gain his digital independence, also.

I just can’t believe those two things don’t happen on the same birthday. It seems kinda mean to tell him he has full control over his medical records and decisions, but not give him unfettered access to the internet at the same time. I guess logic hasn’t caught up with this branch of our government yet.

Now, I must admit that up until a few weeks ago I wasn’t fully aware of his impending digital freedom. Microsoft was kind enough to send me an email about it:

This 13th birthday brings some changes. Son Number Three is getting older, so we wanted to give you a heads up about some changes coming to their account. Privacy laws in your region make it so they have more control over different settings on their account, so it’s a good opportunity to talk about what this means for your whole family.

Ahh, privacy laws in my region. That makes sense. We can’t have the thirteen-year-olds around these parts getting online and being dogged by their parents all day. These young adults need the God- and government-given freedom to go explore the dark corners of the internet on their own.

Microsoft went on to explain what my son gets for his thirteenth birthday, besides horribly traumatized, of course:

Stuff that's changing:

Activity reporting

They can turn off your ability to see their activity on Windows 10 and Xbox One devices, or Android devices running Microsoft Launcher.

Oh, excellent. Right off the bat this is sounding super logical. Heaven forbid I would get to see what my child is doing on their computer.

Device health

They can turn off your ability to see their device and check on updates, hard drive usage, or safety settings like firewall and anti-virus protection.

I guess that makes sense. For a year now he has been able to go take care of any human viruses on his own over at the doctor’s office, so why not let him choose whether we let in any computer viruses as well. I’m sure he’ll make good decisions.

Find your child

They can stop sharing their location through their Windows 10 phone or Android device running Microsoft Launcher.

Again, kudos on the logic here. Why would I want to be able to find my own child? I mean, he might have a secret doctor’s appointment and doesn’t want me following him. Makes sense.

Then Microsoft doubled down on all this good thirteen-year-old logic:

Is this birthdate wrong? Have them update it.

Yes, again, good call. If the birthday is wrong, let’s let the young child handle all the fixing.

“Son, the internet thinks you’re older than you are. Can you log onto your Microsoft account real quick and change your birthday to be younger so you don’t get into anything you shouldn’t? Thanks a bunch, buddy!”

At the end of the email, Microsoft provided me with perhaps the most useful suggestions of all:

Help them celebrate

Add money to their Microsoft account

Get a game that they've been checking out in the Microsoft Store

Useful for Microsoft, I mean.

Well, enjoy your unfettered access to the World Wide Web, son. See you at the psychiatrist’s office.

Oh, wait. You’re over twelve. I guess I won’t.


See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

I'm Getting No Emotional Support Up Here

Well, the emotionally supported fun is over. I have an upcoming flight on Southwest Airlines, and they sent me an email last week to remind me that as of Monday the 1st, my emotional support wolverine will no longer be welcome on the plane.

Travel notice: Starting March 1, Southwest Airlines will no longer accept emotional support animals and only dogs will be accepted as trained service animals with appropriate documentation.

Well, that’s a fine how do you do! I called customer service to ask about my alternate emotional support badger or at least my emotional support ferret, and the answers were still no. The nerve.

How am I supposed to keep the sweaty, smelly guy from sitting in the middle seat and crowding my armrest now? And what am I supposed to do with all this foaming white chicken-flavored toothpaste I used to put on their little lips to make them look rabid?

I guess the airlines have their reasons. I mean, there was the woman at Bradley International in Connecticut who was allowed to bring her eighty-pound emotional support pig onto a US Airways flight a while back. It went bad pretty quickly when the other passengers immediately started gagging from the stench of all the emotional support, and that was before the pig actually pooped in the aisle and then began screeching when the now emotionally unsupported owner tried to clean up the mess.

And the poor little emotional support animals sometimes didn’t even make it onto the plane if their paperwork wasn’t in order. There was even a tragic case where an emotional support hamster didn’t make it at all. Lacking the proper documentation outlining his emotional support cred, Pebbles the dwarf hamster was denied plane privileges at the ticket counter. His owner, a college student who obviously needed more emotional support than one tiny rodent could provide, tried for hours to find another way home. After she exhausted every single possibility, with the obvious exception of a ton of other possibilities, she flushed poor Pebbles down an airport toilet in order to be rodent-free and fully emotionally unsupported for her flight.

I would argue that if you were willing to flush the very hamster that was supposed to bring you emotional support, you didn’t need an emotional support hamster in the first place. You needed a team of emotional support human therapists.

But be hopeful for little Pebbles! As someone who has personally witnessed a large black rat go down one toilet into the sewer pipe only to pop out of another toilet moments later, I remain convinced that Pebbles probably maybe made his way through the swirling vortex and into the airport sewer system, alive and well. And maybe after an epic hamster adventure filled with twists and turns, the little guy eventually made his way up a main sewer line vent shaft and out onto the airfield, where he was probably sucked into a jet engine, or eaten by a large hawk. Either way, he went out like a hero. Godspeed, Pebbles.

But let’s forget about all the pigs, ducks, bunnies, peacocks, and doomed hamsters that led us to this moment. I believe the straw that broke the emotional support camel’s back was Daisy.

In a story that only could have happened in Florida, a flight from Orlando to Cleveland was delayed for two hours when passenger Cindy Torok refused to exit the plane after flight attendants discovered her emotional support animal was, in fact, a squirrel. All the other passengers had to get off the plane while the authorities bargained with Cindy in a classic rodent standoff situation. Thankfully, the negotiations ended peacefully after the Orlando police threatened to arrest Cindy and confiscate Daisy. Cindy was quoted as replying, “You’re not taking my squirrel. Sorry, you’re not. I refuse. You will not take my baby from me.”

As emotional support requirements go, I am assuming, based on the two-hour standoff, that Cindy is pretty high up on the list. What she failed to realize, however, is simple a fact that the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, The American Psychiatric Association, and the Future Farmers of America have all known for years: squirrels are naturally incapable of providing emotional support. They do the exact opposite. Squirrels are evil.

I once had a squirrel, in a totally unprovoked attack, chew through the wires on the two end bulbs on my string of patio bistro lights, completely removing them from each end the string. This vindictive devil rodent then placed the now destroyed and useless pigtailed sockets and bulbs ever-so-delicately on very edge of the patio cover roof so that I could see them from the ground.

No animal capable of providing even an ounce of emotional support would ever be capable of such a heinous crime against warm and charming outdoor patio lighting.

In a glaring example of her need for support on many, many levels, Cindy was oblivious to the fact that she had brought a creature of pure evil and destruction onto a plane that needed to stay in the air all the way to Ohio. If that little hell beast had gotten loose into the wiring harnesses under the cabin floor it could have easily taken down that aircraft before they had even cleared Georgia.

Thusly, and sadly, thanks to Cindy and Daisy, the emotional support animal ride is over for the rest of us.

Does anyone want to buy a pet wolverine?

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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