Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Tenth Open Letter to the School District

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

I know you have been working 24/7 over the summer trying to figure out how to possibly have school happen for all our kids next month. It must be stressful since there is no historical year-after-year blueprint for how to operate schools and educate young people in a world that also has diseases. But you guys are smart. I’m sure you’ll think of something.

Speaking of all the thinking and planning you’ve been doing, I wanted to highlight one area you have been working diligently on – masks. Specifically, who needs to wear a mask and when. I received a copy of an email from an anonymous source the other day, laying out your new “policy.” (I put policy in quotes since I didn’t know what else to call this, but it’s clear that you need to look that word up in the dictionary.)

You started by mentioning that all the students needed to wear masks, but you wanted to focus on getting back to community building within the classroom and not to have the teachers become strident mask enforcers.

You don’t want to further aggravate the current politically divisive climate of mask vs. no mask, in an attempt to avoid the hostile atmosphere we saw last year.

So, your “policy” is that students, no matter their vaccination status against whooping cough, diphtheria, or COVID-19, 20, or 21, are supposed to come into the classroom wearing a mask. But if the student is not following that rule and a teacher asks them to comply and the student refuses, the teacher is asked to not further engage in forcing the student to comply.

Your “policy” goes on to restate that you wish to focus on creating community and to that end, you provided some helpful tools for the teachers to employ.

Teachers could:

A) Share that wearing a mask indoors is respectful to those in class who may have immunocompromised family members.

B) Share that they too have family members.

C) Talk about respecting choice and taking care of self.

But above all else, teachers are not to become aggressive in mandating they wear the mask. Also, teachers are going to need to be conscious of not bullying each other on the masks. (I am assuming you meant the kids bullying each other, and not the teachers bullying other teachers? Or are you worried about that, too?)

So, since I am assuming you didn’t roll play your new “policy” down at the district office, for fear of accidentally bullying each other, allow me to give it a shot.

Student: *walks into class with no mask*

Teacher: Please put your mask on.

Student: No.

Teacher: I respect your choice. You need to take care of yourself and do what’s right for you.

Student: Thanks.

Teacher: But did you know that one of your classmates might have a grandma who could have to go to the hospital and be put on a ventilator because of your choices? Does that sound like you are respecting them? Did you know that I also have a grandmother?

Student: Umm…

Teacher: I apologize for bringing up the whole mask thing. You are a valuable part of our classroom community and I want you to feel emotionally safe here, so please let me know if anyone bullies you.

Student: Umm, didn’t you just…

Teacher: OK, we need to get started with today’s lesson.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think my teacher in our little fictional conversation just followed your new “policy” to the letter.

Let me know how it works out in real life.

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A Cautionary PeePee on the Potty Tale

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. This story is going to be hard to read if you are a grandparent. It’s going to be even harder to read if you’re a mom of boys. But it’s going to be especially hard to read if you’re a guy. A guy of any age. It’s not pretty.

But you need to read it, nonetheless.

I don’t know if this story will just make you feel better about whatever is going on in your life, or if you are in a position to use this painful knowledge as a cautionary tale for a small boy or boys in your life. I hope the latter is the case, since, as you will soon agree, we as a people never want this to happen again.

I was told this story by family members, and I recently spent the week with the young man in question. He is a brave lad, but to keep his story anonymous we’ll call him Cooper.

Cooper is kindergarten age now, courageously moving on with his life after that fateful day a few years ago.

Cooper’s grandparents had rented a house in Tahoe for a fun week of summer vacationing with their kids and grandkids. They were there a few days early to get everything ready. They could never have known what dangers that innocent-looking vacation rental was hiding.

When Cooper and his family pulled into the driveway after a long car ride, Cooper needed to pee. He needed to pee bad. There was no time to waste.

He jumped out of the car and ran past the open arms of his loving grandparents, making a beeline for the nearest bathroom. A fateful decision that haunts the entire family to this day, but none more than little, innocent Cooper.

Cooper had spent his entire life to this point in a modern house. One with modern toilets that had modern features. Unbeknownst to him, he had just sprinted into a rustic Tahoe toilet time warp.

These toilets had wooden toilet seats. Heavy wooden toilet seats. Cooper’s toilet seats at home were the light plastic variety.

Cooper had recently graduated to big boy status and was all potty trained. He exercised his God-given ability as a male of the species to pee standing up. But Cooper was a tiny little guy still, and as such, he wasn’t much taller than the toilet itself. The geometry of bowl height and leg length lined up just wrong on that fateful day, and the bowl of the toilet was just the perfect height to rest his little ding-a-ling on while he peed.

His Grandma made her way to the bathroom just about the time he was finishing up. Now Cooper, as most boys his age are, is always in a hurry, and that day was no exception. Add to that the fact that Cooper’s modern toilet seats at home have another feature that the hellish, deathtrap of a vacation home bathroom did not – slow-close technology.

Cooper was used to reaching up and ripping the toilet seat back down when he was all finished, because at home it lowered slowly and safely back down to the bowl. His grandmother screamed “Nooooo!” in vain as she helplessly watched the poor young lad innocently do what he always did after rocking a whiz in the big boy potty.

Cooper reached up and slammed that heavy, wooden, non-speed-buffered, bastard of a toilet seat right down on his poor little ding dong that was still positioned on top of the hard porcelain edge of the bowl.

The howl could be heard clear across the lake. When they got his grandma calmed down, it was apparent that Cooper was crying as well.

That poor, brave little man spent the entire first day of his Tahoe summer vacation week with his pants down and an ice pack on his goodies, nursing one heck of a blood blister.

Gentlemen, take as much time as you need and just breathe. There you go. Deep breaths in and out. Good.

Like I said, I don’t know what you will do with this knowledge now that you have muscled your way through this tragic tale, but I pray that we can all use this difficult information to make sure no other boy ever has to go through anything like that again.

I’m happy to report that Cooper came out of the situation with a healthy and perfectly functioning plumbing system, but the emotional scars remain. Two years after the fact, he still asks the owners of any new house he visits if they have “hard toilets.”

We love you, Cooper. Be strong.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Dumbest Rule I've Ever HOA'd of

Smack dab in the middle of our summer of endless road trips, bookended by two very long drives, we had a magical week of not getting in the car very much when we stayed at a rental house in Sunriver, Oregon. If you have never been to Sunriver, you should really go. And if you have been to Sunriver, chances are you’re still trapped there, because it is an insane maze of roundabouts and bike paths that looks like the planner’s three-year-old just scribbled all over the blueprints five minutes before the deadline.

It is a wonderful place to visit, nestled alongside the Deschutes River, with golf courses, waterfalls, hiking, biking, and some of the world’s finest microbreweries just down the road in Bend (if you can find your way out to get there).

All that being said, I don’t think I’d ever want to actually live in Sunriver. It has nothing to do with the area. Like I said, it’s fantastic, and I’m sure I would eventually figure out the road system. It’s just that I don’t think I would get along with the homeowner’s association very well.

If you have an HOA where you live, chances are Sunriver’s HOA makes yours look like a Libertarian convention. You are allowed to walk or ride a bike on the Sunriver paths, but never ever should you even think about riding a scooter or a pair of rollerblades. You can keep your overpowered e-bike in the garage and don’t even get me started if you think you’ll be riding a skateboard anywhere around here.

If you think you are going to have an RV or a boat, you’d better start planning your fully-enclosed structure in which to hold it now. And when you are done planning that structure, you can just shoot those plans over to the design committee, where we will completely change them to our liking. And don’t even thing about trying to build that structure yourself. All contractors must be registered with the HOA. None of those “outside” bozos.

Thinking of trimming your tree? Think again. You need a permit for that. Did one of your trees fall down? Don’t touch it until you talk to us and we see fit to grant you a permit to do so.

If you are planning to have firewood, you had damned well better stack it in a rectangular fashion. No linear stacking! This is not a third-world nation.

Paint color. Exterior light diffusing. How long the refrigerator repair guy can park at your house (four hours max). The list goes on and on.

Like I said, it’s a great spot to vacation, but if you’re going to try to fine me for cutting a branch off my own tree near my linearly-stacked firewood, we’re not going to be friends.

My absolute favorite of all the Sunriver HOA rules, however, came to light when we planned our patriotic three-hour Fourth of July tube float down the Deschutes. Our rental house was close to the river, and I scouted out (on my traditionally leg-powered bicycle) the perfect spot to get out of the river and walk about forty yards down the path back to our house.

When I went down to inspect the perfect little disembarking beach, it had a sign that said No River Float Take-Out Here. The sign went on to helpfully explain that no one on a tube is allowed to get out of the river anywhere in Sunriver, except at the marina (which is a private, members-only club and therefore off limits to you) and a public canoe take-out area four river miles further down.

You are more than welcome to enter the river here and swim, and then get out of the river here. You are welcome to enter the river here with a tube, and splash around right here, and then get out here. You are forbidden, however, from floating down river from anywhere else on a tube and getting out here.

Hmm… that’s pretty funny. I think we’ll just get out here.

Of all the crazy HOA rules – or just rules in general – that I’ve ever heard of, this one seems to be the least enforceable. This could actually be the world’s most unenforceable rule.

“You aren’t allowed to get out of the moving river.”

That is so stupid it’s humorous. I’m having real trouble trying to imagine anything as asinine as someone standing on the shore of a lake, river, or the ocean, and trying to tell someone else that they aren’t allowed to get out of the water.

We went ahead with our delightful float and got out of the river where we wanted to, because we’re logical American humans. I was actually hoping some HOA-loving homeowner, or better yet, a member of the board, would be there when we got out of the river next to their nice sign. I was really looking forward to someone trying to explain to me how attempted murder was one of their sacred bylaws. But alas, our river extrication was uneventful.

One of my goals in life is to never be involved in a lawsuit, but if someone tried to sue me because my family got out of a river, it would totally be worth it. I would have the time of my life tearfully explaining how my emotional support river otter (that I met that fateful day) can’t even curb the nightmares from the PTSD of my wife and children almost drowning at the hands of an evil HOA.

The only problem would be that I’d end up owning one or more Sunriver houses in the court settlement and then I’d have to follow all their other crazy rules.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Shotgun Wedding? - Repost

My wife and I celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary yesterday as we do most every year – on a long drive in the car with our kids and her mom. Don’t be jealous just because we know how to party!

In honor of another successful year of marriage (and another successful summer road trip), I thought I would once again regale you with the heartwarming tale about the night after the night I met my wife.

Unfortunately, the night I met my wife was fairly uneventful. (Besides the fact that I met the love of my life, of course.)

So instead, I will tell you the shocking, explosive, frightening, and downright weird tale about the following night. It’s a tale of a dive bar, a truck, a barefoot man, a policeman, a bathrobe, and a shotgun.

A guy walks into a bar. It was me. I met my wife in a bar.

That’s not the whole story. It gets better.

It was only my first or second time at this particular bar, but she had been there for thirty-two nights in a row. She and her best friend were going for a combined personal record. It was her initiative and dedication to the endeavor that drew me to her. We were both college students in San Luis Obispo, CA, and she was working at a pizza place that summer. She would get off work at midnight and meet her friend at Bull’s Tavern to shut the place down. We met one evening, talked until closing, and said goodnight.

I thought she was really neat-o, so having heard about their record-breaking attendance goal, I had a good idea of where I might find her again the next evening. After missing her a few times, between the bar and the pizza place, we finally connected, and had another delightful evening of bar-booth conversation. This was the kind of bar where “delightful conversation” means you sat in a red Naugahyde booth, taking turns shouting into each other’s ears, in an attempt to carry on a conversation over the AC/DC blaring out of the jukebox.

After the last-call light came on at two A.M. – this was back when we could stay up until two A.M. – we walked back to the pizza place where my truck was parked, and carried on our conversation in the cab of my Ford F150. By about three A.M. I had convinced her that kissing me wouldn’t be so bad, and just when I was about to plant one on her, a sonic boom came rolling down the street. It would have been much cooler if we had heard the explosion as we kissed, but you just can’t plan for these kinds of things.

She said, and I quote, “That sounded like a twelve-gauge!”

I replied, scoffing-ly, “There is no way that was a twelve-gauge shotgun. It was probably just a car backfiring.” In my head I was thinking, Cool. She knows her shotguns. But that couldn’t have been a shotgun.

Roughly four minutes later a barefoot man in a bathrobe came walking down the street carrying a twelve-gauge shotgun.

Now, if I can paint the scene for you - It is past three o’clock in the morning, and the town has completely shut down. We are the only car parked on the street, directly across from the pizza parlor. The only other car that we can see belongs to a police officer who is parked in a parking lot across the intersection from the pizza place. The police officer is standing outside of his car, chatting with a man on a bicycle. They have apparently not heard the big bang and seem very relaxed. The pizza place is located on the corner of the intersection, and the man in the bathrobe with the heavy artillery is walking past the pizza place, toward the cop, but neither one of them can see the other yet. We are parked across the street and have a clear view of both of them, and a pretty good idea of what is about to happen. Between the five of us, we are the only people still awake in the whole town, and two of us are a whole lot more awake than we were a minute ago.

The bathrobe-clad gentlemen rounded the corner and came into view of the police officer, and they saw each other at about the same time. We were positioned at just the wrong angle, so when the cop drew his weapon, he was pointing it right at us. We both did that thing where you slide down below the dashboard in case the bullets start flying, but foolishly keep your head up high enough to see, because you don’t want to miss the action.

The policeman immediately started asking the nice man to kindly set his shotgun down. By “kindly asking,” I mean he instantly began shouting, “Drop the #$*%&@ gun right now! Drop it, #$@*&%!!!” I thought he was handling himself very well given the surprising circumstance he had just found himself in. The bicyclist he had been talking to before the rude interruption did something that still to this day I cannot believe, even though I saw it with my own two barely-visible-above-the-dashboard eyes. He dropped his bike to the ground and fit himself completely underneath the front bumper of the police cruiser. Next time you see an old 1990s police cruiser, take a look at the ground clearance. I think it might have been Houdini himself in that bike helmet.

Well, the nice man with the twelve-gauge didn’t drop his gun right away. He just sort of stood there, trying to have a conversation with the cop. He was holding the gun at a forty-five-degree angle toward the ground, not exactly pointing it at the cop, but not exactly pointing it away from him, either. As the police officer walked closer and closer to the man, yelling commands louder and louder, I was sure we were about to witness something very unpleasant on what had, otherwise, been a really nice night.

Thankfully, for everyone involved, the man finally decided to set his shotgun gently on the ground, and seconds later, the police officer set his knee not-so-gently on the man’s neck, and the standoff was over. As Captain Bathrobe was led to the police car and Harry Houdini extricated himself from underneath the Caprice Classic, I started the truck and drove my date home in stunned silence.

Fortunately, she didn’t hold the incident against me, and we continued to see each other. We searched the local paper for two weeks straight after that night for some mention of the incident, partially to prove to people that we weren’t making it up, but mostly to find out for ourselves what we had seen. Why was there a man firing a shotgun in sleepy, downtown San Luis Obispo, and why was he then walking the streets with that shotgun, barefoot, in a bathrobe? We never found a single mention of it, and to this day, have no idea what happened.

We graduated, parted ways, and met again six years later at a mutual college friend’s housewarming party. We have been together ever since.

After meeting her father, I finally understood her knowledge of shotguns. And after getting to know my father-in-law, I had a strong suspicion that he and my wife might have known more about that night than they were letting on. He was a great guy, and he may have been accused a time or two of being “slightly overprotective” of his only daughter.

Now, he certainly wasn’t a bathrobe type of guy, but he did own a number of twelve-gauge shotguns, and if he was in town visiting and staying at a hotel, he would have had easy access to a nice terrycloth robe.

Where exactly was he that night? Out looking for his little girl, perhaps?

She still claims it wasn’t him, but she always smiles when she says it. And after questioning, he was never able to produce a good alibi. I remain skeptical.

I also remain very thankful to have lived through that night and been able to celebrate nineteen amazing years of marriage.

Happy anniversary, baby!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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