Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Light at the End of the Carpool

Kids are weird these days. They don’t seem to care about driving.  It is impossible to find someone my age who was not at the DMV on their sixteenth birthday, knocking on the glass door three hours before they actually opened, begging to take their driving test and get their license.

This is not the case for today’s sixteen-year-olds. At least, not many of them. And certainly not mine. Today’s youth don’t seem to care very much about getting their driver’s license. Some of them wait until they’re eighteen! That is certifiably insane.

I obviously blame the internet, smartphones, and text messages. Those are the big differences between how they are growing up and how we did, so they are surely the cause.

Kids today can communicate with their friends any time they want, and they have unlimited access to every video ever made of people eating weird things and guys getting accidentally hit in the nuts. As such, they don’t seem to have any need to leave the house on Friday night and go to the AM/PM and hang out in the parking lot to see those things happen live. What a bunch of freaks.

Son Number One would probably still not have his license if we hadn’t pushed the issue. We never forced him to drive if he wasn’t comfortable, because that is a recipe for roadside information exchanges and much higher insurance premiums. But we did use all of our parental cunning and wit to convince him that driving might not be so bad. (And I may have said, “Get in the damn car,” a time or two…)

And I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it was easy. My wife refused to help with the driver training out of fear for her own life, so it was up to me. Early on in the process I formed a support group with the other dads of teen drivers in our neighborhood. It was mostly just a lot of beer and wide-eyed tales of merging gone wrong, but it helped to know I was not alone.  

Anyway, there was a very good reason for us cajoling our oldest son into getting his license, and it wasn’t because we love higher insurance premiums. It was carpool.

I have been driving kids to school in the carpool for roughly two hundred years now, and it’s starting to lose its luster. I actually enjoyed it when it started long ago, but that enjoyment has now been firmly replaced with dread and dismal monotony.

The bright side is, with Son Number One’s license, I have reduced my total number of school carpools from two down to one, and this is the last year I will have to drive carpool ever again. Son Number Three will be at the high school with his older brothers next year, and will be responsible for not pissing them off enough to get left at home. If he fails at that, he knows where we keep the bikes. Yay!

It’s hard for me to express the joy I feel when I think of never driving carpool again, but to try to put it into monetary terms, it is totally worth the $28,000/month that it costs to insure a sixteen-year-old male to drive a 2003 Ford Expedition.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Catch Up if You Can

Motivating your children can be hard to do, especially these days when they all seem to be inexplicably drawn to a life of drooling in front of a tiny screen watching thirty-six-hour YouTube compilations of cats getting scared by cucumbers.

Son Number One is sixteen years old, and he was born with a little more than his share of the “I want to sit in front of this screen for the rest of my life” gene. As such, apparently, I am not above using a criminal as a motivational role model. I found that out the other day when I was watching the movie Catch Me if You Can. Number One came in and I paused the action to catch him up, explaining who Frank Abagnale, Jr. was, and what he had accomplished in just a short period of time.

If you are unfamiliar, Abagnale was a con man and a forger. He wrote his first bad check at the age of fourteen, and in the early 1960s, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, he was impersonating an airline pilot in order to cash fake payroll checks and get free rides all around the country riding in the spare seat in the back of the cockpit.

My dad was an airline pilot and remembers getting the FAA memo about an imposter riding jump seats posing as a Pan Am pilot.

Abagnale pioneered several check forging techniques before he was caught, and afterward, worked with the FBI to help them catch other forgers.

There’s really no telling what Abagnale could have done if he’d had the computer and internet tools at his disposal that kids have today. He had to steal all his money using a typewriter, for goodness sake.

The other day, I needed to pay Son Number One some money and I didn’t have enough cash on me, so I wrote him a check. He’s had a checking account for a few years now, and uses his debit/ATM card to buy things and get cash, but apparently no one had ever written him a check??

He kept it sitting on his desk for a week before he came to me and said he had no idea what to do with it. He didn’t use the vast resources of the internet to even attempt to figure out how to deposit it. He just stared at it for a week and then complained.

It was at that point that I used a con man and a thief as an example of what to live up to. I’m not saying I’m proud of that, I’m just saying it happened.

Come on, man! Frank Abagnale was actually making fake checks when he was your age, and you can’t even be bothered to try to figure out how to deposit a real one into your account? He was impersonating an airline pilot, and you don’t even have a job at a pizza place. Those are federal crimes, man! Not just some little local misdemeanors. Show some initiative, will you?

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See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Drunk History

The kids went back to school this week, and so in honor of the return to learning, I decided to brush up on my history.

What better way to do that than by binge-watching Drunk History on Comedy Central. I am very late to the party, as it were, but I am glad I finally found my way in. This could be the single greatest way to learn about history that was ever devised.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, the host, Derek Waters, and a guest host drink themselves to the raggedy edge of consciousness, and then sit down to share the exciting tale of someone from history.

The stories are true, but the storyteller’s brain is in the process of shutting down, so there is obviously a heavy level of ad-libbing involved with the point A to point B.

If there’s one thing that drunk people have, however, it’s passion in their storytelling. They also invariably have the hiccups, a lot of spit, and very long pauses. This is what makes this method of learning history so riveting.

The actors tasked with enacting the stories are required to lip-sync and act to the insanely drunk person’s voice over. The results are magical and can make even the dullest historical figure or event come to life in front of your eyes. Much like witnessing a train wreck.

I would highly recommend this method of expanding your historical knowledge, but get it while it lasts. I have to assume that Derek Waters is dead by now, because he gets just as drunk as the guest host does in order to interview them, and there are three historical tales with three different guest hosts per episode.

I’m sure his liver must have just exploded right out of his body at some point, but I’m only on season four, and thankfully he’s still with us.

Happy learning.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Serious Wedgie

Do you ever have those times when a story about a celebrity seriously injuring themselves in the ocean makes you feel instantly cooler about yourself?

Yeah, I didn’t think I did either until recently…

Allow me to explain. Our epic summer of a thousand road trips has come to a close, with the final stretch being way down in southern California to visit various family members.

We ended up getting quite a few beach days in, with some fantastic boogieboarding in San Diego and Newport. On a particularly big surf day, we drove the boys and their cousins down to the end of the Balboa peninsula to show them The Wedge.

The Wedge is a man-made phenomenon bought about by the huge rock jetty of Newport Harbor, and its odd angle to the end of the peninsula, combined with a very steep beach. The steepness of the beach on the end of the Balboa peninsula creates what is called a shore break. That’s when the swell coming in waits until it is right on top of the beach to form the wave. Shore break is also what happens to your bones if you don’t time the wave correctly.

The Wedge is a particularly insane shore break, because the jetty/beach angle collects the swells from two different directions and stacks them up on top of each other, forming a weird double wave shape that gives the crazy break its name. For a certain part of the year, the lifeguards don’t even allow surfboards or boogieboards to go out – only bodysurfers. I guess they are trying to minimize the different ways you can snap your neck.

When I was in college, our water polo team traveled down to Newport for a tournament, and the local guys insisted that we all go to The Wedge one afternoon. I had never heard of it, and I will never forget seeing it for the first time. It was profoundly frightening. I had no business being out there, but when you are in college, you fancy yourself to be bulletproof, and if those crazy kids out there can bodysurf that insane monster of a wave, then so can I, dammit.

What ensued was probably one of the most terrifying and thrilling twenty minutes of my life thus far. Even when you are successful in catching the wave at The Wedge, there is no way out of it, so you just end up getting rag dolled up onto the sand anyway. When you are unsuccessful in timing the wave, things get a lot worse.

If you miss it on the bottom, it’s a lot like a semi truck landing on you while you are getting waterboarded. If you miss it on the top, it’s a lot like getting flung up onto the beach by a catapult with a rocket launcher attached to it, and then having a semi truck land on you while you are getting waterboarded.

I even fell out of the middle of the wave once. I remember falling past two or three other people suspended in various elevations in the green wall of foam and landing on my back in about six inches of water, before getting waterboarded by the aquatic semi.

I will always remember the experience fondly (except for the various parts erased by the multiple concussions), but seeing The Wedge again recently made me just shake my head. I can’t believe I ever went out in that crazy surf.

I recently learned the story of another college student who fancied himself bulletproof and took on The Wedge. It didn’t go so well for him, but the results changed the world.

It seems our USC football player was friends with an Olympic gold-medalist in swimming, named Wally O’Connor. Wally was a Wedge pioneer, being one of the strongest swimmers on the beach at the time. This was a little before my time, actually – 1926 to be exact.

Wally showed his friend how it was done, riding one of the hellacious waves right up onto the sand. When it was time for the man with the USC football scholarship to give it a try, it didn’t go quite so smoothly.

On his first attempt, the young man caught the wave briefly, but ended up out of position only to learn how unforgiving The Wedge can be. He snapped his collarbone and dislocated his shoulder, simultaneously ending his football and college careers, and dashing any hopes of the law profession he was planning.

His is not a sad story, however. He knocked around a bit after that, finally ending up working a low-paying job in the props department at 20th Century Fox. It was there that he was discovered as an actor and went on to become a household name synonymous with pure manliness itself.

I’m glad I only recently heard this story of a day at the beach that changed the course of history for the better. If I had heard it beforehand, I may not have gone out into that water back in the early nineties.

I certainly didn’t bodysurf The Wedge with any kind of measurable style or grace that day, but at least I can say I did it a little better than John Wayne did.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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