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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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

This is Taking a Toll on Me

I went over a toll bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of last month. They have completely done away with toll booth operators, in favor of taking a picture of your license plate and mailing you a bill. With no one there manning the booth, I guess they just expect you to be rude to yourself on the way through now.

I always figured they were still collecting tolls just to pay the toll workers in some insane government catch-22. I just assumed, based on Bay Area traffic volume, that each toll worker must make about $3000 an hour. I guess that wasn’t the case.

So, since they got rid of the workers, I guess all the money just goes to the bridge now. What a fun way to pay for a bridge that has already been fully paid for by the tolls about six zillion times.

Anyway, I got the $6.00 automated bridge toll invoice from Bay Area Fastrak in the mail the other day, and I picked it up yesterday morning to pay it. You just have to go to and enter your credit card info. Neat-o.

As I was about to go to the website, the license plate number listed on the bill caught my eye. I was driving our Honda Accord that day, but the license plate number listed was the one on our Ford Expedition. Hmm… Did they just look up our name with the Honda plate and then the computer defaulted to another one of our cars when creating the bill? That would be weird, but plausible.

Then I noticed in the upper right corner of the bill there was a downward-facing picture of the front of our car going through the toll booth. There was the hood and bumper of our Accord with our Ford’s license plate clearly visible below the Honda emblem.

What the hell??? Did some prankster in our neighborhood sneak onto our driveway one night and swap our plates around? No. Who would do that and why?

Wait a minute, here. That’s not the date I was in the Bay Area. And this says I went over the Antioch bridge. That is not the bridge I was on.

I don’t think that’s my Honda. Did someone steal our license plate and attach it to their Honda?

Nope, all plates accounted for.

Hang on a second. Let me put on another pair of readers and double my magnification on this picture… Son of a biscuit, that’s not a C. It’s a G! Some Honda owner has a plate that is only one very similar-looking letter different than mine.

Dammit! This invoice is going to be $6 plus $25 more if I just ignore it, and I think that’s just for the first month.

I guess I am going to after all… Oh, look. What a shock. There is no place on this fabulous website to handle this. Yay, I get to call them!

Thank you calling the Bay Area Fastrak customer service center. We are currently experiencing longer than average wait times to speak with a customer service representative. We recommend calling back later in the week when we anticipate a shorter wait time, or you can visit us at our website,

How the hell can you anticipate shorter wait times later in the week? Do you mostly send people someone else’s invoice over the weekends? And I already went to the website. There’s no section for, “Hey, you butt munches, this isn’t my car!”

Press one for English.

If you have a question about your notice of toll evasion, or would like to pay your notice of toll evasion fines over the phone, press one. If you have a question about…

Sixty-seven phone menu tree branches and a full five minutes later, Your wait time in approximately fifteen minutes.

What followed was possibly the worst hold music to ever exist. It was the same fifteen-second tune (I had time to count), played over and over on a loop, and it sounded like it was being piped through one of those giant WWII-era military loudspeakers, except the loudspeaker had been hit by a mortar shell. It was so tinny, my dog ran out of the room.

Every sixty seconds, or four “musical” loops, the recorded voice would come back on and tell me all about how great the website was and how I could definitely handle my transaction there. Then it would update my wait time by subtracting one minute from the previous estimate.

But the twenty seconds it took the voice to tell me about the website every minute was never factored into the declining minute timer. So, the sixteen times I heard about how great the website was (they told me twice that I had one minute remaining on my wait) really added more than five minutes to my wait. (I had time to do the math, while I prayed that my ears would fall off.)

Amazingly, when my friendly toll customer service professional finally came on the line, it was very easy to clear up the problem. I told her it wasn’t my car and that I thought the license plate was one letter off from mine. She had immediate access to multiple pictures of the car on her computer and was able to zoom in on the rear plate and read it clearly. It was, in fact, a G and not a C.

She also laughed at one point when looking at her pictures and said, “Oh, yeah, ha! That’s a guy wearing a white shirt,” as if that was further evidence that this was a mistake.

Umm… you’re on the phone with me. I’m clearly a guy. Do I not sound like I own any white shirts? Why would that… never mind. Whatever. She removed the charge from my account. That’s all I care about.

So, Bay Area Fastrak, I just want to thank you for the twenty-eight minutes of my life that it took to fix a problem that you created and had absolutely nothing to do with me in the first place.

And just a thought here, but how about we invest some of those (literally) millions of dollars y’all are collecting every month in a camera system that can tell a C from a G? That would be great.

But in the meantime, feel free to send my actual toll bill from the end of last month to someone with a similar license plate as my Honda. I appreciate it!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2021 Marc Schmatjen


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