Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Adventures in Substitute Teaching, Episode One

I am almost a full month into my new substitute teaching adventure, and I’m still trying to work out where I want to concentrate my time, grade-wise. I haven’t attempted it yet, but I’m almost positive I won’t be a good fit for kindergarten.

I love dogs, but I’m not a cat person. It seems like running a kindergarten class would be a lot like managing a room full of adult cats mixed with puppies. Cats and puppies with open markers and glue sticks tangled in their hair. And random emotions.

I believe there is a good reason that 126% of all kindergarten teachers in America are women. Women just naturally deal with random emotions and knotted, glued, emotionally-charged hair better than men.

I have subbed second and third grade, and that’s about as low on the age chart as I think I’ll get. I mean, let’s face it, first grade is basically just the second semester of kindergarten.

I subbed third grade the other day and the teacher was telling me about the class before school started. “It’s a great group of kids,” she said. “She’s a little squirrelly,” she told me, pointing to the desk closest to us, “but no big deal. They’re great.”

Turns out, “a little squirrelly” to a third-grade teacher means a girl who literally did not stop talking for the entire hour I was covering the class, never sat down in her actual chair once, and at one point, simply left the room without asking. I was informed by her peers that she had to use the restroom and apparently, I was not responding to her requests.

It seems my years of parenting Son Number Three have given me an above-average ability to tune out constant chatter. Probably not the best trait for a kindergarten substitute teacher.

Fifth and sixth grade were OK, but so far, I have drawn a line there, avoiding middle school. I drive a middle school carpool, and being in the car for fifteen minutes at a time with seventh- and eighth-graders is plenty for me. I’m not especially interested in an entire day of it. They’re like kindergartners, but with B.O. and an advanced slang/curse word vocabulary.

The line is lifted after eighth grade, however. I’m finding I enjoy subbing at the high school level. It’s far more humorous, on a tragically hip level, than elementary school. Meaning, there’s still the same amount of goofy issues with the students, but the high school issues are so varied and insanely self-centered, that I’d almost go for free just for the entertainment value. Almost.

An example of what I mean happened a couple weeks ago when I subbed for a high school English teacher. The English class was actually called LA-II on my paperwork, which stands for Lulling Asleep Individuals Instantaneously. The school system has finally adopted truth in advertising.

It was immediately obvious which desk cluster I was going to have problems with (and I’m using “cluster” in the truest sense of its slang meaning, here). Two of the three young ladies could not keep their attention off their cell phones. Why the teacher allowed them to have their phones at their desks is beyond me, but I am not suicidal enough to try to separate a teenage girl from her iPhone without body armor and a cattle prod.

The class was learning and writing about the Holocaust. They were supposed to be watching a movie about the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then answering questions and writing an essay. The entire class, minus the cluster at issue, was watching the movie on their Chromebooks. Most of them were using their own earbuds and a few had asked for the class headphones.

Over at the cluster, there was something hilarious on one of the phones. A short while after we managed that issue, it was selfie time. I looked over to see Girl Two leaning over to Girl One’s desk, with Girl One’s arms stretched high above her head. Heads together, looking up, duck lips deployed – snap. The perfect in-class dual selfie… wait, hang on, this stupid Chromebook was in the picture. Let’s do it over… Oh, crap, that lame old man sub is staring at us. Let’s pretend not to care about our phones for a while…

Girl Three of the cluster was clearly not friends with the other two. She was completely uninterested in selfie time. She was also wearing approximately six pounds more makeup than Girl One and Two combined. She was also doing absolutely nothing at all.

I walked over to ask if her Chromebook had stopped working, since it wasn’t even pulled up to the page that had the link to the movie, let alone the movie itself.

“Oh, yeah, so, like, my AirPods weren’t connecting to the computer and stuff, so I’m just going to watch it at home later.”

“Hmm,” I said, doing the mental calculation of the zero percent chance that she was planning to watch the movie at home. “No problem. I have a whole bin full of headphones over at my desk. Let me get you a pair.”

“Um, yeah, so, I have a cartilage piercing, and headphones really don’t feel good on it, and stuff, so I’m just going to watch it at home.”

“Oh, OK, no problem. Let me just get on the phone and call the last remaining Holocaust survivors and let them know you won’t be able to learn about their unimaginable ordeal today because it’s a little uncomfortable to wear headphones with your self-induced ear ornaments,” I said, inside my head.

“OK,” I said out loud, “do you have a book you can read instead?”


“Of course you don’t. Best of luck with your future career as an Instagram model/part-time barista. I’ll bet your TikTok about your cartilage piercing gets like, a zillion views!” I said inside my head.

“Okey dokey,” I said out loud.


See what I mean? I’d almost do it for free, just for the laughs.


See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite T-shirt is at SmidgeTees

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Tax and Spray Policy

It’s that time of year again, folks. That’s right, it’s time to shop online for more adorable masks that match your outfits and hoard that toilet paper.

Oh, and taxes.

Right about this time every year I buy another copy of TurboTax, because I’m too cheap to pay a professional to do my taxes, but not brave (or stupid) enough to attempt to figure out all the forms on my own.

This will be an especially challenging year, since, starting this past July, Washington decided to send me half of my child tax credit early, in the form of six paper checks that arrived one after the other, each month.

I still haven’t figured out how giving me a tax credit early, before I file my taxes, helps my net financial situation, but I’m sure that it had absolutely nothing to do with politics. After all, the tax code is based solely on reasonable, logical, and completely fair math.

However, if I read the rules correctly on 2021 Form 1040-EZ-PresidentBidenLovesYou-4Ever, I may owe more taxes now, since I received some tax dollars in advance.

As I understand it, if I have spent all that money already on – let’s just say, hypothetically – a pair of sweet used 1997 Yamaha Jet Skis, and a Traeger Pro Series 34 Wood Pellet Grill with the optional polyurethane wheels and SmokeMaster bronze lid, I might need to actually return one of my children to the government if the math doesn’t come out in my favor.

That’s a little worrisome, but what really has me the most concerned right now is TurboTax’s recent ad campaigns. Have you seen the one with the coffee spit takes?

The scene: Two guys sitting at a table. One is named Steven. He’s drinking coffee.

Announcer: Steven, did you know TurboTax is free, no matter how you want to file?

[Steven turns his head to the right and spits his coffee all over his friend.]

Steven [looking back into the camera]: I don’t believe that

Announcer: It’s true. Anyone with a simple tax return can get help from an expert, for free.

[Steven again spits his coffee all over his friend.]

Steven: That can’t be true.

Announcer: It is. And with TurboTax Live, our experts will even do your taxes for you, for free.

[Steven, for the third time, spits his coffee all over his friend.]

Friend [utterly soaked in Steven’s coffee, hair dripping]: Honestly, that sounds amazing.

Announcer: For a limited time, TurboTax is free for simple returns, no matter how you file.

I mean, sure, I’m a tad concerned that since my tax returns aren’t “simple” because I’m not a single, apartment-renting Starbuck’s employee with no dependents and no financial investments of any kind, so I actually have to pay for my copy of TurboTax, that I’m footing the bill for all this “free tax return” nonsense. But that’s not what has me really worried.

What made me cringe and fear for the future of our great nation was the disclaimer across the bottom of the screen during the commercial:

Spray simulated. Do not attempt.

It’s kind of a toss up actually, now that I think about it. Am I more worried that we have a government that will try to buy my love with my own money, hoping I don’t notice, or that lawyers legitimately feel the legal need to warn me not to spit coffee on other people?

The answer is yes.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite T-shirt is at SmidgeTees

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

An Eleventh Open Letter to the School District

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

I am writing you today to report a major oversight in your governance of our school system.

I have recently become a substitute teacher.

No, that is not the oversight I’m talking about, but honestly, I’m not one hundred percent sure what you people were thinking there, either. I mean, I’m going to follow all the rules and do a good job, but did you even read the first ten letters I sent you? All I can say is you must truly be as desperate for subs as you advertise to be!

It didn’t take more than my first sub job at a local elementary school to discover the crazy situation has been allowed to fester at our nation’s schools for the last fifty (at least) years.

I am, of course, talking about the paper towels.

I assume you have regular paper towels down at the district office, so you probably don’t even know what I’m referring to. There I was, after the first recess, with a long line of sixth-graders washing their hands at the classroom sink. After they were seated and working on their next assignment, I went back to the sink to handle the inevitable tsunami flood of water left on the Formica countertop.

The dispenser on the wall above the faucet had changed from the 1970s’ white metal box with the silver crank handle, to a more modern, rounded, black plastic unit with a smoke-colored lid, but the roll of “paper” towels inside was the same.

I pulled down on the bottom of the sheet, just above the recently separated sawtooth pattern from the previous one, shocked to find I was holding the same 8x10 section of ridiculous brown material from my youth that resides on the paper scale somewhere between heavy-duty construction paper and a tan canvas painter’s tarp.

Brown school paper towels have a strong initial resistance to liquids, followed by the strange, almost mystical ability to get instantly soaking wet, while actually soaking up zero percent of the standing water.

None, whatsoever.

It truly doesn't matter if you have one school paper towel or thirty, you can't get the puddle up off the Formica counter. All you can do is transfer most of it to the floor.

You would honestly have better luck trying to wipe up the counter with a sheet of fruit leather or some kid’s backpack. (Not that I attempted either of those things…)

In another life, I was an engineer for a sawmill equipment company. Whenever I visited sawmills, I always wondered what they did with all the leftover tree bark. They would scrape it all off the logs before they went into the mill, and there was A LOT of bark. I mean, not all of it can become landscape material, right?

Now I know. They have been using the excess bark to make school paper towels all these years. That explains their water absorbency issues and why they are brown. You get the exact same results from a school paper towel that you would if you tried to clean up the countertop with a log.

And I realize that no one blows their nose at school anymore, since anyone with a slightly runny nose would have been automatically red-flagged and quarantined during the morning at-home health assessment prior to the school day. But if we ever do get back to attending school while also having allergies, let me assure you, you might as well grab a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper over one of those brown paper towels. Blowing your nose with sandpaper would be much more enjoyable and far less likely to cause bleeding.

Please consider making this one issue your lasting legacy. Sure, education is important and stuff, but if you were the people that finally got actual real, usable, soft, absorbent paper towels (like the ones at your office and home) into our schools, they would sing songs about you for generations to come. There would be big bronze statues of you across the country.

You could not only unite our nation, but the entire world.

I’m not overstating that. If you doubt the urgency and magnitude of this issue, just go try to blow your nose with a log. You’ll get the picture.

Yours in educational excellence through continued partnership,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite T-shirt is at SmidgeTees

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

About the Author, 2022

Here at Just a Smidge, we continue to gain new readership each year. This past year alone we have documented as many as two new readers. So, for both of you just joining us, welcome! Let’s start the New Year with a little meet and greet, shall we?

Hi. I’m Marc Schmatjen, aka Smidge, and I’m the lone staff writer and head pool boy here at Just a Smidge. Based on how much money I make writing this column, it would be inaccurate to call this my job, so let’s just go with “hobby.”

I am a forty-nine-year-old husband of one and father of three. We affectionately refer to our boys as Son Number One, Two, and Three. They are all teenagers, and they are all loud and smelly and they eat a lot.

My wife is an amazing woman who teaches math to teenage high school kids, and, since we have three teenagers ourselves whom I spend quite a bit of time with, I am constantly amazed that she is able to maintain her sanity. (I am using “sanity” on a relative scale here. She’s human, after all.)

Anyway, enough about my wife and kids. Let’s talk more about me. Here are twenty other things that you should probably know about me, in no particular order:

1) I would be aging incredibly well if I were ten to fifteen years older.

2) My grandfather killed General Patton's dog. That is the single most historically outstanding thing anyone in my family has done. We are a proud people.

3) Walking out into bright sunlight makes me sneeze. I am one of only an estimated seven people in the world with this disorder. We have a club. I inherited this trait from my grandmother, whose husband once killed General George Patton’s dog.

4) I am related to U.S. president Grover Cleveland on my maternal grandmother’s side, whose husband (my grandmother’s, not Grover Cleveland’s) - I believe I may have mentioned this - killed General George S. Patton’s beloved English bull terrier, Willie. (I don't really care about being related to Grover Cleveland since he’s not Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy once got shot in the chest while leaving his hotel to give a speech. He continued on to the auditorium and gave an eighty-four-minute speech with a bullet in his ribs. Teddy was, by far, our coolest president.)

5) A few of my literary heroes are Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Erma Bombeck, Michael Connelly, and Dave Barry. My grandfather did not kill any of their dogs, that I am aware of.

6) Toilet paper should come off the top of the roll. I’m not stating that as a personal preference, but simply as a fact.

7) I had COVID in 2021. I believe I was graced with the Delta variant. I did not enjoy it in the slightest, and I do not recommend it at all, even though it turned out to be a pretty decent weight loss regimen.

8) My face is going numb. Why does this happen to men? You see old guys all the time eating dinner with food stuck to their faces. We just can’t feel it on there anymore. My chin is completely dead at this point.

9) My three favorite flavors are burnt pepperoni, slightly burnt bacon, and well-toasted sesame seeds. Basically, if it has caught on fire, I want to eat it. Except for my s’more marshmallows. Those should only be browned. (And they will end up stuck to my chin, where they will remain until my wife scolds me.)

10) I was in shape once. I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school. (That’s 57 miles, for you English majors). I could not swim more than 57 yards today without needing a floatation device, an oxygen tank, and a defibrillator. See number 11.

11) I love chocolate and bacon and I sit all day. See number 10.

12) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. This makes driving directions with my wife fun.

13) I am a recovering engineer, so I know there are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

14) My favorite joke of all time is: A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The doctor takes one look at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts."

15) I like writing dialogue.

“You do?” they asked in unison.

“Yes. I do,” he said solemnly.

16) I like most foods (see number 10), but I have a deep, abiding hatred for cantaloupe. If bacon is a 10, cantaloupe is a negative 3000.

17) I once pointed out that Van Gogh’s “girlfriend” was actually a prostitute during a fifth-grade art docent lesson. It was not helpful to anyone involved.

18) My absolute favorite thing that has ever happened on this earth – and I am including my marriage and the birth of my children in that – was when the Oregon State Highway Division tried to disintegrate a dead whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970. I wasn’t around yet, but thankfully they had video cameras back then. (Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.”)

19) I hope to one day be in charge of detonating something as large as a dead whale, but so far, my wife has not let me.

20) I only type with three of my ten fingers, so this is all very impressive, if you stop and think about it.

So, there you have it, folks. You now know everything you need to know about me. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite T-shirt is at SmidgeTees

Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge