Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Speaking of Barbie...

It’s an amazing time to be a kid! Back when I was young, Barbie was only a doll with a pink house, and a pink Corvette, a pink-accented boyfriend, and later, a pink RV.

I personally didn’t care about any of the Barbie stuff when I was a kid because she didn’t come with explosives, projectiles, or slime, but I knew plenty of girls who loved to brush her hair and push her around in her dream car on dates with Ken. Barbie always drove, presumably because Ken was an alcoholic lush.

Kids today have access to a much larger Barbie franchise, including her new diverse friend group of dolls, waaay more accessories, rehabbed Ken, and a new movie. They even have a real live woman, Valeria Lukyanova, who has undergone hundreds of thousands of dollars in plastic surgery to become a human Barbie. Regrettably, she will never be able to blink again, and will no doubt need to spend thousands more on therapy, in addition to her staggeringly large Amazon subscription for Refresh Tears eye drops.

But the most amazing part about the current Barbie experience? It’s not any of those things. It’s the Fisher Price Power Wheels Barbie Corvette for kids. That sweet pink one-seater about the size of a coffee table that no family in the world has a good place to park when their kids are not driving it dangerously into oncoming street traffic.

I don’t think those came out until I was in my teens or twenties, but the first models were nothing to write home about. The tires were hard plastic with absolutely no grip, the steering was sketchy at best, and the whole thing was powered by what looked like one of those square 12-volt lantern batteries. You had a max payload of nine pounds, a run time of forty-five seconds, and a recharge time of two days.

Well, kids, welcome to 2023, where unregulated e-bike technology is running rampant! Children’s bikes at this point have basically become Tesla motorcycles with skinnier tires. I saw a kid on a BMX-style bike yesterday, in traffic, chasing a Prius and keeping up with it at probably thirty or forty miles per hour, while never pedaling once. Like I said, it’s an amazing time to be a kid!

I saw this coming the minute they started putting electric motors on kid’s Razor scooters, years ago. Apparently, not a single soul at the Department of Transportation did, though, so now we have unlicensed, untrained, unskilled, and unbelievably reckless kids riding e-powered contraptions that have torque profiles and top speeds Harley and/or Davidson would have killed someone for when they were building their first motorcycle.  

What does this mean for Barbie’s personal Power Wheels dream car? It means it’s no longer really a toy. It’s now a miniature unlicensed e-Corvette that can do 50 in a 25. Now’s the time, kids. At some point people are going to wake up and realize that children’s toys have become electrically weaponized, so don’t delay.

Beg and plead with your parents. Tell them you’ll do the grocery store runs now. Offer to take over elementary school carpool. You’ll have the horsepower. Steal an adult’s social security number and apply for a Barbie car loan online. Whatever it takes to get that wind in your hair. These are amazing times. Take advantage!

And Ken, if you happen to fall off the wagon and get sauced at the Malibu Barbie Beach Bar and Grill, have no fear. You don’t have to call Barbie and confess, or waste good drinkin’ money on an Uber. Just get yourself a little pink Power Wheels Corvette. You can swerve that bad boy home in the same amount of time it would take you in your F150, and what are the cops going to charge you with? Operating a toy under the influence?

That’s not illegal, buddy. Rock on!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Who Needs a Doctor?

It’s that time of year again at Casa de Smidge, when we get new health insurance cards along with a warm, heartfelt letter from Sutter Health, welcoming us into their community of doctors, nurses, and happy patients, as if we haven’t been with Sutter Health for the past twenty years.

All three of our kids were born at Sutter, yet somehow, they see fit to welcome us in every year. Son Number One is going off to college in a month, for goodness sake. We’ve been with you for a while now!

Anyhow, my wife and I share (or shared) a PCP, which is insider medical lingo for Pretty Cool Physician, if I’m not mistaken. I say “shared” because we just found out she is retiring, or just leaving Sutter, or possibly both. I don’t remember.

So, along with our annual welcome letter, we need to find a new doctor (or doctors if we can’t agree again). I was happy to see that the boys’ pediatrician was still the same. Dr. Wong is the best! However, sitting at my desk, seeing his name on their health insurance cards got me thinking.

Not only is Son Number One eighteen years old now, but he’s also heading off to Nevada for college. Eighteen seems like the logical age to stop seeing a pediatrician, because “pediatrician” is literally Latin for “pediatric physician.” Also, I don’t think Dr. Wong makes house or dorm calls in other states.

That got me thinking, how do I go about finding a new doctor for my son in another state? And that got me thinking about when I went off to college, hundreds of miles away from my former pediatrician. Who was my doctor? I couldn’t remember.

And then it finally dawned on me why I couldn’t remember. Because I went off to college and never went to another doctor for an annual physical until I was thirty-five. Sure, I went to the hospital emergency room a few times, but who didn’t, am I right? But I never had an actual doctor.

Generally, men ages eighteen to thirty-ish never even think about the doctor. Or checkups. Or health. Or much of anything, actually. We’re just sort of there, participating in the moment’s current activity and otherwise not having a whole ton of deep thoughts or planning.

When I finally realized that, I relaxed a little and decided I didn’t need to worry about Son Number One. I stood up from my desk and stretched, and was immediately reminded of my real priority.

The stretch reminded me that I tweaked my back a little last night.


I’m fifty-one and I literally hurt my back coughing. So, yeah, I’m worrying about the wrong Schmatjen male here. Son Number One will be just fine, but I need to find a new doctor, stat.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

A Second Open Letter to the Student Loan Department

Dear whomever is in charge of the student loan forgiveness program,

I wrote to you a little under a year ago regarding getting the ball rolling on forgiving our past and existing student loans. Since Son Number One was still in high school at the time, we were mainly discussing you guys paying back all of our costs to date, with the housing, food, and transportation of our three students, from preschool through twelfth grade.

I haven’t heard from you guys yet on all of that. Those costs are still piling up over here with his younger brothers, so the sooner the better!

In addition to following up on that enormous bill, I’m writing today about forgiveness of a new student loan I just received. I realize the whole forgiveness program has been in a bit of a start/stop turmoil lately, but I’m confident that when you hear my tale of woe, you’ll be persuaded to do the right thing.

Here’s the situation: Son Number One is starting his freshman year at the University of Nevada, Reno this fall, and his first tuition installment was due this week. I logged into his school account last night to figure out how to make that happen. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with two options to pay – via electronic check, or with my credit card.

“You can pay for college with a credit card?” I asked out loud to no one in particular. Again, imagine my surprise when I investigated further and discovered that not only could I pay with a credit card, but there were no service fees, or convenience fees, or fees of any kind attached to that option.

“You can pay for college with a credit card!” I exclaimed out loud, again to no one in particular, although at that point I actually wished more people were around to share in my happy discovery.

So, guess what I did last night, student loan folks? Yep, I racked up a butt-ton of credit card rewards points when I paid my son’s first college tuition payment with my credit card. Boo-yah!

So, here’s where you guys come in. I now have a relatively small student loan, by national standards, but with an enormously large interest rate. Come next month, those credit card vultures are going to be coming after me for as much as 30.90% APR. Now, I’m not completely up to date on the student loan rules and regulations, but that interest rate seems like it should be criminal.

You can now see my obvious and immediate need for swift student loan forgiveness before this predatory compounding interest, being perpetrated on our nation’s poor, defenseless youth, gets out of hand.

You will be saving this great nation more than 30% per year (compounding!) by jumping on this right away, before my next billing cycle. I know you’ll do the right thing.

And remember, UNR is on the semester system, so we’re going to need swift credit card student loan forgiveness a minimum of twice a year for the next four years.

Thanks in advance!

Yours in forgiveness,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

An Open Letter to Carnival Cruise Lines

Dear Carnival Cruise Lines,

I have recently returned from my first cruise ship experience, which was on your gigantic new boat, the Celebration. I have some thoughts…

Since this was my first cruise, I had no previous experience with how people normally get on the ship to begin their cruise, and I still don’t, because we did not get on the ship normally. We didn’t even get on the ship safely.

As you are aware, an overnight boating accident with fatalities closed the entrance to the Port of Miami for a majority of the day that we were supposed to be getting on the boat. While the Celebration waited offshore, we waited on Miami Beach and at our hotel.

There was obviously nothing you could do about the 32-foot Scorpion high performance speed boat slamming into the 146-foot ferry at 3:30 in the morning. I mean, we get it. It’s Miami, and the cocaine doesn’t just move itself around. We understand that you have to have guys hauling ass in blacked-out boats at night all jacked up on Mezcal and Columbian blow. It’s just how it works, and sometimes they don’t see the enormous, well-lit, massive, literally bigger than a house, ferry boat. Whatcha gonna do?

You had no control over Captain Coke’s ability to navigate, or the Coast Guard’s ability to recover his boat and its precious cargo, but what you did have control over was your own ship and the instructions you gave to us, the people waiting to get on.

Now as you know, a long time ago we were all required to log on and choose our embarkation time slot. You use time slots to make sure the embarkation processes is smooth and controlled, and you use words like “embarkation” because boat language is weird. Right before they closed down the port entrance for a whole day, the cocaine mules probably yelled, “Oh, no, we are about to strike the starboard aft hull of that enormous, well-lit, house-sized transport vessel, with the forward quarter of our pleasure craft. The purser will keelhaul us for losing the cargo we stowed in the forward bulkheads!”

Anyway, you wisely gave us timeslots in which to board. Those timeslots obviously came and went with no ship to board, but once you were able to get into port late in the day, you needed to let us know how to proceed.

I’ll pause here. Since this is an open letter, I’ll let the readers that aren’t affiliated with Carnival give answers as to how this could be handled, knowing that all passengers have already been divided up into boarding groups.

But wait, I don’t want you, the reader, to come up with the answer. I want you to go outside and find a four-year-old and ask them for the answer.

We’ll wait.

OK, you’re back. What did the four-year-old come up with? Yes, that’s correct. A simple chart emailed to us that said, “If your original boarding time was X, your new boarding time is now Y.”

Now Carnival, I really want you to let that sink in (boat humor). Every four-year-old polled came up with the same simple, logical answer. The simple, logical solution that escaped you.

What did you do?

You said, “The ship is here. Be at the port between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm to embark. Everyone must be on the ship by 11:00 pm.”

Keep in mind, the original boarding time slots were spread out over six hours. Also keep in mind the Celebration holds 6500 passengers. You read that correctly, in case you forgot. Six thousand, five hundred people.

Folks, don’t bother trying to find your four-year-old to get their opinion on this boarding plan. They will just tell you it’s the dumbest, most irresponsible, and possibly criminally actionable in a court of law plan that anyone could have come up with.

Carnival Cruise Lines, by definition, you know “cruise people.” (Readers, if you have been on a cruise, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve been on a cruise and don’t know what I mean by “cruise people,” then you are one. If you haven’t been on a cruise, think: Loud amusement park family of twelve, wearing all the amusement park clothing and souvenirs, dripping amusement park food and drinks all over themselves and passersby, and no one can find Bobby anywhere.)

Carnival, you have met millions of cruise people over the years. They are literally the only people you deal with. And that being the case, you actually made it sound like the ship would leave without them at 11:00 pm.

There is no possible scenario that exists in the cruise people universe where that doesn’t become a train wreck. There was no better way to make sure 6500 people all showed up at the same time than what you did. But you weren’t satisfied with handling it only that poorly. You had more bad decisions to make and you nailed every one of them.

You abandoned the time slot system, so it must have also made sense to you to abandon any form of crowd control in front of the cruise terminal building. In the stifling Miami heat and humidity, among the literally thousands of people bunched up in a wad in front of the building, I watched multiple fire trucks and emergency vehicles arrive to cart out older cruise people from the center of the mob who had been overcome by the collective heat.

I watched pizzas being delivered through the crowd to cruise people who had been at the terminal building all day, instead of waiting somewhere else in Miami, foolishly assuming they would be the first to board.

Lack of line ropes to form any type of entrance pathway or order? Check.

Lack of police or security guards or even uniformed Carnival personnel to provide direction and crowd control of any kind for 6500 people? Check.

Lack of signs or loudspeaker announcements to even tell people what to do, where to go, or even what was going on? Check.

Expecting 6500 people with their luggage to magically and orderly file one by one through the SINGLE DOORWAY into the cruise terminal. Check.

I’m not making that up.

Carnival Cruise Lines, you are a mystery to me. The sheer logistics of running even one of your ships must be mind boggling, yet you do it all the time. But with this one tiny hiccup that could have so easily been managed in a minute on the back of a cocktail napkin, you chose the worst and most dangerous option available.

It was, quite simply, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, and that’s really saying something, because I’m raising teenage boys.

Your Captain should be keelhauled.

Do better,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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