Wednesday, August 30, 2023

An Eighteenth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

You guys over there continue to crack me up. You sent me a survey the other day, asking about my most recent Lifetouch experience, and you referred to me as “a valued customer.”

Really? Have you not read any of the letters I’ve sent you over the years? If I’m considered a valued customer, your business is circling the drain a lot faster than I thought it was.

Your survey email read as follows:

As a valued customer, we would love to get your feedback about your most recent school photography experience with Lifetouch.

If you already completed a survey, we thank you! If you have not, and have a moment, please take this brief survey and register for a chance to win a $100 gift card.

Thank you for providing your feedback.


My immediate reaction, besides, of course, uncontrollable laughter, was “Wow, a $100 gift card? Why don’t you just offer a free 5x7 image with my next order. That’s an equivalent prize based on your pricing, and seems like it would be less paperwork on your end.”

My most recent school photography experience with Lifetouch consisted of the following: I was driving Son Number Three to his sophomore check-in day a few weeks ago, and halfway to the high school I remembered that you would have employees taking pictures that day. (I still cannot, in good conscience, refer to them as “photographers.”)

I said, “Oh, yeah, by the way, school pictures are today, too.”

He was in a semi-presentable T-shirt, but his hair was a little on the “I don’t really care about my hair today” side.

He said, “Great. Thanks for the heads up.”

Then both of us continued to not care that school pictures were happening that day. I only assume you took his picture. That’s how my most recent school photography experience with Lifetouch went.

I may not care about picture day anymore because of you, but since I do care so much about helping you improve your business model, I figured I would click on the survey link and help you out. At a minimum, I was going to hunt around for the button labeled “See any one of my previous seventeen letters.”

I couldn’t find that button. I couldn’t even find the survey. You see, Lifetouch, this is why you are so loveable, and at the same time, such an absolute bane of so many parents’ existence.

I mean, we’ve all been aware for many years now that you refuse to hire actual photographers for your photography business. But apparently, you use that same unorthodox rebellious model in every aspect of your organization, including your web team.

I clicked on the link, told you that my child was in 10th grade, hit the “next” button, and was greeted with this:  

This page can’t be found

No webpage was found for the web address: HTTP ERROR 404


You’re a school picture company that can’t figure out how to take school pictures, so I don’t know why I expected you to be able to take survey answers either.

Stay adorable!

Yours always,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Difference in College

We moved Son Number One into the dorms at the University of Nevada, Reno this past weekend, and I have to tell you, college is much different than I remember. Here’s my top ten.

1.  They have Starbucks, Panda Express, Panera, and other national chains on campus. In the student union! Do you know what we had at our student union? A vending machine, and it didn’t even have sandwiches.

2.  They can use their meal plan to get food at Panda Express, Panera, etc. Do you know where I could use my meal plan? The cafeteria, and the “fancy place” next to the dorms, that looking back on it, served the exact same food as the cafeteria.

3.  The dorms are co-ed. Ours were too, but the building was divided in half, with doors and a lounge between the men’s side and the woman’s side. My son has female neighbors one door down. Dad me is a little concerned about that. College me is a little jealous about that.

4.  The on-campus parking in my day was one low price and every spot, no matter where it was, was first come, first served. His parking passes are color-coded with tiered pricing. The lowest cost one, which he has, allows him to only park his car at the far corners of campus, which appear to be in a different time zone than his dorm. We could have purchased a pass that would allow him to park in the nice parking garage twenty feet from his dorm, but then he wouldn’t be able to have a meal plan. Or tuition.

5.  They gave him an iPad. They gave every single student an iPad! Do you know what they did not give us? Our books. We had to buy those, and they were incredibly overpriced. And heavy. As far as computers went, we had floppy disks that were actually floppy, and we had to buy them ourselves. The only computers were at the library, and they were NOT portable.

6.  They had a welcome event at the football stadium and it had food trucks. Food trucks! On campus! Do you know when we had food trucks on campus? Never, because they hadn’t been invented yet.

7.  The dorm move-in was well scheduled and organized with day and time slots by floor and room number. Our dorms didn’t have a move-in schedule. They just told us to be there before classes started. I’m not even sure they told us where the dorms were. I think we just had to figure it out.

8.  They are actually teaching them things during orientation week, like good money management principles and study habits. Our “week of welcome” consisted of playing tag and capture the flag.

9.  Did I mention the delicious chain restaurants included in the meal plan and the co-ed dorms?

10.  The biggest difference between college then and college now, however, is that I’m paying for it this time! Yowza.

Have a great time, kid. I know I did.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 16, 2023


It has recently come to my attention that the DMV does not, under any circumstances, want you to call them. I mean sure, when you go into a DMV branch, they don’t want to talk to you either, but they really don’t want you to call.

Recently, a friend of mine bought a new car. He quickly found an eager buyer for his old car and set up the meeting for the sale. The only issue was that he didn’t have the title document (or “pink slip” if you’re a Beach Boys fan). It had been electronically sent to the DMV, but he didn’t have it in his hand.

Fortunately, in California, anyway, you don’t have to have it in your hand to sell your car. We were 95% sure that he just needed the transfer of title form and a bill of sale form. I was helping him gather up the paperwork, and the 5% doubt is what had me calling the DMV.

I was immediately connected to the DMV’s “automated assistant” (read: scary AI robot that is no doubt communicating with Skynet). His name was Miles. (I see what you did there, DMV. Cute.)

Miles: What can I assist you with today?

Me: I want to speak to a live person.

Miles: OK, due to high call volumes, the DMV offers a call back service. What is it you would like to speak to an agent about?

Me: [speaking very clear English] Forms needed to sell a car without the title.

Miles: OK, you want to know how long a DUI stays on your record. DUI's come with two different points. A one-point DUI stays on your record for...

(I am not making this up.)

Miles: We will call you back at 3:20pm.

(It was 12:20pm)

Miles: If you would like us to call you back on this number, press 1. To use a different number, press 2.

Me, thinking: Umm, I don't want you to call me about DUI's. I also don't want questions about DUI’s associated with my phone number. God only knows what Skynet will do with that info...

Me: [presses 2]

Miles: Please enter the number you would like us to call.

Me: [presses 0000000000]

Miles: Hmm… That doesn't seem to be a valid phone number. Please enter the number again.

Me: Click.

Me, thinking and redialing: OK, let’s start over and pray that they don’t store the canceled calls…

Miles: What can I assist you with today?

Me: [speaking even more very clear English] How do I sell a car with no physical title document?

Miles: Bien. Le gustaría saber qué formularios se necesitan para vender su automóvil. ¿Se lo venderá a una fiesta privada oa un negocio?


Again, I am not making this up. Not only did Miles start speaking Spanish, but he was doing it in the most non-Spanish-speaking American accent imaginable. As if the AI was set to "Ted Lasso using Google translate."


It was at that moment that I started looking around for the hidden cameras and Ashton Kutcher hiding behind the ficus. Am I being punked?


OK, hang up and start over…

Miles: Due to high call volumes, we cannot take your call today. Please call back tomorrow morning.

(It was 12:30pm)

Wow, OK. I guess I’ll try the DMV website for the live chat that Miles was advertising. I got back on my computer and clicked on the yellow “Ask DMV” button at the bottom of the screen and was connected to an actual human in less than four minutes... OK, so the DMV is abandoning the phone lines. Cool. Good to know.

Me: Types in question…

DMV Chat Employee, presumably in India: You need Form 277 and Form 262.

Me: OK, we have Form 277. What is Form 262?

DMVCEPII: Form 262 is the Bill of Sale.

Me: OK, we already have Form 135 which says Bill of Sale. Is that a substitute for Form 262?

DMVCEPII: Let me check... Does your Form 135 have an odometer section?

Me: No.

DMVCEPII: OK, then you will need Form 262. It has the odometer statement section that you will sign. Form 277 is available for download, but Form 262 has to be picked up in person.

Me: I have to go to an actual DMV branch to get Form 262?


Me: It’s not available anywhere in your online forms on the website?


I didn't even bother asking why.

So, our takeaways from this are as follows:

1) The DMV has two phone operators and they are on break together.

2) Miles is an AIdiot.

3) The DMV is sneaking up on almost achieving a reasonable level of customer service with their online “Ask DMV” chat function.

4) However, the DMV will never not be the DMV.


See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Stop the Water Shaming

I want to bring up an important and sensitive topic that affects millions of us. Or maybe thousands of us. Actually, possibly only hundreds of us? Tens of us?

Anyway, it’s an important and sensitive topic for me.

I am, of course, talking about LaCroix shaming. Has it happened to you? If so, please know you’re not alone. I’m here standing right beside you. With a cold, refreshing, naturally essenced passionfruit sparkling water in my hand. Cheers, my friend.

I’m not going to lie to you. I drink a lot of sparkling water. It’s basically the only beverage I drink besides coffee. I drink so much of it that the giant cruise ship we were recently on – The Carnival Celebration that holds 6500 passengers – was not prepared for me. I bought the “unlimited bubbles package” that included canned Bubly sparkling water, and they couldn’t keep up with me.

When I went to customer service to talk about how the bubbles package didn’t really perform as advertised with regard to the term “unlimited,” the customer service girl pulled up my account and actually exclaimed, “Oh, wow! You ordered so many of them!”

This is what I’m talking about. This rampant sparkling water shaming that our society just looks the other way on so often. I mean sure, there are definitely different ideas about acceptable behavior at sea, but the shaming happens on dry land just as often. Most notably at my grocery store.

Most checkers will make some sort of comment when they see the number of twelve-packs of LaCroix I buy on a weekly basis. One nice young lady actually asked, “Do you own a restaurant or something?” Now, in all fairness, she might have been thrown off by how much food I was buying, since we have three teenage boys. I mean, we do go through two to three chickens a day around here. But when I laughed and said no, she explained that she asked because of how much LaCroix I was buying.

The checkers also can’t seem to agree on the proper way to ring up the twelve-packs. For the sake of this example, let’s use a low, easy number and say I have a quantity of eight twelve-packs on the bottom of my cart.

In the past I have put them all on the belt, only to have half the checkers tell me not to do that because they don’t want to have to lift them all. But the first time I just put one of each flavor on the belt and told the checker how many of each I had under my cart, she looked at me sternly and said, “Well, I need to see them all!”

I thought the store had finally solved the inconsistent checker issue by installing hand-held scanners at each register recently. I was hopeful when the first checker told me it was there for me to use to help scan heavy items so they didn’t need to come out of the cart. Great, I thought.

The next time I used one of the new scanners, it went like this:

Me: OK, I’m going to grab the scanner and get my LaCroixs.

Checker: OK, great.

Me: [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…]

Checker: Whoa! Stop, stop! You scanned it too many times!

Me: No I didn’t. And I’m not done yet.

Checker: You have to be. There’s no way you have that many under there.

Me: Um, yes I do…

Today when I used the scanner, it went like this:

Me: OK, I’m going to grab the scanner and get my LaCroixs.

Checker: OK.

Me: [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep]

Checker: Wow. Do you think you got enough?


It’s time to stop the sparkling water shaming, people! We have feelings, too, you know. We need love and understanding, not labels.

“Addict” is such an ugly word. I prefer “enthusiast.”

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Power Mega Super Smidge Lotto Ball Bucks - Repost

I originally posted this column in January of 2021, back when we were having another super-convergence of lottery windfalls. Well, the Mega Millions is at an estimated $1.25 billion this Friday, so here I am again with a likely-useless ticket in my hand. We can do better! It’s time for us to finally get going on my better lottery plan for America. Refamiliarize yourself with it below:

I like keeping my money, so I don’t normally spend much of it at all on the lottery. My mother-in-law and I split a California Super Lotto Plus ticket for two dollars each week, just simply because winning $15 million would be neat, and if you don’t buy a ticket, you won’t have a 1 in 438,000,000 chance of winning. I also stand outside in thunderstorms trying to get hit by lightning, just to increase my chances.

Recently, however, I have been laying down four whole additional dollars at a time each week, buying tickets for both the Powerball and the Mega Millions games. That’s because the Powerball jackpot is estimated to be $730 million and the Mega Millions jackpot is up to $970 million.

That’s almost a billion just on the Mega Millions, which is also probably your odds of winning it. Still, mathematicians will tell you your odds drop infinitely if you don’t buy a ticket. (Mathematicians are theoretical number geeks, however, and this is real life, so in this case when they say “drop infinitely” they mean “stay exactly the same.”)

But here’s the really amazing thing about when these jackpots get so high – the next jackpot grows at a massive rate because so many new people like me start playing. For instance, the Mega Millions jackpot that myself and every other living soul in forty-seven states failed to win in yesterday’s draw was $865 million. The projected jackpot for the Friday draw – just three days later – is $970 million. People are going to spend $105 million in three days on tickets, just for this one lottery game.

No one won the Powerball jackpot on Saturday either, and we all spent $90 million on new tickets for tonight’s draw.

Just between those two games, we, as a nation (minus the three loser states that refuse to participate like a bunch of money-saving nerds), have raised $200 million in ticket sales.

I have a proposition for you. Let’s increase our odds dramatically.

Why let the state governments rake in all that money just to tell us that nobody won again?

“But, Smidge, the money goes to benefit the schools,” you might say.

Yeah, right. Let’s not kid ourselves, here. You just know that money, like every other dollar going to the government, gets funneled through someone’s brother-in-law’s law firm first for the “environmental impact study and resources report” on school spending allocation and inclusiveness, only to come out the other end in the form of a huge yacht for their mistress.

Let’s not let that happen again. She already has a fleet of yachts. And his other mistresses do too. They could start their own navy, for Pete’s sake. Let’s keep that money with us, shall we?

Here’s my plan: When no one wins those two games again, roughly one million of us are going to go out and spend two dollars on new tickets. Instead of doing that, I propose that you one million nice folks send me your two dollars. I will put those one million names in a, presumably, very large hat, and draw the name of the winner.

No complicated numbers to pick in a heavily-weighted scheme that is essentially impossible to win. We’ll have a guaranteed winner of $200 million. And your odds of winning skyrocket. (They skyrocket from non-existent to virtually none, but still, they skyrocket.) And we will all go to bed the night before the drawing knowing for sure that one of us is going to win a butt-ton of money.

And if you’d like to fool yourself into thinking that you are “doubling” your chances of winning by buying two tickets, feel free to send me four dollars. Just be aware that the mathematicians are laughing at you. (More than they were before.)

So, what do you say, intrepid gamblers of the forty-seven cool states? Let’s do this! Venmo me your two dollars and we’ll get this thing going.

One of us is about to be filthy, stinking rich!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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