Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Apply Now for Your Mandatory Heart Attack

I recently filled out the FAFSA form online for Son Number Two. If you are unfamiliar, the FAFSA is a form that high school seniors used to fill out if they were interested in going to college and looking for financial aid. “FAFSA” stands for “you won’t ever see any oF this money if one of your parents has A job, even iF that job iS burger flipper at mcdonAld’s.” (Usually the federal government is a little better with acronyms, but apparently not in this case.)

I said high school seniors used to fill it out because now they have to fill it out. Last year it became mandatory for all California high school seniors, regardless of their after-high school plans, to fill out the FAFSA. The reasoning was said to be that not enough kids and their families understood how much free federal grant money was available for college, so they should all fill out the FAFSA so that the government could tell each of them in person that they didn’t qualify for any of it.

I happen to believe they have another, far more sinister motive behind the move to make it mandatory. I’m convinced they are trying to thin the population in the Golden State by killing us parents off. I know this because they nearly got me this year.

I know damned well that we won’t qualify for any grants, and I am not interested in any of those student loans unless we’re back to not having to pay them off, then I’m very interested! I lost track of the student loan ping-pong match the government was having, so I just stopped paying attention. Therefore, I had no reason to fill out the FAFSA for Son Number Two, but we had to anyway.

I begrudgingly logged into the FAFSA website and went through the motions. The main way the FAFSA people decide that you won’t get any free money is with your federal tax return. Instead of having to manually enter all the information, there is a button that says, “Get my information directly from the IRS.” When you hit that button, it takes you through a few steps to verify that you are who you say you are, but when you’re done, it just pulls all the information into the form. It really beats hand-entering everything. Once the tax return data is in, the FAFSA supercomputer goes to work on the complex formula of: IF Form 1040 Line 15 (Taxable Income) is greater than $0.00, THEN Grant Eligibility equals NO.

The formula is woefully flawed, because it does not take into account number of teenage boys at home, total calories consumed by those teenage boys per week, number of teenage drivers in the household and the impact that has on the auto insurance bill, gas prices, food prices in dollars per calorie, the ridiculous cost of high school sports equipment, etc.

Since I already knew what the flawed formula was going to return, once I finished with the form and the FAFSA website told me I was all done, I promptly forgot about the whole thing and went about my life.

There I am, blissfully enjoying my life a week later when I get a letter in the mail from the IRS. As you know, getting an unsolicited letter from the IRS is never a good thing. When you get an email or a text from the “IRS,” it’s just an annoying spammy part of modern life that we all have to deal with. But the IRS actually communicates with you via the snail mail, and when you are holding a letter that was actually sent from the IRS, you know good and well that it’s legitimate.

So, there I am, no longer blissfully enjoying my life, standing on the sidewalk staring at this letter with a whirlwind of possible worst-case scenarios going through my mind. Am I being audited? Did they decide I owe them more money? How much time and money out of my life is this one envelope going to cost me? I don’t have enough of either.

I bit the bullet and the rising bile, trying my best to ignore my medically-concerning heart rhythm and rate, and opened the envelope.

Our records indicate that your tax return information was accessed by the FAFSA system… If this information sharing was authorized by you, no action is required…

OH MY GOD, the FAFSA! I forgot all about that!

Yes, I guess no action is required by me except to find a defibrillator and try to restart my heart.

I’m telling you, this whole mandatory FAFSA thing is a deliberate plot by California to weed out the high school parents with weak hearts. They know the power of the IRS, and they are exploiting it to kill us off. I haven’t figured out why yet… Maybe something to do with the rising cost of health care? I guess that remains to be seen. I’m just glad I lived through it this time.

Be careful out there, folks! If you have a high school senior, best to let them retrieve and open all the mail between October and June. They still have strong hearts.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Ask Smidge - The Turkey Edition - Repost

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and if you’re like most of our Ask Smidge readers, you’re just now trying to figure out what to do. That big, fancy meal isn’t going to cook itself, and you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s a scary situation.

Believe me, we understand. Many of you know nothing about cooking anything other than Pop-Tarts and Cheerios, so naturally you have turned to the only truly trusted source for all things culinary – the Ask Smidge advice column.

Our inbox has been inundated with poultry-related questions. You ask, we answer! (As always in a fact-based, scientific, and completely non-made-up-on-the-spot manner. We’re here to help, after all.)




I know absolutely nothing about cooking a turkey. What temperature do I use and how long should I cook it?

Novice in Norfolk


Dear Novice,

There is nothing to it. First you have to weigh the bird. Do this while it is still alive, so you can just walk it onto your bathroom scale. Once you remove the feathers and the feet, you’ll cook the bird on high-ish for around 90 minutes per pound. Carve and enjoy.





This is my first time doing anything at all with a turkey. We bought a frozen one at the store this week. Do I need to thaw it before cooking?

Frozen in Fort Worth


Dear Frozen,

Thawing is a personal choice. A thawed bird will be slightly juicier, but a frozen turkey will have a crispier skin. If you put it in the oven frozen, simply add five or so minutes per pound to your cook time.





I have never purchased or cooked the turkey before, and I don’t know what size to get. Do they even come in different sizes? We have three teenage boys and my sister has two teenage girls and a grown son. Please help.

Shopping in Santa Barbara


Dear Shopping,

Yes, turkeys do come in various sizes. Economy, Compact, Standard, Midsize Convertible, Full Size SUV, and Luxury Elite Platinum. You probably want to plan for about ten pounds of bird for every high schooler, so I’d look for one at your store in the 70-80 pound range to be safe.





I’ve helped with the turkey before, but I’ve never been in charge of the stuffing, and I’m lost. Where do I start?

Breadless in Bangor


Dear Breadless,

Stuffing could not be simpler, because the turkey does all the work. Stuffing is nothing more than full-size dinner rolls that cooked down inside the bird. As the turkey cooks, the rolls break apart naturally and form into the smaller stuffing pieces that you know and love. Just buy a couple extra packages of dinner rolls and cram as many of them as you can into that bad boy before you pop it in the oven. The turkey does the rest!





I’m in charge of everything this year, and I don’t know anything about how to make gravy. Do you even make it, or do you buy it? Help!

Dry Dinner in Denver


Dear Dry Dinner,

As with stuffing, gravy is a breeze because the bird does all the work. Gravy is not sold in stores, because it is a natural byproduct of the turkey cooking process. All turkeys are fed a rich diet of corn starch, flour, and butter from a young age, so as they cook, the carcass secretes the ready-to-eat gravy. Yum! That’s why you always cook a turkey in one of those big pans. Makes sense, right? Enjoy!





I’m cooking the bird for the first time this year, so I’m thinking about switching it up and deep frying it in oil. What do you think?

Oiled in Omaha


Dear Oiled,

Deep frying a turkey can be a great option, depending on where you live. You’re in Nebraska, where it’s likely to be cold this Thanksgiving, so I’d say go for it. If you were in a warmer climate, I would probably advise against it. That’s because there is a 100% chance that you will set your house on fire when attempting a turkey deep fry. You folks in the frigid Midwest will enjoy the extra warmth, while the raging grease fire would just be an inconvenient distraction for people in Florida and California, really adding no benefit to the day.



Well, there you have it, America. You’re all set to cook the perfect turkey and have an enjoyable day, with or without a life-threatening house fire. Your choice.

Have a tasty Thanksgiving!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Place Your Holiday Orders Carefully

I am obviously being punished by the Ghost of Thanksgiving’s Past. That’s probably a thing, right? I’m envisioning a spectral pilgrim in tattered clothes and chains, but still rocking the super-cool buckle hat.

Anyway, whatever he looks like, he’s a jerk, and I have incurred his wrath.

And dammit, I knew better.

Every year my wife wants to start decorating for Christmas in October, and every year I hold firm that we must give each holiday its fair and proper time. Halloween gets from August to October 31st, then Thanksgiving gets from November 1st until whatever date Thanksgiving is that year, and then promptly on Black Friday, we can tear down all the turkeys and orange and brown fall d├ęcor and go full-throttle jingle bells.

I have held firm for years and years, but this year I gave in. She wore me down. She kept coming at me, day in and day out since before the jack-o’-lanterns even got carved – “I’ve got no time this year. I have to decorate for Christmas early. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving, and I’ll only have seven minutes from when we get home until I have to be back at school. I won’t have any time once I’m back in the classroom, and I can’t trust any of you bozos to do it right.”

True story, there.

I’m not sure if I eventually agreed with her timeline dilemma, if I decided I needed to be more flexible, or if I just didn’t want to hear about it anymore, but I gave in.

And this weekend, I paid the price.

Decorating our house for Christmas starts with me going into the garage and getting approximately sixty-five hundred storage tubs down from the overhead racks. I had Son Number Three with me, and we had about half of them down on the garage floor when I felt the icy hand of the pilgrim ghost grab my lower back muscles and twist.

I wasn’t aware the pilgrims had electricity, but somehow that buckle-hatted SOB shot a 240-volt shock of “oh crap” through my lumbar. What a jerk.

I was one of the biggest defenders of his sacred, eating contest of a holiday, and I had betrayed him. He did not take it lightly. My back is really not great right now.

I mean, I get it. He relied on me, and in his eyes, I let him down. But give me a break, Mayflower man! Take it easy. Try to see my point of view here. I’m starting to think you were one of the pilgrims that was never married…

Meanwhile my wife forged ahead with decorating for Christmas in mid-November, even as I lay on the heating pad begging her to not rile the Thanksgiving ghost any more than we already had. She just scoffed and called me crazy.

And get this – she even tried to blame my back injury on me just getting old and out of shape. Can you believe that nonsense?

She’s right about one thing. I have gotten soft. I let her talk me into early Christmas decorating, and look where that got me.

All I want for Christmas this year is more Advil. Stupid vengeful pilgrim ghost!

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

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Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Plug-In Cat Juice

My wife and I saw an ad on TV the other night and we both had the same reaction – Why the hell are we seeing commercials? I thought we were done with all that!

Then we remembered that we’re too cheap to pay for the no-ads version of some of our streaming apps, so we just sat and endured it. They make it so you can’t fast-forward them, and if you try to skip over the ads, they just play anyway, so you’re kind of stuck. At least you can still mute them.

It’s an interesting place advertisers find themselves in with streaming services, now that anyone can just pay more to never see their ads. They don’t get any of that extra money, so you’d think they would be at a place in the history of their business where they would be going all out. Knocking it out of the park. Creating ads so interesting, exciting, hilarious, or shocking that I would not be able to take my eyes off them, and there would be no thought of hitting the mute button.

Not the case. In fact, they’ve gone the other way. I guess they’re putting all their ad dollars into TikTok now, because the TV ads on streaming services are starting to look like they were shot on someone’s phone with a budget of six dollars and a happy meal.

There’s one ad we get for an appliance store, and I swear it has to be meant as a gag. The “actors” appear as if they were chosen by simply going to a Walmart blindfolded with your arms outstretched, and using the first two people who voluntarily hugged you. The husband in the kitchen appliance-needing couple has so much neck hair protruding from the back of his shirt collar that I originally thought it was a crappy remake of Teen Wolf. Middle-Aged Wolf Den Remodel. Sadly, no.

And occasionally we get ads that are in Spanish. The whole ad. In a foreign language. You guys obviously know the show we’re watching is in English. I don’t even have Spanish subtitles turned on. I don’t get it. Why on Earth would you advertise to me in a way where I can’t understand what you’re saying? That’s just plain dumb. Save your money and put those on Telemundo, amigo.

With all the crap out there, there was one ad recently that caught my attention and made me come off mute. The lady took what appeared to be one of those Glade PlugIns air fresheners things and (appropriately) plugged it in to her wall outlet. Then the imaginary cartoon fresh smell waves wafted over into her cat’s nostrils, and it became clear that this was some contraption meant for her cat, and not to mask the fact that she feeds her cat nasty three-day-old fish.

I unmuted in time to hear that this was an ad for a “feline calming diffuser.” I’m sorry, a what now? Upon further internet investigation, it turns out there are Glade-like plug in things that pump out cat pheromones into your home. I don’t think I have ever wanted anything wafting through my home less than cat pheromones.

The cat calming juice apparently “mimics cat’s natural facial pheromones they mark their territory with, when they feel safe, secure, and in control of their environment, which may help your pet feel calmer in common stressful situations.”


What could a house cat possibly have to be stressed about? They are the laziest animals on planet Earth. They do nothing. Cats are naturally good at one thing – hunting and killing rodents – but house cat owners seem to hate it when they do that. We’ve absolved them of all responsibilities. Suburban cats are like spoiled rich kids. Spoiled rich kids aren’t stressed about anything. Why would your cat be?

The 110-volt pheromone pump is said to reduce scratching of furniture and urine spraying.


Do you know what else reduces furniture destruction and flying urine, and doesn’t involve pumping cat juice into the air in your home? Not having a cat, that’s what.

I’m just sayin’.

Now, what I really need to know is if they have some sort of diffuser to calm a Labrador retriever when the garbage truck comes on Wednesdays? That would be useful. Dogs really object when the huge smelly truck comes to steal their hard-earned garbage.

On second thought, probably not a great idea. To calm down a 70-pound Lab in that situation, the diffuser would basically need to be a fog machine of chloroform.

That seems problematic.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Ask Smidge – Daylight Savings Time

Many of us are about to once again engage in a twice-yearly tradition that can only be described as utterly insane. We are going to “fall back,” and move all our clocks back an hour on Saturday night. Or should I say, most of our clocks. A few states don’t do it at all, and for those of us that do, let’s be serious about that sprinkler timer in the garage. You have never changed that one.

Anyway, the inbox has been overflowing with time change-related questions, and as always, we have answers.




I heard the federal government was passing a law getting rid of the stupid clock changes. When does that happen?

Hopeful in Hartford


Dear Hopeful,

You may have heard that, but you were tragically misinformed. The “Sunshine Protection Act” was introduced in 2022, but has been stalled ever since. Seems no one could agree on whether to keep standard time or go to permanent daylight savings time. You see, government officials are, by nature, complete morons, as evidenced by the name of the bill. They no doubt believe that passing this law will actually affect how much sunlight is in one day. The weight of that responsibility is too much for their tiny brains and they are frozen in fear. It will never happen. You can hold your breath if you want, but while you’re at it, you should also officially abandon all hope.





I can never figure out how to change the clock in my car. What should I do?

Confused in Concord


Dear Confused,

Don’t sweat it. About half of the cars built before 2018 don’t even have the ability to set the clocks. You just get what you get. You can always disconnect your car battery and then reconnect it right at noon or midnight, but that’s a big hassle. Your best bet is to pretend your car is simply in a different time zone than you are. So, for half the year you would just know that even though you’re on eastern time, the interior of your car is on central time, and do the math in your head accordingly. As a bonus, you’ll always have a plausible excuse for why you were two hours late for work. “Sorry boss, converted the wrong direction this morning. My bad.”





How did Daylight Savings Time even happen? I heard Benjamin Franklin invented it. Is that true?

Amazed in Anaheim


Dear Amazed,

No, Benjamin Franklin did not invent Daylight Savings Time. He was actually intelligent. That story has been going around for years because he wrote about it, in jest, in an essay in 1784. He didn’t even suggest changing the clocks. He was writing a letter to the editor in a Paris newspaper, and he was joking that the French could save money on candles if they just got out of bed earlier. He was right. Also, humor wasn’t as funny in the 1700s.

No, we have a New Zealand bug scientist to thank for the idea of changing the clocks – he wanted “more daylight” to search for bugs (I’m not making that up), and like the French, couldn’t figure out the “just get your ass out of bed earlier” life hack. And, of course, we have the Nazis to thank for actually putting the clock changes into practice during World War One. Technically, they weren’t the Nazis yet, but same difference. Classic Nazi move.





How come some states do DST and other don’t?

Curious in Cleveland


Dear Curious,

I wish I knew! By law in the United States, it is up to the states to decide if they want to change their clocks or not. While many states are smart and don’t do it, and I’m usually a fan of extremely limited federal government powers, in this case I do not agree. It should be all or nothing. Here’s why: We already have time zones, which although obviously necessary, are still confusing. Just think about those poor people who live and work near the time zone line. If you lived right on the line, how would you ever know store hours, or what time practice starts. How would you ever plan anything?

“I’ll see you at three o’clock.”

“Which three o’clock?”

What if you lived in one time zone and worked in another? That’s my idea of what hell would be like. So, why have we allowed individual states to further complicate things by not changing their clocks when the rest of us have to? It’s absolute madness.





I use my phone as my alarm, but I always lose sleep on these crazy time change nights. I know my phone will adjust the time change automatically, but I always end up waking up ten times in the night to check my alarm. How does it know to adjust my alarm?

Tired in Tampa


Dear Tired,

Phones have tracking software now that recognize your normal everyday patterns and adjust their settings accordingly. That’s why the maps program always knows exactly where you want to go, and when you get there. It’s spooky, but also handy.




Well, there you have it, folks. All the answers to your vital DST questions. You’re welcome. (Please keep in mind, Ask Smidge always has answers to your burning questions, but we never said they were good ones.)

Don’t forget to “fall back” on Saturday. Unless, of course, you’re in your car or one of the good states.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks


Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge