Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Light at the End of the Carpool, Part Three – The Finale

It was at the beginning of this school year, on September 20, 2023, that I posted a column entitled “Celebration Injury.” I had celebrated too early, and my feelings were hurt. Along with my gas budget and my will to live.

Seventeen months prior to that, I thought I was a free man. In a column in April of 2022, I was giddy with anticipation. Son Number Two was getting his license the next week and I was beside myself with joy because I was about to be liberated forever from the shackles and chains of carpool.

Damn the insane insurance costs, it was going to be worth it. I had been driving kids to and from school in one carpool or another for roughly two hundred years, and it had lost its luster fairly early on.

How much would it cost to add a second teenage boy to our insurance policy? I didn’t care, because money didn’t matter when balanced against carpool. I’ve never been freed from a long imprisonment in a POW camp, but I would imagine it’s a very similar feeling to being freed from carpool.

Well, it turned out that I had done the school day arithmetic, but not the school schedule calculus. I thought, foolishly, that since Number Two the senior and Number Three the sophomore would be at the same school playing the same sport, my carpool days were behind me.

I did not account for the fact that seniors take virtually no classes, and Number Two would be leaving school literally two and a half hours before his younger brother. By the time I needed him to drive his brother home, he’d already been home, eaten two meals, watched a movie, and was at the gym.

That left me and the other neighborhood parents still caged in the carpool POW camp, needing to pick up the sophomores. Damn you, schedule calculus! The one thin silver lining in my carpool cloud of despair was that we only had to pick them up from school. Son Number Two still takes them in the morning. But anyone who has ever done carpool knows that is small consolation. Pickup is waaaay worse than drop off.

So, I had to wait another seven months before I would be freed and get to celebrate for real. Well, my friends, today is the day! This afternoon is my last scheduled carpool pickup ever. Son Number Three goes for his behind-the-wheel test on Friday morning.

Now, granted, he still has to pass the test to get his license, but I’m confident. He’s the most cautious driver of the three so far, and he’s good. He should be just fine.

If you still think I might be counting my chickens before they hatch, think again. Nothing can derail this celebration now. You can Marc my words, if he doesn’t pass his driver’s test, he’ll be walking home from school for the rest of the year, starting this Friday afternoon.

Again, it's hard for me to express the joy I feel when I think of never driving carpool again, but to try to put it into monetary terms, it will be totally worth the cost of whatever bill is coming my way on Friday morning when I add a third teenage boy to our insurance plan.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Windshield Factor

My wife thinks I run my windshield wipers too slow when it rains. She always asks, in her adorable, exasperated-with-me tone, “How can you see anything!?” When I explain that I’m not looking at the windshield, I’m looking through it at the road, she just throws up her hands and makes her adorable, exasperated noises. As you might imagine from this, cracks in the windshield bother her way more than they bother me.

We take our Suburban up I-80 into the Sierras a lot during the winter months, because even though Son Number Three breaks the occasional collarbone, I remain inexplicably healthy and uninjured, and therefore able to snowboard with my boys.

**sound of me knocking on any and all wood I can find**

If you have ever been on I-80 in the Sierras during the winter months, you know that with the big trucks and their tire chains, combined with the constant new road damage due to the snow and ice, it’s basically like driving through a shooting range. We also take long road trips in the summer months, so our windshield seems to always have a few chips and at least one crack of some length.

This year’s crack came on fast and spread like wildfire. It started at the very bottom of the windshield right in front of the steering wheel, and before I even had a chance to try to stop it, it had spread all the way to the top of the glass. It was a jagged vertical line directly in front of the driver’s face.

As you can imagine, my wife didn’t love it. But it happened in the fall, even before snowboarding season had begun!

“Honey, it makes no sense to fix it now, right before we’re going to drive into the hailstorm of rocks and busted chain links.”

“[exasperated noises]”

Buying new windshields is one of my least favorite things to do. I rank it just above the stomach flu. That’s because I know, the minute that beautiful new curved sheet of glass gets glued in place, I’m going to have to take the car back outside again and drive it around. Getting it replaced in the winter here is as futile as brushing your teeth while eating Oreos, only far more expensive.

Well, we had one last hurrah up the hill a couple weekends ago when we had a cold spring storm blow through, and now the forecast calls for nothing but sunshine and slush. Son Number Three takes his behind-the-wheel driver’s license test at the end of next week, so I figured it was time. He’ll take the test in our Honda Accord, but just in case something happens, I want to have a backup vehicle ready.

I have a feeling the DMV testing employee might have a problem with the full-windshield crack right in front of the sixteen-year-old driver’s face. It’s very likely illegal, but more importantly, the DMV employee’s exasperated noises would probably result in my son not getting to test, which means I would have to be on carpool duty longer, which is unacceptable.

So, on Monday I said goodbye to my $500 insurance deductible and hello to my brand new, crack and ding-free windshield. That was all well and good, for a few hours anyway.

The glue was probably still drying on Monday evening when Son Number Two – who is turning eighteen on Friday – informed me that he would like to skip school that day to take his buddies up the hill to go snowboarding for his birthday, one last time before the season ends.


He’s going to look pretty silly driving our Suburban up I-80 in reverse.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Felony Hobbying

I heard something a while back that I always liked – The problem with raising strong-willed, free-thinking adults is that you have to live with strong-willed, free-thinking children.

We have our share of that going on at our house, but really what we’ve mainly been dealing with is interests. So, ours goes more like, the problem with raising Son Number Two into a very interesting and widely-studied adult is that you have to live through all the projects. It’s not as catchy as the original, but it fits our situation perfectly.

Our first inclination that we might be dealing with a renaissance child was the crocheting in the second grade. He was good! There has been construction. There has been photography. There has been 3D printing. There have been internet sales and marketing companies. He’s owned multiple web domains. There has been electrical. There has been woodworking, wood burning (both art and arson), drones, painting, sculpting, drawing, photoshop, pebble art, cake making, and machinery design.

So, when he came to me last year and said he wanted to build a forge in our backyard, it was not a big surprise.

“Why do you want a forge?”

“So I can make knives.”


His first plan had a large homemade cinderblock forge inside an all-wooden Tuff Shed-type structure. He was going to put it where the old play structure currently sits, and he was either going to sell the play structure that he doesn’t own for the money to buy the shed, or make the shed out of the play structure. Details were loose, varied, and stupid.

I decided that catching a shed and two different neighbors’ fences on fire wasn’t one of my bucket list items, so I said no. Now, as every one of you who has raised or is currently raising a strong-willed, free-thinking child knows, that was not the end of the conversation.

I believe I heard the word “forge” about six million more times in the following four days. Just before my brain exploded, we settled on a small, propane, commercially-made, portable forge box that could go in our garage. Who needs to use a garage for cars, am I right?

And thus began the knife making. Like everything else he does, he dove headfirst into it and got pretty good, pretty quickly. He mixed in some artistic photography for his Instagram knife page, got a laser engraver for the handles, and pretty soon his friends took notice.

At this point, for legal reasons, I must tell you that everything I’m about to tell you is completely fictional, made up by me for entertainment purposes only. OK? OK.

One night at dinner, about a month after the forging began, Son Number Two says, “Oh, hey. I sold one of my knives today!”

My response was, “Hey, cool. To who?”

His mother, who is much smarter than me, asked, “Where?”

“To [name withheld for reasons that will become obvious]”

“Where did you sell it?” asked his very smart mother, again.

“My car. I had it in the trunk.”

“Where was the car?”

“In the parking lot.”

“The parking lot of school??”


When the steam stopped coming from my wife’s ears, she started to explain why that was not such a great idea, with words like “weapons” and “campus” and “expulsion” and “no college” and “dumbass” and a lot of other words.

I guess Number Two has some sort of death wish, because he actually interrupted her at one point to try the ludicrously false argument that the parking lot was not technically “on campus.”

It was at that point that I had to physically restrain my wife long enough for him to run.   

He made it out of the situation alive and un-expelled. Fast forward to a week or so ago when he got home from his spring break Europe trip, chaperoned by his favorite teacher and a few other school staff members. The group had taken a day trip to Geneva, so Son Number Two, of course, bought a few genuine Victorinox Swiss Army knives from the source.

He brought home a couple little ones for his brothers and a larger one for himself. I noticed as they were getting ready to go to school that he also had an extra.

“Oh, that’s [unnamed state employee’s] knife. I brought it home for them in my checked bag.”

“Well, that was nice of you. When are you giving it to them?”

“This morning.”

“At school?”


“Well, I guess it’s a good thing your mom left for the day already. Try not to get arrested.”

(Again, I must reiterate, this is all fictional. Totally made up by me.)

I guess if one of your hobbies takes you down the path of High School Arms Dealer, it’s good to be in league with at least one or two insiders high up in the organization…

We really can’t wait to see what this kid does after graduation, and we have money set aside for the next chapter of his life to help him on his way.

Whether it’s used for tuition or bail still remains to be seen.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Do Your Job Like Nora

This is a message for all you kids out there. And also all you adults who act like kids. And really, also you adults who act like adults. This is a message for everyone, I guess.

This is a story about having pride in your work. This is a story about “Nora.”

Nora is in quotes there because I’m old and I didn’t write it down, so I’m only about sixty-five percent sure her name was actually Nora, but I’m rolling with it because calling her Hostess X makes this sound like a story about sci-fi or street drugs, which it is not.

You see, all three of our boys were out of the country over spring break last week, and my wife’s school district was holding spring break at the exact same time, so we were forced by parental law and basic common sense to escape by ourselves on vacation. We went to Tennessee and visited Memphis and Nashville. I would highly recommend both.

We have two good friends who have spent time in Memphis, so we got restaurant recommendations galore for the birthplace of rock and roll. We ate at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. We ate at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. We ate at Central BBQ. We ate at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. We had to unbutton the top of our pants a couple times. Totally worth it.

All of those places were amazing in their own right, but one place shined above all others – because of Nora.

Nora is the hostess at a little place called Itta Bena. It sits above B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street, and if you didn’t know it was there, you would never know, because it doesn’t have any signs. Literally none. We had to ask the bouncer at the door of B.B. King’s how to get there, and he told us to go around the corner to Second Street and go up the stairs with the blue awning.

The stairs looked shady at best, and when we got to the top, we were greeted by a blank door that looked equally shady. Thankfully, everything on the other side of the door was amazing.

Backing up to earlier that day, we were at the National Civil Rights Museum, in between chicken breakfast and rib lunch, when I got a phone call. I answered and a young lady asked, “Is this Mr. Schmatjen?” Now, you have to understand, with a last name like Schmatjen, we have a built-in BS detector when it comes to telemarketing. You automatically know if the person on the other end of the phone knows you or not.

If they try to pronounce it like any normal human would, I say, “What is this regarding?” If they pronounce it how my insane ancestors decided they would, I say, “Yes, it is.”

“Yes it is,” I said.

“Hello, this is Nora calling from Itta Bena. Just confirming your reservation with us tonight.”

“Umm… yes. Uh… we will be there. Thank you.”

I hung up the phone with a puzzled look on my face. I didn’t know Nora, and she didn’t know me, but she pronounced my last name flawlessly. My wife, who had been scowling at me for answering my phone in the National Civil Rights Museum, saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong.

“That was Itta Bena calling about our reservation, and she knew how to pronounce our name.”

“Didn’t you make the reservation online?”

“Yes I did.”

“Wow,” my wife agreed. “That is weird.”

When we navigated the speakeasy-type entrance later that evening and made it to the hostess desk, I had almost forgotten about it. But when I said, “Marc for two,” to the young lady that turned out to be Nora, she said, “Ah, yes. Mr. Schmatjen.”

“All right, time out. How do you know how to pronounce our name?”

Nora almost seemed to get a little embarrassed as she explained, “Well, before I make calls in the morning, I do a little internet research to see if I can figure out the hard names, because… well, it matters to me.”

My wife and I both complimented her on that, and then she showed us to our table. We then proceeded to have a phenomenal dinner in the little upstairs hidden restaurant. Itta Bena comes with my highest recommendation, even if your last name is Smith. The food was insanely good.

A few days later, after thinking about how strangely above and beyond Nora did her job, I called Itta Bena and spoke to her manager. I told him how impressed I was that she would take the time to do something that, most certainly, the world would never expect a restaurant hostess to do.

The norm would be for someone on the other end of the phone to ask for me by my first name and then apologize for not knowing how to pronounce the last name. I would then joke with them about how it’s a sight word, or that we should have bought a few more vowels from Pat and Vanna, and then we’d go on about our business.

No one, including myself, would ever expect you to know how to pronounce it when you see it. But Nora made the effort. It is a seemingly small thing, but when you live your life with a last name like Schmatjen, it turns out it’s a big deal.

It was a big deal to her manager, too, because he didn’t know she did that, and he was thrilled to hear about one of his employees shining at their job.

So, my challenge for you folks out there is to attack your job like Nora does. Don’t just show up and do your job. Show up early, stay late, and do your job exceptionally well.

And I said it before, but I’ll say it again – great job, Nora!

By the way, I never did catch your full name... Probably something like Nora Wegrzynkiewicz.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


Your new favorite book is from SmidgeBooks

Your new favorite humor columnist is on Facebook Just a Smidge