Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tax the April Fools Day

April Fools! Your taxes are due in two weeks. Sorry, that’s not a joke. Don’t blame me, I voted against them.

Anyway, a few years ago I thought I would try to make us all feel a little better about our tax bills by calling attention to some of the wonderful government agencies that our hard-earned dollars go to fund.

So I went to (motto: “Because we can, that’s why”), and looked up the A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies. After reading for a while, I realized there was no way I was going to make anyone feel better about paying taxes, so instead I bet myself that I could click on every letter of the alphabet and come up with a ridiculous agency that should never have been started in the first place.

I failed to find an insane waste of money under each letter of the alphabet, but that was only because there were no agencies that started with the letters K, Q, X, Y or Z.

I have updated the list for you this year. Here’s the fun places your 2014 tax dollars are headed:

Administration on Aging (motto: Nope, we still can’t do anything about it)

Broadcasting Board of Governors (Check out DJ Cuomo on hip-hop Fridays)

Chief Human Capital Officers Council (motto: We WILL defeat the cyborgs!)

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (motto: What’s the Pentagon?)

English Language Acquisition Office (motto: OMG LOL)

Federal Voting Assistance Program (motto: We gave up on Florida, too)

Government Ethics, Office of (Entire office currently on ten-month team-building retreat in Fiji)

House Office of the Clerk (main functions include running the offices of deceased and retired representatives – I am not making that up)

Inter-American Foundation (motto: We found Kansas!)

Joint Fire Science Program (Chill, this isn’t about weed. We totally swear, man.)

Legal Services Corporation (motto: That might be legal now. There’s been a lot of changes.)

Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (motto: If they would stay in one place, this would be easier)

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (motto: We don’t understand the hyphen either)

Office of Compliance (motto: You are out of compliance. We don’t even have to investigate. We already know.)

Presidio Trust (motto: We don’t know what a presidio is either)

Regulatory Information Service Center (motto: Talk to the Office of Compliance first)

Surface Transportation Board (motto: There might be some overlap with the regular Transportation Board – we’re looking into it)

Taxpayer Advocate Service (motto: Just kidding. You’re screwed)

U.S. Access Board (motto: Access denied)

Voice of America (motto: Now broadcasting exclusively in Spanish for your convenience)

Weights and Measures Division (motto: We’re going to the metric system any day now)

Keep in mind, folks, I limited myself to only one department per letter of the alphabet. This list of agencies whose only concern is to justify their funding for next year could go on for days.

In true federal government style, the “Complete A-Z Listing” of government agencies doesn’t list all of them. If you can stand to be on for a little longer, you can find even more agencies listed under the authority of the executive branch. There’s the list of Independent Agencies and Government Corporations, the list of Boards, Commissions, and Committees, the list of Federal Advisory Committees, and my personal favorite, the list of Quasi-Official Agencies. Super.

But, as you marvel over your tax bill this year, and wonder what righteous deeds will be wrought with your offered treasure, I invite you to forget all the agencies, boards, commissions, committees, and departments, quasi-official or not, and ponder this:

According to Congress, it takes $5.3 billion per year just for them to turn the lights on and run the show. Not all of Washington, D.C., mind you. Just Congress. Not the White House, plus the Supreme Court, plus the Pentagon, plus the army and stuff. Just Congress. Five and a third billion dollars. Billion with a “B.” Five thousand millions.

They work about 175 days per year. That means we’re talking $30 million a day.
Even if we generously assume they work 12 hours per day, that’s $2.5 million an hour.
That’s $42,000 per minute.
That’s $700 per second. For Congress to keep the doors open.

If you have a million dollars, you can run Congress for 24 minutes. If we were super-generous with the math and said that they work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that same million dollars would buy you a whole hour and a half.

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, the U.S. Congress will spend $7000 of your money on nothing more than working hard to dream up even more quasi-official agencies to help spend the rest of it.

April Fools’ Day is not on April 1st. It’s on April 15th!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don't Sit on Our Couch

We bought a couch a few weeks ago, but you aren’t allowed to sit on it, so don’t ask.

When I say, “We bought a couch,” I really mean my wife told me we needed a new couch, which I disagreed with. Then she took me to Macy’s Gold-Plated Furniture Palace, which I protested. Then she told me which couch we were buying, which I balked at. Then she told me to pay the guy at the register, which I did, because I don’t want to sleep on the old couch, and $58,000 seemed like a very reasonable price.

When we arrived at Macy’s Fine and Extravagant Furnishings, Ann, our well-dressed furniture sales professional, gave us her card. She’s in the Macy’s Million Dollar Club. I’m guessing if she was a millionaire she wouldn’t be selling furniture on Saturdays, so I have to assume that means she has sold over a million dollars’ worth of furniture. At these prices, that was probably accomplished on a three-day weekend.

Ann was really big on selling us a protection plan to go with our new couch. They had structure protection plans, accident protection plans, and of course, the all-encompassing premium protection plan. I inquired about the accident protection plans, but it turns out they only cover the couch, not the kids jumping off the couch. They were, however, perfectly willing to insure my couch against all manner of stains* and breakage** for a full seven years.

* Excludes general soiling, perspiration, body oils, accumulated stains, or any stain caused by a human, animal, mineral, vegetable, sports drink, child, blood, blood relative, houseguest, or in-law.

** Excludes breakage.

The cost for this wonderful, all-encompassing insurance? A mere quarter of the price of the couch itself.

The glossy insurance brochure was very compelling. The picture on the front suggested that if I purchased the premium protection plan, I would be able to wear a tuxedo and relax at a jaunty angle on my new couch, while sipping a martini with a devil-may-care grin and perfect hair, staring into the eyes of my smokin’ hot wife/girlfriend/date/neighbor/nanny/au pair, who would perch herself shoeless, in her designer dress and diamond necklaces, on my luxurious new piece of furniture, right next to a sterling silver tray holding a shaker full of more martinis and a decorative glass bowl full of garnish olives.

I resisted that clever piece of marketing. My wife is smokin’ hot, but the only time we are on our couch is when we’re in our pajamas, I only drink beer, I don’t relax at jaunty angles, I don’t have any hair, and we don’t have a sterling silver tray, diamond necklaces, designer dresses, a tuxedo, an au pair, or large martini olives.

Be that all as it may, my wife actually wanted to buy the protection plan. That was where I put my foot down.

Seven-year couch insurance is worthless to me. I can personally attest to the fact that my wife will want to buy a new couch within a maximum of four to five years, and she will start to disparage the current couch as being “old” within three years. Why would I want to insure it four years longer than she’s going to care about it? Right around the time I’m just getting comfortable with a piece of furniture, she’s already wanted to throw it out for two years. Long-term furniture insurance just makes no financial sense for us.

“But if you don’t use the protection plan in the seven-year coverage period, the money you paid for it will become a credit at our store.”

What the hell kind of sense does that make? I’m hoping that I don’t need to use it, so you’re asking me to hope that I just parked a bunch of money with you interest-free for seven years that I only get to use to buy a replacement couch? And I don’t want to give my wife a reason to come back here! This place is expensive! Also, in order to think that was a good deal, I’d have to believe that you’ll be around in seven years. Every time I drive by this building it has a new name on it. In fact, I’m pretty sure we purchased our last couch here three years ago when this was Bob’s Furniture Barn.

Well, the couch arrived a few days ago, and it looks great in our family room. We might have to rename that room, however, since the family is no longer allowed in there.

The kids have yet to sit on it, and have been threatened with their very lives if they ever so much as look in the general direction of the new couch while holding food or drink. I am not allowed to drop onto it from a height greater than eight inches above the cushions, for fear of unwarranted structural damage, seam splittage, or cushion warpage.

My wife is usually as logical as a woman with new furniture can be, yet in this case, the existence and availability of a seven-year warranty has completely warped her mind. The fact that we didn’t buy it now means that immediate harm will come to our poor, unprotected new piece of furniture.

I have reminded her several times that we have owned approximately fifteen other couches over the last twelve years, and not one of them was ever structurally damaged or stained in any way. In fact, we would still have the first one if it was up to me, and it would still be in perfect condition, and we would be able to send the kids to college.

She just tells me to shut up and get off the new couch.

I think I’ll go have a beer on the old couch in my pajamas.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cinco de Jefferson Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday. It’s a strange “holiday.” It’s the Cinco de Mayo of March. Both have some amount of green added to the beer, and no one from the holidays’ countries of origin celebrates them. Here in the USA, however, we embrace them like they were the Fourth of July or New Years. And much like New Years, no one knows what we’re celebrating or why. But we’re all Irish for one day in March, and we’re all Mexican for one dia in Mayo.

Actually, the only people who get to celebrate these two “holidays” with any regularity are students. Specifically, college kids and elementary schoolers. The college kids use the days as excuses to party, and the elementary schools use them as excuses to make leprechaun traps, Mexican flags, and most importantly, eat cookies.

Meanwhile, we adults have to wait until March 17th or May 5th land on a weekend before we get to party anymore. Why should the students get to have all the fun? Why shouldn’t the parents get to participate?

We used to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day. We used to drink green beer and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

We used to have fun on Cinco de Mayo. We used to drink Corona with lime and eat discounted tacos by the truckload while wearing giant sombreros, and actively look for other college kids of the opposite sex who weren’t wearing green so we could pinch them, as is the standard custom.

Did we know why we did any of this? Of course not. Did we care that we didn’t know? Of course not. We cared about doing our part to uphold centuries of fake traditions. We cared about beer with the appropriate green holiday additive. We cared about pinching cute members of the opposite sex. We cared.

I’m tired of being left out. I’m tired of not caring. I want to care again. We should get to party, too. It’s only right, since we’re the ones paying for all of this anyway. Why shouldn’t we get these days off work?

Why? I’ll tell you why. Probably because someone still needs to pay for all this, that’s why. But are we going to let that stop us? Heck no! There are plenty of other days during the year we can work. Although, we do already have a lot of holidays…

OK, let’s compromise. We could combine St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo into one holiday to minimize the work stoppage but still have some fun. What do you say?

I knew you’d be on board.

Ladies and gentlemen, I officially propose a new national holiday.

We will compromise on the month and have the new holiday in April, since it has always been a travesty that we don’t get April 13th off for Thomas Jefferson’s birthday either. We will anchor it around that date but it will need to float, of course, to always fall on a Monday so this party is a three-day weekend. It’s only fitting to include Jefferson, since he really should be the patron saint of these two holidays anyway. You may not know this, but Thomas Jefferson was a prolific inventor and actually invented, among many other things, the taco, green beer, the piñata, and Ireland.

We shall call the new holiday either Dia de St. Jefferson Patrick de Mayo, or Cinco de Jefferson Patrick’s Day. We can vote on that later.

As far as logistics go, we will simply combine all the current fake holiday traditions into one big three-day weekend of awesome.

The holiday uniforms can remain mostly undefined, but should include the required holiday colors; green, white and red, with an obvious emphasis on green and large sombreros.

Mariachi bands will need to shift their focus a little and include bagpipes and plaid. Irish heel-clicking salsa dancing with be a natural follower to the new groove.

The main holiday beverage will obviously be green Corona with yellow lemon wedges instead of limes to signify lucky gold. Cuervo gold tequila will remain unchanged, since it satisfies both holiday motifs. As an alternative to Mexican tequila, Irish mojitos will be made out of crushed clover and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Red, white, and green tortilla chips will be served with cabbage salsa, and children across the land will spend the new holiday smacking leprechaun-shaped piñatas filled with gold coin chocolates and corned beef taquitos.

We can work out the rest of the details later. I’m not really sure who’s in charge of new holiday creation over in D.C., so if one of you could forward this on to them, that’d be great.

I’m going to get back to my green Corona.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health

Dear People in Charge of Daylight Savings Time,
Stop it. (Oh, and bite me.)

I would actually print and mail that letter if I had any idea where to send it, but it still wouldn’t do any good. Not because of its surly and abrupt tone, but because even if you put it directly into the hands of the person in charge, they still work for the government. They either don’t know they are in charge of it, or they will say, “We have to take that to committee.” Nothing ever gets decided in committee, because “committee” is an old English Parliament word meaning “cocktail party.”

Since Arizona and Hawaii and half of Indiana don’t change to Daylight Savings Time, I assume having us mess with our clocks and sleep patterns twice a year is the responsibility of state governments. I live in California, and our state government has been successfully making the federal government look efficient and trustworthy by comparison for years.

I would move to Arizona, Hawaii, or the correct half of Indiana, but sadly, all three of those places are uninhabitable. (You may be arguing that point concerning Hawaii, but never forget; it might be a nice place to visit, but the entire state is the size of your living room, and it is literally floating on molten lava.)

I have railed against messing with the clocks on numerous occasions in this column and in person. (I’m sorry if you were ever unlucky enough to be around me at the beginning of March or November.) Mind you, I don’t care about it for myself. It never affects my body. It does affect my head, though, in the form of giving me headaches dealing with my children and my wife.

I have discussed this as far as the children go. I think we have all experienced the dread as we changed the clocks, knowing what is to come on Monday morning. In November, they will be knocking on your door at five A.M., and in March you will need to use a pneumatic jackhammer to dislodge them from their beds in time for school.

I have never discussed how Daylight Savings Time affects my wife, however. It’s far more insidious than the problems with the kids.

First, here’s a general outline of my typical day:
Alarm goes off.
I get out of bed and do things.
I am awake and functional all day.
I go to bed when all the things are done.

Here is how my wife’s perfect day would go:
No alarms exist in the city in which she sleeps.
Darkness, silence, and sleep prevail until at least ten A.M.
A slight head nod shall be given when it is acceptable to give gentle hugs.
No speaking aloud until two P.M.
Wide awake and productive from three P.M. until eight.
Total brain shutdown begins promptly at nine.
In bed at ten o’clock.

We have been running into quite a few snags in her perfect day schedule ever since we had children, and things got really bad when I quit my “real job” to become a “professional writer.” Since we all enjoy eating, it is very important that my wife gets out of bed and goes to work every day now.

Under normal circumstances, the six A.M. alarm is met with severe groaning and scowling disapproval directed at me, but the weeks surrounding the Daylight Savings Time changes are just downright scary.

We really need her to keep getting out of bed each morning, and you Daylight Savings Time idiots over in Sacramento are not helping. You have made me the bad guy. With the kids, I can just yank the covers and roll them onto the floor. But with my wife I have to lovingly remind her that it really is six o’clock even though it should obviously still be five, and even though it’s way too early to get up, it’s still time to get up, and it’s not my fault, and please put down the knife.

I hate you, Daylight Savings Time.

Or is it Daylight Saving Time? Is it plural or singular? Dammit. Hang on, let me Google it.

Oh, great. There’s even a debate about that. I just found one more reason to hate you, Daylight Whateverthehell Time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Fourth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I really don’t mean to keep taking up so much of your time writing you these letters, since I know you are very busy this time of year taking and printing all those pictures no one ordered. But, since you took the time to once again capture the essence of what my three boys look like on a day when we weren’t planning to have them photographed, I thought I would give you my thoughts on this year’s “spring pictures.”

Fall pictures are a head shot, which is helpful, since at no time is it possible to keep an entire boy clean. While it would be a lot easier if the photos were of the middle of their back – the spot that tends to stay the cleanest on a young boy – I understand the importance of taking a picture of the actual face. We do what we can do, and hope for the best.

With the spring pictures, on the other hand, you went with the full-body sitting position shot. That is problematic. Now again, I don’t mean to keep harping on this point, but you took pictures of my boys even though I didn’t order any, and then you spent your time and money printing them out on photo paper and plastic trinkets, and then spent even more of your time and money delivering them to me. Since you did that, I’d like to take some of my time and some more of yours highlighting why it is really silly for you to do that.

Let’s get back to the full-body sitting position shot. I assume you have your copies of the pictures in front of you. If you will notice, all three of my boys are wearing T-shirts and soccer shorts. I think that should have been your first clue that we really meant to not order pictures. Actually, your first clue should have been that none of my kids were holding an order form, but I think I’ve beaten that one to death. Nevertheless, their casual outfits definitely should have been the clue to not go for the full-body shot.

Also, as I highlighted in my last letter, the art project chalk and glue incident that I was responsible for in Son Number Two’s class prior to pictures that day was very evident on Number Two’s shirt. And arms. And hair. And face. I think that probably should have been another obvious clue to narrow the picture area down as small as possible. Maybe an artsy shot of just his forehead and eyes?

Again, very sorry about all the chalk and glue on all those kids. That was just bad timing.

Besides my multi-colored third-grader, let’s talk about the other two for a minute. I think I told you last year in my first letter that we let our children dress themselves on normal days. If I didn’t mention that, I think it’s fairly obvious based on these pictures. Did your photographer really look at Son Number Three’s outfit and think to him or herself, “Yes. This child’s parents definitely dressed him for picture day.”?

Grab one of those highly-useful plastic rulers you printed out for me that starts at 3/8” and goes to 5-5/8” and check out that awesome picture on the front. That smiling young lad is wearing a T-shirt featuring a bear in full road leathers and gloves, riding a green motorcycle in front of a U.S. flag shaped like an outline of the United States. Where the hell did we even get that shirt?

Now, I realize that in some parts of the country that would be considered “picture day attire,” but this is not Arkansas.

The stylish red-on-maroon outfit anchored by the grass-stained Adidas sweatshirt on Son Number One also makes quite a statement. The statement is, “My parents don’t need or want you to take my picture today, and they certainly don’t need you to then print and send them the pictures they didn’t want in the first place. And by the way, what the hell is going on with the plastic rulers? What am I supposed to be measuring with this? If I bother to get out a ruler, it’s almost certainly because I want to know how long something is, which this ruler will not help with in the slightest.”

Who knew an outfit could say so much? But there it is.

I see you’re going a new route with the backgrounds this year. Last year the big special effect was a shimmering frosty edge to the pictures, but this year you went all green screen on us. I see my three boys have been magically transported to four different wonderlands in this unsolicited picture extravaganza you sent me; Pleasant grassy meadow, nice old barn, peaceful riverbank, and mysterious wooded trail.

The only problem I can see with this new approach is that in each scene they are perched on the same fake plastic rock that in all honestly, looks like a giant cow pie. As you can see, since it wasn’t picture day for our family, despite the fact that it was picture day for you, they wore shorts. (As also stated above in possible large clues that you didn’t need to take their pictures at all, let alone send them to me.) Anyhow, the jaunty cow pie pose really shows off their knees and shins, effectively cataloging about sixty-four separate bruises and scrapes between the three of them, in various stages of freshness and healing.

Not awesome.

The thing that really gets me about these spring pictures you sent me for no reason is the smiles. I mentioned our sons’ Forced Smile Disorders in previous letters. I think it’s funny, but it has plagued my wife for years. We have needed retakes for every fall school picture since the very first one, yet somehow, during this unsolicited spring picture session, you managed to get two of our three boys to smile naturally. How is that possible? Maybe they thought it was funny that you told them to sit on a giant turd? Who knows?

(By the way, I don’t blame you for Son Number One’s smile. It has become clear to us that nothing can be done about it. He has looked like a severely constipated serial killer in every posed picture ever taken of him. Don’t beat yourselves up.)

That’s about it for my thoughts on this year’s fantastic picture packets that I will neither be purchasing nor returning. I do have one new suggestion for you that should cut down on your overall budget, if that is something you’d be interested in:

Maybe instead of spending all this manpower on unwanted pictures in the spring, you could just take a few extra seconds in the fall to try and get a natural smile out of the boys. Maybe tell them a joke about giant turds. They think those are hilarious.

Just a suggestion.

Again, very sorry about the whole chalk and glue incident,

All my best,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Have Plunger, Will Educate

There are a lot of things they don’t tell you before you have kids of your own. That’s because “they” are your parents and they want to become grandparents, and they know that won’t happen if they tell you everything.

Last year at almost this exact date I wrote about one of my sons (who shall remain nameless in this, to keep his future dating prospects alive) and his questionable toilet-using skills. At the time last year I was concerned about our water bill, because I sat on the couch one night and counted his flushes. I intervened after flush number twenty-six (I am not making that up) and questioned him on why he felt the need simultaneously deplete my wallet of money while depleting the state of California of one of its most precious and currently scarce resources; my TV time. No… water.

His answer was that he was trying not to clog the toilet by going with the wipe/flush/wipe/flush/wipe/flush technique. My next question was the very obvious, “You mean to tell me you have wiped your butt twenty-six times?”

Forget the water bill; my toilet paper bill just eclipsed the mortgage. It was then that I told him we would obviously need to go over wiping techniques, but we’d take care of that in the morning.

Apparently I forgot to follow up on that whole toilet paper usage/wiping technique conversation, because it’s a year later and I’ve been getting a lot of, “Dad, the toilet’s clogged again,” this past month. It’s been happening so much I thought about starting to keep my plunger in a holster on my hip, but that would be gross. And it would make it harder to get in and out of the car.

The other day when I was responding to a clog the situation became a little clearer. There, floating in the bowl, was what can only be described as a giant toilet paper ball. My bathroom-challenged son has apparently been taking a tremendous amount of paper off the roll for each wipe, and rolling it up in a tight sphere the size of a regulation baseball, much like you would do if you were wrapping twine into a ball, only presumably a lot more comfortable to wipe your butt with.

I worked my plunger magic and then went to talk with him.

“Dude, you’ve got to stop making balls out of the toilet paper by wrapping it around itself a hundred times. That’s what’s clogging the toilet. Just take a little off the roll and wad it up.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do I mean?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just wad it up. It makes the same shape, but uses a lot less paper.”
“I’ve always wrapped it. Mommy told me to wrap it all the way around my hand, but I don’t get that, either. That’s just weird.”
“You’re right, that is weird. Don’t do that. Just wad it up instead.”
“I don’t get it.”
(sigh) “OK, I’ll show you next time.”
“Next time you poop?”
“No. Next time you poop. I’m not the one clogging up the toilet.”

It never occurred to me to have any formal toilet paper training sessions. I was just assuming they were paying attention when we were wiping their butts for them at the start of potty training. I mean, come on, it’s right there in the name, kid. Potty training. Pay attention.

Maybe we should have the whole family attend the new training session. That way mommy can be there to explain this wrap it around your hand thing. That seems problematic at best.

Proper butt wiping technique seminars and differing viewpoint discussion panels - this is the kind of thing “they” don’t tell you before you have kids. In retrospect, it was wise of the grandparents to omit the “crying baby throwing up on you at two in the morning” thing, and the “non-crying seven-year-old throwing up on you at two in the afternoon” thing. We may never have had kids. But I wish they would have mentioned this. I could have saved thousands of dollars on water and toilet paper.

I wonder what else they left out?

Excuse me; I have to go call my mom.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Third Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I wrote you two previous letters back in March of last year, and I’m not totally sure if your corporate office got them or not. The gist of both letters was this:

You guys show up at my sons’ elementary school in September every year to take school pictures, which is great. Thanks for doing that. Then, for some reason, you also show up again in February, which, if my calendar is correct, is only five months later. I never order any of the “spring pictures,” but for reasons known only to your marketing department, you guys take pictures of my kids anyway.

Then, apparently to really sweeten the deal for me, the guy who didn’t want spring pictures at all, you print those unwanted pictures out on everything from regular picture paper to laminated plastic keychain fobs and send them to me. Between my three boys, they bring home thirty-five pounds of unwanted photos and photo-emblazoned useless plastic trinkets in March, showing them in T-shirts and uncombed hair.

The reason for the letters was not necessarily to question your strange business model of sending folks stuff they didn’t ask for. It was to explain to you why I wouldn’t be sending the photos back. Short answer: If I want to keep them, I’ll gladly pay you for them. If I don’t want them, I’ll get rid of them myself. I trust myself to do it correctly more than I trust you (no offense intended), and I won’t waste the school’s time recollecting them for you. I have a perfectly good shredder here at home.

So that was the main focus of the first two letters, but like I said, I never heard back from anyone at headquarters. I did receive a rather emotional email from one of your photographers in some other state, explaining to me all the good reasons why you send me pictures I don’t order and why I am legally required to send them back if I don’t want them.

I was kind enough to take some time out of my day to respond to her and explain exactly what “legally required” actually means and why, as such, I was not required - legally or otherwise - to spend half a second of my time returning something I didn’t order in the first place.

Since I am a really nice guy, I also didn’t forward her ridiculous email on to you. She took it upon herself to speak on behalf of your company when she obviously had neither the authority nor the actual ability to do so, but I didn’t want her to lose her job just because she was a little naïve. She was obviously passionate about her work, and we need more of that these days, not less.

Anyhow, I didn’t really need a response from you, but I did want to write to you again today just to give you a heads-up and to apologize.

I sort of accidentally sabotaged this year’s spring pictures yesterday. Just for Son Number Two’s class, mind you, and not the whole school, so there is that, but the bottom line is you’re going to get a lot more retake requests this year.


I want you to know that I harbor no ill-feelings toward your company. While I am truly baffled by the amount of money you choose to spend trying to get me to buy pictures of my children with mustard stains on their shirts, it is your money. This is America. You can blow your money however you want. I like freedom, so I’m cool with that. My thwarting of picture day was purely unintentional, I assure you.

If I may explain… I serve as the art docent for Son Number Two’s third grade class. Once a month I go to their class and pretend that I know something about art. (Me posing as an authority on art is hilarious, believe me, but I have managed to fool the children. I prefer to think of it as “necessary staged confidence” instead of “lying and ad-libbing.”)

Anyway, back in September I scheduled out the entire year’s art lessons with Son Number Two’s teacher, so March 17th had been on the calendar for months. Unfortunately for you and any of the parents who actually planned on buying spring pictures this year, it also happened to be picture day.

I, of course, was not aware it was picture day. I mean, I got your flyer back in January, but I never bothered to add the date to our calendar, because I believe one picture of my children’s painful forced smiles is enough for a school year.

Well, the scheduling conflict wouldn’t have been so bad, except this art lesson happened to be with chalk pastels. In case you are not familiar with the use of chalk pastels on construction paper, it involves a lot of hand-rubbing to mix the color palette to achieve rich, vibrant, lifelike tones. (Sounds like I know what I’m talking about, right?)

So basically, I took a classroom full of kids - one of whom actually stayed in at recess earlier that day so her dress wouldn’t get dirty – and gave them each their own tray of what is basically high-quality playground chalk. Then I told them to draw a horse and a full background, filling the 9x12 page with rich, vibrant, lifelike hand-rubbed tones.

This all happened before they got called to go get their pictures taken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It wasn’t pretty. Every kid ended up with chalk on them. There was chalk in their hair, chalk on their faces, chalk on and in their ears. One kid even ended up with green chalk all over his neck. I’m not sure if he was rubbing his own neck or if one of his classmates was trying to choke him, but there it was.

And their clothes… Apparently kids rub their hands on their clothes quite a bit. I thought that was only at meal time, but I guess not.

Now, all the chalk might not have been so bad, except the second part of the lesson involved Elmer’s glue.

Again, back to the rubbing of the face and clothes and hair… any chalk that may have been able to be washed off was eventually just glued in place.

Have you ever seen pictures of people after one of those color run events, where you show up in white clothes and run a 5K while people throw colored chalk dust at you?

It was a lot like that… only worse… you know… because of the glue.

So, yeah… sorry about that.

On the bright side, the horse pictures turned out great. Maybe the parents will just send those to the grandparents instead of the Lifetouch school portraits this spring.

Again, very sorry.



Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hospital Agreement

I drove a good friend of mine to the hospital yesterday for a minor medical procedure that required me to hang around and drive him home. (For those of you under thirty, "minor medical procedures" for us over-forty crowd can be anything from a hernia to a heart bypass.) I will spare you the details, but my friend was having a procedure that involves sticking scopes and tools up an opening that is normally devoted to one-way operations. You don't want to know any more, and neither do I.

When we arrived, the admittance nurse had him sign a Hospital Conditions of Admission form, and then she very thoughtfully told him to give me his wallet. I guess we know who’s buying me lunch! After he had been whisked through the big swinging double doors, I sat down and assessed my cash situation in his wallet. Not bad. Then I actually read the form he had just signed.

1. Consent to Medical Care
The undersigned hereby consents to the procedures that may be performed during this hospitalization, including emergency services, which may include but are not limited to laboratory procedures, X-ray examinations, nursing care, medical or surgical treatment or procedures, anesthesia, or other hospital services rendered under the general and special instructions of my physicians.

This first one seems a little silly. We wouldn’t have driven here if he didn’t consent to medical care. And I would hope that the procedures performed here today include medical and nursing care. This is a hospital, after all. We didn't come here to get the oil changed in his car. (At least, not literally.) I think for his sake he is really hoping today's procedures involve the anesthesia you mentioned, also.

2. Educational Consent
The hospital is an educational facility participating in the training of physicians, medical students, student nurses, and other health care personnel, and they may participate in the patient's care to the extent deemed appropriate by the Medical Staff or hospital personnel.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I understand that people need to learn their jobs, but why does this say "Medical Staff" and "hospital personnel," and not "doctors." If Skippy the freshman med student is going to be operating any tools near or in me, it damn-well better have been a doctor that OK'd it, and not just "hospital personnel." It’s not OK for Janet in human resources to send Skippy down the hall to the O.R. to practice whatever he wants.

3. Personal Valuables
It is understood and agreed that the hospital maintains a fireproof safe for the safekeeping of money and valuables, and the hospital staff shall not be liable for the loss or damage to any money, jewelry, glasses, dentures, documents, furs, or other articles of unusual value and small size unless placed in the safe.

So unless I put my dentures and fur coats in the safe, you guys are just washing your hands of the whole thing, huh? And I'm not sure I fully understand your lawyerish here with "other articles of unusual value and small size..." So if I have something that is crazy-expensive and really big, like my life-size cashmere inflatable elephant, or something small that is expensive but of standard price, such as a diamond-encrusted Rolex with Brazilian platypus-leather band that I bought at market value, you're saying you ARE liable for that?

4. Discharge Agreement
Hospital Discharge Hour is 11 A.M. In order to permit the hospital to properly prepare the bed and room for another patient, the undersigned agrees that the patient will vacate the room by the Discharge Hour.

Did your lawyer used to work for Marriott or Hilton? I didn't realize hospitals had check-out times. I always assumed they just told you to leave whenever you were better. What if 11 A.M. rolls around and he’s not out of the O.R. yet? What if they don’t finish until 2 P.M.? Can we get an extended checkout, or will he be charged for another night’s stay? What about the complimentary continental breakfast? More importantly, is there a minibar?

5. Consent to Photos
I consent to the taking of photographs, videotapes, digital or other images of my medical or surgical condition or treatment, and the use of images, for purposes of my diagnosis or treatment or for the hospital's operations, including peer review and education or training programs.

Yeah, right... "peer review." Don't you mean, “the surgeon's Instagram account?” And you can't fool me with "education and training." Let's call it what it really is: The surgery blooper reel at the hospital Christmas party. All I can say is, I'd better not see anything end up on the hospital's Facebook page.

6. Consent to Telehealth
I consent to the use of telehealth for the delivery of health care services. Telehealth includes telemedicine, and involves the use of audio, video, or other electronic communications to interact with you, consult with health care providers, and/or review your medical information for the purposes of diagnosis, therapy, follow-up, and/or education.

Was this written in 1952? Are you planning on interfacing with me via telex or possibly that new-fangled invention, the fax machine? Will you send my diagnosis and/or therapy over the telegraph wires? Should I head down to the Western Union office when I'm discharged and await your electrical correspondence? I'm thinking here in 2015 we can probably update number six to read: “We will email you.”

I stopped reading after that, because my brain was starting to ache. Items seven through ten could have included a release to sell his vital organs on the black market, or an agreement to be liable for the surgeon's ex-wife's Visa bill. I just didn't care anymore.

There are probably a number of good reasons why signing that document might not be advisable, but his biggest mistake of the day, by far, was handing me his wallet. That steak and lobster combo I had for lunch was phenomenal. I hope they gave him enough anesthesia for me to drop him off at home before he thinks to check his wallet.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The DMV Again

Cascading tidal waves of dread washed over me, growing more powerful with each mile as I hurtled toward my doom… OK, that’s a bit much, but still… I was not looking forward to my destination. I was going to the DMV.

Like any American with a pulse and an IQ above room temperature, I avoid the DMV like the plague. Literally, I think if there is another outbreak of the plague, it will start at the DMV. Have you seen some of the people in line? Seriously.

But, alas, I had to take care of something that could not be handled through the mail. The last time I was forced by bureaucracy and bad luck to go to the DMV, I made an appointment. Appointments are really the way to go. Last time, I was in and out of the building in eleven minutes, and luckily, plague-free.

This time I could not make an appointment. This time I just needed to go and get it over with if it took all day. This time I would have to sit in the plague section and wait with the masses. This time was going to suck. I just knew it.

The DMV office opens at 8:00 A.M., but the school won’t let me drop the kids off any earlier than 7:30. Something about not having anyone ready to supervise them, blah, blah. At 7:30:01 I sped past all the idling cars to the front of the drop-off line, shoved the boys out of the car, threw their backpacks out the passenger window onto the pavement, and squealed out of the parking lot. I could see one of the teachers on parking lot drop-off duty in my rearview mirror, running after my car with her hands in the air shouting something. Probably, “Good luck at the DMV!” or something like that. A few of the parents parked in the drop-off lane gave me the good luck thumbs-up. At least, I think they were thumbs…

Who cares, I’m late.

With a string of broken and fractured traffic laws behind me, I wheeled into the DMV parking lot at 7:55 A.M. There were already twenty-two people standing in a line that stretched from the door all the way across the lot. Just for a split second I contemplated stepping on the gas and removing the back half of the line, but decided against it. I just parked instead.

The first guy in line up by the glass doors has a sleeping bag. He's a pro. Or homeless and just needs to use the restroom. Maybe there’s only twenty-one people in front of me?

I reluctantly take my place in line as plague victim number twenty-three.
More people arrive every minute.
The guy two people behind me is very chatty. It’s almost as if he doesn’t mind being here. He is obviously deranged.
In very un-DMV fashion, the doors open promptly at 8:00 A.M.
The line surges forward three feet.
We wait.
Chatty guy is a personal trainer. He’s excited about fitness and all things fitness-related. If that’s the case, why would he come to ground zero for the plague?
I am finally at the glass doors.
I make it to the front desk at 8:10 A.M. and get my number.
I am number B012.
Twelve. OK, twelve is not bad.
I sit down in the least plague-looking seat I can find.
Personal trainer guy is questioning people on what gym they go to. He is looking for new clients. Does he not know this is the DMV? Look around, dude. Most of these folks look like they can’t even spell gym. Or Jim. Or DMV. I don’t think “get a personal trainer” is high on their to-do list.
They are now serving G002.
I am B012. What does that mean?
I am momentarily distracted from my number confusion by the signs attached to the counter. All of them are missing letters. One says, “Please ot leai children unattended.” There is also “lease do e c ildren on counter,” and “as do o hld e ate d.”
That last one looks more like an eye chart now than a sign.
They are now serving B006 at Window 11. OK, I think that's good, we’re in the B numbers again. Although I don't really know how many people are between B006 and B012 with this system.
Personal trainer guy has found someone who has an actual gym membership.
We are now on B008. Excellent.
I need to use the restroom. Not excellent. I am scared to leave the lobby and miss my turn. I am also scared of the bathroom at the DMV, or Plague Central, as it’s probably known. I will hold it.
They just called another G number. What does that mean?
Personal trainer guy is explaining to gym membership guy that he doesn’t have any actual clients yet, but he does train his little brother. Hmm… I worked out with a family member once, too, but I never called myself a personal trainer.
They just called A001. What does that mean!? We went from G’s to A’s? I’m a B. How many people are in front of me? Are there people who were left over from yesterday that slept here in the chairs? That guy over there looks like he might have.
B009. OK, good. I think.
Family fitness guy is still working the room. He’s just begging for the plague. He still doesn’t have any clients besides his brother.
B010. OK, we’re staying in the B’s. This is good.
I really need to pee.
B011. Sweet, I’m next.
G008. Dammit!
Someone behind me just coughed. Plague alert! I’m moving.
A004. How in the hell does this number system wor…
That’s me!
Reporting to Window 7!
Here’s my forms. Here’s my check. Everything is in order. Boom! Three minutes at Window 7 and I’m outta here!

A mere twenty-eight minutes after the doors had opened, I walked out of the DMV plague-free (to the best of my knowledge), and with a solid lead on a new personal trainer with a very positive outlook on life.

Maybe the DMV isn’t so bad these days?

Well… let’s not get carried away.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The internet is a wonderful invention. I’m not sure how three hundred million people all watched the same cat video within a day of each other before the internet was invented, but thank God we can do that today. Seriously, today. There’s another one. Why are you reading this? Wait… just kidding. Come back.

While watching hilarious lip-synced parody music videos, sharing cell phone videos of people dumping ice water on their heads, and posting pictures of your lunch are all very important, the single greatest use of the internet is obviously the ability to track your UPS package’s every single movement across the country.

It all starts with that glorious email from Amazon. “Your package has shipped!”

Sweet Lord in Heaven, thank you. That was an excruciating seventy-five minutes of waiting since I hit the “Place Your Order” button.

Sign in.
Go to “My Orders.”
Sign in again. Why? Oh, well, whatever.
There it is; there’s the beautiful picture of my merchandise. Look at it. I can’t wait to have it in my hands! And there’s the best button in the whole world; right there next to it in all its glorious yellow awesomeness: “Track Package”

I wonder how many miles it has traveled already? Oh, boy! *Click*

January 19, 2015, 7:42 am - A shipment label has been created. Tracking information will be available when the package arrives at the carrier facility.

I thought you said it shipped? You just sent me an email. It’s still sitting on your desk, isn’t it? Ship it already!!

January 19, 2015, 1:32 pm - Package has left seller facility and is in transit to carrier.

What the hell were you people doing for the last six hours? 

January 19, 2015, 1:23 pm, Chester, VA, US - Package received by carrier

Now we’re talking. You guys are finally using time travel. The trip from the seller’s facility to the carrier took negative nine seconds! Wait a second… If you guys have time travel, why can’t I just have my stuff three days ago? And when will this technology be available to the general public?
(note to self – see if Amazon sells time machines yet. Also, rent Hot Tub Time Machine again)

January 19, 2015, 1:30 pm, Chester, VA, US - Package has left the carrier facility

OK, a seven-minute turnaround is pretty good. Waaaay better than that six hours last time. But, again with the time travel question…

January 20, 2015, 12:49 pm, Louisville, KY, US - Package arrived at a carrier facility

An entire day to get from Virginia to Kentucky? I just looked at a map, fellas. They touch. Did the driver have to push the truck the whole way? And what do you mean “a carrier facility?” Shouldn’t that be “the carrier facility?” Did he just push the truck into the first place he found in Louisville? Do they know where my stuff is supposed to go?

January 20, 2015, 3:31 pm, Louisville, KY, US - Package has left the carrier facility

Now it’s “the carrier facility” again. I guess he got it to the right one. Seriously, though, three hours to unload a truck that a guy could push? Seems a little weak. Is it on another broken truck? Train? Plane? Give me more information, dammit. Kentucky is a long way from California! (Come to think of it, I think both states are very happy about that.)

January 20, 2015, 10:04 pm, Mather, CA, US - Package arrived at a carrier facility

Mather is an airport. OK, that means you had it on a plane. That would have been good information at 3:31 pm. I’m just sayin’. Wait a second. The time change is in our favor coming west. Why did it take nine and a half hours to fly from Kentucky to California? Was he in a WWII biplane? Did he go east and fly over Europe? It’s 10:30 pm now. Why hasn’t my package left Mather yet?

January 20, 2015, 11:28 pm, Mather, CA, US - Package has left the carrier facility

That must have been some line to taxi to the gate. Or did he have to get out and push the biplane?

January 21, 2015, 12:58 am, West Sacramento, CA, US - Package arrived at a carrier facility

OK, now seriously. An hour and a half? Mather and West Sacramento are like three miles apart. Did he walk the package over? Besides being inefficient, at that time of night, in that neighborhood, that is not smart. And again with “a carrier facility?” I guess if I was walking around down there at one in the morning with a bunch of packages, I would probably duck into the first place I found, too.

January 21, 2015, 2:17 am, West Sacramento, CA, US - Package has left the carrier facility

Why are you guys even up at this hour? And more importantly, why doesn’t this say “Out for Delivery?” You’re taking it to another “facility,” aren’t you? C’mon, I’m awake, too. Just drive it over here.

January 21, 2015, 4:54 am, Rocklin, CA, US - Package arrived at a carrier facility

All right, fine. I’m in Rocklin, so I guess bringing it to “a facility” in Rocklin makes sense. I’m ready for it any time… Hello?... Hello?...

January 21, 2015, 8:21 am, Rocklin, CA, US - Out for delivery

Seriously? You’ve had it for over three hours now. You guys have just been sitting there staring at it, haven’t you? Fine, whatever. Just get it here please.

January 21, 2015, 3:34 pm, Rocklin, CA, US - Delivered

Seven hours to drive three miles!? That took almost as much time as it did for the guy to fly the biplane from Kentucky to California. It’s about damn time, is all I can tell you. I really needed this new lint roller!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unorganized Sports

It’s that time of year again; my favorite time of year when I get to pretend to be a baseball coach. I am still waiting for the day when my boys’ league will finally realize that I have no idea what I’m doing, but for the time being I have slipped through the cracks again. I was even given a management position for Son Number Three’s team. Maybe they figured if I was busy managing, my coaches would do most of the work with the kids and I would be less apt to screw up their chances at a future in the majors. Who knows?

Who cares, I love coaching baseball. Maybe it’s because baseball is an organized sport. I have a very logical, organized brain, so baseball appeals to me. I love organization. My wife refuses to believe that, based on how I keep my desk, my files, my office, my workbench, my clothes, and just the house in general, but it’s true. She just can’t seem to grasp the subtleties of the system. Just because that three-day-old peanut butter and jelly sandwich is still on the kitchen counter does not mean that I don’t have its existence and location very neatly cataloged in my brain.

My love of organization is probably also the reason why soccer is so annoying to me. At the elementary school level, soccer is a chaotic mess. With baseball, each player has a spot they are supposed to be. In youth soccer, that rule doesn’t even seem to apply to the goalie.

My distain for soccer has been well-documented in the annals of this column, but I am amazed to report that I have recently been exposed to a “sport” that is even more unorganized than soccer. That would be parkour.

In case you are unfamiliar with parkour (pronounced “this is stupid”), it was invented by a French guy with no friends. He could not find anyone to play soccer with, so he decided to run through the neighborhood park and jump over things. He became so great at it that he gave it a nonsensical name, and now people in America are actually offering to teach your children how to jump over things for $180 per month.

My wife won a one-month free trial for Son Number Two at our local parkour shed. “Parkour complex” or “parkour arena” would probably be what the owners would like me to call it, but that is not accurate. They are basically running their parkour business in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse.

Not one to waste a free trial, my wife signed Son Number Two up for four days a week after school. I protested that we don’t even practice actual sports that much, but she kept saying, “It’s only for a month.”

The first time we set foot in the parkour palace of disappointment, my first thought was, “It’s only going to be for one minute, not one month.” The whole place looked like an advertisement for tetanus shots.

Apparently, the “sports equipment” used for parkour consists of boxes and walls and ramps made out of plywood, with metal pipes sticking out of various places. We watched as a group of parkour-ers monkey-ran past us on all fours. The floor was dirty. The employees were dirty. The parkour-ites were dirty. Everything was dirty.

Now, I don’t mean dirty like, “I was just out playing baseball or soccer and now I’m all dirty.” I mean, “I shower on a semi-monthly basis” dirty.

Across the way there were some parkour-enese moms who were obviously lifetime members at the parkour shack. Many of them had dreadlocks. They all had dirty, androgynous children with long, shaggy hair, running wild, doing parkour-ish movements.

I debated just leaving, but I knew I would be sleeping on the couch if Son Number Two turned on me and reported to his mother that we just left and got ice cream instead. So we stayed. I checked him in and told him not to touch anything. Off he went with his grimy “coach,” and off I went to find a spot to sit. The parkour hut offered a multitude of different comfortable spectator seating options, all of which were dirty. I’m a guy, so it’s pretty rare for me to look at a piece of furniture and have reservations about sitting on it, but the couches offered to me looked like something a homeless person who sleeps in a cardboard box might take a pass on.

Five minutes into the lesson, I realized that parkour instruction is basically cat burglar school. Run up a wall. Dive through a window. Swing on this pipe. Jump from this ledge to that ledge. They were basically teaching my kid how to be a second-story man. The running and jumping over things part seems to be the getaway maneuvers.

As soon as I realized that, I immediately asked myself, “If all these grimy instructors are so good at climbing up the side of buildings, why is this place such a dump? They could be running a pretty successful burglary syndicate and rolling in the dough. Slackers.”

Ten minutes into the lesson I realized that being a parkour coach does not require having an actual plan for the half-hour lesson. Basically you stand there and watch kids climb on stuff. Slackers is right!

Up until this point I had thought that soccer was the most annoying sport I would ever be involved in, but now, here was parkour; a bright new shining beacon of suck. Seeing this new level of lame, while standing next to the dirtiest couch in America trying not to get lice, led me to contemplate some sports comparisons.

Baseball in practiced and played in the bright sunshine on a green field.
Soccer is practiced and played in the bright sunshine on a green field that really should just be made into a baseball diamond.
Parkour is practiced in a dim, grimy warehouse with a questionable lease status, and played in YouTube videos of people hurting themselves.

Baseball requires special shoes called cleats.
Soccer requires special shoes that resemble baseball cleats, except they cost twice as much because they are neon and have the laces on the side where they shouldn’t be.
Parkour actually has special shoes only because people who do parkour really want to believe that it requires special shoes.

Baseball has uniforms that are spiffy.
Soccer has uniforms that double as advertisements for airlines and stereos.
Parkour has cat hair-covered sweatpants and stained V-neck T-Shirts.

Baseball teaches you patience, concentration, teamwork, and how to be a part of something larger than yourself.
Soccer teaches you how to run in a clump.
Parkour teaches you how to run from the police.

The half-hour B&E lesson mercifully ended before I could come up with any more comparisons, and I whisked Son Number Two out of the building and checked him for fleas.

When I asked him how it was, he reported that it was the most fun ever.

Hmm… I guess kids don’t really appreciate organization as much as adults do.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Inconclusive Introductions

The most uncomfortable five minutes of my life? That’s easy. That time I put my pants on backward, you might ask? Not even close...

At an unspecified time in the past, I was at a function that had an icebreaker component. The deal was you were to find someone you didn’t know and chat with them for five minutes. After that time you were in charge of introducing them to the group. Due to my position in the room, my choice of fellow attendees to interview was made for me, and I ended up with a puzzle.

Normally it would not be too difficult a task to chat with someone for a while and then introduce them to a group. It becomes very difficult all of a sudden, however, if you cannot figure out whether you are talking to a man or a woman.

I am 6’-1” tall, with a beer belly and male-pattern baldness, so I assume my counterpart had me pegged as male right away. Plus, my name is Marc. I, on the other hand, was talking with Pat. Or Chris. Or Jamie. Certainly not Jennifer or Chuck.

Everything was inconclusive. Nothing was definite.
Voice was right in the middle octaves and easily attributed to either sex. A little deep for a woman. A little effeminate for a man. Too close to call.
Clothes were loose-fitting and androgynous.
Jewelry was minimal. Subdued for a woman, far too much for a man (in my opinion), but not out of the question these days.
Tall for a woman, but not too tall. Average height for a man.
Firm hand shake. That tells me nothing.
Large hands and feet for a woman, but again, not crazy.
Slim build. No specifically-identifying bulges in any of the hemispheres.
No facial hair. Close shave or actually no facial hair? Can’t tell.
Mannerisms? Womannerisms? I can’t tell.
Eighties hair, like a cross between Bruce Jenner and Cagney and Lacey, parted in the middle, feathered and inconclusive. (Either way, man or woman, not a good look in the hair department.)
No stories using the phrases “my husband,” or “my wife,” or “I am a man,” which would have been very helpful.

It is hard for me to fully describe my extreme discomfort at this point. I am having an internal conniption fit while trying to remain calm and friendly and amicable on the outside. I am trying to carry on a normal, polite conversation, all the while searching for another metric I can observe that will answer the big question, and desperately struggling to come up with a conversation-appropriate question that could land me an answer.

“Have you ever given birth?” or “Have you had your prostate checked recently?” just wouldn’t fit comfortably into the conversation. There was no time to invite them to visit the restrooms with me, and frankly, that’s awkward either way.

I thought very seriously about pulling a Crocodile Dundee and just checking, but I didn’t really want to be removed from the event in handcuffs.

Now, in most any other situation, you really wouldn’t need to know for sure if someone was male or female, but keep in mind, I needed to introduce this person to the crowd. Pronouns had suddenly become the biggest problem in my life.

“This is Pat. They are excited to be here” just doesn’t work well.

“This is Pat. Pat loves Chinese food. Pat’s favorite Chinese place is only two blocks from Pat’s house. Pat’s hometown is Kansas City, where Pat lives with Pat’s family.”

You see my problem.

Oh, holy crap, the event host just called time and asked us to wrap up our conversations. I have gone completely brain-dead. Panic has taken over. I am sweating from the top of my head.

“Who would like to start?”

Not me, I can tell you that!

A few people volunteer. I envy each and every one of them for their easily-identifiable partner. My unclassified counterpart forces the issue and volunteers us next. We stand up and he or she introduces me to the crowd, with the luxury of confidently using “he” in the long and eloquent sentences.

It is down to the wire. My turn. The bottoms of my feet are sweating. I can’t hear anything, because my blood has become very loud for some reason in my ears, which are also sweating.

I still have absolutely no idea. I can’t just guess.

I make a last-second decision to go with a verbal bullet point format.

“This is Pat.
Hometown: Kansas City.
Favorite food: Chinese.
Favorite sports team: Royals.
Dislikes: Wind and rain.”

I fell back into my chair. Pat sat back down, looking at me with an expression that suggested he or she thought I might have shortchanged their introduction. I didn’t care. Wave after wave of pure unadulterated relief washed over me. I had made it through the last five minutes of my life and lived to tell the tale.

Sure, I sounded like a category-five tool, but at least I avoided being “the guy who thought that nice lady was a dude.”

A word to the wise – If you ever end up at a function that has an introduction icebreaker activity… just leave.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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