Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Dictionary Stinks

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly and formally apologize to Hunter and Sabrina, two of Son Number Three’s first-grade classmates.

Dear Hunter and Sabrina,

While volunteering in your classroom last week I inadvertently contributed to setting back your education, and for that, I am truly sorry. This is especially painful and embarrassing for me, as a professional author and writer, because I misled you about the veracity of a word that you both so brilliantly came up while completing a “words that rhyme” worksheet. There can be no excuse for my ineptitude while trying to help with a first grade English lesson.

I was wrong. There is no other way to put it. I was just plain wrong. Apparently SHAT is a word. You were supposed to come up with three words that rhymed with CAT, and I made you both erase SHAT and come up with a different word, telling each of you, “That’s not a word” in the process. My sincerest apologies for the error.

I feel as though I should explain the reason for my error, since I will be volunteering in your class every week and I want you to trust my judgment in the future. You see, I have an old-fashioned paper dictionary here at home. I know, right? What a fossil. My archaic book of words doesn’t include profanity, so while I might have been able to help conjugate the verb DEFECATE, or identify the noun EXCREMENT, I just wasn’t up to date on all the different tenses of the word SHIT.

On a whim the other day, I looked up the word SHAT on the internet - the place where you will get all of your knowledge in your lifetime - and lo and behold, there it was. I found it on both the websites of the major dictionaries – Oxford and Merriam-Webster. Did you know that they used to print big paper copies of their dictionaries? Crazy, huh? The paper copies were really hard to change, so for a long time, all of us adults just spoke and wrote Standard English. Well, we don’t have to worry about all that foolishness anymore!

Both the Oxford Dictionary (Ironic tagline: “Language Matters”) and the Merriam-Webster (Archaic tagline: “An Encyclopedia Britannica Company”) listed our new favorite word SHAT as “the past tense and past participle of shit.”

So, according to two incredibly reputable online sources, “My fat cat shat rat scat on the mat” is a completely legitimate sentence. If only Dr. Seuss had been alive for this news.

You guys are so fortunate. They can add new words at any time now. Words like TWERK and AMAZEBALLS and ADORBS have just recently been added. You have no idea how lucky you are. Us oldsters had a standard boring language that we all agreed upon and could understand. You guys can just make up new words any time you want. That is SCHWEEEEET. I just made that word up. I like it. I think I’ll add it to your dictionary. You’re welcome.

This language breakthrough, fueled by the ease of amending and updating an online dictionary, is rooted in a new and innovative principle. Apparently now, as long as enough people who don’t own paper dictionaries agree that a word means something, then it’s a word. How amazeballs is that? It just makes me want to twerk!

Not only are they conveniently adding words for you all the time, but words can change meaning now, too. Adorbs! This will alleviate a lot of stress for folks like me who actually like words. For instance, I have been hearing people misuse the word LITERALLY literally my whole life. When I heard someone say “My head is literally going to explode,” I used to duck and cover. Now I totally don’t have to worry about getting brains on me, because the folks at Oxford and Merriam-Webster are changing it for us! Yep, LITERALLY is being revised to mean both LITERALLY and FIGURATIVELY. Woo hoo! Why would they do this, you might ask? The explanation is simple and totally rational. “If enough people use it in a certain (wrong) way, then that’s what it means.”

Like I said, you guys are sooooo lucky to have thinkers like that in charge of the language now. I am literally green with envy. Seriously, literally. No… the other one.

I will try to keep up with all the new words as I continue to help out with your educations, and again, I sincerely apologize for the whole SHAT incident. One thing is for sure. Your rhyming assignments just got a whole lot easier. All you have to do now is just add letters in front of the root sound and you’re in business. Your teacher and I don’t think STMAT is a word? No problem. Just get all the rest of the first-graders to agree that it is and bam! Aced that worksheet!

In fact, I noticed that many of you really like to leave out some or all of the vowels when you spell our “traditional” words, but us pesky adults keep correcting you. Don’t stand for it any longer! Get all your friends on the same page and then let the teachers know that the Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries will be listing WTR as an acceptable alternative spelling of WATER any day now.

With the dictionaries constantly changing to stay hip to your new groove, your education will be a breeze. In no time flat you will have aced high school and college and be living the dream. Spending all your days having a swm parts, splashng n the wtr at the pul, and lang n the sn.

Good luck with your continued education,

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soccer Season, Again

We are in our fifth (and hopefully final) soccer season as parents. I can say with all honesty that I am not the type of parent who seeks to reenact the sports glory days of my youth through my own children. Mostly because that would be unfair to them, but also because I was a mediocre athlete as a kid and never really had many “glory days” to speak of anyway.

I will leave their sports glory, or lack thereof, up to them, but I will definitely choose their sports for them. More to the point, I want to choose what sports they don’t play. Soccer, specifically. We are graciously allowing them to play soccer while they are young, mostly out of a mixture of fairness and stupidity. We foolishly let Son Number One play soccer when he was five or six, not realizing how detrimental children’s soccer can be. Not for the players, mind you, but for the parents.

We won’t let them play football due to the high potential for player injury, but we really need to limit soccer for the high potential of parental heart failure. When Son Number One played his first game back in the fall of 2010, I nearly had three heart attacks and a stroke in the span of forty-five minutes.

The stress wasn’t due to too much excitement. It was just the opposite. It was from the very justifiable expectation of excitement followed immediately by absolutely nothing happening. The ball would get right up to the goal line and then seemingly every player would simply stop playing. No matter how much or how loud us helpful parents yelled “KICK IT!!!” no one would kick it. It was gut-wrenching and heart-stopping to come so close to a goal, only to have everyone stop and not kick it into the goal. And it happened over and over and over. And over.

We should have just stopped after the first season, but again, we were idiots. Son Number Two was eagerly waiting his turn to play, and we were weak and just couldn’t bring ourselves to say no. (We kick ourselves now for that moment of lily-livered parenting.) So when soccer season (or the dark times, as it is known around our house) arrived the next year, Number One and Two were both playing on different teams. If we thought one soccer season was bad, two at once was excruciating.

Son Number Two’s team continued the rich tradition of painful inaction in front of the goal, but Son Number One’s team brought us a new frustration. They had graduated to a much larger field, and while the players were a little more aggressive and skilled near the goal, they almost never got there. The field was so large, ninety percent of the game was spent passing the ball back and forth from one team to another out in the middle of the four-acre Bermuda grass rectangle of despair. “PASS IT TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!” we yelled helpfully. They did not.

Early on in his second season, Son Number One showed us a glimmer of hope. Not hope of making soccer more palatable for his parents, but of us possibly being able to get out of this mess. He gave us a light at the end of our long, dark soccer tunnel. Thankfully, Number One was born with my inherent laziness. Given the choice between motion and rest, ninety-eight percent of the time he will choose rest. He did not like the big field at all. He was quoted by his coach as saying, “You know, Coach, I don’t really like to run, so if you could put me on defense or at goalie, that would be great.”

This was good news and we nurtured it. “Boy, that field sure is large, isn’t it, son. It’s waaaay bigger than last year. Must be hard to run all the way up and all the way back every time. I’ll bet you’re tired! I know I would be. You know, the field will be even bigger when you move up again next season. Think ya wanna play again next year?”

There was no way he was going to opt for a third season. The parents shoot… they score! Unfortunately, while we were happily listening to Son Number One complain about being tired, his gung-ho younger brother, Number Two, seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously out on the pitch. Uh-oh.

Youth sports are not a one-way street. It is not “all about the kids,” as some positive coaching organizations want you to believe. Youth sports are somewhat about children learning skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship, but mostly about what the parents are able to handle. We just couldn’t afford to go through heart attack and stroke-inducing soccer for any longer than absolutely necessary, so we needed to act fast to discourage Son Number Two. We saw our opening with Son Number One and took it.

New family rule: Each child gets to play soccer for two years and then it’s on to swimming and/or baseball. That way, dad should still be around to enjoy it all.

Kids are not really deep philosophical thinkers – at least, my kids aren’t – so they don’t tend to question their lives too much as long as everything seems fair to them. “I’m forced to do manual labor all weekend? Well, OK, as long as my brothers have to also.” So Son Number Two fell right into line with the soccer moratorium. He played his two years and hung up his cleats at the ripe old age of six, just like his older brother. Did he want to play longer? I never asked him and I don’t care. Like I said, youth sports are a two-way street, and my arteries have the right of way.

I’ve had a few scares that just turned out to be indigestion from the snack bar food, but luckily no actual heart attacks yet. Son Number Three is now in his second (final) soccer season, out on the big field, so my heart just has to stay strong for two more months and we can all move on with our lives. Please keep me in your prayers.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, September 3, 2014

Alaska, Part II

My wife and I are back from Alaska, and someone seems to have sabotaged our house while we were away. Everything is swaying back and forth. My parents stayed with our boys for the week while we were away on our amazing adventure at a floating fishing lodge. When we returned I tried to ask my folks if they felt the swaying also, but they were too busy running out the door to listen to me, yelling over their shoulders something about being tricked and never spending an entire week with all three of our boys ever again. Hmm… they looked tired.

I just assumed our boys would behave better for their grandparents than they do for us. I guess I was wrong. I had all sorts of assumptions about our Alaska trip before we left, and they all turned out to be wrong, too. For instance, the fishing lodge we went to had very strict luggage limitations, complete with a pre-printed packing list. I had assumed that the reason they were only allowing me to bring two pairs of pants had something to do with weight limits on the float plane. I was wrong. I now understand that the lodge sets clothing limits because they are helpful and kind. They want to help minimize the amount of your wardrobe you will lose when you inevitably set fire to your luggage once you’re home.

Burning your clothes is the only proven method to eliminate the stench infused in them after five days of salmon fishing in an 18-foot boat. You see, fishing on the ocean in Alaska is brutal and messy. I assumed our once-in-a-lifetime trip would be a lot more like a relaxing vacation, but I was wrong. Our days were filled with slipping, slamming, flopping, cutting, bruising, stabbing, and bleeding. And that was just trying to get the bait on the hook. You should have seen what happened once a fish was actually in the boat!

I had also assumed, based on all the talk about how many fish we were sure to catch, that catching said fish would be easy. I was wrong. Before arriving, I just figured you would put the line in the water, move the boat forward, and fish from all over the surrounding ocean would come to you. Not so. It turns out you are supposed to know where they are, using something called “local knowledge,” and you have to actually take the boat to them, and you are supposed to know what they are thinking based on a whole host of considerations.

Factors that affect where the fish are and how and why they might eat your bait include, but are not limited to: tides, currents, water depth contours, kelp, lure color, spinning lure accessories, spinning lure accessory color, spinning lure accessory spin rate, bait freshness, whale activity, boat speed relative to current speed, and direction of boat travel. We were also told later in the week that it was important to make sure your bait and lures were actually underwater, down where the fish are, and not skipping across the top of the water while you eat a sandwich, drink a beer, and look for whales. So many technical considerations.

All the other people who were staying at the lodge seemed to know all this beforehand, but I was the fishing equivalent of a hunter all decked out in camouflage with a deer rifle, wandering around the inside of a Macy's department store wondering why he’s not seeing any big bucks.

After re-watching the lodge’s orientation video a few times, my wife and I finally figured it out and started catching a lot of salmon. (Unfortunately, it was on the last day of our trip.) Apart from salmon tips, the video also explained how to operate the harpoon when landing a halibut. I had assumed I would not need to harpoon anything while in Alaska, but again, I was wrong. Sort of. You see, I am male, so naturally I have wanted to harpoon something since I first heard the word harpoon as a small child. My interest in harpooning something grew exponentially when I found out what a harpoon actually was. However, since I didn’t grow up in a family of 16th century Dutch whalers, I never had too many opportunities. I did try to harpoon my older sister once with a full-sized shovel when I was five, but I only hit her in the thumb, and I forgot to attach a rope, so she got away.

On day three, exhausted from hearing everyone else’s amazing salmon catching stories, my wife and I tried halibut fishing. This required an entirely new set of considerations, mostly revolving around how to keep the boat over the same spot on the bottom while being pushed and blown all over the place by the tide and the wind up on top. Fortunately, the boat was equipped with about $10,000 worth of navigation and sonar equipment that proved to be absolutely no help with this task. We finally decided that the only way it would work was if I just drove the boat in reverse while she fished. I was fine with that though, because I knew if she did catch a halibut, I would be the one to get to harpoon it.

After about forty-five minutes of my wife questioning me on why I was unable to keep the boat in one place, and me trying to explain to her why the earth/moon azimuths were working against me, not to mention the severe tidal friction, she finally hooked into the big one. Two hundred feet straight down, Moby Halibut was on the other end of her line. She fought and reeled for what seemed like hours as I scrambled around the deck readying the harpoon. The harpoon’s detachable razor-sharp steel tip was attached to a sturdy rope, tied on the other end to an orange float buoy, in case the monster got away from you once harpooned, he wouldn’t be able to swim too far, just like when they attached the barrels to Jaws.

Up came the denizen from the deep, and in went the harpoon, just behind the pectoral fin, just as the video had shown. He thrashed and flipped and gnashed, but he was no match for the mighty seagoing duo of Mr. and Mrs. Alaska Tourism Board. We finally wrestled him into the boat, and after ten minutes or so of figuring out where we were, we raced back to the lodge to offload the beast. Back at the dock I was beaming with pride.

Me - “Did you see where I harpooned it? Just like the video, right? Nailed it!”
Johnny the deck hand – “Yeah. Good placement, but… uh… why did you harpoon it?”
Me – “I thought you were supposed to.”
Johnny – “No, not really. I mean, it’s fine, we just really only use the harpoon for the big ones.”
Me – “This isn’t a big one?”
(Sound of the entire Alaskan fishing lodge crew laughing)

Apparently, Moby Halibut was only seventeen pounds. A “harpoon-worthy” halibut in Alaska is closer to one hundred pounds. Basically, I harpooned a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich.

I don’t care. It was awesome.

Another assumption I had made was a long-standing one, and not related to the trip specifically. I had always assumed that my wife was a nice, kind-hearted person. No so. At least, not under certain circumstances in Alaska. When we were catching big Coho salmon, many fish were lost due to poorly set hooks. They fight and thrash like crazy, so getting them into the boat can be challenging, and given the high skill level required to actually find them and hook them in the first place, losing them was more than mildly defeating.

So there I was, happily living my life one sunny morning, smiling under the assumption that I knew my wife, until I accidentally missed netting one of her salmon, sending him jumping and thrashing away from the boat. He was still hooked, but my beautiful wife began swearing at me like an angry, drunken longshoreman. I tried to calm her down by pointing out that he was still hooked and we hadn’t lost him yet, and I even reminded her of how well I had harpooned the halibut, but she just told me to shut my #@!&* and %$#!@ and net her $@!#& fish this time. Alaska is no place for the tame. (Or for children, if you happen to miss netting one of my wife’s fish.)

Hmm… I really liked it up there, but I’m glad to be back on dry land, even if it is still moving around a little. My wife hardly ever swears at me here at home. Any assumptions I may have made about her being sweet, I surely had made the reverse assumptions when envisioning the staff of an Alaskan fishing lodge. Before arriving I had imagined a team of gruff, surly, smelly seadogs, barking orders and generally being salty, since all Alaskan fishermen are obviously like the crabbers on Deadliest Catch. I was wrong yet again.

The folks at the Sea Otter Sound Lodge are some of the nicest people on planet Earth.

At least I think they are. I never accidentally missed netting one of their fish. Who knows what they might be like then?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I am going to Alaska for a week and I’m only allowed to bring two pairs of pants. They are apparently very strict in Alaska about what you can and can’t bring with you. They gave us a packing list that we must follow to the letter. All of our clothes must fit into a 10” x 17” x 24” carry-on. Thankfully they are allowing me to bring five pairs of underwear, but that’s it. Not one pair more!

I guess maybe it’s not really the whole state of Alaska that is regulating my wardrobe. I think the list actually came from the fishing lodge. My wife’s folks are taking us to an all-inclusive fishing resort in southeastern Alaska. “Southeastern Alaska” is another way of saying, “the funny little hanging down part on the right side of Alaska that is really basically just the western coast of Canada.” So really, my wife’s folks are taking us to western British Columbia, so we should be able to get good strong beer but we don’t need our passports.

Whoever it is that is telling me I can only bring five pairs of socks, I think they are possibly concerned about the float plane. They are not the only ones. We fly on Alaska Airlines into Ketchikan, which is located on the southern tip of the U.S. portion of western British Columbia, Canada, where we will spend the night. In the morning, as the fishing lodge’s brochure tells us, a float plane will pick us up at our hotel. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I must assume our hotel is floating on a wharf in the middle of a large body of water. I can’t wait to sleep there. The float plane then takes us directly to the floating fishing lodge. Yes, the entire fishing lodge is also floating. Apparently everything in Alaska has to float. That could be why they limit the amount of pants you bring to their state. Too much heavy luggage and the entire state could go under.

Float plane… Hmm… The only parts of the float plane trip I am really worried about are the takeoff, the flight itself, and the landing. Everything else should be fine. A float plane is basically a fuselage with boat parts and plane parts that is not good at being either a boat or a plane. Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, I’m all for adventure and everything, and life is about taking risks, but let’s face it; you’re going to try to take off from and land this thing on the ocean. Do you know what a concrete runway never does? It never goes up and down. Do you know what never jumps up in front of planes taking off and landing on concrete runways? Humpback whales, that’s what.

As far as the flight itself goes, the boat parts of the float plane do absolutely nothing to help the plane fly once it’s in the air. In fact, they create quite a bit of what pilots call “drag.” Too much extra weight - let’s say from carry-on luggage containing excessive amounts of pants and underwear - and that drag can become a problem, causing the pilots to do something they call “swearing,” and something else they call “ditching.” You do not want to be in the same plane as a pilot who is saying the word “ditch” or anything through his teeth that rhymes with it.

I am thinking only of my children. I am not personally scared of float planes, or of any other type of obviously dangerous multi-use craft that appear to be the unholy spawn of a drunken hookup between Boeing and Boston Whaler. I am far too manly for that. The thing is, there is a very minute chance that something could go horribly, horribly wrong with the virtually foolproof task of removing a top-heavy catamaran from the choppy, wavy ocean at high speed using a propeller and wings, flying that boat in the air for miles and miles over a large, wide island that you cannot land on even if you wanted to, and then putting it safely back down in the whale-infested ocean. I mean, I’m sure it will all go fine, but on the off chance it doesn’t, I would simply prefer not to orphan our children in one fell swoop if we can avoid it. So I’ll try to get separate float plane trips for me and my wife, but if we have to fly together, I will personally go through each passenger’s 10” x 17” x 24” bag and count their pants.

My wife, on the other hand, was never worried about the float plane ride. (At least, not until now.) Since we’re talking about Alaska, and we’re talking about my wife, naturally she was worried about bears. She heard “Alaska” and thought, “No way. Too many bears.” Then she heard “floating lodge” and changed her mind. No problem! We’re out in the water. Bears can’t get us. Let’s go!

I heard “floating lodge,” took one look at the aerial photograph on the website (no doubt taken from a flying catamaran of death), and noticed that the lodge was in fact floating in a nice, protected horseshoe bay, but it was only twenty or thirty feet from the shore on one side. It might have even had a little gangplank.

I didn’t bother to mention to my wife that not only can bears swim really well anyway, they could probably walk to the lodge. I want her to come with us.

Neither of us have ever been to Alaska, and we’re looking forward to it. After looking at a map, it turns out it’s pretty big. I have relatives who live there, (in the real Alaska, not western B.C.), and when we were invited to come along on the fishing trip, my first thought was, “Hey, cool, maybe we can go see my cousins.” Then I looked on a map and realized that was like living in Florida, going to Wisconsin on vacation, and while you were there, trying to swing by California to visit someone.

Maybe we can catch a quick ride over to see them on the float plane.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, August 20, 2014

Back to School Again

I cannot express to you how happy I am today. There are not good enough words in the English language to describe it. Did I win the lottery multi-million dollar jackpot, you ask? No, I’m happier than that.

The boys went back to school yesterday. For the stay-at-home dad, that’s like heroin.

I am back to having a full six hours per day without kids. I am about to be the most productive human ever to have lived. Do you know why Thomas Edison was such a prolific inventor and had over one thousand patents? Because there were no kids in his workshop.

We had a whirlwind summer full of travel and goofing off, and we were actually at our own house for only about twenty minutes since school got out in June. We had a good time, and for the most part the kids were self-entertaining everywhere we went. Then it all fell apart when we came home and my wife selfishly went back to work two weeks ago.

There I was. In our unfamiliar home with three boys looking expectantly at me, asking me questions like, “Where are we going now?” and “Which one is our room again?” and “Are you sure this is our house?”

“Yes, this is our house. Now go play, I have work to do in my office.”

“We’re bored. There’s nothing to do here.”

“We have almost all the Legos in North America in our game room. Go build something.”

“Oh, yeah, we forgot about the game room!”

And so began the most impressive two-week Lego building extravaganza the world has ever seen. Morning to night, the three little elves were in their workshop, creating everything imaginable. Everything imaginable, that is, by my nine, eight, and six-year-old, which seems to consist mostly of castles, spaceships, and dragons. They built and built until there was an intergalactic feudal space kingdom plagued by a nasty dragon problem that covered every flat surface in a room the size of a three-car garage. 

There were epic battles, too. Not between Lego figures and monsters, mind you, but between my three sons. We have approximately two hundred little Lego men, but everyone only wanted the one guy. We have approximately nine hundred pounds of Lego bricks, but everyone only wanted the one piece.

I tried to get work done, but at the end of the two weeks, I had written about three and a half sentences, and two and a half of them were crap. I had also broken up at least two hundred fights and refereed two thousand arguments. Is nine thirty in the morning too early to start drinking? Not in the final two weeks of summer!

After much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and several trips to “Daddy’s aisle” at the grocery store, Meet the Teacher Day finally arrived on Monday. I dragged each boy to his respective classroom and apologized in advance for the entire school year, begging the teachers to let them stay no matter what might happen.

“I just need them out of the house,” I told their teachers, with wild desperation in my eyes.

“We know,” they said, with the gray-white pallor of impending doom showing on their faces. “We know.”

As I was doing the happy dance at the school drop-off yesterday, I found that, strangely, many of the moms had a different take on a childless house than I do. While some of them shared my elation, a lot of the ladies were outwardly sad that they would be going home to an empty house. Since I had no possible way of understanding that emotion, I was not able to comfort them in any way. I was only able to shout, “WoooooHoooo,” and I don’t think that helped. Sadness about sending the kids off to school is strictly an emotion of the female gender. At the prospect of time without children, ALL dads will jump for joy. No exceptions. “I love you kids, but get out. Come back for dinner.”

After the kids had all gone to class and I had finished my happy dance, I made my way to the school’s front office. I went in to question them as to why the elementary school day is only six hours, and what we could do to bump it up to eight or ten.

They didn’t seem willing to work with me on that. They just asked me if I thought eight o’clock in the morning was too early for them to start drinking.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, August 13, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge (Sadly) Declined

I received two notices yesterday. The first was from my cousin, publicly calling me out on Facebook to take the Ice Bucket Challenge, or #IceBucketChallenge for all you hashtag-inclined folks out there. This is a semi-viral phenomenon going around the interwebs, where you film yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, which of course raises awareness and money for ALS research. This drenching practice started about five seconds after the semi-viral internet phenomenon of setting yourself on fire was invented, but I’m not quite sure how it became related to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Anyway, once you are done giving yourself an external ice cream headache, you name other people who must take the challenge and/or immediately donate to ALS research.

I was all set to get out my Home Depot bucket and raid the icemaker when I unfortunately received the second notice. This one was in the form of a letter from the Placer County Water Agency. They told me – in bold print, no less – that due to the extreme drought conditions here in California, The State Water Resources Control Board (emphasis here on Control) recently adopted statewide emergency conservation regulations requiring local water agencies to implement water restrictions.

Pursuant to the state’s action, the following uses of potable (treated) water are prohibited by PCWA customers:

(Note - They didn’t go into a lot of detail as to how they were going to prohibit our actions, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that it has something to do with taking more of our money.)

The list of all the things they are now somehow prohibiting me from doing includes: (I’m going from memory, here)

Watering of outdoor landscapes more than once every other year.

Watering in such a manner that any amount of said water touches anything that is not a living plant.

Owning a hose without a permanently attached shut-off nozzle, now also known as an outlaw hose, renegade hose, or Minnesota hose.

Washing anything that isn’t an article of clothing, a dish, or a body part.

Owning a decorative water feature. (I assume this includes pools.)

Using any amount of water between the hours of  4 A.M. and 11 P.M.

Showering for longer than 35 seconds.

And, turning on the tap at any time while brushing your teeth or shaving.

They also provided a handy list of suggestions for other ways we could help meet the state’s goal of 200,000% reduction in water usage: (Again, going from memory, here)

Limit the amount of children living in the house to one or fewer.

Obtain hydration from the leaves of your plants and trees instead of drinking tap water.

Collect any - albeit highly unlikely - rainwater for use by immediately tarping your entire property.

Reduce showering and bathing to once a month, and then, only in groups of five or more, and then, only if absolutely necessary.

Purchase or build a small home distillery to further refine all your alcoholic beverages to 200-proof, collecting the excess water for home use, and consequently, making all your parties more awesome.

And, if feasible, move to another state.

Strangely enough, there was one more restriction placed on us; the hot, sad, parched, smelly, thirsty Californians.

Addendum: You are also prohibited from using water – either in a frozen, liquid, or combined state - in any sort of filmed internet stunt purporting to be an awareness and/or fundraising program for any disease or diseases that have been linked to a current or former Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer.

I know, I know. I was as shocked as you are to see such a specific exclusion, but there it is. I would obviously be risking heavy financial penalties, and possibly also federal imprisonment, if I accepted the #IceBucketChallenge.

So, sadly, my cousin, I must decline.

It is important to note, in case the authorities happen to be reading this, that my cousin lives in Oregon, where they have been selfishly hoarding all the rain on the west coast for decades, so thankfully he was able to pour as much ice water as he wanted over his head and onto the ground. Hopefully, some of his Oregon buddies can keep the viral video dousings going. I, as stated previously for the record, sadly, do not have that luxury here in California.

Apparently, the Golden State has about thirty-eight gallons of water left, and we’re all trying to figure out who gets to use it. I promise to donate to ALS research as instructed, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to give. I have a feeling my water bill is about to get pretty expensive.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, August 6, 2014

Whole-House Fan Fan

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I failed to fix our broken air conditioner, but on the plus side, managed NOT to barbeque myself with giant exposed electrical cables while doing some amateur and ill-advised work in our electrical panel. All good news aside, I am sad to report that our air conditioner is still broken.

I’m not going to lie to you. It has been rough here. Tensions are high. Nerves are frayed. Wits are at their end.

It is hot inside our house.

We have been without A/C for almost three weeks now, and unfortunately for us, those three weeks have been some of the hottest on record here in Northern California. Other places might have been hot as well, but I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. I am afraid to turn on the TV for fear that it will either heat up the house even more or explode.

All I can tell you is our family would not do well in an equatorial country. Last Friday it was 109 degrees outside. Through the miracle of sagging and worn R40 insulation, it was only 94 degrees in our bedroom when we went to bed. Actually, I should say when I went to bed. My wife was sleeping downstairs where it was only 89 degrees. On Saturday morning she threatened to leave me and the kids and go stay at a friend’s house. She had a crazy look in her eyes. “You guys can’t come. There’s only room for me.”

I guess information, whether good or bad, is always handy to have. I now know that our cohesive family bond snaps like a dry twig around day four or five above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and we move into an every-man-for-himself scenario. Live and learn.

There are only two things keeping us from going to a full-scale Lord of the Flies situation at this point: Cold showers and our whole-house fan.

The whole-house fan is really the eighth wonder of the modern world. There are two main types of whole-house fans to choose from. The first is the ducted variety. These have a fan or fans mounted inside your attic, with ductwork that draws the air from the interior of the home. They are very quiet. We do not have that kind.

The second kind is the ceiling-mounted variety. These are basically a slightly smaller version of a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter mounted to the ceiling of your hallway. These are incredibly loud. This is the kind we have.

Deafening prop wash noise aside, all whole-house fans work in the same manner. “The fan creates a ‘positive pressure’ in the attic and a ‘negative pressure’ inside the house, consequently drawing the cooler outside air in through open windows.”

I have not been up in the attic to experience what “positive pressure” feels like, but in the case of our home at least, “negative pressure” can be described better as “a howling 40-knot gale.” Our fan has two speed settings, and if you turn it on high, you have to make sure the children are tethered down.

The loudness and ferocity of the unit might be attributable to its size. We have the biggest model available in the free world. We were smart when we bought it a few years ago, shopping for it in the whole-house fan off-season. Because we purchased it in November we saved at least seven dollars, and were able to parlay that savings into an upgrade. The salesman sold us on the big one, presumably to best fit the size of our house, or possibly because the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Ooh, I want the big one!”
Salesman: “OK. Sign here quick.”

The key point in the operational description of the fan is really the term “cooler outside air.” This is critical, and in the case of our current three-week-long survival experiment, “cooler outside air” didn’t usually manifest itself until around midnight. This put us into a strange schedule of going to bed around one A.M. and sleeping until nine o’clock in the morning. By the time we get moving in the sluggish torpor of our deliciously cool 84-degree house, we are eating breakfast around eleven A.M. and having lunch at four o’clock. Basically, we’re now Italian.

Still, we can’t blame the whole-house fan for the lack of cool outside air. It can only do what it can do with the air it’s provided. On the plus side, even if it is not cooling us off as much as we might want, it is still cooling us down. Also, it provides a nice white noise while we sleep. It’s a lot like sleeping up inside the mechanical housing on an industrial wind turbine.

I love our whole-house fan. Not only for its economical cooling during normal summer weather, but for the safety it has provided us recently. I can say without hesitation that we would be dead without it. It is impossible to say whether we would have perished from heat stroke or from the wrath of mom, but one of them was definitely going to happen.

Thankfully, there was a break in the weather the other day and my wife decided begrudgingly to stay at home with us, and refrain from killing anyone. The A/C is scheduled to be actually fixed today, so our fingers are all crossed. It might just be the heat, but after three weeks of disappointment, I remain skeptical.

One thing is for sure, when the A/C actually does get fixed, we are going to have to ease ourselves back into the cooler temperatures. At this point 85 degrees inside the house actually feels comfortable. We went out to dinner the other night and our teeth were chattering inside the restaurant. I took the boys to the grocery store yesterday and they almost went hypothermic in the refrigerated aisle.

Still, having A/C back is going to be safer for everyone. My wife informs me that there is another heat wave coming, and she looks ready to snap any minute.

If you don’t hear from me next week, send someone to check on us.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, July 30, 2014

Fifty Shades of Shark

This past week the internet was all abuzz with the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie version of the number one best-selling “adult erotica” book ever, written by a previously unknown British woman. It’s basically the Harry Potter of sex books. Never have so many housewives been so openly and publicly (I hope I spelled that correctly) excited about a porn movie coming out. Anne Rice could be heard saying, “Aw, come on, man!”

My guess is that married men accounted for at least half the book sales, although not a single man was actually reading the book. Men were buying the shelves clean of Fifty Shades on the advice of buddies, who were reporting major upticks in bedroom activity while their wives were reading the book. No one knew what the book was about, and frankly, no one cared. The results seemed fairly universal, and no one was going to question it.

To date, I believe Dave Barry is the only man to have actually read it, and that was purely for research, since his wife had not read it (yet). My wife hasn’t read it (yet) either, and I am just not willing to duplicate research, so I just read Dave’s take on it to get the gist. Apparently, women like poorly-written stories about hot single billionaires who like kinky sex. As average-looking, married, non-billionaire men who are just fine with regular sex, we all had no idea this was the case. If we had known, we all would have sat down and penned our own poorly-written stories like that to give to our wives.

You see, a man’s interest in sex stays at the exact same level his entire adult life, and that level can generally be described as, “high” and “ever-present.”

Whereas, women’s interest in sex seems to take a rather dramatic downturn when children are introduced into the picture. This may be - at first, anyway - because children are usually introduced through one of the fun parts and then claim immediate ownership of the others. After that initial phase is over, but still not helping the situation at all, the kids tend to hang around. This leaves all of us married men wondering what the hell just happened and how to get things back to the way they were. None of us have come up with any good long-term answers yet, mainly because asking the kids to leave the house and not come back is frowned upon for the first eighteen or so years. So we swarm to any temporary solutions we hear of, and the aforementioned best-selling socially-acceptable book full of smut seemed to be one of those temporary solutions.

While my wife is well aware of our differences in what is an assumed good time for “it” - meaning she understands the difference between anytime and not tonight - I was recently able to really highlight the difference through a deft and rather humorous analogy with a household appliance.

We have a Shark steam mop for our hardwood floors. Operation of said steam mop over the last year has fallen to me in my capacity as Mr. Mom. It had been almost a year since she had used it when she fired it up to mop the floors last month. She was halfway through when she started to get frustrated.

“This thing keeps stopping!”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It stops steaming every once in a while and you have to wait for it to start again.”

“I know,” I said, “it always does that.”

“No it doesn’t! It never did that before.”

“It’s done that ever since I started using it,” I said.

“It’s broken. How can you stand it?”

Hahahahaha, snort! (sound of me laughing hysterically)

“What’s so funny?”

“Well,” I laughed, “I guess I’m just used to having to wait for things to get steamy, whereas you are used to dealing with things that are always ready to go.”

I’m pretty sure she enjoyed the humorous and incredibly insightful analogy as much as I did. Or was it a metaphor? Who cares, it was funny. And I’m fairly sure she took it to heart, too, because for our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, she got me a brand new Shark steam mop.

Oh, yeah! You know what that means! My wife is very, very interested… in clean floors.

Oh, well. At least she has a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. She hasn’t read it yet, despite the many, many times I have moved it to the top of her stack, but it’s only a matter of time.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, July 23, 2014

Extreme Home Repair

I think every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive. Either that, or because of our male DNA, we just keep doing really stupid things, surviving them somehow, then telling ourselves that every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive.

Since I gave up professional snowmobile motocross and extreme cage fighting, I tend to mainly cheat death these days with home repair. It’s a win-win, really, because not only do I get to feel truly alive, but occasionally I accidentally fix something. This last time was not one of those times.

Our air conditioner quit working last week. That was a very unfortunate situation, since our house is currently sitting on the surface of the sun. It was 104 degrees the day it died. That is not cool. Fortunately - for her anyway - my wife was leaving with the kids the next day for a week-long excursion without me. That meant I would be left to sweat profusely by myself until the air conditioner guy could come out. “No problem,” I thought, as I dialed up the repair man, “I can make it a day or two.”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re scheduled out past a week at this point. We can be there next Wednesday.”

“Uhh… Can you repeat that? I had sweat inside my ear and I thought I just heard you say next Wednesday.”

It turns out that air conditioner problems are a pretty common occurrence here on the sun, and I had heard him correctly. I reluctantly scheduled my convenient four-hour window of time, and hung up the phone. As I wiped my face sweat from the phone’s front screen, I vowed to try and fix it myself in the meantime. I was mildly concerned that I might accidentally dehydrate until I remembered that beer is full of water. No problem there, but I really just wanted to be cool, and I could always cancel the appointment. Besides, I hadn’t cheated death in a while.

Through some very high-level troubleshooting at the circuit breaker panel on the side of my house, I had noticed that the breaker was tripping when the air conditioner tried to come on. I also noticed that the breaker would trip even when I had the A/C turned off. I obviously had a bad circuit breaker! I can fix that! I think…

I know what I’m doing with electricity in the same way that a teenager knows how to drive a car. I am familiar with the main concept, but I am severely lacking in skill and comprehension on some of the finer points.

What I do know is that electricity is amazing. Take a refrigerator for example. Electricity runs the compressor that makes the refrigerator cold, in turn, making your beer cold. Electricity also runs the little light bulb inside the refrigerator, making it possible to find the cold beer, even in the dark. Light bulbs are hot. Electricity is responsible for both cold and hot in the same machine, all resulting in the ability to find and drink a cold beer, any time of the day or night. Simply amazing!

I also know a little about the units involved in describing electrical circuits. Many people are confused by the relationship between Amps and Volts, and many others simply don’t know what they are at all. It’s really quite simple, actually.

Amps are the measurement of electricity’s ability to kill you, in units of consecutive missed heartbeats. Getting shocked by a 3-amp circuit will probably be survivable, but a 30-amp circuit will do you in. You simply cannot survive missing thirty consecutive heartbeats.

Voltage is the measure of how far the electricity will throw you while the amps are killing you. Volts are measured in inches per death. For instance, a 480-volt circuit will throw you 480 inches, or 40 feet, while the amps are turning you into a baked potato.

The circuit for my A/C unit has a 40-amp breaker. Forty consecutive heartbeats are too many to miss. I think it is also 220 volts, which means if I screwed up, my body would be found a little over eighteen feet away from the panel. That would put me squarely in the middle of my neighbor’s driveway.

Speaking of my neighbor, I was a little conflicted there. My family had left, so I was all alone. I wanted someone to know that I was about to attempt to cheat death, on the off chance that I had only missed ten or so heartbeats and was only blown five or six feet from the panel and clinging to life. On the other hand, our neighbor is old and I didn’t want to scare her. I decided someone was bound to drive by and see me smoking on the driveway, so I didn’t bother her.

I removed my wedding ring. I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is necessary, but I just know that professional electricians don’t wear them. I think it’s so when your wife is collecting your personal belongings after you die, she doesn't have to try and pull it off your charred ring finger.

I then watched a few YouTube videos on how to change a breaker, and instantly became an expert. I got my screwdriver and approached the electrical panel, mostly almost confident. I carefully unscrewed the panel cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. I was sweaty.

There, behind the circuit breakers, I could now see the “bus bar,” which is a Latin for “metal strip of death.” It is a large copper plate that all the circuit breakers clip onto, and it is brimming with kill-you-instantly electricity. I was fairly sure that I could disable the bus bar by switching the large main circuit breaker off. I could see another copper plate coming from under another protective cover that looked like it was going to the main breaker, but I wanted to be sure.

I carefully unscrewed the other cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. There behind the panel, I was face-to-face with all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood, coming in from the street on two wires as thick as Costco polish sausages. This was not on any of the videos.

I should not have removed this cover.


Sure enough, they were attached to the plate running to the main breaker, so I was almost confident that shutting the main breaker off would kill the bus bar, but I knew for a fact there was no way to shut off the power to the two giant cables of doom that I had just uncovered.

I was now sweating and moving like the guy diffusing the bomb in the action film. If I accidentally touched the metal cover or my screwdriver to either of these humongous wires, I would receive enough Amps and Volts to miss a month’s worth of heartbeats and weld my body to the stop sign at the end of the street. Despite the gallons of sweat and nervous hand tremors, I managed to replace the cover and screw it down without incident.

Crisis averted. Death cheated, yet again.

I switched off the main, removed the old 40-amp breaker, and took it to Lowe’s to find a new one. They had an exact match, and new one in hand, I drove back to my house confident and even a little proud. Today, I know everything there is to know about electricity. Today I am an electrical super-genius. Today I am Tony Stark from Iron Man.

I slapped that new breaker in, buttoned up the panel cover, and flipped the main back on. Confidently, I flipped the new 40-amp breaker on… only to have it trip right back off.

Hmm… Electrical super-genius Tony Stark did not seem to fix anything here. In fact, all I seemed to have accomplished was spending eleven dollars on a breaker I didn’t need and getting to reset all the clocks inside an 85-degree house. Not awesome.

After spending the majority of the rest of the week in my car with the A/C running, I’m now in the middle of my convenient four-hour window, waiting for the real electrician to arrive and actually fix something. I don’t think I’ll tell him this story.

Oh, well. At least I cheated death. I feel truly alive!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, July 16, 2014

Lions and Tiger Sharks and Bears, Oh My

My wife’s folks live in Morro Bay, California, and we have traditionally loved to go and visit them in their sleepy little beach town, but at this point, we may need them to move. Apparently, all the dangerous animals in North America are descending on Morro Bay, no doubt lured in by the bargains on touristy sea shell art and good clam chowder.

We were there with them last week, and everything with large teeth showed up at the same time. We were greeted with the news that a shark had bitten a surfer’s board just south of the bay two days before our arrival. The surfer was uninjured, but the board did not fare as well. Officials said the eleven-inch diameter bite ring left in the board suggested a shark length of approximately “holy-crap-who-the-hell-cares-how-long-it-is-its-mouth-is-a-foot-wide!” That was obviously just an estimate, since officials were unable to determine the species, but one unnamed Fish and Game officer was quoted as saying, “Whatever kind of shark we’re dealing with, it’s not too bright. It chose to bite into the hard foam surfboard, when the soft, tasty surfer was right there.”

Choosing to believe that the bungling shark, which may or may not have learned from its culinary mistake, would obviously go further south in search of warmer waters and softer prey, we bravely made our way down to the beach. We were greeted by flyers posted at all the public beach access points, warning us of a “Confirmed Shark Sighting” in north Morro Bay the day before. The flyer advised us to “enter the water at your own risk,” and to “keep away from marine wildlife.” In an apparent jurisdictional mix-up between the coastal first-responders, the flyers were printed and distributed by the fire department. No one could figure out why, since, as far as anyone can remember, no sharks in Morro Bay have ever caught on fire.

Since none of us had brought surfboards - the obvious preferred dining option of central coast sharks - we were reluctant to venture too far out into the water, for fear of becoming the backup meal plan. We did allow the children to play in the ocean - in this case, the ocean being defined as the wet sand instead of the dry sand - and considered ourselves to be perfectly safe. Boy, were we wrong!

Little did we know, the water may have been the safest place. We returned to the house later that day to the news of three confirmed mountain lion sightings in and around Morro Bay that morning. We had foolishly been facing the ocean all day, paying no attention to the trees and bushes behind us that could have contained a deadly beast. We considered ourselves lucky to be alive, having literally been surrounded by dangerous wild animals all day. One official from the Harbor Patrol was quoted as saying, “Now we need the fire department. It’s a cat.”

We stayed inside for the rest of the trip and played gin rummy.

This infestation of carnivorous beasts is nothing new. In May of 2013, morning surfers alerted city officials that there was a bear wandering around on Morro Rock, which sits on a small peninsula, basically out in the middle of the ocean. After drug testing the surfers and coming up negative, the officials were forced to look into their story. Sure enough, there was a 250-pound black bear sitting in the bushes at the base of the big rock, less than fifty feet from the beach that would soon be populated with tourists.

Since there were apparently no concurrent shark or mountain lion sightings to deal with, almost every agency within a thirty-mile radius was called in for support. State police, local police, firemen, State Parks, Harbor Patrol, Fish and Game, the marines, guards of the national, life, and coast varieties, EMTs, meter maids, boat captains, a small detachment from the local VFW, and even the janitor in charge of the Morro Rock Beach public bathroom were all on-scene and available to help.

The bear caused such a panic among the Morro Bay officials that the high school, over half a mile away, was put on lock-down. The Morro Bay High School principal ignored the opportunity to have one of the most epic impromptu all-school field trips ever, in favor of locking the kids in their classrooms to stare down at their phones some more. That seems short-sighted to me, but in all fairness, he might have been worried that many of his pasty-white, video-game-generation students would simply not be able to physically make it a half-mile down the beach. It’s all about the children’s safety, after all.

Despite the fire department’s insistence on being the lead agency, stating repeatedly that the bear looked awfully dry, the California Department of Fish and Game finally took control of the scene. They shot the bear with a tranquilizer dart and relocated it to California Valley, which was viewed by many to be inhumane, since California Valley is nothing but hundreds of thousands of acres of dry brown grass, and does not have good fish tacos. In any case, the wayward bear was certainly not the first Morro Bay tourist to take drugs and wake up in an unfamiliar place, but he was definitely the hairiest.

The Morro Rock bear was by far the most exciting thing to happen in the little tourist town last year. I’m fine with a little excitement once in a while, but it really seemed like the animals were ganging up on us this trip. We will probably still keep visiting, though, if for no other reason than the fantastic local news coverage of these events.

The 2013 bear news highlight had to be this gem of an observation by one local reporter: “While this is the first sighting of a bear at Morro Rock, bears have been spotted just south of here in Los Osos.”

That revelation may have even prompted the first-year Spanish students at Morro Bay High School to glance up from their phones long enough to say, “Duh!”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, July 9, 2014

Sleeping Around

My back hurts. It always has some level of ache going on, but today it hurts. That’s because we’re on vacation. When you’re on vacation, you sleep somewhere other than your own bed, and for the over-forty-year-old male human, that usually means back pain. Or neck pain. Body part pain of some kind, anyway.

Vacations, in that way, are a conundrum for us over-forty males. We enjoy getting away from the day-to-day routine, but we know it’s going to hurt. So far this summer my family has been camping twice, where I got to sleep on a nice comfortable layer of stones and twigs, to two vacation homes where I got to sleep in little miniature versions of actual-sized beds, and to my in-law’s house at the beach, where the bed is almost life-sized, but about as comfortable as sleeping in or on my car.

All this rest and relaxation may just kill me. I’m starting to make groaning noises every time I transition in or out of a chair, and if I could figure out how to stay upright, I would seriously consider trying to sleep standing against the wall while we’re away from home. This is not to say that our bed at home is perfect. Far from it. It causes aches and pains, too. It’s just that it’s the home field, and I know how to play it. Our mattress is made out of an acceptable blend of coil springs and padding, whereas all the other mattresses I have slept on recently, in hotel rooms or people’s guest rooms seem to be filled with either 100% marshmallow cream or a mixture of rocks and scrap metal. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Our mattress at home is relatively new. Or, should I say, relatively pre-owned. About a year ago, when our old mattress finally developed two sleep valleys so deep that we could not see each other over the middle hump, we decided it might be time to get a new one. We went to Sleep Train, which, much to my disappointment, was not located on an actual train. We went into the boring, completely motionless building and lay/sat on about eight different mattresses while our three boys jumped/tackled each other on the remaining thirteen. Many of the mattresses on the showroom floor seemed very comfortable, but they all cost roughly twenty thousand dollars each, or thirty thousand if you wanted the matching box spring. After reviewing the pricing, I decided we would just have to suck it up and sleep on our couches. The manager, sensing my hesitation at spending more for a bed than a new car, suggested we might want to look at some of their used mattresses.

I was interested, but my wife balked at the idea, citing the fact that we bought our last mattress new, and she didn’t understand what my problem was. I tried to explain to her that just like a new car, a new mattresses will lose over half its value the minute we drive it off the showroom floor, and nearly every mattress we have ever slept on has been “used,” but she remained unconvinced. The manager, with his years of mattress selling experience, kept her from running out the front door by asking me politely to shut up, and telling her that “used” meant the previous owner had it for less than two days, and returned it in like-new condition. Sleep Train (which, as I mentioned before, is incomprehensibly stationary) had then cleaned the returned mattress, just a precaution, mind you, with rubbing alcohol – apparently the universal pre-owned precautionary mattress cleaning agent - and offered it at a drastically reduced price, which was more in the range of what one might pay for a late model used car.

I was sold. My wife begrudgingly went along with the transaction, and we had our like-new mattress delivered that day. I slept alone in our new used bed for a week or two until my wife was sure that I hadn’t contracted any diseases, venereal or otherwise, then she finally joined me. While this mattress is still much better for my rapidly disintegrating body than any surface I have encountered this summer, it is not exactly perfect, as I mentioned. The other day while we were at home, I woke up with my hip hurting. I limped for two days, but I had gone to bed that night feeling just fine. I had just slept “funny.” That’s not right. Sleep is supposed to be a time of rejuvenation. There is something very wrong with getting hurt while you sleep. It seems unfair.

Getting old is rough. I didn’t used to have these problems. When my wife and I got married we were thirty years old. I could sleep anywhere on anything. We started out with my old bed from college which consisted of nine springs under a thinning sheet of quilted fabric, held together with lint and duct tape. When she wanted to replace it I seriously questioned why. I saw nothing wrong with it. I would bounce out of that bed every morning, ready to take on the world, not an ache to be found.

We just had our twelve year anniversary, and things have definitely changed. Now I wake up more sore than when I went to sleep. That’s probably not a good sign for the future…

Oh, well. It’s been a great twelve years otherwise, and my wife sure is lucky. A little over a decade later, and she gets to sleep in a newish used bed soaked in rubbing alcohol with an old man who smells like Bengay. Happy anniversary, honey!

I guess if she ever gets nostalgic for our twelve-year-old bed with the worn out springs and the deep sleep valleys that we purchased new, she’s in luck. It’s right down the hall in our guest room.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 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, July 2, 2014

The Chair of Death

I think my distain for garage sales is fairly well documented. Every year around the beginning of July, Kiki the Rocklin Super Realtor holds a community-wide garage sale in our neighborhood, where she convinces three thousand people to sell things on their driveways all on the same morning. That means everyone living in the twenty-block radius is simultaneously held hostage by hordes of terrible drivers unleashing infantry divisions of bargain-savvy shoppers onto our quiet streets, all looking for deals on used pants and decorative felt Elvis paintings.

Since I don’t like explaining to people who may or may not understand me why seventy-five cents isn't too much to pay for a pair of jeans, I don’t usually participate. This year, however, since I am an idiot, I decided to haul some of the bigger items out of my garage that were merely taking up space, with no hope of ever being used. I ended up displaying a table saw, a drill press, and a welder. It was the manliest garage sale ever. You could smell the testosterone in the air. Or maybe that was my sweat from having just dismantled my entire garage to extract a table saw, a drill press, and a welder from under the twenty-five hundred pounds of other stuff I never use either.

Unfortunately, the clientele were not in the market for the more manly, big-ticket items I was selling. I sat in a lawn chair on my driveway for three hours and managed to only sell a box of welding rod that came with the welder. I made ten dollars.

Meanwhile, my wife was out cruising all the other garage sales in the area. Right about the time I made my incredible sale, she pulled back up to the house with a big white rocking chair hanging out of the trunk.

“How much did you pay for that?”

“Ten dollars.”

Great, now I'm back to even. I mentally scanned our entire house and backyard. There is no place to put a large rocking chair.

“Where are you going to put that?”

“On the front porch!”

She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. As if we have had a dire need for seating on our front porch forever, and she couldn't believe I was even asking. As if she was bringing home a new stove and I was asking where it was supposed to go.

Turns out, in her mind, we have had a dire need for front porch seating ever since we moved in. I just didn't know it. Actually, in her mind, I think we have had a dire need for front porch decoration. Now, I realize lots of people sit on their front porches, but we can't. Our porch is about the size of a postage stamp and it faces southwest, so for most of the day, it is hotter than the surface of the sun.

I brought these things up to her. “That's not the point,” she said.

Hmm… So you have purchased a chair that no one will ever sit in?

“I’m planning on painting it brown to match the front door.” (Translation for the unmarried – “I am going to have you paint it brown one day instead of letting you watch the game.”)

“Well, that’s nice, but changing the color of it won’t change the fact that we can’t sit on our porch. For starters, there’s only room for one chair, so it would be kind of creepy for someone to sit there, plus you would burn up into a heap of ashes.”

“I’m going to get a little table and put a potted plant next to it.”

“I hope the plant is fireproof.”

“Shut up.”

I gave up arguing the point and went back to my sale. I decided it was time to abandon hope of selling any more of my manly merchandise, so I closed up shop. After I moved all my giant power tools back into the garage and rearranged the two tons of other crap to its original configuration, I was exhausted. I needed to sit down. Do you know where it never occurred to me to sit down? Our front porch.

Later that day my wife came back from the store with a new cushion for the unusable porch chair.

“What was wrong with the cushion that came with the chair?”

“It was red!” (Same exasperated how-can-you-not-know-the-answer-to-your-inane-question tone.)

“Was that cushion free?”

“Of course not. Why?”

“No reason.” (I am no longer even on this day. Why on earth did I dismantle my garage?!)

I graciously offered to put the new cushion on the chair. I retrieved the old red (obviously wrong) cushion and set it aside. I sat down in the new chair. I rocked back and forth, enjoying the three thousand degree heat radiating off the stucco all around me and soaking in the view of the backside of my porch support column. Let’s just say you brought your flame-retardant space suit with you, and you could actually stand the heat. You could always pull the chair out from behind the big post. If you did that you would have a pretty good view of the Tree of Death and the street. The only problem is you would be blocking the front door and rocking on the doormat. That seems ultimately problematic from an ingress/egress perspective.

Those things, however, aren’t the real problem here. The biggest issue I see with our new front porch decoration is a long-term one. I am afraid we are installing a lethal booby trap. You see, we have black widow spiders around our house, and anything that sits idle outdoors for any length of time is a good candidate for one of their sticky webs. Add in the decorative table and potted plant, and that chair will be a death trap inside of a month.

While The Tree of Death only smells bad, I’m afraid The Chair of Death might actually be able to kill you. Fair warning, folks. If you come over, I would advise against sitting until you get inside. If the venomous spiders don’t get you, the heat stroke might finish you off.

I sure am enjoying the comfort of my new red cushion on my desk chair, though.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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