Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Freedom isn't Free

The Fourth of July is a special time for me, and not just because of the magnificent pairing of beer and explosives. I have always loved celebrating our freedom, but the last couple of years have been extra special, because it was around this time in July of 2013 when I extricated myself from the business world to become a full-time writer.

Now, when I celebrate our freedom as Americans, I also have a little mini personal celebration of my daily freedom from having a boss. I guess I should say, a boss that I’m not married to. Two years ago I traded one boss for another, but my new one is much easier to work with, and I can sleep with her without it being an ethical issue.

Prior to my incredibly liberating decision to quit my job, I had an eighteen-year career in engineering. While I don’t miss much about the working world, I do miss the people now and again. I worked with a lot of good, smart people, a lot of good but not-so-smart people, and a few folks that can only be categorized as brain-dead.

Strangely, it’s the brain-dead ones I miss the most. They were never easy to work with (or for), but if you could survive the frustrations, they did provide a level of entertainment that you just can’t get anywhere else. 

Sure, now I’m home with my kids, and they say ridiculous things.
“Dad! He hit me in the nuts with an X-wing fighter.”
“Only because he just bit my butt.”

That’s all well and good for a laugh, but it’s slightly tempered because it’s to be expected from young kids. The real true comedy comes from when those inane comments are coming from a grownup. When you get that kind of idiocy from a colleague, a client, or your boss, that’s comedy gold.

Over my career (perhaps sensing that someday I would become a writer), I wrote down some of the verbal gems that I received. Here are some of the highlights:


Geography

I was talking with someone about a company’s operations in Thailand, and he kept referring to the workers as “Taiwanese.”
Importing people from a different country seems unnecessary.


I overheard this conversation in a break room once:
World Traveler: “I lived in Europe for two years. My favorite part was driving between all the different countries.”
Geography Major: “Did you ever drive over to Australia?”
WT: “Uh... I was in Europe. I did drive to Austria a bunch of times. It was great.”
GM: “I’ll bet the beaches were nice, huh?”
WT: “Uh...”
I’ll bet if that other company opened a facility in Australia they would staff it with Austrians.



English as a second language – Awesomely, however, every single one of these gems come from people born and raised in ‘Merca

I had someone substitute the word “oversight” for “insight” in a phone call and not skip a beat. “Your excellent oversight with that problem...”
Yes, any time I can help by overlooking your problems, I’m happy to do so.


I worked with a guy for a long time who just made up words. My favorite was “squose.” He believed it was the past tense or past participle of squeeze.  He would say to clients things like, “We squose four into the same space.” It was magical.


“Not the most eloquent solution”
Irony isn’t even a good enough word.

And then, just to really keep everyone on their toes, the same guy said, “In his eloquent way, he picked a Thursday to start the project.”
You aren’t even using the word wrong the same way. How many incorrect meanings do you think it has and what are they??


Someone talking about the honor his son was receiving for high school graduation:
“He’s graduating magna cum lau, or whatever”
So I guess the milkman helped him with his homework all these years?


"I point-blank alluded to him"
Nope, nope, nope, nope.



And my favorite category: Idioms – Know when and how to use them – and most importantly, what they mean. Again, awesomely, all from born and bred ‘Mercans

“Now he’s singing to the choir”
In the context of the conversation, this was a wonderful mixture of “singing a different tune” and “preaching to the choir.”


“He wants me at his call and beckon”
A good example of the rule – if you don’t know the idiom, don’t try to use it.


“This hits home right between the eyes”
It does?


“That’s been their Achilles' heel in their side... or however you want to say it”
However I want to say it? I guess if it was up to me, I would choose one or the other - Achilles' heel or thorn in their side. That's just me, though.


“Take the political middle of the ground”
I think it was a combination of high ground and middle of the road.


“I'm treading on a gray area”
Uh...?Possibly a mixture of “thin ice” and “gray area,” although, one of those is a lot worse than the other, so I’m not sure how serious this is.


“He beat him to the punchline”
Sure he did.


“Squealing like a stuffed pig”
Stuffed... stuck... they all squeal.


“The ship is sailing, but no one's at the helm, and we're not tied up to the port”
Uh... say what?


“I would undress him with both barrels”
Dress down, maybe? Or unload? Or are there some other issues you want to discuss?


“Didn't mean to throw gasoline on an open wound, there”
Fire... salt... who can keep track of all this stuff?


“Just tell them we’re keeping our pulse on it”
I would tell them that, but I don’t want to confuse them.


“I took it as a grain of salt”
Like, it was really small?


“Shot it up the ladder”
This was supposed to be “run it up the flagpole.” The only thing they got right was “it up the.”


“The ball is in my court, but I don’t have a player on the other side of the net”
Huh?


“We don’t want any black toes on this one”
Yes, frostbite is not a good option. My best guess is it was a hybrid of “black eyes” and “stubbed toes.”


“They’re breathing down my throat”
He meant “breathing down my neck,” but the misuse of the idiom left a visual that I couldn’t unsee inside my mind.


“I’m trying to tread water lightly on this one”
Jesus? Is that you?



They say freedom isn’t free, and that’s very true. I may not be tied to an eight-to-five office life anymore, but that freedom came at a cost. I lost out on a regular supply of this kind of comedy magic.

I mean, sure, one of my sons just told me he accidentally dropped his underwear in the toilet when he was peeing. That will be a hilarious story, but the fact remains that I still have to clean it up.

Happy Independence Day! God bless ‘Merca!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Love Meth

It’s time I came clean. I can’t hide it anymore.

I love crystal meth. I can’t stop. I have to have it all the time.

Not the actual drug. What am I, an idiot? Don’t answer that.

No, I’m talking about the show about the drug; Breaking Bad. It’s soooo good. It’s the best thing I’ve put into my eyes since Pulp Fiction came out.

I was addicted from the first scene. The pilot episode begins with a middle-aged man wearing only beige socks, tan Hush Puppies, tighty whities, and a full-face gas mask, behind the wheel of an antique Winnebago, driving frantically at seventy miles an hour down a desert road, with an unconscious passenger riding shotgun in a gas mask, and two dead gang bangers and a destroyed chemistry set sliding around on the linoleum floor in the back.

You had me at hello. I will take whatever else you have to offer, please.

I know we’re about eight years late to the party, but we don’t have whatever channel it was on, and we’re too cheap to pay for Netflix, and we were busy raising kids and working and stuff, so we had to bide our time and wait to make friends with someone who owned it on DVD.

We finally found our DVD dealer, and now we’re binge-watching the chronicles of Walter White, high school chemistry teacher gone bad.

Through a rare perfect storm of writing, casting, acting, and directing, the geniuses behind Breaking Bad have made a show about meth more addicting than actual meth. My wife and I have watched thirteen episodes in two nights.

We are TV tweakers. Just like meth heads, our dietary habits and personal hygiene have gone out the window. Sleep? Showers? Dinner? Who cares? All we care about is the next episode. You’ve heard of meth mouth? I have meth butt. I am creating a divot in our new couch, and my back is starting to hurt, but I don’t care.

The only thing we care about is the next episode.

That became more obvious last night when my wife foolishly had a girls’ night out instead of watching the hijinks of Walter White with me. We were both a wreck. She couldn’t concentrate on the conversation, because all she could think about was getting back to the couch at home. I did nothing but pace back and forth in front of the television, waiting for her to get home and nervously itching my meth butt, craving my fix.

We won’t make that mistake again. We don’t need less Breaking Bad in our lives. We need more. From now on, we will always stay home. We need more Walter White. We need more Jesse Pinkman. We need more Skinny Pete. We need more of it all.

Is six o’clock in the evening a good bed time for the kids during the summer? It is if you’re trying to get to season three as fast as you can.

You guys didn’t get dinner? Um... here’s a bag of Cheetos. Eat them in your room. G’night. Yes, I know it’s still daytime outside. Go to sleep.

Why are you kids awake at five A.M.? Go away. Your mom and I were up until two this morning watching our shows. You’re hungry? Go see if the neighbors are having breakfast. You can eat over there. We need to sleep for another five or six hours.

We have to rest up. We’ve got a long night of meth ahead of us.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Ultimate Father's Day Gift - Repost

As far as I know, my children have made no progress whatsoever on The Blanket Anchor (TM pending), so I am reposting this in hopes of some good news this year.


Father’s Day is right around the corner. My boys are young, so I still get homemade cards, but it won’t be long before I start receiving ties that I will never wear and bottles of cologne that I will never open. My dad still has twenty-six bottles of Old Spice from me, and not one of them has ever been opened. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized he never wore cologne in the first place. I want to avoid this with my own kids before I have to find a spot to store thirty-five gallons of Axe body spray.

So, I am hereby publicly announcing what I want for Father’s Day. I would like my three boys to invent something. Something specific. Something that could change the world. Something that will benefit not only me, but possibly every father on the planet.

I want my boys to invent The Blanket Anchor.

Here’s the problem: I sleep in a king-size bed with a wife that has major temperature swings. You would think that the king-sized sheets, blankets, and duvets on a king-size bed would be more than enough to cover two people adequately. You would be wrong, in our case.

Depending on the time of year, my wife comes to bed either on the verge of sweating profusely or on the verge of freezing to death. There is no middle ground. At no point since having children has she been comfortable from a temperature standpoint, especially at bedtime.

And, no matter what her starting state, at some point in the middle of the night, her temperature completely reverses. During the winter, she can reach up to two thousand degrees by midnight. By morning, she is usually back to where she was when she came to bed.

These extreme swings in spousal temperature lead to a lot of blanket movement. There are times when I wake up noticing that I am a little warm and my movements are slightly restricted, only to find I am under a three-foot-thick pile of bedding. Most of the time, however, it is the opposite. Nine days out of ten I wake up without any covers to speak of.

My wife is in denial. I have tried to explain to her that while sleeping she tends to mimic an Australian crocodile doing a death roll, gathering all the sheets and blankets in a horizontal tornado-like fashion, wrapping herself up like a roll of toilet paper. She refuses to believe that she even moves during the night. She has gone as far as to accuse me of pushing the covers over onto her side. When I asked her to show me how exactly to push a blanket across a bed she just changed the subject.

All I can tell you is at the first sign of movement from her side of the bed, I grab onto the sheet and hold on for dear life. It usually doesn’t help. Anyone who thinks women are the weaker sex should try to get the covers back from one of them. During the day, I can beat my wife in any sort of physical strength competition like arm wrestling, but not at night. She is approximately twenty to thirty times stronger when she is asleep. The perfect tug of war team would be six sleeping women all holding onto the same bed sheet.

And if I ever have to get out of bed to pee (or in many cases with my boys, to clean up pee), I can simply forget about having any covers when I get back to bed. Now, many of you unmarried men out there are probably asking, “Why don’t you just wake her up and get your covers back?” That’s cute. I miss those days when I was young and carefree. I’m not going to begin to try to explain to you why that is such a bad idea. Just suffice it to say that I would rather simply get dressed and leave the house in the middle of the night, find a flock of sheep, shear some of them, and attempt to make my own blanket instead. That would be less troublesome.

So there it is, boys. All I want for Father’s Day is The Blanket Anchor. I want something that insures that the blankets and sheets I have when I go to bed get to be at my disposal for the entire night.

I don’t know what it will look like. I don’t even know how it will work. All I know is I want covers.

Until such time as the invention has been completed, I do not want ties and cologne as Father’s Day filler gifts. I would simply appreciate more homemade cards, with progress reports on The Blanket Anchor (TM pending).

Thanks,
Love,
Dad


See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One Year Left

What would you do if they only gave you a year to live? That’s the situation I’m faced with right now.

You might spend some time coming to grips with it, then plan out an epic year full of family and friends and parties and eating and drinking.

I can’t do that.

You see, the news of my impending demise didn’t come from a doctor. It came from my rather adventurous mother-in-law, who called yesterday to tell me the “good news.”

“I just booked us for a mule ride down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon next June!”

That momentarily sounded like fun until I did a little internet research on this non-refundable adventure that I’m now contractually and familial-ly obligated to go on.

The mule ride company’s website started out sounding great. There is no Grand Canyon adventure more rewarding or more unique than a mule ride.  The overnight rides go deep into the canyon, staying overnight at Phantom Ranch. If you think the view from the rim takes your breath away, wait until you experience the Grand Canyon from within.

Then I found the You Tube videos from former riders capturing the experience. After watching the videos, I assume the cameras were found by hikers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon near the bodies of the riders and their mules. I now assume that the overnight spot is known as Phantom Ranch because no one ever actually gets there, and it doesn’t actually exist.

The trail appears to be about half a mule wide, and carved by God-only-knows-who into the side of the actual rock wall of the actual Grand Canyon, which, as it turns out, appears to be about nine million feet deep.

When my bowels recovered from the videos, I made it back to the company’s website and found out the really good news. Riders must weigh less than 200 pounds (90 kg), fully dressed.

I immediately weighed myself. I weigh 210 pounds naked. I wonder how much 90kg is?

I called my mother-in-law to break the news to her.

“Quit complaining. You’ll be fine. Just lose ten pounds.”
“Fully dressed!” I reiterated.
“OK, fifteen. What are you worried about? You have a whole year. Suck it up.”

As I hung up the phone from my super-helpful pep talk, my wife came home from the doctor’s office with even better news.

“I just had my physical. They weighed me on their scale, and it turns out our scale is about five pounds off.”
“Well that’s good news.”
“No, the other way. You’re heavier than you think.”
“Dammit!”

I re-read the website. Yep... fully dressed. Do you think they mean what I’m going to wear on the mule, or just dressed enough not to be arrested?

I kept reading.

Our mules are thoroughly trained, and are well adapted to the unique environment and work situation at Grand Canyon. Although we have over 100 years of experience working with mules, they are animals and not always predictable. The restrictions we place on our rides are intended for safety and to avoid distracting or disturbing the mules. There are always elements of risk due to trail conditions, other trail users, and sudden appearances of wildlife native to Grand Canyon. While serious accidents or injury seldom occur, risk is minimized by carefully following the trail guide’s instructions.

I’m not sure if any of that paragraph was intended to put me at ease, but if so, it failed. Here are two problems I see right off the bat:

Problem Number One:
You have over one hundred years of experience with this? That’s great and all, but that does nothing to make me feel better about the trail. Long trains of giant, heavy mules have been plodding up and down this trail for over one hundred years. That’s a lot of wear and tear. When was the last time a trail on the side of a cliff got wider with age?

Problem Number Two:
I have to assume that you cannot “thoroughly train” a mule to go up and down a tightrope-width trail at a thirty-seven degree angle on the face of a cliff without having him or her do it a bunch of times. That first time seems like it would be dangerous and scary for everyone involved. So, that being said, would you, as the mule owner, want to train a bunch of new mules all the time, or would you want to use your “thoroughly trained” mules all the time?

You see where I’m going with that? In a year from now, I’m going to get on a mule that either, A) is new to all this, or B) has done this so many times he or she has lost the will to live.

Either scenario is not good, but the slight edge goes to Molly the suicidal mule for being the scarier option. (Side note: “Suicidal Mule” would be a good name for a rock band.)

The suicidal mule problem puts even more pressure on me from a weight loss standpoint, because I’m very sure that I don’t want to just barely make the cut off.

“Good morning, Molly. Thanks again for doing the same thing every single day for the last twenty years. Here’s another 199.6-pound tourist for you to schlep down into the canyon while he kicks you and tries to give you orders that mean absolutely nothing to you. When you get down to the bottom... well, you know the drill. Have some oats and a nice nap, and then as a reward for your patience and service to the company for all these years, you get to carry him back up here. Then we’ll do the same thing again for the rest of your life. Have a great day!”

So now, based on how far out of whack my scale actually is, I really need to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five pounds in the next year. So what will most likely be the last year of my life is going to be spent not eating pizza, not drinking beer, and running a lot. Super.

There was one bright spot for a moment. If I don’t lose the weight, the mule guys won’t let me go, so I won’t die from falling into the Grand Canyon.

That bright spot faded quickly, however, when I considered it further. I’d better lose the weight, because if I can get skinny enough, there’s a very slight chance I’ll survive the trip, but if I don’t lose the weight, there’s a one hundred percent chance my mother-in-law will kill me.

I’m between a rock and a hard place here, which, ironically, is where I’ll be on the mule, too.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Forget Square Dancing

We as a society are right in the midst of torpedoing an entire generation of kids. “How?” you might ask as a parent, in an earnest effort to learn what you can do to stop this catastrophe.

Cell phones.

“Cell phones,” you ask, confused. “What’s wrong with my child having a cell phone?”

A lot of things, in my opinion, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the fact that we parents have cell phones that’s the problem. Specifically, cell phones with built-in video cameras.

You see, God gives us finite and imperfect memories for a reason. If we remembered everything, the species would never survive. Parents, you can totally back me up on this one: If you truly remembered what a sleep-deprived hell it was to have a newborn baby, you would never have another kid.

But those foggy, early-morning memories fade away, and pretty soon, along comes another newborn. Suddenly you’re up at three in the morning again thinking, “Wait a minute, I remember this now. This sucked. Why did we do this again?”

And then the third kid comes along and you have the exact same thought. God is sneaky like that.

It’s the same thing with growing up. The only reason we turn out OK is because the memories of all of our failures and painful mistakes fade away. At least, that was the case with my generation. That’s because our parents were not able to instantly record every single moment of our lives with a device they had in their pockets at all times.

For example, I just came from the elementary school year-end talent show. Sons Number One and Two played the piano, and their mom was not able to make it because she and her mom selfishly went gallivanting across three states on a road trip, leaving me here all by myself to manage three boys that do nothing but fight with each other for every minute that they are awake, driving me to the point of insanity each afternoon around three o’clock, making me want to run screaming away from the house, but I don’t, because I am legally responsible for their safety, and if left alone they would devolve into a three-boy Lord of the Flies scenario in less than fifteen minutes, but mostly because I just don’t like to run.

Where was I? Oh, yeah; recording…

Their mother was unable to be at the talent show, so she asked me to video them. No problem. I can do that with my phone. I dutifully recorded their performances and they both did just fine, despite their acute daily allergic reactions to piano practice.

They weren’t amazingly brilliant. They weren’t horribly bad. They were just good. As such, this time the video recording of their performance is not a big deal. “Here you are, son, performing well. Good job.”

The problem is, we record everything. If their mom had not chosen to abandon us here to fend for ourselves while she merrily tours the west coast, she would have still recorded their performances, even though she was there watching it herself. Go figure.

If we record everything, we will end up capturing all of their highlights, and all of their failures, along with all the regular, standard, unexciting, middle-of-the-road efforts. Depending on the parental video editing, kids these days could grow up thinking their childhood was one big victory lap. They will naturally forget the failures, but if we keep showing them the highlight reel, that’s how they’ll remember things.

On the other hand, if we don’t edit, showing them everything, they won’t be able to forget the failures. Neither one of those outcomes is good.

A better example might be square dancing. I was probably in a talent show as a kid, because talent isn’t a strict prerequisite for an elementary school talent show. I don’t really remember, and I can assure you there is no video evidence if I was, which I can also assure you, is undoubtedly a good thing. I know that I square danced, however.

When Son Number One announced in a dejected voice earlier this year that his fourth-grade class was square dancing at P.E., I said, “We did square dancing when I was your age. It was fun.”

Well, of course it wasn’t fun. It was probably horrific and painful. But God erased that memory for me so I could go on to lead a happy and productive life.

Well, the big hoedown day came for my son, and this time, unlike my childhood, all the parents showed up at P.E. to watch their kids square dance. And there I was alongside everyone else, cell phone in hand, recording the whole traumatic event for him.

He was in agony the entire time, being forced by the wicked gym teacher to do-si-do with actual fourth-grade girls, holding their hands and touching them, and having them smile at him. Ick. It was awful, and he will never be able to forget it.

He won’t have the luxury of that memory fading blissfully into the background fog of the elementary school years like I did, because it has been recorded for posterity. How will he ever reassure his children that square dancing will be fun if he has permanent video proof that square dancing is, in fact, awful? What if his kids see the video before they reach the fourth grade?

No good can come from that. The logical end result will be a nationwide fourth-grade revolt, causing a curriculum shift to remove square dancing, resulting in the first generation since the dawn of time to never learn to square dance, followed by the inevitable worldwide decline and eventual disappearance of square dancing altogether.

Hmm… That actually doesn’t sound bad.

Never mind everything I just said. Keep recording your kids. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go figure out how to get his square dancing video to play on the big TV downstairs so we can all watch it tonight.

Maybe a beer first, though. The kids will be home soon.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Real Last Day of School

We are down to the last two weeks of school, and frankly, everyone has quit trying. I say two weeks, but really it’s eight school days. Seven if you don’t count the last day, which is on Thursday next week. We can’t even make it all the way to Friday.

Next Thursday is officially the last day of school, but the real last day of school was the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. That was when the last bit of actual learning took place for this school year. Homework has stopped. Spelling and math tests have stopped. Everything educational has stopped. This week and next are just movies and cupcakes and field trips.

And when I say field trips, I don’t mean a trip to a museum or a historical monument. I mean walking to the movie theater and walking to the park. Why walking? Because it takes up more time than riding the bus. They’re just looking for activities to fill the time at this point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing. I’m not concerned about this at all. I don’t blame the teachers for un-educational time-fillers. I empathize. I feel their pain. And I totally understand the logic behind it.

You have to have the useless weeks at the end.

Here’s the real-world scenario they’re dealing with: Imagine the office where Bob has come down to his last week before retirement. The last five days at a job before he will never go there again. Now imagine you’re Bob’s manager or coworker.

“Hey Bob, can you handle the really annoying and overtime-filled Jenkins account for the last five days you’re here, until you’re gone forever?”

“Sure, I’ll handle it,” says Bob, with a smile on his face.

Bob is still smiling later that morning as he hands the Jenkins file to the janitor and heads out for lunch.

It’s just like that for the teachers, except they have twenty-five little Bobs.

Bob’s last week is filled with sleeping in, leaving early, extended lunches with his favorite clients, spider solitaire, and Facebook and Twitter updates (#FourDaysTillPermanentVacationEqualsFourMartiniLunch, #DontBeJealous, #ImOuttaHere, #9to5OnTheGolfCourse).

Ending a long-term endeavor like a job or a school year is a paradox. It goes like this:

What are we here to do?
Be productive.
Can we really be productive on the last day?
No.
Then should we have the last day?
No.
OK, we’ll get rid of the last day. Now the second to last day is the last day.
Can we really be productive on the last day?
No.
Then should we have the last day?
No.

You see the problem. If we eliminate the useless last two weeks of school, then we have a new end date, which will naturally be preceded by two weeks of uselessness. So we get rid of those two weeks and move it back again.

You have to have the two useless last weeks or pretty soon we just show up for the first day of school and they say, “Great job. See you next year.”

So here we are. In the eight-day window of time-fillers.

Classroom pajama parties – Maybe if we tell them to wear their pajamas and bring pillows they’ll actually lay on the floor instead of climbing the walls. It’s worth a shot.

Walking trip to the water park – Sounded like a good idea, but in drought-stricken California at the moment, the water park consists of colored pipes sticking out of the ground with no water coming out of them. Whatever, let’s go anyway. It’ll burn a day.

The talent show – School-wide time-filler consisting of 473 acts. The acts have a 100% bravery ratio but, sadly, only a 9% talent ratio. Gets us out of the classroom, so let’s do it.

Walking trip to the movie theater – What’s playing? Who cares?

Day on the green – Put them all out on the soccer field. Activities? They’ll probably figure something out. Just lock the doors so they don’t come back in. Teachers can take turns rotating to their classrooms to sit in the quiet.

And finally…

The last day of school – It’s a minimum day. School ends at 12:20. Why do we even go through the charade of keeping them here for four hours? We’re not going to actually do anything. Shouldn’t we just show up in the morning, check them out on the clipboard, gather up the stuff from their desk and hand them off to the parents?

Come to think of it, why can’t we just check them out when they get picked up on Wednesday afternoon?

That’s a good idea. Next year we’ll just eliminate this useless last day. Have a great summer, Bob.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spray on the Glamour

A long time ago when I was up way too late watching TV, I saw an infomercial for spray-on hair. If you had a bald spot, you could simply take the handy aerosol can of hair helper - expertly color-matched to your actual hair - and spray hair back onto the top of your head.

The possibly patented and expertly color-matched hair restoration formula would go to work by attaching to the hair follicles around the bald spot, thickening your existing hair. This would help cover the bald spot, and if the bald spot was too large, the amazing hair restoration formula would simply cover that bald spot all by itself, without needing to cling to and thicken existing actual hairs.

This amazing process would give your hair a natural, full, manly look. Your confidence would be restored, and instantly the world would think you had gone insane, because you just spray-painted the top of your head.

Sadly, spray-on hair only came in black or brown “hair.” Bald blonde guys had to just buy regular beige spray paint at Ace Hardware. The lack of hair color selection is probably why the product didn’t make it to the mainstream. Either that or Rust-oleum was just cheaper. Who knows?

I was reminded of that wonderful and amazingly short-lived product the other day when I read an article about Xtreme Green Grass. This is a company here in Sacramento that will come to your house and spray-paint your lawn. I’m not making that up.

In case you haven’t heard - or you live in another state and just don’t care - California is in a severe drought. We have about nine gallons of water left for the whole state. Those of you in other parts of the country may be thinking, “Ha! Have fun with that, morons.” That is a common (and often warranted) reaction to Californians’ problems, but in this case, just a heads-up; if you enjoy eating fruits, vegetables, rice, or nuts, you’d better start thinking about building a greenhouse and growing them yourself. Colorado can help you with the logistics.

Anyway, since we’re seeing the bottoms of all the lakes here, we’ve been asked to cut back drastically on the outdoor watering. I actually stopped watering my lawn a long time ago – well before the drought. Truth be told, it was because my lawn mower broke, and I was too lazy to fix it. I ended up on the leading edge of the water conservation movement by accident.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse, and watering anything unnecessary has become a bad idea. Not everyone considers their lawn to be unnecessary like I do, however, and some folks here are still watering their lawns regularly. You can all feel free to knock on their doors the next time you need to make a salad.

They just can’t seem to let their green lawns go. I, on the other hand, have embraced my brown, scrubby lawn much the same way I embraced going bald. It’s more convenient. Less maintenance. And I’m not at all concerned with how it looks.

I was already married when I lost my hair, so no problem there; I’m not trying to impress anyone anymore. My wife is stuck with me. Same with the lawn - I already had friends when the drought hit. I’m not trying to impress anyone. If you don’t want to come over to my house because my lawn is brown, I probably didn’t want you to come over in the first place.

Plus, I haven’t had to mow my lawn in over a year. Score another point for water conservation.

As we know, however, not everyone embraces the loss of their hair or their green grass with quite the same level of enthusiasm as I do. So, Xtreme Green Grass was born. The perfect company for those that have given in to the peer-pressure of stopping the sprinklers, but can’t stand to be seen with a brown lawn.

Dave Bartlett, owner of Xtreme Green Grass, and his crackerjack crew will come out to your house and spray-paint your brown lawn green.

Again, I’m not making that up.

Isn’t that bad for the environment? you might ask. Not at all, says Dave. Apparently, the dye is an “all-natural earth pigment,” whatever that is. I’m not sure how you get the color green from dirt, and if he’s using ground-up live plants to color the paint he’s using to color the dying plants, that just seems unsustainable. But, what do I know? Dave is the plant painting expert, here, not me.  

So it’s all-natural. That’s really all we need to know. Dave says it’s not harmful to people or pets, either. Your pets, your guests, and your children can continue to eat your newly-painted lawn as they normally would, without fear of any side effects.

I’m almost sold, Dave, but just like that late night infomercial, I’m still a little skeptical.

I mean, imagining my lawn with a pleasingly-natural, unidentified earth pigment tone of green applied to all the scorched, brittle, brown blades of Tall Fescue is certainly tempting. And while the estimated five hundred-dollar price tag to paint my yard is almost too good to be true, I think my lawn might have the same inherent problem as my head.

I don’t think spray-painting the bald spots is really the fix we’re looking for.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Real Tree of Death

Son Number Two got himself some birthday money last month. So, what did our newly-minted nine-year-old want to do with the loot? Buy plywood, obviously.

While many other American nine-year-olds would beg to be driven to the toy store, the sporting goods store, or the ice cream store, my son wanted nothing more than to go to Home Depot. I love him so much.

Off we went to the lumber aisle. His eyes lit up when I showed him four by eight-foot sheets of plywood for only eight dollars each. His eyes got even wider when we found eight-foot-long two by fours for three bucks. He was positively vibrating with excitement when I told him they would cut the plywood for him for free.

I know, buddy. I know. Home Depot is awesome.

Then we both went nuts when we found the cull cart. Seventy percent off. SEVENTY! Sure, they were random, twisted, splintered boards from the island of misfit lumber, but they were seventy percent off! The sixteen-foot-long pressure-treated two by four that has an eighty-degree twist in it would suck for building a house, but it’s worth every penny of four dollars to a nine-year-old building a backyard fort.

Backyard forts built by nine-year-olds do not need to be straight. I don’t think they physically can be. They always look like they were built by Dr. Seuss, not Bob Vila.

So we loaded up the truck with cheap twisted lumber and plywood and headed home. Son Number Two got to work immediately, with his main task, seemingly, consisting of spreading all my nails into the back lawn. Mowing next time is going to be an adventure.

Things were going well until halfway through his construction project I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

It seemed so innocent at the time, like uttering the words, “We should totally go to Mexico for spring break,” then the next thing you know you’re sharing an Ensenada jail cell with a three-hundred-pound ex-wrestler named Julio “El Papi Gordo” Valdez.

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

Anyway, I looked at his fort - which was starting to look like a cross between an Alaskan outhouse and the rec center at a refugee camp – and foolishly said, “We should put a thatched roof on it.”

If only I had known what hell those words would lead to.

I figured if we put some palm fronds on the roof it might look a little classier when company comes over, in an island slum classy kind of way.

I have never put palm fronds on a roof. How hard could it be? I have never owned a palm tree, so I had no idea.

Our good friends own a palm tree, and when I texted them, they said I could have all the palm fronds I wanted, as long as I came over and got them.

This is the problem with texting – you can’t hear the maniacal laughing on the other end.

In order to cut the old palm frond off a palm tree, you have to put a ladder against the tree and climb up inside all the hanging fronds. If you have never been inside a palm tree, let me try to describe it for you:

Imagine you are sitting under a willow tree in the cool green grass near a babbling brook. You are barefoot, peaceful, and happy. Then imagine you decided to climb up into that willow tree.

It’s absolutely nothing like that.

Now imagine that the tree trimming people show up and cut some of the branches off the willow tree. Then they take them and feed them into the chipper behind their truck that chews the willow branches into tiny woodchips and spits them out at five hundred miles an hour into the back of the truck.

The inside of a palm tree is exactly like the inside of the chipper. Only scarier.

Palm trees look pretty straightforward and non-threatening from the outside. It turns out, however, that each palm frond is really hanging from the tree trunk on a four-foot-long machete blade, lined down both edges with giant curved thorns. Palm fronds make a sawfish’s snout look like a cuddly baby toy.

If you remember the scene in Return of the Jedi, when Jabba the Hut is trying to have Luke thrown into the scary-ass spine-covered hole in the desert, the inside of a palm tree looks a lot like the inverted version of that thing.

Since I am an idiot, I decided to give it a try and get some palm fronds for my boy.

“I have gloves on. I’ll be careful,” I told myself.

That was really stupid.

I was being attacked from every angle. In order to get any fronds I had to saw them off at the trunk. That required actually moving around inside the palm tree chamber of doom instead of staying perfectly still like all my survival instincts were telling me to do. Five minutes into the project I looked like I’d been in a knife fight.

I got hopelessly stuck a few times. I had to climb back down the ladder twice without my hat and once without my shirt. Do you have any idea how hard it is to climb down a ladder inside a cylinder of shark teeth with your shirt getting pulled up and over your head? I didn’t either until I stupidly suggested that my son thatch the roof on his new fort.

A palm tree is built to keep its fronds at all costs. I don’t know why they are called “palm trees” anyway. They should be called sawfish trees. Or band saw trees. Or dragon trees.

I actually managed to get a few fronds off before I had to stop when I finally nicked an artery. I was afraid I was going to bleed out on top of the ladder, and the firemen would not be able to extricate my body from the dragon tree. That’s no way to go out. Not for a backyard fort.

I had to give up. There was no way I was going back in. Son Number Two would just have to use what we had. It turned out that I had managed to retrieve just enough palm fronds to cover the roof on half the fort. So at the end of the day, I made it look like an unfinished island slum. Not what one might call an improvement.

Live and learn.

I have always thought that the Tree of Death was in my front yard, but now I know that’s not the case. My tree may smell like rotting flesh each spring, which is bad, but so far it has never actively tried to kill me when I wanted to pick a few leaves off of it.

Palm trees are mean. Palm trees are evil. Palm trees should be known as the Tree of Death. Or Dragon Tree at the very least.

Excuse me now; I need to continue to apply steady pressure to the arterial bleeding.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Husband's Guide to Shopping for Mother's Day

As a public service to all man and womankind, I like to post something about Mother’s Day each year. Mostly they have been cautionary tales, because it’s important to write what you know, and I have a long history of screwing Mother’s Day up somehow.

This year, I have drawn on my many years of inadvertent research to provide you men out there with a handy Husband’s Guide to Shopping for Mother’s Day. Now, I know we men can be stubbornly independent, so many of you may not heed this advice. To you I say, good luck, and I hope you can dodge flying cookware. If this only serves to remind you that Mother’s Day is this weekend, then I’ve done all that I can.

For the rest of you who are wise enough to listen to advice from a guy who’s been through the Mother’s Day school of hard knocks, here are some categorized gift suggestions and advisable parameters. You’re welcome.


Traditional

Starting Point: Chocolates
Recommended: Chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne
Avoid: Asking her to make you chocolate chip cookies

Starting Point: Flowers from the garden
Recommended: Large, expensive flower bouquet with balloons
Avoid: Suggesting that she weed the garden while you catch a nap


Children

Starting Point: You and the kids clean the house
Recommended: A whole-house deep cleaning by a professional cleaning service
Avoid: A new bottle of Windex with a bow on it

Starting Point: Hand-made cards from the kids
Recommended: Hand-made cards and hand-made gifts from the kids
Avoid: Asking her to watch the kids while you golf


Health and Beauty

Starting Point: Coupon for massage at the gym
Recommended: Swedish massage at luxury day spa
Avoid: Telling her that if she rubs your feet you’ll make it worth her while *nudge, wink*

Starting Point: A home pedicure kit
Recommended: Manicure/Pedicure appointment at luxury day spa
Avoid: Suggesting that if she would simply stop buying purple blocks of pumice and metal rasps to sand down her feet with, the calluses would eventually just form and protect the skin underneath, thereby eliminating the need for any future foot maintenance, using your own gnarly, callused feet as a helpful example


Shopping

Starting Point: Gift certificate to Macy’s
Recommended: Gift certificate to Tiffany & Co.
Avoid: Gift certificate to AutoZone

Starting Point: Perfume
Recommended: Gift certificate to her favorite cosmetics counter and a shopping day with her girlfriends
Avoid: Deodorant


Food and Entertainment

Starting Point: Breakfast in bed
Recommended: Champagne brunch at her favorite restaurant
Avoid: Suggesting that if she doesn’t want to make everyone breakfast, you could all go out to The Waffle Barn

Starting Point: Taking her to the movies
Recommended: Tickets to the theatre, complete with a romantic dinner
Avoid: Tickets to the demolition derby… for just you and only some of the kids… and your dad

Starting Point: A nice bottle of wine
Recommended: A membership to the wine club at her favorite vineyard
Avoid: Box of Franzia White Zinfandel from Chevron     


That should be enough to get you started. Good luck, men!

None of this stuff is in our budget this year, so I’m not actually going to do any of these. I’m just making her a quick card with some printer paper and crayons. And maybe I’ll get her a nice three-dollar box of Riesling.

She’ll love that, right?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Refi'd Liens

I’m supposed to be refinancing my mortgage right now, but I decided to write this instead. I was supposed to be refinancing my mortgage yesterday and the day before that, too, but I decided to clean our driveway expansion joints with a toothbrush and spit-shine all of our corn on the cob forks instead.

I guess some might say I’m avoiding it, but our light switch cover screws slots were in desperate need of alignment. And those drawer pull knobs aren’t going to just tighten themselves.

OK, fine, I’ve been avoiding it. I even went jogging once when I couldn’t find anything else to do. That’s how much I’m avoiding it. Sadly, after the jogging incident, I had to spend three days motionless on the couch to let my hamstrings recover, so I couldn’t work on the refi then, either.   

Financially, avoiding a refi doesn’t make any sense. Interest rates are around 3.5% right now. (At least, they were a few months ago when it was suggested that I refinance.) Based on the size of our mortgage, dropping down from our current 4.25% will save us approximately three million dollars a month. Or something like that. I forget exactly what the guy said, but I know it was a lot.

Why would I be so financially inept? Why would I choose to inspect and lube the garage door guide cables instead of refinancing?

Simple. I have refinanced before. I know what’s going to happen, and I can’t bring myself to get started on the paperwork.

The Patriot Act is, quite simply, a bitch.

Right after 9/11 the CIA learned that terrorists are funding jihad all over the world by, apparently, refinancing the suburban home mortgages of middle-aged natural-born American citizens who have nine to five jobs and own minivans and spend all their Saturdays watching their children play sports. So, the process has become rigorous to say the least.

The list of documents just to get started is almost too much. Two months of paystubs, two years of W2’s, three years of employment history, two years of federal tax returns, two months of bank statements, most recent retirement savings statements, most recent mortgage and homeowners insurance statement. I mean, I’m pretty sure all of those things are in this house somewhere, but it’s going to take me another month to find them all. Plus, that’s only half the list.

And once you have actually found all the paperwork, you need to re-learn how to use your printer’s scanner function. By the time you get that figured out, everything you have ready to scan is out of date because you’re into another month now. That doesn’t even matter though, because the entire refi process on their end takes two months, so you will have to re-scan and email everything two more times anyway.

“Sorry about asking for this again. The lender is a bit squirrelly.”

Get used to hearing that on the phone if you decide to bite the bullet and refi. The process is so crazy that seemingly every single deposit that has ever been made into your bank account for any reason needs to be looked at with the banker’s version of a proctologist’s scope.

During my last refi, on the day the new loan was supposed to close, after two months of scanning and emailing slightly updated version of the same documents, the guy called me asking about “one more deposit in question.”

I had to drop what I was doing and physically drive to the bank and physically go inside and talk to a physical person. Can you imagine? They had to physically look up a check image for me that dated so far back I think they had it on microfiche.

“This is definitely the last one,” he said that day, which turned out to be the day before I had to do the same thing again for another deposit that was THE EXACT SAME AMOUNT FROM THE EXACT SAME PLACE.

So for me, refinancing is like needing to go to the dentist to fix a tooth that I’ll lose if I don’t go. I can feel the tooth falling out of my mouth, but I’m still sitting at home thinking, “Do I really need that tooth that bad?”

Actually, it’s more like that same dentist analogy, except the dentist is going to fix my tooth for free and give me three thousand dollars after he’s done, and another five hundred dollars a month for the next thirty years, but I’m still thinking, “Naw, it’s just gonna be too much of a pain. I’ll just lose the tooth and watch the baseball game instead.”

Now, deep down, as a patriotic American, I know that if I don’t refinance then the terrorists have won, so I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen. I will refinance soon.

I will.

In fact, I’ll get started on the paperwork today.

Right after I go put a new coat of varnish on those croquet mallets.

Summer is right around the corner, you know.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drought Intolerance

If you are reading this in any other state besides California, congratulations, you probably have water. Here in the Golden State we’re almost out. It hasn’t rained here since 2012.

I received a threatening letter from the Placer County Water Agency the other day, cleverly disguised as a “notice.”

On April 1, 2015, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order mandating a 25 percent reduction in water use in comparison to 2013.  In response to the Governor’s action, on April 16 the PCWA Board adopted Resolution 15-10 declaring a water shortage emergency.

Here’s the problem: They’re not really serious yet, because Outdoor Water Use Mandate Number One was Limit landscape watering to a maximum of 2 days per week during the months of April through November. 

If they were serious, we wouldn’t be allowed to water anything. Personally, I completely stopped watering everything in my yard in 2013. The plants that survived are feral at this point. The lawns are in bad shape. I can’t even really call them lawns anymore. “Boys, why don’t you go play on the back dirt.”

I actually stopped watering back then to save money, and as an added bonus, to eliminate the need for mowing. Then it never rained again and I stumbled into this whole “drought awareness” thing. But now I can hold my head high as I stand on the brown cracked earth in my five-thousand-degree front yard.

I care.

So, here’s the real problem. Governor Brown is mandating me, (using an Executive Order, which is capitalized to make it appear more official), to reduce my water usage by 25 percent based on what I used in 2013. Well, if I completely stopped watering everything on my property in 2013, I’m not sure I’ll be able to reduce any more than I already have. Certainly not by 25 percent.

So, for me, the accidentally ahead-of-the-curve drought-conscious citizen, will I now be penalized by an Executive Order for conserving too early? I have a bad feeling the answer is YE$$$.

If you folks at the PCWA are not so serious about the situation that you’re still letting me water my lawn, then I really don’t feel the need to comply with your Indoor Water Use Mandates, the first of which is, Limit showers to 5 minutes or less.

We can stop right there. That is quite simply impossible.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not Kramer from Seinfeld. I’m not planning on adding a garbage disposal to my shower and spending half a day in there making a salad. But the PCWA gave us a little hourglass shower timer that suction cups to the shower glass, and I can tell you it is physically impossible to complete a shower in the forty-five seconds worth of sand they’re calling five minutes.

And even if it really was five minutes, I have to take a longer shower than that. I do all my best thinking in the shower. I solve plot problems. I come up with storylines. I think of humorous anecdotes. All while in the shower. My long showers are part of my job. It’s literally (and literarily) my job to take long showers.

The PCWA is basically telling me to stop doing my job. They are trying to fire me. I take that rather personally.

And I shave in the shower, too. I cannot shave anywhere else. Once you have experienced the unbridled comfort of shaving your face in the hot shower, you can never go back to the sink. I might as well just spray carburetor cleaner on my face and rub it with a cheese grater.

In essence, Governor Brown has written an Executive Order telling me that I have to choose between growing a beard or submitting to torture. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I believe that is a violation of my follicular rights. Or a violation of the separation of personal hygiene and state. One of those.

Now, recognizing that I require longer showers than the average non shower-thinker, I have already done my part to reduce shower times on aggregate in our house. We are only requiring the boys to shower once a month during this water crisis, whether they need to or not.

So at this point, if we’re going to achieve a 25 percent reduction from our already reduced consumption, we’re going to have to pull a Kevin Costner from Waterworld and start distilling our own pee for drinking water.

And speaking of Waterworld, if Costner’s character had a distillery that could render his pee drinkable, why didn't he just distill the seawater?

Are the people running our government here in California the same yahoos from Hollywood that couldn’t see that plot hole in Waterworld? If so, that would actually explain why we don’t have desalination plants providing us with all the fresh water we could ever hope to use. This state only has eight hundred miles of coastline. Maybe we should look into it, because we’re not going to get water from anywhere else.

Our neighbors won’t be much help. Mexico? Even if they had any water to spare, it comes with the trots, so no thanks. Arizona and Nevada? They are currently sucking on cactus leaves and thinking we’ve got it made. Oregon? Don’t make me laugh.

I can tell you, having lived in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the people of Oregon are going to shoot at us long before they give us any of their water. They are very jealous of our weather, and rightfully so. It has been raining continuously there for the last two hundred years. We can’t trade them sunshine. Water is all they have. They won't give it up without a fight.

So, that’s where I stand, PCWA and Governor Brown. I stand in my shower. And until you’re willing to tell us we need to stop watering the outside decorations, or willing to build some desalination plants, I’m not willing to quit my job or grow a beard for you.

You can take my shower when you pry it from my warm, pruned hands.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Traffic School

You know how when you are driving with your mother-in-law in her car, and it’s your turn to drive, and minutes after you get behind the wheel you’re telling a really funny story and not paying attention to exactly how fast you’re going on the ridiculously straight and deserted downhill stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, so because the fact that it’s not your car and you had no idea how fast it could go without feeling like it was going very fast at all should really be a very compelling reason why the cop should be lenient and just let you off with a warning, and besides, it’s a small car, and small cars always look like they’re going faster than they really are, so that probably totally messes with the accuracy of the laser radar, and also because it was a really funny story and the blue lights and sirens really kind of killed the punchline, which is really punishment enough, don’t you think?

No?

The cop didn’t either.

So there I was, out in the middle of the desert, the proud owner of a yellow citation documenting the fact that my mother-in-law’s car, while more than a few years old, can go slightly faster than the speed of sound.

(By the way, if you happen to be from my insurance company, this story is totally fabricated. All lies. Just for fun. Not that I’m a liar, though. I mean, this is just artistic license. I’ve never lied to you guys about anything, including my annual mileage, or how that very minor house fire got started, and I’ve never even been on Highway 41 near Avenal, CA, and I’ve certainly never had any contact whatsoever with CHP Officer Kennedy, badge number 16452. So, you can probably just stop reading now and go on about your busy day. OK? Great. All my best.)

“Call the number at the bottom of the ticket in about a month,” said the friendly CHP officer.
“A month?”
“Yes, we’re very backed up.”
“Well, I mean, if everything is so backed up, I see no reason why we should clog the system any more with this one?”
“Have a nice day, sir, and drive safe.”
(grumble, grumble) “You too!”

Very backed up, huh? So you’re telling me I’m not the only one who’s been blindsided by this infernal middle of nowhere/downhill/someone else’s car trifecta of bad luck?

Maybe we could spend some of this ticket revenue on a flashing “Watch Your Downhill Speed” warning sign or something.

Or I guess maybe I could learn to watch my own damn downhill speed. Oh, well.

So I called the Kings County Superior Court about a month later. They told me they were still very backed up and I should call them back in three weeks. Three weeks later they told me to call back in two weeks. Wow, does that cop out there ever get a coffee break? Two weeks later they told me to call back in two weeks. (I am not making this up.) Three weeks later my ticket was finally in their system.

Wow, three hundred dollars? That’s great. What a deal. Hang on, let me do some math… You guys should really hire more people to process that backlog of yours, because if my quick calculations are correct, Officer Kennedy out there is making you guys about six thousand dollars an hour.

The good news? My request for Traffic School has been approved!

I sent extra money in to be able to go to traffic school because: “If you do not attend a traffic course and return your Certificate of Completion to the court by the due date listed above, a conviction will be reported to the DMV.”

Now, I couldn’t really care less what the nice folks at the Kings County Superior Court report to the nice folks at the DMV. They can tell them I speed recklessly all over the country. They can tell them I have no regard for the rules of the road or the law in general. They can even tell them I’m a huge Justin Bieber fan. What do I care?

I’ll tell you what I do care about, though. I do care about what the nice folks at the DMV might tell the nice folks at my insurance company.

(And again, if you happen to be one of the nice folks from my insurance company and you’re still reading, please keep in mind that this is all just a big, fun, harmless, made-up story, but again, the fact that I’m making up this tall tale does not in any way mean that I am a serial liar who would ever even entertain the thought of giving you less than one hundred percent of the facts when it comes to our treasured (and, might I add, very much appreciated on this end) insurance relationship.)

So, traffic school it is. I have been given three choices for attending a classroom-based traffic school, but I think in my case it’s really only two choices since one of them is La Academia de Trafico en Espanol. Unfortunately, the two presumably English-based schools are in Hanford, CA and Lemoore, CA. Notwithstanding the fact that both of those cities are actually just 10,000-cow dairy farms with a post office, they are also both a seven-hour round trip from my house. I could probably do it in about five hours or so, but that’s how I got into this predicament in the first place.

(Again, insurance folks, please ignore that last comment.)

Luckily, I have been given the option of completing my traffic school obligation online. Kings County included a handy list of my approved online options. And by a list, what I mean is a legal-size sheet of paper with three columns of website addresses covering the entirety of the front and back, listed in no discernible alpha or numeric order, in what appears to be negative twelve-point font. The font is so small, it just looks like three columns of smudges.

There are at least seven hundred and fifty online companies listed on this single piece of paper. I’m not making that up. I got a magnifying glass and figured out how many companies per inch were listed, then measured the paper.

Just in the upper right corner, in the first half-inch, my magnifying glass shows that my choices include “TooEasyTooFast.com,” “10BuckTrafficSchool.com,” “IPayLessTrafficSchool.com,” “BigMamaTrafficSchool.com,” “ElegantTrafficSchool.com,” “AtomicTrafficSchool.com,” and “5BucksTicket.com.”

What fun-sounding options those are, just in that half-inch. And that’s literally just a half-inch of my choices in literally five and a half feet of list. I am not making that up. I wish I was.

And I have to read and pick from this list, because if I Googled a traffic school that had good recommendations (like that would ever happen), and then tried to make sure it was on this list so it counted, I would still be trying to find it on this completely random list when it was time for my great-grandkids to take away my car keys anyway.

I guess I’ll just pick one. At this point it’s a toss-up between Big Mama and Atomic. I’ll let you know.

If we can’t get a big flashing “SLOW DOWN” sign out on Highway 41, maybe we could spend some of this ticket revenue on larger font. Or maybe alphabetizing.

Just a thought.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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