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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tahoe Glaceau

Amid the many news reports and ripe opportunities for new taxes brought about by the severe drought in California, one crucial element to the story may not be getting the attention it deserves.

Lake Tahoe is low.

The water level in the usually pristine lake is now as much as a full few inches lower than normal. This has caused a mild panic among the lake’s well-heeled gentry. Many shoreline homeowners have been forced to gasp in disbelief, as their once unparalleled view now includes slightly more of their dock pilings than normal and sometimes even unsightly mud.

But if you think these captains of industry and third and fourth-generation trust fundees are going to take this lying down, you’ve got another thing coming.

We caught up with Lars Networth, President of the Establishment for a Lifelong Ideal Tahoe Experience - Shoreline Owners Brotherhood, or ELITE SOBs for short, who outlined the bold initiative for us.

“The plan is simple. Simply brilliant, that is,” Lars explained, on the deck of his seventy-foot Princess M-Class yacht earlier this month. (A yacht, by the way, that Lars is now being forced to moor a full two feet farther off shore.) “We are simply going to raise the lake back to its appropriate level by filling it back up.”

So, the ELITE SOBs have devised a simple and clever plan to get things back to normal. How will it work?

“Bottled water,” Lars explained. “Simple and easy.”

Bottled water?

“Of course,” Lars replied impatiently.

How much will you need?

“Well, we’ve dropped below the natural rim of the lake, and we need to get it back up there. But we certainly don’t need to spend any more money getting it up any further than that. If we did, our investment would just be pouring out into the Lower Truckee River. We certainly don’t need to be providing Truckee and Reno with anything for free, now do we?” Lars replied with his trademark knowing grin.

Why bottled water?

“Well, that should be obvious, even to someone such as yourself,” Networth replied. “There isn’t enough good non-bottled water around here, as if there is such a thing, or we wouldn’t find ourselves in this sticky predicament, now would we?”

Interesting. How is the plan progressing?

“There is no doubt that the Establishment will go through with the plan,” Lars replied indignantly. “It’s going to happen. We are simply stalled in a debate concerning which brand to use.

We’re obviously going to save the Acqua Panna and the San Pellegrino for drinking. I mean, we can’t be running out of those, now can we?” Lars chuckled.

“But you know how it is. Well, you might not, actually. But anyhow, when you have a committee situation, there is always give and take. We’re currently locked in a debate over the two obvious choices; Fiji or Evian.

We have a faction insisting on filling the lake with Perrier but there is some debate over what the bubbles might do to the fish. Off the record, we only eat Japanese sushi and Chilean sea bass, and none of us fish for sport, so we don’t really care, but there is the whole ‘green appearance’ issue to consider. More importantly, there is some concern over at the Tahoe Yacht Club about the effects of carbonation on the finish of our Gar Woods and Chris Crafts. Lots of things to consider, don’t you know?” Networth said, standing up to strike a gallant pose at the ship’s railing.

“Would you believe we even have a member who wants to use Aquafina because it’s cheaper? Can you imagine? We might as well use Dasani or tap water from Kansas, for goodness sake. I don’t have to tell you he’s not old money. Owner of a construction conglomerate of some sort. I don’t think you’ll be shocked when I tell you he’s on the south shore. The Nevada side, obviously.”

Lars gazed out across the ever-so-slightly-receding water at his kingdom.

“If only Glaceau made a blue vitamin water,” he added wistfully.

“Well, anyhow, obviously, once the plan has been put in place and the lake has been restored to its proper viewing level, we ELITE SOBs will need to enforce a strict no usage policy for any non-shoreline owners. Everyone will still have the benefit of the view of the lake, as before, but we can’t have just anyone swimming or boating in our investment, now can we?”

Obviously not.

“And we’ll finally be rid of that infernal eyesore of a paddle boat, the Tahoe Queen,” Lars said, maniacally stroking his well-manicured goatee. “Finally.”

OK. Well, thanks for your time, Lars. And good luck to you and the other ELITE SOBs. We appreciate your efforts and wish you all the success in the world.

“Obviously,” returned Lars Networth. “We’re doing this for everyone, after all.”


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, April 1, 2015

Tax the April Fools Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Language Acquisition Office (motto: OMG LOL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don't Sit on Our Couch

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

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

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

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

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

** Excludes breakage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cinco de Jefferson Patrick's Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew you’d be on board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Daylight Savings Time is Hazardous to my Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate you, Daylight Savings Time.

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

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

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Fourth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not awesome.

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

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

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

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

Just a suggestion.

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

All my best,

-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!