Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unorganized Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

-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, January 14, 2015

Inconclusive Introductions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see my problem.

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

“Who would like to start?”

Not me, I can tell you that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,

-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, January 7, 2015

About the Author, 2015

Here at Just a Smidge, we continue to gain new readership each year. This last year alone we have documented as many as two new readers. So, for both of you just joining us, welcome! We like to start each New Year here with a little meet and greet.

I am the 42-year-old husband of one and father of three, living in the beautiful, albeit extremely parched, northern California hamlet of Rocklin. If you have any water, please send it to us. Seriously. Anyway, I am the lone staff writer here at Just a Smidge. Based on how much money I make writing this column, it would be inaccurate to call this my job, so let’s just go with hobby.

My amazing, wonderful, loving, caring, trustworthy, adorable, extremely intelligent, smokin’ hot wife teaches school all day so that I can stay home and take naps and type. Speaking of that, I should really learn to type. My beautiful, fantastic, perfect-in-every-way wife and I have been blessed with three boys. They have in turn blessed us with a marked lack of sleep and an ever-dwindling amount of patience. They are known around here as Sons Number One, Two, and Three, and we’ve been calling them that for so long now we don’t actually remember their real names. I don’t consider that to be a huge problem, however, since we know what they look like.

They are currently in fourth, third, and first grade respectively, and if they do not attend school respectively, they will be consigned to the doghouse. We don’t actually have a dog, so if they ever get out of line I usually just put them in the dryer until my wife gets home. Just kidding. Sorta.

Anyway, enough about my wife and kids. Let’s talk more about me. Here are twenty other things that you should probably know about me:

1) I am in amazing shape for 42 years old, and actually left my job as a male supermodel to do this writing thing.

2) My grandpa killed General Patton's dog. That is the single most important thing anyone in my family has done. We are high achievers.

3) Walking out into bright sunlight makes me sneeze. I inherited this trait from my grandmother. I am one of only an estimated seven people in the world with this disorder. We have a club.

4) I am related to a U.S. president, but I forget which one. I think it's either Grover Cleveland or Woodrow Wilson. I don't care. I would only be excited if it was Teddy Roosevelt, and it isn't.

5) My favorite movie is a three-way tie between Romancing the Stone, Fletch, and Caddyshack. This should tell you a lot about me.

6) Until I was in my teens, I thought that coffee really would stunt your growth, and that drinking alcohol made your beard grow faster, because in the movies, when guys woke up with a hangover, they always had a five o’clock shadow. I wasn’t too bright as a kid.

7) Now that I have kids, I cry at “proud parent” moments in movies. I think this is because based on my children’s behavioral history, I may never have any of my own.

8) I am slightly over six feet tall, I weigh “just over” 200 pounds, and I have the bladder capacity of a four-year-old.

9) My two favorite flavors are slightly burnt pepperoni and toasted sesame seeds.

10) I swam 100,000 yards in one week when I was in high school. I could not swim more than 100 yards today without needing a floatation device and a defibrillator.

11) I love bacon. See number 10.

12) I quit my day job in 2013 to become a professional writer. So far, I have only managed to become an amateur homemaker, but I hope to get this column syndicated, so if you know somebody, please introduce us. Bacon is expensive.

13) I constantly get my left and right mixed up. This makes driving directions with my wife fun.

14) My favorite joke of all time is:
A guy walks into the psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but underwear made out of Saran wrap. The psychiatrist looks at him and says, "Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts." This should also tell you a lot about me.

15) I like writing dialogue.
“You do?” they asked in unison.
“Yes. I do,” he said solemnly.

16) I love most foods (see number 10), but I have a deep, abiding hatred for cantaloupe. If bacon is a 10, cantaloupe is a negative 3000.

17) I love to travel and I love to stay home. But I don’t want an RV. Go figure.

18) My absolute favorite thing that has ever happened on this earth – and I am including my marriage and the birth of my children – was when the Oregon State Highway Division tried to disintegrate a dead whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970. (Just Google “Oregon Exploding Whale.”)

19) My favorite thing ever said on television – and I am including anything ever uttered on The Newlywed Game – came from KATU Channel 2 newsman Paul Linnman in 1970 after the whale dynamite was detonated. When large chunks of whale rained down on people and cars over a quarter-mile away, Paul noted, completely deadpan, “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

20) My wife is still laughing right now about number 1.

So there you have it, folks. You now know everything you need to know about me. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

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, December 31, 2014

Parental Guidance Suggested

My wife and I are experiencing some parenting challenges lately. Not the standard kind of challenges involving the kids being unruly, but the really annoying kind where we are finding out we just suck at parenting. We try to be good parents, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Our recent problems have all involved movies and their ratings, however, so I think Hollywood might really be to blame.

It started a few months ago when we had a family movie night, and my wife found a copy of Gremlins buried deep in the stack of movies we had forgotten we owned. The case said it was rated PG, and it had been a really long time since either of us had seen it. Our recollections of the plot were the same; the gremlins are cute until you get them wet or feed them after midnight, then they multiply and/or turn naughty and cause harmless mischief.

I guess my wife and I had both blocked out the traumatic experiences of our youth when our parents accidentally let us watch Gremlins, too. We had forgotten that the “naughty” gremlins were a little more than naughty. They actually killed people. We had also forgotten that the mom killed four of them using a fireplace, a knife, a microwave, and a juicer.

We shut it off right after the juicer, but the damage was done. Two of the boys hid all their stuffed animals in the garage and had bad dreams for a week, and the third one spent that week begging us to let him watch the rest of the movie. One of our boys is a little off.
 
Fast forward a few months, and it appears we have not totally learned our lesson. I just finished reading The Hobbit to the boys, and Son Number Two just finished reading the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Cool, we thought. We can get them The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies for Christmas. That was the extent of the planning. Three minutes later they were on order with Amazon Prime. They arrived two days later and were promptly hidden away until it was time to wrap them.

“Time to wrap these movies. Were these going to be from us or from Santa?”
“Let’s make them from Santa, since we need more stuff from him.”
“Cool.”

This is where we suck at parenting.

Did we read the box where it said PG-13?
No.
Are any of our boys thirteen?
No. One of them isn’t even half of thirteen yet.

They tore the movies open on Christmas day and were thrilled by Santa’s generosity and gift-giving skills.

“Can we watch them tonight?”
Hmm, we thought, finally reading the posted ratings on the movie cases and reliving the Gremlins catastrophe one more time in our heads.
“Mommy and Daddy will watch them first to make sure they’re OK.”

We started with the first Hobbit movie. Uh, this movie has orcs. There were no orcs in the book. Not only were there no orcs in the book, but there was certainly no giant white orc with a steel hook for a hand. Gollum was creepy enough on his own without adding scary-ass hobbit-eating creatures that weren’t even in the original story. The kids won’t sleep for a month if they see this.

We tried the first LOTR movie next. More orcs, more Gollum. Forget it.

“Well, boys, we watched the movies and they are a little too scary for you right now. We’ll have to wait a little while to watch them.”

Then the question we were dreading:
“Why would Santa bring us movies that you won’t let us watch?”

What I said:
“Well, I’m not quite sure, Son. I guess he just forgot to check with us.”

What I meant:
Well, Son, sometimes Santa is drunk with Amazon Prime free two-day shipping power and just isn’t thinking straight. Sometimes, after reading a book, Santa foolishly assumes that Hollywood will stick to the actual story instead of adding a bunch of stuff to make it much, much scarier. The bottom line is that sometimes Santa just doesn’t do his homework. I blame Mrs. Claus.

In a classic case of too little, too late, a few days after Christmas I stumbled on an internet article titled “PG Movies that Probably Shouldn’t be PG.” The list included classics like Jaws, Poltergeist, and Indiana Jones, and topping the list was Gremlins.

Well that’s just great. Where were you guys a few months ago?

Like I said, I blame Hollywood.

So this year, our New Year’s resolution is to not suck so much in the parental guidance department. We don’t expect any help from Hollywood, so we’re on our own. As with all of our previous resolutions, however, we’re not going to put any measurability into it, so we expect great success.

Happy New Year, everybody. See you at the movies.

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 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, December 24, 2014

The Second Noel

My son was playing The First Noel last night on the piano. As we sat around drinking eggnog by the yule log, we did what we always do at Christmastime when our children play carols: We begged him to slow down, because my boys play everything two or three times faster than they should, like monkeys on crack.

When we finally got him to slow down to a bearable speed, we sang along.
The first Noel, the angels did something, then something and something and something else.

We don’t really know the words.

As I sat there by the warm glow of the fire, wishing we knew more of the words, I got to thinking about the one line we did know: The First Noel. And I thought, you know, we hear a lot about the first Noel, since it’s the story of Christmas. But what about the second Noel? What was Jesus like in his first year?

I didn’t have to ponder this too long, because as luck would have it, when I flipped on the TV late last night there was a breaking news story about a huge archaeological find. Biblical historians had been brought in to authenticate a small booklet, and it was just confirmed last night to be Mary’s diary from the early years. They were a little embarrassed, because it had actually been found with the Dead Sea Scrolls way back in the 1950s, but the team of (male) archaeologists thought it was a user’s manual for the scrolls, so no one bothered to read it.


Entry #1
New diary – Old one lost on road trip somewhere in the last sandstorm.
I’m nine months pregnant and wouldn’t you know it, we have to go on an umpteen million mile donkey ride to go sign our names in some city I’ve never even been to. This government is getting out of hand.

Entry #2
Oh, boy. Here we go. We’re in some little truck stop of a town called Bethlehem and my water just broke. Just what I always wanted; to have my baby at a hotel!

Entry #3
Just great. No room at the hotel. Looks like I’m going to have my baby in a barn. I am surrounded by cattle and sheep. Not optimum would be an understatement. This can't be the best place for this.

Entry #4
OK. That went well. Baby is here, and he’s awesome. I don’t just mean regular awesome, I mean the actual definition of awesome. He’s glowing. My baby rocks! We’re naming him Jesus.

Entry #5
We are still in the barn. This just can’t be the best place for a newborn. I’ve got him wrapped up in some swaddling clothes, and he’s sleeping in the manger on the cleanest hay I could find, which isn’t saying too much. He seems to like it, though, so I guess it’s cool. Strange night. We have a crazy-bright star right above the barn. It’s like a spotlight.

Entry #6
Some shepherds just stopped by. They looked a little freaked out. They wanted to meet the baby and kept saying they “heard about him from an angel.” I’m not sure what’s in the water around here, but those guys were a little off.

Entry #7
WHOA! Holy cow! And I mean Holy Cow. Seriously, I think the cows in here might be Holy now. THE ANGEL JUST SHOWED UP! No wonder those shepherd guys looked freaked. WOW. He was seriously bright. I had to ask him to tone the light down a little because I was afraid baby Jesus was going to get a sunburn. Totally crazy deal – Jesus and the angel looked at each other like they already knew each other. Freaky! I think we have a special boy on our hands here.

Entry #8
The angel left a while ago and apparently the shepherd guys did a pretty good job of getting the word out, because there’s a decent crowd outside the barn. Lots of people bringing gifts. This is pretty crazy.

Entry #9
Some little kid with a drum just showed up. Normally, I’d be like, “Uh, hey kid, if you wake up my new baby with that drum I’m going to make you eat those sticks,” but baby Jesus was loving him. He rocked a pretty good Par Rum Pa Pum Pum. I think he’s got a career in music ahead of him.

Entry #10
OK, the angel was awesome, and the drummer boy was cool, but now some kings have showed up. Kings! Three of them. I guess they came from a long way away, just to meet Jesus. This kid is famous already. I wonder if we need an agent? Anyway, the kings brought camels. Camels! What's up with that? If one of those camels spits on my kid, it's on. I don’t care if they’re kings or not. Who brings a camel to visit a newborn?

Entry #11
OK, the kings brought gifts. They were very nice men, and the camels behaved themselves. It was nice of them to bring gifts, but can I just say something? One of them brought gold. Always a great gift! But the other two brought frankincense and myrrh. Are you guys serious? Mmm, thanks for the fragrant tree resin, fellas. Do I look like I have the time to be boiling down tree sap to make my own perfume? I have a newborn in a barn here. I appreciate the thought, I really do, but some people just don’t know how to give gifts. How about a 52-count box of Huggies and some formula? Would it have killed you to drive the camels past a Target on your way in? Can’t really clean his little butt up with Myrrh now, can I fellas?

Entry #12
OK, I just re-read entry #11. I haven’t had much sleep in the last week. I think I’m getting a little cranky.

Entry #13
OK, I’m looking back over my diary here, and it looks like it has been an entire year since I wrote anything. Wow, that was a crazy week in the barn! I guess I have been a little too busy raising this boy to write anything. Sure, we now know he’s the Son of God, and that is truly awesome, but be that as it may, he is not without his challenges.

A little recap of our crazy first year:

People have seriously been visiting every day for the entire year. We had to build a turnstile and hire a security guy.

Our formula budget has been through the roof. He keeps turning his formula into wine, so we keep having to take it away from him. On the upside, we have a lot of really good quality wine!

Don’t even get me started on bath time. This is the dirtiest kid in the whole village. Have you ever tried to get the Son of God underwater if he doesn’t want to be? Let me just tell you… not easy!

Our playdates are cool, though. Anytime one of the other kids gets a bonk or an owie. Boom. Healed. We have regular playdates with a big group of boys. There are twelve of them!

Here’s the craziest thing – his poop does not stink. Seriously, never. When the other moms think I’m bragging, I make them smell it. It smells like frankincense and myrrh. Crazy!

Anyway, we just got finished up with his first birthday party. We tried to do the smash cake thing where you give them their own personal cake to eat with their hands. Instead of smashing his face into it like all the other neighborhood kids did on their first birthdays, he turned it into three thousand little individual cakes for all the people that just randomly showed up. What’s the point of sending out invitations with this kid? He certainly draws a crowd. You should see the pile of gifts!

I’ll try to write a little more regularly this year, but no guarantees. This kid is keeping us on our toes!


Merry Christmas!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 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, December 17, 2014

The 2014 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve been thinking it for weeks now. Maybe even more than a month. That nagging thought in the back of your head. That sticky note on your refrigerator… No. Not the one that says, “Buy more gin and olives.” The other one. “Write the Christmas letter.”

Well, I have bad news for you. It’s too late. You’re out of time. You’ll never get it written and delivered before Christmas now. You could hang your head in despair and blame yourself for being a shiftless, lazy, procrastinating loser who can’t even make a martini, or you can pour yourself a stiff whiskey egg nog and raise a glass to Christmas miracles.

Once again, I’ve got you covered. I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you whip out your 2014 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. Christmas miracles really do happen!


Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas from the _________________ house. We’ve had quite a year around here!

Dad had a banner year with his (fundraising/complaining) at the (Shriners/Sizzler). He has a real love for (children’s charities/all-you-can-eat menus), and his (enthusiasm/frustration) really shines through when the (annual pledge drive /salad bar) runs (in the spring/out of baby corn). He loves (networking with/bitching to) the managers at all the local businesses. He has really been (thriving/annoying) since his retirement.

Mom couldn’t be more (involved/out of touch) with (her church/reality) if she tried. She spends countless hours on the (phone/couch), making sure that the (elderly/reality shows) do not go (unloved/unwatched). She makes personal visits to the (old folk’s home/Old Grand-Dad) in the (city/cupboard) every (week/hour), and always comes back to the (house/couch) a lot happier. We remain in awe of her (faith/flatulence) and the (smiles/smells) she brings to any room.

Sister and her (new husband/loser boyfriend) had some (good/bad) news this year with his (promotion/incarceration). We (secretly/openly) have our fingers crossed that this means they will (start a family/break up) soon, but for now they are just adjusting to the new schedule of (his commute/conjugal visits). We are (happy for/disappointed in) them, and always (thrilled/amazed) to see how happy she is with their (new marriage/bad decisions).

Brother has been on fire this year (at work/twice). He continues to (beat his numbers/cook meth) and is poised to win the (salesman/idiot) of the year award (at his company/if that existed). He has a natural talent for (sales/stupidity), and combined with his (high drive/low IQ), he has been really making (rain/poor decisions) in the (advertising/lifestyle) department. We only wish he would put some of his efforts into finding a (nice girl/fireproof suit), so he isn’t constantly at the (office/ER). He’s (content/too stupid to breathe), however, so we don’t (hassle/waste our time with) him too much. (J,L)

As for me, I’m just about (the same/as fed up) as last year. Things couldn’t be going (better/worse). Our family is (thriving/falling apart) and we’re (excited/apprehensive) about the coming year. We travelled (down south/to the clinic) a few times this year because of (varsity track/urinary tracts).  The boys started out relatively (slow/healthy), but then their (season/pee) turned (around/green) after some (extensive/questionable) (training/eating) after school. Their (coach/doctor) couldn’t be more (pleased/clueless) about their (progress/diagnosis). Things here at the house are getting (festive/tense) as we gear up for the annual winter (holiday celebrations/rat infestation).

Well, that’s about all the news we (wanted/care) to share with you. We hope this letter finds you (well/wherever the hell you are) this holiday season. We are planning some (travel/new business opportunities) for the upcoming year, and we hope to (see/invest with) as many of you as possible. We’ll be in touch. Until then…

Merry Christmas!


You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 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, December 10, 2014

Auditory Torture

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about torture. I, of course, mean the actual news, and not what the Kardashians are up to. That type of “news” is torture of another kind.

What is and isn’t actual torture has been discussed laboriously on the political round table talk shows. Experts, pundits, and news talking heads have beaten this subject to death - or at least into submission. They all seem to fail to see the irony; listening to them talk about torture that much is actually torture. It can almost make you care what the Kardashians might be up to.

The media seems very concerned about the physical side of “enhanced interrogations.” Perhaps someone was made to stand and stay awake for a really long time. Maybe someone didn’t get too much to eat. Someone was naked in front of other people? It all sounds a lot like college to me, but what do I know? No one has invited me to sit down at the round table and discuss any of this yet, but if they do, I will tell them everything they want to know about torture and national security.

I have very real, very recent first-hand experience with torture. Not physical torture, mind you, although I am over forty, so activities like going up stairs and getting out of bed are getting mighty close to feeling like “enhanced techniques.” No, I have experience with mental torture – specifically, auditory torture.

I have been to hundreds of classrooms to read my books, but yesterday I did my first all-school author assembly in the multi-purpose room. I have not spent any significant amount of time in a multi-purpose room since I graduated from the sixth grade, but yesterday I found myself needing to hang around inside one for about an hour or so before I started the assembly.

I didn’t last long.

The kids were all in class, so my time in the multi-purpose room started out with peace and quiet, but eventually shuffling of feet and voices could be heard behind a closed curtain up on the stage. Then, all of a sudden, the formerly tranquil cafeteria/basketball court was filled with the sounds of wounded and dying animals. Zebras brayed and seals barked. Hyenas huffed and cackled. Tiny elephants gave their last, dying, gurgling trumpet.

Or was that an actual trumpet? Oh my Lord, it was! It’s band practice!

The unseen, murderous musicians warmed up behind the big curtain for what seemed like five hours, but my watch, my cell phone, and the wall clock all conspired to lie and tell me it only lasted two minutes. Then I heard a teacher’s voice.

Oh my God, there is an adult stuck back there with them!? She’s so close to the noise! She will obviously die soon.

She mentioned something about Jingle Bells, and then the awful sounds began again. At times, it almost sounded like the students were all trying to play the same song, but no CSI team of forensic scientists in the world would have been able to piece together Jingle Bells out of the musical wreckage that ensued. It sounded as if someone had lined up a whole truckload of tubas, clarinets, trombones, and trumpets and then ran them all over with the truck.

I could not hear myself think. I could not feel myself breathe. I did not want to live any longer in that room. I blacked out momentarily and when I came to I was outside in the fresh air and sunlight. Apparently my brain’s fight-or-flight response had kicked in and my legs had carried my unconscious body to safety. I stayed away until it was almost time to start the assembly, and when I went back in, the killing of music had ceased, but I could still hear the same teacher talking to the students. Holy cow, she has been up there, stuck behind the curtain, enduring this for almost an hour! She must be bulletproof.

That thought reminded me of another time in my life when I was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. I was walking in the park one day last summer, and the ice cream truck was paralleling me on the neighborhood streets near the greenbelt. I was mercilessly pelted with The Entertainer for a solid ten minutes. I was off in the weeds looking for two sharp sticks that I could jam into my ears when, thankfully, he moved on and the horrendous noise pecking at my brain finally stopped. How the man who drives that infernal music box on wheels can function well enough to even fit the key into the ignition is beyond my comprehension.

Now, if you want information from someone, I guess you can make them stand for a long time, or make them skip some meals, or strip them naked and attempt to humiliate them. It might work, and it will definitely get you on the news. But if you really want good intel – I mean if you want them to beg to hand over every last scrap of useful information they have – there is only one way to go. Just sit them down in a nice comfortable room and pipe in elementary school band practice or the ice cream man’s tinny music box version of The Entertainer on infinite loop.

For fast, effective results, that kind of auditory torture can’t be beat. On the flip side, we should immediately entrust all of our nation’s top secrets to the elementary school band teacher and the ice cream man. They will never crack.

Until then, I guess we’ll have to flip the channel over to the Kardashians or continue to endure the irony of the media beating torture to death. No matter what, we need to avoid the multi-purpose room during band practice.

You know, come to think of it, the real irony here is that “Auditory Torture” would be a good name for a rock band.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ten Birthdays

Son Number One turned ten years old last week. Ten! Now, many of you with older or grownup kids are probably saying, “Been there,” and many of you without any kids are saying, “So what?”

I can assure you, when you have children, and the oldest one turns ten, the first thought through your head is, “Holy crap, I’m old!” Then the second thought is, “Holy crap, he can’t actually be ten. He was just five a few minutes ago, and now he’s in double digits?”

Then you do the math again, and then the thought hits you that if he has really been around the house for ten years already, then it’s only eight more years until you have to pay for college. Which, apparently, in parent years is only like six and a half minutes.

Then you faint.

Then your wife revives you by kicking you in the ribs and saying, “Get up, old man.”

You start to come to, muttering, “need… more… money.”

You wife responds, “Tell me about it!”

You get the feeling she didn’t know you were referring to your son.

She has known he was turning ten for a while. That’s because she is a woman and doesn’t forget things like the birthdays of her children. You, on the other hand, being a man, were reminded of his birthday the same way you have always been; by your dentist’s office. They send a nice Happy Birthday email every year.

I actually had quite a few clues leading up to the date, because my wife had already thrown him ten separate birthday parties. Not parties with cakes and hats and noise makers, mind you, but little events labeled as “doing this for his birthday.”

His birthday falls on the Thanksgiving break every year, so every year my wife uses his birthday as an excuse to do things.  We went to the movies “for his birthday.” Before that we had gone to pizza “for his birthday.” And mini golf. And ice cream. And dinner out.

Oh, and Monterey. That’s a whole separate town. It’s a three-hour drive from here. We were going there anyway for a family baby shower, but my wife mysteriously used his birthday as an excuse to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium the next day. I don’t know why we needed an excuse, but there we were, looking at hammerhead sharks and watching bat rays mate “for his birthday.”

And that was all before Thanksgiving. Then the family arrived for Turkey Day, and the aunts and uncles and grandparents spoiled him all over again. I’m pretty sure he thought the actual Thanksgiving dinner was “for his birthday.”

I have mentioned to my wife on a number of occasions that I think we might be spoiling him a little. She sees no issue. I have even brought up the possibility that the other two boys might eventually notice, and possibly resent, the disparity between their birthday celebration and those of Son Number One.

Yes, I said “celebration.” Singular. Son Number Two and Three are two years apart, but they were both born in April, and their birthdays are four days apart. They get a single party between the two of them, with some leftover Easter candy and maybe a cupcake if they’re lucky.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that my wife is playing favorites; it’s just that she is sensitive to a certain specific birthday problem; namely, sharing your birthday with a major holiday. She had a rough childhood, birthday-wise. She was born on Christmas Eve.

Sharing your birthday celebration with The Big Guy can’t be easy for a kid in the first place (and I love her parents dearly, and not to throw them under the bus publicly), but one year when the family was having house guests for Christmas, they forgot her birthday completely.

I guess their dentist’s office didn’t have a reliable email service back then.

So, you can see where she could be a little worried about her son “sharing” his birthday with a big holiday. So I cut her some slack when she overcompensates a little with the whole “doing this for his birthday” thing.

I just pity his future wife. He might throw a fit if she doesn’t cook him a turkey with stuffing on his birthday and take him to the aquarium. I’ll give her my in-laws’ phone number. I blame them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shop for a small combination birthday/Christmas gift for my wife. She loves those.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Not Thankful for Fake Trees

I am thankful for many things. My health, my family, HDTV, microbreweries, and the list goes on and on. One thing I am not thankful for, however, is fake trees, especially around the holidays.

I’m not talking about my well-documented struggles with our Fine Corinthian Christmas Tree, although the epic battle between man and eight-foot, pre-lit, faux pine tree will commence all too soon. No, I’m talking about the fake trees that “live” in our house year-round. We have three of them; two in our living room and one in our bedroom. They are about six or seven feet tall, with about six thousand little green leaves each, made out of some sort of space-age nylon fabric that looks surprisingly like actual leaves. I have no idea why military camouflage isn’t made out of the same material.

As Mr. Mom, one of my duties besides keeping the children alive all day is cleaning the house. My wife stays involved by constantly occasionally offering helpful suggestions on what needs to be cleaned. I take her suggestions into consideration, but usually we’re not on the same page regarding the urgency of the matter.

She becomes more and more inflexible on the subject of cleanliness as the holidays approach, and she shifts to downright immobile a few weeks before Thanksgiving. We host the family for turkey week, and somehow in my wife’s mind, that translates to “we shouldn’t have any dust on anything, and the toilets shouldn’t have pee on them.” Go figure.

Last year she wanted me to start cleaning the house two weeks early. Can you imagine!? A wise person once wrote - on one of those Facebook e-postcard things - “Trying to clean a house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.” When I bring up those sage words of advice to my wife, she just scowls at me and hands me a rag and a bottle of some type of cleaning solution. Some people just don’t appreciate solid internet wisdom.

So I dust. And scrub. And mop. And dust some more. Which brings me to my dislike of our fake trees. Everything else that I have to dust has some kind of purpose. The TV brings me life-sustaining sports programing, the refrigerator keeps the microbrews cold, and the bookshelves hold all the books that make it appear to guests as if we read a lot. Even the family pictures on the walls serve a purpose. They remind us of a simpler time when the boys were younger and weren’t as annoying. A time when they didn’t bring home so much homework, or so many school projects that I have to complete.

But the fake trees do nothing except collect dust as if they were in charge of attracting it from not only our house, but the entire neighborhood.

Every fiber of my male being wants to simply take them outside and hose them off. My wife has conveniently eliminated that option by rigidly fixing them inside giant decorative, painted clay flower pots that weigh roughly eight tons each. I think she got tired of having the trees fall over onto the kids. You only have to ruin a few of those clay pots by trying to roll them across the patio before you get the message loud and clear to stop doing that. Even if I could find a way to get them outside without severely retexturing their surface, the base inside the pot is covered with about five cubic yards of moss. I can’t tell if it’s fake moss or real moss, but either way, trying to get it out of the way would create a larger mess than the one I’m trying to clean in the first place.

So, I am simply stuck trying to clean the trees in place.

If our house looked like I always wanted it to, this would not be a problem. I would simply hose the trees down in place, because the walls and floors of our home would be stainless steel, and there would be a drain in the middle of every room. My wife insisted on plastered, painted walls and carpet, however, “just like all the other normal people have,” so here we are. Dust rag in hand, cleaning each and every individual leaf, one at a time.

Believe me; I tried to figure out a way to avoid a leaf-by-leaf cleaning. The air compressor and the vacuum were problematic to say the least. And I thought the “shaking the tree while running the whole-house fan” method would be much more effective than it was. I did manage to shake out two Lego guys and a sock, but no dust was removed. I even tried attaching the dust rag to my grout mixer bar and running it with my cordless power drill, but that just ended up twisting the little plastic tree branches up in a ball and ripping them out of the fake wood trunk. As a result, much like a real Christmas tree, one of our fake trees has a bald spot that needs to face the wall. Don’t tell my wife!

At least I learned that lesson with only one of the three trees. Actually, wait… come to think of it, we have four of them. Dammit! There’s one up in the game room that I missed. Sorry, I have to go now. I need to spend the next five hours of my life dusting individual leaves.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I really don’t understand why we can’t have drains in the floors.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bat Rays and the Bees

We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this past weekend.  We saw trained sea otters perform amazing tricks like swimming in circles and eating fish. We saw huge bluefin tuna swimming at dizzying speeds in order to eat squid. We saw swirling silver clouds of sardines and anchovies eating krill. Basically, everything was eating. Except us. We did not have a spare two hundred dollars to drop on five sandwiches and a bottled water.

I say everything was eating, but that's not entirely true. The bat rays were engaged in another kind of life-sustaining activity. We were at the petting zoo portion of the aquarium, where you can lean over the edge of the shallow pool and pet a bat ray as it swims by you. I was on one side of the exhibit with our two older boys, and my wife and Son Number Three were on the other side. Suddenly, a great commotion arose around them. Thrashing and splashing could be seen from the water in front of them, and the crowd around them erupted in a mixture of oohs and aahs and laughter. All we could see from our side was the splashing.

I half-yelled over the water to my wife, "What's going on over there?"
"Uh... They're wrestling..." (sound of adults in crowd snickering)
"Is that right?" I replied, skeptically.
"Yep. Wrestling. Silly bat rays. C'mon, son, let's go see the otters again."

Since the bat ray petting pool is geared toward kids, I would expect the aquarium to try and limit any hanky panky by the bat rays to the holding tank in the back room. In their defense, however, I would imagine it’s pretty tough to tell the males from the females, given they all look like a squashed cartoon head with wings.

Speaking of inappropriate animal behavior, do you know what else is not geared for kids? Bat orgies, that’s what. The bat ray incident reminded my wife and me of another captive animal nookie situation we encountered a few years ago. I can’t remember if we were at the zoo without our kids (which seems highly unlikely), or if we had just abandoned them to fend for themselves (which seems totally plausible), but somehow my wife and I ended up in the bat exhibit without kids. That turned out to be a good thing. A very good thing.

The crowd in the bat cave was stirred up by something. Nervous laughter, giggling, exclamations of “Oh my!” and “Honey, close your eyes!” greeted us as we made our way to the glass. Inside the bat enclosure we were treated to a sight that still haunts me to this very day. Hundreds of horny little bats were engaged in what can only be described as a Sodom and Gomorrah-type free-for-all. It didn’t seem to matter to the male bats if the freaky winged mammal they were hanging next to had compatible reproductive organs or not. Bats apparently have a “love the one you’re with” mentality.

Bats are scary enough just in general, but what we saw that day cannot be unseen. I felt like I might need therapy afterward, so I don’t even want to imagine the fallout if our kids had been with us. I can tell you that a lot of little bats babies were probably made that day, along with a lot of uncomfortable situations the next day at the bat coffee shop.

“Oh, Jim, look. It’s Dave and Marcie. Let’s go say hi.”
“No! We’re leaving, honey. Don’t make eye contact with them. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I’m just saying, zookeepers of America, a little sign or something at the door would be nice. “Warning, bat orgy season. May not be suitable for children or most adults.”

At least put a coat hanger on the bat cave doorknob to warn a guy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize nature is going to take its course. And, nowhere is that more evident than the sleepy little beach town of San Simeon, California. It is sleepy for most of the year, actually, except when the elephant seals are in town. For reasons known only to these ridiculously large sea mammals, they show up every year on the same beach to breed.

A few years ago, we were visiting the coast, and we were told by some locals, “You must go see the elephant seals. They’re amazing!”

So we went to see them. When we got there and witnessed the scene, my wife and I immediately wondered why the folks that told us to go there didn’t mention what the seals were doing there.

The seals go there to do other seals, if you know what I mean. Seeing two gigantic male elephant seals fight is pretty impressive. Seeing a gigantic male elephant seal “wrestle” with a female elephant seal is also impressive, but in a much different way. Boy, can those things wrestle!

Like the bats, they really aren’t too shy, either. The San Simeon Elephant Seal Voyeuristic Society has even erected, if I can be so bold as to use that term, a nice wooden boardwalk overlooking the breeding beach, with fun facts about the elephant seals.

“Never go near an elephant seal, especially during breeding season.” Yeah, based on what I’m seeing here, that one didn’t really need to get written down. It’s fairly obvious that I do not want to get in the middle of any of the activities I’m seeing here.

Luckily, the kids were all pretty young at the time, and the “wrestling” up on the beach was explained away, and we could fairly easily divert their attention back to the bloody tusk fights taking place out near the water.

“Why are they fighting, Daddy?”
“To see who gets to… uh…”
“To see who gets to do what?”
“Uh… to see who gets to eat all the food. They’re very hungry. Speaking of food, let’s go get some in another town.”

Son Number One is in the fourth grade now, and the boys are already coming home from school with all sorts of fun “facts” they learn on the playground. I know it’s getting close to the time when I’ll need to start having “the talk” with my boys, but I’d like to put it off for a while longer. And I’d like to have that talk on my own terms. I’m not interested in having any unplanned visual aides to explain. Bat, bat ray, or otherwise.

One thing is for sure. If we are going to keep taking the boys out to view the birds and the bees, I need to have the talk pretty soon, or “wrestling” is going to start taking on a really weird connotation for them.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 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, November 12, 2014

My Solar System Projects Include Pluto

I’m trying to figure out what I did to make our elementary school hate me. I must have wronged them in some way and they are getting back at me. That’s the only logical explanation for why they would make me do the third grade projects all over again.

This is our second year in a row with a third-grader. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, it’s not the same kid. Son Number One and Two just happen to only be a year apart in school.) Imagine my surprise when Son Number Two came home last week and announced that he had to do a solar system project.

“I already did that last year,” I said.
“Huh?” he muttered.
“All third-graders do it,” my wife said.
“You mean I have to do the same project three times!?” I asked.
“The kids are supposed to do the project, honey,” my wife answered, probably thinking she was helping.
“Are you kidding me? The kids don’t do the project. I do. I need to call the school”
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
“Huh?” muttered Son Number Two.

I thought elementary school was for kids. When we got married we talked to other people, including our parents, about the fact that we wanted to have kids, and not one of them warned me that elementary school was going to involve me so much. The endless school fundraisers are one thing, but “student projects” take things to a whole new level. The school may as well just call me up and revise my to-do list for me. Who do they think they are, my wife?

“Good morning, this is the school calling. We know you’ve got a busy week, but we’re going to need to add a few things to your plate. We’re going to need you to change the oil in both your cars. What’s that? No, not at Jiffy Lube. We’re going to need you to climb under there and do it yourself. Oh, and we also need you to paint your house, too. Yes, inside and out. And it all needs to be done by this Friday. Thanks!”

The paperwork that came home with Son Number Two regarding the solar system project was laughable. It kept referring to “the student” working on the project, and “the student’s” deadlines, etc.

Do they have any idea what a solar system mobile would look like if “the student” was solely responsible for the project? I’ll tell you, because I’ve seen it. It would look like five irregular, circle-like shapes cut from a single piece of construction paper, labeled in pencil. The planet names would all have been poorly erased and re-written two or three times, but still spelled wrong, and there would only be five of them because the student couldn’t remember the other four, so they just left them out. The abbreviated solar system planets would all be duct taped to the side of the kitchen counter, out of order, and without a sun, so not only would the student be unable to deliver the project to school without a power saw, a crowbar, and a moving van, but life on “erth” would have already been eradicated by the eternal sunless frozen winter.

Of course I have to help, and in this case, “help” is defined as “doing all the stuff.” I’m not doing everything because I’m some kind of overprotective, perfectionist parent who wants everything their child produces to be flawless. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t really care if erth is yellow and the same size as both mercery and Jupter. I’m simply trying to keep Son Number Two from damaging himself and my house, and not necessarily in that order.

Did I let my son cut the sides off a cardboard box with a razor blade? No. I think he’ll want to have all ten fingers for as long as possible.

Did I let him spray paint the cardboard box black? No. I like my cars and my house to be monochrome, without black accent stripes.

Did I let him drive himself down to Staples to find Styrofoam balls? No. My wife wouldn’t let me.

Did I let him paint the Styrofoam balls unsupervised? No. See spray paint reasoning above.

Did I let him clean up the paint and brushes? No. General paint issues already stated.

Did I let him Google “Uranus” on his own? No. I don’t have extra money for therapy.

About the only thing he did on his own was draw the stars on the inside of the black box. And I even “needed” to be a technical advisor on that so the universe looked properly infinite and didn’t end abruptly like a Hollywood movie set.

When I was done “helping” him hang the planets in the infinite shoe box-sized universe, I told him it was time to make the labels. When we came to Pluto, he protested.

“That’s not one of them, Dad. Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.”

This is my project, Son, and I’m including Pluto. Pluto was a planet when I was a kid, and I’m not willing to ignore it just because some yahoos in The Hague (as if that’s even a real place) decided it wasn’t.

I don’t really care what your elementary school says. If they’re going to make me build solar systems every year, I’m going to include Pluto. When NASA says it’s not a planet, then I’ll let it go.

If your teacher wants to take off points for including it, that’s fine with me. I already graduated third grade.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 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, November 5, 2014

An Open Letter to the Hershey Company

We are in the salad days of post-Halloween parental candy confiscation bliss. Actually, health-wise, it’s kind of the opposite of “salad” days. What the hell does that term even mean, really? Who equates good times with salad? Shouldn’t it be the “cheeseburgers and beer” days?

Anyway, back to the candy. Halloween candy confiscation day is my favorite day of the year. This year being an election year, it’s even better. That’s because every year on November 1st I teach my children about taxes.

Ok, boys, bring those pillow cases full of loot in here and pull up a chair. It’s time to pay the piper. Forty percent of your candy earnings come right off the top to go into Dad’s General Fund. After that, we need to discuss the highway taxes. You used our city streets to obtain this candy, did you not? Well, then, you’re going to have to pay to maintain them. Caramel-based candy is best for road taxes. And let’s not forget, we need to talk about property taxes. You live here “rent free” for most of the year, but today the bill comes due. A few 100 Grand bars ought to cover the base rate, but don’t forget that we need to service our bond obligations. Yes, boys, the voters approved massive bond expenditures last go-round, so I’m afraid the chocolate needs to keep coming my way. That bullet train down to Bakersfield isn’t going to pay for itself, you know.

What’s that? You don’t like it? Welcome to my world. I don’t like it when people who don’t own property get to decide how to spend my property taxes, either. The good news is, when you’re eighteen, you can vote me out of office. Or more to the point, you can vote yourself out of my house. Actually, there won’t be a vote. You’re required to leave when you’re eighteen, but you can register to vote for other stuff.

Much like me after taxes, when the reaper is finished, my boys are left with a shockingly smaller amount of candy. Then I hit them with the hammer; just because you paid taxes doesn’t mean you get to ignore your charitable obligations. We need to bag up over half of your remaining candy to send to the troops overseas.

It’s a fun lesson for me to impart. They are less than enthusiastic, but they have nothing to complain about. Unlike my bank account after taxes and giving, they still have more candy than they can eat in a month.

Just in case you thought I wasn’t serious about my “dad is the government” lesson, I also rigorously inspect and filter the candy earmarked for the troops. I need to double-check that everything is safe and up to our high standards, after all. I mean, we all know that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups cannot travel great distances without turning poisonous, or at least, very gooey. And extensive studies have proven time and time again that coconut is bad for your reflexes. I simply will not allow those dangers near our great fighting men and women overseas. They get the Starbursts.

It was my coconut screening process the other day that led me to a very unexpected discovery. I unwrapped a bite-size Almond Joy candy bar that contained no almond…


An Open Letter to the Hershey Company

Dear Sirs,

What the actual hell? Your production and distribution departments just succeeded in providing me with an Almond Joy candy bar with no almond whatsoever. Is this some kind of sick joke?

This is analogous to Monday Night Football providing me with a bowling tournament instead, or perhaps an actual football game, but on Wednesday morning. There was an implied contract in the name, and you failed miserably to hold up your end of the bargain.

Besides an implied contract, there was also a very specific written one, right on the back of the little wrapper my nutless nut snack arrived in. You printed an ingredients list, and the word “Almonds” (plural, no less) is listed right there after coconut and sugar.

I am willing to overlook the pluralization of “almond” on all the verbiage on your little wrappers, even though every one of the previous twenty or so bite-size Almond Joys I have unwrapped have had exactly one almond-size lump protruding from the top of the bar.

It’s cool. I get it. Times are tough. Costs are tight. It’s a tiny little candy bar. One almond was sufficient. Do you know what was not sufficient? No almonds.

Just to be sure, I looked up the word “ingredients” in the dictionary, and sure enough, it means “what’s in this thing.” It does not mean, “what we meant to put in this thing.”

Speaking of this thing, what should I even call what you provided me? “Joy?” I think not. The joy was removed with the absence of the almond. “Mounds?” No. While those may be similarly nutless, they are supposed to be coated in dark chocolate, not the standard milk chocolate my castrated candy catastrophe was wrapped in.

And speaking of Mounds vs. Almond Joy, what’s up with those names? Almond Joys are the ones with mounds. Mounds bars are flat. Shouldn’t it be Mounds and Coconut Joy?

Forget the naming issue; let’s get back to the real problem. I realize these things are made in massive quantities by a machine, and are not hand-made by Hershey’s candy elves. And I realize that things happen.
“Well, we get 99.9% of them right,” you might say.
Here’s the thing about that: I DON’T CARE! I just had a mouthful of chocolate and coconut with no almond. If I’d wanted that, I would have eaten a Mounds. Do you know why I didn’t eat a Mounds on purpose? Because they suck, that’s why!

The almond is the thing that makes the Almond Joy so good. It is also, as I pointed out earlier, right there in the name. IT SHOULD NOT BE MISSING FROM THE CANDY BAR!

I assume you have some sort of automated inspection devices stationed right after the almond inserting machine that does not insert almonds. They need to wake the hell up! If you can’t find reliable inspection equipment - and judging by my almondless Almond Joy, you can’t - then maybe it’s time to add some people back to the assembly line.

Looking at the wrapper from this little candy abomination, I see it says “Peter Paul” here above the falsely advertised “Almond Joy” with the cute little coconut standing in for the “O” in Joy.  Who the hell is Peter Paul? Or is that two guys? Should I be contacting them about this mess? Maybe you could give them a call on their private tropical island and have them take a break from their coconut candy tycoon lifestyle long enough to come down to the plant and actually make sure the candy that leaves the facility is ACTUALLY WHAT YOU SAY IT IS!

It shouldn’t be too hard. The almond is supposed to stick up, so if the little candy bar is flat on top, DON’T PUT A WRAPPER ON IT AND SEND IT TO PEOPLE WHO ARE EXPECTING AN ALMOND JOY!

Sincerely, without an almond or any joy,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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