Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I'm Thankful For

It’s once again time to get my list together for our annual around-the-table Thanksgiving tradition of vocalizing our thankfulness. I usually forget a few things, since another one of our Thanksgiving traditions has to do with Bloody Marys, so this year I thought I'd write them down.

Also, I find when I'm thinking about things I'm thankful for, it often helps to balance them against things I'm not at all thankful for. That helps make the things I'm thankful for seem even better.

For instance:
I’m thankful for every day on Earth.
I’m not thankful for that one day I fell off my skateboard really hard when I was in the seventh grade and smashed my face on the asphalt. That sucked.

I’m thankful for beer.
I’m not thankful for that one Keystone Light I picked up out on the patio in college that I thought was mine but turned out to be three weeks old. That was really gross.

I’m thankful for Google.
I’m not thankful for the time I was trying to figure out if our friend’s dwarf hamster was male or female and I foolishly Googled “dwarf sexing.”

I’m thankful for cheese.
I’m not thankful for Limburger cheese. Food should not smell like feet.

I’m thankful that I can still run.
I’m not thankful for my forty-three-year-old metabolism that says I still have to run.

I’m thankful for bacon and Halloween candy.
See slow metabolism note above.

I’m thankful for hot sauce.
I’m not thankful for that one hot sauce at the BBQ place in Seattle that I’m pretty sure singed my nose hairs completely off. That was just ridiculous.

I’m thankful for spicy food.
I’m not thankful for that one pepper I had in Tijuana that made the left side of my face go numb.

I’m thankful for my health.
I’m not thankful for the prostate exam process. Seriously, we have MRI’s and stuff now!

I’m thankful for the roof over my head.
I’m not thankful for the time I fell off that roof. That hurt.

I’m thankful for freedom of speech.
I’m not thankful for freedom of speech for politicians and telemarketers.

I’m thankful for carnitas and chile verde.
I’m not thankful for all the crazy stories of brain-eating worms from undercooked pork that make me think twice at the sketchier-looking Mexican restaurants and then reluctantly order the carne asada instead.

I’m thankful for Amazon Prime, and being able to have a California king mattress pad, garlic pepper, and a Toyota Camry gas cap delivered to me in the same box in two days without getting up from my desk..
I’m not thankful that my Amazon Prime account is linked to my own credit card account. That is unfortunate.

I’m thankful for police officers.
I’m not thankful for that one cop from Lincoln that gave me a ticket for the most ridiculous traffic violation ever known to mankind. So glad I was able to help fill your quota that day, pal.

I’m thankful for garbage disposals.
I’m not thankful that mine magnetically attracts spoons.

I’m thankful for Wi-Fi.
I’m not thankful for the fact that I have no idea what Wi-Fi really is, or whether or not having too much of it bouncing around our house is slowly killing us all.

I’m thankful for my three sons.
I’m not thankful when one of them pees on something or someone at three A.M.

I’m thankful for my wife.
I’m thankful for my wife. (What am I, an idiot? Don’t answer that.)

I’m thankful for the ability to learn from my mistakes. (Especially involving expressing anything other than thankfulness for my wife.)

I love you, honey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This Column is Password-Protected

I have a list of passwords on a spreadsheet. No, you can’t see it. You wouldn’t be able to find it anyway, since my wife made me rename it from its original file name of “passwords.” It’s now called “this is not a list of passwords.” Please forget I told you that.

I had to start a list, because everything requires a user name and password these days. Some make sense, like online banking and email, but I have passwords for church and for baseball. I have passwords to buy eyeglasses and to buy coupons for frozen yogurt. I have passwords to buy plane tickets, concert tickets, amusement park tickets, sports tickets, movie tickets, and to pay for speeding tickets. I have a password to watch TV, and a password to order pizza.

I even have a password for the website of a hardware store in New Jersey, because they sell little plastic keeper pieces for my sons’ dresser drawers, and I have to replace them every time the boys break them off by standing on the drawers, which is always.

I have 156 passwords. Seriously, I counted. That seems excessive.

Amazingly I even have passwords for elementary school. It’s hard to believe elementary school would require passwords, but then again, I wouldn’t have thought I would need one for the dentist, either, but I do. Between my fourth and fifth-graders logging on to Google for homework, the reading program, the lunch program, Lifetouch Portrait Studios, and so on, elementary school requires at least fourteen passwords so far. I even have a password from Costco for the box tops program.

And I have passwords for books. Books! I already had a password for the public library, but recently one of my son’s books came with an online fantasy game, so now I have a Scholastic password. If elementary school requires this much online security, is high school going to require finger print passcodes and retinal scans?

Unfortunately, I don’t see any end in sight of the ever-escalating password list. Until we actually do have retinal scans, we have to have passwords, and they all should be different and long, because there are far too many Chinese hackers, Russian mob IT guys, and pasty-white, unemployed, basement-dwelling losers out there trying to crack your code.

The last thing you want is for someone to hack your elementary school lunch program user name and password and immediately be able to clean out your 401K. Besides the financial hit, you’d be bitter every time you heard the term “chef’s surprise” for the rest of your life, and that’s no way to live.

And along the way, we’ll probably discover that retinal scans cause cancer, or hepatitis, or nose fungus, or something, so we’ll need to figure something else out. Besides, getting the back of your eyeball scanned to buy a thirty-five-cent plastic drawer slide from a hardware store in New Jersey just seems like overkill.

So for now, we’ll need to keep our lists of passwords. As an added security measure, I even have a password to open my spreadsheet of passwords. Yes, you heard me - my passwords have a password. If I ever forget that one, we’ll just have to move to a small cabin in the woods and start over from scratch.

I probably won’t forget it, though, because I made it the same as my two most important passwords – the ones for TV and pizza – so it would be easy to remember. It’s my birthday.

Please forget I told you that. It’s also the one for my 401K.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I'm a Veteran of Red Cups

I am outraged by Starbucks. I can’t believe their marketing department didn’t make the cups red earlier.

Since I own mutual funds, I probably own some stock in Starbucks. At least, I assume I do. Since I want to retire someday, I want to see the stocks I own go up in value. Attracting people to your business usually makes your stock go up. (As long as they’re not looters). Therefore, I want as many legitimate customers as possible attracted to Starbucks, as well as all the other companies I allegedly own stock in.

Red cups have been attracting people for decades. How is Starbucks just catching on to that? I’m not sure about red paper cups like Starbucks has, but red Solo plastic cups bring people like moths to a flame. In college, you couldn’t keep me away from a place that had a sleeve of red Solo cups. Duh.

Apparently, though, I’m in the minority of people who are thrilled with Starbucks’ new red cup. I guess it used to have holiday designs on it or something? I have no idea, since I don’t drink coffee, and if I did, I wouldn’t drive somewhere to buy it for six dollars a cup from a “barista” with a pierced forehead and the audacity to have a tip jar. (But for those of you who do, please continue to do so, as long as I actually own stock in Starbucks... I should check that.)

At least one person somewhere -- either a customer, a shrewd Starbucks marketing genius, or a reporter – was “outraged” by Starbucks’ “war on Christmas” when the red cups without snowflakes were revealed. The internet has since exploded with outrage, and outrage against the outrage. The internet is fun.

Here’s the thing, America – you’re free. And especially today -- on Veterans Day – it’s very important to keep that in mind.

Starbucks is free to make their cup any color or colors they choose.

You are free to not like it.

They are free to put any or no designs on their cups.

You are free to go on the internet and complain about it. Even to be outraged by it.

The other Americans on the internet are free to be outraged by your outrage, and also to call you a snot-nosed whiny little yahoo.

You are free to be outraged by their outrage to your outrage.

You are free to maybe switch to decaf if you’re the type of person who’s prone to being outraged by things like the designs and colors of cups.

You are free to celebrate Christmas.

You are also free to celebrate Arbor Day, Kwanzaa, and Pan American Aviation Day if you want to.

You’re also free to not celebrate any of those holidays.

You’re free to buy coffee from anywhere they sell it.

There’s really no end to it. You are free to buy a clip-in man bun, which they apparently sell now.

And we, as Americans, are free to mercilessly ridicule buyers of clip-in man buns, as they so obviously deserve.

And as far as Starbucks goes, I’m free to tell you that if you were actually offended in some way by the cup decoration choices at a drink and cake chain, you should probably take up some sort of hobby that puts some meaning in your life.

We’re all free. Where did we get all this amazing freedom? It was brought to you (and bought for you, in many cases) by veterans.

So this Veterans Day, you red cup haters can be thankful for the freedom to take your mocha-frappa-latte business to Tully’s, or Peet’s, or Dutch Brothers, or Seattle’s Best, or straight to Juan Valdez if you can catch up to his mule.

And you remaining Starbucks customers can be thankful the red cup haters won’t be clogging up the line.

But above all else, don’t forget to be thankful for our veterans. If you see one, stop them and let them know you are one grateful, freedom-loving S.O.B. Maybe even buy them a coffee.

I’ll be thankful for veterans, and for red Solo cups.

And the freedom to (possibly) own stock in a company that charges you people six bucks for a red cup of something that you could make at home for six cents.

God bless America.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'll Take the 'Merica Training from Here

We have wonderful new neighbors who just moved here from France. The father works for a major U.S. company and their young family of five was relocated to California. The parents speak great English, but their three children arrived a few months ago speaking only French. At least, it sounds like French, but we really have no way of knowing.

Son Number Three became instant best friends with their middle boy, and all three of their kids are rapidly learning English, despite Number Three’s best efforts. My son immediately picked up a weird, high-pitched French accent and ESL speech pattern that he uses to communicate with them. I guess he thinks “You want play ball?” asked in a squeaky Pepe Le Pew voice is helpful. He’s wrong.

One day a few weeks ago, over a beer at the American Embassy (that’s what I’m calling my garage now), my new neighbor informed me that his Americanization training was set for the following weekend. I was justifiably upset, since I thought I was in charge of the ‘Merica training program, but apparently his major U.S. corporation had hired Riverdale Global Relocation Services to teach a “How to be an American” class for his wife and kids, and a “How to not offend everyone in the boardroom” class for him. I was already happily doing all that for free. I guess these big companies just like to waste their money. Go figure.

The training was home-based and took place over two full days. I asked to sit in, but apparently it’s only for employees and their families, and the “instructor” gets pretty annoyed when you question her credentials and ask to observe to make sure all the information she’s going to present is accurate.

My neighbors were kind enough to deliver the class materials over to me after the training was complete, so I could spot check them for accuracy. “Right on the bat” I noticed some flagrant errors in the Popular American Expressions section that was obviously not written by an American or anyone with any baseball knowledge whatsoever.

“Ballgame” was defined as “whatever it is you are doing; refers to a negotiation, a deal, an activity, as in, ‘This has been quite a ballgame.’”

To “drop the ball” was defined as “following through irresponsibly with a task.”
If “following through irresponsibly” means not following through and totally blowing it, then maybe.

A “curve ball” was “an unexpected or difficult remark, usually requiring a defense by the receiver.”
A defensive receiver isn’t even a thing in football. And no, I don’t mean soccer.

A “foul ball,” or “foul play” was “a curve ball in really bad taste, as in, ‘Hey Steve, that remark was a foul ball.’”
No, no, no.

And “the ninth inning” was “the final hour, or the final deadline, sometimes referred to as the ‘top of the ninth.’”
You had a 50/50 shot. Close, but no.

Besides the fact that the baseball idiom section was obviously written by a lifelong cricket fan, what I was most struck by was not the inaccuracy of the information on how to do business in America – most of it seemed to be “right on the baseball” - but rather the fact that any of it needed to be mentioned at all.

Here are Riverdale’s handy tips on boardroom etiquette from the General Principles of Business Communication section.

For U.S. Americans, ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’ They tend to use low-context communication – which is when the speaker relies more on the verbal content of his/her message (rather than on nonverbal or contextual clues) to get the intended meaning across.

That is true. We do not use interpretive dance to let you know that we want to purchase your product for under seven dollars a unit. We’ll just say that. We also don’t tell you we are interested in partnering with your firm while, at the same time, throwing feces at you. We stay away from nonverbal and contextual clues. If we don’t like you, we’ll tell you without lying and flinging dung.

Americans are not comfortable with extended pauses or periods of silence. Conversation goes back and forth in regular ‘beats’ – something like a ping-pong game.

Yes, it is true we don’t like uncomfortable silences, hence the name. But I’m not sure “ping-pong game” is the best way to describe conversational flow here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

“Hey Bob.”
“Yes, Jim?”
“Grab Lunch?”
“You bet.”
“Triple syllable. My point.”

Eye contact is very important. Frequent, though not too intense or prolonged eye contact, expresses to your counterpart that you are sincere and trustworthy.

Yes, eye contact is important. It’s really the main way we know you’re talking to us and not someone on your Bluetooth. Careful with that fine line of “intense and prolonged” eye contact, though. That can take you from sincere and trustworthy to stalker/serial killer in just a few uncomfortable seconds. Frankly, if you don’t already understand appropriate eye contact lengths, you should probably just stay home and keep not looking at your own countrymen.

American business people tend to keep a standard distance of about two feet (roughly an ‘arm’s length’) between themselves and their conversation partners.

This is true, and never to be violated. Also, don’t ever say “conversation partner.”

Apart from handshakes and an occasional pat on the back between men, physical contact is generally not part of the American business culture.

Allow me to make major corrections to this. Let’s replace the term “pat on the back” with “manly slap on the back while guffawing at an exceptionally funny joke.” That way you won’t be confused into thinking that a hand on the other dude’s back should do anything other than leave a red mark. There is absolutely no rubbing or lingering of any kind.

And we need to get rid of the word “generally” and replace it with “absolutely.”

“Hey, Jim, I’m really happy about this plan. Let’s hold hands while we sign the contract. Then, let’s hug it out and go get some lunch. I’ll rub Bob’s shoulders from the backseat on the ride over to Applebees.” These are all things you will never hear in America. Be very careful with this one, or you will find out quickly at what point punching becomes acceptable in the American boardroom.

And lastly, When handing items from one person to another, it is acceptable (and not considered disrespectful) to do so with one hand, or even to gently toss it across the table.

Yes. If you are going to hand me the Peterson file, a one-handed handoff or a table slide is really the only way to go. Handing it to me with two hands would look really weird, and don’t even think about doing anything stupid like bowing during the handoff, or presenting the file to me on a platter or a tasseled pillow. Things like that will never get you invited to Applebees.

There is one last thing that the folks at Riverdale forgot to put in the training manual, but it’s very important. The guy from overseas always buys lunch. And drives. Wait... where are you from again?

Never mind. I’ll drive, but you still have to buy.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Sixth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

I sincerely hate to keep bugging you guys, but I just had to bring a new development (get it?) to your attention. Actually, I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, or with the bad photo developing jokes, especially since you probably don’t develop film anymore, since everything is digital now, which would explain why it’s apparently economically feasible for you to send me reams and reams of pictures every spring that I never ordered in the first place of all three of my boys in T-shirts with uncombed hair and food stuck to their faces because we didn’t care that it was picture day again, because we already got our fall pictures like only three months before... where was I?

Oh, yeah... I’m not even sure I am bugging you with these letters, since I never hear anything back from you, but as I have stated in the past, I am a selfless humanitarian – I do it for the good of all mankind. You’re welcome.

Actually, I have to take that back. I did sort of hear back from you once. I got an email from one of your young photographers a while back, responding to one of these letters. It was adorable how she tried to explain to me why I was legally required to return pictures you sent me that I never ordered, of my children that I never asked you (or even authorized you) to photograph.

I never told you her name, since her total lack of understanding of what “legally required” means gave me the distinct impression she didn’t have the authority to speak on the company’s behalf. She seemed like a nice kid and I didn’t want her to get in trouble with you management types, if in fact you do exist.

A few weeks ago I thought I was “hearing from you” in an odd passive-aggressive move when Son Number Two’s fall picture packet didn’t show up with the rest of them. His pictures were the only ones in his class to be missing, and for a moment I thought that might be too much of a coincidence given our history.

I jumped to the conclusion that you were being petty and you didn’t really appreciate all the free business advice I’ve so graciously given you all these years. I’m sorry that thought even entered my mind. His pictures had simply been misplaced, and they showed up about a week later. It was not your fault and I feel bad for even entertaining the thought that you would be anything less than professional.

Anyway, back to the current matter at hand. As you folks obviously know, picture retake day is today at my sons’ school. Sorry about writing you with this problem so late, but I just connected the dots and figured you guys probably hadn’t done so, so better late than never.

Your picture retake day poster in the front office window advertises that today is the day students can “get a second chance at a picture-perfect image.”

That might be difficult.

As you are obviously not aware, this is “Red Ribbon Week” at the school. Each day of the week we are fighting the scourge of drugs and promoting healthy lifestyle choices in a fun and positive learning environment. In other words, the kids are dressing up with a different theme each day.

Wear all red, wear team jerseys, wear patriotic clothes, etc...

Anyway, long story short, you scheduled picture retakes on pajama day.

Like I have told you, I’m a selfless humanitarian. I’m bringing this to your attention purely out of support for your company, and not for any personal reasons. This issue doesn’t affect me at all. That’s because miraculously, for the first time since all three of our boys have been in school, we don’t need retakes.

As you know, Son Number Two has always been our solid producer. He’s good in front of the camera. The other two are spotty at best.

Son Number Three is allergic to napkins. He’s spent approximately nine total minutes of his seven-year life thus far without food stuck to his face, and up to this point, none of those nine minutes lined up with picture day.

And obviously, Son Number One has Chronic Forced Smile Disorder, or CFSD, which has plagued him his whole life. Tell him a joke and he beams like a golden ray of sunshine. Try to take his picture and he smiles like he was just stabbed in the foot with a screwdriver.

But this year, somehow, the camera gods smiled down upon us, the heavens aligned, and when the shutter snapped, you produced three pictures of normal smiling, foodless versions of the boys we know and love.

However, for all the folks that needed retakes today, I’m guessing that if little Aiden’s picture showed him with a mustard stain on his shirt, the fix his parents were looking for was not to replace it with a picture of little Aiden in his Lightning McQueen jammies.

I know in the past I’ve given you amazing and free advice on how to improve your business model, but in this case I’ve got nothing for you. Nothing other than a few words of encouragement about looking on the bright side:

At least you didn’t schedule pictures on Friday. That’s Halloween costume day.

Best of luck,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shear Pain

Have you ever seen someone shear a sheep? They tip them over and sit them up on their rump so their legs aren’t on the ground. That way the sheep is less annoying while you’re removing its wool. I’m not that smart. I shear all my livestock while they’re standing up, and they’re incredibly annoying about it.

Of course, even if I put them back on their rumps, they’d be just as annoying, because mine can talk. Ever since we first started shearing them, our three boys have taken haircuts to be a personal attack on everything in their lives that is good. They whine and complain as if their whole sense of happiness and contentment is connected to their hair.

We had always buzzed them short, but about a year ago we gave in. In this life you must pick your battles, and my wife and I use up a vast majority of our will to live every day just with homework and dinner time.

So now they all have long hair. By “long,” I of course mean one inch. That’s as long as it’s going to get. There will be no man buns around these parts, Fabio. I’m even seeing dudes at the gym wearing head bands in their hair. Not sweat bands, but skinny elastic hair bands to make the front of their hair stand up. Sorry, boys, but if you ever decide you need to use one of your mom’s stretchy hair bands to manage your flowing locks, it’s all coming off with a razor.

One inch-long hair allows sculpting of the fauxhawk, which was the impetus behind all the whining about wanting longer hair. “What’s a fauxhawk?” you might ask, as I did, if you are as tragically unhip as me. A fauxhawk is basically a short Mohawk but without the shaved sides. You just stick the middle of your hair up in the air with gel, as if you’re a surprised cartoon character.

I was against this hairstyle from the beginning, and I remain against it a year later. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care what my son’s hair looks like on any given day, as long as it’s not long. I’m against the fauxhawk because it requires gel.

But we gave in, and now we own Gorilla Snot. That’s the name of the hair gel. We have fauxhawks held up with Gorilla Snot. I wish I was making that up.

Gorilla Snot has a holding power somewhere in between asphalt sealant and Krazy Glue. Between the hair gel and the toothpaste residue left over after they get ready for school, you could trap and hold an adult male grizzly bear just by luring him onto our boys’ bathroom counter.

Besides the fact that I’ve actually glued my shorts to the sink, I’m also against the new long hair because of the haircuts. The whining and complaining remains the same from the boys, but the actual cutting of the hair is more difficult. I’m fighting my way through more hair now, which is no small task with Son Number One. His hair is so thick it’s actually like shearing a sheep. We go through clippers at an alarming rate. I would buy some real sheep shearing clippers, but those things are deadly serious. I don’t want to actually be able to cut an ear off.

A while back, I nicked an ear with our standard clippers on the third haircut. There was so much hair already in the sink, when we combined some blood it looked like we’d murdered a family of chinchillas.

Plus, it’s a lot tougher to see what I’m doing with the long hair. All three boys have a knob on the back of their heads that really doesn’t like to be pushed on by clippers. I can’t see where it is, so I get a lot of complaints about my style, mostly focusing on how much better mom is at cutting hair, and how I push too hard. I tried to buy louder clippers, but they don’t sell them.

It takes weeks of mental preparation and often a few stiff drinks to get through haircut day. And that’s just for the boys. Plus, after it’s over, there is no immediate sense of relief for any of us, because we still have to get through round two after the mom critique phase. “You missed some long hairs on top here,” or, “You forgot the whole left side of his head.”

Sorry honey, but do you have any idea how much they complain during the haircut? Sometimes I just need to be done.

I guess I could spend the money and take them to the barber shop, but that just seems cruel. I mean, what did that barber ever do to me?

I think I might just get some sheep. They’d probably be less of a hassle to shear, and I could sell the wool. Plus sheep probably don’t hold a grudge for so long when you nick their ears.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

You Can't Spell Doughnuts with an E

I am here today to help set your mind at ease about our elementary school educational system. The kids are going to be fine.

I know there has been a lot of concern lately about Common Core, mostly centered around the fact that we parents no longer understand the new math, so we can no longer help our children with their homework. I personally fail to see why me getting out of homework time is a bad thing, but to each their own.

I will admit, however, I heard some disturbing things at Back to School Night. Four instants, I herd that hour children our know longer re choired two take spelling tests, cents they will all ways have spell Czech. That’s probably knot a grate idea, cents their our know red lines under any words in this pair a graph, butt its chalk full of miss steaks, May king IT con fusing and hard too reed.

I was also told that the new math program doesn’t focus so much on getting the right answer these days, but more on the students’ ability to collaborate in a group. I find that utterly offensive. Why are my children being offered this insanely awesome math utopia and I was not? I would have loved that system!

I used to collaborate all the time with my fellow students during math, but my teachers always called it “cheating.” Now students are being asked to talk to each other, and graded on how well they do it? Come on! That’s just salt into my report card wounds. I could’ve had straight A’s with this new system.

We had to slave away at our desks by ourselves with no Google at our fingertips to help us solve for X. Now the kids can just pull out a phone, fire up the math solver app, take a picture of the problem, and email the answer to the teacher. Then, as long as they all cheerfully agree on which math solver app is the best, and someone in the group can articulate a half-coherent reason for wanting to know what X was in the first place, (or at least what an X looks like, lol), they all get an A in math.

Actually, they all get a B or a T in math. Apparently, traditional letter grades are really only useful when you want to know if a student knows the right answers. A, B, C, D, and F have been abandoned in favor of E, S, N and T, B, L.

When you get rid of the standard letter grades, it also apparently makes sense to get rid of report cards, too. We’ll now just get “progress reports” rating our child’s development of the “characteristics of a successful learner” with either an E (excellent), an S (satisfactory), or an N (needs improvement).

As far as the individual subjects go, they’ll be rated with T, B, or L. The T stands for “progressing Toward meeting standard expectations in the reportable area.” The B definition, on the other hand, also has the word “toward” in it, but means “progressing toward Basic understanding in the reportable area.” That made me wonder why the T wasn’t an S, until I remembered that S means my child has developed “satisfactory characteristics of a successful learner.” Maybe the T should be an M? Who knows? Anyway, the L stands for “demonstrating Limited progress toward basic understanding and proficiency in the reportable area.” I personally think the L should just be replaced with a thumbs down emoticon, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

I don’t have the energy to begin to pretend like I understand any of it, but I do see one glaringly obvious problem with the new grade reporting system right off the bat – doughnuts.

Krispy Kreme used to give me one doughnut for every A on my kids’ report cards. Sometimes I would even let the kids have one of them. And I don’t like to brag, but between their mom’s brains and my height, they’re all pretty smart. Up until now, I would get A LOT of doughnuts at report card time.

But this new system has the potential to completely derail my gravy train of delicious glazed goodness. How the hell am I supposed to get free doughnuts with a “progress report” full of T’s?

Is all of this concerning? Of course. Has anything I’ve shared with you put you at ease? Of course not. The doughnut issue alone should have you feeling sick to your stomach - much like the day after report card doughnut day.

But don’t despair! The news from the classroom may be bleak, but there is still hope. The news from the playground is an entirely different story. The news from the playground will lift your spirits and set your mind at ease. The kids are going to be all right. How do I know? Four Square. That’s how.

Son Number One came home the other day and started telling me about playing Four Square. Like math, I foolishly thought I already knew all about it, but then he then started speaking another language, so I slowed him down and had him explain the new Four Square to me.

Back in my day, Four Square was just a game with four players in four squares and a bouncy ball that could only bounce in your square once before you were required to catch it. If it bounced twice, you were out. Like ABC or 123, plain and simple.

Four Square today is an entirely different animal. I had my son explain all the different rules to me. After a half-hour of nonstop machine gun-like information, I had to stop him, because my head was spinning.

The four squares are now named. They are King, Queen, Servant, and Jail. The king always starts with the ball. There is still what’s known as “regular” rules, where the one bounce applies. However, now there are approximately a thousand variants.

Tennis; Around the World, the more confusing, Reverse Around the World, and the incredibly difficult variant, Around the World Headers; Pac Man; Bus Stop; Back Stop; Edges, which may or may not be the same thing as Bus Stop; Apple Cider, and the more difficult Apple Cider variant, Poisonous Spider; Story Time; Watermelon; Out of the Box; Glass Ball; Cherry Bomb; Ghost in the Halls, and the confusing variant, Ghost in the Halls Touch Up; and the list just kept going, each with an intricate set of rules and regulations, many of which didn’t even involve the ball.

It was mind boggling. When I was his age we could all barely agree on the rules for a simple game of Red Rover. These kids are way more inventive than we were, and way smarter, too. They may or May knot no how to spell, but they’re going to be fine.

I’m a pretty decent speller, but I would get an F in Four Square today. Or an N. Or an L. I’m not sure.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to draft a letter to the president of Krispy Kreme explaining the new grading system.

Can someone please explain it to me, first?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cross Country Gap

I have decided that the only way to have any consistency in behavioral outcomes when parenting your children is to have only one child. If you have more than one kid, they’ll be completely different. At least, ours are.

As far as we know, we didn’t do anything differently with our parenting from one kid to the next, so it must be the kids’ relationships with each other that change them. Either that or they’re totally different people with different hopes and dreams, but I fail to see how that could be the case based on how much they look alike.

Whatever the cause, we have three boys who are vastly different on the inside. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, though. I don’t like to brag, but they all have huge heads, which they get from me. Consequently, they’re all very smart, which, quite obviously, they get from their mother’s side. Facial features, intelligence, and adult-size bike helmets, however, is where their similarities end. Their differences lie in what motivates them.

Son Number One is motivated by remaining as still as possible while staring at any screen emitting light. One day he will make a fantastic computer programmer, or some other job that involves sitting perfectly still and not being required to spell.

Son Number Two is motivated by competition. He has a multitude of varied interests, centering mostly around total domination of any contest or hobby. It seems blatantly obvious that he will one day become a Navy SEAL.

Son Number Three is motivated by the voices in his head that tell him to scream wildly and run in circles. One day he will make either a good stunt man or a troublesome inmate.

The differences in Son Number One and Two are currently being highlighted every week by the sport of cross country. Much to Son Number One’s dismay, our elementary school does not have a four square league. Long distance running is the only “school sport” there is.

Unfortunately for our school’s overall win record (but fortunately for the coaches) the runners have to be in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, so our second-grade Tasmanian Devil, Son Number Three, is not eligible yet.

Son Number One was eligible to run on the team last year, but we didn’t even bother mentioning it. This is a boy who, at five years old, told his soccer coach, “It would be great if I could just play goalie, because I don’t really like to run.”

Son Number Two, on the other hand, asked his soccer coach, “I’d like to score as many goals as possible, so can I play forward all game?”

(Son Number Three yelled to his soccer coach, “Wooooohoooo!” as he ran at the speed of light in the wrong direction.)

So, this year when it was time to sign up for cross country, I took Sons One and Two aside individually. I talked to Number One first.

“I’m signing you up for cross country.”
“I don’t want to run.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have fun,” I lied. I agree with him. Running is never fun.
“No I won’t. It’ll be lame.”
“It’ll be fun,” I lied again. “Besides, your brother is doing it, and you don’t want him to get all the glory, do you?”
“OK, I’ll do it.”

Son Number Two took less convincing.
“I’m signing you and your older brother up for cross country.”
“I’m going to beat him.”
“Glad you’re on board.”

An elementary school cross country meet is an activity where 1500 kids, 20 coaches, and 2500 parents all show up at a park and wonder where the course is, while the one teacher in charge from the hosting school has a nervous breakdown and hides in the play structure.

A typical course is one mile, and is delineated by three traffic cones, one twenty-foot piece of caution tape, and two curved arrows spray-painted on the grass. The start of a race is like a scene out of Braveheart, but with less spears. Then they all get to the first turn and all bets are off. There are still nineteen kids missing from yesterday’s meet who took wrong turns somewhere on the course.

The main problem I am seeing with my sons’ performance at the meets is they are not in the same grade, and the heats are run by grade level. At the first meet, Son Number Two’s goal was to finish in the top twenty to get a medal, and he did. Son Number One’s goal was simply not to finish last. He also accomplished his goal. He finished second to last.

We have been to five meets already and Son Number One’s goal has not waivered. Just don’t be last. I would like him to aim a little higher, and train a little harder, but it’s not going to happen. Son Number Two is racing everyone in his heat. Son Number One could really care less about beating anyone except his younger brother. The physical ability is there. We’re just lacking motivation. Lacking drive.

The only thing that would truly motivate Number One is a format change in the race. If his younger brother was in the same heat, they would finish first and second. There is no doubt in my mind. I have seen them wrestle each other. It’s the only time Son Number One won’t let up.

So we obviously need to combine the fourth and fifth-grade boys. It’ll be a win-win across the board for our school, and for my oldest son’s confidence level. Plus, if we get more kids on the course at once, maybe fewer of them will get lost. I really hope they find at least some of those nineteen kids before the next meet.

I’ll try to suggest the fourth/fifth combo to the hosting team’s lead teacher at the next meet... if I can manage to find her in the play structure.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lego My Book Fair

Dear Scholastic and Lego Corporations,

I think I speak for all of us when I ask, can you both please just stick to your own product lines and stop trying to team up?

Lego, I’ve got some heartburn with you folks on a number of fronts, but let me focus on Scholastic first. Books. That’s what a publisher makes. I think you guys have forgotten that, so I just wanted to remind you.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to thank you for continuing your long tradition of school book fairs. You guys help raise a lot of money for our school each year, and we’re very appreciative. What we’re not super excited about, however, is all the extra crap you send along for the “book” fair. If I didn’t know any better, I would think it was a poster and toy fair that happened to have a few books.

My son doesn’t need an eraser that looks like a calculator. I was told at the beginning of the school year that kids don’t need to spell words on paper anymore, or figure out the actual answer to math problems anymore, so he really doesn’t need an eraser or a calculator, let alone a strange hybrid sold to him by a book manufacturer.

He also doesn’t need a poster of all the NFL helmets. He might want one, and I might consider buying him one, but I don’t want to do it at a BOOK fair. Same goes for plastic sharks on a stick, bouncy balls, and pictures of pop stars. I mean, Justin Bieber, Scholastic? Seriously? That kid wouldn’t know what a book was if I hit him in the face with it, which I would definitely do if given the chance.

Again, I think I speak for all of us elementary school parents when I say, the only non-book item we really need to see at a book fair is a bookmark. And we think those should be free, as God intended.

Now let’s talk about your new hybrid books, which is where Lego comes in. Son Number Three wouldn’t get off my leg at this year’s book fair about the Lego book he wanted me to buy him. Lo and behold, this “book” had a big clear plastic bubble built into the cover containing an actual Lego guy.

OK, so now I know why he wants it... Let’s see what the inside of the book has to offer... Oh, I see. For ten bucks I get this little Lego guy, plus a forty-page book apparently written by the Lego CIA, giving me the dossier on twenty different Lego guys, all of whom happen to be on Lego TV shows that Lego no doubt wants my son to watch.

The red ninja guy wears red all the time. He is on a TV show. His swords are sharp, and his head is yellow, even though you can’t see it under his red ninja guy ninja head wrap thing. He is awesome on the TV show. He likes sushi and running on the beach. You should stop reading this “book” and watch his TV show.

Hmm... Phenomenal content, Scholastic and Lego, but I think I’ll pass.

And, before you jump down my throat, Scholastic, I know Lego isn’t the only one responsible for hybrid books. We also saw books that contained shark teeth, and books that had plastic military dog tags. Son Number Three wanted all those books, too. That doesn’t make it better.

But, Lego, you guys have been on my list for a while, so I’m using this latest Scholastic book fair as a jumping-off point.

Here’s my main problem with you. You guys really gave my generation a raw deal. I have enough problems with fending off an entitlement mentality in my kids without you guys piling on. Back when phones were attached to the wall and Pluto was still a planet, all our Legos were square. Nowadays, my kids get all huffy if they can’t find the right color rear stabilizer fin for their rebel alliance snowspeeder with the smooth sweeping curved edges and the pivoting nose bar attachment. You know what that thing looked like in my day, kid? A bumpy green rectangle with razor-sharp edges, that’s what. We had to have an imagination.

You have replaced imagination with the Lego Club Magazine – an insidious publication that comes to my house each month and turns my kids into whiny, slobbering beggars.

You know what I could build with your amazing Legos when I was a kid? I could build a cabin. They were basically plastic interlocking Lincoln Logs. My kids can build a flying dragon that actually shoots round plastic fireballs out of its mouth. How is that fair to me at all?

And don’t even get me started on Star Wars. Those movies came out when I was still a kid, but MY kids are the ones that get all the cool Star Wars Legos? Where were you guys on that one? My generation would have loved Star Wars Legos. Our kids don’t appreciate them enough, because you offer them a hundred other TV/movie/Lego combinations. We only had Star Wars and E.T., man. That's all we had. And we had to wear corduroy pants and thick polyester shirts the whole time we were playing with our square, sharp, non-Star Wars Legos. My kids’ clothes are so damned comfortable compared to ours back then, it’s not even funny.

Sorry... I got a little sidetracked there. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Can you both please just stick to what you do best? One of you just make books and the other one just make toys? I’ll leave it up to you to figure out who’s going to handle what. Thanks!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fall for the Head Fake

My cell phone rang on my desk the other day, and my heart immediately sank when I saw the name on the screen. It was my boys’ school. Just great! One of them probably threw up, or more likely, set something on fire, and now I have to stop my work day and go pick them up.


“Yes, Mr. Schmatjen, this is the school nurse. We have Son Number Three here in the office. He hit his head on the big giant brick wall out in the middle of the playground, but he’s fine.”

Yes! Just a head injury. My day is saved! “Well, I’m relieved to hear he’s OK.”

“Yes, he’s fine. It’s just school policy to call home whenever there’s a head injury.”

Wow. How do I not get more calls? That kid’s head is a magnet for hard objects. “Well, that sounds like a very good policy. So, just to be clear, it sounds like what you're telling me is this isn't going to affect my day at all?”

“Uh... No, I guess not. Again, he appears to be just fine.”

Hmm... Perhaps I should sound more concerned. “Well, as long as both his pupils are the same size, go ahead and kick his little butt back in the direction of his classroom.”

“Uh... Yes, he’s not showing any signs of serious injury. We’ll send him back to class. There will be a note coming home with him today. Again, just school policy.”

“Great. I’ll be sure to read that. Thanks, gotta go.”

“Uh... Would you like to talk to your son? Mr. Schmatjen? Sir?”

*Dial tone*

By the time I went to pick the boys up after school was out, I had forgotten all about the morning’s head vs. wall incident. It wasn’t until we were all home for an hour or so that I got around to looking through their folders.

School District Health Services Head Injury Letter

“Oh, yeah. Hey, buddy, how’s your head?”

“It’s OK. But I threw up in class today.”

*sound in my head of record scratching to a halt*

“You did what now? Before or after you hit your head?"


"Hang on, buddy. I need to read something."

School District Health Services Head Injury Letter
Since symptoms of a concussion may occur within 24 hours, we feel it is important for parents to have the following information:

Children should be kept under observation for the next 24 hours. The child should be encouraged toward quiet activities during the observation period.

Hmm... So screaming up and down the street on his scooter right after school wasn’t the right call?

Apply ice for 1 hour to relieve pain and swelling.

We’ll call that one taken care of, more or less.

Give only clear liquids until no vomiting for at least 6 hours.

Well... He just ate a burrito when he got home from school, so I’m going to have to say I failed on this one.

Keep him awake for the first hour or so, after which time he may sleep if he want to. Awaken him every 4 hours to see if he is arousable, recognizes his parents, and to see if his pupils are equal size.

Well, he doesn’t seem sleepy, but I can tell you right now I won’t be able to wake him up if he does go to sleep. He’s the hardest sleeper we have. On any given night I can pick him up, slap him, and roll him down the stairs without waking him up. So how am I supposed to know if he’s normal or concussed?

I guess we could try to keep him up past his bed time, but that will end up being a problem with about half of this list of symptoms. Specifically:

Unconsciousness, “in a daze”, or unable to awaken child
Inability to recognize familiar people or objects
Slurred speech
Double vision
Staggering gait or loss of coordination

Every one of those things happens to him if he stays up even an hour past his bed time. So, I can’t let him go to sleep, and I can’t keep him awake. What now?

“Why didn’t the school call me again when you threw up?”

“Oh, it was just a little. I was bending over like this right after lunch, and I burped, and a little came out. It wasn’t a real throw up.”

*sound of School District Health Services Head Injury Letter crumpling up*

“Go ride your scooter some more while I make you another burrito. Don’t forget your helmet!”

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Fifth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

As you obviously know, picture day is tomorrow at my sons’ school. As you also know, in years past, for the most part I have written you these letters after picture day, usually after you send me a bunch of pictures I didn’t order or want, containing silly instructions about how I’m “required” to do things for you. You guys are hilarious!

Anyway, as you also know, since I am such a selfless humanitarian, these letters have always been in an effort to help you improve your business model, which, as near as I can tell, was conceived and implemented by a group of six-year-olds.

I am starting to get the impression that you’re not reading these letters, or if you are, you’re not taking my unsolicited advice as readily as I accept your unsolicited picture packets full of mirror hangers and plastic rulers that don’t measure anything.

However, since I am such a selfless humanitarian, as I already stated, I will continue to offer you my advice free of charge, whether or not you have the good sense to listen. Come to think of it, that’s actually the same arrangement I have with my kids.

So listen up – You have angered me. I am not at all happy with your website, and I am appalled at either your unfair treatment of our Spanish-speaking community, or your blatant favoritism toward them. I’m really not sure which you’re doing, but I know I don’t like it!

My ire on both fronts stems from your ridiculous “Family Plan.” This is a special deal that you offer families with more than two kids by highlighting the discount at the very bottom of your paper order form in and unrecognizably small font size. I think it might be Times New Roman negative five.

I couldn’t find a magnifying glass, so I set the form a few feet away from myself and was eventually able to read the Family Plan verbiage with my binoculars.

Family Plan - For parents with more than 2 children attending school. First 2 children’s portraits are full price, additional children’s portraits are half price. To receive your discount: 2 children make full payments. Do not combine payments. Complete the information below, cut out and put in envelope.

As you know from my previous letters, I have three boys, and your photographers have yet to manage to coax a natural smile out of all three of them on the same day. However, we understand that you are dealing with Son Number One’s chronic Forced Smile Disorder, and that is not at issue here today. What is at issue is the fifty percent discount you promised me on Son Number Three’s fine quality studio portrait session.

I foolishly assumed that since you offered this discount on the paper order form, I would be able to receive it on the website as well, since most of the space on the paper order form is dedicated to inviting me to use the website instead.

I went through the ridiculously tedious chore of ordering my $18 “entry” level picture packages on your website, spending approximately seven hundred minutes on each child’s order denying the myriad of upgrades and add-ons that require me to individually opt out before I could get to the checkout screen.

When I finally made it to the “place your order” page, I was shocked to see that my total was $54, which if my rudimentary math is correct, is $18 per kid for three kids. As you might recall, you told me on the paper form that if I had three kids, the third one would only be $9. I looked and looked on your super-helpful website for the “apply the family plan algorithm” button, but I could not locate it.

Since, as I understand it, websites these days are built with math and stuff, I would have assumed that the “take 50% off all the kids after the first two” thing would be built in. Seems like that would be pretty easy for a first-year web programmer to put in there. I guess not.

Nine bucks is nine bucks, so I didn’t want to give up without a fight. I moved my mouse over to the “Live Chat” button and clicked it. Up pops a screen with way too many fields for me to fill in just to chat with someone about my order. Name, email, school name, school picture day code, my address, etc. Now, I hate to have to keep being the one to point all this stuff out to you guys, but I had already entered all those things in the pit of despair that is your online order process. Again with the first-year programmer thing...

Anyway, I let out a heavy sigh of disappointment and filled in all the info, just so I could have a slim chance of getting my $9 discount. I hit the “Submit” button, and do you know what you told me?

Sorry, no operators are available at the moment. Please try back later.

You have a button on your website that says “Live Chat,” and when pressed it says, “sorry, no one’s home?” What the actual hell, Lifetouch? Are you kidding me?

To make it even better, there was no button for “Resubmit,” or “Try Again,” just in case Chip, the lone Lifetouch Live Chat Operator, was just getting back to his desk after a potty break. Just a button that said “Close.” Your website is the DMV office of the internet.

Based on your website and all my previous dealings with you, I guess I should not assume you have the same feelings about the DMV as the rest of us, so to be clear, what I’m saying is this: Your website sucks!

I went from being disappointed to mad at that point. Now I’ve spent more time than anyone should have to on your website, and I’m not willing to throw that time away and go back to the paper order form just to save nine bucks.

But like all my selfless advice giving to your company, this isn’t about me. It’s about the Mormon families out there. And the Catholics. And the Amish, if you guys take pictures of them. And all the potentially not-that-religious families out there that just can’t seem to stop having kids. What about the folks with five kids, or even six? The problem is exponential, because your website can’t do math, and you won’t allow us to combine payments with the paper order form.

You have created a situation where someone with five kids has to write five separate checks and include them with five separate paper order forms in order to qualify for the family plan. News flash: Someone with five kids doesn’t have that kind of time.

It’s almost as if you don’t want to offer the Family Plan discount at all... It’s occurring to me now that the DMV is actually more functional than your company. They take my picture too, and they also don’t care if I was smiling or not. The only real difference is that I can’t renew my car registration through you guys.

Oh, yeah. Then there’s the matter of our Spanish-speaking friends. (Spoiler alert, Lifetouch - This doesn’t help your case.)

When I flipped the paper order form over, I noticed the reverse was in Spanish. I have a border cantina/Taco Bell understanding of Spanish, so I got out my binoculars again and read the “Plan Familiar.”

Plan Familiar - Para padres con mas de 2 hijos que concurren a la escuela. Para recibir el descuento: Por 2 hijos corresponden pagos integros. No combinar pagos. Completa la siguiente informacion, corta e inserta en el sobre.

Hmm. Something doesn’t look right, here. There doesn’t seem to be any further mention of the particulars of el descuento... To be sure, I plugged it into the Google translator:

Family plan - For parents with more than 2 children who attend school. To receive the discount: For two children are full payments. Do not combine payments. Complete the form below, cut and inserted into the envelope.

Just as I suspected-o. You don’t tell the Spanish-speakers what the discount is. You only tell them how to get it. Actually, you don’t even tell them that.

This leads me to believe one of two things: Either,
A) You do not want our Spanish-only friends to get the discount, or
B) You are giving our Spanish-only friends their third or mas picture packages for free.

Either way, now, I’m really mad. You have a double standard going here that either affects me morally or financially. I don’t like either option!

I guess there could be a third option. Maybe the fourth-grader you hired to do your website programming is the same kid in charge of order form translation.

Anyway, I needed to get on with what was left of my life, so I kissed my nine bucks goodbye and begrudgingly hit the “Place Order Now” button.

Thanks for your order. Please take a few minutes to take our survey and help us improve our site.

That’s optimistic! Unless you were going to pay me $9 or more to take the survey, I wasn’t going to spend another second on your website. I wrote you this helpful letter instead.

Not that I expect you to read it. You’re probably really busy explaining all the survey answers to the fourth-grader.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Juror Number Seventeen

I sit in the quiet room, filling out my questionnaire. It is a quiet room of despair, filled with rows and rows of comfy leather chairs, arranged like a movie theater, facing two flat-screen TVs.

There are a lot of us in the room, and we are all sitting the required one seat apart from each other to maintain a somewhat social comfort level. As comfortable as you can be while awaiting your doom.

The tension in the silent air is palpable. There is a faint ray of hope every once in a while, as the thought comes over you, “Maybe I'll be excused and get to leave soon and not have to come back.” Then the cold reality of the situation squashes that dream. No, you will be here all day, and you will have to come back forever. Someone will replace you at your job and you will never see your children again.

The jury notice said to arrive by 8:30 A.M. People are still showing up at 8:40. New rule: People showing up late should have to be on the jury. Anyone who was early should be dismissed. I will talk to the judge about the idea. He or she should probably go for it, since it makes good sense.

We have done nothing other than fill out our jury questionnaires in the foreboding silence. At 8:50, the woman who checked us in at the front desk comes in and tells us we have a ten-minute recess. Recess from what? We haven't done anything yet. So, you tell us to be here at 8:30 and then we don't start until 9:00? I have a bad feeling you do that to make sure all the late people get here. Further good evidence why my "late people are the jury" rule should immediately be put into effect.

A guy’s phone rings. He silences it without answering. No one will break the silence of despair.

There are signs up at the front of the room warning us to beware of jury duty scams. What the hell could a jury duty scam be? I must read the sign, but I will not get up from my seat of despair and break the utter stillness in the room.

Suddenly, a motivational video springs to life on the flat-screen TVs. A former juror tells us it will be great and we'll learn a lot. We learn that California is the greatest state in the union, but sometimes we have issues. Many times, we don't trust only one person to impart justice. That's where I come in.

There is some mention of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Former jurors tell us that we, as Americans, don't want professional jurors, and that regular people like us serve on juries every day. Another former juror tells us that common sense, an open mind, and impartiality is all it takes. She also tells us that when she was on a jury, she brought a book, so it wasn't bad when she had to wait around a lot. Also, the people in the courtroom will tell us what to do, so we don't already have to know anything about how the courts work. That’s a relief.

We learn that the attorneys may ask us about our personal thoughts, and it's nothing personal if a lawyer doesn't pick you, so we shouldn’t be sad. OK, I’ll try to remember that. We learn the shocking reality that if we’re picked for the jury we’re not allowed to investigate the crime ourselves, so we can't go to the scene and check it out on our own. Bummer.

In a moving reenactment of a real-life court scene, the witness on the stand reported seeing a blue flash at the moment of impact. We are left wondering what in the hell that was all about. A former juror then tells us that they thought the deliberation with twelve perfect strangers was the best part. They probably didn’t get out of the house much before the trial.

There is a crescendo moment in the video where “The decision of the jury has been made. Justice has been served!” Duh da duh daaaa.

We then learn that jury service is often a deep and moving experience, and many jurors stay in touch after the trial! One man felt good about himself afterward. He had brought common sense to the table, and he felt great about that.

The parting shot of the video is a fade away on the blindfolded, scale-holding “Lady Justice” statue. She is showing some boob. That seems unnecessary.

Surprisingly, no one applauds. The video ends, and we all just stay put, easily slipping back to our original quiet despair. No one seems more pumped to be on a jury now. I don't think the video worked like they wanted it to.

An older lady on the other side of the room begins wheezing to break the silence. A nice lady asks if she needs help. She seems to have asthma of some kind and she has forgotten to bring her inhaler. One lady goes out to tell the clerk, and another lady offers her an albuterol inhaler from her purse. She refuses it politely, claiming she uses "the round one" instead of that kind.

Now Asthma Lady gets to leave the room. I smell a rat. Dammit. Why didn't I think of that? Maybe I'll fake a heart attack. No. They’ll probably hook me up to a portable defibrillator. If I don’t die from that, they'll probably just make me come back next week. Never mind.

Some lady with a badge comes in and collects Asthma Lady's stuff for her. She's not coming back. I wish I had asthma.

I do a rough headcount while trying not to look like a stalker. I would say there are about 65 of us in this room. So, my rough odds of getting on a jury are 12/65ths. That's not that bad. I'd even go so far as to say those odds are good. A glimmer of hope cracks through the cloud of despair.

A lady comes in and makes us swear that we would do everything fairly, or something. I’m not really listening, but I say I do. I'm sure I do.

Then the lady reads a clipboard and calls me by name. So much for those good odds. I am the second to last of the first eighteen prospective jurors. Lucky me. I am now being referred to as “Juror Number Seventeen.” Cloud of despair: 1. Glimmer of hope: 0.

We exit the room and there is Asthma Lady sitting comfortably in a chair, not wheezing anymore. I hate her.

We enter the courtroom and I am now sitting in a row of chairs out in front of the regular jury box. I want to try to trip the defense attorney if I get a chance. I probably swore not to do stuff like that earlier, though, so I won't.

The judge explains to us that it is a privilege and an honor to serve on a jury, and if we try to get out of jury duty we are un-American and we're disrespecting all the veterans who have served and died for us. He may be right, but I still need to pick my kids up from school.

The judge really enjoys hearing himself talk. We have done five minutes of actual business in the last hour. My butt is falling asleep.

We meet the defendant. He smoked pot and drove his car, and he's pleading not guilty to DUI for some reason. Apparently his parents have more money than common sense. This little idiot is going down.

The judge goes through our questionnaires one by one. He chats with each of us as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. He loves being here. He is the only one.

The judge likes the fact that I'm an author. I don't think I can leverage that in any way to help me here. Oh, well. Maybe he'll buy some of my books.

We break for lunch. We need to be back in an hour and a half. That seems efficient.

After our relaxed lunch, the defense attorney asks us ridiculous questions about how we feel about marijuana. He wants to know if we think we can put aside our opinions and judge whether someone can have it in their system and not be "under the influence." He doesn’t like my answer to his idiotic question. He also has annoying shoes. I might try to trip him if he gets close enough.

Now he wants to know if the testimony of a police officer would carry more weight with us than the testimony of a civilian. He doesn’t like my answer again.

Potential Juror Number Four, Mr. Anderson behind me, won’t stop interrupting everyone to ask inane questions that pertain to absolutely nothing. He is also an idiot.

The defense attorney with the ridiculous shoes wants to know how I feel about “medical marijuana.” I tell him it’s one elephant shy of being a full-blown circus. He doesn’t like that answer either.

The prosecutor seems to like all my answers. Mr. Anderson interrupts him with stupid questions also.

Questions are over. The lawyers confer with the talkative judge. We have been here for six and a half hours. I hate Asthma Lady even more now.

The defense would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Eight. The former mayor of a small town near here leaves the courtroom with a smile on her face.

The prosecution would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Four. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson. I take it all back. You are obviously a genius.

The defense would like to ask the court to thank and excuse Potential Juror Number Seventeen. That’s a good call, Silly Shoes. I would’ve canned his little stoner ass.

In terms of sheer euphoric joy washing over you, being excused from jury duty and walking out of the courtroom is probably rivaled only by heroin. Or maybe really good weed... Hang on, I'll go back in and ask the defendant.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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