Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back to School Date Night

It’s that time of year again! Tomorrow is Back to School Date Night.

Many of you might know it simply as Back to School Night, or BTSN if you’re a hip elementary school insider, but not around our house. BTSN is the biggest date night of the year. Last year we went to Home Depot. It was amazing!

Those of you without kids are probably thinking, “Home Depot? What is he talking about? That’s not a date, that’s an errand. What about going out to a club and staying up until three in the morning?”

No, no, no. Don’t be silly, you crazy youths. Once you have children, “date night” takes on a whole new meaning. When you have kids, a date is anything you can do together without the kids.

You see, the thing you don’t fully comprehend before you have kids is the amount of time you are required to spend with them. Someone has to actually be with them for all of the minutes of all of the days, or else they will pour Comet in the fish bowl, eat a poisonous snail, and then burn the house down. And that’s just the teenagers. Little kids are much worse.

So all of a sudden the ability to go anywhere without kids becomes the most precious commodity in the world. If you ever see an adult just wandering around in a grocery store without a cart or a basket, chances are they are an escaped parent. They have come to the store just to marvel at all the products they actually could notice and buy if they weren’t constantly yelling at someone to drop the box of Froot Loops and climb down off of the banana display.

Now, the reason that BTSN is a big date night at our house is because it’s one of the only nights of the year when we are forced to get a babysitter. Babysitters cost money, therefore we don’t hire one very often.

Children are not allowed to attend BTSN, and since we have three kids, we have three classes to visit. One parent cannot attend while the other stays home with the kids. Two parents aren’t even enough to cover it, really.

Since there are only two of us, every year before BTSN we are forced to choose which child we will ignore. Fortunately for Son Number One’s education, he is never left out. Being the oldest, he is always entering a grade that is new to all of us, so we must visit his classroom and get the important information from his new teacher, like if math will be taught with actual numbers this year, or if we’re sticking with the “new math” from last year that involved a lot of stories about Simone and Raul and grouping their colored balloons into different columns.

So the decision is always between Son Number Two and Three. Which one’s classroom will we visit, and which one will be summarily ignored for the entire school year? All three of them are very smart (which has led me to question their mother extensively, but she insists that they really are my children), so needing to have our finger on the pulse of their education is not super-critical. Usually we just flip a coin.

Whichever way that coin lands, I’m excited about date night tomorrow night. I know we’ll go to the grocery store and wander around holding hands, but if we have time, we might even get to go to Kohl’s and look at shirts. Who knows?

The BTSN activities are always fun as well. I can’t wait to see what Simone and Raul are up to this year. Our babysitter had better be on time, though, or I might not be able to help the boys with their homework. I mean, I can figure out 354 x 98 the old-fashioned way, but with the new math, I need to be retrained every year on which column to put the goldfish in.

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, August 19, 2015

Sesame Street Blues

As if Legos that now actually fire projectiles and the intolerable addition of swamp-idiot Jar Jar Binks to Star Wars weren’t enough of a slap in the face to my generation, yet another thing from our childhood has changed forever. Sesame Street is leaving PBS and moving to HBO.

The PBS press release was disconcerting at best.

“We here at the formerly nonprofit PBS are sad to see our friends from Sesame Street go, but we are greatly comforted by the giant mountain of money we now have in the middle of the office. We will spend the next few days climbing up to the top and rolling down into the champagne moat we have constructed, and then we plan to take a year or three off and travel the world. As we search the globe for new programming inspiration and expensive shoes, have no fear about a lack of quality content on your local PBS station. For the near term we are rolling out a brand new format of 24/7 live-broadcast fundraisers. Enjoy!”

HBO’s press release was troublesome for the Sesame Street purists, but it met with guarded approval from many industry insiders.

“Since 1969, the Sesame Street franchise on PBS has been an amazing success. Now, in 2015, we here at HBO are thrilled to announce that we are ready to take Sesame Street to even greater heights. All great sums are a function of their parts, and that’s why we have decided to launch the iconic show into several exciting spin-offs.

As always, Big Bird leads the pack, and his new show is no exception. Our giant yellow friend will star in “Big Daddy,” a gritty New Jersey crime drama about one bird’s rise from the mean streets of Sesame Hill through the drug gangs and organized crime rings of the big city. He’s in for the fight of his life to stay on top and keep his massive empire from crumbling when his top lieutenants start to believe that someone else might really be calling the shots. Is the mysterious Mr. Snuffleupagus just a drug-induced hallucination of the giant feathered crime boss, or is he the power player who’s really pulling the strings?

Oscar the Grouch reveals his dark side in the new bone-chilling murder-mystery, “Trash Day.” A mysterious year-long rash of pet disappearances on Sesame Street ends abruptly one cold week in January. Hardened SPCA detective Elmo Van Buren’s gut tells him it’s the work of a serial killer, and he can’t ignore that the last report coincides with the disappearance of one of Sesame Street’s most notorious figures. Oscar “The Grouch” Plovich, the trash can-dwelling derelict from the wrong side of the street, has vanished. With his marriage on the rocks, the fuzzy red detective follows Oscar’s trail all the way to the Louisiana bayou, where Oscar’s trash can has been found in an abandoned shrimp processing plant. Tensions mount when Elmo learns the truth about Oscar’s past. Could the dirty green hobo be his long-lost father from a loveless Dumpster encounter thirty years before? Reports of missing pets have spiked in Cajun country since Oscar’s arrival, and now Elmo must unravel the mystery. Coincidence or murder? What will the squeaky-voiced detective find when he lifts the lid?

The neighborhood grocery store is the setting for our new paranormal thriller, “Hooper’s Revenge.” Since Mr. Hooper’s mysterious death in the ‘80s, Hooper’s Store has had unsteady management at best. David was left the store in Mr. Hooper’s will, but soon he couldn’t wait to sell it. Mr. Hanford took over the reins, but quickly sold out to good-natured and unsuspecting Alan, the current proprietor. None of the owners could ever manage to get any of the Sesame Street regulars to work in the store for any length of time, or even help out on weekends. What are the puppets from the street hiding? What do they know? Alan soon finds out what many have suspected for years. Mr. Hooper may have died, but he never left the store. Alan struggles to maintain his sanity as the ghost of Mr. Hooper wreaks havoc on his life and his business. Will Alan uncover the truth behind how David really acquired Hooper’s Store? And will Alan find a buyer before he buys the farm?

Bert and Ernie team up again, this time as detectives on the San Francisco police narcotics squad in “Partners in Crime.” The City by the Bay has a major new player in town, and he’s brought in the highest grade heroin anyone has ever seen. Overdoses are rampant, and the mayor is breathing down the police chief’s neck to put a lid on the new smack, quickly. Bert is forced to go deep undercover into the seedy world of underground nightclubs and motel room drug deals, while Ernie can only watch helplessly from the sidelines. Tempers flare on the job and at home as Ernie confronts Bert about his reckless behavior. Bert knows that to bring down this kingpin, backup is not an option. As Bert seems to spiral out of control into his undercover role as a high-priced male escort, will Ernie be his lifeline, or will the duo finally be forced to split, permanently?

And last, but certainly not least, comes the new original series, “Crank Street.” Fun-loving, mild-mannered, and mustachioed science teacher Gordon has lived an ideal existence at 123 Sesame Street for years. His perfect life is suddenly turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with Bubonic plague. Hit with the realization that he only has twenty-seven cents to leave to his family, he levels his sights on a grim future. Gordon’s knowledge of chemistry is the one thing he has to work with, and as his health rapidly deteriorates, he lures Grover, the neighborhood meth tweaker, into his web of despair. The brownstone at 123 Sesame Street soon becomes one of the most productive meth labs in the tri-state area. More innocent victims soon fall prey to Gordon’s insidious plan to leave his family millions instead of pennies. Count von Count can hardly keep up with the influx of drug money in need of laundering. The Cookie Monster regrets his decision to join the crew as the enforcer, but the steady supply of Chips Ahoy from Gordon keeps him reluctantly on the payroll. As rival gangs move in on the crew and Grover becomes more and more self-destructive with guilt, Gordon struggles to keep his meth empire intact. Will he cash out before the plague - or his own enterprise - does him in?

We here at HBO are excited about the acquisition of Sesame Street, and confident that the resulting new lineup of shows will blow you away!”

Sesame Street was brought to you today by the letters H, B, and O, and the number $.

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, August 12, 2015

Mule Salad

I have to ride a mule next summer. That, in and of itself, is no big deal since people ride mules all the time, I am told. The problem is I have to ride a mule down a two-foot-wide crack in the wall of the Grand Canyon (approximately 70,000 feet above the canyon floor, based on the videos on YouTube).

Lots of people, including my oldest son and my mother-in-law, would consider that to be a fantastic adventure. For me, however, it’s a small-scale version of The Biggest Loser.

The mule ride company’s rules state that each rider must be under 200 pounds, fully dressed. I would argue that they need to buy sturdier mules, but they are very adamant about the weight limit, even throwing in the verbiage “No Exceptions” for good measure.

My initial weigh-in on Monday morning was 214 pounds, in my boxer shorts.

So, I need to lose some weight. Actually, quite a bit of weight, since I figure I better be 190 at most in my boxers. That’s assuming the mule ride company will accept shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops as “fully dressed.”

If my rudimentary writer math is correct, I need to lose just over 11% of my body weight. Possibly more, since my wife thinks our bathroom scale is lying to us. I wonder if any POW camps offer monthly membership packages?

I’m not going to lie. Things look bleak at this point. That is possibly due to the fact that our family went to Europe this summer. We visited Italy, Austria, and Germany. Do you know what they have in Italy? Margherita pizza. It’s basically a cheese pizza, but Italy has some kind of culinary voodoo magic that makes everything ten to fifteen times better than anywhere else. I basically ate an entire margherita pizza (with sausage added, because, sausage!) every day for lunch. What makes that possible is the pizzas are thin crust. What makes that not great is they are fourteen inches in diameter.

Italy also has pasta carbonara for dinner, which is pasta with eggs and bacon. The perfect complement to a whole pizza for lunch. They also have really good red wine and pretty decent beer.

Austria and Germany have schnitzel. Schnitzel is meat of any variety, pounded flat, breaded, and fried. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.) I ate at least two per day. They also have really good beer every place they serve schnitzel, which is every restaurant.

Basically, Europe made me fat. If it wasn’t for all the walking and hiking we did, I would need to lose fifty pounds right now instead of twenty-four. I blame the euro exchange rate. It was basically one to one with the dollar, so I was forced to eat and drink about 1.7 times more than I would have in previous years. Damn you, euro.

The only ray of hope that I have for not being the guy that didn’t get to go on the mule ride - or worse yet, the guy who ruined the mule trip for everyone by somehow faking out the scale and then dying when his hopelessly overloaded mule fell of the cliff - is that I have been under 200 pounds before. Sure, it was in high school, but still...

In fact, I think I weighed around 180 pounds my senior year. Of course, back then I could eat the entire left side of the fridge and lose a pound. I’m pretty sure I bulked up in college, though. A diet consisting mainly of Top Ramen and Keystone Light is a great way to pack on the manly pounds, apparently.

The idea of getting back to my college weight, let alone my high school weight, seems a bit daunting, but I have to try. The highlight of an entire summer vacation depends on it.

In order to lose 11% of my current body weight, the only mathematical solution is to stop eating. Stop eating anything that tastes good, anyway. Sugar and bread are out, which is really unfortunate, since I have survived for the last few years on a diet consisting mainly of chocolate chips, chocolate chip cookies, and sandwiches. (The sandwiches had no chocolate chips... normally.)

Pizza is my favorite food. Pizza is out.

And beer is out.

I don’t want to talk about it.

Breakfast now consists of fruit, and lunch is now a salad with a little chicken on top. I call it mule salad. I’m on day three of mule salad and I’m already sad. Dinner consists of a glass of water and some air. It’s going to be a long year.

Plus, the sugar withdrawals are giving me a headache. Or maybe it’s the kids. My wife selfishly went back to work this week and left me here with all three of them for the whole day. Every day. Just me, three boys who love to argue with each other, and mule salad. (Normally beer would mitigate some of that, but like I said, I don’t want to talk about it.)

The boys go back to school next week, so that should alleviate some of the headaches, but I’ll still be here with my mule salad. Every day. With no sugar and no bread of any kind.

I’m sad.

All I can say is this better be one spectacular mule ride. Everyone who’s gone says it’s the trip of a lifetime, but even if it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I know I’ll have a good time. I’ll be the one riding the mule down the Grand Canyon while eating a sausage pizza and washing it down with a giant beer and a dozen chocolate-covered doughnuts.

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, August 5, 2015

A Tale of Two Soakings

Jet lag is an amazing force of nature. When combined with alcohol in adults, jet lag can produce an effect much like getting shot with a tranquilizer dart big enough to take down a rhinoceros. It is even more powerful in children, even without the alcohol.

Mostly, jet lag simply produces long and unexpected periods of deep sleep. Occasionally, however, it can produce unexpected urination as well.

A long, long time ago, when I was an elementary schooler, our folks took us to Europe. I had barely ever left the west coast before, let alone flown half way around the world, so major time zone changes were something new to me. When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house in England mid-morning, I immediately passed out on the first soft horizontal surface I came to.

I woke up hours later, groggy and feeling like my arms and legs were made out of lead. It was still daylight, and as I wandered down the hallway, I passed one of my cousins’ bedrooms, where my mom and my aunt were puzzling over a strange wet spot on the carpet in the middle of the room. “What could have caused this?” they wondered aloud to each other.

As soon as I saw it, a wave of foggy, dreamlike memories came over me. At some point that day I had “woken up,” needing to pee really badly. I scurried around the unfamiliar house, desperately trying to find the bathroom, but to no avail. When I found an empty bedroom instead, my sleepwalking, jet lagged brain said, “Perfect!” and I peed all over the carpet. Then I just went back to bed.

Once I was actually awake and witnessing the aftermath of my semi-conscious brain’s poor decision making abilities, I was horrifyingly embarrassed. I’m not sure how old I was at the time, but I was surely old enough not to want to cop to something as idiotic as peeing on the carpet. I just shut my mouth and walked in the other direction.

That was my first experience with the power of jet lag.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we took our boys to Europe. Good news; it’s still there! Bad news; so is the jet lag. This time, however, it didn’t strike right away. The adults adjusted quickly, despite the copious amounts of Italian wine that the waiters kept bringing us for some reason. The boys seemed to adjust quickly as well. Little did we know that jet lag would rear its ugly head more than a week into the trip.

We spent a wonderful week plus in Italy (with among others, my mom and my English aunt), then moved on to Austria. That’s when it happened: A similar - yet at the same time very different - jet lag peeing incident involving one of the boys.

Now, we have a notorious and storied sleep pee-er in our house. You have read about his carpet and stair peeing adventures from time to time in this column. Strangely enough, it was one of his brothers, and not him. I won’t tell you which brother, to protect the unaware. He still has no idea any of this happened.

There we were, on our first night in our Austrian apartment near Innsbruck. A magical day of summer mountain luge track racing and gondola rides awaited us. We settled into our beds, with two of the boys on a bed in the living room, and one of the boys sleeping with Grandma in the room next to ours. I was just about to go to sleep when a commotion arose in Grandma’s room. Grandma could be heard saying things like, “What are you doing?” and, “What the hell!?”

I was getting out of bed to investigate when she came out of the door to her room, looking more than a little bewildered and slightly off put, shall we say.

“What happened?”
“He just peed on me.”
“He peed in the bed?”
“No! He got up, came around to my side of the bed, and peed on me!”

No wonder she looked a little miffed.

Apparently, our jet lagged son’s semi-conscious brain somehow mistook Grandma’s side of the bed (and consequently, Grandma), for the toilet. He just got out of bed, walked around, stood there, peed on her, then walked back around and got back into his (dry) side of the bed, still fast asleep.

So instead of going to bed, I did laundry in the bathtub for a while.

Given my jet lag/urination history, I can sort of sympathize with him, but this kid took things to a whole new level. Dude, are you trying to get cut out of the will? You peed on your grandma! Seriously, who does that?

Thankfully we were able to find enough wine the next day that Grandma was able to laugh about it. Briefly. As for the boy, he’s still clueless.

I guess some people just react differently to jet lag than others. All I know is it’s lucky for our boys that I only peed on the carpet when I was their age. I’m pretty sure if I had peed on my aunt back then, I’d still be too embarrassed to make eye contact with her, so we probably wouldn’t have made the trip back this summer.

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, July 29, 2015

Handy European Travel Tips

We are back from our two-week vacation to Europe, and we are almost totally adjusted back to Pacific Standard Time, if passing out at two in the afternoon and waking up ready to go at three in the morning counts as being adjusted. I have not been very productive this past week in my jet lag fog, but the least I figured I could do was impart some of my newfound travel wisdom. Just think of me as a really poorly-informed Rick Steves.



Traveling on airplanes with kids
If you are considering flying long distances with children, it is best to gather up their books and every electronic device you own (iPads, iPods, Leapfrogs, etc.), put them all in a backpack, and bring that backpack, along with the children, to Grandma's house and drop them off, because you should never fly with children.

Rental cars
Don't ever rent a car in Europe. You are not qualified to drive there. Italians drive like NASCAR racers on a combination of crack and grappa. Germans drive like Formula 1 racers on a combination of meth and more meth, and uppers. Lane lines are only fun road decorations in Italy, and have no bearing on traffic patterns. Lane lines on the German autobahns are strictly followed, on the other hand. The only problem is, neither lane is built for you. Traffic in the slow lane consists of big rig trucks going slower than you want to and traffic in the fast lane consists of Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes going about four kilometers per hour over the speed of sound.

Take the train between cities. Train stations offer a wonderful opportunity to stand confused in front of a large board written entirely in Latin and scribbles, and then a great exercise opportunity where you do the steeplechase while dragging three hundred pounds of luggage after you realize your train is leaving in two minutes, four platforms away.

Buses and trams
Once you have caught your train, and then subsequently changed trains to go in the correct direction, your awaiting destination city will have a marvelous bus and trolley system. The trolleys and busses run on very strict schedules, which are not posted anywhere, and are subject to change based on the meal and nap times of the driver. The bus lines are marked with all the stops, so they are very easy to decipher if you born in the city you are visiting. If you weren't, none of the stop names will correspond to any of the attractions you want to see, so just jump on board the first large vehicle that stops for you, and see where it takes you. It doesn't matter where it goes, because all European cities are old and historic, and there is a restaurant that serves beer and wine on every corner, so you really can't go wrong.

Europeans love tolls. If you were crazy enough to rent a car, while you are still alive you will get to pay tolls. Many countries make you buy a sticker to put on your windshield. Austria is nice enough to let you buy a ten-day sticker that only costs a little. Switzerland is nice enough to let you only buy a sticker valid for the whole year, which costs enough to fund an entire road crew for a month.

Italy doesn't have stickers, because Italy loves tollbooths. Second only to Insane Cab Driver, Grumpy Toll Booth Operator is Italy's number two growth occupation. There is a toll booth at every single exit on major Italian freeways. Judging by the state of the roads in Italy, it seems that the tolls only go to support the toll booth infrastructure itself, and possibly the politicians’ girlfriends’ clothing and jewelry budgets.

Germany is the one country without road tolls. They gave up on tolls a few years ago, because everyone drives too fast to be able to collect them. They tried to install those automated coin basket toll booths, but too many hapless motorists were accidentally killed by stray Euro coins, like rifle bullets, being flung out of Porsche windows.

There is no parking. All the spots in Europe are already taken. Park on the sidewalk or in a field outside of town. (Side note: When renting a car, make sure it is no wider than the narrowest sidewalk - approximately eighteen inches.)


It is very helpful to learn a few key phrases at a minimum for each country you plan to visit. The most important one is, “This is my cousin who speaks fluently and will order food for all of us.”
Other helpful phrases include:
“Do you know anyone who would be willing to buy our children?”
“Which one of these trains has Nastro Azzuro beer in the bar car?”
“Do you take third-party American checks at this toll booth?”
“What is the bail amount?”
And, “Have you seen our car? We parked it on this sidewalk last night.”

Eating is really the main reason for traveling to Europe, so enjoy yourself. The food is amazing. Just don’t expect to eat at a normal hour, or for a normal time period. Italy is the best example of this. Lunch in Italy occurs sometime between the hours of two and five in the afternoon. Restaurants do not open for dinner until after eight o’clock. Dinner is served in courses that last approximately three hours each, so expect to be at the restaurant anywhere from three to five days. Breakfast is served the night before.

Europeans devote most of their time and energy to the culinary arts, doorknob design, castle maintenance, and road closures, so very few professionals are left over to handle refrigeration. To reduce service calls, all European refrigerators are set to keep food just above room temperature. If you have food you wish to refrigerate in your hotel or apartment, it is best to keep it in a basement, a cave, or submerged in a river. It will last longer that way. Also, do not ask for ice. Ice cubes do not exist in Europe.

Europeans don't tip. You might be tempted to take advantage of this fact, but please don't. We as Americans must keep tipping. It's our strongest advantage in the war for seating priority.


Public restrooms
Back to tolls and infrastructure for a moment, the public toilet industry is also a major moneymaker in Europe. Short of your own accommodations, you will pay to pee most places you go. In a show of love and appreciation for the next generation, kids are always free. (Or maybe they just got tired of cleaning up the accidents when the parents couldn't find enough pocket change in time.) It will cost you, the adult, anywhere from twenty to seventy cents every time you have to tinkle, so have coins at all times. Most countries have automated turnstiles, but Italy still relies heavily on the personal touch. Creepy Coin-Collecting Bathroom Attendant is Italy’s third largest growth industry.

Just resign yourself to the fact that you won't have a satisfying shower until you get home. Many showers will try to fool you by being life size. Don't fall for it. You are sharing water pressure with the entire town, or you only get hot water in six-second bursts every three minutes. Otherwise, the shower will be the size of a phone booth, if you were to miniaturize a phone booth.

Counter space
Don't expect any. Counter space in most European bathrooms consists of the little flat spot in the side of the sink designed to hold the soap. Most airplane bathrooms have literally five times more counter space than the average Italian bathroom.

Like the showers, don’t get your hopes up for powerful or robust plumbing. In many areas of Europe you are lucky to get a toilet instead of just a hole in the ground. Flush intensity ranges from “light mist” all the way up to “spilled a glass of water.”

Some places have the baffling “shelf toilet,” which has a flat porcelain plateau directly beneath your seat, with the exit hole moved all the way to the front of the bowl. Anything you happen to put into the toilet sits perched proudly on the shelf until the mighty flush, when it is (hopefully) punted off into the hole. Good call, Europe!

And then there’s the bidet
The most mystifying device in the European bathroom is the bidet. I will be blunt here, because the bidet is confusing enough as is. We Americans have a vague notion that this device is supposed to somehow aid us in the cleaning of our butts. Sure enough, the bidet is always sitting right next to the toilet, suggesting that a pants-down transfer is expected.

All the bidets we encountered had a standard-looking faucet that would shoot water horizontally across the top of the bowl, but with standard low water pressure, so as not to be able to accidentally shoot past the end of the bowl.

So, here’s the problem, Europe. If you are expecting this thing to take the place of my toilet paper, we’re going to need about sixty or seventy more PSI, here, and some kind of splash guard. This thing has a standard sink drain, so a toilet paper/water combo cleaning does not make sense plumbing-wise, even if there was a world where that would make sense practicality-wise.

In short, Europe, you have placed a low sink next to the toilet and I don’t know what you want me to do with this thing. After many hours of long contemplation, the only possible explanation I can come up with is that you want me to sit on this thing and use the water faucet in combination with one of my own hands to take the place of toilet paper. If that really is the case, I must ask you Europe, what in the actual hell are you guys thinking?  

(Side note: You probably shouldn’t ever shake hands with anyone who purposely owns a bidet.)

Well, the bidet may remain a mystery, but I hope I was able to help with some of the other stuff.

Safe travels!

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, July 22, 2015

Psychic Travel Log, Volume III

We were supposed to come full circle back to Milan, but...

Psychic Travel Log, Volume III – Austria

After a magical week of lounging and eating in the Italian countryside, we punched a few new holes in our belts and reluctantly got back on the spider web of confusion known as the Italian highway system, headed north to Austria.

Everyone on the roads out in the Tuscan countryside was still trying to kill us, but they seemed to do it at a slower and more relaxed pace than in the big city of Milan. Unfortunately, however, they had tractors with crazy-old trailers, so it evened itself out to be just as death-defying.

Surprisingly, we made it to the border with all of our fenders and most of the original paint. As soon as we crossed over into Austria the drivers were ninety-seven percent less crazy, and I was able to pull to the side of the road and, with some considerable effort, unstick my hands from the wheel and get the blood flowing back to them.

At the first stop for gas (which was roughly three thousand Euros per milliliter), we noticed the other glaring difference in our new surroundings. Everyone sounded different.

What were they thinking when they invented German? They’re so close to Italy. Couldn’t they have just used Italian? Everyone in Italy sounded like they were offering me warm bread and telling me it was OK to take a nap. Everyone in Austria sounded like they were hacking up a fur ball while demanding that I fix the engine and run somewhere to put out a fire.

Still, as a Schmatjen, these were my people. Strangely enough, however, not one of them knew how to pronounce our last name. I know for a fact that we don’t pronounce it right, but I at least figured they would know the correct way. Everyone in Austria and Germany made the same “what in the hell is this mess of letters?” face that we get in the U.S. Bummer. I was hoping for some insight there.

Well, at least they have schnitzel. And German beer. For all their faults with the language, they sure know how to craft superb flat, breaded meat and brew wonderful beer.

We were on a whirlwind tour through Austria and Germany. We visited Innsbruck, which is German for “Holy cow, look at this place!” My people are very appreciative of their surroundings.

We toured a salt mine in Salzburg, which is German for “Salt Town.” My people are also very literal.

We visited Neuschwanstein Castle, which is German for “this is a two-bazillion square foot castle, but you’re only allowed to see the porch.” My people are not very welcoming with their big buildings, either, I guess.

Then we drove to Bamburg, Germany, which is another really old city with a lot of really old stuff. It was one of the only cities not to get bombed in World War II, so it is ironically named, from an American pronunciation perspective.

A lot of the stuff in the town of Bamburg is literally a thousand years older than me. Many of the residents have carpet older than the United States of America. Those facts were totally lost on our boys, who had just completely tuned out to how amazing Europe was and had deteriorated to the point of simply complaining about a lack of French fries and how everything was old and made of gray rocks.

This, along with our considerable lack of money, signaled a time to make our way back home.

From Bamburg, we were scheduled to drive back to Milan on what would end up being today, the 22nd of July, when all of you finally catch up to us and this column is automatically posted thanks to the wonders of the internet.

We were supposed to fly out of Milan on the 23rd. After careful consideration regarding the feasibility of a road trip back through Italy, however, we decided to drive to Frankfurt instead, purchase new full-fare flights home at the ticket counter using fake names, and report the rental car stolen, which we left in a ditch just outside the airport.

That just seemed easier than driving back through Italy.

It was a great trip, but we can’t wait to be home.

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, July 15, 2015

Psychic Travel Log, Volume II

Our European vacation adventure continues...

Psychic Travel Log, Volume II – Cortona

One week into our vacation we had almost fully adjusted to the time difference, although Son Number Three continued to fall asleep in his lunch and wake up at two in the morning. That was only a problem because our Milan Airbnb apartment was the size of our master bedroom at home. Naturally it was billed as “sleeps twenty,” because it was enormous by European standards. We spent a lot of time outside.

We spent two and a half days in Milan, with the main activity centered around going to see The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci. He painted it on an entire wall of a church.

Here’s a recap of the viewing:
Everyone: “Wow. That’s a big painting.”
Boys: “Why does it look so old?”
Me: “Because it is.”
Boys: “Who are all those people?”
Me: “Well, the one in the middle is Jesus. The scary looking guy is Judas.”
Boys: “Who’s the lady?”
Me: “That’s John, not a lady. I’m not really sure who all the other ones are.”
Boys: “Why aren’t they eating?”
Me: “They’re about to.”
Boys: “We’re hungry.”
Me: “Me too. Who wants to go get pizza?”

The World’s Fair was also in Milan this year, so we booked tickets ahead of time for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here’s a recap of the fair:

Boys: “Where are the rides?”
Me: “It’s not that kind of fair.”
Boys: “Where is the Ferris wheel?”
Me: “It’s not that kind of fair.”
Boys: “Where are the corn dogs?”
Me: “It’s not that kind of fair.”
Wife: “At least there’s no scary meth addict carnies.”
Me: “Who wants to see the exhibit on hybrid disease-resistant corn crops they’re growing in Africa?”
Boys: “We’re hungry.”
Me: “Me too. Who wants to go get pizza?”

We then rented a car and drove from Milan to Cortona. I bought the insurance because I don’t understand Italian well enough to know that it was being included. That was a good thing, because Italian drivers are insane, and Italian roads have no actual rules. At least they drive on the right side of the road, but the road signs make no sense. I feared for my life for the entire seven-minute drive from the car rental place back to our apartment.

The first time I drove in Italy we didn’t have kids yet. I remember it being kind of fun – sort of like driving in Tijuana while wearing a blindfold. I remember a lot of my life before having kids as being fun. Now, however, that my sweet, precious children were in the car with me, asleep and drooling at ten in the morning, the whole driving in Italy thing was no longer fun. It was ridiculous. Why is everyone in this country trying to kill my family with their cars and their scooters?

In order to accommodate six people, we rented the largest vehicle manufactured in Europe that is not a city bus or a cement truck. That being said, it was smaller than a Toyota Camry. Even so, our car did not fit in any of the lanes designated for vehicular traffic, nor did it fit on any of the sidewalks where Italians normally drive. There was also no place to park it. I was forced to simply leave our huge people mover in the center of the road blocking both lanes when I needed to stop. Fortunately, this is normal in Italy and no one noticed.

We were heading for a town called Cortona. Actually, we were heading for a farm house in a small village near Cortona that does not appear on any maps. What could go wrong?

Fun fact: If you are trying to find a farmhouse in a nonexistent village that is only two kilometers (whatever those are) from the town of Cortona, it will take you approximately four hours to locate it, once you have reached Cortona.

Italians apparently consider it rude not to know where you are trying to go, so if you ask for directions and they don’t know, they just make something up to be friendly. No wonder everyone here drinks wine like marathon runners drinks water.

Also, I learned that the Italians don’t bother with the diagonal red stripe on their “don’t do this” road signs. For example, a sign with a red circle and a car in the middle means “no cars,” even though there is no diagonal red stripe through the car. The red circle with the car in the middle and no diagonal red stripe definitely does NOT mean, “OK for cars to go here,” like one might surmise if one was used to the presence of the apparently-not-so-universal diagonal red stripe on “don’t do this” road signs.

Also, when you happen to drive your car into an Italian no-car zone, you will learn a lot of new hand gestures from the helpful locals.

Since we had been in Italy for almost a week on local time - or about three months on our bodies’ clocks - Son Number Two spoke fluent Italian by then, so he was able to pick up enough of the farm country dialect to figure out what all the hand gestures meant. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to say those words in English.

We finally arrived at our farm house paradise where we spent the week swimming, eating, catching up with our long-lost relatives, and desperately avoiding driving anywhere unnecessary in our giant car.

Cobblestone streets in ancient cities may look quaint and picturesque, but they are hell to do a U-turn on when you misread a red circle sign.

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, July 8, 2015

Psychic Travel Log, Volume I

By the time you read this, it will be the 8th of July. I will have already been experiencing the 8th of July for longer than you have, unless you are reading this in Europe, because that’s where I am. At least, I hope I am. I’d better not still be in Portland at the airport!

You see, our family is on an amazing vacation to Italy, Austria, and Germany right now (hopefully), but I am writing this before we left. I was very skeptical of my ability to complete this column while on vacation with my family, since I’ll be traveling with my wife, my mother-in-law, and all three of our boys. I’m not even sure what I was thinking when I signed on for this trip, actually, but I have to assume I will be splitting my time between telling my children not to touch the five hundred-year-old piece of artwork and telling them to go to the bar and order me another Peroni. A bigger one this time.

Also, I’m not sure if Europe has the internet or Wi-Fi yet, so I wanted to be safe.

So, in lieu of three weeks of reruns or nothing at all, I thought I would write our European vacation travel log ahead of time. I have traveled extensively with my wife and her mom, and I have lived and traveled with our three boys all of their lives, so I am already pretty sure how things are going to go.

Psychic Travel Log, Volume I – Milan

We started our trip at the Sacramento International Airport. Like many things in Sacramento, it’s a smaller, duller, less awesome version of a regular city’s airport. It recently got the “international” status by finally offering a flight to Canada. Actually, it’s really a flight into Seattle with an optional bus ride to the border, but apparently that counts.

When we checked in, the gate agent said, “You’re going to Milan?”
“From here?” she asked, with a puzzled look on her face.
“Wow. Neat. And you’re flying with the kids?” she asked, watching Son Number Three climb into one of the giant potted plants by the end of the counter.
“Good luck with that, sir.”

Five minutes into the flight from Sacramento to Portland, Oregon we realized that is was a colossal mistake to bring three children on an airplane with only three adults to chaperone them. The first flight was only an hour and a half, but we were already exhausted from playing man-to-man defense with no subs. What were we thinking? We sat stunned in the Portland airport dreading the next flight from Portland to Frankfurt. The flight would be approximately two hundred hours long. There was no way we could do that with the kids. We searched frantically near the shops and restaurants for someone to buy our children. No takers.

Reluctantly, we all boarded the aircraft. We gave up trying to control the children somewhere over Newfoundland. When we landed in Frankfurt, there was a tense fifteen-minute period when we could not find Son Number Three, but eventually one of the flight attendants located him in an overhead storage compartment in the galley. We were asked never to fly Lufthansa again.

The local time in Germany was listed as 2:00 P.M. on July 8th, but it was really 3:52 A.M. on the 12th of August on our bodies. Completely numb at this point, the short flight from Frankfurt to Milan was a breeze. That was largely due to the fact that we put the kids on a later connecting flight. Most of them made it into Milan on time.

While in Europe, we were not staying in any hotels - only Airbnb apartment and house rentals. This is because European hotels are designed to hold and average of 0.5 guests per room at a cost of approximately nine thousand euros for each half guest, with a surcharge of two million euros for every half guest after one and a half.

Safely at our final destination, we set about figuring out how to get ourselves and our considerable amount of luggage to our first apartment rental in downtown Milan.

Why are all the signs in a foreign language?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Freedom isn't Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Independence Day! God bless ‘Merca!

See you soon,


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, June 24, 2015

I Love Meth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only thing we care about is the next episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,


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, June 17, 2015

The Ultimate Father's Day Gift - Repost

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

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

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

I want my boys to invent The Blanket Anchor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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, June 10, 2015

One Year Left

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

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

I can’t do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kept reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,


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!