Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Extreme Home Repair

I think every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive. Either that, or because of our male DNA, we just keep doing really stupid things, surviving them somehow, then telling ourselves that every once in a while a man has to cheat death in order to feel truly alive.

Since I gave up professional snowmobile motocross and extreme cage fighting, I tend to mainly cheat death these days with home repair. It’s a win-win, really, because not only do I get to feel truly alive, but occasionally I accidentally fix something. This last time was not one of those times.

Our air conditioner quit working last week. That was a very unfortunate situation, since our house is currently sitting on the surface of the sun. It was 104 degrees the day it died. That is not cool. Fortunately - for her anyway - my wife was leaving with the kids the next day for a week-long excursion without me. That meant I would be left to sweat profusely by myself until the air conditioner guy could come out. “No problem,” I thought, as I dialed up the repair man, “I can make it a day or two.”

“Sorry, sir, but we’re scheduled out past a week at this point. We can be there next Wednesday.”

“Uhh… Can you repeat that? I had sweat inside my ear and I thought I just heard you say next Wednesday.”

It turns out that air conditioner problems are a pretty common occurrence here on the sun, and I had heard him correctly. I reluctantly scheduled my convenient four-hour window of time, and hung up the phone. As I wiped my face sweat from the phone’s front screen, I vowed to try and fix it myself in the meantime. I was mildly concerned that I might accidentally dehydrate until I remembered that beer is full of water. No problem there, but I really just wanted to be cool, and I could always cancel the appointment. Besides, I hadn’t cheated death in a while.

Through some very high-level troubleshooting at the circuit breaker panel on the side of my house, I had noticed that the breaker was tripping when the air conditioner tried to come on. I also noticed that the breaker would trip even when I had the A/C turned off. I obviously had a bad circuit breaker! I can fix that! I think…

I know what I’m doing with electricity in the same way that a teenager knows how to drive a car. I am familiar with the main concept, but I am severely lacking in skill and comprehension on some of the finer points.

What I do know is that electricity is amazing. Take a refrigerator for example. Electricity runs the compressor that makes the refrigerator cold, in turn, making your beer cold. Electricity also runs the little light bulb inside the refrigerator, making it possible to find the cold beer, even in the dark. Light bulbs are hot. Electricity is responsible for both cold and hot in the same machine, all resulting in the ability to find and drink a cold beer, any time of the day or night. Simply amazing!

I also know a little about the units involved in describing electrical circuits. Many people are confused by the relationship between Amps and Volts, and many others simply don’t know what they are at all. It’s really quite simple, actually.

Amps are the measurement of electricity’s ability to kill you, in units of consecutive missed heartbeats. Getting shocked by a 3-amp circuit will probably be survivable, but a 30-amp circuit will do you in. You simply cannot survive missing thirty consecutive heartbeats.

Voltage is the measure of how far the electricity will throw you while the amps are killing you. Volts are measured in inches per death. For instance, a 480-volt circuit will throw you 480 inches, or 40 feet, while the amps are turning you into a baked potato.

The circuit for my A/C unit has a 40-amp breaker. Forty consecutive heartbeats are too many to miss. I think it is also 220 volts, which means if I screwed up, my body would be found a little over eighteen feet away from the panel. That would put me squarely in the middle of my neighbor’s driveway.

Speaking of my neighbor, I was a little conflicted there. My family had left, so I was all alone. I wanted someone to know that I was about to attempt to cheat death, on the off chance that I had only missed ten or so heartbeats and was only blown five or six feet from the panel and clinging to life. On the other hand, our neighbor is old and I didn’t want to scare her. I decided someone was bound to drive by and see me smoking on the driveway, so I didn’t bother her.

I removed my wedding ring. I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is necessary, but I just know that professional electricians don’t wear them. I think it’s so when your wife is collecting your personal belongings after you die, she doesn't have to try and pull it off your charred ring finger.

I then watched a few YouTube videos on how to change a breaker, and instantly became an expert. I got my screwdriver and approached the electrical panel, mostly almost confident. I carefully unscrewed the panel cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. I was sweaty.

There, behind the circuit breakers, I could now see the “bus bar,” which is a Latin for “metal strip of death.” It is a large copper plate that all the circuit breakers clip onto, and it is brimming with kill-you-instantly electricity. I was fairly sure that I could disable the bus bar by switching the large main circuit breaker off. I could see another copper plate coming from under another protective cover that looked like it was going to the main breaker, but I wanted to be sure.

I carefully unscrewed the other cover and carefully removed it, very carefully. There behind the panel, I was face-to-face with all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood, coming in from the street on two wires as thick as Costco polish sausages. This was not on any of the videos.

I should not have removed this cover.

Crap.

Sure enough, they were attached to the plate running to the main breaker, so I was almost confident that shutting the main breaker off would kill the bus bar, but I knew for a fact there was no way to shut off the power to the two giant cables of doom that I had just uncovered.

I was now sweating and moving like the guy diffusing the bomb in the action film. If I accidentally touched the metal cover or my screwdriver to either of these humongous wires, I would receive enough Amps and Volts to miss a month’s worth of heartbeats and weld my body to the stop sign at the end of the street. Despite the gallons of sweat and nervous hand tremors, I managed to replace the cover and screw it down without incident.

Crisis averted. Death cheated, yet again.

I switched off the main, removed the old 40-amp breaker, and took it to Lowe’s to find a new one. They had an exact match, and new one in hand, I drove back to my house confident and even a little proud. Today, I know everything there is to know about electricity. Today I am an electrical super-genius. Today I am Tony Stark from Iron Man.

I slapped that new breaker in, buttoned up the panel cover, and flipped the main back on. Confidently, I flipped the new 40-amp breaker on… only to have it trip right back off.

Hmm… Electrical super-genius Tony Stark did not seem to fix anything here. In fact, all I seemed to have accomplished was spending eleven dollars on a breaker I didn’t need and getting to reset all the clocks inside an 85-degree house. Not awesome.

After spending the majority of the rest of the week in my car with the A/C running, I’m now in the middle of my convenient four-hour window, waiting for the real electrician to arrive and actually fix something. I don’t think I’ll tell him this story.

Oh, well. At least I cheated death. I feel truly alive!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lions and Tiger Sharks and Bears, Oh My

My wife’s folks live in Morro Bay, California, and we have traditionally loved to go and visit them in their sleepy little beach town, but at this point, we may need them to move. Apparently, all the dangerous animals in North America are descending on Morro Bay, no doubt lured in by the bargains on touristy sea shell art and good clam chowder.

We were there with them last week, and everything with large teeth showed up at the same time. We were greeted with the news that a shark had bitten a surfer’s board just south of the bay two days before our arrival. The surfer was uninjured, but the board did not fare as well. Officials said the eleven-inch diameter bite ring left in the board suggested a shark length of approximately “holy-crap-who-the-hell-cares-how-long-it-is-its-mouth-is-a-foot-wide!” That was obviously just an estimate, since officials were unable to determine the species, but one unnamed Fish and Game officer was quoted as saying, “Whatever kind of shark we’re dealing with, it’s not too bright. It chose to bite into the hard foam surfboard, when the soft, tasty surfer was right there.”

Choosing to believe that the bungling shark, which may or may not have learned from its culinary mistake, would obviously go further south in search of warmer waters and softer prey, we bravely made our way down to the beach. We were greeted by flyers posted at all the public beach access points, warning us of a “Confirmed Shark Sighting” in north Morro Bay the day before. The flyer advised us to “enter the water at your own risk,” and to “keep away from marine wildlife.” In an apparent jurisdictional mix-up between the coastal first-responders, the flyers were printed and distributed by the fire department. No one could figure out why, since, as far as anyone can remember, no sharks in Morro Bay have ever caught on fire.

Since none of us had brought surfboards - the obvious preferred dining option of central coast sharks - we were reluctant to venture too far out into the water, for fear of becoming the backup meal plan. We did allow the children to play in the ocean - in this case, the ocean being defined as the wet sand instead of the dry sand - and considered ourselves to be perfectly safe. Boy, were we wrong!

Little did we know, the water may have been the safest place. We returned to the house later that day to the news of three confirmed mountain lion sightings in and around Morro Bay that morning. We had foolishly been facing the ocean all day, paying no attention to the trees and bushes behind us that could have contained a deadly beast. We considered ourselves lucky to be alive, having literally been surrounded by dangerous wild animals all day. One official from the Harbor Patrol was quoted as saying, “Now we need the fire department. It’s a cat.”

We stayed inside for the rest of the trip and played gin rummy.

This infestation of carnivorous beasts is nothing new. In May of 2013, morning surfers alerted city officials that there was a bear wandering around on Morro Rock, which sits on a small peninsula, basically out in the middle of the ocean. After drug testing the surfers and coming up negative, the officials were forced to look into their story. Sure enough, there was a 250-pound black bear sitting in the bushes at the base of the big rock, less than fifty feet from the beach that would soon be populated with tourists.

Since there were apparently no concurrent shark or mountain lion sightings to deal with, almost every agency within a thirty-mile radius was called in for support. State police, local police, firemen, State Parks, Harbor Patrol, Fish and Game, the marines, guards of the national, life, and coast varieties, EMTs, meter maids, boat captains, a small detachment from the local VFW, and even the janitor in charge of the Morro Rock Beach public bathroom were all on-scene and available to help.

The bear caused such a panic among the Morro Bay officials that the high school, over half a mile away, was put on lock-down. The Morro Bay High School principal ignored the opportunity to have one of the most epic impromptu all-school field trips ever, in favor of locking the kids in their classrooms to stare down at their phones some more. That seems short-sighted to me, but in all fairness, he might have been worried that many of his pasty-white, video-game-generation students would simply not be able to physically make it a half-mile down the beach. It’s all about the children’s safety, after all.

Despite the fire department’s insistence on being the lead agency, stating repeatedly that the bear looked awfully dry, the California Department of Fish and Game finally took control of the scene. They shot the bear with a tranquilizer dart and relocated it to California Valley, which was viewed by many to be inhumane, since California Valley is nothing but hundreds of thousands of acres of dry brown grass, and does not have good fish tacos. In any case, the wayward bear was certainly not the first Morro Bay tourist to take drugs and wake up in an unfamiliar place, but he was definitely the hairiest.

The Morro Rock bear was by far the most exciting thing to happen in the little tourist town last year. I’m fine with a little excitement once in a while, but it really seemed like the animals were ganging up on us this trip. We will probably still keep visiting, though, if for no other reason than the fantastic local news coverage of these events.

The 2013 bear news highlight had to be this gem of an observation by one local reporter: “While this is the first sighting of a bear at Morro Rock, bears have been spotted just south of here in Los Osos.”

That revelation may have even prompted the first-year Spanish students at Morro Bay High School to glance up from their phones long enough to say, “Duh!”

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sleeping Around

My back hurts. It always has some level of ache going on, but today it hurts. That’s because we’re on vacation. When you’re on vacation, you sleep somewhere other than your own bed, and for the over-forty-year-old male human, that usually means back pain. Or neck pain. Body part pain of some kind, anyway.

Vacations, in that way, are a conundrum for us over-forty males. We enjoy getting away from the day-to-day routine, but we know it’s going to hurt. So far this summer my family has been camping twice, where I got to sleep on a nice comfortable layer of stones and twigs, to two vacation homes where I got to sleep in little miniature versions of actual-sized beds, and to my in-law’s house at the beach, where the bed is almost life-sized, but about as comfortable as sleeping in or on my car.

All this rest and relaxation may just kill me. I’m starting to make groaning noises every time I transition in or out of a chair, and if I could figure out how to stay upright, I would seriously consider trying to sleep standing against the wall while we’re away from home. This is not to say that our bed at home is perfect. Far from it. It causes aches and pains, too. It’s just that it’s the home field, and I know how to play it. Our mattress is made out of an acceptable blend of coil springs and padding, whereas all the other mattresses I have slept on recently, in hotel rooms or people’s guest rooms seem to be filled with either 100% marshmallow cream or a mixture of rocks and scrap metal. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Our mattress at home is relatively new. Or, should I say, relatively pre-owned. About a year ago, when our old mattress finally developed two sleep valleys so deep that we could not see each other over the middle hump, we decided it might be time to get a new one. We went to Sleep Train, which, much to my disappointment, was not located on an actual train. We went into the boring, completely motionless building and lay/sat on about eight different mattresses while our three boys jumped/tackled each other on the remaining thirteen. Many of the mattresses on the showroom floor seemed very comfortable, but they all cost roughly twenty thousand dollars each, or thirty thousand if you wanted the matching box spring. After reviewing the pricing, I decided we would just have to suck it up and sleep on our couches. The manager, sensing my hesitation at spending more for a bed than a new car, suggested we might want to look at some of their used mattresses.

I was interested, but my wife balked at the idea, citing the fact that we bought our last mattress new, and she didn’t understand what my problem was. I tried to explain to her that just like a new car, a new mattresses will lose over half its value the minute we drive it off the showroom floor, and nearly every mattress we have ever slept on has been “used,” but she remained unconvinced. The manager, with his years of mattress selling experience, kept her from running out the front door by asking me politely to shut up, and telling her that “used” meant the previous owner had it for less than two days, and returned it in like-new condition. Sleep Train (which, as I mentioned before, is incomprehensibly stationary) had then cleaned the returned mattress, just a precaution, mind you, with rubbing alcohol – apparently the universal pre-owned precautionary mattress cleaning agent - and offered it at a drastically reduced price, which was more in the range of what one might pay for a late model used car.

I was sold. My wife begrudgingly went along with the transaction, and we had our like-new mattress delivered that day. I slept alone in our new used bed for a week or two until my wife was sure that I hadn’t contracted any diseases, venereal or otherwise, then she finally joined me. While this mattress is still much better for my rapidly disintegrating body than any surface I have encountered this summer, it is not exactly perfect, as I mentioned. The other day while we were at home, I woke up with my hip hurting. I limped for two days, but I had gone to bed that night feeling just fine. I had just slept “funny.” That’s not right. Sleep is supposed to be a time of rejuvenation. There is something very wrong with getting hurt while you sleep. It seems unfair.

Getting old is rough. I didn’t used to have these problems. When my wife and I got married we were thirty years old. I could sleep anywhere on anything. We started out with my old bed from college which consisted of nine springs under a thinning sheet of quilted fabric, held together with lint and duct tape. When she wanted to replace it I seriously questioned why. I saw nothing wrong with it. I would bounce out of that bed every morning, ready to take on the world, not an ache to be found.

We just had our twelve year anniversary, and things have definitely changed. Now I wake up more sore than when I went to sleep. That’s probably not a good sign for the future…

Oh, well. It’s been a great twelve years otherwise, and my wife sure is lucky. A little over a decade later, and she gets to sleep in a newish used bed soaked in rubbing alcohol with an old man who smells like Bengay. Happy anniversary, honey!

I guess if she ever gets nostalgic for our twelve-year-old bed with the worn out springs and the deep sleep valleys that we purchased new, she’s in luck. It’s right down the hall in our guest room.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Chair of Death

I think my distain for garage sales is fairly well documented. Every year around the beginning of July, Kiki the Rocklin Super Realtor holds a community-wide garage sale in our neighborhood, where she convinces three thousand people to sell things on their driveways all on the same morning. That means everyone living in the twenty-block radius is simultaneously held hostage by hordes of terrible drivers unleashing infantry divisions of bargain-savvy shoppers onto our quiet streets, all looking for deals on used pants and decorative felt Elvis paintings.

Since I don’t like explaining to people who may or may not understand me why seventy-five cents isn't too much to pay for a pair of jeans, I don’t usually participate. This year, however, since I am an idiot, I decided to haul some of the bigger items out of my garage that were merely taking up space, with no hope of ever being used. I ended up displaying a table saw, a drill press, and a welder. It was the manliest garage sale ever. You could smell the testosterone in the air. Or maybe that was my sweat from having just dismantled my entire garage to extract a table saw, a drill press, and a welder from under the twenty-five hundred pounds of other stuff I never use either.

Unfortunately, the clientele were not in the market for the more manly, big-ticket items I was selling. I sat in a lawn chair on my driveway for three hours and managed to only sell a box of welding rod that came with the welder. I made ten dollars.

Meanwhile, my wife was out cruising all the other garage sales in the area. Right about the time I made my incredible sale, she pulled back up to the house with a big white rocking chair hanging out of the trunk.

“How much did you pay for that?”

“Ten dollars.”

Great, now I'm back to even. I mentally scanned our entire house and backyard. There is no place to put a large rocking chair.

“Where are you going to put that?”

“On the front porch!”

She said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. As if we have had a dire need for seating on our front porch forever, and she couldn't believe I was even asking. As if she was bringing home a new stove and I was asking where it was supposed to go.

Turns out, in her mind, we have had a dire need for front porch seating ever since we moved in. I just didn't know it. Actually, in her mind, I think we have had a dire need for front porch decoration. Now, I realize lots of people sit on their front porches, but we can't. Our porch is about the size of a postage stamp and it faces southwest, so for most of the day, it is hotter than the surface of the sun.

I brought these things up to her. “That's not the point,” she said.

Hmm… So you have purchased a chair that no one will ever sit in?

“I’m planning on painting it brown to match the front door.” (Translation for the unmarried – “I am going to have you paint it brown one day instead of letting you watch the game.”)

“Well, that’s nice, but changing the color of it won’t change the fact that we can’t sit on our porch. For starters, there’s only room for one chair, so it would be kind of creepy for someone to sit there, plus you would burn up into a heap of ashes.”

“I’m going to get a little table and put a potted plant next to it.”

“I hope the plant is fireproof.”

“Shut up.”

I gave up arguing the point and went back to my sale. I decided it was time to abandon hope of selling any more of my manly merchandise, so I closed up shop. After I moved all my giant power tools back into the garage and rearranged the two tons of other crap to its original configuration, I was exhausted. I needed to sit down. Do you know where it never occurred to me to sit down? Our front porch.

Later that day my wife came back from the store with a new cushion for the unusable porch chair.

“What was wrong with the cushion that came with the chair?”

“It was red!” (Same exasperated how-can-you-not-know-the-answer-to-your-inane-question tone.)

“Was that cushion free?”

“Of course not. Why?”

“No reason.” (I am no longer even on this day. Why on earth did I dismantle my garage?!)

I graciously offered to put the new cushion on the chair. I retrieved the old red (obviously wrong) cushion and set it aside. I sat down in the new chair. I rocked back and forth, enjoying the three thousand degree heat radiating off the stucco all around me and soaking in the view of the backside of my porch support column. Let’s just say you brought your flame-retardant space suit with you, and you could actually stand the heat. You could always pull the chair out from behind the big post. If you did that you would have a pretty good view of the Tree of Death and the street. The only problem is you would be blocking the front door and rocking on the doormat. That seems ultimately problematic from an ingress/egress perspective.

Those things, however, aren’t the real problem here. The biggest issue I see with our new front porch decoration is a long-term one. I am afraid we are installing a lethal booby trap. You see, we have black widow spiders around our house, and anything that sits idle outdoors for any length of time is a good candidate for one of their sticky webs. Add in the decorative table and potted plant, and that chair will be a death trap inside of a month.

While The Tree of Death only smells bad, I’m afraid The Chair of Death might actually be able to kill you. Fair warning, folks. If you come over, I would advise against sitting until you get inside. If the venomous spiders don’t get you, the heat stroke might finish you off.

I sure am enjoying the comfort of my new red cushion on my desk chair, though.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Golf Ball Car Stop

Our house is pretty good-sized, at two stories and over three thousand square feet. We need that much space to raise our three boys. Actually, three thousand square feet is the bare minimum space in which my wife and I are willing to attempt to contain our three little tornados of joy. Three thousand square feet per kid would be a lot better, but no one wants to clean that much house. We have fantasized about building a barn in the backyard to keep them in, but it turns out the county frowns upon that sort of thing, not only from a zoning perspective, but also from a child welfare point of view. Go figure.

Even if we were allowed to build a barn, we wouldn’t have the room to do it. Our three thousand-plus square foot house is built on a lot that is roughly two hundred square feet. In order to accommodate the house and still have a backyard at least large enough to turn around in, the builder conveniently made the “three-car” garage just big enough to comfortably fit one mid-sized sedan, if you angle it in. So, naturally, we park the giant SUV in the garage.

After I sanded the first few layers of paint from the top of the garage door wood trim, and deflated the tires a little, we were able to squeeze the Ford Expedition into the garage. When the front bumper was within thirteen inches of the back wall of the garage, the garage door was able to close, missing the rear bumper by about three inches on its way down. It was clear that we would need some sort of indicator for my wife to be able to know when she was far enough in, but not too far in. To make things easy, I got out my big cordless drill and drilled a hole through my finger. After I stopped the bleeding with toilet paper and electrical tape, I managed to also drill a hole through a golf ball, which was actually my original goal. I hung it on a string from the ceiling, so it would contact the windshield directly in front of the driver’s face. Drive in until the golf ball touches the glass, and you’re there. What could be simpler?

Well, if you are my wife, I guess a lot of things might be simpler, because the golf ball was obviously not a good solution. I knew right away that we might be in trouble with the concept when my mother-in-law saw me installing the golf ball and asked, “What the hell did you do to your finger?” Then she added, “Aren’t you worried that the golf ball will crack the windshield?”

Hmm… Well, when the ball touches the windshield, the front bumper of the three-ton SUV is about a foot from the living room wall, so if she’s coming into the garage fast enough to crack the windshield with the stationary hanging golf ball, I think we’re going to have bigger problems than minor glass repair…

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

It turns out that I really didn’t have to worry about that problem at all, because unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife was never planning on actually hitting the golf ball at all. She likes to drive up close to it, but not actually touch the windshield to it.

When I questioned this method she said, “Well, I get close enough to it.”

“Well, maybe, but when the ball is touching the windshield, the rear bumper is only three inches from the door, so if you’re more than three inches from it, the door is going to come down on the car.”

“Well, I get closer than that.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

Do you know how you could know for sure? HIT THE BALL!!

“I’m just worried that if you don’t hit the ball, you might be too far away.”

“Oh, relax. The door has never hit the car.”

That may very well be the case, but I have gone out into the garage and seen the ball inches away from the windshield, and gone to the back of the car to see the door so close to the back bumper that you couldn’t have slipped a playing card between them. How does she do that? Why does she do that?

Well, I still have no idea, but my wife and I switched cars a while back, and now I am finally in charge of parking the Expedition correctly in the walk-in closet cleverly disguised as our garage. It was going great for a while. I would drive in, snuggle the windshield right up to the ball, and get out of the car, happy in the knowledge that the door would come down ridiculously close to the rear bumper, but at least not on it.

Until yesterday. Yesterday something went horribly wrong. Yesterday the Expedition was parked safely in the shoe box garage. The golf ball was resting exactly where it should have been; on the windshield, directly in front of my face. I loaded up the boys, hopped into the driver’s seat, smiled at the golf ball, and turned the key in the ignition. Now, nothing bad happened with the garage door or the rear bumper, but it turns out that at some point between parking the car and getting back in to leave again, one or more of the boys had been sitting in the driver’s seat, playing with the switches and knobs.

As soon as the car sprang to life, all sorts of new things were happening. The radio was blaring a Spanish channel, we were signaling for a left turn, the high beams were on, and much to my dismay, the windshield wipers came sweeping across the glass. The main wiper blade teed off on the golf ball like a three iron, but instead of heading for the green, the string from the ceiling sent the ball in a wide circular trajectory, coming right back around to bounce off the windshield high on the passenger side. It was spinning its way back for a second ricochet off the glass as the wiper blades were coming back down to their home position. I frantically grabbed for the wiper controls on the turn signal lever, but it was down lower than it should have been because we were also turning left in this imaginary midnight Tijuana rainstorm. I fumbled for the controls as I watched the string get caught by the passenger-side wiper blade, and as I accidentally wrenched the wiper speed control knob all the way in the wrong direction, I saw my golf ball get unceremoniously torn off its ceiling mount, string and all, by my wiper blades which were now slamming back and forth across the glass on the highest setting. The boys were hooting and hollering in the back seat as I sat quietly and watched my golf ball get whipped back and forth across the windshield at 800 MPH.

Hmm…

Maybe my wife had a point. Is it possible that she too was once subjected to the old Mexican Hurricane gag? Did she hold out on me about her reasons for never quite reaching the golf ball?

Hmm…

Probably not. But I can tell you this: When I put the new golf ball up, it was three inches closer to the living room wall, and now I just drive up close to it.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Worst Umpire in the World

We had a wonderful baseball season with my boys. By wonderful, I mostly mean nobody got hurt. Son Number Two took a line drive right in the face mid-season while pitching, but he is as tough as they come, and was looking to take his turn at bat while his nose was still bleeding. Son Number One, in the next division up, led the league in being hit by pitches. It was a combination of just bad luck, nine and ten-year-old wild pitchers, and him having the reaction time of a drunk koala bear, but he managed to get through the season with only minor bruising. On the plus side, he had a great on-base percentage. Son Number Three made it all the way through his T-ball season with no incidents, but I had one close call as his coach. I narrowly escaped serious injury while placing the ball on the tee for one of his teammates. The kid decided not to wait until I was actually done letting go of the ball before swinging, and clipped my thumb with the aluminum bat as I frantically jumped out of the way. Fortunately, it was not serious, mostly due to the fact that I have lightning-quick reflexes. I’m not sure where Son Number One got his lackadaisical synapses, because I have the reaction time of a ninja. OK, maybe a drunk ninja, but still…

Anyway, as I sit here reflecting on the season, I can’t help but think of the officiating. Son Number One’s league had an umpire behind the plate for every game, and we had some good umpires and some not-so-good umpires. We had some clearly blown calls, but mostly good calls. We had some tiny strike zones, some giant strike zones, some random strike zones, but mostly just fair balls and strikes. Umpires are human, and no one knows that better than me. I will never complain about the officiating of a ball game too much, because I happen to have been the worst baseball umpire this world has ever seen.

It happened when I was in college. So many of life’s biggest blunders happen in college. That’s because when you’re in college, you think you’re a genius. It is only many years after college that you realize you don’t know anything at all, and you knew far less than that when you were a genius college student. I worked as a little league umpire in my sophomore year, and like my son’s league, there was only one umpire per game, calling all the plays from behind the plate.

I don’t remember how old the kids were, but looking back on it now, I would guess they were about eight years old. Most of the pitchers were just lucky to get the ball across the plate, but there were two kids in the league that could really throw. One of them even had different pitches, so he was well ahead of his fellow players. He had a good fastball, a decent changeup, and he could even throw a curveball. It was this kid who tricked me into being a terrible umpire. Actually, it was him and his catcher.

His catcher during the fateful inning was a really cool kid. Most of the kids were scared to death of the umpire and wouldn’t say a word to me, but this kid joked with me and talked to me behind the plate. He would comment on his pitcher’s performance, and he generally made it a lot more fun to be back there calling balls and strikes. I blame him, mostly.

There we were. One out in the inning with a runner on second base. The catcher calls for the pitch and the ace pitcher starts the third batter off with a curveball. The batter swings over the top of it as it drops off the table into the dirt in front of the catcher. Strike one. His next pitch was a changeup, and the batter swung three feet in front of the ball. Strike two. The catcher then says to me, “Watch this,” as he gave the sign to his man on the hill. The last pitch was the heater. A fastball straight across the center of the plate, chest-high. The batter stood staring at it, never moving the bat from his shoulder. Strike three. He had sat him down looking.

I was caught up in the moment. My “strike three” call got a little wild. I stood up, turned around, went down on one knee, pumping my fist wildly, sawing an imaginary log in the air. “Steeeeeerike Threeeeeeee!”

I stood up, very pleased with myself. That was easily the best, most theatrical third strike call in history. I was very sure that the fans as well as the players would be impressed. I turned around to face the field again, to accept praise for my fantastic umpireness. What I received instead, were stares. The catcher was standing up, without his helmet or mask on, staring at me. The pitcher was staring at me. Neither one of them had the ball. The runner that was previously on second base was lying on the ground with his foot on third base, staring at me. The third baseman, with the ball in his mitt, resting on the runner’s leg, was also staring at me.

The kid on second had stolen third base on the third pitch, and the catcher had thrown it down to try and get him out. There had been an entire play happening while I was turned around making the best third strike call in history. I am a moron.

I began walking as calmly as I could up the third base line. The only two umpire-specific thoughts I could muster in my genius college kid brain were, “tie goes to the runner,” and “close call, big arms; easy call, small arms.” OK, you yahoo, that means that you should make a very nonchalant call as if you totally saw what happened and it was an easy decision, and I guess we’ll just go with safe since the tie goes to the runner. What a great plan, you ridiculous idiot.

When I was half way to third base I stopped, made a very small “safe” motion with my hands, said “Safe,” in a normal speaking voice (albeit, probably shaky with fear), and turned around with my head down, walking back toward home plate, ready for all hell to break loose from the stands. I was expecting to have to sprint to my car, followed by angry hordes of parents hurling epithets and soda cans at me.

To my great surprise and enormous relief, I made it back to the plate without being killed. In fact, there wasn’t even a murmur of disapproval from the stands or the players. Apparently, the kid was obviously safe. I had a fifty-fifty chance, and I guessed correctly. And thankfully, everyone else at the ballpark had been actually watching the play (much like the umpire is supposed to do), so no one had noticed that I was too busy making the best strike three call in the whole world and had neglected the part where I was supposed to be doing my job.

I called the rest of the game with wide-eyed, rapt attention, and left as quickly as I could. I considered myself very lucky to get out of there with my skin, and decided not to push my luck any further. I gave up umpiring after that season and got a job at a gas station. I didn’t mention that I was the worst umpire in the world, and they didn’t ask. It was great. The entire time I worked there no one ever stole third without me knowing it.

Years later, now that I’m a baseball coach for my sons’ teams, I still argue with the umpire if I think they made a bad call, but my heart isn’t in it. I feel their pain.

Sometimes, purely out of the goodness of my heart, I even let them know that the Chevron station down the street is hiring.

They don’t seem to take it well. Go figure.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Ultimate Father's Day Gift

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

I want my boys to invent The Blanket Anchor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,
Love,
Dad


See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Talent Show

Each year in the last week of school, our elementary school holds a talent show. It is always in the last week, so it was obviously created as filler for teachers who are simply looking to keep the students busy until that final summer dismissal bell rings. Nothing productive at all happens in the last week of school. Nothing ever has in the history of education. Academically speaking, you could eliminate the last week of school without losing any learning, but it’s a paradox… or a conundrum… I don’t know which. Anyway, as soon as you get rid of it, it appears again out of thin air. You always have to have a last week, so it will always be there, just wasting everyone’s time.

Schools have actually been trying to get rid of it for years now. The school districts have been adjusting the calendar every year, desperately trying to eliminate the week where all the teachers stop being educators and start being a cross between sheep herders and concert security, just trying to keep all the kids together and under control for four more days. Each year they cut off the last week, but are forced to add it back to the beginning of the year. That’s why school ends so early now, and the kids go back in August instead of September. We might as well not even have Labor Day anymore if we’re not going to use it for its originally intended purpose; marking when school will start.

So, in an act of pure selfishness, the teachers dragged us, the parents, into their last week of school nightmare by creating a talent show. Sure, it keeps the kids busy for a while for them, but if your child signs up, you, as a parent, are stuck. You must go or you will be letting your child down by not being present at every single significant minute of their lives. Son Number One and Two signed up to play the piano. Thanks a lot, teachers!


“Welcome to the talent show. Let’s get started right away, since we have thirty-five acts.”

Excuse me? Thirty-five!? Oh, sweet mother, we will never get out of here.

OK, time to get comfortable… I’m on a folding metal chair… comfortable is not going to happen. OK, we’re starting with two brothers, a sixth-grader on guitar and his younger brother on drums. Good start. They rock. This is a rock concert. The sixth-grader is singing and I can't understand any of the words, but these kids are really solid. OK, the song is going a little long. Remember kid, thirty-five acts!

Great first act. I am hopeful. Curtain just went down. Oh man, I think they have to break down the drum set. This is going to hurt us on time.

OK, they brought out a comedian in front of the curtain. Good job on the time management. What do you get when you cross a spider with a computer? A web page. Nice one, kid. He was funny and quick. I like him.

My butt is falling asleep on this metal chair, and we are only on act three.

Two girls singing the Taylor Swift song “You Belong to Me” a cappella. They're good, but I think they're going to sing the whole song. OK, they cut it short. Good.

Two third grade girls doing a dance/gymnastic routine to some hip-hop song. Short. OK. One of them cartwheeled off stage and almost collided with stage hand kid. Comic relief for the crowd of students. Collisions are hilarious to elementary schoolers.

Second grade hula hoop routine. Two little girls alternately jumping rope, walking on two little buckets with ropes attached to them, hula hooping and occasionally doing some gymnastics. That might have been the longest two minutes of my life. I am dying.

Piano now. Fifth grade girl. “Let it Go” from Frozen. OK. First appearance of Frozen. Surely more to come. She is wearing a dress.

Now another kid on piano. He played the Star Wars theme and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Dammit! His songs are cooler than my kids’ songs. My boys are playing some snake charmer song and some Russian dance song that no one knows. Now I’m starting to think my boys’ real talent might be picking obscure piano songs that no one can ba-da-da-dum along with. This kid is also well-dressed. Hmm…

My butt is completely asleep.

Now two girls and more hula hoops. Shakira song. I hate this song. The girls are really good at hula hooping. They even go down to their knees and still hula hoop. There is no way I could do that. The lyrics of this song are not appropriate for elementary school. At least, I don't think they are. I can't understand the words. I hate this song so much.

Two girls doing the cup song from Pitch Perfect. I can only hope that their parents never let them watch the movie, because, wow, not kid-friendly. They did good, but "two bottles of whiskey for the road" might not be the most appropriate elementary school lyric ever, even though two bottles of whiskey is exactly what I want right now.

There is a small fog machine on the back of the stage. It just let off a puff of fog, and for a brief moment I had hope that the stage was on fire and we could leave. No such luck.

Now two girls doing a hip-hop dance routine to “Dynamite.” One of the lyrics is "it goes on and on and on." The song is right. It does. This might never end. We are only on act ten. We really do need whiskey. I whispered to my wife, but she refused to go get some. She is not a team player.

Third grade boy dancing by himself to “Party Rockin’ in the House Tonight.” Crowd favorite. The kids love this guy’s dance routine, which is kind of a mix between the Russian deep-knee-bend dance, break dancing, and a seizure. It was short. I love this kid, too.

Second grade girl with an a cappella version of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from Frozen. Only our second Frozen sighting. Not bad.

I no longer have a butt.

Gymnastics now. Two girls ballet dancing and gymnastics tumbling. OK. Too bad the swimmers and baseball players couldn't showcase their after-school sports as well.

The next act is almost identical. Why couldn't they have combined them and had four girls on stage tumbling at once. That would have added a fun and more entertaining level of danger. Remember, kids love collisions. Who’s running this thing?

My boys are up on piano. They rocked it. They absolutely rocked those two songs no one has ever heard of. They are both wearing soccer shorts and stained T-shirts. Were we supposed to dress up for this?

Another piano girl. She is wearing a dress. Whoops.

Now another girl in a nice dress singing a song I don’t know. She’s good. Hey… wait a minute… she was one of the Taylor Swift girls. That isn’t fair! She is extending the time we must be in this room by going twice. She's really good, but she shouldn't get to go twice. One of my legs is going numb and my wife just shoved her elbow into my ribs to keep me from squirming.

Here’s something new. A fourth-grade boy with a round plastic trash can. There is a hole in the bottom and the top is covered with clear plastic. His little sister just filled it with fog from the fog machine. When he slaps his hand on the plastic cover, it shoots twelve-inch smoke rings out over the audience. The kids love it! That is very cool... Hang on, kid… is your talent having a dad who built you a smoke ring machine? This smacks of the solar system model that "my son made" a few weeks ago. Parental involvement is obvious and necessary for the science fair project, but let's keep the dads out of the talent show, shall we? I need to build one of those and get a fog machine. How cool would it be to have a fog machine in the house?

More Frozen. Two sisters, second grade and kindergarten, doing a “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” duet. They are in full-on Disney Frozen dresses and tiaras. I can’t see them anymore, because their mom is sitting in front of me recording them with her iPad, which is blocking my view of the stage. I am now watching them on the iPad screen instead. They are very cute, but no, I do not want to build a snowman. Quit asking.

Now two girls wearing feather boas and lip-syncing a song I don't know. It’s girl band complaint rock. No like. My boys have already gone. Can we leave yet? My wife says we have to stay until the end. I do not understand her sometimes. My other leg is starting to go numb. My butt is gone.

Wait. There's another girl who is going twice. We are going to be here forever. I am going to die in this room.

Sixth grade girl belting out “This Girl is on Fire.” She is awesome. She gives me goose bumps. She gives me hope. For the first time since the guitar/drum kids I do not want to run out of this room. There is no way I could run out of this room anyway. Not on these legs and without a butt.

Sixth grade boy doing a solo hip hop dance routine. I can't concentrate because my feet are now going to sleep. He is good. He can spin on one knee. I would try that right now if I thought it would fix my butt and leg problems.

More piano. Another girl wearing a dress and heels. I’m really starting to think we should have dressed our boys a little better this morning. She curtsied at the end. Wow, professional.

Older girl now on piano. She is wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Vindication! Holy cow, she is really good. She is better than really good. I guess when you're that good you don't need to dress up. My boys are not that good. We need to put our boys in tuxedos next time. Some kids’ cell phone just rang in the middle of her performance. I have no words for how wrong that is on so many levels.

Sixth grade girl with legs as tall as she is. Ballet/ hip-hop/gymnastics. If she ever grows into her legs she will be six-foot-six.

Two more little girls singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” Their cuteness can no longer outweigh my growing distain for this song. I hate Frozen.

Yet another girl wearing a Frozen dress. Kindergartner. She is signing “Let it Go.” I would let it go, but you elementary school girls won't let me. I might not be able to walk, but I’ll bet I could crawl out that side door right there.

Three sixth grade girls in tutus and Mexican hats singing “I'm a Little Teapot.” Now another one is rapping about a teapot. What fresh hell is this? The other three just came back on stage to a hip-hop song. One of them is dressed in a cow costume complete with udders. I have no words for how much I don't want to be here.

More hip-hop dance. Large group of sixth-graders. I think I blacked out during their routine and came to during the applause. It’s over. Is it really over? A teacher is speaking and the kids are getting up. It really is over.

I tried to stand on my dead legs, but they would not cooperate. I have fallen and I can’t get up. Drag me, honey. Just drag me. We need to get out of here before they realize it was only thirty-one acts!

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot Lunch

Based on current projections, we will not be able to afford college for any one of our boys, let alone all three of them, since it is currently estimated to cost $8000 per minute to attend a university in the year 2024. So, I have been actively preparing our boys for either a life in the military, or life in prison. It could go either way.

When I say “preparing,” I am really just talking about school lunches, and when I say “actively,” what I really mean is that I became lazy and now this is the new plan. I started out strong, but we are currently running on fumes here in the school lunch department.

When I began this school year in my new capacity as Mr. Mom, I was a lunch all-star. I was regularly coming up with new and inventive lunch ideas. Alright, that’s a bit of a stretch. I was willing to take suggestions about what should be for lunch that day, and I agreed to many of the ideas. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, too. But I hardly ever yelled “No!” at them when they asked for something more difficult than sandwiches. And one time I actually sent them with clam chowder, so there’s that.

Any flexibility I had at the beginning of the year with school lunches has ended. I’m not going to lie. Around mid-February, my enthusiasm for variety went to zero. They literally had the exact same thing for lunch every day from Valentine’s Day to Memorial Day.

Son Number One: Salami and mustard sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers
Son Number Two: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, goldfish crackers
Son Number Three: Peanut butter and honey sandwich, baby carrots, goldfish crackers

I kept that up as long as I could, but even that strenuous menu is getting too much for me in the waning days of the school year.

To add to the strain, when I took over the lunch-making duties from my wife, she told me that I had to write cute little notes for them to find and read when they opened their lunches. Those notes have gone downhill faster than the menu.

Beginning of the year note example: “Great job on your piano yesterday, and good luck with your spelling test today. You’re going to do great! Love, Dad”

Note from earlier this month: “This is the note in your lunch. From, Dad”

Now that I have moved to a life-lesson, bleak-future-preparatory stance with my lunch making duties, I don’t think the little notes are necessary anymore anyway. They won’t get cute notes in the military, and you certainly don’t want them getting cute notes in prison!

While I am obviously losing steam in all lunch-related categories, I am still too cheap to let them have the school-provided hot lunch. Questionable nutrition aside, for me it is a simple matter of arithmetic. Hot lunch costs $2.50 each, and with my prison-style meal plan, I am feeding them for less than that. (Drinks are not included in my meal plan, because the cafeteria has a drinking fountain.)

Their grandparents think I’m mean, and when they come and stay with us, they usually take pity on the inmates and give them money for hot lunch. This is a huge deal for our kids. If you tell them they get to have the school-provided corndogs and chocolate milk, they think they won the lottery. Somehow, somewhere deep in my soul, that makes me feel proud.

The boys might think hot lunch awesome, but it has led to other issues for their mom and me. When grandpa hands them money for lunch, we have to take it to the front office and put it in a little deposit envelope to get it into their hot lunch account. We could just let them hang onto the money and bring it directly to the lunchroom, but I actually want them to eat, and they have trouble keeping track of their own shoes, let alone a pocket full of loose change. Anyway, the depositing of the money isn’t the problem, it’s the account balance. They have only had hot lunch maybe three times this school year, but somehow, one of their accounts became overdrawn by $1.50.

If you ever want to be mercilessly spammed, look no further than the school district’s lunch program and their automated computer of doom. Go ahead and overdraw your lunch account, I dare you. Be prepared for one automated phone call to every phone number associated with you, and one email to every address, sent daily, multiplied by the number of children you have in the school district, because the computer can’t figure out that we all live in the same house. Heaven help you if it happens to occur the day before spring break, like it did for us, because the computer also can’t figure out that we can’t do anything about it when no one is at the school. We received approximately 500 individual messages in various forms from the lunch computer over a one-week period in April.

When we finally got our school district-budget-breaking $1.50 balance paid off after Easter, it was only to receive this printed notice in May:

There will be no more lunch credit issued through the end of the year. Students must have a balance in their account, bring cash, or they will not receive a lunch. In such a case, a courtesy meal of crackers and fruit will be provided to the student.

Hmm… Free crackers and fruit you say?

We’ve only got seven days of school left, and I have already checked out. Their normal boring prison lunch is a thing of the past. Yesterday I just gave Son Number One a salami. Number Two got the old jar of peanut butter and a spoon. Number Three got a can of olives. I just assumed someone in the lunchroom would have a can opener.

I’m spent. I can’t make another sandwich. Baby carrots are too much for me now. Maybe we overdraw those lunch accounts… Crackers and fruit sound better than what they’re going to get from me tomorrow. Right now it’s a three-way tie between plastic baggies of dill pickles, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and uncooked bags of microwave popcorn.

I would shoot for the free courtesy meal in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the impending tsunami of messages from the lunch computer over the summer.

Oh well, mac n’ cheese it is. If the lunchroom people can’t cook it up for them, the boys can always suck on the noodles until they get soft and pour the cheese powder directly into their mouths.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Bay to Breakers

We live near San Francisco. That is to say, we live far enough away from it that our house didn’t cost five hundred thousand dollars per square millimeter, but close enough that we can drive there in less than two hours. A short drive into San Francisco is a great way to escape the United States for a day. If you haven’t been, you should really consider keeping it that way.

I take that back. San Francisco does have two redeeming features. For reasons unknown, Mike Rowe lives there, and the Giants play there in one of the best ballparks in the nation. I have no idea where Mike lives, but if you can get across the bay bridge on I-80 before the many construction errors and omissions cause it to fail and drop into the water, and make a hard left after you finish thanking the Lord that you made it across, and duck into AT&T Park for a day game, you won’t regret it. Just don’t get lost on your way out and accidentally wind up in ANY other part of the city.

If you do get lost and venture more than three feet in any direction from the baseball safe haven, do not leave your vehicle, unless you enjoy “aggressive panhandling.” This is San Francisco’s cute term for verbally abusive and violent bums. Don’t want to give up a dollar? Well then be prepared to be followed for a few blocks while the nice man provides you with your own personal obscenity sound track. If you visit enough parts of the city, you can get that soundtrack in over thirteen different languages.

Looking for tips on the proper way to shoot heroin? No problem. Just visit any one of the city’s numerous parks. I would suggest Golden Gate Park, since it’s the largest, offering over one thousand acres of helpful drug addicts and prostitutes. Yes, prostitutes, too. Want a hooker with your smack? You’re in luck. San Francisco is the Amazon.com of prostitution; you name it, they have it.

In keeping with this proud city’s complete lack of any sort of moral code, this past Sunday they ran the 102nd annual Bay to Breakers.

From the official website:
San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers is the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world, a staple to the City by the Bay since May 1912. With a starting point near the San Francisco Bay, a few blocks from The Embarcadero, the 12K race runs west through the city and finishes at the Great Highway where breakers crash onto the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach. A quintessential San Francisco experience for 102 years, the race is interwoven into the fabric of the city and is a true reflection and celebration of life between the breakers and the Bay.

Now, I assume that in 1912, it was an actual race, but in 2014, it is anything but. Actually, it is a lot of butt. The Bay to Breakers had devolved over the years into nothing more than a drunken, naked mosh pit. It’s sort of like if they held Burning Man on your street. Excessive drinking and rampant nudity – everything you look for in a good road race. Any other city in the free world would choose to go one way or the other with it; actual road race or huge all-city beer garden orgy; but the City by the Bay is still pretending it’s a real race while completely unable to control it. The San Francisco city council is the government equivalent of the parents who first tell their child no, then immediately cave when the kid throws himself on the floor in a fit. Except, in the city council’s case, they never said no in the first place.

The race starts only after everyone has successfully blown a 0.19 or higher on the Official Bay to Breakers Breathalyzer. As a convenience, the course is extremely straight, not unlike some of the participants. This minimizes the amount of runners who get lost on their way west. I think this year over one third of all the starters actually found the Pacific Ocean. On a map. Days later. The course conveniently heads straight through the heart of Haight-Ashbury, so if you’re low on hash or plastic rainbow beads mid-race, you can refuel. The crowd of runners then continues on through Golden Gate Park, where many of the park’s inhabitants wonder, “Oh man, is this a raid?” The race ends at the ocean where you must cross the finish line completely naked and immediately blow at least a 0.23 or higher on the Official BtBB in order for your time to count. If you cannot do this, beer bongs are provided until you qualify.

If you were not already familiar with this “quintessential San Francisco experience,” please DO NOT Google any images of the event. You will not be able to un-see what the internet will bring you. You have been warned. That being said, those that are unaware of the “nature” of the race - as it were – will be very misled by its website. I would urge the Bay to Breakers webmaster to update it as soon as possible.

One glaring error I found from the FAQ’s:
Is alcohol or other substances allowed on the race course?
Absolutely not. All alcohol and other illicit substances will be removed from the race course immediately. The person with the item will be ejected from the event and is subject to arrest.

This was obviously cut-and-pasted from a real race’s website. I think what they meant to say was, “Of course, but only if you’re naked or in a ridiculous costume, and only if you share.”

There are too many other errors and deficiencies to name here, not the least of which is the front page copy I shared earlier. I assume by “celebration of life” they obviously meant “graphic public how-to demonstrations on how life is so often created; drunk naked people.” And I hope, for San Francisco’s sake, the website is also wrong about the race being “a true reflection” of life in the city. They are in worse shape than I thought if that’s the case.

I will never know, however, since I will continue to maintain my two-hour perimeter, here in the safe zone, where we leave our reasonably-priced homes to run our road races sober and with our clothes on. Crazy, I know.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day Exile

Exile Log, May 11, 2014, Day 1:
I found out that today was Mother’s Day. Shortly afterward, my wife kicked me out of the house. I have made several attempts to get back in and have been met with heavy resistance. I have taken refuge in the backyard play structure. More to come…


Exile Log, Day 2:
Things aren’t looking good. I tried to get into the house again this morning, but my wife still looked angry. She glared at me through the back window, so I retreated yet again. I don’t think she’s any happier than she was yesterday.

Things in the play structure aren’t as comfortable as you might think. Sure, it’s a big play structure, and it has a roof, but it still has drafty open sides and a limited amount of floor space.

I am sore from sleeping in a curled-up position. I tried sleeping with my legs hanging down the slide, but I kept ending up in a heap on the ground. I just want to go in and take a shower and maybe have a sandwich, but she doesn’t look ready.

I was able to establish a decent network connection today from the neighbor’s Wi-Fi after he took pity on me and gave me the password. His wife had instructed him not to speak to me, but The Man Code won out. Unfortunately, The Man Code has its limitations, and I had to promise to mow his lawn for the whole summer. In exchange, he’s snaked an extension cord over the fence for me and has given me a few beers and some pop tarts when he could. Things could be worse, I guess. 


Exile Log, Day 3:
It was cold last night. I have redwood splinters in my butt. I’m sore from sleeping with my head on a soccer ball. She’s still not ready to let me in, but I think she is softening. She threw a bottle of water and a bar of soap out the back door this morning after she saw me trying to drink from the lawn sprinkler. I’m not sure if I am supposed to bathe in the sprinkler and drink from the water bottle, or vice versa, but it’s at least a glimmer of hope. I wish we had a pool.

I’ve had a lot of time to think in the play structure. I am beginning to think this has something to do with Mother’s Day. It was this past Sunday, or so she told me, which happens to be the day she threw me out. I think those two things are connected.

The boys have been no help whatsoever. Not only did they fail to remind me that Sunday was Mother’s Day, but they haven’t visited me once out here since she kicked me out. She is keeping them inside, and as far as I can tell, they have made no effort to sneak out and help me in any way. I have done a poor job of teaching them The Man Code.

If she leaves the house today I am going to attempt to break in. I need clean underwear.


Exile Log, Day 4:
After another fitful night of sleep interrupted by the horrifying sounds of either two cats mating or a raccoon molesting a set of bagpipes, I have come to the conclusion that this whole thing must be about Mother’s Day. I managed to get into the house for a short time yesterday when she left to pick the boys up from school. The Salad Spinner we bought her is still in its box on the kitchen counter.

I have replayed the events of Sunday over and over in my head. I am fairly certain that she was upset by the fact that the boys and I didn’t know it was Mother’s Day when we woke up. I am also pretty sure that she didn’t like the fact that she was the one who had to tell us what day it was, after she had made her own breakfast.

What I can’t understand is why she was still upset enough to throw me out of the house after we totally redeemed ourselves. Sure, we might have forgotten all about Mother’s Day, but when she reminded us we promptly jumped in the car and headed to Walmart.

Not more than a half-hour later we returned with possibly the best Mother’s Day gift ever. I mean, who doesn’t love the Salad Spinner? Right?

Plus it was a really timely gift. I had accidentally broken her old Salad Spinner a few days earlier when I was using it to get the sweat out of my gym socks so I could get another day out of them. I mean, it’s a great gift in the first place, plus she needed a new one. That’s a win-win. That can’t possibly be the reason she’s mad.

Maybe it was because I bought it with the $10 Walmart gift card I got her for our anniversary? No telling, I guess. I’ll just have to stay out here and wait until she cools off.

Maybe next time she goes out I can retrieve the new Salad Spinner and use it really quick. I figure if I’m going to be out here for a few more days I can probably rinse my underwear in the sprinklers, and that Salad Spinner should do the trick to dry them off.

Don’t worry, I’ve learned from the socks incident. I bought the heavy duty model this time.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen


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

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