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Wither the SAT

31 Mar


The College Board organization has recently revised the SAT college admissions test. In a couple of weeks it will publish new sample questions to illustrate the changes it has had to make the test more relevant, the vocabulary more functional, and the orientation more real world.   Below are a few of my ideas about how the new SAT questions might appear.


Stawar Aptitude Test


1. Joshua graduated two years ago with a degree in _________. He should ask Sallie Mae ___________.

a. Art History,   out on a date

b. Communications, for an unpaid internship

c. Humanities, for a forbearance

d. Occlumency,   if she’s from Kentucky


2. Which of these founding documents of America contains 234,812 words?

a.   The Constitution

b.   Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

c.   Chicken Soup for the Soul

d.   The Affordable Health Care Act


3. If your current cell phone plan has unlimited data and messaging, 50GB of free cloud storage, but limits talk to 500 minutes per month, when will you be eligible for the next phone upgrade?

a.   after the first year

b.   the week before you accidently drop it in the toilet

c.   just in time for the   iPhone12 release

d.   when you sign a new contract for 12 more years


4. If the toll for a new bridge is $12 for a round trip, based on the current inflation rate of 3%, what is the probability that your father would actually use the bridge ?

a.   100%

b.   one in a million

c.   50/50

d.   not a chance in hell


5. After a(n) ________________ consideration of the all the alternatives, Donald   conclude that __________________ was the last place he wanted to be.

a.   copious,   band camp

b.   assiduous, drug court

c.   indolent, summer school

d.   odiferous, the Port-a-Potty


Backyard Diehard: Another Steeltown Story

1 Feb

We were a typical blue collar family in Steeltown. We lived in a very modest three-bedroom brown-shingled house on the corner of Fourth and Ewing, just down from the Russian Orthodox Church with the gold onion-shaped spire.

My father worked as an electrician at the steel mill, but somehow that was never quite enough for him.  It would have surprised his coworkers and the other volunteer firemen to know that he had played the violin in a band, had a failed career as a watchmaker, played chess, invented various electrical devices, and love to read Scrooge McDuck comic books.  Some people might have thought my father was pretentious in some of his aspirations. For example, he had the notion that our backyard could be transformed into a Garden of Eden of sorts. Despite the pollution and terrible soil quality in Steeltown, he optimistically planted an apple tree, cherry tree, apricot tree, and strawberries. Then sat back waiting to enjoy the bounty.

After producing a single apricot, the apricot tree just gave up the ghost for no discernable reason. It just seemed to have lost the will to survive in our yard. The apple tree, however, grew but always seemed degenerate.  The apples were small, green, extremely hard, and usually contained some type of  horrifying insect. When the apples would fall from the tree,  they always seemed to be covered with flies, almost immediately. The apple tree trunk was stippled with holes that boring insects had created and the whole thing wasjust unwholesome. My mother once made an inedible  apple pie using the demonic fruit from the tree.

The cherry tree faired a little better, but yielded extremely sour cherries.  Whenever he had been drinking, which was quite often, my father would prune the cherry tree. It soon looked like a bonsai tree. In the hot summer our backyard would be full of intoxicated birds that had been eating the fermented sour cherries. Taking my lead from the birds, I once tried to make cherry wine, using sugar, gallon jugs, neutral grain alcohol, and a sour cherry mash. Supposedly the wine was ready when the corks popped out of the jugs. One jug exploded and our basement was covered in a sweet sticky fluid.  It had a very strong alcohol smell.  We were all afraid to drink the wine that survived. My friend Bert Armour, a Steeltown connoisseur of aldut beverages, volunteered to test it for us. His main qualification for  this task was that when the  polka band had played   “Roll out the Barrel” in the high school talent show, Bert was the one selected to roll an empty keg  of beer across the stage. I handed him the wine,   he took a big swig,  and then seemed struck speechless. 

The viscosity of this wine was about the same as the popular oil additive STP,  so for about 10 minutes,  Bert was physically unable to open his mouth. When the wine dissolved enough that he could speak, he said it had a good taste and was rather smooth. He declined to drink any more, fearing it might permanently glue his lips together.

My father  seemed jealous that my mother could grow terrific tomatoes with hardly any effort at all. Once she randomly  threw out some pumpkin seeds   and  the next fall, to his dismay, we had a yard full of large attractive pumpkins.

Like most yards in Steeltown, ours had a large porch swing for the adults and a swing-set for children. Only in our case my father had built the swing-set himself out of heavy-duty pipes. It was a bit dangerous because of the many sharp and protruding bolts. He hand made wooden seats and built a rather creative pipe teeter totter.  He painted the swing set battleship gray and we kids  played on it for years.

The backyard  also held a large brick barbecue pit that my father had built. He salvaged some firebrick from a demolished coke oven, and used them to line the pit. So basically our barbecue pit could withstand temperatures of over 2000 degrees.  The only problem was that he built it next to the ash pit, where we dumped our garbage and burned trash. Thinking it unsanitary, my mother flatly refused to have anything to do with it.

Occasionally when no one was burning trash, my father would grill ribs. We would get the ribs form the butcher’s shop just down the alley.   This entire establishment was contained in a meat cooler.  There was sawdust on the floor and year round the old man, who ran it, wore a flat green hat and a thick green sweater with a mosaic of  blood stains on it. Once when I was sent  to buy ribs,  he held two slabs together and told me that ribs came from eagle wings. I was very young and naive enough that it sounded reasonable to me. Intrigued with this new information I told my brother Norman, who called me an idiot.

My father really loved his small slice of Steeltown.

Things You Can’t Put in a Cup: Another Steeltown Story

4 Oct


Danny Halderman got into big trouble the day the kindergarten teacher asked him, “What are some other things you can put in a cup?” “Milk”, “water”, “soda”, “tea”, “coffee” and every other reasonable answer had already been suggested by the gaggle of butt-smooching girls sitting in front row by the time Danny was forced to play Mrs. Crook’s version of Family Feud. “Piss.” he said with enthusiasm to Mrs. Crook’s horror and the class’s great amusement. “Well, yeah… ‘piss’ may be technically correct, but such language is simply not acceptable.” Mrs. Cook must have thought to herself, as she sent Danny to the principal’s office, simultaneously quieting the hysterical class with a gesture and the ole stink eye.

Today kids like Danny would be get diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and pumped full of stimulants, but back in 1955 he was just another pain in the ass and was packed off to Mr. Paleski’s office for a lecture or a couples of swats. “The principal is your pal.” we were taught. Danny spent a lot of time with his pal. And when he wasn’t with his pal, he was standing outside class in the cloakroom. “The cloakroom” sounds medieval, and is where you were banished when the teacher could no longer stand the sight of you and she was afraid of pissing off her pal by sending you to him too often. The cloaks were long gone and only quilted winter coats, galoshes, and funky milk crates filled the room. Danny preferred it to the classroom and would rummage through our coat pockets and belongings to amuse himself.

But Danny wasn’t nearly as sad a case as Nancy, the short stout girl in first grade, who rambled through all our lives like a stampeding heifer. She was obviously mentally challenged or and possibly autistic, but mostly I remember the teacher’s constant screaming at her. All the kids had long since quit laughing at her, because we had uniformly concluded that she was as nuts as a rat in a coffee can and laughing, like screaming, seemed sad and pointless. One day Nancy just vanished. No one was surprised when the rumor circulated that her rambunctiousness resulted in a fire in which her clothing ignited and she perished. No one ever told us what really happened, but the tragic myth was one of those things that was true enough .

Sarah and Judy were known as the “hag sisters.” Their ages were unknown, but it was assumed that they were a lot older than the rest of us. Unrelated by blood, they looked alike and only socialized with each other, although not by choice. They seemed pretty much incapable of learning and never talked in class. When asked a question, they just sadly shook their heads. Other times they grinned a lot with spooky vacant looks on their faces. Now I recognize those stares as dissociation and shudder at what horrors of abuse and neglect these pathetic girls, must have endured. They both wore bizarre clothing– mostly long faded house dresses and occasionally ancient tattered formals with anachronistic scarves and veils. They were always filthy and smelled of decaying fabric and feces and were desperately in need of dental work.

Their distinguishing feature, however, was stringy Medusa hair. It was so witchy looking it scared us. In the elementary school collective unconscious they were illustrative of archetypal childhood “cooties.” I remember once watching Sarah get swats for not paying attention during math. Her dress looked like dry-rot and I half expected her and the dress to disintegrate under the assault of the paddle. As her absent eyes filled with tears, I felt furious at the teacher for not knowing what every kid instinctively knew– that Sarah had bigger fish to fry in her dismal life than worrying about stinking long division. I wondered what Sarah would look like in normal clothes, cleaned up, hair combed and with a little dental work on those yellow buck monstrosities. But I could only speculate for a second or I might get tainted myself. Where the hell were all the grown-ups?

Wayne couldn’t read and the whole class would cringe when the teacher forced him. It was painful to watch. What was she thinking? Everyone else knew exactly why Wayne always picked a fight right after reading. The third grade teacher once broke a ruler over his head. I guess she was as frustrated as Wayne. I always fantasized that Wayne got a GED and became the world’s wealthiest dyslexic auto mechanic. But the scuttlebutt was that he became cannon fodder in Viet Nam, which of course was statistically more likely.

And finally there was Tom. Tom only had one little problem. One day he took a small plastic horse out of another kid’s desk to play with during recess. And suddenly all hell broke loose. For some mysterious reason this incident escalated into a case of immense proportion, as if the crappy plastic horse were the crown jewels. This was incomprehensible, since most of us had our lunch money stolen or extorted every day we weren’t actually beaten up by some large psychopathic classmate and usually no one seemed to give two hoots in hell. After a massive investigation, Dennis was apprehended and taken into custody. Although we full expected an execution, instead Dennis was sent to the kindly and motherly school social worker, who I will refer to as Mr. Wilkins.

Evidently Tom beat the rap by copping a not guilty by reason of insanity plea. When we asked Dennis what happen in his sessions with Wilkins, chagrined, he said the social worker asked him if he liked to play with little plastic toys. Mortified, Tom said. “I guess so.” and Wilkins produced a couple dozen plastic toys from a leather briefcase and let Tom play with them for the next hour. After a few months of playing with little plastic toys, Dennis was pronounced cured and the sessions stopped. Tom was forever deeply embarrassed by the whole incident, which was duly noted in his permanent record. If you don’t count opening soda pop bottles, still in the vending machine, and sucking out their contents with a straw, in the seventh grade, Tom never stole anything else in his whole life. Well done, Mr. Wilkins. The bad news is Tom’s whole life was only about nine more years, since he was shot to death in a dispute outside a tavern shortly after graduating from high school. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t over a little plastic horse.

How to Purchase Dr. Stawar’s Parenting book for Offenders

18 Sep


Click on the link below to purchase this book online