Consumer Reports: Good to Have and Easy to Cancel

I would like to give Consumer Reports a five stars out of five product rating; not only was the site extremely useful for buying a used car, but it is the easiest automatic payment to cancel in the history of the internet (and it still allows you access to the site until your subscription runs out, but it doesn't automatically renew unless you jump through a bunch of hoops . . . this is how things should be on the internet: convenient, useful, and efficient . . . unfortunately, this is not the case for Sentence of Dave: if you stop reading regularly and cancel your relationship with the site, then a little gremlin will come to your house, sneak into your bedroom, and read the sentence aloud in a screechy voice at 4:30 AM each and every morning, until you convince seven other people to start reading the blog on a daily basis).

The Tree Grows Close to the Apple

Andrew Solomon's book Far From the Tree explores astonishingly difficult ethical dilemmas, such as:

1) should parents have the rights to genetically choose a child with a disability? . . . essentially insure that their child is deaf like them, or a dwarf like them . . . a process which might be regarded as the reverse of having a "designer baby"

 2) when should a parent abort a child? . . . is a disability a burden? something to be dreaded? or is it something unique that should be celebrated?

3) what is a disability? should we be able to screen our children for being gay or on the autism spectrum? and then be able to terminate them?

but despite these heavy questions, the final message of the book is a positive one: most parents do not want any other children than their own (though Shakespeare's Henry IV does wonder if some "night tripping fairy" has swapped his ne'er-do-well son with the heroic Hotspur . . . but in the end, he learns that Hal is the son for him) and parents will undergo mental gymnastics and passionate displays of emotion to love and enjoy and connect to whatever offspring they bear . . . Solomon ends saying "sometimes, I had thought the heroic parents in this book were fools, enslaving themselves to a life's journey with their alien children, trying to breed identity out of misery," but then he comes to the conclusion that all parents do this, they all seek some connection with their children, but also celebrate their individuality, and somehow see their children as different from all other children -- and so the tree that the proverbial apple doesn't fall far from is like an Ent, it may move closer to the apple if necessary, as the miraculous parents in this book did -- in figuring out how to care for deaf kids and the schizophrenic kids, kids with autism and severe disabilities, kids that commit crimes or are the product of rape, transgender kids, astounding prodigies, and kids with Down syndrome -- this is an intelligent and inspirational book and it will change the way you view the world, but it's super long, so you may have to read it in sections or choose the chapters that interest you; still, give it a shot, it is ground-breaking and heart-breaking, and it keeps things very real.

Highly Unlikely (But Very Awesome) Ways to Die

According to The Week magazine, on average, an asteroid larger than 250 feet in diameter penetrates our atmosphere once a millenium -- and I have decided that instead of living in fear of this, I am going to embrace death by asteroid as a wonderful way to die -- in the same category as being eaten by a large carnivore or spontaneously combusting . . . I watch my diet, exercise regularly, and try to avoid using tobacco (with various amounts of success) because I don't want heart disease or cancer or diabetes, but we've all got to go, and it might as well be quick, relatively painless, and really awesome (and I suppose the best way to go would be if I got hit by a spontaneously combusting large carnivore from another planet that somehow got propelled into space and penetrated our atmosphere).

You Talkin' To Me?

I was walking my dog in the rain, and as I passed the Stop and Shop parking lot my son's soccer coach stopped his minvan to talk to me about the dramatic double-overtime high school basketball game we both watched at the RAC on Friday night (East Brunswick vs. St. Joe's) and while I was chatting with him, a rather decrepit looking bag lady strolled by, pushing a cart full of stuff, with her wet and bedraggled dog, and my dog -- as dogs are wont to do -- sniffed her dog's ass, but apparently this was some holier-than-thou bag lady and she took extreme umbrage at my dog's canine perversion and so she yelled at me . . . though it's not like I sniffed her ass (nor would I want to) and I know that I am responsible for my dog's behavior, but I don't think I can get him to refrain from sniffing other dog's anuses, and so even though I was taken aback when the old hag yelled, "HEY! WATCH IT!" to me, I guess if you're possessions are limited and your main companion is a dog, you'd be very protective of him, rear end and all, and so if I see her again, and I am with my dog I will steer clear.

My Son: Gross Out Comedian

Overheard from my son Alex in the shower: "Mommy, that zit hurts . . . oh, here's another zit . . . squeeze . . . oh no, that's not a zit, that's my nipple!"

Some Things That Are Expensive

Through a discussion in the English office, I learned that all of these things are quite costly: replacing your old windows, redoing your aluminum siding, installing a new front door, and making a high quality lasagna.

The Paradox of Being a Teacher and a Parent

I am a hypocrite, because I hate when my kids bring home a lot of homework, yet, as a teacher, I am a contributor to this problem . . . luckily we are reading Hamlet right now in class, and he offers two easy solutions to this dilemma: 1) I could commit suicide 2) I could put on an "antic disposition" and feign insanity, thus excusing me from both helping with homework and assigning it . . . and the bonus with the "antic disposition" solution is that you get a vacation from life -- paid for by your health insurance -- but you have to be a really good actor to pull it off (which I am not).

Ask A Philosophical Question . . .

The other night my son Alex, as he was stepping into the shower, asked me "What controls our brain?" and I normally wouldn't be prepared to answer such a puzzler -- but I had just read over Marvin Minsky's book Society of the Mind in preparation for the philosophy class that I teach this semester -- so he received an extemproaneous lecture on consciousness, how it might be produced by various independent modules in our brain, how it leads to self-reflexive thought etc. etc. and I am certain he'll never ask that question again.

No Plunge For 2013

For the first time in several years, we did not attend the Sea Isle City Polar Plunge -- the house we normally rent for the weekend was flooded out and we didn't find another place; instead we went to Philly for a night with several other couples and had a very different, much more civilized experience: we stayed at the historic Thomas Bond House, visited the art museum, ate fine Italian food, shopped at the markets, and saw a cover band that was the polar opposite of LeCompt . . . LeCompt is gritty, Jersey, weathered, and exceptional -- and this weekend made me realize how excellent they are; the only good thing I can say about the band we saw this weekend -- their name is Lima Bean Riot and they are heralded as one of the best cover bands in Philadelphia --is that they sound like the radio . . . they play horrible music, might be lip-synching, and incorporate a large number of medleys into their infinite set list of crap-pop, but if you turn your head, you wouldn't even know there was a band in the bar -- the auto-tuned noise coming from the PA speakers could have been WPLJ.

The Real Question

Looking back, I have decided that I phrased yesterday's too moralistically . . . too much in the manner of Immanuel Kant's "ought," and the real question should be: how much do you help your children with their homework?

A Sentence Request From My Wonderful Wife

My wife would like me to crowdsource this question, as we have an ever-so-slight difference in opinion: how much help should parents give their children on their homework?

3 +1 = Anger

So this is the scene: Ian is putting something in the kitchen garbage, I am getting coffee out of the microwave, and Catherine is fiddling with something on the counter -- which means all three of us are in one tiny area in our wonderful, large kitchen -- we are all jammed into the entryway between the kitchen and the eating area . . . and it is through this area that Alex tries to wedge himself, though he could have gone the other way; the result, of course, was anger.

Cooking Strike Day 13

Due to unappreciative children and an empathetic spouse, my wife went on a two week "cooking strike" -- and the first night was a wonderful reverse of the typical: I slaved away in the kitchen, making portobello mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and diced peppers, baked with cheese on them; and then felt like January Jones in an episode of Madmen when Catherine called and said she was going to be late for dinner because she was at happy hour with some friends -- she's damn lucky that nothing got burned -- but as the days wore on, I lost my appetite for exciting meals, especially because of the planning that cooking entails -- and so in a manner of days my cooking became perfunctory (including this incident, when I simply defrosted some soup that Catherine made weeks ago) and I am looking forward to when the strike finally ends, and I can enjoy my wife's cooking again . . . and I want to state -- for the record -- that I have learned my lesson: though I was a picky eater when I was a child and know what it's like to have to eat something that you can't stomach, I will never side with my children again on one of these issues because I don't want to suffer a labor dispute like this ever again.

Puuuuuuuullllll iiiiiittttttt . . .

It's that time of year again -- the time of year when, because of Hamlet, I entertain all topics supernatural, and challenge spirits to manifest themselves in my classroom . . . and this always gets students talking: a girl was kind enough to share a story of her own encounter with an apparition; she was playing Bop-It with her cousin, and the batteries ran out, so they took the batteries out of the Bop-It in order to replace them, and suddenly -- without batteries -- the Bop-It started speaking . . . and since I always play the role of the skeptical Horatio in these matters, I asked her how the Bop-It intoned the commands once the batteries were removed . . . but then I answered my own question; I whispered in a low, drawn out voice: "twiiiiiiiiiist iiiiiiitttttt . . . puuuuulllllll iiiiiiiittttttt . . . boooooooooooooooopppppp iiiiiittttttt" and now I can't stop using this haunted Bop-It voice . . . every time I see a Bop-It toy or someone tells a ghost story, I feel compelled to speak as I imagine a haunted toy might speak (perhaps I am possessed?) and the appropriate parallel is that I feel like Jerry, on Seinfeld, when he gets addicted to using the "Hellooooo" voice and sacrifices his girlfriend for the voice.

Can't Afford $24.95? Go to H-Mart!

If you don't feel like driving all the way to Camden, and then shelling out nearly twenty-five clams for admission to The Adventure Aquarium, but you still want to see Korean mudfish, abalone, sea squirts, tilapia, giant crabs, and snails -- all alive in tanks and tubs (plus piles of dead octopus and smelt) then head to the Edison H-Mart -- the Korean version of Wegmans -- the boys and I went last week, and in some ways it's better than an aquarium . . . because you can eat your souvenirs (I actually bought a few baby octopi, which I marinated and then grilled: delicious, and only $3.99 a pound).

Grand Opening of an Absurd Acronym

The long vacant building in Highland Park that once housed Charlie Brown's is finally reopening, as a Korean BBQ Chicken place, but apparently in Korean, BBQ doesn't mean barbecue . . . it means "The Best of the Best Quality," and BBQ Chicken is a chain, with 2800 stores in Korea, 157 in China, and many others scattered around the world -- including two in Mongolia! -- and, judging by the web page, I think we Highland Park folks are in for a really bizarre treat . . . I can't wait to sample "the best of the best quality chicken" and the "Sausage Set," which features "the highest level of delicious smoked sausage" . . . THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF SAUSAGE! . . . NO SAUSAGE HAS EVER ACHIEVED A LEVEL HIGHER THAN THIS SAUSAGE!

Blonde People Got No Reason To . . .

My son Alex -- who does not really look like my son, as he has a beautiful head of blonde hair -- noticed that all the protagonists of his favorite books and movies are NOT blonde: Harry Potter, Batman, Dr. Who, just about every anime character in existence, etc. and this led to him complaining about his lack of choice for Halloween (why he's thinking about Halloween in Februruary is beyond me) but he is right, his only options from his pantheon is Draco Malfoy or Luke Skywalker, neither of whom appeals to him.

More Parent Abuse

My eight year old son Alex, who believed he was being unfairly forced to clean up a mess that his brother Ian created, when asked by my wife what he wanted for breakfast, replied: "a small dish of relaxation."

I Taught That Kid Everything He Knows!

So I'm reading Andrew Solomon's tome Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, and I'm plugging my way through the "Autism" chapter when I run across two familiar names in the same sentence: Temple Grandin and Ari Ne'eman; Temple Grandin is a well-known author, professor, and designer of humane cattle-handling equipment . . . and she is also autistic and a major advocate for autism . . . and Ari Ne'eman is described as "the founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network," but that's not how I know the name . . . I remember the name because several years ago I taught a student by that name, a very very smart student with Asperger syndrome, who not only could wax eloquent about politics and the law, but was also very aware of his social difficulties, and knew how to compensate for them with various strategies and techniques . . . and so with the help of the almighty Wikipedia, I now realize that this student is enormously famous in the world of autism advocacy -- and not only did he found the aforementioned autism network (at the ripe age of nineteen) but President Obama also appointed to serve on the National Council on Disability, and so he is the first person on the autism spectrum to ever serve on the council; Ne'eman is mentioned several times in Solomon's book, and I'm glad I serendipitously discovered this, as I may have never known how far he's gone (and no one else in our school knew this either, which is mind-boggling) but it's also a bit daunting when a student I taught several years previous has already done more in his short life than I will probably do in the entirety of mine . . . but I can always resort to the ancient theme prominent in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice . . . the idea of status and contract . . . no matter what Ari Ne-eman accomplishes, no matter how many accolades he accumulates, I will always have the status of being his teacher, and I will always be able to say: "I taught that kid everything he knows."

Parent Abuse

I told my son Alex that he needed to eat some more of his mother's delicious home-made chicken soup (which he ate without complaint two nights previous) before he could leave the table and get back to his homework . . . it was one of those ugly Tuesday nights . . . and so Alex put his spoon down, dipped his index finger into his soup bowl, licked his index finger -- which in his mind counted as "eating some more soup" -- and then he excused himself from the table, and I'm proud to say that once I processed what he did -- which took a moment -- I did not strangle, beat, spindle, or mutilate my firstborn son (but my head nearly exploded and there may have been some yelling).

Not For People Who Live in a Ranch

Why must kids always play on or near the top of the stairs?

Italy vs. Holland vs. Beirut

To describe raising her child with Down Syndrome, Emily Perl Kingsley wrote an inspirational modern fable called "Welcome to Holland" and her conceit is this: when you are expecting a child, it is like preparing for a trip to Italy . . . you buy guidebooks, learn some phrases, anticipate seeing the Colosseum and Michelangelo's David. . . but if you have a child with a disability, the plane lands and the stewardess says, "Welcome to Holland!" and this is quite a surprise, as you were expecting to go to Italy, and all your friends are in Italy, discussing Italian sights and sounds . . . but you will eventually realize that though Holland isn't as flashy as Italy, it has its merits (tulips and Rembrandts) and you simply have to adjust . . . but this metaphor isn't for everyone: I am still plugging away at Andrew Solomon's magnificent and gigantic book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity and one mother of an autistic child wanted to clarify that for her it's not like this at all, and so she penned a fable for the parents of children with autism and called it "Welcome to Beirut."

Cast Your Vote For the Best Robot

While we were waiting for the check at my favorite local Mexican restaurant, Costa Chica, my son Ian and I had a robot drawing contest, and we were with a large group of people, who nearly unanimously voted for the wrong robot  -- my son's robot -- but I am thinking that everyone was logy from excess of food and drink, and possibly in error . . . so please be serious and remember every vote counts: which is the better robot?

Apples, Trees, Ducks, Llamas, Bop It, etc

My wife and I were watching Girls on Friday night, the kids tucked away in their respective beds, but every so often, from up the stairs, we heard a "Whoo . . . whoo" and then a pause, and then another "whoo," so I lowered the volume on the TV, and then we realized the sounds were coming from my younger son Ian's room -- he was still playing "Bop It," the version where you occasionally have to yell into a little microphone to keep your streak going . . . lately, he's been obsessed with it, he's mastered the expert level where you also have to react to sounds that correspond to each action -- he actually got over one hundred on that level and it moved to some super-advanced level where there are corresponding colors as well as strange sounds and the usual "pull it!" and "twist it!" commands; he now holds all the records on the contraption . . . and it's hard for me to argue with his dedication, because I behaved the same way the other day with the stupid phone app "Llama or Duck" and while this obsessive behavior for simple physical tasks may be an annoying habit, or even pathological if taken too far, it's probably not the worst character trait to possess . . . though Ian will learn soon enough that no one else cares very much how many points you score in Bop-It or Bulls-Eye Ball or darts or corn hole or any of these other minor diversions: it is in your mind alone that you are the victor.

It Did Have Two Holes In It

Phone call from who my son calls "second in command" at his school -- apparently Alex and his buddy found a broken board in the auditorium, and they thought it was really cool because it was "painted black and had two holes in it," and so Alex and his friend concocted a plan: they would smuggle it out of the auditorium and into his locker, so then he could then bring it home (to do God knows what with, even he can't answer that question) and so Alex asked to go to the bathroom, and successfully filched the broken board, but when he tried to stuff it into his locker, he got caught red-handed; his consequences were no recess for the the week, for lying about having to go to the bathroom and taking something that wasn't his . . . and I hope he's learned his lesson, and the next time he sees a really cool broken board with two holes in it, he gets his friend to steal it (although that might not matter, because Alex's accomplice also lost recess for the week).

Seven Reasons Kids Should Watch Rocky

I just watched Rocky with my children, and I highly recommend it for young boys, as the film contains some valuable life-lessons for them:

1) if you stop smoking and run around carrying bricks, you will get back into shape;

2) breaking fingers for a sleazy loan shark will get you nowhere;

3) when you get as old as Mickey, no one will understand what you're saying;

4) turtles can choke on moss;

5) working in a meat packing plant is depressing and may lead to arthritis and alcoholism;

6) it's nice to have a recurring theme song;

7) and finally, even if you don't win, as long as you stay on your feet and get beaten to a brain-damaged bloody pulp, then it's still a moral victory and you should be proud of yourself.

Awkward Dave Returns in the Form of a Duck (or a Llama)

Awkward Dave reared his ugly head last Tuesday, and if it wasn't for my colleague Chantal, things might have gotten really awkward, but she heroically stepped in and saved the day; to understand the situation you need a bit of backstory . . . fifteen minutes before this Awkward Moment of Dave, I was introduced to a very silly game on Kevin's phone, called "Duck or Llama": the game is simple but frustrating, you are shown a picture of a duck, or a picture of a llama, and you must press the appropriate button -- "Duck" or "Llama" -- VERY quickly, or you lose; I was terrible at first but once I got the hang of it, I got quite good and scored sixty correct answers in a row . . . more than double what anyone else got; the pictures get more and more ridiculous and abstract: there are line drawings and close-ups and llamas with sunglasses and duck-butts and rubber ducks and stuffed llamas, and everyone has the same stupid story at the end of their round . . . either, "I was doing really well, and then I mistook a duck for a llama!" or "I was doing really well, and then I mistook a llama for a duck!" and this is the sort of thing that I can get obsessed with, which is why I don't have a video game system in my house, and so when a woman from another department, who runs a committee that I am part of, totally went out of her way and came upstairs to the English office solely to help me sign-up for a workshop at Columbia University, I really, really tried to pay attention to her; she showed me some forms and explained how to fill them out . . . but then, without realizing it, I picked up the phone -- determined to get one hundred correct answers in a row -- and started playing "Duck or Llama," and I guess this nice woman, who totally went out of her way to help me out with this project, made quite a face, but luckily my friend Chantal saw the face, and was a good enough friend to yell at me and tell me to focus, and this was enough to break my obsession with the game and allow me to finish the now rather awkward social interaction with the woman who had gone out of her way to climb the stairs and find me in the English office and help me out.

Sometimes the Apple Falls Horizontally

I am slowly making my way through Andrew Solomon's magnum opus, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity . . . and while everyone likes to comment when the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and the kid acts just like his parents (and my boys certainly fall into this category: I have two little versions of myself running around the house, doing Dave-like things, which can either be exhilarating or extremely frustrating) Solomon has tackled a much wilder event -- when the apple falls "horizontally" instead of vertically; when parents give birth to a child nothing like themselves . . . the book has chapters on Dwarfs, the Deaf, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Prodigies, Transgender, and more -- and each chapter is nearly the length of a book; Solomon himself is a horizontal child -- he is gay -- and though his parents were accepting of him, they still weren't the same as him, so he writes the book from an unusually personal perspective; I have just finished the chapter on the Deaf, and it made with grapple with an ethical dilemma that I didn't even know existed; when hearing parents have a deaf child, they have to immediately decide if they are going to implant a cochlear implant, which wil give the child an ersatz but workable version of hearing, or instead, immerse him in the culture of the Deaf -- sign language -- or do something in between, with speech therapy . . . and the Deaf community views the implants or the attempt to make a deaf child learn to speak as "the final solution," a way to eradicate Deaf culture, which is apparently rich and thriving . . . some radical Deaf believe that hearing parents with a deaf child should give the child up to the Deaf community, but this strikes me as insanely unrealistic . . . Harlan Lane, a Deaf community advocate, wrote: "the relation of the hearing parent to the young deaf child is a microcosm of the relation of the hearing society to the deaf community; it is paternalistic, medicalizing, and ethnocentric," and so the question becomes -- as technology and medicine and genetic screenings start to eliminate hearing loss -- is the Deaf community something worth saving? . . . and if you think I have the answer to this, then you''re sadly mistaken, as I'm having a hard enough time getting my own children, who have excellent hearing, to listen to a word I say.
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.