You can download my collection of humor essays, Nose Hairs Gone Wild, for $5.99 on Amazon. What a deal! I will donate every other purchase to Community Food Bank, on behalf of Will Read and Sing For Food.
Learning To Fly
My great-great uncle, Joe Reed, was a wing walker in the 1920s.
He also did loop-the-loops, barrel rolls and hung from the plane’s axles.
Uncle Joe was clearly insane.
It’s ironic to have an ancestor whose bravery sent him walking on the wings of planes while I’ve been held hostage to a fear of flying for most of my life.
I had flown, though never comfortably—and for work only. Once, I actually bailed out of an overseas business flight the day before takeoff, overcome with anxiety-induced, full-bodied hives and vomiting.
I let folks down. I let myself down.
I have faced this fear head on ever since.
Two falls ago, on a work trip, I actually mustered enough courage to stand from my seat while in midflight, unprecedented for me—calls of nature be damned—always certain that I was the only thing providing proper balance to the plane, remaining rigid in my seat, in full clinch mode—anything anatomically designed to tighten tightened… hands…jaws…never mind. I became a human bolt, as if put there by Boeing.
At 34,000 feet, between San Francisco and Seattle, I somehow wobbled my way to the rear restroom, careening off aisle seats like a pinball.
Airlines do a great job of warning passengers what to do during emergencies. They do not, however, warn first-time restroom users about the startling sound an airplane toilet makes. I was not prepared for the sudden violence of a flushed vacuum toilet. It was like another jet engine had fired up. Surely, this wicked whoosh is the first noise one hears before plummeting into the throes of hell.
I braced my hands against the walls of the restroom to secure myself against the powerful suction. I expected the door to burst inward and be sucked down the toilet, followed by a beverage cart, and a still calm-faced stewardess gripping the cart, and a passenger clinging to the stewardess’ ankles, and another passenger gripping that person’s ankles, and so and so on, a human chain, like that barrel of monkeys game, until the last thing I see is the captain’s cap pause in midair over the bowl, do a perfect pirouette and disappear with a blur into the doomed plane’s bowels. (The only people not flushed away being the folks in first class, for they had already been launched to safety in their individual escape pods, nibbling on beluga bits and sipping chardonnay, never thinking twice about my flush that had brought down their plane.)
When the toilet silenced and I unsecured my palms from the walls, I returned to my seat with a bit more surety in my stride. I wanted to shout, “I’m the king of the world” after achieving the personal goal of walking on a moving plane and going to the bathroom—in the bathroom.
My momentous West Coast trip, involving six flights, did come with some mental turbulence.
After takeoff from Louisville, the first song on my mp3 player was “One Less Set of Footsteps,” by Jim Croce. I turned off my Shuffle. (Croce’s plane crashed in 1973.)
In a holding pattern over Phoenix, reading “Nashville Chrome,” by Rick Bass, I came upon this passage, “…Patsy Cline’s plane tumbling from the sky, Buddy Holly’s likewise…” I switched to Sky Mall magazine instead.
In a hotel room, while watching the World Series, the winner of the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award was announced. (Clemente’s plane crashed in 1972.) I turned off the TV, knowing I would be flying home the next day, not caring who won the game.
At lunch in San Francisco, my coworker said he knew someone who dated a well-known rock star long ago: Ritchie Valens. (Valens died with Buddy Holly in 1959.) I could not finish my crab cakes.
Boarding a flight in Seattle, a guy ahead of me wore a concert T-shirt. The band: Lynyrd Skynrd. I kid you not. (Three band members died in a plane crash in 1977.) Finding my inner “free bird,” I boarded anyway.
Ultimately, I survived.
The trip did wonders for my confidence and helped flush away some fear.
Okay, so I’m no wing-walking Joe Reed. I still get the willies when forced to take the window seat—could the gremlin on the wing in that Twilight Zone classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” be the blame?—but I’m happy to report that since that momentous fall work trip out west, I have landed in such distant lands as Germany, Poland, Ireland, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok and Rome.
I am doing my best to make amends for the tarnish I inflicted on my family’s history of flight, as well as for the people I let down last year (myself included).
I look forward to my next flight.
Things are looking up.
This piece of mine ran in Lost magazine online a few years ago. We still haven’t found the bike.
I wrote the lyrics to this song when I was 18. The late great Paul Michael Ash, an eternal member of Will Read and Sing For Food, put music to it nearly 30 years later, making me a very happy boy. That’s Paul and his lovely wife Miriam. This is the second most viewed Will Read and Sing For Food related video on YouTube.
Herald: September 4, 2013
By SCOTT SAALMAN
“I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.”
My 30-year high school class reunion was canceled this summer because of low interest. Only 36 of 184 Class of 1983 graduates had planned to attend.
I was among the majority. I just never enjoyed class reunions. Not even for the KFC meal (a rare indulgence) or the beer (drinking with these people was fun only when I was underage). Even had I considered going this year, the invitation itself would have deterred me: Our reunion was to have a Western theme.
My God, I thought, our class president is still not over “Urban Cowboy,” which was popular in theaters when we were in high school.
I own nothing that resembles a cowboy outfit. Was I expected to rent one like a prom tux? Was there going to be a mechanical bull to ride? Why not a “Duck Dynasty” theme? More people might have RSVP’d that they would attend since they wouldn’t need a costume change or fake beard to fit the “Duck Dynasty” theme.
Do adults pushing 50 really need a theme to lure them to a reunion? Why are there class reunions anyway? Facebook, which is essentially a daily class reunion, has replaced them. Long gone is the allure of seeing how well or not so well certain classmates are holding up (please, God, I remember thinking during my first three reunions, please see to it that my high school sweetheart who dumped me now weighs 500 pounds). Nowadays, we already know nearly everything about them — their looks, their likes (we are old enough to even post our kids’ senior pictures!) — thanks to Facebook. (For the record, my high school sweetheart still weighs about 395 pounds less than I hoped. D’oh!)
When a hometown friend — not a classmate — learned of the cancellation, he sent me a Facebook message: “I heard very disturbing news. Your 30th is canceled? Life is too short to not make the effort to do something so easy and special as a high school reunion. Bald, fat, poor has nothing to do with a high school reunion.”
I winced at the sight of each of these three words. What he meant, I guess, was that bald, fat and poor people are least likely to attend a reunion because of self-esteem issues. It was not lost on me that he himself was not bald, fat or poor (so of course he’s pro-reunion). I winced because I felt personally attacked. I could be the poster child for two of those three categories (and bordering on a third). That great “Animal House” line came to mind: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Neither is being bald, fat and poor, I can’t help but add.
In a follow-up Facebook message, my friend apologized. He didn’t mean I was bald, fat and poor. He was merely making a generalization about my high school class (apparently, he had studied our Facebook pages). If Hollywood made a movie about us, it would be called “Class of the Living Dead.”
After learning of the cancellation, I looked at my dusty yearbook: The Sagittarius, 1983. “In the Eyes of Youth,” the cover declared. On it was drawn a human eye. Where the iris should have been, there was an apple, which floated above two silvery, somewhat ambiguous shapes. The shapes were likely meant to be continents, causing me, at 18, to interpret: In the eyes of youth the world is ours for the taking. At 48, though, instead of continents, the shapes look more to me like clouds — interpretation: the cloudy vision of our youth.
Within the yearbook was a forgotten sentence that plunged into my heart like a steely harpoon: “Scott Saalman will save the whales.”
The quote was attributed to classmate Sue Rodgers.
I had forgotten I was a serious save-the-whales type guy in 1983. I truly thought, after college, I would join Greenpeace and make a difference for my mammal friends.
To date, I have not saved a single whale. They are hard to come by in southern Indiana, and one certainly wouldn’t fit in the Patoka River.
I really did encounter a whale once in 1990 when I lived along Chesapeake Bay in eastern Virginia. Two miles down a secluded balcony-free beach at the Back Bay Wildlife refuge, a baby humpback grounded itself. By the time I got there, breathless and excited, the mammal was lifeless. A bulldozer tried to pull the rubberlike carcass out of the Atlantic shallows, as if in tug of war with the tide. The smell was terrible, a mix of diesel fuel and decomposition. Marine biologists sliced pieces of meat from it in the name of science. The best I could do was take notes, as if for an obituary, in the name of earning a reporter’s paycheck.
“Scott Saalman will save the whales.”
I now sigh over this past prediction that once seemed so possible. In the eyes of youth, not only could we save the whales, we could even save the world. Thirty years later, though, we failed to even save something “so easy and special” as a class reunion. Yet, it’s so easy to understand why.
In the eyes of middle age comes clearer vision. I sure do miss the clouds.
Jen Chapin sang this during our record-breaking Community Food Bank benefit show in the spring of 2014. Location: Kimball International Auditorium, Jasper, Indiana.
Always an audience favorite, Jackson, by Harts on Fire.
Plans are being made to do a Will Read and Sing For Food show to benefit Community Food Bank on Friday, Sept. 26. Evansville Public Radio WNIN 88.3 intends to air the show…so this will be an exciting time for all in attendance. The Jasper location has yet to be determined. Come to the show and add your laughs, hand-claps and singing-along voices to this show, while supporting Community Food Bank. More details soon. Thank you, Cass Herrington, for arranging this.