Will Read and Sing For Psi Iota Xi’s summer Language and Literacy Camp benefit…Jan. 29

Will Read and Sing For Food will perform Thursday, Jan. 29, 7:00 p.m., at Vincennes University Jasper Campus to benefit Psi Iota Xi’s summer Language and Literacy Camp for children. The show, open to the public, is a mix of live music and humor essays. It will be held in VUJC’s new Center for Technology, Innovation & Manufacturing. Admission: a recommended minimum donation of $10 for adults ($5 for students). Featuring humor essayists Scott Saalman (Herald), Stan Levco (Evansville Courier and Press), Carol Ubelhor-Troesch (Perry County News, Spencer County Journal-Democrat) and musicians Ed Walston, Marc Steczyk, Jessi Fulcher, Kyle Lueken and Megan Gatwood. The Zeta Mu chapter of Psi Iota Xi started in Dubois County in 1957. Both Levco and Troesch will sign and sell their latest books.

Is it Safe? You Can’t Handle the Tooth

marathon manThere is a nail-biting scene in the 1976 thriller, Marathon Man, in which the evil Laurence Olivier character uses his Nazi SS dentistry tools to try and pry information from Dustin Hoffman’s character. Repeatedly, he asks, “Is it safe?” Hoffman’s character is clueless, having no idea who this madman is, let alone that he is war criminal, and therefore cannot convincingly answer the question. At the end of the scene, Olivier drills through a perfectly good tooth. The last thing we hear Hoffman say is, “Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this scene, one I bet nine out of 10 dentists did not recommend patients to see back then. After years of semiannual, routine checkups with positive results, I have recently experienced three not-so-routine procedures on the same tooth: a crown, a root canal, an apicoectomy.

When it comes to my phobias, dentistry ranks right up there with snakes. Perhaps this stems from a dentist story my dad shares. One night, his toothache was so painful that his dentist agreed to meet at his office around midnight. The dentist, questionably sober, pulled Dad’s tooth. The wrong tooth. He lost two teeth that night.

My tooth continued hurting weeks after the crown procedure, so my dentist suggested Plan B, a root canal performed by an endodontist. The endodontist office visit began on an encouraging note. His assistant reclined my chair so I could watch a TV installed in the ceiling directly overhead. She offered a remote. She allowed me to choose any channel. I have rarely been treated so well by a woman. I almost requested a ham sandwich and a beer. I was the king of the world—for once. Well, until the endodontist entered the room. Then, the honeymoon ended.

The TV, I soon learned, was there to distract me from the god-awful root canal, which began, of course, with shots, during which the assistant rubbed my arm repeatedly to get my mind off the needle that was endlessly being gyrated in my mouth like a stir stick making rounds in a paint can. Why do the shots seem to take longer than the actual procedure?

I did watch TV during the shots, until the endodontist pooh-poohed a Headline News celebrity interview. Was he cueing me to change channels? Was there The Dental Channel? I wondered—with celebrity teeth cleanings, perhaps.

My death grip on the remote, due to the anxiety of being in a dental chair, made it impossible to switch channels, though. I finally wiggled a forefinger free to simply turn it off. At least my endodontist wouldn’t be

distracted by the TV.

A wedge was inserted in my mouth to keep it open, and a rubbery mask was put over my mouth, signaling that the root canal was about to begin. Remembering Marathon Man, I tried divulging every secret I knew, even top government secrets I didn’t even know I knew, to get the endodontist to stop, but thanks to the mask, wedge and no speech control because of numbness, my words sounded like a dying man’s last gurgle.

During the procedure, I actually once heard the endodontist exclaim, “Oops.” The one word you don’t want to hear your dentist say.

Oops? Eyes bulging, I tried asking, “Is it safe?”

But again, my words were unintelligible.

Of course, dentists love hearing such nonsensical sounds from patients. They tape record them. They play them at conventions for laughs. That’s why they always ask questions, fully knowing you can’t respond coherently.

That’s where Marathon Man loses some credibility. No real dentist asks a question requiring a simple “yes/no” response. Even a horse could stamp a reply to “Is it safe?” Real dentists only ask patients essay questions. Their conventions must be real hoots.

During the root canal, I recalled the day I got braces. It was my 14th birthday. What kind of parents give a son braces as a birthday present? Was an iron lung too expensive?

Wait. It gets better. That weekend, to really lift my spirits, they took me to the Hadi Shrine Circus. The concession hawkers’ voices still haunt me: “Get your popcorn. Get your cotton candy. Get your peanuts. Get your bubblegum.” Delicacies prohibited for a boy with BRACES. The only thing I ate was chicken broth that weekend. Circuses should at least serve broth on a stick.

The braces lasted 15 months, which was almost as long as it took to do the root canal.

The root canal did not fix the problem, so my endodontist suggested Plan C, an apicoectomy.

Being that this column appears in a family paper, I can’t begin to describe that ordeal.

People often ask me, “What is an apicoectomy?” followed by, “Is it safe?”

To which I can only reply, “Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Of all the Walmarts in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine

house clean 2by Scott Saalman

Her voice greeted me in the cleaning supplies aisle.

“Hi, Scott,” she said, as I squatted before the bottom shelf reading Drano directions. Her voice was vaguely familiar, not enough to mentally bring to fruition her face, but enough to rob my breath just the same.

I looked up from the Drano, and there she was with her parked shopping cart. I did a double-take, just to make sure. I stood shakily. How long had it been? One year? Two?

I recalled our last phone call, the one when I called the whole thing off. I couldn’t remember if I had broken the news directly or via voicemail. It wasn’t her, it was me, I likely said.

I inhaled deeply to recalibrate my breaths and was overcome by the guilt-induced scents of Pine Sol and Ty-D-Bol and lemon-scented Pledge and Windex and S.O.S.—oh how my heart beat its own S.O.S. at the mere sight of her. The surrounding labels for those colorful cleaning product packages antagonized me with illustrations promising to add sparkle and shine back to my life, something I desperately missed but could not muster alone.

Of all the Walmarts in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

We faced each other, both knowing all along that fate would eventually bring us to this awkward moment. I’m surprised Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” didn’t play from Walmart’s speakers. Contrary to what’s said in that song, it didn’t feel “so good.”

From the spurned, sparks will fly, I feared, planting my feet solidly on the floor, preparing myself for firefight. I eyed a toilet brush to aid in self-defense, should it come to that.

In the spring of our relationship, anticipating her visits, I actually made half-assed attempts to tidy up my house a bit, so I didn’t appear to be too much of a slob. But eventually, I got over that. Or, to put it another way: The honeymoon was over.

“How’s it going?” she asked. I was surprised by the sheepishness of her tone. I had expected claws.

I could see it in her face then. She wanted me to want her back, her unspoken invitation to re-invite and retry the whole thing over. It would’ve been easy to cave right there. Life would be so much simpler. I could come home to sparkle and shine, not dust and dirt.

Back then, we seldom saw each other. I’d leave for work, she’d work from my house, conveniently gone when I returned to find my house spotless, a happy-face note sometimes on the countertop, the checklist I had left for her dutifully checked off, a bachelor’s dream.

In the aisle, I had to remind myself that it hadn’t always been peaches and cream. I recalled coming home to find my favorite decorative vase missing from the living room. Had she stolen it? It must’ve been worth . . . well . . . nothing really since the furniture store gave it to me for buying a bookstand. She called later that day to confess. She had accidentally knocked it off while dusting. It shattered. She offered to pay for it. I downplayed the dusting disaster, told her it hadn’t cost much, withholding the fact that it was free. I still wanted her to feel somewhat bad. After all, I liked the vase.

At some point, too, my space began to feel invaded. She changed the placement of my microwave a few inches, making it more perpendicular to the wall instead of caddy-cornered, conserving surface space, but I moved it back, reminding myself, though, to return it to “her way” before her visits. She also relocated my vat of GermX without asking, and I would move it back. It was like she was moving in. I felt suffocated. I wanted a way out.

It was the air-conditioner that finally broke us up. It died. A new one had to be purchased. The cost: $4,000.

I couldn’t afford her anymore. I didn’t have a spare $80 per month. So, I made the dreaded call, cut my housecleaner from the payroll.

Don’t get me wrong. She was great. Thorough. Dependable. Punctual. My floor, toilets, tub and sinks shined like the product labels promised. I looked forward to coming home to uncluttered surfaces. I liked the little notes she left behind: “Need more Clorox spray with bleach.”

I do miss her after-presence, her sparkle and shine, her chemically compounded perfume. My house has been a pit ever since. The mere thought of housework exhausts me, so I seldom do it. I have self-diagnosed house cleaning attention deficit disorder.

In the cleaning supplies aisle, I imagined falling to my knee, holding out the toilet brush like a microphone, and crooning Player’s 1977 hit, “Baby Come Back.” How I wanted her back in my life, but it was not meant to be.

The irony of meeting me in the cleaning supplies aisle was not lost on her, for she said, “You know, if you ever need your house cleaned . . .”

“I’m getting by,” I lied, then compounded the lie, “Maybe I’ll call sometime,” giving us both false hope.

Then I left her alone there in the aisle. I had a shower drain to unclog. If only she was free, I thought. If only she was free.

Scott Saalman and The Will Read and Sing for Food Players perform next on Sept. 26 at the Kimball International auditorium.

Seeing Van Morrison concert in Ireland

vanTRIM, Ireland — “I didn’t tell my wife that there was a five-course meal involved or she would’ve wanted to come along,” said this Irish guy, Aidan, sheepishly, as we indulged in identical racks of bloody lamb, a complimentary pre-show feast before the real main course: Van Morrison. “But she would’ve wanted to go home before Van played.”

Aidan was on his fourth or fifth Sunday night Guinness. His beer-breathed brogue inched closer to incoherence. The last I saw of him, he was crawling on the floor looking for his billfold.

As long as too much beer wasn’t involved, the English spoken by the Irish was fairly easy to follow during my long weekend in Ireland, with one exception: during a 5 a.m. taxi ride to the airport. The sleepy-eyed, elderly driver was prone to slipping into his ancestral Gaelic in midsentence, at first alarming me that he was at the onset of a stroke while we sped down the dark, deserted country road toward Dublin — driving on the left side of the road, mind you, the wrong side in my mind (I don’t care where you live, left is wrong, right is right) — flying past the spectral glow of sheep in fields, but then his tongue untwisted, the Gaelic vanished and his sentences concluded in muttered English.

I simply replied, “Wow, sheep!”

Even slurring, Aidan discussed Van’s music in a scholarly way. It was like sitting next to an Irish me. In the States, mention Van and a person responds, “Oh, I love ”˜Brown Eyed Girl,’” and then the conversation typically stalls. I know they are sincere — who doesn’t love “Brown Eyed Girl”?—but there’s much more to Van than those sunny sha-la-la singalong parts. Van has released more than 30 albums of new material since “Brown Eyed Girl.” Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, his music is a melting pot of genres: soul, R&B, folk, jazz, country, big band, classical, blues, gospel and even skiffle.

He is why I visited Ireland recently. I’m still surprised I got a ticket, this based on my failed attempts to see him during his rare stints in the States, not to mention the seat count for the Trim show was 300. Yes, only 300! I couldn’t nab a ticket for a 3,600-seat venue in Chicago, but I had no problem getting one for a 300-seat show in Van’s homeland at the lovely Knightsbrook Hotel & Golf Resort. The resort is on the outskirts of a little village, called Trim, near Dublin.

Also there that weekend was the Irish Deaf Golf Union, a group of deaf golf enthusiasts. Their Saturday evening awards ceremony was conducted entirely in sign language, and I was fascinated by their enthusiastic flashes of fingers and hands. When the first golfer went to the podium to accept an award, I was startled by the sound of his peers clapping. I had not expected their claps to make noise. I returned to my room wondering, “How do they effectively signal ”˜Fore!’ after an errant shot?”

When the black-clad Van took the stage Sunday night, I clapped along with the other 299 lucky ones there, speechless, for there I was 100 feet from the greatest song man alive in an intimate nightclub setting. Those who know Van only for his early music will likely not recognize his voice now. His lyrics launch from the belly, not the throat, sounding deeper, richer, a soulful snarl here, a roar there, his voice having aged gracefully like fine bourbon. His first vocal at Trim, once his lips parted from the reed during his introductory sax solo, was during “Close Enough For Jazz.” He then sang “Only a Dream,” and the night became dreamlike, scores of little white lights on the black backdrop shining like stars. This was followed by “Magic Time,” and it was just that, a magic time, the backing horns and finger-snap rhythm of the seven-piece band lifting and lofting my spirit like a magic carpet ride through the Irish night. He jazzed up “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance.” A rollicking harmonica-juiced “Baby Please Don’t Go” made our heads bob. He played “Gloria,” “Jackie Wilson Said,” “Here Comes the Night.” From the piano, he sang “Have I Told You Lately,” one of his loveliest compositions later radio-ruined by Rod Stewart.

Of the 17 Trim songs, one was “Days Like This,” arguably my favorite: “When it’s not always raining, there’ll be days like this; when there’s no one complaining, there’ll be days like this; when everything falls into place like the flick of a switch; well, my mama told me, there’ll be days like this.”

I chatted with an awestruck American couple afterward. “We stopped questioning our good luck over getting tickets, let go of the mystery of it all,” one of the Ohioans said, “and happily agreed that it just was meant to be.”

Like Van sings, sometimes there are days when “everything falls into place like the flick of a switch.”

What more can I say about my Ireland trip, my best long weekend ever, other than “Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da.”

(video above from the Trim concert, taken from YouTube. gives you an idea of the intimate setting of the show)

Are You A Parrot Head?

buffettParrot Head, by Scott Saalman

The wind chill factor, the winter storm warnings and the icicles hanging from my PARROTHEAD license plate were harbingers of an undeniable truth: I needed a latitude adjustment.

No, I didn’t immediately pack my bags, drain my savings account and jump geography for some southerly place in the sun. My layer of responsibility is too thick for such carefree abandon; there were too many deadlines, commitments and meetings to be that spontaneous and flexible. Instead, I did what I normally do in such a situation: in true Parrot Head fashion, I wasted away my day with the songs of Jimmy Buffett.

I earned my PHD—Parrot Head Degree—in 1978 as a seventh-grader. (If you don’t know, Parrot Head is the moniker for diehard Buffett fans.) A silly little song, titled Cheeseburger in Paradise, lured me to a department store where I bought my first Buffett album, Son of a Son of a Sailor. After several servings of the cheeseburger song, I finally listened to the rest of the album. Suddenly, Buffett’s lyrics were filling my impressionable mind with sailors on high-sea adventure, a mango man, daiquiris and faraway lands like Trinidad, Marseille, Porto Bello, Can Garden Bay, St. Thomas and Haiti.

Escapism at its finest: I was hooked.

I immediately purchased prior Buffett albums: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, A1A, Havana Daydreamin’, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, the latter containing Buffett’s megahit, Margaritaville. (As Buffett explains in the sacred “Parrot Head Handbook,” “Margaritaville became a combination of the romance of the ocean, the romance of history and my impressions of a few of the places I’d been…Margaritaville is as much a state of mind as a place.” Or, as he tells his audience on You Had To Be There, his first [and best] of what evolved into many live albums, “It’s anywhere you want it to be.”) 65

Buffett was a big influence on me becoming a writer. For a college journalism class assignment, I wrote a story about his music, which earned me an F; the adjunct instructor just didn’t get it. The next day, I mailed the story to Key West where it was soon published in Buffett’s newsletter, The Coconut Telegraph.

“Are you a Parrot Head?” by Parrot Head Scott Saalman.

are you a parrot head

It was my first published story, hooking me on this wonderful thing we call a byline. Yes, I showed The Coconut Telegraph to my instructor, and no he did not change my grade. Still, publication often serves as sweet revenge.

I anxiously awaited every new Buffett release, including Volcano, Coconut Telegraph, Somewhere Over China, One Particular Harbor, Riddles in the Sand, Last Mango in Paris, Songs You Know By Heart, Floridays, Hot Water, Off to See the Lizard, Feeding Frenzy, the Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads” box set, Fruitcakes, and Barometer Soup.

To date, there are many more Buffett albums that have been released.

Such prolific output easily makes Buffett the ultimate travel agent of the mind. His best songs are lyrical geography lessons enticing us to hold up our cardboard songs along life’s highway: Equator or Bust.

Here are just a few getaways you can visit through Buffett’s songs: Havana and Martinique, Cedar Key and Ecuador, Papeete and Montserrat, Ramrod Key and St. Maarten, Rio and Tampico, Key West and Antigua.

His songs instantly place Parrot Heads like me in a sunshine state of mind. Open Buffett’s musical treasure chest to discover mermaids and manatees, parakeets and palm trees, banana republics and banyan trees, beach bums and hurricanes, pirates and papayas, iguanas and coconuts, shark fins, shrimpers and remittance men, tanned crusaders and flip-flops, Mayan moons and gold doubloons. 66

His hundreds of songs are virtual reality postcards, invitations to the tropics, life songs from the lower latitudes.

There is no better antidote for my winter blahs. The trip is free. There are no passports, inoculations, rental cars, customs men or damned seagulls to contend with. And you don’t have to make arrangements for someone to feed your pets.

Be forewarned: your recharged brain may suffer from slight sunburn the next day, but that’s part of the recipe for rejuvenation.

So, what are you waiting for?

Margaritaville is calling.

Our barefoot shoes are on.

Our stereo’s sails are set.

Our direction, equatorial.

Call it mental migration.

Call it self-preservation.

Thanks, Jimmy, for curing my cabin fever and getting me through another Indiana winter.