Scott Saalman on turning 50 . . .


Nov. 24, 2014.

At 29, I first read a poem by Donald Justice which begins, “Men at forty/learn to close softly/the doors to rooms they will not be/coming back to.” How depressing it must be to be 40, I thought. Ancient. Near death. Forty, for me, so far away. Then my 40 came quickly — oh, the injustice — and though I trembled entering the door of a new decade, my 40s ended up being the best decade of my life. Many doors opened. But then, 10 years passed by like lightning with mercy, and the door to my 40s closed softly behind me.

Today, I turned 50.

As is typical when I wake up each day, I turned on satellite radio. The first song to play at the start of my sixth decade was Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” taking me back to age 14.

Remembering how I used to sing, dance and play tennis-racket guitar to this same song, I decided to get out of bed and relive my Budokan days, re-experience those magical moments of bedroom concerts and imaginary guitars, just to prove I still can Cheap Trick it. Later, I took two Advil to disguise the pain.

As has also become typical when I wake up another day older, I couldn’t find my glasses. A three-minute panic ensued, culminating with the realization that I was actually wearing them throughout the whole search. This was a first. Call off the bloodhounds. So. This. Is. 50.

I had plenty of warning about 50s’ arrival. I began receiving birthday cards at the start of November. Fourteen of them to be exact, which is more cards than I have gotten in the past five years combined. I know, I know. You’re likely thinking, “Wow. Scott, you must be one popular guy!” Yes, it would seem so until you learn that the 14 cards came from the same person, my dear friend Pat. She has a couple of decades on me, so it’s possible she simply kept forgetting that she had already sent me a card. Or, she was just acclimating me to the prospect of actually becoming 50. One card came with a bumper sticker: “I’m Old! I’m Supposed To Leave My Turn Signal ON.” The humor was lost on me, for I’ve recently been noticing my left turn signal inexplicably blinking … once even while backing out of my driveway. No recall notice from Toyota has shown up in my mailbox, so I’m thinking either I have poltergeists for passengers or it might be me. Fourteen cards. From one person. Spread sadistically throughout most of my birth month. It was like witnessing the slow-motion hammering of 14 nails in my own coffin. So. This. Is. 50.

Facebook alerted me early, too. The social media birthday wishes started showing up a day earlier than they should have. One of my friends goofed on the date, causing a chain reaction of early birthday wishes. At the time of this writing, 120 Facebook “friends” have expressed their happy birthdays to me. 120 friends! One was even the mayor. 120 friends! Holy mackerel. I should run for mayor. One of the messages sort of sucked, though: “Have a glorious birthday today and many happy days and months to follow.” My god, is my life so far gone now that my future can only be measured in “days and months?” So. This. Is. 50.

My parents took me out for supper two days before my birthday. It was a pleasant meal, the highlight being when dad started a sentence this way: “I was talking to my bartender this morning —”

“Dad, stop right there,” I interrupted. “What you have just said is so wrong on so many levels. At what age did your sentences start sounding like country music songs?”

During that birthday supper, I gave mom flowers — the first time I have done such a thing. My good friend Jim inspired me to do this. Before his mother passed away, he used to give her flowers on his birthday, in appreciation of her bringing him into the world. I always liked that classy idea. I plan to carry on the tradition. After all, as the saying goes, “Flowers are wasted on the dead.” Just don’t tell that to a florist.

Today, at age 50, at 9:49 a.m., I received a text from someone: Happy 50th old codger.

I’m not sure who it was, for the sender appeared as a phone number instead of a name.

I replied: Thanks, I guess.

He or she replied: That age will make a man stop and think … but there is life on the other side.

I will miss my 40s, to be sure, but maybe, just maybe, my 50s will be even better. After all, one of the 14 aforementioned birthday cards stated, “Fifty’s the new forty.”

The first text message I received as a 50-year-old chirped at 6:54 this morning: Happy, happy birthday, my love!

I can’t think of a better way to step through the door of a new decade than to have someone refer to you as “my love.” The mystery text person was right. There is life on the other side.

So. This. Is. 50.

I love it already.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing For Food players will perform a benefit show for Tell City Catholic Charities at 7 p.m., Dec. 7, at the Tell City High School Auditorium. It will feature Jasper musician Kyle Lueken, Ferdinand’s Bethany Boeglin,  WNIN’s Cass Herrington and others.

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