Humor Column: DO LOOK BACK

bad companyBy SCOTT SAALMAN

In 2015, I saw Boston 39 years after the release of their best-selling, eponymous-titled album, “Boston,” perhaps the best debut album in rock and roll history. That record still makes me break out the air guitar.

The original lead singer was dead by then, but his replacement was spot-on vocally. You couldn’t tell the difference from the living or the dead front man, the songs sounding eerily similar to their original recordings that played on my 8-track tape player back in the day.

It struck me as funny when the band kicked into their 1978 hit, “Don’t Look Back,” since the thousands of audience members with me obviously disregarded the band’s 37-year-old advice to not look back. We were looking back, listening to a band whose last album to hit the top of the charts was in 1986. Boston didn’t seem to mind that they were being somewhat hypocritical to still be on stage singing those old songs.

Apparently, based on the concerts I’ve attended, my motto is Do Look Back since the shows have starred classic rock bands whose heydays were eons ago based on frequent radio play. Bruce Springsteen. The Eagles. Steve Miller Band. The Doobie Brothers. Tom Petty.

Jefferson Starship opened for Boston. It consisted of one original member. The guy dated way back to the band’s original incarnation, Jefferson Airplane. He looked old enough to be part of Jefferson Hot Air Balloon. But we didn’t mind. We love to look back.

Last summer I saw REO Speedwagon, which formed in 1967. In a few more years, they’ll likely need to rename their early hit, “Time For Me to Fly,” to “Time For Me To Die.” But we won’t mind. We love to look back.

I’ve seen Bob Seger twice this decade. He should rename the Silver Bullet Band the Silver Mullet Band, but other than that, he is, as his song states, “still the same,” still tossing headbands into the audience and showering fans with what is now old man sweat. His 1979 hit, “Old Time Rock And Roll,” was his way of looking back to the old time rock and roll of the 1950s. Now, “Old Time Rock and Roll” is also old time rock and roll. But we don’t care. We still want to go to Fire Lake with Bob.

We love to look back.

Last weekend, I saw Journey, a 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — finally! The fantastic Filipino lead singer Arnel Pineda looks 15 and has better moves than Justin Bieber but he is a surprising 49 and sounds more like former lead singer Steve Perry than Steve Perry. We haven’t stopped believin’ in Journey. We love to look back.

I saw Bad Company last summer. They opened for Joe Walsh. Lead singer Paul Rodgers and the bad company he still keeps were amazing. At 67, Rodgers can still convincingly pull off “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” What role Viagra has in this, I can’t tell you.

The Doobie Brothers’ guitars still scorch through their set lists like the old days but one can’t help but watch and wonder just how many Minute by Minutes they have left. Tick. Tick. Tick.

A couple years ago, I saw Mark Knopfler. He was the driving force behind Dire Straits in the ’70s and ’80s. After Dire Straits experienced its own dire straits and disbanded, Knopfler went on to a critically-acclaimed solo career — and at 67 is still going strong.

A Mark Knopfler concert is not a Dire Straits concert. He really doesn’t like to look back. A Dire Straits fan from hell sitting directly behind me apparently didn’t know this. “Play ‘Money For Nothing,’ ” she screamed after each song, spilling beer down the back of my shirt. “I want my MTV,” she sang aloud and alone, spilling more beer down my shirt. Ticketmaster must really have it in for me, always seating me near these drunken derelicts. She complained each time Knopfler kicked into one of his post-Dire Straits tunes. Her friend noticed me looking back at one point and said, “I think the guy in front of you is upset.” The reply, “Oh, he’ll get over it.” NEWSFLASH: It has been two years now and I’M STILL NOT OVER IT!!! Venues now require us to go through metal detectors. What they really need are #%&hole detectors.

This summer, I plan to look back and see another bucket list rock band that for all practical purposes is getting long in the tooth, U2RGETTINGOLD (or U2 for short). On that day, when Bono sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” he will likely be referencing something related to his failing eyesight rather than the spiritual enlightenment or love he was searching for in the ’80s. But the audience won’t care. We love to look back.

When I mentioned my U2 tickets on Facebook, a few people harassed me about paying money to see yet another “old” band. I didn’t really care. Just wait until they age and get excited to see 60-year-old Justin Bieber sing his golden oldies, I thought. I’ll get the last laugh then. Looking back at my reaction now, I guess I was the victim of wishful thinking. By the time Justin Bieber brandishes his AARP tattoo on stage, I’ll likely be among the grateful dead.

Scott has a new podcast, A Story and A Song, at at https://astoryandasongpodcast.bandcamp.com/releases.

Scott’s column about mom’s Stage 4 colon cancer — she’s WRASFF’s biggest fan

mom-bathing(Note: my mother has been to nearly 90 of the 97 WRASFF shows that have occurred. No one has been to more, but me, of course).

Medical consultation. Room Number 4. Me, dad, mom – the cancer doctor.

“How old are you, dear?”

“72.”

Her voice is weak, not from sickness, but fear. A little girl’s voice from my mother’s mouth.

“Who is your regular doctor?”

“I don’t really go to doctors much. I’m always well.”

“How they found out you got colon cancer?” the Middle Eastern doctor asks.

“I was having pains here pains here pains here. And I had been putting up with things slowly since May. But it all got worse. I couldn’t sleep on my left; couldn’t sleep on my right; couldn’t sleep on my stomach. He decided to do the CAT scan. The colon had something the matter with it, and the intestines. He said he found a black spot on my liver.”

“Did you ever have a colonoscopy done before?”

She has not, despite her mother and aunt having had colon cancer. The stage 1 kind.

“Everybody at the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy done,” the doctor says. His stern tone bothers me until I realize he’s actually speaking to me.

I had a colonoscopy last year.

“I was going to wait until I was 80,” mom says.

“Eighty?” The doctor sighs. “Alright. I’m not going to say anything now.”

“I never had a headache in my life. I never had a stomach ache until this.”

“I guess if you stay away from the doctors you stay healthy?” he says.

She laughs at his dark humor. It is from her that I have found humor in everything—damn near everything.

“I assume you do not smoke.”

“No.”

My toes curl. My jaws clench. Had I not been in the room, maybe she would have said otherwise. She has always hid her smoking from me. It is true that she does not smoke now (she quit over 10 years ago); however, she did smoke for decades before quitting. I never saw her smoking, but outside I saw the cancer cloud reaching around the corner of the house from where she hid.

“Let’s be honest now,” I say.

“A pack would last her a couple of days,” my father fully discloses.

The importance of colonoscopies comes up again. I assure the doctor I had one. He says he’s proud of me.

Then mom reveals this gem. “I always felt like that maybe if I lived long enough I’d get ahead of it and die before it actually hits.”

My jaws clench again.

“You should write a book on that,” I say, hoping I don’t sound too overtly mean. She laughs of course.

“You keep moving and going and maybe you’ll beat cancer and get it over with before it catches you,” she continues.

“That’s inspiring,” I say.

“Keep running ahead of it.”

“That’s called avoidance, right?” Again, she laughs at me. She has always been my best audience.

“But it’s alright,” she says; however, her words are too fragile sounding to be convincing.

Dad changes the subject. “Those shoes look like you spit shined them,” he tells the nurse.

“Pretty. They’re nice,” mom says.

“OK, enough about the shoes,” I say, upset about the obvious avoidance.

There’s an awkward silence as the doctor reviews the surgeon’s report.

“These are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had,” mom says. She can’t take the silence as the doctor reads to himself.

He invites her to the padded table, examines the 38 staples on her stomach and sends her back to her chair.

He diagrams the colon on paper. He reminds us (me) again about getting a colonoscopy.

“I know it’s too late for that. That was 22 years ago,” mom says.

Room Four’s walls are thin. I hear jokes and laughter in the nurse’s station. It’s just another day out there. Life fleets by in normal fashion. In here, not so much. Time is stilled, stalled.

Then it comes.

“We can divide the cancer into four stages,” he says. He doesn’t beat around the bush: “You’ve got a stage 4 cancer.”

It has taken only 11 minutes and 53 seconds for life as we know it to officially change.

It’s her immediate response that haunts me. One word. The way it’s said. “What!?” It’s hard to imagine one syllable being the vessel for such shock and disbelief and despair. I realize I am holding her hand. Somehow, she adds, “I was going for stage 1. We are in Room 4. Four is not a lucky number.”

She is given a Kleenex. We discuss chemo. “Our goal is to prolong the life. We can’t cure the cancer,” he says. Outside, nurses laugh.

“Hey, should I spend some money?” she asks.

“To find the Lord?” the doctors asks. I like his sense of humor.

“Oh, hell no. I know where he is,” mom says. “Should I have fun? I want to go to Las Vegas.”

“What I tell people is that when you got a cancer that is non-curable, you need to travel, you need to go around. I think it’s the right thing to do. If you need to delay one chemo to travel, we can do that. You’ve got money. You want to spend it on yourself so you don’t leave any money for him,” he says, nodding at me.

“Damn you,” I say to him. Sarcasm has always been my tool of choice for avoidance.

Mom laughs. Like I said, she’s my best audience.

Big Wheels keep on rollin’: Toys he never had still a sticking point

By SCOTT SAALMAN

I read a Hbig-wheelerald story about this year’s finalists vying for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame — yes, there is such a thing.

2016 contenders include Care Bears, the board game Clue, Uno, Dungeons and Dragons, Fisher-Price Little People, the Nerf ball, the pinball machine, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and Transformers.

Also in the running: the coloring book, the swing and Bubble Wrap, the latter for the entertainment value provided over the decades for kids — and grownups! — who just can’t get enough of those popping sounds beneath their feet (sort of the Pop Rocks for toes).

Only three will be selected to join the current 59 toys in the Hall, which already includes the Hula Hoop (1999), Slinky (2000), G.I. Joe (2004), the rubber duck (2013), the bicycle (2000) and the stick (2008).

Yes, the stick. The Hall claims the stick could be “the world’s oldest toy” (unless you were born a boy). Imagine how less complicated Christmas shopping would be if kids bought into this stick concept. If in a pinch, all you need to do is pull one off your Christmas tree.

The Big Wheel (2009) is in the Hall, though never was I gifted with one, despite my undying wish to be a Big Wheel owner. “Play with your stick, Scotty!” my parents likely replied, while then trying to convince me that, with the right imagination, one could push a tennis shoe around on the floor and pretend it was one of the Hot Wheels (2011) that I also wanted.

I was envious of my spoiled cousins in town. They had a Big Wheel. They also had the aforementioned Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, which featured two plastic, boxing robots — one red, one blue — in a boxing ring. I loved watching my cousins battle each other with their robots, especially when the bouts got so heated that they ended up swinging at each other with their own fists, delivering more blows than The Rumble in the Jungle — but this was usually what happened no matter what toy or game was at their disposal. Leave it to my two cousins to turn Candy Land (inducted in 2005) into barbaric bloodshed. While I envied them for their toys (not bruises), I think they actually envied me for my weapon-like stick.

That purveyor of endless nightmares, the Jack-in-the-Box, is in the Hall (2005). My parents made sure I had plenty of those around the house. I hated them. I cautiously stepped through the minefield of Jack-in-the-Boxes but still those damn things would pop out at me as if triggered by motion detectors instead of hand cranks. My parents found this funny, even though the Jack-in-the-Box was a big reason they had to change my diapers at an unusually high frequency. I don’t think they ever realized the cause and effect.

Play-Doh (1998) is in the Hall. Rightly so. To reduce stress, I recently kept a container of Play-Doh on my work desk, sniffing it madly like a police dog at a high school locker, the time-travel scent taking me back to my carefree kindergarten days. Unfortunately, too many co-workers borrowed it when I wasn’t around. Finding their nose prints in my Play-Doh induced my stress. This can’t be sanitary. Buy your own Play-Doh, people. 

Unfortunately, Scrabble is in the Hall, a discovery that caused my blood pressure to rise to near stroke level. Its inclusion in 2004 basically put my sacred Scrabble board on the same level as the rocking horse, also inducted that year. Scrabble is not a toy! Scrabble is not frivolous play! It is not a rocking horse! Scrabble is life! It is the thinking man’s chess (2013). How dare the Hall belittle Scrabble! Quick, get me some Play-Doh!

Puppet is on the list. I had a hand puppet named “Georgie.” I took Georgie everywhere. We were inseparable. He was this lonely rural route boy’s best friend. He and I talked to each other a lot, which ultimately freaked out my parents. One day, Georgie went missing. I’m pretty sure the disappearance was my parents’ doing. I think I was in high school by that time, probably the right time to do away with Georgie anyway. (Georgie did pose problems landing a date; sharing popcorn three ways at a movie never goes over well.)

Monopoly (1998) is in the Hall, but Jarts is not. This lawn dart game was a popular backyard pastime in the ’70s, often heralded in newspaper stories for its maiming qualities. It came with two yellow rings for you to land your darts in. Of course, my cousins had a Jarts set. Forget the yellow rings; they had more fun seeing how close a toss could come to the other’s toes. A little known fact is Jarts was ultimately banned from stores after striking several nearby parked Ford Pintos and causing explosions. Hijackers brandished Jarts to divert planes to new destinations. Jarts inspired al-Qaeda, at least that’s what my cousin Four-Toed Tim tells me.

Anyway, come Nov. 10, three more toys will be added to the Toy Hall of Fame, thus raising the total to a walloping 62 — more toys than you can shake a stick at.

In dating, flattery really gets you nowhere

SCOTT SAALMAN

Six years ago I logged in more years divorced than married. Somehow, the teeter-totter of time tipped that way.

How can this be? Sixteen years since the Big D? — the withdrawal of the wedding band? Sixteen years, never remarried? — nowhere near. Jaded, perhaps, about matrimony. I hesitate buying wedding gifts for newlyweds. I’m a believer in divorce gifts; that’s when one of the two parties will really need the toaster. 

I’ve dated — but I’ve not dated more than I have dated. Second dates are hard to come by — my true genius apparently goes under the radar with those who have shared a restaurant with me (I blame it on the awesome appetizers). 

Never mind the second date. It’s the first date that’s the toughest to nail down, this despite having personally “flattered” many females in the past 16 years. Flattered. There’s nothing I hate more than hearing that word come from female lips or seeing it typed by feminine flailing fiery fingers.

Example. The oft-repeated scenario:

Me: So, could I take you out for dinner?

Female: Scott, I am flattered that you have asked me out —

Me (instinctively butting in to gain a foothold): Great! I’ll pick you up at 6. Oh — and do you have a passport?!!!

Sounds promising, right? Au contraire mon ami (French for … well … something French), for this woman has more to say on the subject.

Female: Scott, I am flattered that you have asked me out, but …

Henceforth comes the dreaded big but. But? But what? It doesn’t matter. None of the addendums are to my favor.

Exactly 100 percent (but who’s counting?) of the women who said they were “flattered” upon being asked out by me never ended up going out with me.

“Flattered” is the kiss of dating death. Women reading my words right now are knowingly nodding like bobble-heads on speed and likely thinking, “My God, Scott cracked the code. He’s on to us. We need a new word. Must send memo.”

My suggested replacement for flattered: sickened. “Scott, I am sickened that you have asked me out.” Perfect. Why beat around the bush before beating the man down?

I suspect women use “flattered” as a nice way to set the stage for rejection, a humane way to hurt (in essence, making the woman feel better about the turndown, not the guy), a softening of the beaches before the big blow to male ego, leaving a guy feeling like a turd in a tin cup. 

An online dating woman I met did agree to meet for a drink. At our rendezvous, she informed me that she had spent most of that day at the funeral home where her mother was being shown — visiting hours weren’t even over yet — with the burial slated for the following day. Deal breaker! Hey, I’m a sensitive guy, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a Debbie Downer type. And no, I didn’t ask if she needed a date for the funeral (even though maybe she did). I’m not that desperate (not that it’s beneath me to scan the obituaries for Fresh Widow Meat, which as my hero Dave Barry might point out, would be a great name for a rock band).

I’ve learned a few other things about dating in the middle ages.

Do not buy your girlfriend Mace. I did this once, worried about her safety when alone. Then, during a walk, I suggested we break up. Out came the Mace. The Mace hit my face. She obviously didn’t take the news as well as I’d hoped. It wasn’t the eye burn that surprised me, it was the throat burn. The gagging. Best thing though was she sprayed against the wind, which meant much of the spray went back into her eyes and throat. So, together we gagged and cried, and somewhere in the insanity that lovers share, I thought: she Maced me, she must love me. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t buy her a handgun. 

If your date is excited to go to Barnes and Noble not to look at books but to ride the escalator, she is 1) way too young for you (she was 15 years younger…but legal), or 2) she really needs to get out of Dubois County more. We lasted one trip to Barnes and Noble (or 20 rides on the escalator). 

Long distance dating works until it doesn’t. On several occasions, thanks to the joys of online dating (which in Jasper means driving two to three hours for a date), I have driven very far for first dates to only hear my date tell me at the restaurant table that she really isn’t interested in pursuing a long-distance relationship (but not until after she finishes her steak, lobster and million dollar martinis).

Trying to make out on a first date at a Weird Al concert is wrong on so many levels. Guilty. No second date.
Enough on my guide to dating in the middle ages. I’m sure there’ll be more to report from the trenches. I’m a hopeless romantic with a punching bag heart. Now then, if I can only figure out how not to flatter someone when I ask them out.

Will Read and Sing For Food’s next public benefit show is at 7 p.m. on Monday at Klubhaus 61 to benefit Cops And Kids, an annual event sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police during which officers take TRI-CAP Head Start children Christmas shopping.

Why I love LA–well I might not love LA, but I do consider LA a friend with benefits

la graduateLatest Herald column by Scott Saalman.

****

I went to Los Angeles to find my daughter. She wasn’t abducted. She wasn’t a runaway. Nothing like that.

Let me explain.

Though there is seldom a day that Delaney and I don’t coexist under the same roof, I seldom see her. She stays in her bedroom, for which the secret password is … well … a secret. If music plays from her side of the closed door, that means she’s home, safe — incommunicado, but contented. I live for her muffled music.

Delaney is just shy of 17, and while I’d like to say she has grown up before my very eyes, in reality she has grown up behind the very bedroom door between us. One day, she stepped out of her room wearing braces. How did that happen? Do orthodontists make house calls? Another day, she came out standing taller than me (albeit in high heels … but still). Then, she came out without braces, her teeth perfectly straight. Huh? Last month, she exited her room wearing a prom dress, the throwback threads resembling something her hero Jackie O might’ve worn. Delaney has become a beautiful young lady. Delaney O.

My daughter chooses not to hang out with her old man. She’s a teen. I get it. But I don’t like it. Worried we might never do anything together again before she’s old enough to leave the nest, I bribed her with a trip. “Anywhere in the world you want to go,” I said. Months passed. No answer. Then a text: LA.

She would only go to LA, though, if her friend, Britt, could join us. I agreed. After all, both girls were only 16 and neither possessed a driver’s license. A dependency on dad was inevitable. They would be my hostages.

I was texted an extensive itinerary. I willingly became their chauffeur, tour guide and bodyguard. OK, so I was the hostage.

Now by virtue of reading this, you are the hostage. Let the family vacation slide show begin.

• Breakfast at the iconic Chateau Marmont Hotel in West Hollywood. Fitzgerald wrote here. Jim Morrison stayed here. Lana Del Ray recently made a music video here. Belushi overdosed here. Scott Saalman paid $130 for breakfast here. Excuse me, waiter, is that syrup on my pancake? — or molten gold? Toto, we’re not in Denny’s anymore. Still, we left on a rich note. For the girls, I asked the front-desk clerk if we could tour the grounds. He put his forefinger to his lips as if to shush us and then secretly presented a brass key for the inner jungle-like sanctum of the posh property’s cottages, bungalows and swimming pool. Suddenly, I was the king of dads!

Murder and mayhem at the morbid Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard. Apparently, my traveling companions are into serial killers: Manson, Ramirez, Dahmer. The John Wayne Gacy room contained his actual “Pogo the Clown” shoes, self-portraits and unsettling details of the 33 murders that led to his execution. But nothing seemed more ghastly (and timely) than a questionnaire Gacy filled out in prison. When asked to list his heroes, one of his answers: Donald Trump. I kid you not.

• We visited Westwood Village Memorial Park and found burial plots for dozens of famous people, including Roy Orbison, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, Don Knotts, Truman Capote and Natalie Wood. Marilyn Monroe’s crypt was marked by the lipstick kisses of past visitors. The most memorable headstone belonged to Rodney Dangerfield, with the words, “There Goes the Neighborhood.”

• While the girls indulged in surprise facials at our hotel spa (the king of dads strikes again), I treated myself to a deep body massage. An LA freeway left me knotted. My Asian masseuse, Kim, narrated with a whispery chant over and over: “Muscle knots don’t like Kim. Knots hide from Kim. But Kim find knots!” Eventually, I felt her feet up and down my backside. Many women have walked all over me, but Kim was the first to literally do so.

We playfully posed with wax figures at Madame Tussauds.

• On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a hip-hop artist successfully hawked a $10 CD to me after telling me he was going to be on “Kimmy Jimmel Live” next week. He was already gone before it dawned on me that he said “Kimmy Jimmel” not “Jimmy Kimmel.” P.T. Barnum was right.

• We saw the iconic Hollywood Sign.

• We heard the pounding of Pacific surf from atop Palace Verdes’ breathtaking coastal cliffs.

• We were bedazzled by the Friday night lights of LA way below us from our high perch at the Griffith Observatory.
We saw a Santa Monica sunset.

• A slime ball at Venice Beach invited my jailbait daughter to his “beach house,” making me imagine a future room dedicated to me at the Museum of Death.

• In Long Beach, Delaney hugged me as Britt took our picture by the Queen Mary, the first time I could recall her arms being around me since she was a toddler. For this alone, I will always love LA.

Once home, Delaney disappeared into her bedroom, but that did not rob me of my newfound contentedness. I smiled when I heard the sweet birdsong of Joni Mitchell play behind the bedroom door: “California I’m coming home.”

I had done what I had set out to do: I found my daughter in LA, before it was too late.

****

Will Read and Sing For Food’s next public benefit show is Saturday, June 4, at Jasper Engines and Transmissions’ Power Drive Facility. 7 p.m. Cash bar. Special musical guest: Channing and Quinn. Also with Saalman, Stan Levco, Abbie Rumbach, Kyle Lueken, The Gatwoods and The Bolins.

Will Read and Sing For Food's photo.

Young humorists in WRASFF contest write funniest things, winners announced Thursday night

column writing isn't prettyLatest Herald Column By SCOTT SAALMAN

I recently read 142 student essays — and I’m not even a teacher!

No, no, it wasn’t because I was sentenced to some community service project due to a DUI conviction. I actually chose to read them — well, maybe I didn’t expect that there would be that many essays to read, but I did voluntarily open myself up for the possibility when I sponsored a humor writing contest for middle-school- and high-school-aged writers.

One hundred and forty-two humor essays at 500 words or less, with the majority being closer to the maximum word count. Many arrived in my inbox on May 1, the contest’s deadline, with one showing up mere minutes before midnight.

There were a lot of good submissions, but the finalist list had room for only 20 stories (10 in each of the two age groups). This says a lot about our young writing talent when the “cutting room floor” is littered with good stories. It also says a lot about the caliber of English teachers in our community who not only teach, but champion, their students to write stories of substance here in the era of the text message. (OK, so some who entered the contest might have done so at gunpoint, but whatever works works.)

One reason I sponsored the contest was to see what funny things were on young people’s minds. 

Here are the finalists and their topics:

Willy Krosnyak wrote about smuggling candy into the theater, a family tradition.

Drake Siegel recalled an infamous trip to Walmart when he was way younger: “Then in a sudden swoop, there was my mom, in only what she calls a ‘mortifying moment’ staring at me with the parts of a feminine hygiene product in my hands … swirling one part like a cowboy lasso above my head and the other plastic part between my lips trying to play it like a slide whistle!”

Laurel Hubster recounted her awkward first days in high school: “The first weekend of your freshman year, you’re expected to withstand a night full of sweaty teenage males trying to get you to dance with/on them for three straight hours. What fun! Nothing says ‘welcome to high school’ (more) than being covered in other people’s sweat and saliva.”

Being inept at cooking was Brynn Sermersheim’s subject. “I ended up switching the amount of baking soda to baking powder, a rookie mistake. My mom dropped the dumplings in the pot to let them cook. After an hour, she pulled them out … They were green. The dumplings looked like what is on your tissue when you are sick.”

Mackenzie Walling wrote about being asked the dreaded question, “Do you have a boyfriend?” which included this funny observation about public displays of affection in the hallways, “I just can’t comprehend whatever kind of primal instinct they have that completely wipes their sense of reasoning and makes them need to suck the lunch out from the crevices between their significant other’s teeth.”

Courtney North wrote about a first kiss. “My face crashed with hers, I knocked her off balance, and we fell together like (a) pair of awkward teenage dominoes.”

Andrea Rillo found humor in a flu bug that wiped out her family. Jessica Mundy wrote about the horrors of Middle Child Syndrome. Abigail Hopf wrote about picking her nose during a children’s cooking class at Disney World, explaining unapologetically, “What Nature wants, Nature gets. And Nature got.”

Conner Persohn wrote about a hunting accident — after the hunt. “When he slipped, he somehow had enough strength to hurl the tub of meat up in the air. Now, the tub he carried happened to have a large amount of blood in it and once he tumbled, all of it started raining down, soaking him in deer blood.”

Caroline McCance recalled first-grade fantasies of being the new Taylor Swift. Andrew Wallace got a peanut stuck up his nose; Jake Schotanus suffered the same, only it was a crayon not a nut; Ainsley Pierce wrote about milk shooting from hers. 

Mackenzie Belk chronicled a major mess in her mom’s kitchen. Ava Harmon recalled playing a prank on the family pet sitter. Quinn Gunderson wrote about escaping his crib. “It was a magnificent chase … Dad tried to catch me when he dove under the table, but I crawled out of his range. Lucky for me, he even hit his head on the table getting up. Score!”

Celeste Eby’s baseball-playing brother was her subject. Ellery Wurster recalled a family trip. 

Grayson Russ wrote about a canine cheeseburger thief. “I heard a shout and saw my yellow lab, Baylee, running with a meaty prize between her jaws … She had a big stupid grin on her face, even though she was being chased by a crowd of girls, desperate to get back their beloved cheeseburger … Boy, did that dog like red meat!”

This Thursday night, these 20 finalists will be introduced on the Astra stage during a Will Read and Sing For Food show to benefit The Next Act, whose mission is to revive and revitalize the Astra Theatre. The first-place winners in both categories will read their stories to the audience, as part of the show. You will laugh when you hear them. I did when I read them. Come out to support our future humor writers and a great community cause.

What’s wrong? Cat got your teeth?

There’s panic in our household.

“Dad, I can’t find my teeth,” shouts Delaney from her bedroom. She plans to go out with a friend, but not without teeth. “Have you seen my teeth?” 

To the untrained ear, this would sound like a simple question. But to my seasoned parental ear, it is actually a direct accusation. What she’s really saying is, “You have seen my teeth!” That’s because she is the teen and I am the parent. It would be inconceivable for her to believe that she actually misplaced her own teeth when there is a parent around to take the fall. Apparently she thinks I hide her teeth just so she won’t leave the house. Why would I do that? I would love some alone time in my own home. Not that we cross paths much when we are home together. She stays in her room, coming out only when I’m gone or in bed. 

Our text message history will tell you how distant a father and daughter can be while living under the same roof. Last year, she sent a text asking if I would bring lunch home. My reply: I hope you like Thai food. That’s because I was working in Thailand. Did she not know I was overseas? I’m pretty sure I tapped my travel plans in Morse code on her bedroom door before leaving. Maybe not. Last fall, someone stumped me with the dreaded question, “What grade is Delaney in?” To save face, I immediately texted Delaney: Are you a sophomore or junior? She replied: Wow. Dad of the Year.

“Where are my teeth?” she says from the living room, the laundry room, the bathroom. How many times have I heard this same question in the past year? 

I see flashes of my 16-year old daughter darting room to room, newspapers, dirty clothing and felines (possible suspects) flying through the air. It’s like witnessing a tornado from the inside. I imagine her elevating the heavy couch over her head with one arm to look under it, fueled by the same adrenaline rush you read about when a child single-handedly lifts an entire car off a flattened parent — except it is doubtful Delaney would find pause in her daily life to lift a car off me. Unless she suspected her missing teeth were in my shirt pocket. In that case she would lift the car, take her teeth and drop the car back on me.

One day at 3 a.m. last winter, my cellphone rang, waking me, filling me with dread.

“Hello?”

“Dad, I think I lost my tooth down the bathroom drain.”

There are few things less enjoyable than clutching a monkey wrench at 3 a.m. But, I retrieved the tooth and saved the day — or the very early morning. Lucky for all that hair clogging the pipe and blocking its path or the tooth might’ve been gone for good. 

“Where are my teeth?” echoes her voice from down the hallway, doors slamming.

Yes. You have been reading right. 

Teeth. 

Delaney lost her teeth.

It used to be a reason to celebrate when my daughter lost her teeth. The tooth fairy came. Money miraculously appeared under a pillow — this still creeps me out (how did it get there?). The tooth fairy did this because she knew we would need that money for Delaney’s future dental expenses. But I wasn’t in a long-term financial planning mode at that time. Instead, Delaney pocketed the money, likely using it for gas station candy and vats of Mello Yello. A vicious cycle of tooth decay. But it’s the loss of baby teeth that is celebrated, not the loss of a teen’s permanent teeth.

Delaney was born with a couple of congenitally missing top teeth. To compensate, she is in the process of getting dental implants. In the meantime, she wears a plastic retainer containing two removable fake teeth that fill the two gaps.

I finally convince her to remain calm so we can try to solve the case of her missing teeth with total logic, which means interrogating the usual suspects: our two cats. “What did you do with Delaney’s teeth?” I shout down at them. “Dad, be gentle,” Delaney says. “My babies, did you do something with my teeth?” she soothes, stroking them; she’s the good cop.

The cats being cats act clueless. They are unfazed by the bare overhead bulb. I catch one glance toward the refrigerator. It’s their favorite place to knock things under: toys, loose food, postcards from the vet saying it’s time for their shots.

On my knees, I blindly feel beneath the refrigerator, freeing several mouse-shaped toys but finding no teeth. The cats seem pleased, though, since they’ve been waiting months for me to retrieve their mouse toys from where they were last batted, just so they can push them back under there again in 10 seconds flat.

Disappointed, Delaney leaves the kitchen. She’s given up on her missing teeth and a social life. A few minutes later, however, I hear her say, “I found them.”

Apparently, the cats had indeed been the culprits, batting the retainer under her bedroom dresser. The cats are the ones who don’t want her to leave. Delaney soon leaves with her perfect impermanent smile, making me think once again, “How could she survive without me?” Dad of the Year. Indeed.

Dubois County earns bronze medal in boozing per capita, barfly sets sights on top spot

scott snapsby Scott Saalman

I sat beside Ernie Bombeck at The Shaky Stool.

“It’s One Beer Scott,” Ernie slurred, a nickname he called me due to limiting myself to only one beer per visit. Based on numbers of beer per sitting, I could call him 12-pack Ernie.

“You look agitated, Ernie.”

“I’m still miffed about last fall’s results. They should’ve done a recount.”

Fall. Recount. Suddenly, I understood — or thought I did. The Jasper mayoral election.

“Ernie, they did do a recount. It went in Seitz’s favor.”

“Not that. I mean that thing in the paper about Dubois County being the third drunkest county in Indiana.”

“Oh that,” I said. Something called the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program declared Dubois the third highest county in the state for excessive or heavy drinking. “Ours is drunker than 89 other counties. Such a pity. Shocking, huh, Ernie?”

“Shocking that we were beat out of the top spot you mean! We’re slipping, One Beer Scott. Surely we’re better than that. I’ve done my share to put us on top. What’s happened to our community pride?”

Red nosed, he downed the last half of his beer. “Another,” he called to the bartender.

“I have an idea to improve our ranking,” he said. “We should lower the legal drinking age.”

“Bad idea,” I said. “Kids are already drinking way too young. Grade-schoolers even.”

Something I said put a faraway look in Ernie’s rheumy eyes. He smiled as if dropping anchor adjacent to some happy shore. “I remember my first time. Seventh grade. Christmas. We snuck a Schlitz out of my uncle’s garage fridge. A 16-ouncer. Just one. We passed it around like mini winos, got buzzed. For years, we sang ‘99 Bottles of Beer’ during grade school field trips, making us thirsty for something we had yet to taste. Then came that first shared Schlitz — it was a holy moment. You never forget that first taste. 

“I was 15 when I first got drunk,” he added. “My buddy’s birthday party. I woke up with my head in a fireplace. I had enough ash on my head to skip a lifetime of Ash Wednesday services.”

“Another,” he said to the bartender. “Third place! Sheeeeeesh! No one remembers the bronze medalist in anything. You know what, One Beer Scott? I partially blame this fiasco on the craft beer craze.”

He then shared his craft beer conspiracy theory.

“Just look at the menu. All those crazy beer names. It’s overwhelming. It takes an hour just to decide which beer to choose, wasting important drinking time.”

“Just listen to them,” he said, moving his right thumb hitchhiker style over his right shoulder, directing my attention to two younger couples at a table.

“How about this?” one woman said. She recited from the drink menu: “This luscious Belgian style quadruple pours a deep amber hue with shades of copper and ruby. Maturing for months on oak, this beer reveals a profound vanilla character and malty sweetness, supported by a creamy mouthfeel.”

The three others silently stared at her, spellbound by her poetry. 

Ernie growled, “Did she say creamy mouthfeel? What the heck? This is a bar, not a DQ.”

“S-h-h-h,” I said.

“Listen to this one,” the other woman said. “This beer features an abundance of dark malts and high alpha hops for a powerful impact of roast, chocolate and sweet bitterness. You can sense the velvety malt character, balanced bitter intensity and soothing chocolate notes created by long aging on fair trade cocoa nibs.” A chorus of oohs and aahs followed.

“Am I understanding the English language correctly? Did she just say nibs? I can’t listen to this madness anymore,” he said and downed his beer. “Another,” he ordered. “I’ll show her my nibs.”

“See what I mean, One Beer Scott? They’ll read the descriptions of every beer on that menu. It will be last call for alcohol by the time they choose. Those four chairs could best be used by someone like me who would have already drunk three Buds by the time they ordered their first beer. No wonder Dubois County is so low on the list.”

“I worry about our community’s reputation, One Eyed Scott,” slurred Ernie.

“One Beer Scott. Not One Eye Scott, Ernie. You call me One Beer Scott, remember?”

“We’re on a downward spiral, I tell you. I can just see the Herald headline now: Strassenfest committee nixes ceremonial first keg tapping! Say it ain’t so, Beer Eyed Scott.”

There seemed to be real tears leaking from Ernie’s bloodshot eyes. “I haven’t missed a keg tapping in three decades. The tradition, the hoisting of steins, the pageantry, the Port-O-Potties, the ‘Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi.’ It’s like our Run For The Roses, Beer Keg Scott. This is America!”

The couples behind us were still deciding. “…exceptionally floral nose.”

“Bartender, another. And get my good buddy What’s His Name here another.”

“No thanks, Ernie. I’ve had my one beer.”

“Floral nose. Why I ought to floral his nose with my floral fist …”

“Calm down, Ernie. You’re not thinking clearly. At least this way there’s more beer for you.”

“Hey, good point, One Toed Sloth. I like that.”

“…the aroma and flavor are rich with a mix of coconut, pineapple, and the delicate citrus of mosaic hops,” read one of the Shaky Stool patrons behind us.

Ernie harrumphed. “There still should be a recount.”

****
Will Read and Sing for Food will perform at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, at the Dubois County Museum. The performance will include a tribute to the late great humor columnist Erma Bombeck, featuring various women from the community.