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.

Erin’s story: A heroin addict’s last hurrah

kelly-tucker-001By SCOTT SAALMAN
Special to The Herald

Twenty-three-year-old Erin Jarvis still had hope. Her journals tell us this. In pretty purple handwriting, she inscribed this introduction on the opening page of one: “Thoughts that I hope one day may change my world around.” 

A heroin addict’s hope.

But on Feb. 2, 2015, the day after Super Bowl 49, after a year and a half of use and abuse followed by several clean months, she relapsed. Her world did change, ending in Evansville.

By the time Kelly, her mom, rushed home, there were police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck blocking her driveway.

“I knew it was bad,” Kelly said. “They barricaded Erin’s bedroom. They wouldn’t let me inside. I said, ‘Where is she? I want to see my daughter.’ A paramedic told me, ‘She’s gone.’”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I’ve had a few knee surgeries so pain medicine wasn’t a new thing for me. I just never could get enough of it. If I took one pill, I would snort two more. I never knew when to quit.” 

“For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like when people said they can’t feel the weight of their body, can’t hold it up. I slid down that wall and I couldn’t move,” Kelly recalls from her couch, two days before the second anniversary of Erin’s overdose. A purple urn with ashes sits on a countertop. “I wasn’t expecting it. She was doing so well.”

From Erin’s journal: “I feel like there’s no such thing as gravity. For a while now, I’ve found it difficult to secure my feet to the ground. I feel like I’m floating and I have no idea how to get my feet back on the soil, on the grass, on this earth.”

Kelly recalls the coroner’s words at her house, “I don’t want to make this too graphic for you but the needle was still in her hand. She didn’t get all of what was in it in her body. I’m sure she died of sudden cardiac arrest. I suspect whatever was in that syringe was probably not what she thought it was.”

Later came the coroner’s official report: acute heroin overdose — accidental. The body also contained the opioid pain medication Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and NoDoz.

“It created a speedball,” says Kelly. “Your heart doesn’t know when to pump or stop. These kids don’t know what they are getting off the street. This is what is killing our kids.”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I have a very good life, I am very fortunate and thankful for my friends and family but for quite some time now I’ve been confused, lonely, sad and secretive. I’ve fallen into deep limbo and unable to find my way back to even a faint trace of reality.”

Kelly recalls Erin going into her bedroom that night. Erin wore a purple robe. “She said, ‘I love you’ and ‘goodnight.’ That’s the last I saw of her.” 

Erin used the robe’s belt as a tourniquet. 

“A paramedic took me out on the back porch so I couldn’t watch,” Kelly said. “I don’t know why I did it, but I looked back through the window and watched them take her out through the front door in a blue body bag. That’s the last I saw of her. This beautiful little baby with so much black hair, this gorgeous little sweet thing, this little roly-poly, and they take her out that way in a f—— blue body bag.”

In Troy, Ohio, Erin was prom queen (there were about 600 students in her class), she excelled in academics, and was active in student government. Soccer was her sport. 

Kelly holds up a picture frame containing a collage of Erin in action on the soccer field. She looks healthy. Strong. Black braces, though, on both legs tell the tale of two ACL surgeries.

She was prescribed Percocet, which Kelly credits as the precursor to Erin’s addiction: “It’s a highly addictive opioid. The kids with sports injuries can’t get enough medication due to the restrictions on prescribing. So they go to the street and get it. You score heroin a lot cheaper on the street than a pill.”

Surgery during college led to medical complications that further fed into her pain pill addiction. Her boyfriend at the time taught her to mix heroin powder with pain pills and snort it. Later, Erin told her mother, “It was the best I felt since I had my knee surgery. I really like the way it made me feel.”

“That was the start of the end,” says Kelly. “That same guy, two months later, bought her a gram of heroin for her birthday and shot her up for the first time. Nice guy, huh?

“I would find these little corners of sandwich bags in my house. Later, I learned dealers would put capsules of heroin in the bags and tie off the baggies. I would find small drinking glasses in her room, and my lighters for my candles were missing all the time. I think she melted the heroin down in a glass with a lighter.”

From one of Erin’s journals: “She was a vessel, empty, but a vessel longing for fulfillment. It’s hard enough being 23 and confused about the future, but throw in a grandiose, melodramatic dynamic of an addiction, you kind of tend to feel totally f—–.”

“She robbed me blind,” says Kelly. “I locked my bedroom door. When I took a shower, I’d take my purse with me. I got a call about my Discover card, which I only used for emergencies. She was up to $1,200. She was buying stuff and pawning it. I have very little jewelry left. She took the knob off my door. She took my TV and router and laptop. She didn’t get but about $300 for it, but that’s probably a week’s worth of heroin. That’s how sick she was. We are talking about a girl who would die if she hurt my feelings. You would have loved her. You would meet her and want her to marry your son.”

Kelly recalls phone calls from Erin pleading to be retrieved from one of the drug houses she frequented. But when Kelly would ask for an address, there would be nothing but silence. Erin often went missing. Once Erin returned home “dope sick,” a phrase used to describe withdrawal symptoms from heroin. Being dope sick likely won’t kill you, but it’s excruciating enough to make you think it will. 

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. This girl was posturing her arms and throwing up and crying. I couldn’t help her. I was really mad at her, but I knew it wasn’t her,” says Kelly. “She would kick it for three days maybe but then go back. ‘Why, Erin? Why did you go back?’ She said, ‘Mom, you don’t have an addictive personality. You don’t get it. I have an addictive personality. Everything I do is in excess. Don’t try to understand why I do it. Just know that I have a sickness and until I want to quit doing it, it doesn’t matter what you say or do, I’m going to keep doing it.’ ”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I will be 23 years old Tuesday. Crazy to think about. I feel older somehow. Most of my life I’ve been lost. It’s amazing that I’m finally finding myself. I’m going to do something big with this life I’ve been blessed with. I have gifts.”

Erin went to an expensive rehab in Palm Springs, wiping out the college fund for her two siblings. She began journaling. She achieved sobriety. Counselors said she was going to be a good statistic. After that, Kelly moved to Evansville, taking Erin with her to keep her from the familiar temptations of Ohio. Erin became extremely involved in AA. She found a sponsor. She had a job. She continued journaling. She was open and honest with Kelly, going into nightmaric detail about her addictive past. She planned to get a nursing degree and help other addicts. 

From one of Erin’s journals: “I went searching for something to shut my mind up. What I found was wine, vodka, gin, and my personal favorite, whiskey. They gave me the illusion of contentedness. They gave me courage to do things that I never would have done before.”

“She was doing great,” recalls Kelly. “All of sudden she starts drinking again.”

The week before her death, Erin visited her sister in Ohio. In the past, after her sister had her wisdom teeth removed, Erin stole her Percocet. Coincidentally, her former boyfriend, the one who had first supplied her heroin, was just released from prison at the same time Erin visited her sister in Ohio. 

“Nobody will ever know. Only she and God will ever know,” says Kelly. “She must’ve got something there and brought it back. The coroner asked me if I had any idea where she might have gotten the drugs. He said he hadn’t seen an overdose of this type in Evansville before. I said, ‘Sir, it is coming. We were meth in Ohio like you before heroin came. It’s coming, and you are going to see this a lot more.”

Kelly holds a book, “Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by Sam Quinones. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and documents the shocking and sickening horrors of opiate addiction in the U.S. and its ties to the black tar heroin market.

“This is what one of the premises of this book is about,” she says, waving it in the air. “A kid thinks, ‘I’m just going to do this to get high, I won’t do it again.’ But then he or she gets hooked and continues heroin just to avoid getting dope sick. All I could do was hate the drug and love my daughter. I’m so scared I’m going to forget what she sounds like…her voice…” 

Kelly’s own voice trails off. She thinks about Erin’s final moments in the bedroom a few feet away. “I think she thought, ‘This is the last time I’m going to do this.’ One last hurrah . . .”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I am fearful of relapse, because if I relapse I may die.”

What part of ISH do you NOT understand?

ish-image-largeby Scott Saalman

Call me ish.

Actually don’t.

I hate the ish.

Nix the ish.

Ish, as in, say, when my friend, Angela, texted me for coffee.

I texted: Time?

She texted: 9-ish.

I texted: Gr8.

She texted: See you then.

Panic set in. Nine-ish. How was I supposed to interpret her ish? It was her first ish issuance to me. People interpret the ish differently. What was her ish sweet spot?

I didn’t want to be late, but I didn’t want to appear over-eager either — though 9 anything is a long wait for the morning’s first coffee.

What was 9-ish to her? 9:05? 9:10? How about 9:35? But wouldn’t 9:35 actually be 9:30-ish? The margin of error for an ish is mind-boggling for a borderline anal-retentive person like me, the ish being a barometer for yet another tear in society’s fabric when it comes to basic modern manners.

I clicked Debrett’s Everyday Etiquette to see if there was a universal standard regarding ish etiquette, but the only related topic I found pertained to punctuality in general.

According to Debrett’s, “Failing to be punctual is the height of bad manners because it disregards the value of other people’s time … Conversely, being punctual always scores bonus points. You will come across as someone who cares about other people, and is efficient, organized and reliable.”

I’m always on time (or early). If something is set for 9, I’m there at 8:50 or 8:55. So, when someone uses the ish on me, my brain’s punctuality wires short circuit.

How long can you stretch an ish? Does 9:50 fit into the realm of 9-ish? 9:50 would make more sense being ish-10. A pre-ish versus a post-ish. I guess I’m more of a pre-ish kind of guy.

Being asked to arrive 9-ish means, for me, trying to determine what arriving on time or early really means. Would a 9 o-clock arrival for a 9-ish appointment make me appear too enthusiastic if 9-ish is meant to mean 9:20 or 9:25? Plus, the coffee shop workers might think I’m loitering. I don’t loiter. And even if I did arrive, at say, 9:10 for the meet-up, I’d still be anxious because it would feel like I’m being late even though I’m actually being early. That’s because I’m an old-school, top-of-the-hour or bottom-of-the-hour kind of guy. (For the record, I prefer the top of the hour. I mean, come on . . .)

Meeting for coffee used to be easy. “What time? 7:30. Cool, I’ll see you at 7:30.” Nothing to misinterpret there. If you’re early, you know it. If you’re on time, you know it. If you’re late, you know it. The ish put the kibosh on this.

Is the ish yet another sign that we are indeed in the Age of Apathy? What if astronauts started using the ish? “Houston, we will be docking with the International Space Station 6-ish.” I don’t think that would fly.

Perhaps the cable companies indirectly created this whole ish mess. They’ve been giving us the ish attitude for decades without even uttering the word ish once. “OK, we’ll have a technician come by sometime between 1 and 4, so you better be there,” causing us to frantically reschedule our kidney dialysis appointments and funeral showing of gramps just so we can get that extra 200 channels.

I best be careful about complaining about the ish. It, like anything else, could get worse.

She texts: Coffee?

I text: Time?

She texts: Monday-ish?

Thus, the end of social interaction as we know it.

Anyway, all this ran through my mind after Angela scheduled a 9-ish coffee break. I pondered texting back to clarify her ETA, but the ish, despite its vagueness to me, seemed so certain and concrete in Angela’s text message that I was reluctant to not appear “with it” when it came to the ish. As much as I hated the ish, I still wanted to appear hip with Angela’s ish, to fit in, to be hip-ish. And maybe if our ishes meshed well enough I’d be promoted to a more synchronized set time in the future.

I decided that showing up at 9:05 would be an OK arrival time — late in my mind, but still punctual for ishers like Angela. But, alas, I arrived only to find her already at a table enjoying her coffee. She arrived at 8:55, making her a pre-ish person and me late-ish. So much for bonus points. Had she hoped to finish her coffee and leave before my arrival? Oh, how I hate the ish. Debrett’s, we have a problem.

****

Will Read and Sing For Food’s next performance is at 7 p.m. Thursday 7at Klubhaus 61. It will raise money for Rotary International’s efforts to end polio worldwide. Guest reggae musician is Zion.

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.