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.

Surprise masseur was quite handy

georgemassageBy SCOTT SAALMAN

During a bus ride through Poznan, Poland, someone spoke glowingly about a massage she had at our hotel. It was amazing, she assured us. Her Polish massage therapist’s name was Anna.

My back was killing me, my calf muscles were a mess and I had just arrived from an overseas flight in coach. I could think of no one more deserving of the hands of the amazing Anna, than me.

For 160 Zloty, the woman — Anna, I presumed — in the spa assured me she would take good care of me. In a dressing room, she advised, “Remove your clothes, put on this robe, underwear and sandals.”

The underwear was actually a flimsy, papery, disposable thong. It was hard figuring out which was the front and which was the back. I had never worn a thong. I tried it on every way imaginable, with the exception of wearing it like a surgeon’s mask. I deduced that the side with the most material was the front. I hoped I was right.

Anna sent me to the relaxation room, where she promised to bring me lemon water. Scented candles burned. New age music played. Several minutes passed. I anticipated Anna’s holy touch.
A man stepped into the relaxation room. Half my age. Twice my size. “Would you like water?” he asked.

“I’m taken care of,” I said. “Anna is getting it for me.”

The man grabbed a nearby pitcher and filled a glass.

“My name is Pawel,” he said. “Are you ready for your massage?”

“Yes.”

He handed me the glass, said he would be back. “Relax,” he said. I figured he was merely the spa’s water boy who would ultimately usher me to Anna’s room. Pawel returned. “I’m ready if you’re ready,” he said.

Our eyes met. Suddenly, something seemed terribly wrong. The look between us told me that Pawel was not the spa lackey that I thought he was.

“Are you surprised?” he said.

Surprised was an understatement. I would have been less caught off guard had a walrus wearing a tutu and playing a pan flute waddled into the relaxation room.

“Isn’t there a female available?” I said, my voice barely audible.  Clearly, I was the victim of some international bait and switch scheme.

“This is my time slot,” he said. “I’ll give you a few more minutes to relax.”

Relax? How can a person relax when one suddenly finds himself teleported into hell’s front lobby?
I have never been comfortable with man hands. Suddenly this massage, which was supposed to be about relaxation, became the angst-tainted equivalent of a three-alarm-fire prostate exam.

Despite my discomfort with Pawel, it didn’t feel right to just bolt from the spa. Besides, it would look weird running through the fancy hotel lobby with my robe rising in back to publicly reveal my possible backward thong, screaming like an escaped lunatic. I didn’t want to create an international incident. Besides, Pawel is a licensed professional, I reasoned.

Pawel returned. “Ready?”

In the massage room, he instructed, “Remove your robe. Put the towel on you. I will knock on the door to see if you are ready.”

I removed my robe. Nerves made it nearly impossible to cover myself with the towel. Each time I laid stomach first on the massage table, the towel slid to the floor. After several tries, the towel finally stayed, formed into a mound over my bare butt, looking like a genie’s turban. As if on cue, Pawel knocked.

The first thing he did was adjust the butt turban, stretching it lengthwise to hide most of my body, but not before giving the towel a quick shake, causing the towel to briefly rise magic-carpet like from my skin, possibly enabling him a quick peek to see if I indeed had the thong on correctly. The towel settled, the massage table rose and Pawel got down to serious, silent business with his well-oiled, professional man hands.

At some point, I actually relaxed. The incredible pressure applied to my body seemed to come not from the hands of a man or a woman but from some merciful strong-handed alien being. This man-administered massage was actually more intense than any I’d experienced before. It was one of those hurts-so-good kind of massages. With my head in the face hole, I actually laughed to myself recalling the classic “Seinfeld” episode in which George went through a similar massage experience. Too often, moments in my life have resembled a Seinfeld episode. Unfortunately, I often find myself in the George Costanza role.

Soon after, a buddy of mine, who was thinking about making a massage appointment at the hotel too, asked me about the Anna I had originally planned to see.

“Was she tall? Was she beautiful?” he asked.

“Anna was a Pawel,” I said.

He decided to forgo his appointment. Too bad for him. He was missing out on a damn good ma(n)ssage.

Column: There is a reason ­- turn, turn, turn turntable

kissdestroyerLatest column for the Herald.

My first-ever 33 1⁄3 long play (LP) vinyl album was KISS Destroyer. It was the first present I unwrapped on Christmas Eve night 1976. There was also a second to unwrap: Cat Stevens Greatest Hits. After opening those two presents first, the surprise of my next present was pretty well spoiled: my first turntable.

The blue turntable had detachable speakers, their cords long enough to put one speaker on one side of the room and the other speaker on the other side of the room for full stereo effect.

My first, very own record player!

No more having to use the family stereo console, which was made of wood and was nearly as long and deep as a coffin, to play my 45 rpm records.

My. First. Record. Player.

Freedom to turn my music listening into a monastic experience. Close the bedroom door. Rocking out to “King of the Night Time World,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud” whenever I wanted, then mellowing out to “Peace Train,” “Wild World,” “Two Fine People.”

KISS. Cat Stevens. Talk about musical contrast. Hard rock versus folk rock. Four face-painted devils on one shoulder, a bearded angel on the other, all imploring for my attention. I was an altar boy, but the temptation of my first KISS got the best of me. I always followed up with Cat Stevens, though, as if performing an act of contrition.

My. First. Record. Player.

I doubt I emerged from my bedroom before Christmas break ended. I returned to grade school a somewhat altered boy, my soul lost to rock n’ roll: “Shout it. Shout it. Shout it out loud. You’ve got to have a party!”

I had already owned an 8-track tape player (first tape: Jim Croce’s “Life and Times”) and a cassette player (first tape: Elton John’s “Greatest Hits”), but the sound quality of those music mediums — always emitted was a hellish hiss — were far inferior to that of a turntable, which delivered a rich, raw crispness and cherished crackle.

I purchased scores of LPs, and they were always a big part of my birthday and Christmas wish lists. Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police” was a memorable Christmas gift, and the Easter Bunny actually brought me Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I guess my parents deemed me to be too old for the Easter Bunny after that. (I shouldn’t have played “Young Lust” so loudly.)

They still supported my record addiction. One of the coolest album-related gifts they gave me was a beautiful wooden crate to hold my records. My dad made it in his wood shop, which made the gift extra special. I populated it with Springsteen and Bob Seger and J. Geils and Steve Miller and Jimmy Buffett . . . and on and on and on. “The Best of Bread” was also in there, but don’t tell my dudes. (I’ve always been a sucker for the grammar-challenged “Baby I’m-a Want You.”)

The boom in popularity of the compact disc player in the mid-1980s delivered the demise of record collections everywhere. My first CD: Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Of course, CDs have suffered great casualties in the music industry wars as of late thanks to mp3s and online streaming, both of which I support.

The last time I saw my record collection was just before my divorce. I was in the attic picking out things that made sense to carry with me into my new life. The record collection, still in dad’s wooden crate, did not make the cut since most of the records had been replaced with CD counterparts. Later, I learned my record collection migrated to an ex-in-law’s yard sale. What great item did I ultimately pillage from the attic? — a toaster, since it was a duplicated wedding gift. Sometimes wedding gifts end up becoming unintended divorce gifts, which can be a good thing since they end up saving one member of the party money at a time when he or she really, really needs it. There should be a divorce gift registry.

Oddly, in the past few years, there has been a slow resurgence in interest for LPs and turntables in the U.S. This Christmas, I bought my son and daughter each a turntable (the first for both) since both have long collected LPs but have never heard them play. Delaney has them hanging on her bedroom walls as decorations: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, Dion, etc.

I also bought both of them unplayed pressings of The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” which is the real reason record players were invented in the first place. Austin also received Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” a turntable no-brainer for my jazzy son.

At about 2 a.m. after Christmas, Delaney and I listened to her old records. It was nice to share the sight of an LP spinning, and though some of the records were slightly warped, the needle still rode their wavy grooves without fail. It was nice to share the still crisp sound of songs from very old records, from the The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” to Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man” to The Beatles’ “Two of Us” to The Everly Brother’s “All I Have To Do Is Dream” to the  Eagles “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks,” their needle-gnawed crackles a comfort food for my ears. It was nice to share music the way it was meant to be shared.

Scott Saalman on Abbie Rumbach

cassposterabbie

The woman at the tiny table was gasping for air, desperately trying to catch her breath and regain composure and at least some respectability—well, as much respectability that a full-grown adult can muster while trying to remain seated on a tiny, school library chair designed for a first-grader’s frame. Think Gulliver in Lilliput.

She was the latest victim of a laugh attack launched by humor writer Abbie Rumbach, who was reading aloud about burning the family dinner Poppin’ Fresh dough biscuits to a group of two dozen other laughing women sitting in tiny chairs too. The audience could only look sillier if they had been strapped into highchairs.

The wheezing woman was yet another joyous victim of what I call “Abbie Arrhythmia.” Abbie’s humor hobbles our hearts a bit, makes us gasp when she’s building steam and really Poppin’ Fresh. She writes funny stuff about modern family life, sort of like Erma Bombeck once did, but with a wicked, sometimes R-rated bite (you won’t find her in a family newspaper)—and likely with what I imagine is a flask in her housecoat pocket.

The scenario above was a reading she and I did for the local chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, a sorority of outstanding women educators. We were a package deal, though I felt more like Abbie’s agent since the initial invitation to me stated, “We were wondering if you (and maybe Abbie R) could come to our Nov. 13 meeting . . .” A-ha, it was Abbie they wanted. A little blow to the ego, but hey, I took it like an adult. Once there, I asked Abbie to read first, making her appear to be my opening act, when actually it should be the other way around. (Hey, just let me have my little moment, OK?)

Reading Abbie is funny enough; hearing Abbie is even funnier. It’s all in her self-deprecating delivery. If you don’t know, Abbie has a hilarious blog, The Kids Made Me Fat. Her posts are sometimes picked up by the Huffington Post. Not too shabby for a Jasper mom.

Here’s a sampler from her blog.

On realizing (way too late) it’s time to buy new bras: The following list describes most of the bras I am currently wearing: 1. Some of the hooks are rusted or missing; 2. It’s nude but I’m pretty sure it used to be white; 3. The underwire is now squeaking—I wish I was making this up but sometimes when I move it like, moans, like it’s begging for mercy; 4. The material is transparent and not in a sexy way but in a stretched-out nasty itching-my-nipple kind of way; 5. It has snaps to unleash my boobs for feeding, and my baby is now eating lunch meat.

On running: Running is horrible, and I’m horrible at it. Though, I’m not sure you can call what I’ve been doing running, as I recently got passed up by an elderly couple who was walking their elderly dog. Seriously, this dog did not look good. They were dragging it down the street. Yet, they passed right on by me.

On the Tooth Fairy: The Rumbach family Tooth Fairy is ridiculous. She went completely over the top when Hadley lost her first tooth. Hadley didn’t just get a quarter as in days of old, but rather was given $5, a packet of Reese’s Pieces, a new Barbie DVD and a bottle of nail polish . . . When more and more teeth started to fall out (which, by the way, is gross), and once our kids started knocking them out on purpose for reward, we realized that we needed to explain to the kids that the recession had effected everyone, including Tooth Fairy.

On a Christmas present from her daughter, Hadley: My present was a coupon book. She filled it with coupons that I could redeem for help around the house. Her coupons included things such as, “Watch Jack for 30 Minutes,” “Clean My Room,” and “Pick Up The Toys.” I thought it was wonderful. Without any money to spend, Hadley had created the perfect present. A week later, on my birthday, the only thing I wanted was to take a shower. I remembered my coupon book and asked Hadley to watch her brother . . . She put her hands on her hips as she then said, “Mother. You need to look at those coupons. They have expired.” I got out the coupon book and sure enough, she was right . . . I forgot to read the fine print. All of the coupons were good for 3 days only.

On witnessing her father’s unfortunate attire at church: The adults made their way to the choir loft when I spotted my dad, a 30+ year member of the choir . . . He was wearing sweatpants. A T-shirt and sweatpants. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t mind my Dad’s sweats, but I’m quite certain my mother did . . . apparently Dad came from his bowling league (where I guess he wears sweat pants?) directly to the church. And he must have had some nachos, because I’m pretty sure I could see some cheese dried on his thigh.

Read more Abbie at www.thekidsmademefat.com.

Spying Santa, by Scott Saalman

“Don’t look out the window.”

She repeated this sentence over and over as twilight leaked its ink across southern Indiana.

“Don’t look out the window.”

It sounds like a good title for a drive-in horror movie, but actually this was our mother’s five-worded Christmas Eve mantra, which always began at 5:30 p.m.

“Don’t look out the window.”

My younger brother Patrick and I still butt-scooted our way toward the living room window, of course, inch by cautious inch, but mom’s voice always caused us to abort our mission before the living room curtain could be parted for a looksee.

Even from a different room, out of sight, she knew what we were doing. “Don’t look out the window,” she’d warn, hollering over Buck Owens and the Buckaroos’ “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” playing on the stereo console. Dad always got a kick out of that song. It played 100 times that day, confounding me with its lyrics.

“Santa looked a lot like Daddy/Or Daddy looked a lot like him/It’s not the way I had him pictured/Santa was much too thin/Well he didn’t come down the chimney/So Mama must have let him in/Santa looked a lot like Daddy/Or Daddy looked a lot like him…”

There was a hidden message in that song. The wink-winks between adult relatives when it played told me so.

“Don’t look out the window.”

“Why can’t we?”

“He won’t come if you do. He’ll fly right over our house and take your toys to other girls and boys.”

It was torture being blocked from looking out the front picture window. We wanted to see Santa and his flying reindeer in action. As 6 p.m. drew closer, we were sequestered in the kitchen where we anxiously watched the wall clock. Before Santa came, we knew the phone would ring. It would be Grandpa Saalman pretending to be Santa. We knew it was Grandpa; it just sounded like him trying to sound like someone else. He was a lousy impersonator. Yes, we had been good that year, we told him. We recited our wish lists per his request even though it was too late for Santa to be asking such questions. It was Christmas Eve for Pete’s sake. We also knew it was impossible for Santa to be talking on the phone airborne en route from the North Pole. This was way before cell phones — even Santa’s elves lacked the imagination to dream up a sleigh phone.

We also knew that the arrival of Grandma and Grandpa Goffinet, plus some of our aunts and uncles, had to happen before Santa’s visit. We prayed they wouldn’t run out of beer before getting to our house, or they’d have to make a stop at T&R Liquor, preempting our Christmas. I doubt the Three Wise Men posed a similar dilemma. It was tradition for mom’s side of the family to arrive before Santa, their Stroh’s and Sterling in tow. They liked watching us get our gifts. Oddly, Uncle Bill and Aunt Bonnie were always missing from this gathering. It concerned me that Bill and Bonnie apparently didn’t care for Christmas.

Our house was one of the few I knew where Santa didn’t mind being seen in person. We actually sat on his lap, fielded the same questions asked of us by Grandpa Saalman mere minutes before and then Santa personally handed us our presents pulled from his huge cloth sack (the toys always what we wished for).

One year, though, he pulled a real zinger. He brought in a sack of twigs — the dreaded switches we were always warned about by our parents, usually beginning around Dec. 1. My heart dropped seeing those switches. That Christmas song was right after all. He does know if you’ve been bad or good. I had a summer flashback of me coaxing my brother to poop in his ball cap much to the amusement of our visiting cousins. Patrick saw the switches and burst into tears. The aunts and uncles, even our grandparents, laughed. Their laughing, fiendish faces reflected off the Christmas tree’s shiny glass ball ornaments — the worst holiday moment ever. This wasn’t Norman Rockwell; this was Norman Rockhell.

The bag of switches was just a big fat joke — though it made a lasting point. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ho. Ho. Ho. We were Punk’d decades before Punk’d existed. The real sack of toys, pulled from outside, cheered us up.

Santa never stayed long. There were many houses to visit. When the heels of his black boots exited through the doorway, mom would warn us once more, “Don’t look out the window,” depriving us of seeing the sled’s liftoff with Rudolph leading the way.

On my 11th Christmas, though, after Santa stepped outside and mom issued her final window warning, I noticed her preoccupation with installing batteries in one of Patrick’s gifts. So, naughty or nice no longer seemingly applicable, I looked out the front window. I saw Santa climb into the passenger side of my Uncle Bill’s big brown Buick. Aunt Bonnie was behind the wheel. Even now, I wish I had listened to my mom. Never look out the window.

Scott Saalman on turning 50 . . .

By SCOTT SAALMAN, The Herald

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.

Essay: Coming out of the Stall regarding Shy Bladder Syndrome

sbs2By SCOTT SAALMAN

Transcript from my first Shy Bladder Syndrome support group meeting:

Hello. My name is Scott … and I have SBS.

Hello, Scott.

I have been an SBS sufferer my whole life.

When nature calls, I like privacy. OK?

I prefer bathrooms with a workable door lock. My grandparents’ bathroom door could be kept somewhat shut only if you slid a drawer open to impede its forward progress. I hated that bathroom. Anytime as a kid that I visited that toilet, about 50 family members would decide they needed to go at the same time too, as if grandma had pulled the old Ex-Lax in the peach cobbler gag, repeatedly pushing the door open a few inches so it banged incessantly against the drawer, their hands reaching inside like in a horror movie scene, my peeing impeded for days (if not decades). My SBS ground zero.

I also blame the urinal for SBS. It’s the worst invention ever. When dad took me into public restrooms, we’d go straight to a stall, the urinals nothing but a mysterious, unexplained white blur. Only in grade school did I encounter my first urinal. Several of them in a row, no partitions. It was a new experience for most of us. Never were we instructed on their operation. We watched second-graders and learned from them. Some of us, sticklers for privacy, remained faithful to the stalls. One by one, though, we were shamed out by the rough boys: “What are you, a bunch of girls?”

Why do we still have urinals? Is this not the 21st century? Are we not a civilized society yet? It’s a caveman thing, I guess, this need to pee in the open. I don’t get it. Really don’t. Never could comfortably utilize the urinal.

I’ll use one if alone, if there are no noises, if no one’s in a stall whistling. I kid you not. It happens. Men do that. I’ve heard of whistling while you work … but whistling while you … never mind. It never fails though that someone else joins me and, worse, starts a conversation. He flushes, then he’s gone. I’m still pretending to go. Once, a co-worker standing next to me didn’t say a word. I waited him out, but he was taking forever. Finally, I faked finishing and flushed. He “finished” too. We left the restroom together. When he was of sight, I bee-lined to a different restroom, stepped inside, only to find him there too. Our eyes met, and we both knew, without saying a word, that we shared the same problem. It was like discovering a doppelganger. Out of respect, I went into a stall. We never talked about it later.

My cousins and I used to take Sunday drives with grandpa, and the dreaded moment would always come: the roadside group pee break. My cousins lined up side by side, like convicts shackled together at the ankles — facing the road even — and whizzed as cars whizzed by, while I basically needed a machete to clear a path through underbrush just to be out of eyesight — and earshot — unzipping once I found the right spot to concentrate, block out mankind, worry about both snakes and losing my compass, finally relaxing enough to pee until suddenly hearing the honk honk honk of grandpa’s car horn. “Scotty? You OK out there? You didn’t hurt yourself with that machete did you?” How I envied my carefree cousins with their bestial, unabashed bladders, waiting for me in the backseat; animals, all of them.

Gentlemen, I decided to come here tonight and go public with this very private issue we unfortunately share, thanks to a recent disturbing commercial I saw starring Rob Lowe. You know the one: The handsome, popular, socially-with-it Rob Lowe looks at the camera and says, “Hi, I’m Rob Lowe, and I have Direct TV,” followed then by a totally doofus, socially inept Rob Lowe who says, “And I’m painfully awkward Rob Lowe, and I have cable.” Then, the extroverted Rob Lowe, surrounded by friends in his fancy apartment, says, “Fact: Direct TV has been ranked higher than cable for over 10 years.” This is then followed by Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe, standing helplessly and dweeb-like at a urinal with others successfully peeing beside him, telling us, “Fact:  I can’t ‘go’ with other people in the room.” Of course, I related to the Rob Lowe with the shy bladder, empathized with his stigmatization.

Then it hit me. I have cable TV, too, like the loser at the urinal. My god, am I that guy? I wondered. Am I painfully awkward Rob Lowe with SBS? Is this how others see me, those not fooled by my otherwise Oscar-worthy performance at the urinal?

I came here tonight to stand before you, my fellow SBS sufferers, to share good news. After a lifetime of being late for classes and meetings and airplane take-offs, finally we have hope. Relief! A cure: Direct TV. I’m dropping cable tomorrow.

I will end my testimonial now, for I have to pee. Please remain seated and quiet for 10 minutes — and, whatever you do, don’t whistle! Thank you.

Bye Scott.

By the way, does anyone have an extra compass?

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing Food players will hold a public benefit show for Catholic Charities at the Tell City High School Auditorium, at 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 7.