Column: He soars like Icarus; plummets like him, too

By Scott Saalman

Last week, a coworker told me, “I really liked your last column. It was funny.”

This surprised me. My columns are seldom praised except by mom, my fan. What mother isn’t a fan of her child? I’m sure there’s even a mom out there bragging to her hairdresser, “The warden called today. He said my sweet boy Johnny the Icepick plays well with others in Cell Block A.”

To say I was pleased by the coworker’s compliment is an understatement. I had to keep myself from having a Sally Field Oscar moment right before his very eyes: “You like me, right now, you really like me!” Still, I squinted at him suspiciously, wondering, “Mommy?”

What added to the moment’s meaningfulness was he didn’t work in my department. Unlike those in my own department with a moral obligation to say nice things about my stories (apparently they missed the memo about this directive long ago), this guy worked several departments away, so he had nothing to gain. His “I really liked your last column” was sincere.

Seldom do I receive unsolicited positive feedback like this, so when it does happen, I cherish the moment, add it to the scrapbook of my soul, dip my toes in my shallow pool of self-esteem. That’s because more so than not, writing a newspaper column has led to humbling experiences.

I once did a public reading that drew so few people that my dad decided to sit five rows behind my mom — catty-corner, at that — just to, as he put it, “Make it look like more people were there.”

I was recently introduced at a reading in Huntingburg as “Stan Saalman.”

After I read an essay on the air for local TV station WJTS, General Manager Bill Potter told viewers, “That was Ed Walston reading . . .”

When I read at my high school last year, only two members of my graduating class came. Had they not been married to each other, there likely would’ve been only one to show up — the one I still owed money to for a cheap bottle of T.J. Swann we shared in ’82 (a swell vintage year for Swann by the way).

When I first started writing humor columns for the college paper in the ’80s, my intent was pure. I did not write for ego-strokes. I wrote for my muse. I wrote to release the art that burned from within. I wanted my words to resonate with others in all aspects of existence as a human being, to be a trusted chronicler of the human condition, to communicate my sense of the world for the betterment of my fellow man. Ah, who am I kidding? I wrote columns to get chicks. Hey, even the Beatles and The Band and The Stones admitted the same when asked why they became musicians. Unfortunately, it worked for them, not me. I was slow to realize that women want more than just words on paper; they also expect those words to be sung. Perhaps I should sing my columns (solely for the sake of art of course).

So, yes, it was nice to hear my coworker say, “I really liked your last column.” True, he wasn’t a chick, but at least someone other than mom said it.

My brain, so out of practice for praise, struggled with the right response to express my gratitude. His compliment hit me like a Taser gun. I was too stunned to speak. How I wanted to shower him with verbal flower petals of appreciation. The seconds felt like hours as I pulled myself up from the floor. Finally, I replied, “Thanks.”

Had the coworker simply left it at that, said nothing more, I would’ve skipped down the hallway and did a little Irish jig, clicking my heels in midair. Unfortunately, before I could conjure the celebrative little leprechaun from within, he voiced an addendum: “I can relate to your column. I hate shopping at Walmart too.”

Houston, we have a problem. My last column was not about Walmart, but it was the topic of Herald columnist Jason Recker’s last column, headlined “For men, Walmart is the root canal of shopping.”

He wasn’t complimenting me. He was complimenting Jason.

The death whisper of Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” came to mind, “The horror. The horror.”

It was not the first time someone had complimented me on a Jason column. What’s even worse is when someone tells me, “I really like Jason’s column. He’s my favorite.” I’ve been told that twice to my face. I kid you not. Even mom is a Jason fan. If you love him so much, mom, why don’t you just adopt him? I want to ask, locked in a fetal position.  

Luckily, I maintain a level of maturity on this matter. Jason and I write for the same paper; I am a guest columnist, he is a full-time Herald staffer. It is not a competition. Still, Peyton Manning wouldn’t want to be complimented for an Andrew Luck play. Am I right? Just saying.

Instead of falsely taking credit for Jason’s Walmart column, I told the coworker the truth. He apologized.

“It’s no big deal,” I said, limply walking away.

Really. It’s all cool. It is.

D’oh!

Who am I kidding?

Someone get me Johnny the Icepick!

Tell Johnny that Stan needs him. He’ll understand.

The Will Read and Sing For Food players will perform a public show at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Jan. 23) at VUJC’s new tech building to benefit Psi Iota Xi’s children’s literacy camp. Admission: $10 donation. Special musical guests: Mountain Harmony Bluegrass Band, Michael Cummings and Daniel Ross.




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