Column: Columnist set off crime spree a long time ago


On March 9, my name was referenced for the first time on the Looking Back page of this newspaper. In the “25 Years Ago” section, it was stated, “From the Saturday feature by Scott Saalman: ”˜Marilyn Drew, 42, and Kathie McClure, 38, both of Jasper, traveled to Calcutta in February to work at Mother Teresa’s missions.’”

I groaned. It’s official. I’m Herald old.

I suppose there is opportunity for more references to me in Looking Back. I wrote several Saturday features during my short but sweet Herald stint, none of the stories being award winners. I did win third place in a state competition and felt very giddy until then-Outdoors Editor and resident cynic Hak Haskins set me straight, “Saalman, awards are fine and all, but you can’t eat awards.” I have been an underachiever ever since.

I wonder what other stories of mine might appear in Looking Back. Perhaps the one I wrote about successful businessman Alvin Ruxer, headlined “The Smell of Money.” After the story ran, Alvin’s nephew phoned, telling me to go to Siebert’s to pick out a suit of my choice. Alvin was to foot the bill. I would like to think this kind offer was due to my writing prowess, but I think it had more to do with me wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt during my interview with one of the town’s richest men. I declined the offer because of professional ethics. Had I accepted the suit, I’m sure an unimpressed Hak would have set me straight again, “Saalman, suits are fine and all, but you can’t eat suits.”

The most memorable story penned during my Herald career — “Fake animal menace should be stopped” — likely won’t be in Looking Back. It was a sophomoric attempt at announcing open hunting season on animal-themed lawn ornaments in Dubois County. I considered it a civic duty to write such a column, believing it ultimately might raise property values if the fake wildlife population were wiped out.

“Alarming firsthand visual statistics show that the population of fake front-yard animals is on the rise in Dubois County, going hand in hand with poor taste,” I wrote. “Shooting is allowed, although a live catch is cleaner. They should be tagged, yard-dressed and carefully strapped to the hoods of trucks for all to see.”

The column was not meant to be taken seriously. It was satire. A scary thing happened, though. Then-court reporter Robin Walston began reporting on a rash of lawn ornament thefts. In Jasper, 25 reports amounted to 82 stolen ornaments. A $500 reward was offered by the Jasper Community Strike Force to fend off such thievery. A stone duckling was placed on my desk, courtesy of the police, once I was removed from the suspect list. At least they maintained a sense of humor about it. Still, they suggested via Robin that I run a column announcing the end of lawn ornament hunting season. I obliged. I believe 120-some animal ornaments were bagged before the spree subsided.

The column netted me an anonymous “un-fan” letter:

“I just read in The Herald where more yard ornaments have been stolen. I don’t know who is doing all these terrible things but I believe I know why. ... I don’t know if he (Scott Saalman) wrote this article because he really hates yard ornaments or he thought it was cute.

“I know some yards do look cluttered with plastic birds and animals. It really isn’t up to him to tell people that it is open season and they can even shoot them if they want to.

“After reading this article, I was really upset and I told my husband just watch and see what will happen now. In just a couple of days later, it all started and hasn’t stopped.

“I have yard ornaments myself but most of them are made of concrete or other hard materials. Most of them are gifts from my children, grandchildren or other relatives and I love them all. I also love wild birds and animals but they won’t stay in one spot and if they did, some jerk would want to kill them, too.

“I believe Scott owes an apology for writing such a stupid article and giving some sick people an excuse for destroying people’s property.”

Twenty-five years ago. Yikes.

I guess it’s better to find my name in Looking Back than in the obits. ... But such charted passing of time sure does gnaw at me, reminding me that we are all merely waiting for the worms and the day is drawing nearer when I won’t be so lucky. ... And. That. I. Will. Need. A. Suit.

I wonder if the statute of limitations has expired on that free suit offered by Alvin. I also can’t help but wonder if a tie was meant to be included. Siebert’s has nice ties. Perhaps Jim Siebert is still awaiting my arrival. I’ll even give him a stone duckling for being such a good sport.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food Players will perform a Community Food Bank benefit at Huntingburg Old Town Hall at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 14. The public is invited. Admission: a canned good or monetary donation.

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