Guest Columnist

I was walking in my neighborhood when a bicyclist shouted, “I liked your last two columns.”

A rarity. An unsolicited compliment from an uncloseted reader for a perceived job well done. My heart soared and danced, like a loose kite kept aloft by the blown notes of a brass band. Happiness on Hochgesang Avenue.

“I liked your last two columns.”

I try not to take compliments too seriously, for I have long believed you are only as good as your next column. Still, the bicyclist’s six words were sweet to hear.

This glorious cyclist, this vocal appreciator of an under-the-radar, small-town column writer’s work, pedaled by so quickly that I couldn’t identify him. By the time I turned around, he was already half a block away. I didn’t even have time to thank him.

“I liked your last two columns.”

He said this. He really did. I felt giddy, as if having earned the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, which shall now forever be known as the Hochgesang Avenue Prize. I decided to savor the buzz while it lasted, for compliments, in my experience, often become too short-lived, soon become overshadowed by negative feedback.

In 2019, I wrote a column about not being a fan of the confederate flag. I find its display rude, divisive, deplorable. You’re a damn fool to even try to explain how the flag is not a racist symbol. I applaud the recent removal of statues and flags connected to slavery, suffering, pain and oppression from public spaces in our country.

My anti-confederate flag story netted negative response. A Facebook group dedicated to defending all things “Dixie” added a hashtag to my name and encouraged people to “Post your flag flying for Scott Saalman.” Several confederate flag photos were posted, little social media hate tokens dedicated to me. Emoticons appeared, too, with angry faces and teary eyes, in deference to my feelings on the flag matter.

It was a personal honor to be dishonored for my steadfast belief in human dignity, equality and kindness to others. It felt good to be on the other end of the spectrum from them.

I was called a “white-guilting POS” and told to “run back to your safe place, pansy.” This from someone named Rooster. I wasn’t overly alarmed. How can anyone named after a barnyard animal be taken seriously? There are various resource books published that provide thousands of options when it comes to naming a newborn. I doubt Rooster ever made the cut in these books. What did his parents use for a baby-name finder? A The Farmer Says See ‘n Say Talking Toy?

“Segregate history. He’s a bum with a big head,” posted another. At least this person’s name didn’t appear to be one announced during roll-call on Old MacDonald’s Farm.

I was called a “pissant,” a name for an insignificant or contemptible person.

I was called a “Northern idiot.” I pity those who still feel the need to refer to people either as “northern” or “southern” simply based on sides taken during a war that ended a century and a half ago.

Yet another person labeled me a “tick turd.” As in, and I quote, “What a tick turd.” Suddenly, Rooster seemed like the sophisticate of the bunch. Curious about the origins of “tick turd,” I learned it was used in the dialogue of Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the 1970’s movie, “Smokey and the Bandit.” I guess this was “tick turd” guy’s way of keeping the unflattering, dimwitted southern sheriff cliché alive and well.

Unfortunately, that very same column I wrote also generated a weirdly disjointed letter to the editor from someone in my own “northern” hometown. He wrote that after reading my column “I found myself wanting to go out and buy a Confederate flag ... I believe I’d rather have a neighbor displaying the Confederate flag than one that wants to silence everything that offends him.” Insert eye-roll emoji here.

Now, back to happier thoughts stemming from my encounter with the aforementioned bicyclist. His compliment brought spring to my step, so much so that I was certain I could happily walk for hours.

“I liked your last two columns.”

It didn’t take long for my pace to slow down, however, when I sensed something off-kilter. How had I not noticed it earlier? I. Liked. Your. Last. Two. Columns. I found a gremlin in the fourth and fifth words. I repeated the sentence, emphasizing “last” and “two.” I liked your LAST TWO columns. Interpretation: the bicyclist liked my last column and the column before my last column.

I stopped walking. The compliment didn’t seem like a compliment at all. The brass musicians alluded to earlier had returned their instruments to their cases; the kite crashed to earth. I turned around. Though the bicyclist was long gone, I said aloud, “Hey, man, what the heck was wrong with my THIRD to last column? Why didn’t you like it?” I headed straight home to write another column. I guess I just don’t know how to take compliments. Maybe I am a tick turd.

Scott’s new collection of columns, “What Are You Going To Write About When I’m Gone?”, about his mom, including her fight with stage four colon cancer, is now available for $15. To buy, email him: