Lum: Sad times for Aspen
I had just finished listening to a poignant episode by David Sedaris on “This American Life,” about his sister Tiffany, who recently committed suicide, and how it had affected him and his whole family, when I got a call from Gunilla Asher telling me that Stewart Oksenhorn had leapt to his death off the Tiehack pedestrian bridge.
Stewy — shit.
How can you wrap your mind around something like that?
How could it not be noticed that he was in such a state of despair? I guess I know the answer to that — that’s when you’re the best at hiding it — but still, damn it, Stewart. You were one of a kind, and there aren’t many of them left these days. We can’t afford to lose you; we needed you.
When I first met Stewart, he was working in the grocery section of Carl’s Pharmacy — don’t ask me when, but it was well after the hippie days of the ’70s. A time when if you saw a man wearing a tie you could no longer be completely sure that he was either a salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness.
Stewart had scraggly, long, dark hair and wore what appeared to be (and actually turned out to be) pajama bottoms. Junk-food addicts that we were at The Aspen Times next door, we all got to know him when we stopped by for chips, candy bars and soft drinks, noting that he was both funny and smart but having no idea that he had a law degree and that he had dropped out, completely out, of the law business and his life back east.
Of course he fit right in at The Aspen Times, fit so well he might have been born here. He was nonjudgmental about other people and their beliefs and lifestyles and stubborn about maintaining his own.
I remember once he was called for jury duty and I suggested to him that the best way to get off was to appear eager to do it as opposed to trying to wriggle out of it.
This was not Stewart’s way. He appeared in court as required, looking as he always did, including the pajama pants, and told the judge that he could not serve because he had no respect whatsoever for the law or the entire judicial system. He got off. And I thought, “Way to go, Stewart; you keep your own counsel.”
I imagine Stewart reading that and saying that I got it all wrong, but when you kill yourself you abdicate your right to tell the story your way, so screw you, Stewy, for leaving us.
When Stewart was hired as the arts and music editor, he dug right in to educate himself — hung out with Robert Harth at the Aspen Music Festival to learn about classical music, for instance, and evolved into the most knowledgeable reporter on the art scene that the paper had ever had, was a damned good writer and held one-man shows of his photography. I know you’re not supposed to say that anyone is irreplaceable, but who can replace him?
His wife, Candice, worked at the Times, and when they fell in love, more like an explosion of adoration, we were all astounded because they were the most unlikely of couples, but they were smitten. Candice and I both worked in the ad department and were good friends. She and Stewart married and had their baby Olivia while I went down with my lung condition, and, no longer working together, we strayed apart, as so often happens. Then I retired from the ad department and hardly ever saw Stewart, either.
I have no idea what went wrong or where or when. I have no idea what corner Stewart felt so trapped in that he couldn’t find a better way to get out of it.
I just wish that he were still with us.
Su Lum is a longtime local who is in shock. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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