A long leash provides fine fodder | AspenTimes.com
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A long leash provides fine fodder

Barry Smith

The Aspen Times is celebrating its 125th anniversary this week, and though I wish it were so, I don’t have any tales of delivering the Times as a kid, or even stories of hilarious office hijinks – I work from home. However, I can honestly say that The Aspen Times has provided me with a most amazing opportunity – every week for the past 10 years I’ve been given this space to fill, and have been allowed complete freedom on my choice of, or lack of, topics – a few times to my embarrassment, of course, but how else do you learn? When I meet someone for the first time and they ask, as humans inevitably will, what I “do,” I have two answers to choose from: AV Guy or Aspen Times columnist.When I answer “I’m an AV Guy,” the response is usually: “A navy guy?””No, an AV Guy.””OK. So you just said ‘a navy guy’ again. How is that different?””Listen to me – the indefinite article ‘an,’ followed by ‘A,’ then ‘V,’ then ‘Guy!’ An AV Guy. That’s what I do.””Oh … an AV Guy. What’s that?”So, to avoid this tedious little “Who’s On First” routine, I will generally answer: “Aspen Times columnist.”I’m not going to lie to you – I think being an Aspen Times columnist is pretty cool. There’s prestige, perhaps a bit of power, recognition, fame, and all the ego-stroking moments that come with it. Doors fling open when you make such a proclamation.Like this:”What do you do?””Ahem … I’m an Aspen Times columnist.””Oh my God, of course! I thought I recognized you!””Yes, well, shucks, thank you, etc … “”You’re Paul Andersen!”One day, just about 10 years ago, I was sitting at a desk in the newsroom of a neighboring newspaper, where I was employed as a columnist and part-time office lackey. The owner of that paper walked through the room, saw me and said, “Hey, what’s your e-mail again?”I thought: “Oh, you mean the e-mail that’s been printed in your paper, twice a week for the past 15 months, right below a picture of my head? The one that is, in fact, in today’s paper? Which you are holding in your hand? That e-mail?”Of course I didn’t say that, because I never get to say things like that aloud, I only get to write about having wished I’d said them.I gave him my e-mail and thought: “That’s pretty cool, the owner is taking some personal interest in me. Maybe big things are about to happen for me. Maybe I’m not the faceless peon on the verge of being fired that I thought I was.”He never emailed me. Later that week I got a memo saying that, for unstated reasons, my column (and pay) was going to be cut back drastically. But I was still welcome to drop by and type in the horoscopes and letters to the editor.Oh well, I thought … I gave the writing thing a shot, but I guess it isn’t going to work out. I can always go back to being a navy guy. I mean … The following week I got a call from The Aspen Times. Apparently several staff members had been enjoying my column, as had then-editor Andy Stone. A month later I became an Aspen Times columnist.I wasn’t exactly teeming with ambition back then, so I’m pretty sure that when my writing gig at the other paper petered out, my writing career would have consisted of random to-do lists and unfinished notes to self. But, thanks to The Aspen Times, I was given another chance. Now I get to gather together those random to-do lists and unfinished notes-to-self and send them in as my latest column. Cool!So, I’d like to wish The Aspen Times a happy 125th(!) birthday – I’m proud to have been a part of the extended family for the short 10 years I’ve been around, and gracious for the support the Times’ staff has shown me over the years. I look forward to providing continued nonsense in this space for years to come. And, if that doesn’t work out, I’m available to stop by and type in letters to the editor.


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