Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’ Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The other night, I went out in Aspen for the first time in a while.
I was feeling good in cowboy boots and a Nanette Lapore dress I’d found at Suzy’s (never been worn, with tags still on it, marked down from $370 to $60). The dress hid the 5 pounds I’ve gained since becoming a desperate downvalley housewife perfectly, and I was having a good hair day.
We were at the Cantina with some friends, who bought me a shot just to see if I could still hold my own with an ounce of hard liquor. The waitress comes up and goes, “Will you autograph this?” and she’s got a copy of my column. I just about leapt out of my chair and bowled her over with a big hug. It’s not that often I get recognized, and I was pretty sure the whole wide world had forgotten about me.
Let me explain to you guys how this whole column-writing thing works. I do not work at The Aspen Times. In fact, I have not set foot in that building since Tim, Chad, Jen and Mike left.
I used to love it there. We used to hang out upstairs in the editorial offices late at night, drinking beer and planting pots of herbs. It had this college-dorm atmosphere, all low ceilings and desks crammed together and all kinds of photos and memorabilia and stuff thumbtacked to the walls. We were all good friends, and I used to bring the boys a six-pack for not editing my column. I could even use bad words back then.
These days, I email my column to my editor Rick (whom I totally adore and who is totally patient with me when I am late and very sweet and has a cute Southern accent). I actually try to get it to him by a reasonable hour (he likes it before noon, though it is 12:45 p.m. right now and I am only 325 words in out of 1,000). Since my pay was cut in half a few years ago and I now get paid approximately 16 cents a word, I try not to spend too much time on it. An hour is good – any more than that, and I’m losing more money than I’m making, after taxes and all.
I don’t really know anyone else at The Aspen Times anymore except Dottie and Stewie and Scoop, the old cat who I’m pretty sure is responsible for keeping the roof from falling in. When Scoop dies, then I’ll know it’s officially over. I’ll still feel nostalgic when I see that awesome purple storefront that I loved at first sight, but it’ll just be a shell. It’ll be like the faces of all those part-time residents we see parading around in the summertime, plastered on and filled with stuff that isn’t real and looks weird, not better.
I sit alone in my new house and write at my new white desk, looking out over the Fryingpan Valley and the scrub oak trees that grow right through our deck while our 105-pound German shepherd, George, paces around and constantly wants to be let in or let out. If he’s not pacing or sleeping, he just sits there and stares at me, waiting for my next move. If I so much as get up to use the bathroom, he leaps to attention, hoping and praying I’m going to take him somewhere that involves chewing on sticks or digging up rocks from the bottom of the river.
The point is that I have no awareness whatsoever of my audience. I could be sitting here buck naked with paint on my face and real bird feathers in my hair, and no one would ever know.
So it’s always shocking when I’m in a restaurant or at a party and someone knows my column. Like, just last night I was at this very fancy party in a very fancy house with very fancy people. I somehow get invited to these things and end up spending a lot of the time pondering whether I deserve to be there or even want to be there. Is my outfit up to date? Are maxi dresses and platform espadrille sandals still in? (I’m pretty sure they are.) I ask myself if I am honestly comfortable. Am I OK with what I’m wearing, do I belong here, do these people like me, or can they tell I am just a dirtbag media freeloader who makes like $30 grand a year but lives like a Princess because I get to do this kind of stuff for free?
It’s inevitable that someone introduces me to someone I’ve never met and says, “She writes the Princess column in The Aspen Times.”
I hold my breath and wait for one of two answers.
Usually I get an apologetic smile and a shrug and, “I don’t really ever read the papers,” to which I respond, “It’s OK – neither do I.”
But sometimes I’ll get, “Oh, my God! That’s you?”
And I always say, “What, you don’t recognize me from my portrait?” which I think is pretty funny.
So I’m at this really fancy house with these really fancy people having a philosophical breakdown about the meaning of life that is about to devolve into an identity crisis, when I am cast into one of these rounds of introductions.
Luckily, I get response B: excitement, interest and recognition (from a woman dressed in Missoni, no less, a designer I have always coveted but never have been rich or thin enough to wear).
I guess it’s good to know I can walk into a room, even one with 1-percenters, and if I say, “Don’t you know who I am?” at least one person might raise their hand and say, “I do.”
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