Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
December 7, 2011
I’ve got a little question for you: What happens when you die?
I can remember feeling overwhelmed by my mortality as early as grade school. I remember sitting at my desk in first or second grade thinking about how I would die one day and feeling overwhelmed by that burden. I wondered, why was I here?
It’s true. I was raised by two shrinks. But that’s so not the point. Obviously I was a genius child with deep thoughts racking my brain from an early age. Naturally that all went to hell as soon as the hormones took over at the end of fifth grade (I was the first one to wear a bra in my class and so very popular because of it). That was about the point when I ceased to wonder about anything except for whom I might get to make out with next.
I don’t know if it’s married life or what, but some of those deep thoughts have returned.
For some reason, I’ve been haunted by the recent suicide of Scott DeGraff. I found it disturbing on many levels. First of all, living in a small town, our lives truly are intertwined, so it affects all of us on some level. I’d also like to think there is a collective consciousness of sorts in a small community. When all of us experience similar thoughts and feelings at the same time, it has to affect us on a larger scale in some way. Bonding over tragedy is one of the elements of small-town life that I treasure the most.
There’s also this sense that what goes on in a small town represents what’s going on out there in the world on a larger scale. Is DeGraff’s financial demise and subsequent suicide a symptom of the economic downturn? Or should I ask the honest question: Did greed get the best of him in the end? And what does his death say about Aspen?
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I met DeGraff when I wrote a profile about him for one of the local magazines when he first arrived in Aspen back in 2008. I’d driven out to Snowmass Base Village during the construction of Liquid Sky to do the interview and see the site. DeGraff gave me a hard hat to wear and walked me around the property.
“This is where the outdoor showers are going to go,” he said, not once looking me in the eye.
“Outdoor showers? For what?” I asked, as it seemed like a reasonable question.
“You never know what can happen when the ladies get a few drinks in them,” he said.
“You know these ladies you speak of are going to be wearing ski boots, in winter, when it’s cold out, right?” I said.
He informed me he was going to “Vegasize Aspen.” When I asked him how he planned to uphold the history and tradition of the Red Onion, he told me he had a lot of experience with that. After all, he’d convinced Hugh Hefner that he could uphold the tradition of Playboy when he’d opened his Playboy Club in Chicago.
“You’re comparing the Red Onion to the Playboy Club?” I’d asked.
After our interview, I followed his career and the demise of his investments with a judgmental eye. I had my doubts about how a slick club with outdoor showers would go over at Snowmass or how much Aspenites really wanted to be Vegasized. I was bummed I never got to take a class at the Aspen Cooking School before DeGraff took it over and turned it into Fun Worldwide Laboratory. I wondered if the smiley face in his logo was a blatant reference to LSD tabs. It felt like a mockery.
He’d told me, “I love doing things that people say can’t be done.”
The economic downturn can certainly be blamed for DeGraff’s failure, but in my mind (before his death) it was a victory for Aspen and maintaining its true character. I was happy to see local Tommy Colosi and his sister keep the tradition of the Red Onion alive, to keep the “Junk” out of the equation.
Over the past few days, I’ve read a slew of articles online that chronicled DeGraff’s monumental success in Chicago and Las Vegas. I can’t help but wonder why that wasn’t enough. It seems it’s the guys who want it all and are so leveraged and invested who have the most to lose, but isn’t that a calculated risk? Is it really any surprise to anyone that it all came down like a house of cards? DeGraff spent enough time in Vegas to know the house always wins in the end, but he decided to keep gambling. He must have thought he could beat the odds. But in the end, the stakes just kept getting higher.
The little girl’s voice in my head chimes in: What happens when you die? Is it possible that suicide isn’t even an escape after all?
I don’t know if DeGraff suffered from depression or other mental illness or what his psychiatric history is – all of which should be taken very seriously. But from what I read, he celebrated his successes with as much fervor as he punished his survivors for his failure. That’s a tough act to swallow.
Last night I called my dad, a psychiatrist, and asked him if it’s possible for people to commit suicide even if they aren’t depressed or mentally ill.
He said, “It’s the axiom of human behavior that there are no set rules or that it’s ever entirely predictable.” I guess he knows enough to know he doesn’t really know.
What I take away from it is to reiterate my own values. Money, materialism and power are all fleeting. It’s the love you have for yourself (and therefore to give to others) that’s most worth investing in. That’s one gamble I’m willing to take.
The Princess says that if you or someone you know is in trouble, call the HopeLine at 970-925-5858. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.