Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Our friend Fred showed up to meet us at L’Hostaria last week dressed in a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and down vest, his cheeks ruddy with the excitement of the day.

“I had to represent Steamboat,” he said, tipping his hat.

Fred is a friend and neighbor of my parents’, and like most Steamboat retirees, he’s had a fascinating life and career that began with Harvard and landed him in some high-powered job that had him traveling and living all over the world. The guy knows a few things about life.

Now in his early 70s, Fred seems to be in a state of refection. He spent a good part of the meal carefully dispensing advice that, with the bow of his head and the long pauses between his thoughts, graced us with some serious wisdom.

What made it even more profound was that experience of someone saying exactly what you need to hear precisely when you need to hear it. It’s sort of like waking up from a dream and being in a fugue state, when your thoughts are most vivid but not quite real. It’s as if a higher power is speaking to you through him, this Buddha dressed in a cowboy hat.

Fred put down his fork, took a sip of wine and paused for several seconds.

“Look,” he said. Then after a long silence and deep gaze into the tablecloth, “You guys are a unit now. And you need to decide what’s going to make you happy and be best for you. There are always going to be people who are going to try to tell you that you need to drive this car or live in this neighborhood, or go to this school, but it doesn’t matter what other people think. What matters is that you two decide, together, what’s best for you.”

This advice has now become dubbed “What Fred said.”

Since we heard it a week ago, Ryan has started many sentences with “Remember what Fred said.”

It has sort of become our mantra.

Caring what other people think is human nature. We all hear ourselves say, “I shouldn’t care what other people think, but … ”

As you get older, if you are lucky, you become more unapologetically yourself. Still, you have relationships with people you care about and therefore care about what they think.

When you get married, the dynamic between you and the friends you had when you were still single can shift drastically. The fact is that their role in your life is lessened. Maybe they were the people you turned to for support when things weren’t going so well. Now, suddenly, you don’t need them as much anymore, and that isn’t always so easy for them to accept even if it does reflect well on your marriage.

What’s been interesting to us is how quickly people want to jump all over our decisions and criticize them. Part of it has to do with their own selfish motives, especially if that decision means we might not see them as much. But still, it’s annoying. It’s a major buzz-kill.

When it comes to making major decisions, it seems it’s better to just wait until the decision has already been made. It’s like naming a baby.

“We love the name Justin,” you’d say.

“‘Just in time,’ Justin?” they’d say. “Better enroll him in boxing lessons early. The kids at school are going to be all over that.”

But if you tell them after the kid is born, they sort of have no choice but to keep their mouths shut.

A good friend should want nothing more than for you to be happy. Like when my friend Dina told me she was leaving Aspen and moving to New York City, I didn’t smack her in the back of the head and say, “You can’t go to New York! New York is awful! Why in the hell would you want to do that?”

Instead, I drove her there. I drove straight through the night, lost my wallet at a truck stop in Kansas, got a speeding ticket in St. Louis and made it all the way to Columbus, Ohio, in one shot.

Like the other day, I was having a very typical argument with my little brother who, since becoming and adult, seems to forget that I was born seven years before he was. He acts as if I am constantly on the brink of some kind of disaster that’s going to be his responsibility. While I realize this comes from a good place, it’s super-annoying. I have to constantly remind him that I’ve never been in jail, asked him to drive me to the abortion clinic or even asked him for a dime of his money.

“I knew you were going to screw this all up,” he said about a recent deal he’d advised me on.

“It’s not just me anymore, Daniel. It’s Ryan’s decision too.”

I was surprised how fast he relented. “That’s true, that’s true,” he said, quickly backing down. Even though they’re now brothers-in-law, the newness of their relationship is such that he’s not going to try to take down Ryan as quickly as he might try to tackle me. Now that I’m married, I have backup. When I make a decision and someone contests it, I can say, “Why don’t you talk to Ryan about it?”

So I guess I feel protected, and that’s a great place to be. That’s a first.

Still, we both have to endure the scrutiny of our friends, who don’t always agree with our decisions. We angst over it, we worry about it, we turn it around in our heads and sometimes lay awake at night, thinking about it.

Now in addition to those three little words to make me feel better no matter what, we have four to fall back on. Thanks for what you said, Fred.

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