Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Whoever said “nothing in life is free” had no idea what they were talking about. Either that, or they never lived in a ski town.
Oh yes, I am referring to the ol’ “ski town currency” and I’m not just talking about a six-pack of beer for the guy who tunes your skis (Sorry, Pomeroy Boys, I guess I should say 12-pack).
No, I’m talking about the exchange of goods and services that doesn’t involve money changing hands or credit card receipts. It’s the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” (sometimes literally if the person you’re trading with is a massage therapist) and I’m telling you right now it’s probably the downfall of half the businesses in this town, including mine.
I get it that most of this stems from the simple fact that so many of us who live in Aspen can’t actually afford to live in Aspen. Sure, we make it work with that friend of yours who waits tables at (fill in the blank) and floats you all your drinks for free. You might live in “affordable housing” so you only have to pay as much rent as say, someone who lives in New York/LA/Tokyo/San Fran. Maybe you’ve even learned to drink Budweiser or another variety of piss-colored American beer because it’s the only thing you can get on tap for cheap.
And that works, at least until you need something.
So then all of a sudden you’re giving away massages so you can get your roots done once every six months (or giving away free hair services so you can finally take care of your aching back and feet).
In my case, it’s writing all kinds of things for people, from college applications and job references to website content and break up e-mails (yes, I have rewritten e-mails, though more for content than style). I also try to dole out some press when I can (this week’s column brought to you by the Queen B Salon, Aspen Skiing Co., Bikrams Basalt, Jean Robert’s Gym and let’s not forget The Little Nell!), and every once and a while I actually get an assignment from a respectable publication that makes me feel like I’m actually still a legitimate journalist.
Another thing I have to offer is time. I don’t punch in or commute or have a weekly schedule up on my fridge because I work for myself. That means I get to manage my own time, which is kind of scary considering the only thing I manage to do most days is waste a lot of it. Or I’ll spend it doing completely unproductive things that also don’t make me any money like go to yoga or Bernadette’s amazing circuit training class (Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1-2 p.m., visit http://www.aspenfitness.com for more details!) or hike the Bowl or get my nails done.
That makes it really hard for me to say no when my friends call and ask me for various favors because they have much busier lives than I do. Because I rely so heavily on being given favors, I also feel like I have to pay it forward, or keep up the good karma. All of a sudden I hear myself say things like, “Yes, I can absolutely help you move your waterbed down an icy flight of stairs” or “Sure, I’d be happy to watch your killer pitbull/clean your cat’s litter box while you’re on your yacht in St. Bart’s/shovel your 2 1/2 mile driveway while you’re at your beach house in Guam. No problem.”
I also hate to charge my friends for my professional services because it just doesn’t feel right. I’m like, “oh, it’ll come back around” or “it won’t take me long” or “it’s so much easier for me than it is for them.”
That’s all fine and great until they get all demanding on my ass and want me to rewrite things or change them around or write their god damned master’s thesis and all of a sudden my so-called friend has turned into one of the most difficult clients I’ve ever worked with in my life.
What’s worse is when I become friends with my clients, and all of a sudden I feel guilty about charging them even if they have more money than god. “Oh don’t worry about it,” I’ll say. “Just pay me the same as you did last time,” even if I know I did at least twice the work.
I also have a penchant for buying very expensive gifts, just because I love receiving them so much. I want my clients and friends to be as happy as I would be if they ever gave me the same thing. Sure, I spent half of my paycheck on the very person who cut me the check in the first place, but hey, relationships are the most important thing, right?
To make matters worse, I find myself constantly asking for favors, too. You would not believe what I have been reduced to in all this wedding planning crap. It’s pathetic. I’m like, “If you can figure out a way to tailor this dress so I can fit into it for less than what the dress actually cost in the first place, I’ll vacuum your car!” or “If you can bake me a cake for less than five thousand dollars, I’ll wash and fold all your laundry for a month!”
This all works fine and dandy until our 13-year old car dies or our 100-pound horse dog with bad knees/hips/itchy skin/constantly infected ears has to go the vet, or god forbid, I want to get fertilized/try Botox/consider liposuction, and it’s not covered by my insurance. (Bastards!)
So see, nothing in life really is free. Or maybe it is, but that’s not going to help my overdrawn bank account.
The Princess has started her pre-wedding diet and cutting back on carbs.
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