Looking for curmudgeons, characters & intellectuals
The assignment, from a woman I have admired for years, and for whom I would do almost anything, was short and to the point. Would I please help put together a list of real or imagined, alive or dead, curmudgeons, characters and intellectuals? It sounded like fun, and after a bit of salivation (and coming up with a very short list), I discovered the task to be very daunting and was soon spending more time wondering why it was so difficult rather than running likely names and candidates through my head.The word “curmudgeon” didn’t resonate with me until some ski buddies started using it in reference to yours truly a couple of years ago. The late Nick McGrath had pegged me “irascible,” a label I courteously let him use, but really didn’t like the definition, although the word has a certain delicacy to it, in spite of itself. In sort of an ironic twist, I haven’t really given intellectuals much thought, either, but the implication from many people seems to be that there is a plethora of them hanging out in our thought-provoking neighborhood. Basically, there are two meanings to the word “intellectual” and I think that is where I’m having the problem. The preferred definition (at least to me) is of “something that appeals to the intellect.” There is a lot that appeals to my intellect. The other definition is along the lines of a “person with a highly-developed intellect.” The second definition is not nearly as concise as the first, and that is the beginning of the conundrum. One of the perquisites of living in Aspen is not only the exposure to intellects of various backgrounds and interests, many of them well developed in the politically correct sense, but also exposure to those delightful intellectual characters that one meets in the course of any given day while going about one’s mundane business of existence, those intellects that course with the serendipity of a butterfly and the grace of a ballet dancer. As Aspen High students, we had the unmatched ability to attend lectures, discussions and forums at the Aspen Institute with regularity. We more or less grew up with world-class intellectuals as a portion of our world, many times thinking ourselves part of the thought process. Maybe that’s why I’m not particularly stirred by the thought of “intellectuals,” per se. There’s a guy around here who has one of the best-developed intellects I’ve ever come across. If you haven’t heard of Al Senna, look no further than the front page of the April 18, 1974, Aspen Times and you will instantly know that he is a Vermont native, a cowboy, or as he prefers to be called, a range rider. He and I spent many years together riding after cows in the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park area, and I have always been impressed by his prodigious knowledge of so many things. With no ivy leagues or institutes of technology in his past, Al claims his vast education came from reading a lot, mostly in lonely cow camps with weak kerosene lanterns for light. It’s not so much a question as to whether there are any great characters, curmudgeons or intellectuals frequenting our watering holes, it’s more a question of just exactly whom they might be. I find myself doing the same thing a football fan starts to do this time of the year – putting people in the same order as fans put football teams. So and so will win the Super Bowl, the AFC, blah, blah, blah. Well, so and so might make my list, but maybe not, either.I was given the assignment, but not the motivation for it, a disconnect which, for the moment, doesn’t seem to be a problem for my intellect. If, however, you are a bit more curious, please keep your eye on the Aspen Times Daily for the next few weeks to see the upshot partially created by my musings over a list of curmudgeons, intellectuals and characters. I’ll be doing the same. Tony Vagneur appears here every Saturday and accepts comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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