Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Last week in this space I asked if Aspen was dying or if it was just catching its breath. There’s no sense in reliving the past, so if you want more detail on what I said about this you will have to have a virtual experience of last Friday morning online (you might as well, the skies were clear cobalt blue, as they only are in Aspen in June). The reason I bring it up is for two of the unusual responses I got on the piece. Usually people comment to me electronically; praise, criticism, or indifference expressed on cell phone keys by people looking busy and friended, sitting alone in coffee shops, I suspect. However, last Friday I got two personal visits, each flattering in their own ways.
The first was from a longtime local businessman who believed I had hit the proverbial analytical home run, dead centerfield, a no-doubter. I blushed and aimlessly rearranged the work scattered over my desk, said “thanks” many more times than was necessary, passively encouraging him to keep it up until he couldn’t possibly say another nice thing about me.
The next guy came in not 15 minutes later and asked me if I got “my jollies” writing “stuff like that.” Still reveling in the compliments of the previous visitor, I misread this present visitor’s intent and admitted to him that, “yes,” I really did enjoy my weekly turn on the local stump.
“Well, I think it’s awful,” he said. “How am I supposed to respond when somebody in France reads this crap online and then calls me to see what the hell is going on up here in Aspen?”
I was stunned. My mind drew a blank. I didn’t know what to say. All I could think was that somebody in France was reading my column! I wanted to call my wife to tell her, but I knew it would be completely inappropriate considering the circumstances.
“Look,” he said confidentially. “I like you. You’re bright. Why can’t you use your talent to write positive things?”
I was glowing inside. Bright? Talented? Really? Not being able to resist casting one more line hoping to catch a few more compliments, I asked if he had read my column the previous two or three weeks, which I thought were light-hearted and positive.
“No,” he growled. “I try to read your stuff, but it makes me sick to my stomach. I can never get through it.”
OK. To my thinking, that’s powerful stuff. Who in my line of work can claim that their work regularly stimulates involuntary physical responses from their readers? Think of it. My work makes this guy wretch, yet he keeps on trying to plow through it, week after week. And, he takes time out of his busy, busy day to talk with me about it … in person (did I mention that already?).
At any rate, so as he wouldn’t feel his visit was wasted, I made the effort to see his point: We don’t have to look at our circumstances realistically; we can choose to look at them optimistically instead. It leads back to the age-old question around here: Which came first, optimism or double-digit real estate appreciation? With this in mind, I decided that this week I was going to write something nice about this town that last week I claimed had become an embarrassment to me over the past decadent, wasteful, self-indulgent decade that Aspen did bigger than any place outside of Las Vegas.
The next morning I hopped on my bicycle and began writing my pleasing column in my head as I pedaled past the long lines of traffic into town. As it happened, I rode past a friend’s house and he was out in front, apparently watering his garden … except that he doesn’t have a garden. He works too hard to have time for that. I asked him what was up.
“Arson,” he said. And sure enough, it was! He pointed out the scorched weeds next to the curb and the long gas-soaked rag that his neighbor had removed from the neck of the fuel tank in his van cum six-passenger Molotov cocktail. “It was a few punks early this morning,” he said. “I heard them, but how could I have imagined this? I didn’t come out until after I smelled the smoke.”
My first reaction was to look at the situation realistically and I felt fear and rage. In Aspen? This? Then I remembered my morning mission. I had to keep my optimism in order to write a cheerful column. “Ha!” I chuckled. “Kids sure have got a lot of pluck around here. It kind of reminds me of the time somebody planted a car bomb in that guy’s Jeep up at The Aspen Club back in the ’80s. Did they ever identify the body? ( I knew they had, but I figured it might be depressing to get too bogged down in the details.) … Boy, those were the good ol’ days. Remember those picnics we used to have up on Smuggler, at the deck?”
My friend’s young son had wandered up during this conversation. Not being particularly concerned with the details of this felony or the disco era in Aspen, he had a chance to inspect my bike. “Hey, you have a hole in your tire,” he excitedly pointed out.
Sure enough, tire sealant was spewing like oil from the sea bottom of the Gulf. “Ah, it’s nothing,” I said. “It’ll stop by itself eventually.” My buddy agreed, but reminded me that it might be better if I got to my office before it did, though. It was a helpful remark and reminded me of just how kind Aspen people can be in adversity. I thanked him and pedaled furiously until there was no more air to escape. His concern ended up saving me at least a block’s worth of walking my bike.
Of course I was late to work and nearly missed my deadline for this story, but why worry? This is Aspen. We don’t have problems! And, how’s that for being optimistic?
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