September 20, 2005
My daughter Skye said that she had been invited to check out the Elks Club as a possible venue for a community school fund-raiser and asked me to come with her. Not finding her contact person in the bar, she said “Let’s look in the ballroom,” opened the doors and BANG, flashbulbs exploded and a roomful of past and present co-workers, old friends and my kids from Leadville screamed, “SURPRISE!!”It was shock and confusion that got me through what I had always imagined as my worst nightmare. It was a bit like being sucked back into consciousness after 10 days on the respirator in Grand Junction: Where am I? What’s going on? It turned out that it was a surprise party to celebrate my having stuck out 40 years at The Aspen Times, an anniversary that had passed sometime in August and which I’d stopped thinking about after the first decade. You land some place by accident, it suits you, and there you are 40 years later wondering when you got old. The thing of it is, there is nothing like a down-and-dirty, X-rated wild Aspen Times party, and that was the best part: I was NOT going to check out the Elks Club with Skye for a few minutes and then go home to Inspector Morse reruns, we were going to PARTY.There are quite a few things I cannot tell you about the party – suffice it to say that the buttons made by our business manager, Hilary Burgess, were not allowed in the public bar, and the table decorations put together by Jenna Weatherred threw the clerks at Wal-Mart for a loop – in part, they consisted of flowers, Cheetos and other things tied together with oxygen tubing, surrounded by the kind of clear, plastic bottles I smuggle my preferred brandy into Aspen Times parties, referred to as my “shampoo.”I can tell you that Gayle Johnson made a huge batch of my Christmas cookies and that one of the large signs on the wall, created by Barbara New, was “W.” Once, long ago, I was hanging up after a conversation with a client. He said, “Good-bye,” and I said, “W.” “Why did I say THAT?” I moaned, but it became a code for “Good-bye, I’m out of here,” without having to announce it.The elk heads in the ballroom were strewn with strings of hanging spoons, a reference to a childhood card game. When a difficult customer would come into the office we’d all disappear, whispering, “Spoon, spoon” and whoever was left was stuck.I cannot tell you much about the subsequent “roast,” organized by Dottie Wolcott (who will get hers), having fortified myself with sufficient shampoo to get through it, but I think it was kinder than I expected or deserved. They would have been meaner if I had actually quit – I’ve always said I’d die at my desk (another sign on the wall) to avoid a retirement party and hey, now I CAN quit!Great subterfuge preceded this event. Usually, secret staff events are bungled by our own technology, with the honoree getting (oops) the e-mails. There was a level of unease about my possible reaction and I myself couldn’t say what I might have done if I had gotten wind of it, though flight definitely comes to mind. Anyway, it was a helluva good party, as I could tell when I couldn’t pry my eyes open the next morning and had thrown my back out from too much hugging.Afterwards, I said, “This is how you’re going to get me into the nursing home, Skye. Let’s check out this interesting building, Su. Let’s go up these stairs.” Open the door and, “Here’s your bed, Su.” Su Lum is a longtime local who appreciated the thought and the turn-out. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.