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The sex trade strikes Aspen

Tony Vagneur

It wasn’t clear in the beginning that we were witnessing the sex trade work its way into modern Aspen’s checkered moral fabric, but it was obvious that whatever was going on, it had aroused our young curiosity and we were predisposed to keep our ears to the ground, so to speak.Early on, the Wheeler Opera House became a regular stop for us as we made our rounds through town, after school or on lunch breaks, looking for excitement or trouble, maybe both. Such a big building as the Wheeler certainly maintained our curiosity from about age 10 through junior high, and we spent an inordinate amount of time exploring the guts of the glorious old edifice.Rooms on the second floor used to be rented out for the season and these small cubicles, strewn with the clutter of ski bums everywhere, piqued our interest with regularity. One enterprising guy, looking for women (money?), had taped a sign to his door proclaiming “Love for Sale,” the details of which were written in smaller print down below, picture attached. The guy probably wasn’t over 22 at the most, but we kids couldn’t figure out how a middle-aged guy like that could charge for it when we, young studs that we were, couldn’t even give it away. Lack of proper showers probably underscored the reason for the strong smell of aftershave lotion coming from his room and permeating all of the second floor, although at the time we surmised he used the strong-smelling lotion as a means of attracting customers. We also figured he must have a second job, something like a dishwasher or bellman, as a means of support. Not long after that, we began to observe a striking woman making the rounds downtown, in a fashion unusual in the sense that we hadn’t seen her modus operandi before. She lived upstairs in the Aspen Block building with a very large, almost white dog somewhat akin to a Norwegian Husky and would come out after dark and patrol the Hyman Avenue sidewalk between Galena and Hunter, eager to stop and talk to any man who expressed an interest in her, or her dog.We noticed right off that the conversations were rather short and once some sort of an agreement appeared to have been reached, the woman would take the man back to her Aspen Block rooms. Of course, with a zeal found only in young boys freshly bathed in testosterone, we began surreptitiously eavesdropping on the conversations to confirm our suspicions. She’d talk to us sometimes, but once a prospective client came into view, we were summarily dismissed. You know, don’t you, that we eventually petitioned to become clients of hers, only to be told that, as much as she’d like to, we were a little young and she didn’t really need the trouble.When we were in high school, a guy known as Uncle Tom used to hit town with a bunch of beauties (5 or 6) for a couple of weeks during the winter. Rumor was he brought the women in from Las Vegas, paying them big bucks to cater to his every whim. Tom and his ladies made the rounds every night, back in the days when several clubs around town had live music. They weren’t a dancing bunch and mostly just seemed to sit and watch. Uncle Tom looked to be about 70, and we figured a guy that old might be a little vulnerable and unable to keep track of all his women, so we began following them around on occasion, trying to make a little headway with the gals. They were very polite, let us sit at the table with them, and were quite disposed to tease us about anything, although early on it was made clear that their allegiance to Uncle Tom was unshakable. Of the myriad things Aspen taught us growing up, we learned a lot about desperate young men and out-of-town women who weren’t past making some money for having a good time and who shared some laughs with a couple of ragged local boys. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes comments at ajv@sopris.net


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