Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you turn toward State Bridge off of Interstate 70 and head north, it’s a fine drive, especially in early summer. Every slow-turning bend reveals a new perspective on the land, creates enthusiasm for adventure between two people falling in love, and makes conversation easy.

We spied the notebook-sized piece of paper stuck to the windshield, just like he said it’d be, with the address numbers wildly scrawled in pencil. There was a moment of hesitation, perhaps a touch of ambivalence, before we climbed the stairs to what could be best described as a hurriedly-built, 1950s log-sided cabin, and made our presence known.

He’d advertised treasures for sale, of the kind seldom found anymore, and my future paramour had asked me to tag along on this journey, part of the mating dance we all do, never sure of the future.

You don’t find people like him around these parts much, although they used to be common. Beat up bad by hard work and forced to live on Social Security and odd jobs, his gnarled and stiff fingers from a lifetime of using tools such as hammers, axes and shovels kept going to his front shirt pocket, pulling out the fixin’s for a smoke. ZZ Top papers and a white canvas bag of Bull Durham tobacco, with the drawstring top. He was good, too, rolled ’em tight and full.

The worn-out woman came and went, at first appearing to be his wife, but the disinterest she had in our presence soon had her pegged as an interloper. The whiskey bottle quietly came out for a brief appearance and then she left on foot. A big grin creased his unshaven, wrinkled mug as he said, “Man, I’m so lucky I hooked up with her.”

Sitting next to the sink, a large pot roast thawed, its blood puddling around thick freezer paper, the whole package collecting concentrated rays of sun that bore through the window. “You wanna leave that out?” I asked, drawing his attention to the situation. “Oh, yeah, that’s our dinner for tonight,” he responded, and I could smell a fresh blast of whiskey on his breath.

“Any luck, we sell a bunch of this stuff to you guys and we’re moving to Las Vegas in the morning. Kinda like a honeymoon, only we ain’t getting married. No way! Less a course, she insists.” And he quit trying to hide the booze bottle, just left it on a nearby bookshelf.

Quietly, the woman came through again, leaving a big bowl of something in the refrigerator, presumably to go with that night’s celebratory meal. Wobbly, she’d been nursing her own brand of rotgut down the street some place, and was a little agitated to find us still there. She left again.

The flies had found the roast in the kitchen, and made a loud buzz every time I shooed them away with my hand. “Yep, soon as you leave,” he said with a wink in my direction, “I’m gonna have a heart-to-heart with that woman. You know what I mean?” Unable now to easily find his shirt pocket opening under the protective flap, he tossed the papers and the sack of tobacco onto the kitchen table.

We drove away with a pickup truck load of stuff, some of which I still have, and there was the satisfaction, I guess, of lacing his jeans with a few hundred bucks. My partner and I had some good times for the next year-and-a-half.

Like many stories, we never know the ending, but it’s seldom pretty. Did he die of a broken heart and an enlarged liver, back in his small cabin on the hill, wondering where it all went south; or unable to return, did some security guard in front of a fancy Vegas casino roll his dying body off the sidewalk with a kick to the gut before he called the medics?

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