Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
For the kids who stuck around Aspen, it seemed there was an allegiance either to the land or the mining, and only a fine nuance ever divided the two, at least for most of us. Either way, it’s about Aspen and that, I suppose, is the third leg of the mythical stool.
I sat in a wheelchair in the original Citizen’s Hospital, my throat aching from tonsil removal and my tongue swollen past talking, due to injury caused by a hemostat, engaged during surgery to keep my wandering tongue out of the doctor’s way. My roommate, a girl older by one than my six years, was not a stranger, although being cloistered together in a huge, echoing room with very high ceilings gave us both an amplified reason to stay within touching distance of each other.
Her appendectomy scar was ruby-red and imminently visible as she proudly stood on her head, the standard issue hospital gown draped down around her neck. “Touch it if you want to,” she said, and before an overly-astute nurse figured out our games, my friend had shown me every interesting, intimate part of her body.
Then, we were in our 20s, hadn’t talked for years, and with the aid of a stream of consciousness that still pulsed from that hospital stay, found ourselves on a Jeep trip around Aspen Mountain. With unspoken urging, we lay down our picnic blanket near the Compromise Mine tunnel atop Little Nell and finally consummated the shenanigans we had started as kids. We ended with a solemn promise to get together again when we both were unattached. And while the world turned and the ’70s rolled on, she died a youngster from breast cancer.
About then, I began to spend sporadic time with Jim Blanning, listening to his view of the world and admiring him for finding a way to make the old mines work to his advantage. But I was one from the land, and old mining claims meant more to me adorned with beautiful girls and picnic blankets than they did with veins of silver or ownership deeds attached, and I listened for the stories of growing up in Aspen rather than the tales of plumbing courthouse records for riches.
The call came early in the evening, stating that Jim Blanning was the suspect in the 2008 New Year’s Eve bomb scare. My immediate thought was to call a couple of friends who had grown up with Blanning, and the two or three of us would walk Aspen’s streets, listening for Jim to whisper us into his hiding place. Somehow, we’d make it right, but in reality, “He’s already lit the inextinguishable fuse,” and why did I think he’d want to talk to any of us, anyhow. He’d known where to find us all along.
The last time I saw Blanning, it was in a local restaurant, and after a new girlfriend and I had been seated close to him and his lunch date, he was heard to say, “That’s Tony Vagneur, one of those guys who can’t be satisfied unless he’s bedded by two women at the same time.” If my companion heard, she didn’t betray the fact, and I let it ride as an uncalled for remark, something you might expect from a friend who’d recently been in the joint.
A couple of nights later, I showed up at my girlfriend’s house for dinner and sometime in the evening, a friend of hers came by to enjoy the ambiance, and before long it was clear that Jim’s casual remark had taken hold with these two ladies, and menage à trois became more than a philosophical concept.
The tangled and intricate flashbacks, detailed above, were precipitated by Jim’s suicide and cannot be totally separated in my thought processes. The only reason I’ve laid them out here is to say that the degrees of separation between any of us aren’t that great, and in the end, we’re just who we are. Blanning, the poor bastard, couldn’t wait for a mudslide.
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