Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
He was one of those Hollywood boys, but you really couldn’t tell by looking. I mean, he didn’t wear silk shirts, get manicures or wear weird shoes, nor did he need a pillow under his pampered ass when he rode a horse. He was just one of those guys whom Hollywood, without belch or apology, spits out from time to time.
Nobody knew the whole story, for sure, but if anyone did (and I came close, I think), they’d have to tell you that he wasn’t the innocent victim of being on a list of supposed communist sympathizers or of being too forward thinking. Neither was he involved in any sex scandals or murder-for-hire plots. He was brought down the old-fashioned way, from sucking on a whiskey bottle too often and too much. Hard to imagine, in a town like that, but then we all think we’re fairly innocent.
He’d married an Aspen girl, the daughter of a long-established and well-respected family, a woman known primarily for her silent eloquence amongst a bevy of alluring daughters recognized for brains and beauty both. Having grown up in a quiet and soulful period of Aspen’s history, the West Coast attraction must have been strong for her, and easily influential. Long convertibles on warm, cozy nights, block after block of bright neon, handsome, spirited men, tailored dresses and as much champagne and bourbon as anyone could want.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” according to the late poet Robert Frost. If you’ve been around much you know it’s never that easy, but like a beacon upon the shore, those romantic words lead more cursed souls in directions they shouldn’t go than not.
The couple’s “homecoming” to Aspen was without fanfare, the man with a bad habit riding his back like an ugly hunch, and a wife who could put away whiskey better than he could on any given day. Intuition bet she could escape the monkey, but even though they’d long since quit dancing in each other’s dreams, she’d thrown in “for better or worse,” and when payday rolled around, it was easier to spend the money on booze than to argue about it.
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When you have to go home, the most desperate of emotions must accompany you. These were basically good people, hamstrung by self-destructive behavior, and at the obvious signs of familial rejection, they managed to land a ranching job in Woody Creek with another family of generations-old good standing.
When luck goes bad, it has a way of staying there if you don’t grab your own boot straps and do some pulling, and this case was no exception. The husband came by the main house one night to request an advance in pay (with about a fifth below, already), and while he was making his case, a casually unattended cigarette burned out the interior of his car. He and the boss got it running again with some ingenuity on both their parts, but it was clearly no longer pleasurable to take a Sunday drive sitting on nothing but bare seat springs, let alone go the half-mile down the road to work.
There were other incidents that, taken out of the context of the seriousness of the situation, were comical, perhaps even hilarious, but the price paid in human suffering was too high to allow mirth. You can do a lot to a man; you can beat him down or build him up, or you can tire of watching him slowly drown in the distillations of escape, but it’s damned hard to take away his pride.
And on the last day, he could be seen, with a barely detectable but angry swagger, loading his wife into the burned-out hulk of a chariot and slowly driving away, never to be glimpsed again.
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