Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
He couldnt have been more than 7 or 8 years old, a crumpled and broken clump, lying motionless on the hardwood floor. Terry Morse and I swooped down on him from stage left, grabbed him under the arms and knees, unceremoniously tossed him into a gilded-up, rubber-tired toy wagon and hurried off the Wheeler Opera House stage.It was the schools annual Christmas pageant at the Wheeler, the theme of which must have been something about Mother Goose rhymes, and Terry and I, as brilliant first-graders, were dispatched from the wings as the Kings court jesters, sent to pick up poor old Humpty Dumpty after his legendary fall. As I recall, we relished our job and any part of Humptys shell that hadnt been broken by the first drop certainly was finished off by the time we got through with him.The significance of our location didnt register at the time, but over the years the opera house became an indelible part of our lives. In case you dont remember, the Pitkin County Library used to be housed in the space now occupied by Bentleys. Mrs. Fred Braun was the no-nonsense librarian, and from about the second grade on, we were card-carrying members who trekked, with flawless consistency, to the library on the dedicated day of the week to exchange our books and learn more about navigating the assemblage of literary tomes found within.A lot of community activities took place in the Wheeler, and with small town atmosphere, legends like Dick Barrymore and Warren Miller became human as we talked to them in the lobby and saw more than our fair share of ski movies and other amusements. When in town, Lowell Thomas used to broadcast his radio news show live from there and it was a big day for us when we walked by his news desk, set up on the stage, and received a handshake and a booming How are you boys today? from the famous man. I met Andrea Mead Lawrence for the first time in Beck & Bishops grocery store, located on the ground floor next to the library, and without knowing her history, simply knew her to be an exceptional person, even though she and I had to wait in the same line.A building as big as the Wheeler certainly attracted our curiosity from about age 10 through junior high, and we spent an inordinate amount of time exploring the guts of the glorious old building. On the second floor, there was an optimistic ski bum who rented one of the old dressing rooms and who stuck a sign on his door proclaiming, Love for Sale. In the naivete of youth, we assumed he was trolling for women, but perhaps not.If the second floor seemed bawdy, it was nothing compared to the one-time watering hole, located in the basement, a non-genteel, relaxed joint by the name of The Pub, which appeared sometime during my college years. Hockey was the main game on the bar TV, the burgers were of legendary local gourmet fame, and sobriety was not tolerated. The antics of todays X Gamers could not, even on a good night, approach the craziness of the Pubs two oclock shuffle.My great aunt, Julia Stapleton, born in Aspen before the Wheeler was built, produced a few plays there when she taught for the Aspen schools, so theres a thread of familial connection which cannot be denied. I was absolutely thrilled to watch my daughter perform in a winter production of the Nutcracker Suite, produced on the same stage on which I had begun my acting career in the first grade. As any parent would, my eyes blurred as I watched her do her featured, one-armed cartwheels across the front of the stage.Her performance made the circle complete, certainly, and although I still find myself in the Wheeler for various performances, I somehow suspect that on a certain level Ive seen its best, already.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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