Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
He came around almost every day after work, wanting to know if we could go fishing together or maybe for a horseback ride. I don’t know how old he was, but to my 11 years, he seemed old, probably somewhere in his late 20s. He had a younger wife and a couple of kids, one about toddler age and the other a baby, still in swaddling clothes but about ready to break free. He’d stand by our back gate, too shy or intimidated to come to the door, waiting for me to appear, and it seemed I always did.
It can be a strange relationship between a boy and a man, especially when no one quite understands the foundation of the involvement. Ours made sense in some ways, as the guy worked on our Woody Creek ranch, which no matter how perverse, connected me to the top tier of the power structure, but oddly enough our friendship seemed to be authentic.
He was truly handsome, maybe the best-looking man I’ve ever seen, long on humor and quick to size up a situation, and with any luck, he learned to use his talent constructively.
During the middle of the week on a hot summer’s night, he’d asked my dad if I could go to the drive-in movies in Glenwood with him and his family. I’m not sure why the old man went along with it, and even though I can’t remember 10 seconds of the movie, I do remember how quickly things come unraveled and circumstances change our lives forever.
After the flick, I sat in the car with his wife and two kids for an hour or more, the four of us miserable, waiting for “my friend” to get his fill in a bar alongside the Colorado River, near the train station. Finally, his stoic wife sent me in, “Go get him and let’s go home.”
She didn’t anticipate what that entailed, for with the exception of a woman, nothing is more popular in a bar full of drinking men than a kid, especially one whose allegiance is sorely needed. I didn’t know how hard it was to convince a drunk to leave, and while I guzzled my Shirley Temples and slowly persuaded her husband out the door, the lonely woman in the car began to hate me, too. She never knew it, and it doesn’t matter, but I was on a mission for her, mostly because she had my sympathy, but I’d had enough myself.
The woman had never driven a car in her life, her husband couldn’t keep the damned thing on either side of the road, and before we even left town, I was driving us up Highway 82. I felt like a grown-up, taking on responsibility like that.
The husband went to Glenwood a few more times on his own, and I’d hear the stories as we trailed cattle or worked the irrigation ditches: How he’d picked up this or that gal, how they’d skinny-dipped in Dinkle Lake, and how he used the back seat of the car to his best advantage. And he always talked to me as though I were his peer, the one guy on the planet with whom he could share his secrets and who would appreciate the differences in fine-tuned women.
He was tormented and lonely, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t escape his own skin, not with booze, other women, or a friendship with an 11-year-old kid.
But there you have the crux of it. He had his whiskey, his dalliances, time on Woody Creek coaxing fish out of the water. His wife had the loneliness of a small cabin, seven miles from town and with no running water, complete strangers all around and an unhappy man for a husband. We can’t know the dynamics of the marriage, but oh, don’t you know what she’d have given for a woman friend to fold up against and cry her heart out to.
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High Points: “Now I don’t want to be an apologist for the Aspen Skiing Company, but to me $199 to ski the crown jewel of American skiing during the height of what is traditionally the busiest time of year is a total bargain.”