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Lum: Breathless in Aspen

Su Lum
Slumming

My portable oxygen tank broke Thursday, so naturally I had an unprecedented number of things to do and social functions to attend, starting with physical therapy that very afternoon. I use the hospital’s oxygen for P.T., so I got away with taking one of my old Helios tanks, which doesn’t deliver enough gas, and I was breathing hard when I got home.

As an aside, have you noticed how often people are writing the word “breath” when they mean the word “breathe”? Maybe it’s just me.

On Friday night, I got out an old liquid-oxygen blunderbuss that I hadn’t used in 10 years, filled it up and watched “Northern Exposure” with my friend Hilary (we’re in the sixth and final season and don’t know what to do next) while testing the machine to see how long it would last — an hour and a half. Good to know.

On Saturday afternoon, I was off with Hilary to the farmers market for corn (getting good) and tomatoes (very good). My favorite stands are Okagawa produce, Westwood Farms for plum mustard and blackberry balsamic vinegar, Ruth’s for the best toffee ever and a new produce stand from Hotchkiss. If you wonder what happened to the kettle-corn stand, the supplier ran out of corn, and the owner didn’t want to compromise the product by using another source. Back next year, I hope.

Gunilla Asher, my boss at the Times before I retired, is back home after more diagnoses and the start of chemo in Houston. She had texted Hilary that she wanted corn and tomatoes from the market, so we delivered those. Gunilla looked gorgeous but was in bed, not feeling as well as she looked — she’s on oxygen, too. F— cancer. And alas for always-cheerful Tom Sharkey.

Then it was off to Mary Hayes’ house for a small gathering for family and friends of her late husband, Jim. I filled the blunderbuss only to have it whoosh out all its oxygen in a big, white cloud.

I had two medium-size compressed-air tanks, the ones that look like bombs that people drag around in little carts — no idea how long it would last because I hardly ever use them — threw one in my backpack and set off for the party, which was like an Aspen old-timers event in Mary’s spacious yard, complete with tables and chairs, catering by Backdoor (always delicious) and hundreds of people. It was a great party — thank God for name tags.

Mary and Jim had five kids, and now there are also 13 grandchildren and a darling, towheaded great-grandbaby. I had to dash home before my oxygen ran out, barely making it, and the next day was a dinner at Syzygy, where the Red Brick Arts Center honored Mary for all she has done in her writing and photographs over the past six decades.

I brought the same kind of tank I’d taken to the party, plus an extra little one (all I had left) Sherpa’d by Hilary. After some intros, Andy Stone gave a very funny and moving tribute to Mary (without a script!). It was so good, I told him he could speak at my death party if there was one, no small compliment.

I spoke a short (written) paragraph saying that Mary, who is writing a memoir, could write the real Aspen Peyton Place because she knows (and remembers) all the secrets, and I only mention this because Mary said afterward that she never thought I would say anything nice about her. Mary!

The advertising department always felt that, with the exception of a few headlines, the paper could do without editorial content, and the editorial department always thought that The Aspen Times would be a fine newspaper if it weren’t for all those damned ads, but hey, I loved all of you. For 47 years, you were my family.

Su Lum is a longtime local who ran out of oxygen and whose spare tank emitted a huge and ominous “POW,” scaring the patrons out of their seats. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at su@rof.net.


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