Lum: Don’t I know you?

Su Lum

When I was in second grade, a fellow student stole my Walt Disney “Pinocchio” comic book off my desk, and when I saw it on her desk and confronted her, she looked me straight in the eye and claimed that the comic book was hers and that she had taken nothing from me.

I was no stranger to fibbing, but I was astounded at the balls of this kid flat-out lying when she had been caught totally red-handed. She might as well have said, “Prove it; sue me.” I didn’t get my comic book back.

Seventy years later, I watch the Aspen City Council meetings on GrassRoots, and I see the same kid, now in the form of an adult male developer, the very same person who would look me in the eye and say, flatly, “I did not steal your comic book.”

Starting in those early grades, we began to realize who the players were in our little society.

We all knew who the bullies were. We all knew who the tattletales were (“Tattletale tit, your tongue shall be slit, and every little dog in town shall have a little bit,” my mother used to say — hence I didn’t tattle about the comic book). We knew who the crybabies were, who was smart, who was not and who pretended to be stupid but was brilliant.

We didn’t yet know that some of the shy and quiet students would end up being rocket scientists and physicians, but it was blatantly obvious which kids were the budding lawyers.

We’re all in some ways individuals, but we’re also in many ways “types.” The older I get, the more it’s like — as Yogi Berra said — deja vu all over again. “I know that lady,” I’ll think, only to realize the woman reminds me of a girl I knew in high school.

The hall monitors and street-crossing guards (most of whom were more civilized bullies) leaned toward politics and police work.

This was just a very small sample of middle-class white people in northern New Jersey, followed by an even smaller sample of middle-class white people in a college in upstate New York, far from an authentic study.

But a few years ago, I was one of 23 members of the Aspen Historic Task Force, and damned if I didn’t feel that I already knew more than half of them. In fact, so many of them reminded me of people out of my past that was struck by a new suspicion: The ghosts of Boonton, New Jersey, were invading Aspen.

Where did our whimsy and messy vitality go? They have been taken over by the body snatchers who have crept through the roundabout and oozed onto our appointed boards and into governmental positions, quietly awaiting their opportunity.

When I came here, Aspen’s residents were so different from everyone I’d known that it was like landing on another planet where I happened, to my everlasting delight, to speak the language.

Su Lum is a longtime local who was glad to get out of there and hates to see it trespassing in paradise. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at