Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen parents behaving badly
When an adult drunkenly stumbles through a ritzy Manhattan neighborhood where kids play during summer mornings, it’s called urban decay. When an adult drunkenly stumbles through a ritzy Aspen neighborhood where kids play during summer mornings, it’s called Food & Wine.
Among the sworn duties of parents is fielding the wide-ranging and uncomfortable questions posed by their children. Parents here, though, have an even more complicated row to hoe due to the inevitability and frequency in which they’re forced to address such Aspen-specific topics as: the reason certain shops in town always smell like an ogre’s antiperspirant; why X Games visitors are more likely than all other visitors to dart across the darkest and iciest parts of Highway 82; how the house next door on the left costs more than all 14 houses to the right combined; blowing four-figures at lunch for the principle purpose of getting sprayed with Veuve Clicquot and then skiing down, wet, afterward.
The debauchery of some of Aspen’s high rollers, visitors, guests, prominent faces, chosen leaders, folk heroes, serial narcissists, charming criminals, legendary losers, substance abusers, creative clowns, self-proclaimed influencers, gorgeous geniuses, bankrupt heirs, textbook sociopaths and sober savants is generally pardoned, their vacation and everyday life excesses, eccentricities and errors quickly and quietly woven into Aspen’s long-running tale of depraved buffoonery.
Except lately it’s harder to explain away or gloss over the professional-level bacchanalia that has crept off the mountain, out of the core and closer to home.
On the front page of both local newspapers last month were mug shots of former Aspen city councilman Derek Johnson and his wife, Kerri. The parents of three each face as many as 24 years in prison if convicted of the various felonies they were charged with after allegedly stealing more than $2 million from Aspen Skiing Co.
Three of the four members of Aspen’s Lipsey family also have been making front-page news. In January, Aspen High School senior Joseph Lipsey IV, 19, was slapped with two felony counts of vehicular assault, two counts of careless driving and one count of reckless driving after crashing his Tesla into Maroon Creek in November, seriously injuring two of his four AHS classmates in the car.
Two weeks before those charges were filed, law enforcement officials say Snapchat videos and eyewitness accounts put a “pile” of cocaine and assorted drug paraphernalia at a party in the Lipsey’s house near Aspen Highlands. Joseph and his parents, Shira, 44, and Joseph III, 56, plus another AHS student allegedly “inhaled” lines of the drug, all while an estimated 15 other teens were said to have been present in the home where alcohol and other drugs also were served. The three Lipseys now face a combined 41 felonies in the party case and are currently free after each posting $100,000 cash-only bonds.
And while the cat’s been away reading the Aspen newspapers, the mice have been playing — just not in Aspen. An anonymous social media account is said to have sprung up not long ago urging AHS students to maintain the town’s hard-partying traditions. A few kids purportedly rose to the challenge, using fake IDs to rent an Airbnb downvalley for the purpose of holding a bash free from the glare of their parents and an increasingly on-it Aspen police force.
Certainly high school shenanigans are neither new nor unique to Aspen. Parents who behave worse than their teens, though, seem more apt for a Hollywood college admissions scandal, or Florida. Yet here we are. If the allegations against them are true, the Johnsons aren’t the first local family to try to play keep-up with the abundant assets of some of their friends and neighbors. And the Lipseys wouldn’t be the only adults in midlife to be attracted to Aspen’s scene instead of the scenery.
Maybe the Aspen schools should consider a class navigating the stinging envy that can accompany the often-glaring financial and social inequities around town. Another worthwhile and even life-saving lesson would be to instruct kids specifically how to imbibe and partake safely in the same way that sex education — and not just abstinence-only — is an essential part of the curriculum. The difference between the generation or two that preceded this one is the current onslaught of more distorted messages and stronger drugs — and well-educated parents who know better yet are evidently still too tempted by the wrong choices to effectively guide their children toward the right ones.
The town that has always been beloved as a celebration of the mountains is metamorphosing into an excuse to celebrate anything just because you happen to be in the mountains. It’s not uncommon to fall prey to the false Aspen idea that extras are actually essentials; an extra ticket, extra seat at the table, extra party, extra boat, extra fancy house to crash in, extra weekend escape; just one more run or line. Aspen kids are clever although their developing brains simply aren’t capable of adequately distinguishing between the messages they’re being taught and the depraved examples they see before them — and read about regularly in the papers.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.
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