Roger Marolt: For some big fish this little Aspen pond is too still
I think the reason Donald Trump doesn’t want anyone to see his tax returns is because they will show he is not as rich as he claims. He doesn’t care if they reveal shady business deals in Russia or ownership in a North Korean rocket manufacturing plant. As long as they are lucrative, he’d be proud to share the info. Being recognized as a big deal is what he cares about. I will come back to this.
In the meantime, let’s talk about the local coronavirus real estate boom. Apparently the top of the market has been blown off and seriously wealthy people are buying every property priced over $10 million available. They are moving here. It feels safer. There’s lots to do even as the rest of the country suffers. We can relate.
The big question is, will they stay or will they pack up and head back to the cities when the coasts and Texas are clear? Aspen sounds good now, but may turn out not to be the place they wholly imagined.
There is an actual cost of living and an opportunity cost of living here and you have to combine the two to see if you really can afford it. The straight up cost of living is the easy one — it’s only money. But, the opportunity cost is oftentimes harder to see upfront and may be steeper than expected.
For the average Aspenite, housing, food and recreation are obviously expensive. The opportunity cost of missing out on bigger salaries and more fulfilling careers in the cities is only a bit more difficult to assess. Combined, the two costs are too much for most, thus a town of only around 6,000 residents. Yet, the possibility to ski during a lunch break, hike into the wilderness on a whim, and sleep in a clean and comfortable small town with big world amenities and culture makes the combined high price worthwhile.
There is a different opportunity cost for big wigs moving here, though. It is that nobody knows or cares much about how rich and famous they are or how they got that way. This has made life unbearable for notoriety seekers. This is not a huge opportunity cost for those who are not rich and/or famous. Nobody knows or cares about our humble achievements either, but we don’t expect them to.
Here’s the thing: If you are making breakthroughs in technology, everyone is tweeting about you from Palo Alto to Austin. If you are killing it in finance, New York City is buzzing about your brilliance. If you like to look at your own face and hope others do too, you have to get recognized in Hollywood first. And while you can pursue fortune and fame from just about anywhere these days, if you achieve it from Aspen, highly anticipated press conferences don’t happen here and locals are probably going to be more interested in how fast you can run up Aspen Mountain.
Aspenites do not feed bears or egos. We don’t generally spend much time acting like anyone in town is a particularly big deal. The best way to be admired is to get a mountain bike, a set of skinning gear, and humbly act like the way town is now is good enough. When people come and start acting too big for their snow pants, we are quick to put the communal boot in the tightest seam. Remember the family a few years ago who pledged a large donation to the Aspen Institute in exchange for renaming the Paepke Auditorium after them? Well, it’s still called the Paepcke Auditorium. That’s all you need to know.
Every Aspenite knew John Denver, but nobody asked for autographs. Hunter Thompson was just another quirky character from Woody Creek. Neither asked much from Aspen and both made it a long-term affair. We have always idolized oddballs over icons. We are all here, because we are not all there; my hat’s off to Leadville for recognizing this in themselves first.
And, this brings me back to Trump’s tax return. He craves status. It is his lifeblood. Aspen is not nearly a shallow enough pond for an eel like him. He came here in the ’90s and fate had him touring town with Lo Semple as his limo driver. How a person reacts to an event like this provides a clue about how they might fit in here. I bet Lo treated him like regular guy. As far as I know, Trump hasn’t been back.
Roger Marolt feels that being a little fish in a little pond is the natural way it’s supposed to be for him. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“Holding a brush and applying a splash of color here and a line there, I began seeing the world anew. I have no illusion of becoming a great artist, or ever calling myself an artist, but since painting is what it takes to open my eyes to the world, then a painter I will become in the private studio of my kitchen and the private gallery of my dining room,” writes Paul Andersen.