Stone: Does ‘Ozymandias’ jog your memory?
A Stone’s Throw
Well, the weather has turned warm at last. Just as it does right about this time every year.
And now that summer is indeed thundering down upon us, it’s time to prepare ourselves for the traditional invasion of the heavy-money, sharp-elbows crowd.
They return every year, as regularly as the famous swallows return to Capistrano — and like the swallows, they seem determined to scrawl their signatures everywhere.
Some might consider the swallows’ signatures — which they deposit in aerial bombardment — to be a messy nuisance, but given a few thousand years or so, that nuisance can mellow into valuable fertilizer. (In the mid-1800s, the Spanish-South American Guano Wars were fought over the rights to mine those precious bird droppings.)
Our local visitors, however, scrawl their signatures in a different way. Oh, sure, they fly in, squawking, just like the birds. But then, instead of aerial bombardment (whew!), they just buy the right to slap their names on everything in sight.
And while the birds’ signatures start as, well, guano and eventually become valuable, the signatures strewn across Aspen take the opposite trajectory: They start out wildly high-priced, and in a few thousand years they will become — well, it’s hard to say for certain, but something akin to guano seems likely enough.
In any case, it’s a brand-new twist on the good old Aspen name game.
I’m sure you all know the original version: a semi-subtle game of “who’s more local” one-upsmanship based on the names you used for local establishments or locations.
Are you skiing Aspen Mountain? Or Ajax? Riding up Lift 1A or the Shadow Mountain Lift?
Do you talk about the unsightly new wart where the Wienerstube used to be? Or the unsightly new wart where the post office used to be?
It was all very civilized, a crafty way of signaling who’d lived here longer, a matter of raised eyebrows and knowing smiles.
But these days, apparently, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived here. You’re not a “real local” unless you have enough money to buy something and name it after yourself.
Of course, “Slap Your Name On It” is a game that’s gone on for a long time.
Consider Jerome B. Wheeler — an East Coast transplant with heavy money and sharp elbows who became one of the great men of Aspen’s founding years. He wound up with both a hotel (Jerome) and an opera house (Wheeler) named after him. I think we can safely declare him the all-time naming-rights winner.
These days, with grand new buildings in short supply (thank God), some of the contentious contenders have taken to naming jobs after themselves, following the model of our great universities, which have “endowed chairs” — the so-and-so professor of such-and-such.
So, just as Harvard has an endowed Carl H. Pforzheimer Jr. professor busily professing in the Graduate School of Education, so Aspen may soon see an endowed Chauncey and Elizabetta Gotrocks custodial engineer busily scrubbing the toilets in one of our finer art institutions.
Well, it’s better than having a men’s-room stall named in your honor. (Although I have to say the Andrew Stone Memorial Urinal does have a nice ring to it.)
And now, in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Aspen School District is considering selling off naming rights to the local schools. (Let’s all chip in and buy the naming rights to Aspen High School. We could call it Aspen Elementary School. Think how we could brag about all those super-smart Aspen kids who go directly from the elementary school to college! Then we’d have to come up with a new name for the elementary school — hmm, let me think about that.)
Another fine opportunity for the sale of naming rights would be the brand-new orthopedic pavilion that may soon open at Aspen Valley Hospital, specializing in surgery to repair the dislocated shoulders of those who have incurred injuries while patting themselves on the backs.
Oh, it’s a dangerous business, and we salute the courageous men and women who are willing to run the risk in order to carry their names to the highest peak.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the sale of naming rights often helps pay for valuable services — services that the government cannot pay for because taxes have been cut so severely the government can barely scrape up a trillion or two to pay for its wars.
Fortunately, the slashing of taxes has resulted in vast accumulation of wealth by people who can now afford to buy things to name in their own honor.
So that all works out nicely in the end. We get our wars, and they get their naming rights.
And if our roads and bridges are failing and millions of children are living in poverty and hunger, well, as the fella says, “That’s how the infrastructure crumbles.”
Shameless self-promotion is an honored American tradition. Heck, this year it even has its own candidate for president.
The passion for name-scrawling is nothing new. The pyramids were, after all, nothing more than serious graffiti, a pharaoh’s name scrawled on the desert.
Does the name “Ozymandias” ring a bell?
Sure it does. You remember: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty and despair!”
Hey, now that I think about it, how about Ozymandias Elementary School? (Told you I’d come up with something.)
So now, let’s wrap up this rambling little essay with a mention of what may have been the best-ever version of the Aspen name game.
I am referring, of course, to Hunter S. Thompson and his legendary 1970 campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County. One of his major campaign promises was to change the name of the town from Aspen to Fat City to “prevent greedheads, land-rapers and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name ‘Aspen.’”
Hunter lost that election, but it’s not too late for a name change.
I know Fat City’s a bit dated, but Ozymandias, Colorado, is pretty catchy.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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