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Tony Vagneur: COVID-19 redefines what’s clean

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

COVID-19 and all of the virus awareness going on lately takes me back to a world far different than the one we live in today — far different than even a few months ago.

We always had hired hands on the ranch, coming and going, especially at meal time. Working in the hot sun could create a big thirst, and kept in the shade outside the kitchen door, on a bench, sat a 5-gallon bucket of water. Next to it hung a long-handled metal dipper for use in getting a drink. The men would line up, one behind the other, and wait until the man in front of them finished drinking, then slurp their turn with the dipper, one after the other. It didn’t seem unusual, unhealthy, odd, or out of line to anyone. Most ranches and farms had the same traditional setup.

My mom usually filled the water bucket out of the garden hose, for that was the same water that came out of our faucets. And that water came out of the Collins Creek irrigation ditch. Water wells were scarce as hen’s teeth back then. If you didn’t have a spring, you had to get creative. Grandpa’s house had a spring – ours didn’t.

It was probably impossible to buy bottled water in those days, had anyone thought of it, although Henry Stein had a bottled water company for a time in Aspen. Mill Iron Sparkling Water, or some such, billed as fresh and clean, out of a spring on his ranch. Jesse Maddalone, Jesse’s son, was the delivery driver.

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Then, after satiating their thirst, the men would move on into the basement, or the back porch, where the sinks were, and wash up for dinner, or lunch. Two men usually would share a sink, lathering up to the elbows with soap and rinsing off.

Then, they’d step over to dry their hands, which for the period, was a truly novel idea. Instead of paper towels, or individual towels as you might expect, these cloths were hung on a wooden rowel, towels without end, like a Mobius loop. When it was your turn to dry off, it was usually exceedingly clear where the used part ended and the clean part began. Just roll the towel around a little and claim your space. Every-once-in-a-while, the shout could be heard, “We need a new towel in here.” Some men were criticized for taking too much clean linen to dry their hands.

Speaking of sharing drinking vessels, there was the snowy, winter night we walked in to a crowded Shooter’s Saloon, owned by Dale and Sharon Dillingham, and before we could get situated, a young guy walks up, introduces himself and asks if we want a beer. Well, yeah, that’s why we came in here. So, I grab a clean glass from the bartender and this seemingly nice guy pours a fine, cold one out of his pitcher.

About done with that one, he’s right there offering my partner and me a refill. This is a good deal, I thought, we’ve got our own personal bartender and we don’t even have to ask, although the second one wasn’t as good as the first.

The third one tasted a little warm and something didn’t seem right. At a distance, I followed him around the bar and while people were out dancing, he was grabbing their beers off the counter along the outside wall and dumping them into his pitcher. Taken for a fool I was, but maybe we got the last laugh as we threw his ass out without apology. Right up the stairs, to the very top. The bouncer liked it. Still kinda makes me gag thinkin’ about it, though.

Most likely, it would be remiss of me to talk about contagion in Aspen without mentioning the venereal disease epidemic of the late 1960s and ’70s. Gonorrhea seemed to be the most popular disease of the time, although syphilis, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, pubic lice, herpes and who knows what else got passed around like cheap wine at a gallery opening. And more people partook than not. A good pickup line was, “I don’t have anything.” Or so the speaker may have thought.

Talk about free love. More than one relationship ended when one or the other of a relationship brought home a case of the crabs. Or worse. Back then it wasn’t so much about washing your hands as it was about keeping your crotch clean. Prophylaxis was hard to spell and hadn’t yet been heard of, at least not by a majority of young souls touring the boudoirs of the opposite sex.

In the meantime, keep washing your hands, cover your mug with a mask and keep practicing social distancing. Play it safe. So far, we’re doing reasonably well in keeping the beast at bay.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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