Vagneur: A high-flying old friend
With curiosity, I dialed the number his son, Tony, had left. “Dad died over the weekend.” It hits just like that, maybe how death always hits, and the curiosity changed to disbelief, then to a feeling of sadness overtaking my being.
We talked a bit about how it ended, what brought it on, how good their relationship had been the past couple of years, although it had really been good all along. We joked a little over some memories, ’cause that’s how we sometimes lessen the seriousness of bad news.
In a way, talking to the son was like talking to the father. Two good men. And then the call ended.
Home alone, it was quiet, very quiet in my house, and the tears came almost instantaneously. Tears and smiles, all at once. Oh Johnny, the party’s over. The times we had. With an inquisitive look, my dog put his head on my leg.
John Chiodo, born in Aspen, into a railroad man’s family back in the days when the D&RGW was important to the survival of the town, who spent youthful time at a section house where the Hanging Valley trail takes off, graduated from Grand Junction High School, went into the Marine Corp, got married, had his first son, Tony, and before you could shake the dice cup three times, he was back in Aspen. Home. It happens sometimes.
There were three of us, three compadres who – through some sort of serendipity – put our wits together and competed in wild horse races. We did all right, too, walking to the pay window. When you do something like that, a bond between people is formed, something that carries forward for all time. Until.
There were three horsemen; Keith Patterson, the first of us to go, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago; Johnny Chiodo, the man in this column; and me.
We faced nasty horses, put ourselves on the line for fun, for the lure of winning at a dangerous game, and I suppose most of all, the thrill of doing it just for the hell of it. And because, on some level, we knew we could do it even though we’d never done it before. We got better every rodeo. There was no better anchor man on the rope than Johnny Chiodo.
The Eagles Club – the “old” Eagles Club, the one that preceded Andre’s and the rest of them, including Prada, on Galena Street – was our end-of-the-day headquarters of a sort. Johnny, if he was there, always had a seat close to the jukebox. Whenever I walked in, his eyes would light up, he’d put out a welcoming hand and say, “What’s Tony Boy,” that’s what he called me, “been up to? Buy Tony Boy a beer, and let’s hear what he’s been up to.” You’d think I might object to the nickname, but coming from Johnny, it was an honor — he was the only one who called me that.
If you could gander a look at Johnny’s resume, it would read like those of many natives who chose to stay here through the years. He and I worked together at Aspen Trash Service Inc. He put in many shifts as the diversion tunnels were being blasted through the mountains to our east. The city of Glenwood got to know him. Aspen Laundry. Rocky Mountain Natural Gas. Never was there a man who worked harder or with more dedication. The Marine Corp is probably still upset they let him go.
It may have been 20 years or so since I’d had a beer with Johnny. Why so long? Times change, Aspen changed. The Eagle’s Club moved down by the river, working people were getting pushed out by the housing crunch, finding a more satisfactory life downvalley, and we all get tied up in whatever the hell it is we do every day.
We kept in touch through Facebook. Johnny might have been the last person you’d think would go over to the side of technology, but you’d see him, posting pictures, telling those stories of his on short videos or descriptive memes. And there he’d be, sharing the spotlight with some good-looking woman, more often than not.
And as I sat and contemplated memories of Johnny, the bluebirds once again started moving into their house, hanging on my porch, and the beauty of life and the importance of friends was brought home on the wing. Fly high, my friend, fly high, and rest in peace.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.