Smoke Signals

Muddy boots at a swanky Aspen soiree


Last winter, while temporarily living on both the literal and metaphoric fringes of Aspen, Colorado, I was — for no other reason than I possessed a business card containing the word “reporter” — invited to a swanky soiree held in the gilded heart of hyper-affluent unreality. This was not my place. These were not my people. (All photos taken while wandering haphazardly around Aspen with my uncoiffed New Mexico rescue dog.)



Part One

Overheard upon leaving the most-upscale men’s room it has ever been my pleasure to urinate in (I washed my hands twice just to extend the experience) (I also pocketed two high-quality washcloths from the large, folded stack next to the sink), located in the plushest hotel in one of the richest municipalities in the world: “Then tell the governor to go fuck himself!” — exclaimed via Bluetooth into a cell phone by a well-appointed middle-aged gentleman who exuded entitled confidence from every pore.

He was sitting in a hallway on a velvet sofa, legs crossed, wearing Italian-looking leather shoes so shiny I could see in them the reflection of a scruffy man befouling the thick carpet with muddy hiking boots.

I wondered for several minutes afterward to which governor the man was referring. I also wondered what the governor’s response would be. I further wondered about the person on the other end of the line, who just got ordered, probably by the person who signs his or her paycheck, to tell the governor to go fuck himself. Who among us would not give a nut to act upon such an order?




Part Two

The people gathered in the chandeliered room were among the richest of the rich. People at perfect ease casually dropping the first names of presidents to folks who did not seem overly impressed. People able to afford to donate without blinking unimaginably large swaths of land to the local preservation fund (the entity hosting this soiree) in one of the priciest real estate environments on the planet.

A tidy and trim woman of maybe 75 walks up to me and, apropos of nothing I could perceive, asks, “So, do you own a ranch nearby?” Once I clean up the stream of snot that shot from my nose like water from a high-pressure fire hose, I responded, “Lady, not only do I not own a ranch nearby, but I can barely afford to buy a beer in this town.”

Her head tilted off kilter a slight degree or two, and the expression on her face was like she had just noticed something mighty peculiar, but not necessarily threatening, out on the farthest reaches of her peripheral vision and was having a tough time processing the inexplicable sensory input — like maybe she had noticed an albino ballerina walking down the sidewalk leading a pygmy hippopotamus by a leash.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said, lightly touching my forearm. “Let me buy you a beer.” “Lady, I appreciate the gesture, but the beverages at this shindig are complimentary, which is the main reason I am here.”

“Well, there you go, then,” she said, before disappearing back into the warm embrace of her socioeconomic kith and kin, leaving me to stand next to a tuxedo’d bartender from Chihuahua who literally giggled every time yet another bill was dropped into his wine-carafe tip jar.



Part Three

The cloakroom attendant — a very pretty young lady with a thick Slavic accent — in the private bar area of the stunningly high-priced hotel was reluctant to take my well-used jet-black Northface fleece jacket. Admittedly, my garment had seen better days. It was covered with enough blonde Lab-mix fur to knit a scarf. It smelled of smoke, sweat and spilled beer. It had a few mud splats that I probably ought to have scraped off before entering this highbrow establishment. There were several holes burned through by floating embers and popping seeds.

I thought about telling the attendant about some of the places the jacket had been. To establish garment provenance by relating a story or two — like using the coat for a pillow while sleeping on the ground on the rim of the Rio Grande del Norte. Then there was that unfortunate dog-barf incident. But I thought better of it. (Her loss.)

The Slavic cloakroom attendant could not have recoiled any more intensely when I proffered my jacket had I handed her a used condom. She took my garment between the very last molecules of her forefinger and thumb, and placed it on a rack otherwise dominated by mink and sable, which are apparently back in karmic vogue.

When it was time to leave some wobbly hours later, I had to ask a couple of nearby fashionably bedecked ladies how much it was customary to tip a coat-check lady, this being my virginal experience with such a civilized enterprise. I hoped against faint hope that the answer was not going to be something like “$500.” They looked at me like they were wondering how a panhandler managed to gain access to the gilded premises in which they were comfortably ensconced and reposed.

“A dollar,” one replied after regaining her social equilibrium, which, in my mind, took a bit longer to attain that it ought to have. It was only later that I realized my fly — which, given that I was standing and they were sitting, hovered scant feet in front of their wide eyes — was completely unzipped.

Still oblivious to my open-fly situation, I handed the Slavic lady two bucks after she retrieved my jacket, which she, again, carried like it was both toxic and contagious. Sadly, one of the crumpled bills did not successfully make the leap from my hand to hers and flitted like a wounded butterfly down to the thick carpet. From the expression on the face of the Slavic lady — who likely held a PhD in biochemistry back in Moldova or Belarus — I could tell she thought I had dropped the legal tender on purpose, to further humiliate her newfound station in life.

Mortified, I leaned over to retrieve the bill at the exact instant that she leaned over to retrieve the bill and — THUMP!!! — our noggins collided hard enough that I saw lightning bolts. As I, while rubbing the knot that had instantaneously sprouted from my forehead, uttered the most heartfelt apologies ever to sprung forth from my lips, she stood up, with nary a flinch, and returned to the cloakroom.

I proudly put my jacket on and, after leaving the stunningly high-priced hotel, I walked through the darkness past row after row of showroom-shiny Range Rovers and Mercedes G-Glass SUVs to my filthy old 4Runner, in which was found the rescue dog whose blonde fur covered my coat and whose yak was intertwined into its fabric like DNA strands and who slept by my side on the ground on the rim of the Rio Grande del Norte. That dog reacted happily when I gave her a handful of cheese cubes heisted from the buffet back inside the chandeliered room in which the swanky soiree was held. Then she fell asleep, perfectly content with the circumstances in which she dwells.