Let the Good Times Roll, Part 3
I didn’t hear it at first. It took about two weeks and a confluence of coincidences to put me at the right place at the right time to hear that knocking on my door, and when it came, it was disguised as a problem—which, I would come to learn, is how most opportunities are packaged.
I wasn’t in town long before I heard the rumbling. I was in a bar one night conducting research when I overhead a couple of guys talking about some toad from New York who wanted them to clean the kitchen of his new restaurant for 50 cents an hour. They were insulted and outraged that such a belittling offer should be proffered to men of such high moral fiber, being restless searchers for truth on a crusade across the land to spread peace and harmony and absolute narcissistic self-involvement.
In 1971, the minimum wage was $1.60 an hour, but many folks in Aspen worked for less so they could be part of the crusade. Still, 50 cents an hour was an affront to most of the brethren, even by Aspen standards.
I was staying at a boarding house called The Little Red Ski House, where they charged about two bucks a night in the off-season. It was an old Victorian home built during the silver-mining heyday, painted red, of course, and full of young people like myself, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sacred cloth of cool, looking for employment and eager to find a way to stay on for the season. It was a fun place to be in September, much like a college dorm, everybody hopped-up on the excitement and promise of the new semester, before the reality of term papers and tests and GPAs started crowding out the short-lived euphoria. And it wasn’t a bad place to meet girls.
The story about the greasy-walls cleaning job had spread throughout the small town, and that wildfire eventually reached The Little Red Ski House. One splendid, late summer evening, we were sitting around the parlor chewing the fat and swapping lies, and a fellow named Nash from Jefferson City, Missouri—who was named after the brand of car he was conceived in, according to one of his lies—told us that the restaurant was to be called the Old Dublin, and it was owned by a man from New York named Ben Weisberg. You could tell from Nash’s thick accent of disdain just what he was talking about: a New York City hustler in the middle of Colorado, here to chisel us out of one thing or another.
Nash regaled the group with his stories of confrontation with Mr. Ben Weisberg, toe-to-toe, trying to negotiate a fair deal to clean his disgusting walls. According to Nash, the place used to be a Chinese restaurant, so the walls had been splattered with grease and sauce and other mysterious, noxious, oriental ingredients, and it was thick and sticky and smelled bad. It was a nightmare of a job, and 50 cents an hour was downright inhumane. Nash was so disturbed by this ruthless, cold blooded, opportunistic, abusive, human usury that he had been back three times to face Mr. Ben Weisberg with his patriotic, land-of-the-free logic, but to no avail. Mr. Ben Weisberg wouldn’t budge. He was a hard, heartless, interfering carpet bagger, as Nash put it, and added that things just aren’t done that way out here, although how he knew how things were done out here, having been in Colorado for only a couple of weeks, was a mystery to me. I suppose “out here” to Nash was anywhere that was not New York City.
Nash told us he was going back to give it another try, much like the dog on a long chain staked to the ground, running with all his might until the chain snapped him back, practically breaking his neck, and then repeating the same fruitless exercise over and over again, as if somehow the thick metal chains would miraculously break and free him to run headlong into the bordering fence. Into the fray, the brave young Nash was venturing once more, right after breakfast in the morning.
And breakfast it was for the fearless fighter for all that was right and his hapless but enthusiastic followers, at dawn (or there about) the following day. I had to see this. Fittingly, in the monomaniacal theme of the day, Nash chasing his white whale and all, we went to a restaurant that only served breakfast. No lunch or dinner, just breakfast. I don’t remember the name of the place, but I remember those eggs: they were the best eggs I ever ate, and if you don’t know how one fried egg can be that much different from another fired egg, then you never ate at the place next to the park where the Gentleman of the Aspen Rugby Club played rugby in Aspen in 1971, the name of which I can’t remember. And it was cheap, too — a prerequisite for any fine dining we enjoyed in those pre-$14,000-a-year sales job days.
Nash was unquestionably the ringleader of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, having confronted Mr. Ben Weisberg three times now, achieving a sort of postmodern John L. Lewis folk-hero status. I was merely a tagger-alonger, since I had yet to join the mad dash for affirmation, and was still preoccupied with my dauntless and thorough research. During breakfast, all talk was of the Old Dublin and Mr. Ben Weisberg and just what kind of man was he, anyway. If Nash was becoming a latter-day Tom Joad, then Mr. Ben Weisberg had become The Man, and all the bad stuff that stood for back in the Woodstock’s-gone-but-not-quite-over era.