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Makin’ a move in the Monkey House

I’m done.

No more columns. No more editorials.

No more stress sweat on Sunday night, with no words of worth on a page and time growing short. Forget words of worth (and the sad pun therein) since it’s debatable whether there were ever any worthy things written in this space. My Sunday sweat was most often occasioned by no words on the page at all.

But, now, there’ll be no more of, “What the hell am I gonna do?’

No more deadlines. No more toss back three fingers of bourbon and wait for something interesting to happen.

In fact, no more Sunday nights, as in “Oh, crap, it’s Sunday. I gotta get up tomorrow morning and waddle to work.”

I’m quittin’.

I’m outta here.

I’ve spent more than a quarter century working at a small town newspaper. I worked for years as a reporter, writing about everything and anything that could happen to folks, good and bad. I worked for years as a columnist and an editor, getting paid to spout off in public, increasingly aware of what Gurdjieff meant when he said, “The higher climbs the monkey, the more you see his ass.”

I’ve squandered countless hours dealing with other monkeys. Siberia With a View is distinguished by one thing above all others: more monkeys per capita than just about any little community, anywhere. There is a legion of folks who have moved here (yes, most have moved here) who labor under the illusion they were once much more important than they really were, and who are intent on convincing people they remain as important, and certainly as inflated, now that they are here. Ours is a place where “successful” people move who cannot afford to live in Aspen or Telluride”— a community rife with colonels, not generals, with vice presidents, not captains of industry.

Over the last quarter century, I have endured the drivel dispensed by the Pollyannas —folks who believe that, just because they are here, this is the most wonderful, incredible, fantastic place in the known universe. Boosterism is not just obnoxious, it’s toxic. Arm in arm with the Pollyannas troop those intent on “improving” the place. Newcomers, they are nonetheless authorities on what is best. They seek to “develop” the economy, to improve the area, to burnish their reputations by sucking on to others’ projects like remoras on a whale shark, to take credit where no credit is due, to hang posters that then grow yellow and brittle and, once the tape gives way, fall in pieces to the cold floor in an empty store space.

I have accommodated the doomsayers — the quacks who are convinced that everything and everyone but them are responsible for the wreckage and failures that define their lives and, thus, find in this a call to rise up with other failures and assert rights that, in reality, would come to nothing. An armada of them, rolling along on their Rascals, AR-15s in their laps, are no doubt heading for the county borders to put up the barriers as I write this.

I have dealt with the privileged clowns who have lived with a standard of life better than 99.9 percent of all humans who ever walked the planet, yet are convinced that the system and the processes that allowed them to do so were broken beyond repair once every important figure on the scene was no longer white and male.

I have put up with the fools who shout about government providing a helping hand to others while they cash their government benefits checks, utilize Medicare, wave the war flag, and rant and rail against any proposal to cut their Social Security payments. They shout about government, but they want their roads plowed; they call the fire department, law enforcement and the ambulance whenever government is needed, they drive on the highway and they send their kids to public school.

I have watched as those whose consciences are cleared with a vacuous confession, or a cheery song sung in the company of likeminded folks, deny charity to others. I have watched those whose charity comes with the provision that they receive maximum attention and credit for the act.

I have witnessed tiny but loud people who provide nothing of value to the community attempt to bring down those who make a difference, slandering and libeling them, publicly soiling their enterprises for the sole purpose of causing them pain and undermining their efforts. The activities of these malevolent individuals, regardless of how they disguise them, serve only to pull others into the crawl space they themselves inhabit.

I have regarded with sadness the continuing demise of a rural way of life, the steady loss of once great tracts of land, the subdivision of those lands, the construction of far too many homes for the environment and the stimulation of population growth, as well as the arrogance of those who divide and sell, their chests puffed out as if they have contributed something important, exercised some kind of skill.

Siberia With a View has, indeed, provided a clear take of the backsides of the monkeys, myself included.

But, I have also seen those of true, good heart tend to others, with no desire for recognition or compliment. No need of a volunteer of the year award in these ranks.

I have received birth notices and the photos of the babes, and found my heart warmed. Often, I remember when the parents were born. I have received obituaries and the photos of the departed in happier times, and have been saddened. Too often, I knew the deceased for a good portion of my life. The cycle, in all its joy and pain, in its potentials and actualities, has been center stage, and the emotions it brings are deep, and real.

I have watched unpaid neighbors risk life and limb to put out fires and, for many years, tend to and transport the sick and injured. I watched volunteers scour the backcountry for those who lost their way, volunteers who skied treacherous terrain at night in an attempt to find someone who strayed into harm’s way, volunteers who risked their lives to recover the bodies of people lost in plane crashes and other accidents. With no need for a citizen of the year award.

I’ve known noble souls who were born here, whose parents were born here and whose grandparents were born here, who suffer in silence the end of a way of life and the inalterable destruction of the land they know. All with no need to foment revolution, but with a stoical awareness that things invariably pass away.

I have known true oldtimers, most now gone, whose memories and stories were a colorful and significant link with times past.

I watched sincere and skilled individuals educate our youngsters and labor under the burden of increasing regulation and restriction — often in a physical environment no true citizen would tolerate, were their child a student — persisting all the while.

I have witnessed too many buffoon politicians who, cowardly and self-serving, tell anyone anything they want to hear, before turning to tell the next person something different. But, I have also known public servants who, with a genuine connection to and love of this place, have worked long years to help guide things along, clumsily at times, enduring insults and venom spit by mean-spirited critics.

As a fourth generation Coloradan, I‘ve accepted Siberia With a View for what it is, for I have seen it many times — a small, rural western community characterized best by one thing: change. To those who yap about “historic downtown Pagosa Springs” I’ve replied, “The only thing historic about this place is that nothing lasts.” Where once the Ute and Navajo took the waters, an army post was established. The fort moved and the place, for a while, was a ranching center. The timber industry came and went. Tourism swelled and land was modified to accommodate a flood of retirees and second home owners, all sure this was the most beautiful place imaginable (that they could afford) and a service industry grew to support them.

The change continues, with real “improvement” taking place in small increments — even as one genius and world authority after another condemns and criticizes any notion that does not emanate from them. And that changes, as well: as one seer fails and fades, another takes his or her place. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Where Siberia With a View goes from here is anyone’s guess.

And a guess it should be.

One thing that is not a guess: there will be no more “Sunday” nights for this monkey.

No more columns.

I’m quittin’.

Not retiring, mind you. I can’t afford to retire. I’m a writer and a painter and I need the cash. I’m just moving to another part of the Monkey House.

But, it is time to leave this work. I wrote a while back that I believe those of us of “a certain age” should know when the time is right to vacate salaried jobs, leaving the tasks to those younger than ourselves, to those with new families or ready to start families. I opined that it was also a good thing to know when one had served in public office long enough, when it was time to allow those who would live for decades with decisions made now to be the ones who make those decisions.

For me, it is time.

So, what to eat on such an occasion? What should this monkey gnaw on as he moves to another tree in the Monkey House?

A banana? No, though I have learned that other primates peel their bananas from the opposite end than do I. They’re smarter, you know.

Other fruits? Nuts? Whole grains?

No. I am quitting a job; I am not at death’s door quite yet.

I believe there is evidence to support the assertion that chimpanzees can, on occasion, rip into a hunk o’ animal flesh. Even if there is no such evidence, I am going to act as if it is true.

For this monkey: meat.

But, nothing too fancy. After all, I have spent the past quarter century working at a small newspaper in Siberia With a View. Therefore, no celebratory tenderloin, no massive porterhouse.

Ground meat.

Meatballs. Something I can throw at other monkeys.

One third each of home-ground chuck, pork shoulder and veal.

Seasoning: white onion (slushed in the processor with a couple cloves of garlic), minced oregano and basil, a hefty dusting of Espanola red, salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Binder: cubes of day-old Italian bread, soaked in milk, squeezed fairly dry; a flutter of panko breadcrumbs; beaten egg.

Mix the lot and let it sit in the fridge for half a day to allow the flavors to meld.

Bring the fleshy mess to room temp, fashion big balls. We’re talkin’ monkeys, after all.

Brown balls in olive oil then simmer for 30 minutes or so in a simple sauce of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (with their juices), some chicken base, a bit of oregano and basil, salt and pepper. Adjust the liquid and seasoning as necessary.

I intend to slap a mashed ball or two in a split, warm bolillo roll and sprinkle it with shredded Parmesan before I devour it. The balls would also go well with some pasta or would be just fine simply smothered with a bit of the sauce.

My parting shot: If you come looking for me, don’t stand beneath the tree.

We monkeys are prone to do some pretty ugly things.

This story was posted on December 26, 2013.