Blow Blows

Back in the seventies, you know, during disco, Farah Fawcett, Studio 54, platform shoes, Stayin’ Alive, all that, blow was big among the young. For a short time, my boss (who was also a friend) was spent a lot of weekends in Aspen where he had a friend — W — who had a friend (etc.) The moment came for me to “try a few lines,” and I took the moment with that combination of “thoughts” shared by young people — I wanted to be cool and I wanted to find out. It was a disastrous evening and no, I’m not detailing it here. I was very glad to go home the next morning.

My next experience with it happened in Aspen, as it happens. I was picked up in Glenwood Springs by, yes, the very friend who always got my boss high, and taken to his house where he was going to meet “the man.” The man was straight from South America. I didn’t, myself, “meet” the man because the man has to stay under the radar, and who knew but what I was a narc? But once the man left, W set a couple of lines out on a mirror on the coffee table and I did one. Uncut coke.

Short cut to a bad weekend.

From there I was driven to a hotel in Snowmass where my boyfriend’s parents, sister and brother in law were staying. I was going to spend three nights sleeping on the floor of their hotel room and have free skiing for three days then they’d bring me home. Or something. Sad to say, the blow I’d snorted was so pure that I was up for two nights. I don’t remember skiing those beautiful slopes or much else about the experience except that it was hell lying there on the hotel floor faking sleep and wondering if I’d ever come down. Finally, at about 4 am one morning, I wrote a note, left it on the dresser, shouldered my stuff, took a taxi to the Aspen airport and got on a plane. They were cheap back then so if you’re thinking, “Wow! All this blow! Aspen! A plane!” don’t. $40 for the flight was all the money that weekend cost me. In other ways that weekend cost a lot. Probably the best skiing of my life and I missed it even though I skied it. Nice meals I couldn’t eat and the company of people I cared for. Missed that, too.

Flying home over the winter Rockies, picking out geological features, and feeling real joy at the first sight of Denver, I decided, “No more blow for me ever.”

Not a very challenging resolution. I didn’t like, didn’t like, didn’t like cocaine. I tend to be a little hyper and wired anyway. That was beyond insult to injury. Who in hell found that shit fun? How could it enhance ANY experience?

A year later, a lawyer friend at the law firm where I worked wanted us to go to Aspen together. I arranged with my druggy Aspen friend, W, (who was a well known architect) to stay at his place. W had plenty of room for us and was happy we were coming. My friend drove. We were not prepared for the jangly strung-out mess W had become. My lawyer friend spent one night, sneaked out and went home, leaving me there (some friend….). I kept trying to put a good face on things, which included driving with this guy in his (formerly beautiful now dilapidated) Porsche Targa to a lumber yard to buy a large mirror we brought home in the top-less Porsche two-seater. That thing could have shattered any minute and then?

That night we went to a party at a house he had designed. He was a mess. I mingled and my friend did more coke and no one else did. A woman who was there said, “Do you want to come home with us? You’re not a couple, are you?”

“God no,” I said. “Just old friends.”

“That’s a relief.” She was that worried about W. He WAS scary. About 2 am we went “home” and I lay in bed thinking about my next steps, then realized I had rehearsed them. I called a taxi. If I had to spend the night at the airport, I would. I remembered the beautiful flight of a year or so before and I was eager to repeat it. This was fall and even in the high country winter hadn’t fully set in. The taxi company called back at 6 and I set up my ride. W — who was “up” night and day, heard everything, came and hung up on the taxi company. He insisted he take me to the airport, “I don’t know why you’re leaving,” he said. “You can’t go.”

“I can and I am leaving,” I said. “You’re a mess.”

He got angry, but we still got into the Porsche. I prayed we were going to the airport, and we did. At the airport W began giving me a tour of the features of the airport that he’d designed, including a passive solar wall. I can’t say that wasn’t cool, but I wanted out. Then W wanted to show me something he needed a key for, and he went to look for someone who could open something for us. The minute he turned away, I ran outside to the tarmac where the plane was loading. That was it.

Below me the mountains were golden and dark green; the peaks already snowbound; the lower cirques still filled with blue. Seeing that from a small plane was redemptive, beautiful.

A couple of years later W, who was on the Aspen City council, collapsed during a meeting. He died soon after of heart failure. He wasn’t even 35 years old.

Afghanis, Islam and Making Skis in Boulder in the 70s

When I got out of college with a BA in English, I needed a job to support me and my then husband. We had to stay in Boulder because he had a year left of school. Hard to find a job there in 1974. I went to work at Head Ski. One night my supervisor asked me if I could give a co-worker a ride. She lived in town — as did I — and worked swing shift, as did I. No problem! From then on, I stopped every afternoon to pick her up and take her to work. We got along great and became close friends.

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I worked on the finishing line, skis, and I was a temporary employee. My co-worker was a permanent employee and she had a horrible job; she worked with the machines that cast the fiberglass into Head tennis rackets. Even though she wore a heavy apron and gloves well up to her elbows, the sticky fibrous dangerous crap of which those rackets are made still got on her clothes, so she wore old clothes that could be thrown away after a while.
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Her husband had no idea what his wife did. He came home shortly after she had already left for work and the babysitter was there. They had one little boy — two years old. One afternoon he came home early and saw his wife dressed for work. He was so sad and ashamed that they were so poor that his wife had to wear rags. He went out and bought her several yards of fabric so she could make pretty clothes for herself. From then on, when I picked her up (a little earlier) she was dressed to the nines in clothes she had sewn for herself with no pattern. We then went to 7-11 so she could change into the work clothes she left in my car.
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Right at Christmas, I got laid off (of course) but was rehired soon after to work in the mailroom, a permanent job for which I was deeply grateful. I brought home $500/month, about $2000 in today’s values. Of course Head Ski had a big employee Christmas party and my friend and her husband came with me and my husband. We had a good time and she wore a beautiful red dress she’d sewn for Christmas.
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A few years later, after I’d moved away from Boulder and they had moved to their native town, Russian tanks rolled through their city. I was terrified about what might have happened to them, but I never heard anything until the late 80s when I was in a restaurant in San Diego and the waiter — a man I’d known in Boulder — said, “I cannot believe to see you again. Did you hear what happened to Fahmia and Akbar?”
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I shook my head. I dreaded the answer.
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“The Russians they came and pulled them out of their beds — even little Omar! — and lined them up against their house and shot them.”
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I was devastated — but not surprised. Nothing more frightening to Soviet military conquerors than a USA educated architect and his little family.
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By the way, their hometown was Kabul.
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My life has brought many Muslim people to me from Muslim countries all over the world — from Egypt to Indonesia. Among the people I was closest to in the Peoples Republic of China were my Chinese Muslim students. One of them got me permission to visit the very old mosque in the center of Guangzhou by explaining to the girl guarding the gate that yes, my husband and I WERE Muslim because we were Christian and followed the law of Moses. If Ali’s logic had power in the world, we would have peace.
 ALL of them have known a great deal about Christianity and consider Christ to have been a holy man, a prophet, equal (get this!) to Mohammed. The difference between Islam and Christianity hinges on the question of whether Jesus was the (unique) son of God. Islam says, “We’re all sons of God, but some of us are chosen by God to help others find God.”
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But only God is God.
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During the 80s in San Diego, many Afghan refugees arrived. Some of them made their family’s living by selling at swap meets. It wasn’t a bad strategy. Since my husband at the time loved swap meets — and I like meeting people from other parts of the world — it worked out well. I would sometimes spend my time with a couple of Afghan men, sitting on a carpet that had been spread on the asphalt of a drive-in movie parking, eating grapes, drinking water and talking politics and history between watching them negotiate sales. One of these men was a university professor who’d lost his wife and children to the Russians. He asked me, “Do they teach you about Communism in school?” I answered yes, we learned about Marx, and he said, “No, no, that is beautiful, but I mean the real communism, where they drag you out of your bed and shoot you.” The other had been (of all things!) an Olympic prize fighter!
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He and his family got to be our good friends, and one night we went to their house for supper so I could do my “Haj.” It’s crazy, but this man had been in Mecca the year before to do his Haj and he had a video that was for people who could not go to Mecca and do this important pilgrimage. “You can do TV Haj,” he said to me.
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I first learned of the Haj during my days of fascination with T.E. Lawrence (pre-teen years) and I always thought there was something beautiful about hinging a life on a pilgrimage like that. I have since decided that’s a timeless universal thing, to suspend ordinary life for a time and go on what really amounts to a ridiculous journey. The fact that it IS ridiculous is its beauty, the surrendering of self to the road and the symbol. It’s grand.
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So, for several hours I watched the Haj and Mohammed Ali Kabiri’s wife cooked dumplings. She was a brilliant woman, a scientist, and I think she thought her husband was pretty funny (it had been an arranged marriage) but also very lovable. Mohammed left the swap meet game and got into the more dependable occupation of driving a cab. Their two children now have advanced university degrees.
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It might be human nature to hate or fear what we do not know, but should not our better angels tell us to learn about what we do not know? I think that’s something to be ashamed of, being governed by fear is not courage. Calling ignorance knowledge is dishonesty. I agree there are elements of some Islamic cultures that I don’t like that much, but at least I can say that I’ve known Saudi women and have some idea of how they view their world; some like their traditional role, some do not. Is that any different from American women?
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It seems to me that the whole point is that we are already living together on this planet. That is a fact. The vast majority of human beings on this planet are doing pretty well most of the time living together. Our interactions are NOT with entire populations, but with individuals. I have yet to meet a person who was not affected positively by sincerity, kindness and good-faith. I have also never met a person who did not have the ability to convey those things. I believe that life is not easy for anyone. I don’t know anyone who has not suffered something terrible — cancer, the death of children, loss of a spouse, siblings; many have experienced the tragedies linked to war, many have survived the devastating loss of property. Many of us have had to rebuild our lives more than once. We need each other and most humans derive pleasure from helping one another.