Denver After Marriage

July 20th, 2017

Denver After Marriage


We were supposed to get married on June 6, Avis’s birthday, in Cheeseman Park, just around the corner from our apartment with Kay and Chris.  My family — Dad and Mom, as well as my old pediatrician, Dr. Elfriede Horst, who I think came just to see such an unbelievable sight as me getting married to an actual woman.


The wedding was scheduled to take place in the park in a pseudo Greek temple, with a view of the mountains to the west, and the city skyline to the north.  But it snowed that day, and we had to move the wedding to our apartment, where about fifty people crowded into the tiny livingroom.  The ceremony was performed by Rick, who was the treasurer of Divine Light Mission.  We got kind of stoned in the bedroom before the ceremony.


After our marriage, Avis and I moved to an apartment in a lovely, balcolnied old building in a quiet neighborhood not far from the park.  Denver at the time was full of lovely old buildings, just full of older people getting ready to die.  Or dying: and every time there was a death, there was an estate sale of fabulous furniture, and we could afford this furniture what with the estate-sale prices.  There were also a lot of pieces that  were not sale-worthy and would be put outside into the alley — Denver was also a city of alleys — so I cruised the alleys and scarfed up the good pieces, dragged them home and refinished/repaired/painted them to look good.

I had a job doing advertising for a distributor of electrical parts, which job only lasted a few months, as the owner, a woman who had taken over the company after her husband had died, didn’t know what to do with me, would not take my advice, and really wanted me out of there; in the end, she made my life so miserable that I quit.

I took a job in Aurora, a short drive to the west, doing layout for a small printer; a very small printer, there was just him (Joe) and his AB Dick offset press.  I was there for about six months.  When he found out that I was looking for another job, and fired me.

I decided that printing might be a pretty good gig — for years, I’d been having others do my printing for me, and why not learn to do it myself? — so I figured it would at least give me a trade I could find a job doing.  I enrolled in Denver Community College, which had a printing school.  While going to school for printing, I worked for the school newspaper, a paying position; the editor there was a real radical latino, which made it fun; I did all the paste-up and layout, and zapped it up a bit with duotones and photos.  We had also moved to an apartment closer to the center of Denver, where rent was free and I was the manager and janitor.

A year or so later, I heard about a job opening in North Platte, Nebraska.


North Platte

North Platte at first looked like a pleasant little town.  About 2000 residents, with neighborhoods of tree-lined streets, houses built in the 30’s and 40’s, a bustling downtown.  About a 4-hour drive from Denver, it was definitely not within commuting distance from the City.  I got the job, of course —  don’t think anyone else applied.  After I spent about a month in a long-term motel rental, Avis joined me, and we found an apartment in a new building in a complex on the edge of town.


The company I worked for was the only printer in town, so we did a lot of flyers and brochures and, especially, cattle catalogs.

North Platte, it turned out, was a cattle nexus of sorts.  The surrounding ranches — whose number was legion — brought their cattle there to the feedlots for fattening, before they were shipped out to Chicago or Kansas City or wherever for slaughter.  Feedlots were the major industry of North Platte.  It was also the home of Buffalo Bill Cody, a big deal in Nebraska, and it was right on the Interstate.

Avis looked for a job doing accounting, but the only thing she could find (she was a woman, after all) was adding up figures at the end of the day in the local bank.  She suffered through a month of that torture, until she heard about a real accounting job, which she leaped at.

That accounting job took place in an office in an old wooden house located in the middle of a feedlot.  The term “feedlot” really means “field of shit.”  Or manure, if you will.  The cattle were fed grain in troughs around the perimeter of the field; there was no grass for them to eat, stand on or just see.  Just dry shit, which the wind would now and then raise in a whirl of shit-dust and blow into the cattle’s eyes, food trough, noses, the office-house, over the road — it could carry for miles.  This was a feedlot that was shutting down, eventually, and Avis’s job was to help overseeing that shut-down.

My job, once I learned to fit into that company (a small company, only eight employees) was to now and then run the press, but mostly it was to do paste-up of our printing work, the majority of which was catalogs for cattle sales.  These were catalogs of bulls — male cows of special qualities raised for breeding, not for eating, although their offspring were large and heavy beasts that, castrated, grew into tons of beef — each of which had its photo and accompanying descriptive text.  I really got into the camera work.  The copy camera was a large camera built into a sizable room — the copy bed with the photo or paste-up on the outside, the lens in the wall, and the film bed inside, along with the developers, fixers, wash baths, and so forth.  I enjoyed this very much, making perfect half-tones, spotting the negative with my finger as it developed to bring out specific areas of shadow, or “flashing” the negative to make up for low-contrast original photos.  It’s a real art.

Other than what I got from working with layout and paste-up and developing camera skills, there was very little joy in North Platte for us.  The townspeople were not at all welcoming; standoffish and remote, they looked down at us foreigners, and did not socialize at all.   Not once were we invited to dinner, party, any social event by the natives.  We did make a few friends who also lived in our apartment complex, but that was not a great solution.  So we decided, after a year, that we had to leave.

I did, though, learn to love the cowboy hat!  Very useful.


The summer of 1974, we packed up our little green Datsun station wagon, and drove off toward Vermont.  We knew we wanted to live in the East — Avis’s parents had raised her in Rhode Island, and my parents had by then (1974) retired to Vermont.

We drove east, stopping to see our friends Kay and Chris, who were studying chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and then to the shore of Lake Michigan, where we pitched a pup tent among the dunes.  Avis had never been camping before.  It poured rain through the night.  That was the last of our camping experiences.

That morning we drove to Milwaukee, where we caught a ferry which, over the course of 18 hours, took us across Lake Michigan (that ferry burned up in a roaring fire the next year).  From Michigan, we drove through Detroit to Canada, stopped in a motel near Toronto, and the next day we arrived at my parents’ house in Vermont.


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