There are only two reasons anyone ever comes to the town of Beggs, deep in the mountains of Colorado. The first is to take the train that runs to the top of Mount Silence. The second is to listen to the commentary that the tour guide, Elias Smithfield, provides the whole way up. I once looked through a guidebook on Colorado and found an entry for our town talking about how Elias had been doing the commentary for fifty years and that it was worth the price of admission just to listen to him. This was in a guidebook that was published all over the world too. So this is what it’s like to know a celebrity, I thought. No doubt about it, Elias Smithfield had the best job in the world. And I wanted it.
I would ride the tram as often as I could to listen to his commentary, the history he provided and the jokes he would make because it helped me with my own script, which I had been working on for years and was already a lot better than his.
“Does anyone know why it’s called Mount Silence?” he would ask. “It’s because the first man to climb it, Bertram Hinkel, was trying to get away from his nagging wife. When he got to the top he said, ‘Finally, some silence.’ ”
The line always gets a laugh, but I had a better line scripted. “Because when he got up there he was too tired to say anything.” It’s a better line because a book I read on how to craft jokes says that the most important element of humor is surprise and a line like that is more surprising than a nagging wife, which is an old joke. But not only that it’s closer to the historic fact too, which is that Bertram Hinkel climbed the mountain on a windless day and said that when he got to the top it was the most peaceful silence he ever heard. After I made the joke I would follow it up with the truth. I don’t like how Elias’s joke is misleading. People always deserve to know the truth.
I wasn’t sure exactly how old Mr. Smithfield was but it was pretty easy to guess he was in his early eighties. It really seemed to me he was well past his retirement years and it was time for someone else to take over. The timing was quite fortuitous for me because I was turning eighteen and just about to graduate high school and my parents were telling me I needed to get a summer job before I went off to college. They wanted me to learn some responsibility and they were still angry about how my last summer job went.
I had tried getting a job when I was sixteen. The owner of Amy’s Ice Cream, whose name obviously was Amy and who was a friend of my mom’s, offered to take me on for the summer but I quit at the beginning of my first shift because I was asked to mop the floor and I thought that was inappropriate. I know the key to running a good business is to take advantage of the particular skills of each employee. I am not well suited to manual labor but I don’t think I am being boastful to say I am of above average intelligence. I get A’s in most of my classes and my classmates are always going on about how smart I am and none of them particularly like me either, which lends greater credence to their assessment. As such I expected to be given managerial responsibilities. I explained all of this to Amy and she told me that everyone has to start at the bottom but if I worked hard I might be able to work my way up to management some day. What nonsense that was. As though mopping a floor is a prerequisite to managerial duties.
I explained all that to Amy too and when she failed to understand I felt obligated to quit but also warned her that if she continued to run her business in such an inefficient manner that I did not expect her to continue to do well. I didn’t want to burn bridges though so I told her that she was welcome to reconsider when she came to her senses.