Quiet Desperation

You only get one life, but hey, no pressure


“September Song” is a song. While the title has always been perplexing to me (why wasn’t it called “September”), the metaphor implied in it never has been, although when I first understood that it was a metaphor, it was, metaphorically, March.

The song was written in just a couple of hours for actor Walter Huston to perform in a 1938 musical, “Knickerbocker Holiday.”

Huston, you may remember, was the oldest of the three prospectors in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a 1948 film directed by Huston’s son John.

John Huston asked his father to portray Howard without teeth. Walter Huston reluctantly complied. Father and son both won Academy Awards.

Walter Huston was 65 when the film was released. He died two years later.

Walter appeared in numerous other films when he was much younger, but his performance in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is the one I first noticed, and by then he looked like an old man.

My grandmother looked old to me the first time I was cognizant of her, but, in fact, she was much younger than I am now.

Age is both a fact and an illusion. It says exactly how old I am on my driver’s license, and I believe it. But I am still wearing shorts and T-shirts in the summer, just like I did in high school.

I still listen to some of the music I listened to in college.

And I still have my own teeth.

The song goes, “The days grow shorter when you reach September.”

Yes, they do. It seems like I have two birthdays every year now. I just turned around and I was 50. Then I turned around again and I was 60.

However, I have never tried to look, act, or sound younger.

I never conclude a sentence with the word “man,” man.

The last time I said “cool” was when it was cool.

I don’t wear a ball cap backwards, and I don’t wear my sunglasses in my hair.

The idea for this column occurred to me when I read about the people I grew up with who have headed for the exit.

Frank Robinson starred for the Reds when I was in high school (and lived in Cincinnati). Bart Starr starred for the Packers when I was in college.

Peter Fonda, Dr. John, Doris Day, Toni Morrison and I.M. Pei, rest in peace.

There always seems to be a push to speed things up. Ceramic Halloween pumpkins were placed for sale in front of my grocery store in August.

I am fortunate now to be able to avoid rush hour. Most of the time. But when I cannot, it is a reminder that the highway is a ribbon of unbridled recklessness.

Last week a Cadillac zoomed by me.

I said to myself, “Perfect.”

In 1956, the Cadillacs released “Zoom,” a classic doo-wop song. I was a kid when I heard it for the first time. Now when I hear it, I get a little wistful, just like I do when I remember absent friends.

One of them used to say, “Age is a thief.”

What’s the alternative? A portrait that ages in the attic instead of you?

As for me? I am going to appreciate September like there is no tomorrow.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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