Quiet Desperation

A good memory is a visitor that’s welcome anytime


For at least a month, I’d end the day in my no great shakes West Los Angeles apartment listening to “Desolation Row” on a cheap turntable.

It’s an 11:23 song on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album.

I didn’t know what the song meant (I still don’t), but its somberness kept me in the mood required at the time to be a sullen and introspective college student.

Usually I would drift off before the song was over, but wake when I heard the eloquent biology of the record player.

The tone arm would lift, return to its home, and the unit snicked off. For some reason the sounds were very comforting.

Now right before sleep, I reminisce, and it’s about “Desolation Row” and a thousand other things, some very minor, that inexplicably the brain can hold on to forever.

Some nights I decide what I want to reminisce about and some nights unexpected memories will be cued by something that happened during the day.

Or a film I might have seen when I was much younger and then again recently. The films don’t change, but I have.

How and why certain moments are retained is beyond me. One night recently I remembered the heady smell of the plantings in front of the Los Angeles train station. Why?

And I haven’t been to the train station since 1973.

In the hallway of an elementary school in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, I kissed Bonnie. We were both in the first grade. It was my first kiss.

Certainly the retention of a few other firsts is understandable.

But it’s the odd ones I don’t get.

After hundreds of motel and hotel rooms, why do I remember the shower head in a Columbia, Missouri, hotel? That was 35 years ago.

The older I get the more memorable moments I’ve had. But it’s likely many I once was archiving have disappeared.

My father was hospitalized for the last nine months of his life. I had a lot of questions, but I kept them to myself.

Near the end, he couldn’t talk (or walk, eat, or drink). I wondered if he still had memories.

He once told me having good memories was the best thing about growing old.

I wondered if he remembered where he met my mother: at a corn roast when they were both 13.

And if he remembered what it was like to return to the United States on the Queen Mary after his missions in World War II were completed.

As a captain in the Army Air Corps he was treated royally.

I listen to homemade playlists whenever I paint; some over and over.

Again, inexplicably, as one song is ending I know what the next one is going to be.

The joke is: But don’t ask me what I had for breakfast.

If I were being grilled under hot lights and badgered into admitting what I was doing on the night of the 14th, I’d have to make something up.

Why do we keep some of the memories that we do and not others?

And how many are we capable of storing?

Undoubtedly, the answers to my questions are online somewhere.

Maybe I don’t want to know.

There’s magic in a good memory making an entrance after years have gone by, isn’t there?

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


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