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Notes From A Walkman Junkie: Mr. Smith, I Bid You Farewell

February 18, 2010

"Mercy Hospital" Robert Smith

Late last Saturday evening I received a text from the owner of the gallery where I work.  It read, “Robert died about thirty minutes ago.”  Though I had expected this news — I knew he was ill and up there in years — I was still caught a bit off guard by it.  Since meeting Robert E. Smith four years ago, he had become so much of an anomaly to me that he seemed almost indestructible in a way.  I wrote a bit about him in one of my previous posts a few months ago describing a taste of the bizarre (predictably unpredictable) world that was Mr. Smith:

“May I present the case study of Mr. Smith, an artist whose paintings we sell at the gallery where I work. He is, shall we say, a tad ‘unique’ in character. Though I can’t quite pinpoint what he specifically suffers from, my professional diagnosis would be schizophrenic/autistic/aspergers/crabby-pants syndrome. Mr. Smith is nearly ninety years old, but is still staunchly committed to painting and yelling the stories of his paintings at me, while demanding to be fed hard-boiled eggs. My most recent encounter with the feisty egg-lover was when he came into the gallery to deliver his latest painting, and as an additional unexpected bonus, a woman was with him filming a documentary showcasing Mr. Smith’s quirky talents and steadfast belligerence. Upon entering the gallery, Mr. Smith demanded that I hold up his painting while he told the story of the scene pictured in it. Basically, this consisted of Mr. Smith barking out descriptions like, “THE BOY WAS WEARING BLUE PANTS” followed by him yelling, “SEE THE BLUE PANTS?” I then politely answered, “Yes, I see the blue pants.” he in turn screamed, “WHAT?” I again answered, this time much louder, “YES, I SEE THE BLUE PANTS..” This type of interaction continued until the ’story’s’ completion, upon which he broke into the song, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, which incidentally had zero to do with the painting.”

I had countless (spazzy, odd, horrible, uncomfortable) run-ins like that with Mr. Smith over the years, and knowing I will never have another leaves me with a tugging sense of sadness (reprieve) like something (a small nutty old man yelling at me) is now missing.  When I first started working at the gallery I was told (warned) about Mr. Smith.  A brief description of the man and his unconventional (hostile and ludicrous) behavior was given to me followed by the ominous statement, “Oh, you will know him when you meet him.”  And I did.  Mr. Smith shuffled into the gallery one day with his walker and oxygen tank and promptly started barking at me, “WHO ARE YOU?” (I was new at the gallery)  “GET ME SOME WATER !” (he was very thirsty)  “DO YOU HAVE ANY HARD-BOILED EGGS FOR ME?” (he loved hard-boiled eggs)  “CALL ME A CAB!”  (OK, you’re a cab.)  This type of exchange proved to be very typical between Mr. Smith and I over the years.  He was hard of hearing (and hard of “manners”) so all conversations became screaming matches with dozens of “WHATS!?” tossed about.

I can recall one of the the first times I was serving food and wine during an Artwalk when Mr. Smith made an appearance.  He approached me and began demanding to know what each specific food item was.  The interplay went something like this, Mr. Smith: “WHAT IS THAT STUFF!?”  Me: “It is a fruit puree on top of tiny pancakes.”  Mr. Smith: ”ON TOP OF WHAT!?”  Me: ”Tiny pancakes.”  Mr. Smith: ”WHAT!?”  Me: ”I said, TINY PANCAKES!”  Mr. Smith: ”WHAT? SPEAK UP!”  Me: “TINY PANCAKES! TINY PANCAKES!”  At this point a crowd of gallery patrons had gathered to witness the girl yelling “TINY PANCAKES” at the crippled old man.

Ah yes, I can honestly say I will miss those peculiar (and uniquely torturous) interchanges that I shared with Mr. Smith over the years… and just when he had finally learned my name (though it was always yelped at me as more of an accusation — “YOU’RE ANNE.”)  I believe in some strange way we were meant to cross paths, if only for a short time (he moved here the year I was born; coincidence?  I think not.) Mr. Smith will not soon be forgotten by me.  Perhaps in his honor, I shall dine out and feast on hard-boiled eggs and tiny pancakes — then shriek at someone to “CALL ME A CAB!”

I am attaching a clip of the song, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”.  It does not make sense at all… which is why it is so remarkably fitting.

To view more of Robert E. Smith’s incredible and distinctly unique work please visit


17 Responses to “ Notes From A Walkman Junkie: Mr. Smith, I Bid You Farewell ”

  1. Sara on February 18, 2010 at 8:30 am

    ‘Perhaps in his honor, I shall dine out and feast on hard-boiled eggs and tiny pancakes — then shriek at someone to “CALL ME A CAB!”’

    Dear God, poor Jackson.

    Ps. YOU’RE ANNE.

  2. Pancake on February 18, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Wow. What an awesomely funny tribute…Robert used to bust into my friend Christine’s classroom and belt out “Buffalo Gals (won’t you come out tonight…)” in the middle of her drawing class. (She was from Buffalo) He did this a lot.

    Nicely done Anne. Go get yourself some TINY PANCAKES.

  3. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Thanks…he shall be missed. Will you guy occasionally call the gallery, accuse me of being anne–then hang up on me? (for old times sake..)

  4. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 10:10 am

    *guys* Sorry that would have bothered me too much to leave it alone…still does.

  5. Nat on February 18, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Astounding. I couldn’t imagine how one would write a tribute to someone they didn’t particularly like, and yet you found a way.

    I think it speaks highly of your assessment that he signed the particular work accompanying your story right in the middle–not subtly off to the side in small, cursive script, but right in the middle, in big, boorish capitals, with every line in the painting converging on it–the house, the trailer, the tree, the girl, the two bird(?)s, the fence, the telephone poles, the man passed out on the street, the ambulance (which I believe says “Mercy Hosp.” but at first glance looked like “Merry Lobster”), and the two poles directly above, the rainbow/drops, the cow(again “?”), and the contorted skunk/cat all pointing directly at ROBERT E SMITH.” Let us say he fought with valiance against modesty.

  6. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thanks, Nat :)

    You know, the full name of that painting is actually “Mercy Hospital,County Jail.” And your assessment of his work, spot-on.

  7. cow on February 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Terrific tribute Anne.
    Ironically, yet appropriately the sound from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” didn’t work on my computer.

  8. S on February 18, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    you warm my tiny, cold, pea-size heart. Thank you for this.

  9. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for reading it :)

  10. Jackson on February 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    wow. i think Robert brought a lot of unintentional joy to people the same way he did to you. he was a lot like one of those highly quotable movies where it’s not so funny or enjoyable at the time, but upon retelling the event, it’s quite humorous. a wonderfully fitting tribute to an oddly inspiring, mentally deficient old man.

  11. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Many thanks, love :)

  12. Lil Olive on February 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    This made me cry. I think the thing we responded to, and suprisingly so, (as in it suprised me how sad I was) is the purity of Robert being Robert. No airs, no conniving, no calculating, just a being being a being….I’m obviously not as good with words as you are Anne….hey! YOU ARE ANNE!!!!!

  13. anncine on February 18, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Thank you, Lil and you are correct about Robert’s purity. There will never be another Robert “being.” Thanks for reading my post and I AM ANNE!!

  14. Jarad Johnson on February 19, 2010 at 2:46 am

    I never knew the man. In fact, when Skye mentioned he had died, I mainly pretended to care. See, I had read several tweets between Saturday and Monday of his death, but none grabbed my attention for more than a second. I even read a boring article about the man. The type of article that would have made Hunter S. Thompson sound like a nice fellow who wrote a couple equally boring books and lived in the mountains.

    It wasn’t until I came across your brutally honest and hysterical tribute of not only a man, but your personal encounters that I realized, I REALLY wish I had met Mr. Smith. Thank you.

  15. anncine on February 19, 2010 at 3:09 am

    This …makes my night. Thank you, Jarad.

  16. Casey S. on February 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Lovely tribute … We shall feast on tiny pancakes tonight!

  17. anncine on February 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks, blondie.