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