Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tribute To Stratty, Whoever He Was

Lake Montebello, 20" X 26", 1983, inquire here for print.
Stratty was the quintessential hobo.  At least that’s the picture burned into my memory.  We lived in Irvington (Baltimore), I was 11.  He was huge—about 6 and a half feet tall, unshaven, un-kept, big round torso.  He wore a giant overcoat (year-round as far as I could tell), untied combat boots and sloppy clothes.  He was old, and all he did was walk around Irvington--aimlessly.  He eyes were set into a ruddy face, but if you looked into them, they were crystal clear blue, full of animation, always darting everywhere.  His face was magnificent—full of color (all blotchy), and topped off with a coif of white hair thinning out towards the top, never combed.  To encounter him was always a shock.  He was weird.  He was a living cartoon—looked like a flasher.  He was a formidable looking character.  

One could just imagine the rumors and mystique all built up around this crazed old man in the minds of the neighborhood kids.  And it’s not like we were the only ones that noticed.  He was famous beyond our world—Stratty was notorious for miles around.  He would turn up anywhere when you least expected it.  Like an apperition. 

And you never knew what state of mind he would be in.  Sometimes he would be full of laughter, hollering out a joke to a make believe audience.  Sometimes he would look right at you, deadly serious, eyes flaring, and speak in gibberish.  Sometimes his face grew red and angry—and sometimes his eyes lit up in fright. He would holler and flail around and scare you into running away.  He was the butt of a lot of jokes, ridicule and taunting—as one might imagine. 

But the other part if the mystique was that he was completely harmless.  Some say he was a drunk.  Some say he was retarded, whatever that meant.  Most just dismissed him as a goofball. Some say he was a head injured WWI soldier with a metal plate in his head and to just leave him alone.  And the legends grew and grew.

One day my big sister walked down to the Rexall Store, and here comes Stratty half a block away, crazed as usual, yelling out at my sister, “Hey lunch!”  Nothing subtle about Stratty.  He couldn’t restrain himself around a pretty girl.  Just right out with it every time—"Hey lunch!”  It was downright mechanical—became his by-line.  To this day "Hey lunch!" and Stratty are synonymous.

I don’t know if anyone really knows the truth about Stratty, his circumstances or whatever became of him—or even what his real name was.  But his memory is etched in my mind.  One thing is for sure though, if it is true that he did loose his sanity (and part of his head) in World War I, he was hero.  My mother kindly reminded that this was probably the case one day when I was making fun of him, that I should show him some respect.  Ever since then I’ve had a great respect for this bum, a man whose memory still fills me with joy, laughter and gratitude.


PS—I have no earthly idea what he has to do with art or sunsets other than, absurdly, he's still in my head.

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