Frazz, the principal character in the popular comic strip by Jef Mallett, serves as the custodian at an elementary school. His full name is Edwin Frazier, and the strip portrays Frazz in constant interaction with the school’s children and faculty, serving as much as counselor and philosopher as the guy who mops floors, empties trash cans and changes light bulbs. Frazz is young, appearing to be in his 20s or 30s, and fit, enjoying long runs and bike rides, often with his girlfriend, who appears to be a teacher at the school. In the strip, the school’s kids admire Frazz and look up to him.
Mallett makes a point of portraying Frazz as a canny listener and observer whose wisdom points the school children toward discoveries about their world.
The Frazz of my childhood was Mr. Trageser, a large, gentle man probably a bit older than my parents, who were in their 40s during my elementary school years. He uncomplainingly tended to many and various needs in our school’s two-story building in Baltimore’s Waverly neighborhood, the usual things, mopping floors, emptying trash cans, changing light bulbs. Whenever one of us vomited, he always showed up quickly, calmly spread sawdust on the mess, swept it up neatly, and left.
This good man became a hero to me when I started riding my bike to school. This was my first bike, a hand-me-down model too tall for me. My feet barely reached the pedals. Still, my parents relented after I begged them for permission to ride it to school like the other kids, parking it in a rack in the school’s basement. To get a bike to the basement, one had to dismount and carry it down a wide flight of steps. The task was almost too much for me, and I struggled to control my large, heavy bike as it bumped down the steps, pulling me along, and crashed in a heap at the bottom.
Mr. Trageser watched this comic scene for two days, then on the third morning, he helped me to my feet and took me by the hand. “Come with me,” he said gently. “I’ll show you a better way.” He led me through the boys’ basement lavatory to its far end where a door led outside to the school’s play yard. One small step led to the concrete expanse outdoors. He showed me that if I brought my bike to that door when I arrived in the morning, I could lift it up that one step and easily guide it through the lavatory on my way to the bike rack.
I doubt that Mr. Trageser was as athletically inclined as Jef Mallett’s youthful Frazz, but he was every bit my hero. I won’t ever forget his kindness.