A Doozy for Sam

Sam Smith answered the phone yesterday at his Ross Periodicals office, in Novato, California, and heard me announce, “I’ve got a doozy for you.”

By the pregnancy of his pause, he might have thought I might have meant “Duesie,” as in Duesenberg. This was not about a classic car. He listened to my further explanation. A call for me had come to Automobile Magazine from Clark Heeyull (one syllable, really). After being laid off a few years ago from his job as purchasing agent at a south Alabama paper mill, Clark and his wife Brenda had opened themselves a barbecue shack at the crossroads of a U.S. route and a state route. Our party stopped there early in November 2006, when I was leading a feature story expedition for Automobile with photographer Regis Lefebure, associate editor Sam driving the chase truck, and Sam’s mom, Alice, of Louisville, Kentucky, who was along to model in photos. A pink wooden pig wearing a black apron pointed the way to Clark’s barbecue shack and a fantastically savory lunch.

Alice was a tremendous boon companion on that journey. After fetching her away from her husband we had gone down to Nashville, and then crossed the Natchez Trace Parkway to Tupelo, Mississippi. Alice rode with me in the Chevy Silverado, one subject of our editorial attentions, which was towing the other, a vintage Airstream trailer. Being the same age and married to our spouses for the same number of years, Alice and I found much to talk about. I recall her saying she and her husband would probably retire to their northern Michigan cottage. I think we reviewed some books, too. Alice was mellow and reflective. Yet, at meals, she and Sam engaged in uproarious hijinks, and I was appalled by his filthy language in front of her. Alice explained that she and Sam have a unique relationship. As for her, Sam later quoted Ogden Nash: “You’re only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.”

At any rate, it was our exalted idea that we were the ones doing the scouting. However, there proved to be another side to that coin.

Memory delivers Clark as a robust and somewhat hirsute man. He called yesterday, after two years, to ask about Alice. “She was the mother of the junior writer in your group,” he said. He couldn’t forget her. She enticed him. His own wife had caught him looking at her and didn’t like it one bit. Does she happen to be single? He couldn’t imagine a married woman being allowed to go along on a trip like that.

Wait a minute, I said, “What about Brenda?”

“She left me for a younger man.” He embellished this shocker with the tidbit that Brenda was his second wife. “I called him up and asked if they were just friends or she was with him. He said she was with him. I said he should take good care of her then, and maybe one day me and him could hunt and fish together again. So I wondered if you would call Sam and tell him I thought his mom was sexy.”

“I think she’s accounted for.” But of course I would tell Sam, who has moved on to another job.

“I’d like to buy her a glass of wine.”

He had to be admired for his sincerity, his humility, and the way he enunciated his desire. But it turned out there was a second part to the call and another proposal. Make that two, really: Clark’s son—Iraq vet, 82nd Airborne, Bronze Star for rescuing fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb struck their convoy—this young hero (first proposal) will marry on Dec. 13. Clark is throwing a big party and providing all the barbecue and beer. Judges, policemen, and FBI men are coming, he bragged, evidently thinking this would be just my sort of crowd. And he was trying to get Ted Nugent to come and play, pointing out, in a non sequitur, that the Motor City Madman does nice things for poor people. Clark (second proposal) wanted to fly me down there—”My money’s good”—and I could pick up the vibe and write a story about the event for…I don’t know. Did he think Automobile would run it? Maybe he knew I’d once written a couple of stories for Bon Appétit. Or would Baggy Paragraphs suffice? I offered that I’ve just had minor surgery and won’t be traveling any time soon, which is true unless the AC/DC tour comes back within 500 miles. Hearing me evoke “surgery,” Clark said his friend the orthopedic surgeon is having his prostate removed this week and won’t be on his feet by then, either.

Thanking Clark for remembering me, I straightaway dialed Sam. Later he e-mailed from California that he had called his mother and Alice was “absolutely flattered.” To be remembered as she had would thrill any woman, my wife says.

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