He was the self-proclaimed Mayor of 13th Street, an immigrant, and a teacher. Sam came to the United States via Texas or Paris—one could never be sure.
Sam was a storyteller whose tales of his escapades and escapes mesmerized toddlers and hooked the most sophisticated listener. He charmed women with such enthusiastic flattery one could almost believe he spoke the truth. It’s said that he once proposed marriage to two women in our law office on the same day.
A high school Spanish teacher, Sam had a passion for “junking” along with the gift of bricolage—making something out of nothing. A cheap picture frame painted silver soon became a “specially price just for you” item in his Why Not “antique” store.
Sam kept his shop as a space for his cronies to gather as much as for keeping the thousands of thrift store treasures available for sale to anyone who wandered unaware of their source. Whether there or at the end of the bar with his buddies, Sam loved to be in any company where there was conversation.
Sam bought buildings, held them for decades while they deteriorated, and eventually sold them for a fine profit. One was the century-old brick that became home to my law firm and me.
Sam was many things. And there were many things he was not.
He was notorious for ignoring his doctor’s advice and being a good patient. He wasn’t a parent who came home by supper time or sat at soccer games. He wasn’t a husband who was able to sustain his two marriages. As was said, “He wasn’t much of a family man.”
Sam was at times irresponsible, inappropriate, and downright incorrigible.
I saw many sides of Sam. I saw him as a dad when his children attended the same Montessori as mine, a businessperson, and as my neighbor down the street.
Sam died at 83. His final season was spent living with assistance and dementia. At his memorial service—which included sharing shots of Chivas per Sam’s request–few shied away from sharing his humanness. His drinking, his sometimes-slovenly appearance, his occasionally questionable business deals. Yet even people he’d deeply hurt celebrated his life, each with their own story of why Sam mattered to them.
A curious comfort came over me after the funeral. Thoughts of Sam returned to me like an engaging teacher with a story from Dr. Suess.
I am Sam
Sam I am
I have hurt people I loved. I have allowed valuable possessions to fall into ruin. I have collected too much junk and ignored sound advice. Sam’s life affirms for me that even with our multitude of failures and flaws, we can still be loved.
Sam surely was, and he mattered to me.