BY HIS OWN admission, he is nothing to look at -- ugly, to tell the truth. Short, to tell the truth, Stocky, and stale-smelling and what he calls "nervous." Girls don't like him, he says with a laugh. Not that it matters at his age, he adds with a laugh. He's 68. Three times now he has shown up without announcement. Three times now he has made the same plea. He wants his name in the paper.
"I was born with three strikes," he says. "I am not romantic looking. I have bad teeth and I can't talk." He will say anything to get his name in the paper. It's Sam Brooks.
Most of the time he gets his way. He comes carrying a satchel, a real satchel and not an attache case. This alone commends him. In the satchel are clippings from some of the 200 or so newspapers that have printed something about him. Most are columns and most of them mention the fact that Brooks has a Brooklyn accent, as if this were the same as having two heads. I am not as charmed.
Always, the stories make Sam Brooks into some sort of character -- cute or something -- and always they tell how he pestered the writer into writing something -- "There, he got me!" is the way some of them begin. Sam Brooks is a useful guy, a column for a slow day, but he is simething more than that. He is an American pehmomenon, someone who believes that getting his name in the paper will change things, will make him happy, will make him rich, will make him unique. The only difference between Sam Brooks and most people is that he wears this belief on his sleeve.
What Sam Brooks does is criss-cross the country on buses. He birtually lives on the buses, hitting town after town, always calling on the newspaper. He shows them his clippings and they do a sotry. When he came to me, he did his standard routines. I said thanks, but on thanks.
He came back. He has more clippints. He has bagged Phoenix or someplace. Se. Louis had succumbed. He told me about his parents, about growing up in Brooklyn, about retiring on disability from the post office for what he calls "nerves." If you ask him if he's crazy, he'll say yeah and if you ask him if he's ugly he'll say yeah and if you ask him if he'll say anything you want just to get his name in the paper, he'll smile and say yeah.
It is interesting, this thing about getting your name in the paper. It is something I first encountered when I wrote about Sugar Ray Leonard, the young fighter who went off to seek fame in the Olympics, leaving behind a child to live on welfare. At the time, Ray said he was going to quit the ring because of had hands so it seemed that he had fought for nothing -- no payoff in big bucks. Caller after caller disputed that, though. They said that if you were famous, you would be rich. They insisted that was the case. They were adamant. They knew it and after a while you got the sense that this was like a street religion -- a true fact.
An example of this kind of thinking is Frank Wills, the guard at the Watergate who discovered the burglary. He became famous and from what you read about him he also thought that he would be rich. It seemed to follow, one after another, and when it did not happen it seemed to leave him bitter, if not puzzled. What he lacked, of course, was the ability to translate his fame into money -- the ability to do something that people would be willing to pay for. Others could write. Wills could just be famous, someone for everyone else to write about. This must be why Patty Hearst, for instance, has sold the rights to cover her own wedding. For once, she's going to make her fame pay for her.
But Sam Brooks understands none of this. He reads the papers and sees the names and does not understand that these people he reads about do something. They entertain or they write or they were born with daddies who had bucks. Sam Brooks has none of that, none of the talent and none of the looks and certainly not the right daddy. So he rides these buses of his, his satchel under the seat, smelling after a while like the buses he sleeps in -- totally taken in by this America dream.
The last time I saw him he had some more clippings. He wanted to know why I had not written something and I wanted to know why I should. He is a simple man and so he said it would impress the girls in the bank and then he said it would make him rich like DiMaggio and Jackie and then he just shrugs his shoulders and picked up his satchel and went for another bus. He'll go to another town and get into some more papers and not even realize that he may be the ultimate celebrity. I want you to meet Sam Brooks of Brooklyn, N.Y. Something new under the sun.
He's famous for being famous.