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SUNDAY READING

The Story of Sam : Or, A Mechanic in Hollywood

March 22, 1987|AMY EPHRON | Amy Ephron's novel "Bruised Fruit" was just published by Doubleday.

My friend Tim cannot tell a story without adding something to it. I don't know why, it's just his way, but he tells stories with such authority that it is difficult to remember this about him.

I called Tim a few months ago because my brother-in-law had given us his old Datsun station wagon, which was a very nice thing to do except that we discovered when we tried to drive it home that it would not go more than five miles an hour and didn't take to hills. Somewhere north of Santa Monica at the beginning of the incline toward Sunset, the little orange Datsun sputtered, coughed and died. We pushed it over to the curb and left it parked on the corner of Crescent Heights and Fountain, and I called Tim, because I remembered that he had a Datsun, to find out where he got his fixed.

"Call Sa-am," he said, putting two syllables in the name.

"Who's Sam?" I asked.

"Sam at Sam and Ed's," he said. "Sam's great," he said. "Sam can fix anything. Just be sure you talk to Sam, not Ed. Ed's a little weird but Sa-am's great. Maybe you can get him to tell you his story. Sam has a great story," he said.

"Sa-am's from Romania," he said. "He used to be a film maker. He won a few awards in Europe for a film he made when he was 20, so he came to Hollywood. But he couldn't get in the door. So, now he's Sam and Ed's," Tim said, and he laughed. "Sam says, 'It's all in who you know,' " said Tim, and he laughed again. "Call him, he's great. Sam can fix anything."

I called Sam.

A FEW NIGHTS EARLIER, I'd seen on "The Tonight Show" a young woman who was the star of a new series. She told Johnny a story about how she'd met him a year before--she'd sold him a rose while he was dining at Chasen's.

WHILE I WAITED for the tow truck to come and take me and the orange Datsun to Sam and Ed's, I thought, I'll get Sam to tell me his story. I'll get him to show me his film. What if it's wonderful? Abel Gance, move over. And on the more practical side, I thought, I hope it's not the engine.

"It's the clutch," said Sam. He was a dark, burly man in his 50s with black hair, heavy eyebrows and a slight, indistinguishable accent. His arms and hands were big and thick but I thought that his eyes looked intelligent.

Sam was right. It was the clutch. A few days later, we picked up the Datsun. It ran perfectly, except that we discovered hours later that the turn signals didn't work. We took it back. Sam changed a fuse and didn't charge us.

All was well for about a week, until it began to rain and we discovered that the windshield wipers didn't work. So I went back to Sam again.

It was raining pretty hard, and I was sitting in his office waiting for him to get off the telephone. He was drinking coffee. I was sipping a Coke. He hung up the phone, and I thought, I'll get him to tell me his story.

"Where are you from, Sam?" I asked.

"Detroit," said Sam. We discussed the current auto workers' layoffs. I didn't ask if he had ever made a film.

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