Ham: Slices of a Life
by Sam Harris
c.2014, Gallery Books
$26.00; 304 pages
Okay, pay attention.
Sometimes, that’s all you need: just someone to watch you, to hear what you’re saying or understand your feelings. A little attention can be a bad-mood squasher, a good-mood enhancer, or just validation.
Yes, a minute in the spotlight can do wonders. And as you’ll see in Ham: Slices of a Life by Sam Harris, hogging that spotlight can be even better.
From the time he was three years old, growing up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, Sam Harris embraced the dramatic.
For his third Christmas, he received a special overcoat which made him dance. By ten, he had talked his parents into allowing him to be baptized, the after-applause being more important than receiving the Holy Ghost. He loved putting on shows in his parents’ basement, doing local community theatre, and acting in school performances. He was unabashed about his love of the limelight.
When he was just 15, his father lied about Harris’ age so Harris could take a summer stage job in St. Louis. A year later, though he’d known for a long time that he was “different,” and though it caused him anguished guilt and family strife, Harris fell in love with another boy on another stage in Nashville.
A short time in college proved to Harris that education wouldn’t make his dream come true, so he “hunted out” his stage presence in dark, colorless, largely-empty clubs. Agents and producers “occasionally came slumming,” but little happened until Harris finally found someone who believed in him: his father hired Jerry Blatt, who was Bette Midler’s writer/ director, as a gift. Skeptical Harris figured it would be just another disappointment, but Blatt would “become the single most important influence…and the greatest gift my dad, or anyone, ever gave me.”
In this memoir, Harris writes about growing up, and how his family had the misfortune to experience home-fires—twice. He writes of falling in love with Mr. Wrong, then meeting his husband, falling in love again, and wanting a child so badly that he couldn’t stand seeing other children. He explains his career and his almost-didn’t-happen appearance on Star Search. He dishes stories of famous friends, on-stage nemeses, alcoholism, being “different,” and being gay.
I’m normally not a fan of books that scramble their timelines, but in “Ham: Slices of a Life,” that bouncing around works. It works well.
Maybe that’s because author Sam Harris writes with bouncing-on-your-toes energy, rushing from subject to subject with the occasional lingering moment to ponder things that are important to him. His is an eagerness that’s endearing.
Some of the essays in this book are funny. “Liver” will put a new metaphor in your vocabulary. The story of Liza Minnelli’s wedding is hilarious, and Harris’ memories of his friend, Jerry, made me get a little teary.
With humor, soul-baring, name-dropping, and just the right mix of vulnerability and snarkiness, this book is a definite pleasure to read. If you’re looking for a memoir that you can enjoy, whole-hog, Ham: Slices of a Life should get your attention.