August 13, 2013 10:28:13 AM
An email and a phone call Monday have convinced me to make a confession.
The email came from city attorney Jeff Turnage, who asked about the identity of Spencer Smith, who wrote a scathing letter to the editor that was published in Monday's Dispatch on the city's hiring of J5/Broaddus as project manager. I did not immediately grasp the implication of Turnage's email until I checked my voice-mail later and discovered I had missed a call from the mayor's office. The message said the mayor was curious about my birth name: Was Slim Smith my real name? Or was it just a nickname?
Inquiring minds want to know.
So I will admit that I'm not really Slim Smith in any official or legally-binding sort of way.
In fact, I am not Slim by any objective standard. At least I haven't been for quite some time.
Every now and then, a curious person will ask me if Slim is my real name, which I find amusing. Who would name their child "Slim?" Of course, this week in Tennessee, a woman's decision to name her infant son "Messiah "was rejected by a particularly pious judge, who said the name was reserved for Jesus Christ alone. The judge's authority to decide such matters will be litigated, as you might imagine.
But my mother was very traditional in naming her brood. There was never much creativity on display in her choices. As the youngest of six, I strongly suspect that mama and dad sort of "mailed it in' by the time I came along. I mean, Timothy Smith? It may be the most generic name in the English-speaking world. If mom and dad had produced a seventh child, they would have probably just named him "Boy" or "Girl."
While it says my name is Timothy Lane Smith on my birth certificate, no one has ever called me Timothy. Until I was old enough to be offended (around age 10), I was called "Timmy." After that, it was "Tim."
There were two Tim Smiths when I arrived at Tupelo High School, and both of us got sideways with the rules enough to make "Tim Smith, please report to the Principal's Office" a standard part of the morning announcements. We took turns showing up, mainly on the basis of who was likely to be the offending party. The least guilty Tim Smith went to the office, hoping that the principal would just give up prosecuting the offense when sorting out which of us was the offender became more trouble than it was worth.
The confusion was abated when I showed up for football practice as a sophomore, one of a few dozen anonymous players moving up from Carver Junior High, which is where all Tupelo ninth-graders went to school in the 1970s.
I got my nickname from a senior -- Jim "Gopher" Williams -- who took one look at my 120-pound frame and gave me a name I have now carried for almost 40 years.
While the name has long since ceased to be descriptive -- sadly, it now borders on irony -- it has persisted.
I've grown quite used to it. I like the alliteration of being "Slim Smith" and, at least in theory, it inspires me to "live down" the name, shaming me into the gym every couple of years.
It also makes it much easier to get a hotel room. You probably hadn't thought of it, but just try to register at a hotel as "Tim Smith" without the clerk giving that raised eyebrow that says, "Yeah, and I guess that's Mrs. Smith scrunched down in the passenger seat of your car out there in the parking lot, right?"
That aside, the more salient point regarding the city of Columbus' sudden interest in my identity is a question of whether I would seek to obscure my identity when expressing my opinion in print.
To that, I can honestly say I've never been shy about expressing myself openly, even on those occasions when I came to wish I had.
I have never used a pseudonym, aside from identifying myself as "Slim Smith," of course.
My personal views, written in my "Slimantics" columns, clearly identify me as the author.
And while I do write the vast majority of the unsigned editorials in The Dispatch, this is not an attempt to write under the cloak of anonymity. Rather, the views expressed in the unsigned editorials represent the views of The Dispatch's editorial board, which consists of the publisher, general manager, myself and senior staff. While the words are mine, the opinions are a consensus of those on the editorial board. Often, my words are edited to better reflect the Dispatch's collective view on the subject.
Still, I am touched that the city's leaders have shown a personal interest in me. They might also like to know that I love to read and I like Italian food, going for walks and public displays of affection.
I will admit that I am a lot of things, but Spencer Smith isn't one of them.
So if Spencer Smith is called to the principal's office, it won't be me they are looking for.
Editor's note: Spencer Smith, the letter writer in question, grew up in Columbus and attended its public schools. He is a graduate student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Mississippi State University.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.