In mid-May 2005, Chet and I experienced a communications glitch. He asked if I’d be available one afternoon during the following week to come to his place and meet with a photographer friend of his he had chosen to be The Book’s photo editor. I said all I needed was a day’s notice. He said he’d set it up and let me know when.
Well, he set it up, alright, and he let me know when, giving me several day’s notice. I meant to write it down, and I probably did write it down…somewhere.
I missed the meeting. I didn’t show up and I didn’t call to say I wasn’t going to show up because, well, I forgot all about it.
I even didn’t realize I’d missed the meeting until Chet told me I’d missed the meeting. I apologized profusely, but he shrugged it off, saying it was no big deal. I appreciated being let off the hook and told him so. Then we set Thursday, June 2 at 3:00 p.m. as the day on which and the hour at which would finally begin working on The Book. In earnest.
I arranged to take that day off work and when it rolled around, I spent much of the morning leisurely reading the paper and drinking coffee. Around 12:30, I was sitting at my computer, answering a few emails when my phone rang.
“Greg, it’s Jeff.”
“Hey, Jeff, what’s up?”
“Chet’s in the hospital.”
“He was having a problem and they took him in at 11:00 this morning.”
“How serious is it?”
“I don’t know.”
Chet remained in the hospital for almost two weeks, undergoing tests. He needed a liver transplant, but failed to qualify as a potential candidate. He was released on June 14 and returned home. He wasn’t it great shape.
I had debated about going to visit him during his hospitalization and then after his release, but decided against doing so for a couple of reasons. I had known him for only a short time and our only connection was…The Book. I figured he had other things on his mind. I also figured, correctly, that Chet would have a steady stream of visitors who had known and loved him for a long time.
On Saturday, June 18, Chet called Jeff and asked if he would take him to a function that night. Jeff tried to talk him out of it, saying he should rest and take it easy, but Chet was insistent. He told Jeff he had to make an appearance at the event because it was expected of him and he didn’t want to let anyone down.
Jeff picked up Chet and took him to the function. They didn’t stay long because Chet was more or less running on empty. He was so weak that Jeff had to help him up the stairs of his apartment building.
Tuesday evening, June 21, I received another phone call from Jeff. Chet had suffered a stroke in his apartment just before noon and was back in the hospital. The prognosis, I was told, was grim.
The next day, Wednesday, I got another second-third-or-fourth-hand report on Chet’s condition, saying that his condition was much improved. Of course I wasn’t getting actual medical reports from actual medical professionals, but rather behavioral reports from Chet’s friends. Such as: He ate his entire dinner, including the alleged tapioca, and asked for seconds. Such as: He sang a rousing version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, complete with a memorable air-guitar solo. Such as: He danced an Irish jig on his commode.
OK, maybe the news wasn’t exactly that encouraging, but it was encouraging, nonetheless. It appeared that Chet was, if not on the mend, at least turning the corner.
The news on Thursday was the most encouraging yet. I didn’t get a report on Friday, but I was convinced it wouldn’t be long before Chet and I would begin working on The Book. In earnest.
I went to bed early that night and set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. because I had my usual 7:30 tee time the next morning at Gleneagles golf course in San Francisco. For the past four years I had been playing Gleneagles in a regular foursome most Saturday mornings. Although the decidedly blue-collar muni course – Levi’s and sweatshirts are the preferred attire of most of the regulars, many of whom are tradesmen of Irish descent – is a real gem and the green fees are very low, and it offers several nice views of the nearby Cow Palace, Gleneagles is seriously underplayed because it is (a) very difficult and it is (b) located adjacent to perhaps the meanest housing project in San Francisco: Sunnydale. Four of the holes are separated from the buildings of the Sunnydale projects by a just few yards and a flimsy, chain link fence. In the early ’90s, several foursomes were robbed at gunpoint on the course.
Well, to make a long story short, which is something I frequently promise, but rarely deliver, I played 18 holes of golf on Saturday morning, June 25, 2005. As usual, I didn’t play particularly well. Also as usual, my foursome convened in the ancient and funky clubhouse/pro shop/pub for a post-round gargle and our traditional exercise of hurling vicious insults at each other’s golfing ability, or lack thereof. Finally, as usual, I was the first to leave. I went outside, shouldered my golf bag and walked to my car. After I loaded my clubs into the trunk, I unzipped one of the pockets of my bag, took out my cell phone and turned it on. (At Gleneagles and practically every other golf course, being in possession of a ringing cell phone during play is considered to be very bad form. Practically felonious, in fact.)
I slammed the trunk lid shut and was preparing to unlock and open the door when my now safely-activated cell phone beeped. I stood next to my car, flipped open the phone and punched the voicemail button. It was 12:30 p.m.
The five-hour-old message was from Jeff Curtin. His voice was quivering.
“Chet’s gone,” he said. “He passed away at 12:34 this morning.”
That was it.
There was nothing more to say.
He’s gone and nothing’s gonna bring him back.