After much careful consideration and a meticulous review of the microscopic print that saturates my health insurance policy, which is with a small HMO called Dr. Goodwrench, and which apparently is subject to instant and automatic cancellation should I ever attempt to use it, I have decided to perform a difficult and dangerous maneuver.
What I’m going to do is this: I’m going to take several steps backward, followed immediately by an Olympian leap forward.
According to the medical literature, the last person to attempt this suffered a torn ACL and a permanent loss of the ability to pronounce words that begin with the letter ‘e.’
First, the backward steps. A few weeks ago I posted in this space – well, not in this exact space, but you know what I mean – a piece called Why Me? in which I wondered why Chet Helms had asked me to help him write his autobiography. I was flabbergasted by his choice. Grateful, but flabbergasted nonetheless.
Several weeks later, I thought I had the answer. I thought the answer was that although I was familiar with the so-called San Francisco Scene in the ’60s, I hadn’t been an ‘insider’ so I didn’t know anyone personally and could be objective. Problem was, that answer only made sense if Chet felt or knew that he wouldn’t finish The Book and I never got the slightest sense of either of those things from him.
Now comes the big leap forward. During the first several months after Chet passed away, I began meeting more and more folks who had been part of his world, many of them for decades and several of them for his entire life. It turns out that a number of these people knew who I was because Chet had mentioned me to them.
Anyway, while talking to someone – I can’t remember whom – I said that I had no idea why, with all of the options available to him, Chet chose me to be his collaborator. This person said, “Chet told me he really liked your sense of humor, your outspokenness and your integrity.”
Later, I heard very similar comments from a few others, and there it was: The answer I had been seeking.
I knew I had a decent sense of humor and I certainly knew I tended to be outspoken, usually in pursuit of a laugh. I also knew I had integrity, but how did Chet know? After all, we had only a single conversation before forming our collaborative partnership. Then I remembered a brief exchange we’d had during that conversation. For some reason I asked Chet if he was going to write a truthful book and he said he was. I said that although I knew absolutely nothing about him other that what I’d read over the years, I suspected that a full and honest account of his life would likely hurt and/or anger some people. I asked if he’d given that much thought.
“Yes,” he said, “I’ve given it a lot of thought. But if I don’t tell the truth, there’s really no point.”
I am, because of my nature, seriously tempted to end this by saying something flip and ridiculous such as why Chet selected me doesn’t really matter, but the fact he did select me illustrates the depth of his wisdom.
But I’m not gonna do that.