“We still miss ya, man…”
This past Tuesday — the first anniversary of Gary Halbert’s abrupt exit from this mortal coil — my first call was to Bond, his son.
We laughed a bit, shared some memories, and — in Gary’s honor — even discussed some business. (Please watch for emails from Bond and Kevin — they’re getting www.thegaryhalbertletter.com cranked back up, and I’m doing all I can to help.)
Bond and I know each other well. I still think of him as a cocky teenager, but he’s grown into a fine man. Kevin, too. I’m proud of both of them.
Anniversaries are funny things. It’s good to have a reason to remember someone, or to celebrate something… but I’ve largely avoided any kind of official remembrance of the mounting number of significant events and deaths in my life.
I don’t have a clue, for example, exactly when my mother passed away. I know the year, but not the month. I’m not entirely clear on the season. I could find out, easily enough… but I don’t feel the need to.
Sometimes, time is a stupid way to keep track of life.
What I remember from Mom’s demise is that it had been almost a full year of horror and grief and fatigue, and then, after a final stretch of pure, undiluted shock… it was over.
The months before had lost meaning — the sun came up, and the sun went down, and the only change seemed to be the incremental increase in numbness. I deeply appreciate that numbness, too — without it, the days would have been one long scream of indignant frustration. With it, I was able to stumble through my duties as a writer and a son.
The months after seemed just as unmoored to time. And yet, with each sun-up/sun-down, a faint sense of renewal stuck around, and grew. I quit advertising, wrote a novel (finishing just before my 40th birthday, to fulfill a promise), and took stock of my life.
Thanks to Halbert, I had enough moolah stashed away to be leisurely about deciding what to do with myself. The events that unfolded over the next year were the impetus behind where I am today.
I was fried to a crisp, as far as my career went. Over the previous several years, I had increasingly ditched all other clients, and teamed up with Gary exclusively. It was the period we were producing those infamous “Hot Seat” seminars down in the Florida Keys (inventing the model, actually)… and while there was a lot of fun going on, the foundation of Gary’s little empire was actually crumbling.
We all sort of hit a wall at the same time. I was just done with advertising, and burying Mom took me to a place where it was simply impossible to stand up and get back after a career. (If it wasn’t for guys like Joe Polish and Dan Kennedy keeping my name alive in the entrepreneur niche while I was AWOL, I may have disappeared forever.)
Maybe it was a mid-life crisis. I hid out in my bitchin’ little hovel in Hermosa Beach, hanging around the beach and immersing myself in writing fiction. Very theraputic.
And I severed contact with everyone for a few months.
Except Gary, of course.
For all his faults — and believe me, his faults were legendary and multiple — he, at his core, was perhaps the sweetest and most caring man I’ve ever known.
When my mother fell sick (vicious, wasting cancer), I held it together with gritted teeth, because people depended on me. I did the seminars, sharing the stage with Gary and tending to the backstage bullshit that always accompanied the events. I wrote copy, wrangled with clients, did my best to keep Gary focused. (Tough job, lemme tell ya.)
I also flew across the country almost every month. Mom was in Southern California, about as far from Key West as possible in every way. But I made the jaunts (piling up around 100,000 miles on Pan Am in the process) because I felt it was also my job to be there during doctor visits and chemo and all the other tortures the medical establishment had lined up.
At one point, the doc pulled me aside and revealed that we were the only family doing this. Nearly every other patient he had came alone to the consultations, and faced down the radioactivity without family present.
I think about that sometimes.
Because something very similar was happening in my own life. Close friends were not returning phone calls… a stunning development. They didn’t know what to say, and so said nothing. And, I dunno, eventually they just couldn’t muster up the energy to even stop by and say nothing.
The ONLY friend I had who stuck by me during that time (while I was admittedly distracted and not fully myself)… was Gary Halbert.
Gary had a selfish side, and was even proud of it. He proudly listed one of his hobbies as “finding new mehtods of self-aggrandisement”. His personality could suck the air out of any room he entered, and he enthusiastically enjoyed humiliating friends and colleagues, both publicly and privately.
Oh, he could piss you off.
But you always forgave him. Because when push came to shove, there wasn’t a more loyal man on the planet.
Gary called me almost every day that year. Just to say hi, and — if I needed to vent — to listen patiently to the latest absurd travails of my journey through the hell of western medicine.
And he made me laugh. God dammit, no matter how grim it got, that dude could force me to smile through the pain, and then start guffawing lustily.
Oh, it was good to laugh. It was so, so necessary to laugh once in a while…
And to able to vent to someone who cared, and took my side.
For all his faults… Gary harbored a profound humanity. He truly would face monsters with you, shoulder-to-shoulder. I believe — and his friends will likely agree with me here — that he would die for you, if that’s what needed to be done.
Over the ensuing years, I found myself armed with a new tool for living life well. We all know the phrase “do the right thing”… but I now understood what it meant to actually DO the right thing. Every freaking time.
Absorbing that lesson freed me from a lot of competing bullshit in my head. There was no longer any chatter from my other urges. I had a single rule: Never turn away, never abandon responsibility.
Life is actually easier when you no longer struggle with decisions when friends need you. You siimply figure out the right thing to do… and do it. Immediately. And without keeping score.
Gary taught me that.
I took many more trips across the country in the following years, hopping on planes with little notice to go do battle with Gary’s demons. I never thought twice about it… and I still don’t, today, when the often-arduous duties of being a friend demand sacrifice.
The world can seem like such a lonely, dangerous place. Hostile to happiness, aggressively working to destroy everything good and righteous.
I know I can’t change much about that, either. A bit, here and there, perhaps.
But we’re in a big damn mess here, and it’s gonna take a whole generation of people doing the right thing to make any real difference.
Still, it all starts with a simple decision, on a personal level.
Outsiders might find it funny to hear, but I discovered there is honor in business.
I know. The embodiment of that honor was a close friend of mine, and I’m damn glad I got to hang out and learn from him.
Gone, but never forgotten, pal.
Thanks for everything. We’re still down here, trying hard to stay frosty…
Oh… and I don’t need a freaking anniversay to remember you. You’re here every day…
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