I swear, some days I am just downright clueless. Case in point: the phone rings at my desk at work, at a time when I should have been thinking about going home rather than digging in to beat my head against a wall for a few hours. Distracted, I pick up the phone.
Voice on phone: Hey Greg
Me, trying to place voice on phone: Hey
Voice on phone: It's Hymie
Me, clueless: Hey Hymie
Hymie: Are you sitting down?
Me, still clueless: Yeah...
Hymie, probably not verbatim: I just found out that Hal died
Me: Oh no.
Me, after an awkward pause: Well congratulations, I'm at a total fucking loss words
That Hal would have passed away isn't actually all that surporising. His health hasn't actually been the best over the past year, and last week he'd been taken to Johns Hopkins after his fifth heart attack, where they inserted a stent into a collapsed artery. He was doing self-dialysis four times a day, taking a full apothecary of medicines on a daily basis, and had suffered from a bout of black outs and falling incidents last December. His body had probably just decided enough was enough and phoned home (an e-mail I received a little later from Keith Levy, the president of GCOM, appeared to confirm by way of Hal's son Evan that heart attack #6 had been the coup de grace, but we're still waiting on the official word).
These facts notwithstanding, I felt like I'd just been hollowed out with a wooden spoon. I spoke with Hymie for a couple minutes more, probably subconciously trying to find some ground in the mundane details associated with finding out what happened, working out details of how to notify mutual friends, and making sure that I'm in the loop with regards to memorial services, etc. After I hung up, I dialed ravynmaniac to let her know about Hal before I sent an e-mail to our gaming group's list, missing out on the fact that Hymie could only have acquired my work number via ravynmaniac - not that it wasn't blatantly obvious that she'd heard the news when she answered the phone.
Following that bit of awkwardness, I started an e-mail to our gaming group list, and after the first sentence I just started to fall apart right there at my desk. I didn't particularly care if one of the few co-workers left in the office came by and witnessed me sobbing openly over my keyboard. The reality of the situation had started to settle in - I and many others had lost a good friend, and that neither I nor anyone else would have the opportunity to learn another game from Hal Haag in this lifetime. A big fucking hole had been created, and I was feeling it right in my solar plexus.
I met Hal through my involvement in Balticomn and BSFS, and for the most part we got on like a couiple of thieves. We both loved games of all varieties, had a low tolerance for bullshit, took great joy in deflating the egos of those who suffered from delusions of adequacy, and shared a similarly wicked sense of humor. My memories of Hal are many and varied, from the game of Carcassone at Noreascon 4 that cemented Hal's almost outright refusal to take yellow playing pieces in any game, to the two of us sitting on folding chairs on the first floor of my recently rented row house here in Baltimore chatting about anything and nothing after he'd come by with several bundles of the infamous Baxter boxes so that I could pack more stuff at the ex-house in Fredneck. That was a month ago, and that was the last time I saw Hal or spoke with him directly.
Words can't really express the kind of loss I am (and probably many others are) feeling right now. Hal introduced untold numbers of people to the joys of board and card games, patiently explained and demonstrated the mechanics of more games that I could count (albeit sometimes incorrectly, but that was half the fun), and was extremely generous with his time and effort for his friends - all of which gave him a great deal of pleasure. There were few things more likely to perk one up than the look of sheer mischief on Hal's face that came with the discovery of a new game that was too good not to share, and his delight at simply playing games without concern for winning or losing was quite contagious.
I could go on and on about what made Hal a good friend, a good person, and just plain fun to be around. But none of those words would really do him justice, and he'd probably tell me I full of shit anyway were he to read them. About the only way I can do justice to his memory at the moment is to drink a beer or two in his name, and play games at his wake. I suspect that I won't be the only one.