Don Hall 1966–2018 — An April Fool's Obit
If you haven't already heard...
I'm going to do my best to write this so that you can follow it. The emotion I’m feeling right now is crippling. But the responsibility I have to Literate Ape and this wretched news is serving as leg braces keeping me from collapsing.
Don Hall, husband, son, brother, uncle, nephew, friend, storyteller, writer, musician, trusted collaborator and confidant, event producer, shit stirrer, and at times, the internet's most hated man has died. He was 52.
I was there when it happened. Sort of.
It happened Thursday night, March 29th. I was at Don’s place recording the week’s episode of the Literate ApeCast, as usual. When we wrapped recording, we chatted casually with Dana, his wife and Literate Ape contributor. We talked about the wellness of my wife, Katie, and son, Harry and the adjustment the three of us are going through in our home. We talked about the new pipe tobacco Don was in love with this week. We talked about Don and Dana’s birthday/wedding anniversary trip to Cancun — they were meant to leave this Tuesday. We talked about the Chicago Reader’s latest racial whoopsie when theater critic Justin Hayford printed the N-word in his review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. This is where, I believe, things went south for Don.
Don got angry. So maybe things didn’t go south for Don because Don thrives in his anger. So, really, this is where things went south for the rest of us. Because this particular bit of anger became his last.
To start, the Reader is often a point of anger and annoyance because it is bloviating and smug. In this way, the Reader is a lot like Don because Don had so often embodied bloviation and smugness. But for whatever reason, Don was to me far easier to take than the Reader. Thing is, it wasn’t even the Reader or Hayford’s choice to print a racial slur that got Don all wound up. It was the backlash Hayford and the Reader were receiving online.
Online vitriol has long been a rage-igniting issue for Don, and was often the topic of his writing. He saw most of it as emotionally reactive and ill-informed, and its result too often being an unreasonable public shaming and digital lynching, something that endorsed the ever-growing divide in modern America.
Don agreed that Hayford should have avoided the use of the word. The review was not made any better by having it, so why use it. But OK, he used it. So what? It wasn’t Hayford calling anyone an N-word, Hayford was only quoting a line from the actual play. Bad choice of quote to use, sure, but not worth the hatred he was receiving.
I had to get home to my wife and newborn son so I left Don and Dana’s with Don still steaming over the whole thing.
As I unlocked the door to my apartment, about 20 minutes later, Dana called me. Don had dropped dead. Or at least she was pretty sure he was dead. He had no pulse, wasn’t breathing and he looked pretty dead. She was surprisingly calm on the phone.
“Did you call 9-1-1?” I asked.
“I’ll be right over.”
I told Katie what had happened. Harry was asleep and she told me to go. I sprinted the few blocks back to their apartment.
The medics were there. Yeah, Don was dead. I have seen enough dead bodies to know. I have been here too many times… He was lying on his stomach. There was a small amount of blood under his head from where he smacked it on the corner of the coffee table as he fell — the coffee table that still had the empty beer cans from our recording session only an hour earlier. The apartment stunk. It stunk bad. Like hot milk and scorched opossum innards. Don had shit his pants.
It wasn’t the most dignified way for him to go, or be found, but it’s the truth, and what do you expect from a man who ate as much cheese as he did? I tell you that Don Hall shit himself when he died because Don Hall was a champion of truth.To leave it out would be a disservice to his memory.
Don never pulled punches. He was honest in his failings and his successes. He was honest with his wife and his friends and his enemies and his employers and clients and students. Sometimes his honesty worked against him but that was only when it was offered to others and then manipulated by them for their own selfish gains. Don was not a selfish man. Don was giving with his time and his knowledge, and Don wanted true equality and fairness for all people even if it meant giving up some benefits of his white male privilege. Hell, Don knew true fairness and equality was only possible if that privilege was given up, and he was more than happy to dispose of it as best he could.
When I arrived to the dead, shitty body of my friend Don, Dana, his loving wife, was holding her knees to her chest on the floor across from him watching the medics assess the situation and then pack him up. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. She didn’t weep. Shock was in full control. Though I hadn’t yet asked, she offered me the details of his final moments.
“We kept talking about the Reader thing,” she said. “And he started going on and on about online attacking and how nasty and pointless and hypocritical it all is. You know how he is — was. Fuck… He kept going and going, talking and talking, you know, like Don… I went into my little office to read the book I had just started. He was still going… And then he stopped. Just like that. Suddenly. And then I heard the crack. I ran out and found him. Then he shit his pants.”
Don Hall’s killer was an aneurysm. Sneaky fuckers, they are. They’ll claim anyone for any reason at any time. Who knows how long it had been waiting to attack. Who knows if Don’s fury over the online community of angry villagers triggered it. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I could have left the apartment with Don and Dana laughing and hugging and happier than ever, and his brain still would have exploded. So to speak… I don't know.
Here’s what I do know… Life goes on for the rest of us. And while there are certainly some in the storytelling and online community who may find a quiet pleasure in the demise of Don Hall, those who respected him and loved him will miss him. Hell, maybe those who hated him will miss him, too. Everyone needs an enemy. He was well past his midlife but he had a lot of living left to do. Or so we thought. Our Maker, or whatever, clearly had different plans. But Don had plans, too. Literate Ape, books, events, teaching, being a husband, enjoying that pipe tobacco, not shitting his pants in front of his wife…
There won’t be a funeral. Don hated those things. Actually, he’d never been to one. And Dana wants to keep it that way. So, how do we say goodbye to a life so full and a man who was always saying hello with hugs and encouraging words? He wasn’t perfect but he was one of the good ones. He was always thinking, always thoughtful, always trying to be better.
With Don Hall gone, I think we’re all a little less better.
And yet, he will be missed. And in some strange way, I know he’s going to miss us, too. And that’s the worst part about it. There was so much left for Don to do and see, and he’s going to miss all of it. Most of all, he’s going to miss Dana whose heart will forever be crouched on the floor with its legs held to its chest, in shock. Broken.
Rest in peace, Don, you magnificent literate ape, you. I’m sorry you shit your pants.
Hey. It's Don. If you're reading this after April 1, 2018, this was an April Fool's Day post. Hell, I could die tomorrow for all I know but I definitely didn't die as David so eloquently (and brilliantly) described above.