In the days prior to an outpatient procedure which, though minor, requires anesthetic, I ponder my mortality. Suppose I never wake up? Could happen. Just look at Joan Rivers.
As I finish packing up the last box of Christmas decorations, I wonder, for a moment, if next December will find me still here to lovingly unpack them all once more, to see next winter’s silver moon, to hear, yet again, the Beleaguered Husband, screaming curses over the impossibly tangled strands of Christmas lights.
At Target I mull over the possibility of this being my final shopping excursion. Maybe I should hold off on buying the large bottle of conditioner and the new lipstick, but then if I’m going to go, I want to go out looking good.
What if this really is the last time I pet the cat or drive down Old Canyon with another car tailgating me, or hear the sound of neighbor Barbara Allen’s voice? I muse about leaving this world and how it would possibly get along without me, and who would remember to return my library books. Listening to the news things seem so bitter and dark that I grasp at some sign of hope. If I were to check out now I want to carry with me something good, something beautiful, something comforting from this weary world. Then I hear it, “Goose survives being shot by arrow.”
On the day of the surgery, I lie on the operating table in that vulnerable hospital gown, with the silly shower cap on my head. The ceiling of the room is ugly with a big light and the medical team is busy getting everything in place. I can hear an attendant moving stainless steel instruments around off to the side, and I imagine sharp objects and don’t want to think about them. We are waiting for the surgeon to make his entrance, whom I suspect is having a smoke in the stairwell.The anesthesiologist is poised behind me holding a little mask over my face. I am tempted to try to entertain the team. After all, I have a captive audience, and I want to somehow endear myself to them in hopes that in an emergency they will say things like, “Come on let’s try to revive her one more time. This one’s special.
Finally, the surgeon arrives. It’s go time. I’m told to take a few deep breaths and I tell myself, “Just go with God.” A fuzzy notion way in the back of my mind pushes forward and I’d smile if I could. Goose shot with arrow survives.
And so do I.
A few days later I’m writing at the dining room table working on a piece for a Topanga Writers’ Group I am pleased to be a part of. It’s an eclectic group, a generous group, filled with odd characters and the stories they tell, from the poetic to profane. And there’s food, wine and our own local legend, Al Martinez, who was one of its founding members.
As I write, I note an e-mail confirming the meeting and then it is as if the world just stops. Contained in the e-mail is the sad announcement that one of our members has died. I sit, shocked, stunned, and speak aloud, “Bob died? He’s gone?”
Robert Hahn was an outspoken, gregarious, funny, at times curmudgeonly, and big-hearted man. I first encountered him at an event at the Topanga Library where talented author, Jim Morris, was reading. After the reading, Bob made the rounds of those in attendance handing out his business card and talking up the Writer’s Group in Old Canyon, that he and Jim were both a part of, hosted by the gracious, and charmingly loquacious, Dr. Chris Hartz. So, one day I walked across the street and discovered a collection of open-hearted and like-minded people who had a way with words. Amongst them was one Bob Hahn, aka, Hippie Bob, Crazy Bob, Topanga Bob.
Bob often wrote and shared with the group wild tales of growing up in the Midwest. Harrowing stories about hot rods and booze and fireworks, of starlight and friends and all the daring abandon that is youth. His writing was amusing and vivid and true. However, now and then he would delve into graphic descriptions of almost Homeric sexual exploits containing more information than one really needed. I rather overlooked these episodes and might try to tactfully suggest, “Perhaps the waterbed scene could be just a bit shorter.”
Bob’s antics seemed impossible at times. In addition to his writing he would regale the group with stories of how he handled annoying, unsolicited phone calls, to getting even with someone who cut him off driving, or how to deal with authority figures. One wanted to believe it was all true, that someone so fearless was really out there, fighting in his own way against injustice, compliance, and mediocracy.
It was hard to attend the Writers’ Group knowing he wouldn’t be there, sitting in his usual chair, near the head of the table, with the boxes of pizza he always brought to share with everyone, a jaunty cap on his head. It was comforting to share the loss with the other members, some who had known him for many years. On the table is a copy of his book, published in 2013, titled, “Born In the Summer of His 27th Year.” I had never really read it, although I had heard Bob read some segments from it. When I left I took it with me, a bit of Bob by my side.
The title, “Born In The Summer of His 27th Year” is part of a lyric from the John Denver song, “Rocky Mountain High.” Bob Hahn was 27 in 1973 when he left the Marina Del Rey/Venice area in a despondent state. He headed north with three of the four things he cared for most: his beloved dog, Lazarus, a Willys jeep, and a friend, to venture all the way to Alaska on a quest to learn, grow, and find himself. The book is about that journey.
Along the way, Bob encounters a wonderful array of characters, including a mad moose and a surly bear. Another is a Native American of the Lakota Sioux, Little Bear, whom Bob called Father. Bob stays with Father and is schooled in the ways of the tribe, learning to attune with nature. Father can sing a departing spirit across what is called “The Great River” guiding them safely to the other side.
Another spiritual teacher, Holy Alex, enters Bob’s life and demonstrates some amazing abilities of psychic powers and healing techniques. Bob also has adventures as a firefighter, and although he seems fearless in so many ways, he grabs on to a pole and adamantly refuses to jump out of a plane into the fire zone. It seemed a wise decision.
To earn money, when a job in Alaska fell through, Bob signed on for a gig on a fishing boat. Even though he doesn’t fish, he learns fast.Witnessing the horrible carnage of a group of seals being hunted, Bob, who loves animals, begins firing on the hunters with his rifle, which lands him in trouble with the law, but then, he always seemed to be in trouble with the law.
Through all of his travels, his comings and goings, the one constant was his loyal dog. Bob’s love for Lazarus is palpable and their relationship truly special. I was especially moved by a scene in which it appeared Lazarus was lost in the wild northern woods for good, but as Tennessee Williams knows, “Sometimes there is God so quickly.”
Of course, it being the 1970s, the book is also about drugs and music and, oh, by the way, sex. Sex! Sex! Sex! Then more sex, with an extra sprinkling of sex. To his credit, I am amazed the author can, after almost fifty years, remember the names of all his partners (and sometimes there were two or three at a time), and the color of their eyes, and the exact physical details of the encounters. It’s almost as if the reader is right there. Which bodes the question, is that a good thing? If I had him here, I might argue for some edits but I guess he has, after all, the last word.
As Tennessee Williams also wrote, “The opposite of death is desire.” It’s nice to know in his time, Bob Hahn did a lot of living.
None of us knows what day may be our last. For a moment maybe, we notice the way the light falls through the Topanga trees, or marvel at the silliness of Laurel and Hardy, or stop for a moment to see the sunset over the Pacific as Neil Young’s voice plays in the background. Though the journey’s not always good, for there are monsters, taxes, seals are hunted, but sometimes, somehow, a goose survives being shot by an arrow.
About leaving this plane Bob writes, “I firmly believe that one day I will reunite with Lazarus and Father on the other side of the Great River, and Father and I will talk again about life and death. And life will feel good again, even in death. And I will throw the stick for Lazarus again, and Lazarus will bring it back to me again. And then the circle will be complete, as in the great story of “The Circle of The Shields,” handed down from father to son for centuries by the Brothers of the Shield.”
Robert Hahn crossed The Great River on January 9, 2019, dying of a heart attack at his home in Topanga. He wrote a second book titled, “Lude Beach.” He is now on The Great Journey. Bless him.
He will be missed.