I was born in Evanston, Illinois, and my parents had a lot of money, but my
early life wasn't easy. My mom died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was 11 or
12. My dad, an ad man who drank a lot, had trouble taking care of me. He sent me
to military school for junior high and to Northwestern Military Naval Academy in
Lake Geneva for high school.
Still, I was home in the summer, and dad was gone all the time. I had the run of
the house. He bought me a Corvette, so I had all the girls. Then he bought me a
drum set. My friends and I put a little band together in the garage. We were
horrible in those days, but all of my bandmates eventually became famous.
My sister was ten years older and super smart (in fact, we were both in Mensa).
She became a computer programmer but was also a hypochondriac and drug user. She
got married, had a couple of kids, and one day she took her kids out in the car
when she was high on something. The kids were injured, and her husband divorced
her. She overdosed on heroin in Haight-Ashbury in 1974, when I was in my
twenties. I don't talk about her very much.
I graduated from high school in 1966 and got drafted in 1968. Between high
school and getting drafted, I went to Eastern Arizona University for journalism
and mechanical engineering. I had too much fun, and my grades slipped during my
fourth semester. Then I went into the Navy.
My main job in the Navy was pre-commissioning ships, which means a lot of
painting. Beyond that, I have an interesting military service story, but it is
(and will stay) totally unrecorded.
The injury that got me discharged was on the Juno. They had painted the capstand
and tied up the boat while the paint was still wet. The rope, a 9-inch line,
stuck to the paint, and when it released it whipped me into a gun mount, giving
me a compression fracture in my back. They gave me light duty for a couple of
weeks, but I was hurt. They knew it but completely wrote it off. It's not even
in my record.
After the Navy, I worked in Lake Geneva, doing rock-and-roll shows as an on-
stage DJ, and I played drums. I played with Dick Orleans, Lou Reed, Appaloosa,
and I met people and bands like Nancy Wilson from Heart, Stevie Nicks from
Fleetwood Mac. Bands would bring me records to play. One night these guys came
in and said, "We're Boston, and we'd like you to play our album." I chose
"Foreplay" because it was long and I had to use the bathroom, and as I walked
through the bar I thought, "Hey, this is a pretty good song." Then they got
I was a bad boy with alcohol and drugs: it was all drinking and white lines, and
eventually I went into chemical psychosis. The club let me know I was done with
a DJ burial. It was Halloween, and they put a casket on the stage. Everyone but
me was wearing tuxedos. They closed the turntables down, and the cocktail
waitress put a tray of 40 shots on the turntables. I stood up and said, "You're
not going to bury me!" and downed about 20 of them. I woke up the next morning
in the casket, wearing a tux. I said "crap" and went back to sleep.
I moved to New Orleans in early 1978 and got a job as a DJ, but in October
decided to move back to Lake Geneva. I told everyone on the radio that I was
moving back to Wisconsin to find a wife. The night I got back, I met Susan. She
was waiting tables at a pizza place, and I was sitting on the waitress station
bar stool, where the wait staff sat to write up our checks. She asked me to move
my butt, and that was it. We went out and moved in together.
We didn't stay long in Lake Geneva. We bought an old, piece-of-junk Chrysler for
$50 and drove back to New Orleans. We stayed with friends for about a month,
found jobs, and got married June 2, 1979. She was 28. I was 32.
We stayed in New Orleans for 2? years, and then we moved around quite a lot. We
bought a Jeep and moved to Estes Park, Colorado, the gateway town to Rocky
Mountain National Park. There were no jobs when we got there, so we started a
handyman company. A guy who owned a store in town hired us in 1982 to build him
an earth berm house that I designed, engineered and constructed. Then a flood
wiped out downtown Estes Park, so we moved back to New Orleans and built tract
houses for a while before moving back to Colorado, where Susan got a job at a
gift shop in Estes Park that she later managed.
Back in Estes Park, we bought a 1973 Bluebird school bus that I converted into a
motor home. Everything I'd learned about building houses went into it. When it
was done, we called it The Great Escape.
We lived in The Great Escape for 18 years. During the summers we worked in
National Parks, including the Grand Canyon, and in campgrounds. During the
winters we worked in ski areas?at Vail, Aspen, Grand Targhee, Copper Mountain,
and Steamboat, which was our favorite. I worked mostly as a cook, but also as a
ski-lift operator, and Susan worked mostly as a cashier and in gift shops. One
of my early jobs was as a cook at a ski-in-only restaurant, so I got some
second-hand equipment and some free lessons from the ski instructors. We both
learned to ski well.
The Great Escape became well known. It was a fascinating lifestyle, and I'm so
glad we did it. We called ourselves "working, retired, full-time RVer ski bums"
and got very adept at winter camping.
We traveled like that until about 2000, when Susan decided the grass was greener
on the other side of the fence. She went to New York and I went to Arizona. Then
9/11 happened. Susan realized that she wanted us to grow old together. I got in
my pickup and drove straight from Arizona to New York. Susan was managing a
little gift shop for two guys who were pioneers of gay rights, and I got a job
as a mountain manager. After a couple of years, the guys decided to close the
store, so we both worked at selling off their inventory.
From there we moved to Grand Lake, Colorado, where we managed cabins, and then
to Glenwood Springs. I was a route driver for a pool company, taking care of the
rich people's hot tubs in Vail, when one day in downtown Aspen I got rear-ended
at a stoplight in my work truck. The impact herniated several disks in my back
and aggravated the back injury I'd gotten in the Navy. I kept working for about
a year, but after that I couldn't work any longer. Workers Comp wanted me to
have surgery and eventually settled, and I also got a settlement from the
insurance company of the driver who hit me.
With the settlement money, we went back to Grand Lake and bought a retail store.
We did well there. We changed out the merchandise, did Wild West photography
with costumes, and sold our own photos. We mostly shoot landscapes, and we have
some good wildlife shots, too, of a marmot, fox, moose, and elk.
From there we rambled, staying six months in Boise with Susan's brother, which
was uncomfortable, and then to Denver and Wisconsin. In Denver we stayed with
Blue Stu Herman, who I'd met in Vietnam but hadn't seen since my days in The
Great Escape. Stu was an author, ichthyologist, and a musician. He was aphasic
after a stroke and was trying to learn how to play guitar again, so we helped
him out and lived for a while in a horrible warehouse on his property. He talked
me into getting help for my back from the VA, and I'm grateful for that.
We couldn't get jobs, and we thought we'd been blacklisted by Workers Comp, so
we were out of money. In desperation, we went to Baraboo in 2010 and lived in
Susan's sister's basement for a month. I got a job right away at Chula Vista and
then at Motel 6. I've worked there seven years. We sell our photography on our
website, Defiance Photography, and we have a YouTube channel where we've posted
videos of everyday life.
On February 10, I was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. It all happened so
suddenly. I was whisked off to Madison in an ambulance while Susan went home to
close up the apartment and feed the cats. I had surgery at the VA in Madison,
but stayed in University Hospital.
The recovery was horrible. They won't let you sleep. I was supposed to stay for
two weeks, but I left after three days. I recovered much better at home. The
doctor said I shouldn't work, but I said, "It's my life."
The owner of Motel 6 has been good to me. He's given me a leave of absence and
told me I can come back whenever I can. His whole family came to visit after the
I'm going through chemo now. Chemo is like walking through a car wash. You get
beat up the whole way through and at the end you hope you're clean and spot
free. They're going to have to prove to me that this is working. Otherwise, I'll
just have them take out the port. Susan and I are researching alternative
treatments with a doctor in California.
Before now, I had never been in the hospital. I've been healthy. Until February
I drank three liters of bourbon a week - I'm honest about it. But when I got
cancer and started seeing vets who are in much worse shape than I am, it dawned
on me that the day you stop fearing death is the day you start to live.
I don't know how much time I have left. They say not much, maybe two months.
My goals now are just to have fun, be here now, live in the moment. We bought a
2017 Mustang convertible. : 310 horsepower, 0-60 in less than four
seconds. If I'm going to die of cancer, I'm going to get some fresh air doing
I prefer not to check out here, or in Wisconsin. We'd like to go to southern
Oregon, close enough to the coast, but in the mountains and the woods.
Our lifestyle has been very unconventional. You hear stories about people who
put 30-40 years in at a company, and they get a watch. We figured: Why bother?
It's been fun, and we have no regrets.
Interview Date: 5/9/2018
Interviewer: Carol Hollar-Zwick
Reviewed and approved by patient: 5/23/2018