My life has been filled with
independence and travel.
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 band mates 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
twenties. I don't talk about her
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
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 really famous.
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
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
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. I was suddenly single. 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
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
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
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
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
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: