Saturday, February 27, 2016

Embarrassing Moment #3

I was in Pittsburgh attempting to sell an executive recruiter my PAM software.  After the demo the two partners took me to their private club for lunch.  Both were combat drinkers and regulars so their drinks were delivered to the table before we were seated.  The waiter asked for my drink order so I asked for my usual, an ice tea.  In the south when you ask for tea you'd get sweet tea on ice.  Iced sweet tea is what a southerner means when he orders tea, but I'd eaten in enough northern restaurants to realize they never had sweet tea, so I didn't embarrass myself asking for it.  Lance and I had nearly been thrown out of a Toronto restaurant over this very issue.  I didn't like adding sugar to ice tea because it never fully dissolved, but up north a southern boy had to make due.

There wasn't any sugar on the table so I opted to try it first, just in case I'd misjudged the place and they actually served proper ice tea.  Plus I'd been talking a great deal trying to close the sale so I was thirsty.  I took a big gulp from the large glass.  It wasn't at all what I expected, enough so that my mouth rejected the liquid.  I spit the "tea" out with such force that it hit my potential customer across the table.  "What in the hell is that," I said far too loud for the subdued private club.  "That's the most disgusting taste I ever experienced."  That's true, and by that time I'd eaten both dog and muskrat, but I was smart enough to keep this fact to myself.  The waiter appeared.  "What kind of drink is that," I asked.  "It's not iced tea, that's for damn sure."  The waiter apologized and said, "It's Long Island Ice Tea, sir."  I'd never had iced tea on Long Island so I said as much.  "But I've had iced tea in Canada and in Ohio and it didn't taste any thing like that."

The waiter was too embarrassed to explain so my potential customer rescued him.  He explained to me that Long Island Ice Tea was a strong mixed drink.  Sticking to my obvious country heritage I ordered a hamburger and coke, making sure I specified Coke Cola with no booze.  As embarrassing as it had been for all of us, the guy still bought my software.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on Healthcare

I've spoken with other Brits about America's health care system so I understand your concerns and appreciate your compassionate concerns.  However, the time I describe when the Cleveland Clinic's Rainbow Children's Hospital gave us trouble is the only time we had a problem getting medical treatment for our son.  I'm not sure why this particular hospital administrator gave us trouble, but she was the only one to ever do so.  During his life time Clay had five major open heart surgeries dozens of medical procedures, and more emergency room visits that became short recovery stays than we can remember, yet we only had trouble with not having medical insurance once, and that was resolved with a little media pressure.
The other factor is that those five surgeries were at two of the top hospitals in the world.  The reason we didn't go to another hospital after being rejected by Cleveland Clinic is because they were the only one in the world who could perform the rare and difficult surgery he required.  When Clay needed a third surgery the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota was the best place so that's were we took him.  There had only been a limited number of surgeries of the type Clay needed and the surgeon at Mayo Clinic had performed all but two to them.  Mayo Clinic accepted Clay as a patient without insurance and even without a doctor's referral.  We just showed up and asked to see one of the world's most renowned surgeons and they let us in.

Clay was examined by that surgeon that day and he spent the rest of the week going through a battery of test.  This is the same hospital that operates on billionaires, presidents and dictators from around the world. These wealthy and powerful people might have had a better room than Clay, but they couldn't have received better care.

America's health care system seems broken until you actually need it.  I would have loved to have had nationalized healthcare insurance to pay the medical bills, but I would not have traded the quality of care we received for a free service.  If all I had to go on is what I read in publications and what I see on the news, then I too would think America's health care system is broken and cruel.  If you haven't experienced it first-hand then I would expect you to think so too.  But the real-world reality is that our capitalist system of health care produces the best and most innovative medical care this world has to offer.  American law require that everyone receives medical care, but I don't believe we need laws for that to be the case.  Like medical professionals all over the world, America's doctors and nurses are compassionate and caring.  I've witnessed this too many times to believe otherwise.

America's healthcare system is the world's best because we provide an open system that encourages innovation.  Nationalized health care sounds good, but the hard truth is that when the government takes over it suppress innovation.  We have the world's best hospitals and doctors because of our capitalistic system, not despite it.  ObamaCare or any other form of nationalized health care is not the best choice for America.  I don't say this about what you have in the United Kingdom because I don't know.  I do know about ours.  If we continue down the path of nationalized health care our wonderful medical system will suffer from lack of future medical innovation and the high-quality medical care we currently enjoy will eventually deteriorate.
One final note:  Though I don't agree with the principle behind nationalizing health care, I did think it would be good for my son since for the first time in his life Clay would have medical insurance coverage.  I was wrong.  Because Clay's was a "pre-existing condition", ObamaCare didn't cover him.  Clay was the poster child for nationalized health care, yet he wasn't covered.  If it didn't cover him then the entire program is a lie.

Dads response to a comment on his Memoir about America's healthcare.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Embarrassing Moment #2

In the previous year I'd hired an experienced professional salesman to sell my software.  His name was Mike.  As part of training him to sell my software we traveled together.  I'll never forget the first time he mentioned it'd be a good time for dinner.  I agreed and pulled up to a Burger King drive thru and asked what he wanted.  Mike said, "You're kidding, right."  Well no, I wasn't kidding.  That's how I did breakfast, lunch and dinner on the road.  Mike was rather cultured and not at all the fast food kind of fellow.  He patiently explained that we'd be more productive if we took a little extra time and had a nice meal in a decent restaurant.  I pointed out a Denny's across the street and he said, "Let me drive."  I needed Mike and didn't want to scare him off before he got started so I let Mike drive.  He found a good restaurant that wasn't expensive then began educating me on how to eat good while traveling.

Mike was good at this.  He knew how to find a good local restaurant by reading their parking lot.  He would analyze the number and type of cars in their lot to decide if the food was good.  It was amazing, but he could find the best restaurants like this and he taught me how.  He also knew how to find the best restaurants in a city where there wasn't a parking lot to divine.  One afternoon in Baltimore he showed me that you could have a great lunch in a four or five star restaurant for slightly more than a pizza ordered in.  And that you could get served faster than pizza if you explained you were in a hurry and allowed the chef to serve what he had handy or fast.  I ate some great food this way, but it only worked for lunch.  Prices were much higher after five.

Armed with this new and useful skill I was anxious to show off to my younger, but more sophisticated gay brother.  We were in New York City for a UNIX convention.  Lance had never been to the Big Apple but it was my third trip so I was eager to show him how sophisticated his older country brother could be.  I drove around the area near the convention center (The Jacob Javitz Center in Manhattan) until I spotted what I thought was the perfect place.  It was Friday night so we wouldn't find the deep discounts I liked but it did look like a perfect local spot for a good meal.  Lance said we wouldn't get in without a reservation and I was in agreement until they found us a table.

I liked the place instantly.  It lacked the down home country feel I am most comfortable with, but it did have a warm feel about it.  All city, but warm and comfortable none-the-less.  After we were seated Lance looked around wide eyed, like he'd never been in a nice restaurant before.  "Nice, right," I said.  My brother nodded but said nothing.  We ordered, then ate our appetizers, made small talk about the convention, but I could tell my brother's mind was elsewhere.  I asked him if something was wrong and he assured me everything was fine.  In the middle of our meal my brother said, "Do you like the food."  I said yes.  "What about the restaurant?  Do you like it?"  I said, "It has a warm feeling.  Comfortable.  The service is great as is the food.  Of course I like it.  Admit it, out of all the restaurant in New York City I managed to find a perfect one."  Lance said,  "I admit it and I am impressed.  You found the perfect restaurant.  Have you eaten here before?"  "No," I assured him.  "I just spotted it and knew it was perfect."  Lance said, "I'm surprised you like it."  "Why," I asked.  Lance's smile filled his entire face when he said, "It's a gay restaurant.  You're the only straight guy here."  I thought he was joking, but I took a good look around.  "Damn, " I said.  "I still like the place."  Lance laughed as I tried to hide my discomfort.  "Yes sir, you can pick them big brother.  I can't wait to tell your wife."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Deadly Hack" Exert

Cautiously Luke peered through the opening into the kitchen. No one was in sight, but the kitchen had clearly been ransacked. Luke had just reminded himself to be careful when he heard the scream.  It was the unfettered terrified scream of a five-year-old girl. It was a sound that would rip the heart from any man. A sound that would convert even the greatest coward into a lion hearted warrior.
Luke ran through the open door, through the small kitchen and into the living room. The scene struck him like something from a cheap horror film. Kelly Graham was down on her knees, her face a bloodied mess. A man stood over her with a claw hammer raised, ready to strike. Luke found himself surprised by the sound of gunfire. On a purely rational level, he knew that he was the cause of the blood on the man's chest, but did not actually remember pointing and firing the AR-15. The man stood for one shocked moment then fell dead across the knelt form of Kelly Graham.
Luke did not expect there to be two of them, but a second attacker held the child in front of his chest, using her as a shield. The little girl was insufficient in mass to cover the man completely, so Luke fired a three round burst at his legs. Every bullet missed wildly, but caused the guy to drop the child and dive for cover behind the end of a couch. Operating like a video game hero, Luke fired a pair of three round burst into the couch causing the man to fall over with a scream. His body twitched violently, but appeared harmless.
With his ears ringing from the sounds of his own gunfire, Luke realized that the video game programmers hadn't managed to get that part right. The sound of automatic gunfire inside an enclosed area was more than a nuance; it was a biting part of reality, which should be added to the games. But there would be no way to add the feeling of fear that had instantly risen in his throat, nor the acidic taste of bile.
Movement caught his eye, which he realized was Kelly Graham attempting to get out from under the first man he'd shot. Luke pulled the man aside and the woman jumped up with amazing agility. She grabbed her daughter and held her tight to her breast. Oddly, Luke realized for the first time that the child was still screaming. While Kelly Graham comforted her child, Luke pulled back the window curtain and spotted four armed men running at them from across the street.
"We've got to go now!" he shouted at her.
Kelly didn't move, so Luke pulled back the curtain that she might see the men rushing toward them. "Their friends," he said, gesturing towards the man on the ground.
Kelly said nothing, but nodded understanding. Luke pointed towards the back door and she moved in that direction.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Embarrassing Moments #1

I have to preface this story with a little background.  First, I am at heart a country boy.  I don't care for big cities and I'm not into fancy things.  My idea of an upscale restaurant is Olive Garden.  This began to become a problem when my success as a software designer put me in close contact with wealthy city people.  In my memoir I tell of being embarrassed in an exclusive Miami club when I told the waitress I didn't care for their biscuits only to have her blurt out too loud, "That's not a biscuit, its a bagel."  Well I'd never seen a bagel, so how would I know.  I also need to explain I am also the oldest of three brothers and both my younger brothers are gay.  And that in 1986 I legally changed my first name to Clayton.  My name had been Roger since birth. That should set the stage well enough.

My youngest brother Lance and I had just completed a long hard week installing our software for a customer in Philadelphia.  As is the case with most software jobs, we'd had major problems and had worked through most of the previous night, so Lance and I were exhausted.  To celebrate the job's completion the customer and his top three people took Lance and I to dinner at a posh Philadelphia restaurant.   All of us were giddy from fatigue and stress, but none more than Lance and I.

A server delivered water and other fancy restaurant paraphernalia, and explained that our waiter would be with us in a moment.  As she said this our waiter, a young man who was obviously gay got our attention and mimed that he'd be right with us.  Without thinking I said something insensitive like, "Great, a fag waiter."  My gay brother knew me well enough not to be offended, or if he was offended was numb to my boorish ways. Our customers on the other hand went silent with shock.  I realized I'd stepped in it, but I'd never cared for political correctness so I doubled down.

"Have you ever noticed that all gay waiters are named Ricky.  What's with that?"  Again, no response, so I continued.  "He'll come over and say," then in my best gay voice I said, "Hi, my name is Ricky.  I'll be your server."  I sensed everyone was about to laugh at my great gay waiter imitation, but all went quiet when our gay waiter walked up to the table.  When the poor guy stopped, all of our eyes went to him expectantly.  I was praying, "Please be named Ricky, please."  In a gay voice nearly as good as mine our waiter said, "Hi, my name is Roger.  I'll be your waiter."

Recall that my name at the time was Roger.  There was no holding back.  Everyone at our table exploded in uncontrolled laughter.  I felt bad for poor Roger, but I couldn't control my laughter any more than everyone else.  Of course the joke was on me, but it was hilarious.  We weren't actually asked to leave, but it was clear we were no longer welcome, so we found a restaurant that didn't require a reservation.  Something more to my speed.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Love Story

A reader comment from my memoir "A Life Wasted" has caused me to rethink the structure and meaning of my life.  The comment was made after she read about my fourth escape, this one from a south Georgia chain gang, where I ran into a dangerous swamp while being shot at.  I've lead an interesting life and have many interesting stories as a result, but this particular story was one of the most dangerous adventures of my life. In a 24 hour period I was shot at on three separate occasions and spent all day and half a night in a south Georgia swamp naked except for my underwear.  I'm not sure if its an interesting story to read, but it was a memorable event for me.
After reading this story of escape, survival, and near death encounters the reader wanted to know if I made it back to Mary.  (Mary is my wife, the woman I have loved for 39 years).  My reaction was, "Really! That's what you want to know."  My reader didn't care if I heard the bullets buzzing past my head or if I had an infection from the millions of mosquito bites.  Not a question about my pain or exhaustion, or even a warm and fuzzy "how did you feel about."  No, after pouring out my heart and sharing one of the more challenging moments of my life my readers want to know if I made it back to Mary.  My response on Wattpad was a pithy, "I'll give you a spoiler for the rest of my life story--I always make it back to Mary."  That was earlier today and I haven't been able to get this exchange out of my mind.  After several hours of chewing on this it finally hit me.  Of course!  It made perfect sense that someone reading my life's story would ask such a question.  Since the moment I met her my life has been centered around Mary.  Mary's all I talk about. Anyone who even knows me casually understands I am crazy about my wife.  It makes sense that this would come through in my writing.
I've lead a hard life.  I'm a country boy.  I consider myself a man in the classical sense of the word. Nothing soft and fluffy about me.  I've never been to a play, or an opera, I don't like musicals and I don't believe man is causing global warming.  I don't like cats.  I'm not that kind of guy.  I'm the kind of guy who makes fun of those kind of guys.  So imagine my surprise when I figured out that my life's story is actually a love story.  It's a difficult concept for me to accept, but I've had to accept it because it's the truth.
Congratulations Anniemena, in a few words you've managed to threaten my manhood.  I mean really, what kind of tough guy loves only one woman his entire life?  I'm that guy, no doubt about that.  Now that I think this through, I've become an artist.  On my bucket list are several art museums.  I care about the plight of the spotted owl.  I even subscribe to "Woman's Health Magazine."  I read it for the health tips, though it is good to know what moisturizers are best.  (Just kidding about the moisturizers, they only sell Suave in the prison store, but I have had a subscription to Woman's Health for years).
Anniemena's comment helped me realize I've changed considerably.
My life isn't a classical love story, but it is the story of two people who love each other through intense trials. It's the story of a man who loves a woman totally but is clueless how to show it.  It's a story about a woman who loves a man despite his stupidity and mistakes.  A woman who holds on to that love even though everyone tells her to leave him.  Even the guys mother and brother tell her to leave him, but she hangs on to the dream she believes true.  My story is an epic tale of true love.  After the shock of learning I was writing a love story I found it pleases me.  After all is said and done, what else matters than that we have loved and were loved in returned.  I can say with confidence that I have experienced both.  I have experienced both ever day of my adult life and always will.  In that respect, I am blessed.
I still don't like cats.

You can read more from Clayton's autobiography "A Life Wasted" on Wattpad.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hitchhiking East to West

This is another story that I can't place an accurate date on.  Logically I think it had to occur in 1979 after my fourth escape, but there isn't enough time available for it to have happened then.  So I'm at a loss as to when it was.  All I'm sure of is that I was a young adult, somewhere between 18 and 21.

This story begins with my hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast.  I went west because I'd not seen the Pacific Ocean and felt slighted.  Early in the east to west trip I was picked up by a friendly trucker.  He wasn't going too far, but when our ride ended he stopped at a truck stop then got on his CB radio looking for a west bound trucker willing to give me a ride.  A trucker came back saying he was going to Los Angeles, but said he was too tired to drive and asked if the hitchhiker could drive.  The guy helping looked at me for the answer.  I shrugged then shook my head.  He told the guy I could and that I'd meet him in ten minutes.  In those ten minutes the guy taught me to drive an eighteen wheeler.

When the guy going west said he was tired he hadn't exaggerated.  He was completely fried.  When I got into his truck he stuck his head out of the back sleeper and said, "Your turn.  Go west.  Wake me in six hours."  He pulled his head back into the sleeper and was snoring in minutes.  I crawled over into the drivers seat and studied everything.  It was similar to the truck I just received my instructions in, so I was ready to go other than the wee little issue that he'd not showed me how to start the thing.  With the guy in the back sleeping I took my time studying everything.  When I felt I knew where everything was I started the engine.  I ground the gears horribly when I tried to put it into second gear, but didn't wake the sleeping trucker, so revved the engine as I was taught and tried again.  More grinding, but it went in gear this time.  Getting out of the truck stop's parking lot was frightening, but I managed without swapping paint.  Once on Interstate 70 it was easy, fun even.  In six hours when I woke the guy up I was exhausted myself, but a competent trucker.
He dropped his load in LA.  I made forty bucks unloading the truck for him, something known as "lumping". When we parted company I felt like I'd learned a new way to travel the country and a way to make spending money while doing it.  I could have went back east with this guy except I'd traveled this far to see the Pacific Ocean, something I hadn't accomplished yet.  I asked for directions to the ocean then walked in that direction with my thumb out.  The first guy to give me a ride was trouble.  I don't recall his name or even how the conversation evolved as it did, but in no time he'd explained that he and a few guys had some stuff going on and were looking for another guy.  He wouldn't tell me what it was but did invite me to stay at their place for the night.  It was getting late so I agreed.
They had a nice rented house in an area of LA called Woodland Hills.  There were five or six guys who lived there but I only met three of them.  The house was littered with guns and drugs.  I asked again what they were into and was told they'd tell me after we partied.  There were pills, which I didn't know anything about and pot.  I was given my choice of pills.  The three guys were eating them like candy, so I took a handful, pretended to swallow them with a beer, but dropped the pills in my shirt pocket instead.  When a joint was passed around I took it and faked an inhale.  I didn't do any of the drugs because I honestly didn't want to do them ever again.  (Thinking it through, this must have been after I was married in 1977, because before that I'd have smoked the pot.)  After the three of them were thoroughly stoned I asked what they were into. This time the guy who was their leader said armed robbery.  He said they had robbed everything from banks to drug dealers.  After that revelation he pulled an automatic pistol from behind a couch cushion.  He handed me the gun and said, "Welcome to the crew.  Get some sleep because we've got a job tomorrow."
I acted like I was asleep on the couch until an hour after they'd all gone to bed.  Once they were out I left. As I was leaving I noticed a motorcycle helmet upside down on a table near the door.  Inside the helmet were a set of keys and a wallet.  I took both.  The motorcycle was a nice Harley-Davidson.  I pushed it for half a block before cranking it and riding away.  It was three in the morning when I viewed the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  I parked the bike and walked across the sand and touched the water.  I wanted to stay longer, but felt the need to be gone before those guys woke.  I threw the gun I'd been given far into the ocean then rode north to San Francisco.  I dumped the Harley there.  From there I hitchhiked all the way to the Washington border, got bored with the west, turned around and hitched south again.
The wallet I stole from the armed robber crew had a Canadian driver's licenses in it under the name Alan Grant.  It worked well since Canadian driver's licenses back then lacked a photo.  It did have a description, but Alan Grant and I were close enough to match.  It also had several hundred dollars in it, which was useful as well.
The next interesting thing that occurred on this trip was on the outskirts of Denver.  I was hitchhiking west on Interstate 70 when a pickup truck stopped.  A guy who I assumed was a rancher introduced himself as Ruben Shaw.  I introduced myself as Alan Grant, from Ontario Canada.  (Ironic that I can remember all these names but not when this happened.  I even recall the name of the town on Alan Grant's license, but can't spell it.  Something like "Repentagency").  So Ruben Shaw asked if I had a driver's license.  I produced my new Canadian one.  He says, "Perfect.  I'll give you a ride if you drive so I can get some sleep."  I agreed and asked how far to go, to which he answered, "Until it runs out of gas."  Everyone had turned cryptic on me.  So I drove east on I-70 from Denver, having no idea how far we were going.  I had noticed that the truck had Colorado plates, so it couldn't be too far.
In two hours the truck ran out of gas.  I'd already figured out that it had two gas tanks so when the first tank was empty I flipped the switch for the second gas tank and the engine caught again.  Ruben Shaw slept through the slight change in speed so I kept going.  Colorado is a huge state.  It seemed like forever until we started getting close to Kansas.  When I realized we had only a few exits left in Colorado I woke Ruben Shaw.  He looked at the exit and said, take this one.  Ruben Shaw was impressed that I'd figured out how to switch his tanks and smart enough to realize I should wake him before going into Kansas.  He acknowledged that it was luck that I woke him at his exit, but he also said there's value in luck.  So Ruben Shaw offered me a job and a place to stay.
Ruben Shaw operated the only water drilling business in a two hundred mile range and he was good at it.  As luck would have it his assistant had quit after breaking Shaw's backhoe, which was why he'd driven all night to Denver.  To get parts to fix the backhoe.  He had a shop that also served as a barn for his horses.  The place had an apartment which Ruben liked to have lived in to have someone to look after the place since his shop wasn't near his house.  I worked for him for about a month.  There wasn't a lot to do in Burlington Colorado but I worked so hard there wasn't a lot of free time.  What free time I did have I spent on Ruben's dirt bike or his wonderful horse Black Jack.  Water drilling was an experience.  The places we put in wells were so remote it made little sense to me.  The ranches out there were measured in sections.  You never asked a man how many acres he had, always how many sections.  A section is one square mile, or 640 acres.  Those ranches were all ten or more sections.  Big places with cattle scattered all over the place.  The cows needed water, which we drilled.
I liked Ruben Shaw and his wife and young son a great deal.  I hated to leave, but I had to attend to something back home so I said my goodbyes and stuck out my thumb.  In 2001 when I was on the run I was driving west and by chance stopped in Burlington Colorado for gas.  Seeing the the place brought back memories.  I asked the gas station attendant if she knew Ruben Shaw.  She said sure, he's in a couple times a week.  I explained my connection to Ruben and said, "I'm glad Ruben's still alive."  "No," she said.  "I was talking about his son.  Ruben Senior died a few years.  You've missed him."  I'd always liked and respected Ruben Shaw.  I'd not thought of him for many years, but now that I knew he had passed it was hard for me to imagine him gone.

Sometimes you make good friends while hitchhiking.