Writing Sample; new universe!


I’ve recently had the pleasure of being asked by John Birmingham to participate in a new apocalypse series. The writing started immediately. Here is a context and spoiler-free sample; all I’ll say is that this is a world where everything has gone wrong.

A world where a life isn’t worth a dozen eggs.

Sample, Jason Lambright

Cathy Elliot looked at the mud in her chicken pen with loathing. The sorry so-and-so had been in her pen again, another one of her prized Australorps was gone. The black hen she called Happy. All that remained was a few feathers and those damn size eleven sneaker prints in the chicken shit and mud. At this rate she wouldn’t have a damn chicken left at the end of the month.

Her lips set in a thin, colorless line as she collected eggs from the remaining hens. Her rooster, Wyoming, scratched and strutted obliviously at her feet. She addressed him.

“Where the hell were you when that so-and-so took Happy, you stupid little rascal?”

He cocked his head and looked up at her. Then he pecked at the ground. Her remaining hens clucked and pecked, one of them shat upon the ground. Cathy shook her head. She felt herself grow nauseous and hot, she wanted to scream.

She didn’t, because no-one would hear. Cathy lived all by herself at the end of a country lane. The nearest village held a few hundred souls, from time to time she would sell eggs to friends. Two dollars per dozen. Even with the emergency, the Crud, she hadn’t raised her rates. Her customers were her friends, she wouldn’t dream of cheating them.

Lately though, she had felt uneasy walking to town with her bag. People were shut up indoors with fear, she had felt the eyes on her as she walked by. Dogs barking made her jump, and she knew her eggs were growing more valuable by the day. The local stores hadn’t had any for a week, her real organic and free range eggs weren’t a luxury anymore. They were a necessity.

And some sorry fellow, no woman had a size eleven shoe, was stealing and probably killing her friends. Her lovely fat hens. She was down to twelve, plus Wyoming the rooster. She had the black Australorps. There were Easter Eggers, too, they were her green and blue egg layers. A few Red Stars pecked about, and a Rock was the boss lady. Finally there were the meek Orpingtons, her best mamas when she felt like allowing them to brood. She loved the little peeps that would emerge from the shells, it was always a surprise what sort of mutt chicken would grow from the pairing of Wyoming with some random hen.

Her chickens were her work and her companions.

And now some jerk was taking them, one by one.

She had dealt with a lot in her day. A faithless, drunken husband who met an early end. Her late mother’s Alzheimer’s. Foxes and weasels, human and otherwise. Hawks. Disease. Cathy had faced them all, and here she stood. She closed the gate of the pen and walked into her tumbledown old Victorian, eggs in the basket. She ascended the porch steps and opened the door, a brilliant ray of sunlight shone through the tall windows onto the hardwood floor. Her cat Meows stood to greet her and rubbed against her legs. She shuffled to the kitchen; she placed the precious eggs on the chipped and stained countertop. She reached into a bag of kibble, grabbed a handful and put it into Mr. Meows’ bowl.

He purred and nudged her hand aside.

“Well, you’d think I’d never’a fed you, Mr. Meows.”

As usual, he said nothing.

She reached up and brushed a gray lock from her face. She jutted her jaw forward and thought. That son of a gun, she thought. I’ll fix him.

Cathy opened the door to the basement with a creak. She reached into the maw of the staircase and put her hand in the tricky spot where the switch was. She flipped it on. An ancient incandescent light bulb flared to life. She walked down the steps and turned to the left, toward her father’s old workspace.

Even after all these years, she still missed him. The smell of wood dust on his clothes, mixed in with cigarette smoke. The cigarettes that had killed him, when the Germans couldn’t. She hummed a little tune as she took the keys from her pocket and selected a small brass one for the metal cabinet in the corner.

She stuck the key in the lock and turned it, she smelled sweet and sharp 3-and-1 oil. Another of her father’s smells. Her eyes watered. Was it because she missed Happy, or because of her father’s ghost? She didn’t know. She reached in the cabinet and selected a long rifle with a dark walnut stock.

Cathy pulled the string hanging above the workbench, another light came on. She opened the rifle’s bolt by turning it counter-clockwise and to the rear. She laid it in the vise on the bench. She heard her father’s voice.

He crinkled his eyes, but he didn’t smile. “Cathy, there is no such thing as an unloaded gun. Always check.”

In the present, Cathy ran her finger along the open receiver and looked in the magazine and at the breech. No bullets.

Her father held up his finger. “Your rifle is a tool. If you don’t take care of it, it will fail you when you need it most.”

Cathy got an oily rag, she squirted some machine oil on it and rubbed the exposed metal parts down. She noted the words SPRINGFIELD ARMORY and 169117 on the receiver, and RIA 06-19 on the barrel. It was an old, old rifle. Her father had used it for deer, she didn’t know where he had gotten it. When she was done she reached into the cabinet and grabbed a brown cardboard box, it was falling apart.

The box was labeled .30 M1 BALL. Above, in her father’s handwriting was “.30/06.” Cathy read it and pronounced it like her dad. “Thirty-aught-six.” She selected five dull yellow bullets, they were not moldy, she checked. One by one she inserted them into the magazine. She thumbed them in with a series of clicks.

“Five should do it,” she murmured. She ran the bolt forward, flipped the lever on the back of the bolt to safe, and carried the doughboy’s old weapon upstairs. She propped it in a corner and made some dandelion tea.

And then she waited. The day lengthened, she sat by an open window, rising only to empty her bladder. As twilight approached, she fetched the Springfield. She grabbed a rolled-up mat and placed it on the dining room table, then she laid the dark rifle upon it. She peed one more time. Then she sat behind the rifle, got comfortable, and began her vigil.

She could see the coop very well as the evening shadows lengthened. She waited. It grew pitch black, but her eyes adjusted and she could see a bit. Her bladder began to fill again, but she stayed still. If you twitch, she told herself, the rabbits will see you. And she wanted this rabbit very, very much.

The hours passed. She really needed to pee, and she fought to keep hers eyes open. Would he come again tonight, or would he wait a week, his belly fat with poor Happy? The thought gave her a small surge of energy as the fury burned in her core. And then she saw it.

Movement. It was so dark she thought she imagined it at first, a shifting of shadows and a faint rustle. The distinct creek of her pen’s gate. The silhouette of a man who had no business in her chicken pen. The man who lined up with her rifle’s sights as it rested upon the mat.

She breathed in, moved the sights just so, and squeezed the trigger.

BAM. She cried out. Her thumb, laid over the comb of the stock, had smashed into her nose with the recoil. The .30/06 wasn’t a rabbit bullet. The noise was much louder than she expected, she hadn’t fired the old Springfield in decades. And finally, she wasn’t the only one making noise.

She was blinded by a bloom in her night vision, the rifle’s flash had lit up everything for a split second. Cathy’s aim was true.

She heard a choking out in the yard. Gagging. Flailing about, like a gutted steer. She put her hand to her mouth and bit it. I am my father’s daughter she thought, unbidden. She stifled a scream. The gurgling out in the grass continued.

Her father spoke to her once more, and then he was silent. “Can’t leave him to suffer, Cath.”

The smell of the ancient cordite burned her nose. She picked up the Springfield and racked the bolt back. The empty casing flew out of the chamber, she racked a fresh bullet in. Her vision had recovered somewhat, she saw a struggling form in front of the coop. He moaned and croaked.

Cathy shot him again.

This time he was quiet.


And that, readers, was it for now. Stay tuned for the latest news and developments, and I hope to get the entire work to you soon!


Jeep Gladiator: a review

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BLUF: Swiss-Army knife truck.

We have always ran Chevy trucks around here, for decades they have provided for our transportation, towing and hauling needs. We’ve never viewed trucks as anything other than work implements, to be tapped when needed. As a boy, my father had a ’59 Chevy truck, we used it for everything. When I was young I followed the tradition and ran an ’81 GMC until I got sick of fixing it, then I bought a new, full-sized Silverado while I was being boarded for medical retirement.

It was a great truck. Utterly reliable, tough, could tow anything, excellent vehicle. So why did I trade it in on this Jeep truck?

Well, the Silverado was BIG. For years I’ve wanted something smaller, but I really didn’t like Chevy’s Colorado series trucks. I think for the steep prices they command they are just too delicate, really more a passenger vehicle than a truck.

Around here a truck is a truck. If it can’t be asked to tow or haul it is worthless. And oh by the way; it needs to go wherever we ask it without a lot of BS.

The Silverado was a capable off-road four wheel drive vehicle, but did I mention that it was BIG? Kind of unhandy on a narrow forest path, which I have used it on from time to time. Also, I don’t think in the near-decade that I owned it that I ever got anywhere close to using the 327/5.3L V8 engine to its capacity.

In short, the Silverado was too much truck. I knew it. But it’s little brother, the Colorado? Too much passenger car.

Then the new Jeep Gladiator caught my eye, there was one sitting on the lot of my local Jeep dealer.

I stopped in and I was screwed. I knew it. The vehicle I looked at was badass; it had literally everything I could ask for. However, its sticker price was way too high.

A salesperson ran over to greet me; I told him I liked the little Jeep truck, but the price was too much. I was prepared to walk. He knew it, and he held a trick up his sleeve.

Would I be interested, he asked, in a more basic model? Sure, I answered. He led me to the back of the lot, there sat a more-or-less base model Gladiator. I loved it.

Steel wheels. Crank windows and manual locks. Removable hard top. Standard HD Dana 44 axles with a 3.73 gear ratio. Fairly good gas mileage, thrifty V6 engine. 30 inch fording capability. All weather rubberized interior. Granny gear. 1600 lb/800 kg hauling capacity, 7000 odd pound towing capability. Ugly green color.

It was a war machine.

The dealership gave me a decent trade-in on the old Chevy, I handed in the keys and drove away in the Jeep.

I immediately put it to the test. I wanted to check out a prolific spring in the woods, so I turned off the pavement and crawled back to the spring in 4 high, there was no need for 4 low. The Jeep didn’t flinch, and I didn’t have the feeling I was driving a whale as I did so often with the Silverado off-road.

So flying colors on the whole off-road thing. But I expected no less from a Jeep. But how was it as a truck?

I threw 1500lbs of topsoil in the back and then drove it along a twisty, hilly road. Hell, it barely squatted and I couldn’t really tell it held nearly a ton in the bed. It was a tad heavy in the sharp corners, but that was it. It braked just fine, too. I proceeded to also haul the recycling and other stuff like animal feed, just to check its all-around utility. In the near future I plan on hauling bales of hay, I estimate that the little truck can comfortably hold 18 square bales. Pretty impressive.

Hauling success. I especially appreciated the very utilitarian tie-downs, and the automatic bed lights were cool.

To my pleasure and complete shock (I didn’t realize this when I bought it and drove away) the Jeep also has a backup-cam! This is my first truck ever to be so equipped, and I thought it was a very nice touch. Real luxury.

To date, the truck has done everything I have asked of it. Also, the layout of the cab and the four-door arrangement is very handy. My old Silverado had a backseat as well, but it used the “suicide doors” arrangement, this set-up is far superior.

The only thing I haven’t done with this truck is take a road trip to a national park, but I’d imagine this will happen eventually with the fam; when this lousy siege lifts, anyway.

OK; above is all the good stuff.

There are some bad things. When I lift the hood, it looks like a spacecraft in there. Good luck trying to do a field repair on this. Second, I had to buy a hitch mount and have it installed. A hitch should come factory standard on a truck. Finally, the truck could use a bedliner; the factory paint is already scratched to hell. Yes, a bedliner was an option, but I wanted to be cheap. Well, I’ll end up paying for it anyway. But I’m nitpicking, really.

To sum up: for what will hopefully be my last gas pickup truck- pretty awesome. This little guy does 99% of what I need; for the other 1% I can call a flatbed hauler. The Silverado was a great truck, the best I’ve ever owned. But it was always a sore point with me that I wasn’t using it to its potential; this Jeep is a lot closer to realistic for my needs. Plus in many respects the Jeep is more capable than the old grey Chevy, certainly off-road.

After a while owning it I have no regrets about trading in the Chevy.

The Jeep Gladiator. A practical mashup of the iconic Jeep and a medium-duty truck. If the situation allows and you’re in the market, take a look.

But if you look, you might buy. So be careful.


The Siege Part II: Victory Garden


Photo above is a load of organic compost and cow shit. I’m expanding my garden.

I was talking with my Dutch bud yesterday, Dirk. We both agreed that this situation was probably the craziest thing we’ve seen. Probably the worst disruption since World War Two; no, definitely the worst disruption since then. He and I discussed where all of this may be heading, and we both agreed that our logistics chains are going to be stressed to the limit, both in Europe and the US. Probably Australia and worldwide.

No, I haven’t forgotten about my Aussie friends.

Today, though, I’m going to be addressing my readers in the Northern Hemisphere. Planting season is upon us up here, the time to prepare is right now. Actually, preparation was November, but this coming month will do.

It wouldn’t hurt for us to be thinking about planting a Victory Garden, like our ancestors did during WW2. In different parts of the world it was called different things, but the reason for planting one remained the same; to ease the burdens on the national logistics chains and to get the excess food to the troops.

OK, this time around there are no massive standing armies. But what we do have is an increased proportion of city/urban dwellers to rural populations that we didn’t have in the forties. This means that the vast majority of people are completely dependent upon the modern just-in-time supply systems that have sprang into being in the last few decades.

In short, there are no massive warehouses full of food. They do not exist. All that food sitting around represents a loss to investors, therefore shipping and storage schedules are as tight as a drum. One of the first things that happened during this crisis was for various governments to scrap safe-driving hourly limits on freight truck drivers. Think. There’s a reason that happened.

So for those of us who can, it’s time to start thinking about raising a garden. I’m not going to publish a book, I’m just going to make a few suggestions. And by the way, it’s never a bad thing to have your own produce. So if all this blows over (wouldn’t that be nice), you’ll have a nice little supply of self-raised vegetables.

Everyone can raise some veggies. Even people in flats can raise some tomatoes and herbs in pots. Every little bit helps. There are a thousand ways to garden, but the fundamentals remain the same no matter which method you choose.

  1. Good dirt.
  2. Water.
  3. Sunlight.
  4. Adequate drainage.
  5. Tools.
  6. Seeds.

Good dirt- sounds like a no-brainer, huh. It isn’t. This can actually be pretty tough. So cheat. Go buy potting soil or topsoil from a store. Chances are what’s out in your yard in a city plot is horrible stuff. So CHEAT. That’s what I do. Oh yeah, and I use chicken shit. Mixed with compost, it’s the best.

Water- this can be tough. If drinking water is scarce where you live, use non-potable water. Once again, cheat. Lots of people let perfectly good water literally go down the drain with their eve spouting. Capture some. Use it for your little garden, water every day at night. But not too much.

Sunlight- At least eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Nothing less.

Adequate Drainage- Only swamp plants and gators grow in mud puddles. Common sense.

Tools- Bare minimum a shovel, a trowel, and a hoe. That’s it. You can scale up from there all the way to a tractor. Me? I have a rear-tine self-propelled roto-tiller, that’s enough for this little acre.

Seeds- Easier said than done. There is a bewildering variety, so I am going to be very specific and tell you only what we have used- each variety that I mention has done yeoman’s work around here (Ohio, North America). What works for you may very well be different! This is a rough guide. Heirloom, meaning the seeds, if preserved, are true.

  1. The staples of our ancestors- the Three Sisters Garden. Elegant and nearly foolproof. Indian corn for you and your animals, if you have any. This is supported by a living lattice of climbing beans that can be eaten raw or allowed to dry for soup. Then all the weeds are drowned out by a squash variety like pumpkins. These three things alone will sustain life and are easily stored. Plus, you will be astonished by how much you can grow in a small 5ftx10ft plot. So, corn. Indian or Golden Bantam. Beans. Rattlesnake. Squash. Don’t use a bush variety, because the whole point is to drown out weeds. Go with Sugar Pie pumpkins, or any vine squash.
  2. Cucumber- Marketmore 76.
  3. Broccoli- Waltham
  4. Lettuce- Black Seeded Simpson
  5. Kohlrabi- Early White Vienna
  6. Squash- Black Beauty Zucchini
  7. Bell pepper- Emerald Giant 
  8. Tomato- Mortgage Lifter
  9. Carrot- Nantes (limited success)
  10. Potatoes- buy a bag at the store. Plant.

You may have noticed that such staples as cabbage and cauliflower are missing. That’s because we have had awful luck with those. Cabbage attracts loads of green worms, and cauliflower draws rabbits like crazy. So yeah, I didn’t list those.

If you want to know more, do a little research on the internet for your unique conditions. No matter what your situation, there is bound to be something you can do.

So give it a shot, the Victory Garden.

Good enough for Grandma, good enough for us.


2020, a tough year.

dreary census

OK, readers, so we are going through some pretty crazy times right now. Certainly the craziest of my lifetime. I thought 9/11 was rough. The 2008 crisis. War. There have been some hard times, to be sure.

Nothing compares to this right now.

So yesterday was a real metaphor for all that’s going down at the moment. Why?

Like hundreds of millions, billions of others, we are more or less locked down in our homey little prison. Everyone around here is giving others a wide berth. A neighbor dropped in to pay me for eggs, I handled the money like it was a potential biohazard. The man, who I have known for decades, had real fear in his eyes.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen that.

Yesterday we had abnormally heavy rain. Within a few hours almost 3 inches, or 7.6 cm, had fallen. When I woke up at 0400 it was pouring. I walked Dixie as the rain sheeted down and for a change she didn’t mess around. She went outside and squatted, and darted right back toward the house.

I knew it would flood. These hills are loaded with small creeks and streams, with heavy rainfall they fill immediately and vomit their load of water and debris into the larger creeks. Those creeks fill to capacity and then overflow their banks. Eventually the mess ends up in the mighty Ohio River, and all the cities downstream flood.

Well, my daughter had volunteered to work at a food bank in the neighboring town. It was set up for the elderly and disabled. Was I happy about her working such an event in the midst of this lousy plague?

No. But she’s going to be an adult soon, and assuming risk is an adult decision.

She wants to help out, and I respect that. So into the car we went, I pulled out of the driveway. We live on a ridgeline, so I didn’t know how serious the flooding was.

It was bad. I tried three different routes to get to the village, all were blocked by debris and raging water. A stream that under normal circumstances would be about a meter wide and maybe 30 cm deep was swollen to about five times the normal size, and the velocity had increased tenfold, at least.

There was no way I could make it through that. Logs and branches and been deposited on the roads by the flood waters, it wasn’t possible to get through, and I tried.

We were trapped. By the floods, by the plague.

Good times.

As long as I have driven, and that’s been thirty years, I have never had it that by no means could I reach the little village in the valley. Yesterday? Not a chance.

So the indigent and the elderly were stuck without a lunch, and to compound the disaster, their houses were flooded too. I saw it on the news, it was the lead story. I’ll bet the newspeople had a hard decision; lead with the floods or the coronavirus?

They went with the floods.

Also I received an email from Air Canada, I was due to fly to Oz with them.

Haha, the border was closed. No flight for you.

Well, I figured out a week ago that the trip was scuttled, this was just the icing on the cake.

Trapped again.

Of course I emailed my travel agency for a refund. If these circumstances don’t justify a refund, I don’t know what the hell does. I do feel for the agency. They are probably going to go bankrupt because of this damned plague and lockdown.

Hundreds of millions, billions, are going through the wringer right now.

And then I come across this blurb, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal on the 20th of March.


Huh? Why in the hell would you seek to keep those numbers secret? Every idiot knows that the unemployment figures are going to jump sky high, immediately. There is no hiding the tsunami of horrible economic data, so why even try? You don’t have to be a genius to understand that a sudden 35% drop in the stock market equals literally trillions of dollars gone, erased as if they never were.

The facts and the plain truth are what is needed in this situation.

Not obfuscation.

So what is my plan?

  1. Maintain good personal hygiene.
  2. Stay busy. There’s a bunch of writing due.
  3. Keep informed, and pass it on where appropriate.
  4. Do what I can to stay positive.
  5. Control what I can, let go what I can’t.

And hey, this may be a siege, but no-one is heaving dead cows over the walls. That’s what our ancestors endured, with sack, rapine and pillage at the end.

If my many-times-over grandparents could endure the horrible year 1348 and the Hundred Year’s War, then I think we can do this, too.

After all, we have Netflix.

At least for now.



Selfless Service

current rack

Selfless Service is one of the seven core US Army Values. Every trainee learns these by heart, and the values are featured prominently on Army performance evaluation forms, which every Non-Commissioned and Commissioned Officer is judged by.

The Army values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

Today I’m going to discuss Selfless Service.

The official definition is as follows:

“Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain.”

There are about one million Soldiers in what is known as the Total Army.

Well guess what. I have an idea they are about to be put to work in the effort to combat this damned plague. Thus the ribbon rack above; National Defense, Humanitarian Service, and Army Service.

Not the stuff of martial glory or movies, but they are ribbons that commemorate the necessary; the military helping out our fellow citizens, no matter where they may be found.

I’m sure many of you have read “The Stand,” by Stephen King. It’s a great book. But there is something I strongly disagree with in there.

In his work the US Army is depicted as a distinctly negative force, a group of ghouls who use extreme violence in an attempt to deceive the public about the extent of the outbreak  that eventually ends in 99.97% of humanity dying. In fact, the Army was responsible for “Captain Trips” because the disease inadvertently escaped from one of its secret biological warfare labs.

Well, it makes for a great book but I think its bullshit in much the same way that I don’t believe in stupid, swirling-around-the-bathtub-drain conspiracy theories.

Here’s why.

Soldiers are fucking human. They are your neighbors, friends, sons and daughters. Are they capable of great evil? Of course. But so is your average grocery clerk at Walmart. Much of my time in the service I spent dealing with stupid crap and correcting the mistakes of others. I just don’t buy it that there are evil masterminds lurking in the ranks who are intent in wiping us all out if they receive some Faustian order from the National Command Authority.

Long story short: I think simple human incompetence would doom any grand conspiracy in the ranks.

Here’s the next point.

Soldiers WANT to help the society they live in. Many, many joined up, volunteered, for just that.

They are going to get the chance here shortly to do just that. If I was a betting man, I’d wager good money on the fact that Army Medicine, Regulars, Guard and Reserve, is gearing up for a massive struggle against this lousy disease and the potential strain on our civilian healthcare system. Our market-driven healthcare system does not have the overflow capacity needed to handle a no-shit pandemic. We can assign blame later.

The military must step in.

I am confident that they will. Whether its enough, I don’t know. But they will try, and I don’t doubt that many will sicken and die. They will do their duty in the face of adversity and mortal danger, because they raised their right hands and they feel the need, the solemn duty, to risk their lives for God and Country.

In other words, more MASH than The Stand.

This is the hour of need. Will Army Medicine do what it must? Can they meet the need?

We’ll see.

People doubt in the ability of the current generation to rise to the occasion like our ancestors did.

I think that’s bullshit.

Courage is not generational. We may be living in a disaster movie, and there may be villains, but there will be heroes as well.

Good luck, Army medicine. Do your damndest.






The Siege

toilet paper

Pictured above is the toilet paper aisle at the local Walmart. I took this a few days ago; Lord knows I wouldn’t go there now. I have heard reports that it’s crazy in there, people are emptying out the store. I think for now that if we can’t get it at our local gas station, that we can do without.

The question for me is how long of a disruption is this going to cause? No one is discussing this at the moment, but I’m thinking this might be a really good year to expand my Three Sisters Garden. This would be akin to the old WW2 Victory Garden, where you ease strains on the country’s logistics chain by raising what you can yourself on your own property.

I know for certain that my great-grandparents did exactly that during the Depression, there was always a chicken in the pot and maybe some dumplings if you were lucky. Ketchup soup if you were not.

But they got through that, and so will we. War, famine, disease and perfidy; our ancestors have seen it all. Now it’s our turn.

It is amazing how one week can change everything. Last week I was still on the knife edge of visiting Australia, balancing on the decision. And then the decision was taken out of my hands. Borders slammed shut, mandatory quarantines were announced. Poof went my vacation; and it went from being a major focus to vanishing insignificance next to dwindling resources and sickened friends.

Every morning I go for a walk around dawn. A few days ago I noticed significantly less traffic, the schools had closed.

schools out

My youngest daughter was affected by this, so I wasn’t surprised not to see the usual bustle in the village around 6-7 AM. I let out a small whistle. Lord, the streets were empty. It was weird. I eventually made it to my buddy’s industrial shop, it’s my turn around point on the walk.

Oddly, his vehicle was out in front. Usually he would get to the “office” around 8 or 9, it was 0645. I walked to the small door and called out; my friend opened the door and turned on the light. He had been sleeping on a piece of foam with a jacket for a pillow.

What the hell, I asked. Had he been in a fight or something?

No. His wife, an RN, had self-quarantined. She returned sick from a cruise and told him to get out of the house.


I walked back to my house, got an Army cot and a sleeping bag. I threw it in my Jeep and returned to the shop. The hell if I would let my bud sleep on the cement floor. I gave him the camping gear. While I was at it, I ran into town. There was some maintenance due on my truck, so I stopped by the Jeep garage.

It was dead as a stone. Of course they could get me in. What needed to be done took an hour and a half, so I had some time to kill. I listened to the not-so busy salesmen chatter. To hear them, there were some pretty choice rumors floating around. They seemed to be the mirror image of what a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson had tweeted a couple of days before.

foreign ministry spokesman

This was getting weird.

After a period of coffee drinking and mounting nervousness, I got back in my truck. I slathered my hands with precious hand sanitizer and drove off, destination a big-box DIY store called Lowe’s.

As I drove, the strong scent of the stinging hand lotion filled the truck’s cabin. How had a ninety-nine cent bottle of sanitizer transformed into a six-dollar bottle of gold? I shook my head and decided that if the parking lot of Lowe’s was full, I would keep driving.

To my relief it seemed fine. I pulled in and went into the store, we needed some gardening supplies.

No, raising a garden is not an oh-shit thing for us, we have always kept a small patch. Some years bigger, some years smaller. I went to the seeds department, I passed by cleaning supplies. I glanced at it.

Suffice to say that if you needed to wipe your butt or clean the counters, you were out of luck.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the gardening section hadn’t been subjected to the same horde of locusts. Not yet, anyhow. Picked up some planting pots, some seeds and of course a bag or two of organic potting mix. Our garden last year was pretty awesome, no reason to think that this year it would be any different.

The clerk looked tired when I checked out. She made a comment about how the night before had been a madhouse, customers were losing their minds. I thanked her and threw my swag in the Jeep. With haste, I left town. On the way home my phone vibrated, when I pulled in I checked it.

My buddy Pete texted to say that he was pulling security on a butcher shop by a large city.


Within 72 hours, we had gotten to the point that it was necessary to post a guard by a butcher shop in an ultra low-crime area.

I wished him luck.

Unloaded the truck and went inside. My daughter asked if she could go with a friend into the city. She wanted to go to a book store, she was bored. Under normal circumstances, no problem at all. But with what I had just witnessed and heard?

No, I said.

The siege had begun.


The Tactical Pause

@ferry crossing

Alright, so why am I posting more pictures of me in shitty places?

Well, I guess because the past is an important part of my present-day decision making, and the photo above illustrates what I’d like to discuss today.

The tactical pause.

We need to rewind to 2005, so let me do that. I was an enlisted soldier back then, fresh off an OIF tour when the war was still young. The Army was begging for junior officers in combat units, they couldn’t get enough lieutenants. I saw an opportunity and allowed myself to be recruited. It was a real honor to be selected for officer’s training, considering that I had enlisted in 1991 as a no-stripe private. I should have taken it as a warning sign when the Army granted me an age-waver for training without qualm. A few years earlier and I would have been out of luck.

But hey, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rubble was still settling in places like Fallujah.

With the war in the background, I secured my slot in Officer Candidate School, an in-your-face months long torture test. At the other end I emerged a prior-service Second Lieutenant, an O-1E.

Why am I telling you this.

Because I’d like to talk about the Army’s officer training process at the height of the US’s longest war. A lesson learned, and a bit about my instructors.

The number one thing, hammered over and over into us, was not to lose your shit while everyone else was freaking out. Why? Because you might find yourself to be the Head Motherfucker In Charge while it goes into the pot.

After OCS I was sent to Infantry School, or BOLC PhaseII as it was known at the time. They’ve changed things since. When I arrived for training, it was nothing but beatings for months on end. Harsh, brutal lessons constantly reinforced. No excuse, and no forgiveness schooling. An example.

I injured my right knee on a ruck march. It hurt. I was afraid to go to the medics. Didn’t want to be pulled from training. So I popped a lot of naproxen and sucked it. One frigid morning, my worst times, we went on an eight-mile run. I couldn’t maintain the pace, my knee throbbed. So I fell back about one hundred meters, but I concluded the run.

It didn’t matter. I was lumped in with those who had not completed the run, on time and to standard. They stood us in front of the rest of the battalion and proceeded to punish us with calisthenics and a speech about how we had failed and we were worthless shitbags, barely qualified to lead soldiers.

Stuff like that. You don’t forget those lessons.

And I couldn’t forget my instructors.

Every one of them had just returned from the war. Some were awaiting medical retirement. There was a guy with one arm. Another short an eye. A dude with a voice box, shot in the throat. And some of the students were the same. A good friend with hearing aids, IED in Iraq. A fellow who drank himself to sleep every night, he had been sent down caves in Afghanistan with a pistol and a flashlight.

Things, people like that will make an impression on you. Kind of like the wall in the Company dayroom. A series of pictures, a sentence in large letters above. “OUR FALLEN COMRADES.” A few empty frames below, one with a sheet of paper inside. “YOUR PHOTO HERE.”

How could you miss that?

So I trained hard, helped out the new LT’s, and listened to my instructors, many of whom would never be sent overseas again. They had done too much.

One such instructor made a big impression on me.

He was an infantryman of slight build. Skinny, dark complected. Probably hispanic, I never asked and didn’t really care. Very soft spoken. He moved like a spooked deer, he was constantly looking over his shoulder. He smoked like a chimney, his young, black/brown eyes were surrounded by crow’s feet. I can’t remember his name; he was our house-clearing instructor.

In 2004 he had spent a year in Ramadi. The. Worst. Fucking. Place. In. The. World.

He knew how to clear a house. He talked about guys dropping from the ceilings. Dogs with explosives stuffed inside. Women used as human shields. Toys with grenades attached. His eyes telegraphed hell, his murmurs spoke of horror.

He addressed us. Gently, informally.

He taught me about the tactical pause.

“Dude, when everything is going to shit, when a guy’s been shot, when they just won’t quit coming, relax.” He reached into his shoulder pocket and produced a pack of Winstons. He stuck one in his mouth and lit up; fuck the regs. He drew in, exhaled a sinuous cloud of smoke. “Just relax. You’ve got time, Haji doesn’t.” He took another hit. “Lemme tell you about the tactical pause. It’s not freaking out. It’s not fucking around. It’s not cluelessness.”

“What it is is taking a second, take a breather, and making a decision based on the best information that you have.” He looked us all in the eye. “The tactical pause will save people’s lives. Rushing in because you think you have to hurry will kill your men.” Another drag. He exhaled, his blue smoke filled the shoot-house room.

“Relax. Then go in and kill every motherfucker that gets in your way.”

What he said made sense. The lesson sank in, and squared with my past experience. How many times had I seen stupid, knee-jerk decisions made by leadership? Too many times.

One of my biggest regrets is that I can’t remember his name, although I used his lesson again and again.

When things get rough, take a second. Clear your head. Tap out a cigarette, take a piss, light up. Think things through. Then make a decision and go with it.

What brought this up.

The Corona virus, of course.

People are losing their shit. As I write this, large parts of Italy and China are locked down, and who knows what is coming next.

I am by no means immune from anxiety over COVID19, my approaching travel is in jeopardy.

What is needed is a tactical pause. A second taken where you look back at your options and then take the least-bad route.

My given trigger point is fast approaching. This is the chosen moment where I’ll have to make a decision, to fish or cut bait. And here is yet another lesson from my training- make a decision and stick with it. Remember as well that no decision is also a decision, even if its passive.

So I’m listening to that long-ago instructor. I’m taking a breath. Relaxing. Accepting that there are a number of factors in play that I can’t control.

No cigarettes anymore, so I’m sitting here and typing out my thoughts on this matter.

I’m taking a tactical pause.

An Amazing Deal

front view

Alright, so I’m in the process of gathering material for my upcoming Australia trip. The vacation may or may not happen because of COVID 19, or the Corona virus. But that’s OK, I’m proceeding as if I will travel and about a week prior to my departure date I will make a final decision and stick with it. This is a real pain in many respects, but I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. So, the part I can control, the preparation, proceeds as planned.

I have found some amazing lightweight and very functional camping gear. As longtime readers know, the US Army is currently going through a camouflage pattern change, so they are unloading quality gear at pennies to the dollar. And I mean quality, excellent first-rate stuff.

Today I chose to write about another one of these deals, an awesome little backpackers tent called the “Improved Combat Shelter.” See image above, I ordered one and put it together in my living room.

Why did I order one? Well, I’ll tell you. And then I’ll recommend that you get one of these if you like to camp.

First, let me say I did not order this tent because I was familiar with it from my time in the service. I never saw one of these, ever. I was issued this piece of WW2 crap, the Shelter Half.


Yes, they still hand these out. They are the worst tents in the world, and they were designed by monsters. Only a real masochist would go out in the woods with one of these, or someone who means to torment someone else would hand them out.

You are far better off with the humble poncho and a piece of 550 chord strung between trees. Seriously. If someone offers to sell you a Shelter Half, run away screaming.

Poncho hooches are OK, but if I was ever issued the “Improved Combat Shelter,” it would have been awesome.

I don’t know who got these things, but it wasn’t me. And now they are being unloaded on the surplus market for 59.99 USD.


At this price you need to buy one of these right now, surplus has a way of drying up.


Because this is a 250 USD tent, that’s why. At the least.

A few first impressions when I cracked open the vacuum sealed bag. The tent stank like US Military surplus, they use a preservative chemical that stinks somewhat like cat pee. Don’t worry, this is normal. Just make sure that either no-one is around or that you air it out outside.

Then I looked at the material this tent is made from. Good Lord, genuine ripstop nylon, the same as the rugged, unbeatable USGI poncho. The tent was used, but pretty gently. Everything was included and in good shape; top quality like the tent material.

As I assembled it without the included instructions (none really needed), I marveled at its ease to throw it up and once again at the pure quality- the shock poles were excellent aluminum, the tent stakes were even first rate. This was a tent designed to be used in all four seasons, not just at a kid’s sleepover.

And something the ad doesn’t show is that this tent has a huge vestibule on the weather side, and the tent can be exited from either side. The vestibule is great for storing gear, and is very handily designed. This is a soldier’s tent.


And have I mentioned the quality? Everything was first rate, including the zippers, all of which worked. I closely examined the tent for defects, as you should always do with surplus, and at least on this example found no problems.

Heavyweight material, USA made (how often do you see that), small and compact. What more could you want?

BTW, I measured the inside, it’s about 32 inches wide and about seven feet long. So, in a pinch you could fit two adults if they were friendly.

If you are in the market, I can’t think of a better, more economical tent. Seriously, even if it may need minor repair (a possibility). Something kind of like this will cost you about fifty bucks at a big box store, and it won’t be anywhere close to as good.

The only caveat is that these have been used by soldiers and they are surplus. If you buy one, set it up and inspect it carefully. If it passes muster, you have one hell of a piece of gear.

I think one of these may be headed south.

Provided circumstances allow me to travel.

In 2020, this is not a given.