Sunday, December 29, 2013


I’ve never been one for jewelry. At most, you might have seen a $30 Timex on my wrist, the kind with a rubber watchband. No necklaces, no bracelets. No pinkie ring. In my 20s, I wore a wedding band for a year and left it on the kitchen table when it was all over and done.

Even today, most of what I wear is made only of bone or paracord. The survival bracelet on my wrist comprises eight feet of braided 550 cord. The adventurer in my head tells me I might unravel this to use as an emergency rifle sling or to tie up a bad guy or perhaps apply as a tourniquet. Save the day. In reality, I’ll probably use it to replace a broken bootlace or something equally unheroic.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Frost covered the plastic windows of Sharon's mobile home.  She stepped over sleeping kids and grandkids and out to the trailer’s front porch. Her terrycloth robe was thin and the color of green apples and she pulled it around her spare frame and it did little to hold back the cold.

Another soft knock and she pushed open the storm door. Are you Sharon, a woman asked. We’re from St. Matt’s. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Seoul, at Night

Danae shucked her jeans to the floor. Her finger traced the edges of the adhesive discs that covered the crosshairs inked around her groin. She picked at the edge of one. There would be no more radiation.

She thought to tear it away quickly, like her daddy would have yanked a bandage from her skinned knee. Cruel, but short-lived and in that, the mercy. Instead she pulled slowly. The sting was bright and she could taste it. Coppery, like pennies.

Danae was twelve when her daddy taught her to shoot. He built a range behind the barn and he instructed her on trigger control and sight picture. He also trained Danae how to pack a wound and treat for shock. 

“This ain’t no game, little honey,” he said. “You carry the power to take a life, you best know how to save one.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Review of Richard Bach's "Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Lifeand Death"

Richard Bach is a writer who is serious about his privacy, but he is also a man most generous in spirit and on the page. In this his latest (2013, Nice Tiger), Richard opens by saying, "Destiny brought us together for this flight, and for love of you, dear reader...." 

I felt welcomed along on this particular journey.

Monday, June 10, 2013


My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. I could hear horses snorting in the dark and the jangle of bits and bridles. Mother lit a lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s farm. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They cut ‘im down, cap’n. Scalped him and set the cabin afire and took captive Missus Hardin.”

My father asked how many they were. Number of muskets. Their direction of travel. Whilst the corporal told what he knew, my father gathered up his kit, his long rifle, powder horn and shot, and his tomahawk.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don't Call Me Buckwheat

If you were any good as a bouncer at the Vogue Nightclub, you could usually get the job done without having to put your hands on anyone. 

A drill field worthy command voice with a haircut that said “recently-discharged Marine” goes a long way toward establishing alpha-dog status. It's all attitude and presentation.

Since its opening in 1938, The Vogue has screened the films of Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Carole Lombard -- and even Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems when the place was an X-rated theater for a couple years in the 70s. As a concert venue, its stage has hosted acts like Willie Nelson, Keb' Mo', and Kings of Leon.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Conclusion)

Jon Wertjes and I left Yaoundé later that year, toward the end of 1983. Jon was off to New Zealand and I was headed to my next duty station at our embassy in the Bahamas. I said goodbye to Ken on the weed-lined tarmac of the Yaoundé Ville Airport.  

He was looking forward to his upcoming transfer, taking his wife and two boys to his next assignment at the US Embassy in Beijing. I shook his hand and we promised to keep in touch. Ken was 32 years old.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part VI)

In his 2013 Washington Post travel log, Christopher Vourlias wrote: “In free-wheeling Douala, young hedonists danced until the wee hours to the latest bikutsi club tracks.” Thirty years earlier, Douala had no less music and was no less hedonistic or free-wheeling.

After a day of high-speed logisticizing, our consulate group gathered at a portside bar to debrief. It was there that I came as close as I ever came to getting hit by a flying beer bottle. A certain lady of questionable character... okay, the place was full of hookers. 

hooker expressed her interest in my remunerating her for the pleasure of her company. I declined in my elementary French.

Running from Abaddon (Part V)

A team of us from the embassy traveled to the coastal city of Douala later that year to coordinate logistics during a port visit by the USS Portland (LSD-37), a “dock landing ship.” The mission of an LSD is “to transport and launch amphibious craft, vehicles, crews, and embarked personnel in an amphibious assault.” That is, an LSD gives Marines a ride into the fight. 

I recently looked up the USS Portland to remind myself of her appearance, her lines. I found that “The Portland was decommissioned in 2003 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 2004. It was sunk as a target during an exercise off the Virginia coast later that year.” 

I had no idea. I admit a twinge of sadness, like hearing that an old girlfriend you hadn’t seen in years had met an early and untimely death. She wasn’t much over 30.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part IV)

Despite any first-day-of-school hazing, the Marine Embassy Guards knew Ken Welch as a solid friend. An Army officer with Defense Intelligence, Ken had longish hair for a military guy. He was tall, maybe 6’3”, and somewhat softer around the middle than the Marines expected from its officers. But he carried it well. I never counted how many packs of Kools he smoked a day, but he was rarely without one burning within arm’s reach. And he never turned down a guy who said, “Hey Ken… gimme a smoke.”

He treated us younger Marines less as “officer to enlisted” and more as “older brother to younger brothers.” Ken’s own brother Mike had, he told us, been assigned to the Marine Barracks in London.

Through his military career, Ken seemed to have kept one step ahead of the bad shit. He was stationed outside of Saigon and traversed the combat zones of Vietnam as a classified courier from 1972 to 1975. He got out shortly before Saigon fell in April of ‘75.

Running from Abaddon (Part III)

We landed in Yaoundé after sunset. Cpl. Steve Moye met us at the airport with a Cameroonian driver named Ambrose, who piloted a Chevy Blazer with diplomatic plates. At 2500 feet above sea level, it was cooler here than at the coast, and smelled less of dog. We drove north into the African dark, up the winding N2 highway on a bouncing three-mile trek from the airport to the embassy.

We were tired, dehydrated, and hung over – not only from our recent night at Quantico's Command Post pub, but from the half-dozen Bloody Marys we’d had on our flight. I believed that vodka, tomato juice, and celery was the perfect prescription for a genius flying into central Africa with an open head wound.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part II)

The place still shows up in my dreams. The roads crowded with Russian Ladas, Fiat taxis, and Mercedes trucks – only about half with working mufflers. Walking the crowded markets, the air was ripe with the sour bite of Cameroonian sweat mixed with the smells of diesel and woodsmoke and roasting meat. In a Washington Post travel log, Christopher Vourlias described it:

“Pavement chefs presided over small propane burners,
Photo: Ludwig Troller, Creative Commons
dishing out avocado salads and spaghetti omelets to crowds of hungry laborers. Stocky women in colorful dresses arranged their mangoes and oranges on sidewalk blankets, calling out in a cheery singsong. And young men wove through all the clamor selling secondhand shoes, a high-top sneaker or loafer balanced precariously on their heads."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part I)

Ken made it out of Saigon just before that city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. In 1979, Ken flew out of Tehran a couple weeks before Iranians climbed the walls at the US Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year. He always seemed one step ahead of the bad news. 

In the spring of 1984, Ken reported for duty as a Defense Intelligence officer in Beirut. Somewhere in between, Chief Warrant Officer Ken Welch was our friend.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dee Felice Café Would Turn Santa into a Duck Dynasty Fan

Dee Felice Café, a Cajun-Creole joint in Covington, KY, stands in a historic building near the site of the 1856 slave escape that inspired Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved.

About 130 years later, the late jazz drummer and band leader Dee Felice started his restaurant in this building at the corner of 6th and Main. Three decades after that, his daughter Shelly now runs the front end and her husband Patrick Nelson runs the kitchen.

Patrick is a writer buddy of mine and I’ve read his stories. After a day herding ourselves through the maze at IKEA (where the Swedes apparently stole the color scheme from the US Navy Blue Angels and then mocked up a floor plan to approximate the layout of the children’s game “Candy Land”), Jill and I went to see if Patrick is as skillful in the kitchen as he is on the page.

Shelly greeted us at the hostess desk like we were old friends. She seated us at a table near the big picture windows that overlook MainStrasse Village.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What if the kid writes back?

Say you’re writing to your 12-year-old self. What do you do if the kid writes back?

I’m not the first guy to wonder, “If I were to meet another version of myself, my kid self, what would I say to him?” Richard Bach explored the idea in his novel, One. A couple a' Joes battled it out in the movie, "Looper."  Amy Pond in "Dr. Who."

I’d dreamed up my own version. In a bubble of overlapping timelines, I met my boy self on a winding road in rural Marion County, the summer before his 8th grade.