The Immortal Shower
and Holy Chili


When you’ve been living like a farm animal and haven’t removed
your clothes in a month this is what heaven looks like.

Human beings are waterproof, and personal comfort is a state of mind. I actually used to believe tripe like that. Among the big three survival requirements of food, water and shelter, I always kind of felt that shelter was more a desirable luxury than an absolute necessity. That was then. Nowadays, were I to sleep on the ground I wouldn’t be able to walk upright for a week afterwards.

The winter is the primary training time in the arctic reaches of Alaska. Our mission was cold weather combat operations, so that was naturally the best time to train. That unfortunate mantra acquainted me with some of the most ghastly weather.

I’m a skinny guy from Mississippi. A really cold day down where I live was maybe 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, Uncle Sam sent me to Alaska just to give me a little perspective.

Our first winter in Fairbanks it snowed 144 inches. New math tells us that is 12 feet. The coldest it got while I was stationed there was 62 degrees below zero, and we were in the field. If I never see another snowflake, it will be too soon.

Our field training exercises typically lasted three or four weeks. We would load up all of our killer gear and deploy to some remote wasteland to stage our tactical missions day or night. Not that this mattered a whole lot. It’s always dark up there in the wintertime, anyway. I’ve flown night vision goggles above the arctic circle at noon.

It’s tough to get worked up about much more than basic survival at fifty below zero. Aircraft and vehicles become instantly cold-soaked once you shut them down. In a survival situation you have to dig a big hole in the snow for a shelter because crawling into the snow is actually markedly WARMER than being outside.

Each arctic tent nominally housed ten guys and included a Yukon stove that would run on most anything flammable. We most typically used jet fuel. Once you got that stove cooking it made the most mesmerizing sound. We called it “Yuking.” As each drop of fuel hit the burner plate, atomized, and burned it made a pleasant little pop. Just thinking about that sound right now brings a smile.

Even wide open that stove still had a hopeless task. The tents were canvas, after all, and the outside air temperature was fifty below. As a result I would go an entire month without being warm. Under such sordid circumstances I’m living proof that you can indeed survive, but you’ll never be comfortable.

Once we finally got back to garrison we still had to clean and stow absolutely everything. You never knew when you might be called upon to go to war. Before anybody went home it was staged and ready to rock again. I’d come dragging into the house after a month in the field in the arctic as filthy as a feral pig and utterly exhausted. When finally the magical time arrived my precious bride was ready.

If you’ve read this column for long you should have a decent idea as to my personality and comportment. I describe myself as a high-effort, high-payoff sort of guy. However, living with me has got to be a chore most onerous. My wife does so with grace and poise.

We had a routine. I’d dump my filthy killer gear inside the door and strip down to my skivvies for hugs from my wife and kids. As that was the first time I had come out of those clothes in a month I cannot imagine how they could stand it. I then retreated to the shower.

We lived on post at Fort Wainwright. All the inhabited buildings were heated by a central heating facility that pumped hot ethylene glycol through underground pipes to keep the dwellings and facilities habitable. Our house had the neatest heat exchanger in the basement that provided hot water from this central boiler. We literally never ran short of hot water. You could run the hot tap for a week, and it would never cool off. That first shower back in the World typically lasted about an hour and a half. By the time I wrapped up, I was too weak to stand.

I would then dry off as best I was able and wriggle into a bathrobe before slithering downstairs to the dining room. There, my precious bride had a massive pot of her signature steaming hot chili and some ice-cold Coke waiting. I would eat that stuff until I literally thought I might explode. Now swollen up like a toad, I would crawl into bed and sleep the sleep of the dead.

I have no idea what heaven will be like. While details are scant, I have it on reliable information that the company will be great and everything else will be comparably awesome. However, I fear I might be just a wee bit disappointed if off in a corner someplace there’s not an immortal shower and some of my wife’s signature holy chili. That mystical combination sure seemed heavenly to me.

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