It’s been unusually cold here – just below zero to just above – but you won’t find me among the grumblers, even though I walk half an hour to work (and another half hour home). Why? you ask. Well, simply because I am so splendidly equipped with a fine arsenal of frost fighting apparel. Just look at some of the items I’ve donned this past frigid week, a winning combination of modern technology and vintage military gear – one of those synthetic moisture wicking undershirts from MilTek, Swedish Army long underwear bottoms, Teflon coated thinsulate lined Dickies jeans, an authentic 1952 New Zealand Lamb’s wool shirt, British army cold weather issue, a flannel lined denim shirt, this futuristic ArticShield coat that’s amazingly light and warm, and a Dutch army fleece lined hat with flaps…to tell you the truth even at a couple of degrees I usually work up a sweat by the time I get here. (My Mother always used to say that cold weather is better than hot weather because you can always put more on but you can’t always take more off!) And I didn’t even mention my waterproof Georgia Boot camp shoes…and sure it’s no big thing for some dude to go to the outdoors store and pay hundreds for this kind of stuff, but that’s the beauty part, the thing that makes me grin as I strut so toasty and stylish down these mean streets…I got it all really cheap from my favorite catalogue The Sportsman’s Guide.
I know this sounds like spam by now, but believe me, it’s unsolicited testimony, straight from my warm heart. I suppose it’s because I was a little kid in the sixties, and always was fascinated by those Army/Navy stores and all this cool and durable ex-military clothes you could get for a song. The hippies always looked real boss in them and there was a great one in Pittsburgh, where I’m from. Over the years however that great tradition went down hill. The Army/Navy store here wasn’t that hot and slowly devolved into just another overpriced outdoor outfitter store, the few military things they had with ridiculous price tags as "collectibles." Besides U.S. army stuff is so standardized and blah now it’s not much fun. The Sportsmans Guide to the rescue. Not only do they scour the globe for real authentic surplus from the G.D.R., Norway, Italy, wherever and sell it cheap but they have neato clothing from regular manly U.S. manufacturers for a third of the usual price. Due to the strict inventory control made possible by computers, every retailer now uses the methods of grocery stores and the auto industry – if something doesn’t sell in a few weeks get rid of it, and even if it does sell roll out a new model with cosmetic differences frequently. This creates a huge backlog of returned and discontinued items that the manufacturer wants to get rid of ASAP in order to escape inventory taxes and storage costs – and this is just the stuff the Guide scoops up. I’ve also gotten once expensive items from brands whose attempt to crossover didn’t quite work, like Jeep jeans or Duck’s Head shoes. I had to laugh when my label conscious Sister-in-Law was telling me what a bargain her warm, durable boots were at $90, when a good pair could cost $150. Try $30 I said, and just because they don’t have this year’s buckles.
O.K., O.K., I admit I’m a little nutty of the subject of the Guide. I’m often dressed head to toe from within and my wife groans every time a new catalogue arrives. I guess she just doesn’t dig camouflage, even though I really wear a lot less than I used to. But where else can you find a camouflage acoustic guitar or pet bed? You know you’ve gotten a little carried away when you have your own favorite pattern of camo. Mine’s Tiger stripe, the kind preferred by the South Vietnamese special forces and the notoriously fierce South Korean army in ‘Nam. My runner-up would be that oversized op-art WW II Pacific camo often seen in John Wayne flicks. But to each his own…
Not that the Guide is perfect – it still disconcerts me when they ask if I want any ammunition when I make an order by telephone (quantities really are often limited), and the knives and authentic Nazi replica uniforms (now that stuff’s expensive) make me queasy, BUT it’s hard to argue with good, cheap and unusual, especially in a conspicuous consumption, brand name obsessed climate – or a cold one!
Who loves ya baby,