by Billy-Ace Penguin Baker.
It was a dark and stormy night and it was the amerkin night at the Scott Base PO. The guys who came over from McMurdo to call their girl friends or wives in CHCH, had finished their calls and were working on the two cases of beer they had brought along with them--a regular Wednesday night ritual and it made no difference if the phone calls got completed or not. The Kiwi House Mouse was anxious that the yanks would hurry and finish their beer and get their arses back to McMurdo so that he could bank the fire in the galley range and go choke his chicken. The other Kiwis had long since gone to their individual rooms--leaving the yanks and their one-eyed troll to finish the beer.
Sir Lofless the troll who lived in Mount Erebus and who had been made a knight by the infamous McMurdo Dragon Watch Society, was in a corner speaking gibberish to no one in particular. Of late Lofless had been drinking used DFA which he had been seen taking from the recycle buffalo out behind the Heavy Shop at McMurdo. The yanks were trying to ignore Sir Lofless because not a solitary one of them wanted to take the responsibility for getting him back to Mount Erebus, so the duty House Mouse left the mess and headed for the garage. He came back shortly thereafter leading a large husky dog by the name of Precious MacKenzie. Those yanks who were still in touch with what was going on watched thru bloodshot eyes as the House Mouse proceeded to put Sir Lofless on the back of Precious Mackenzie. After several false starts Sir Lofless was finally firmly on the dog's back. Then the House Mouse led Precious over to the outer door and opened it. The wind came howling in thru the door into the mess bringing with it a flurry of snow. In unison all the yanks set up straight and hollered out: Surely you wouldn't send a knight out on a dog like this?
I have camped for many seasons at the McMurdo Station dump site. I lived there in an old CONEX box spending my Navy retirement check at the Ships Store on beer and smoked oysters. When my money ran out I would go into the village of McMurdo--to the Officers Club, or the Chief's club and sometimes to the lowly Enlisted Men's Club. Dressed in my finery of rags and cast-off clothing, I would tell the officers, chiefs and white-hats grand sea stories and fairy tales of what it was like in Antarctica in the olden days. The sea stories and fairy tales could only be distinguished one from the other by their beginning preamble. Fairy tales always start with: "once up a time", whereas sea-stories always begin with: "This is a no shitter". My stories were many and I told and retold them many times and with the retelling the stories become more wondrous and elegantly embellished. I would spin yarns about Jonathan Livingstone Skua Gull, the bird who refused to fly north, and Sir Lofless, the one-eyed troll who lived in the fumerols of Mount Erebus and who would slip into town and drink MOGAS straight from the fuel pumps while filing jerry cans with gasoline to take back to his cauldron. But that's another story.
As payment for my stories the officers would give me popcorn and throw me out into the snow. The chiefs, of whom I myself was once one, would only tolerate me for we were brothers but they would call me asshole and make me sit in a corner upon a high stool and force me to watch old Audie Murphy movies. The young Sailors, who were more impressionable, would buy me a few measly drinks and they would heap scorn and ridicule upon me for it was known throughout that miserable cold land, that at one time I had been the exalted Dragon Killer Supreme. The being who had rid the icy continent of the formidable dragons. But that also is another story.
When the night comes to Antarctica and the coast line is inaccessible with new pack ice the Adelie Penguins go north to the very edge of the pack in search of open water. The Emperor Penguin goes further inland to breed. At the same time the Skua should also go north, but they are dimwitted and greedy and the dump has wonderful things to eat. In addition to eating baby penguins they are eaters of carrion, garbage and other unspeakable things. As the polar sun sets for the last time the skua looks to the North and starts to leave, but circling the dump one more time, he decides to stay.
This was the time when I would no longer venture out of my CONEX box. I was like a huge bear snuggled in his den. My beer and smoked oysters were plentiful. There was no reason to venture out. The last thing I saw as I closed myself into my CONEX box was the reluctant skuas. Some had grown so fat partaking of refuse that they could no longer fly even if that had been their desire. Even the sailors had gone north leaving only a few hardy and brave souls who had foolishly listened to false promises and had volunteered to winter-over and await the return of the sun and the false hope of being rewarded for their folly, but rewards were few and the sacrifice was great.
The winter was just a very cold, dark and stormy night. It was so cold that your very breath would come from your body as vapors and would instantly freeze and be snatched away by the Hawk. If the Hawk was not howling and blowing you could hear your breath as it froze into ice crystals--making hollow popping sounds and when the ice crystals dropped to the compacted snow, which crunched when you walked upon it and it made a sound as if you were thumbing a ripe watermelon. If you listened very carefully, you could hear tiny tinkling sounds as the ice crystals came to rest on the snow.
When the sun finally comes back to McMurdo it is August, but it is spring in Antarctica and everything, that hasn't blown away, is covered with drifted snow. The dump even looks radiant and pristine. But, here and there, in and around the dump stand skua gulls. Frozen sentinels, solid ice, standing on one leg with their head tucked under one wing. Some with wings outstretched as if they had attempted to fly away just as the blood in their veins was congealing. As I came out of my CONEX I would walk over to the closest skua and kick it with a vengeance as if I were attempting to make a field goal. The skua would invariably explode into ice fragments that resembled shards of broken crockery. Their entrails would be full of frozen vienna sausages, cigarette butts, fruit cake, veggie-mite sandwiches, and other putrid, disgusting and repulsive unmentionable goop. It was all over for Jonathan Livingston Skua Gull, but I had another season to get ready for.
The men of WINFLY would soon arrive harking a new season and bringing with them their common colds, vile diseases and other filthy germs from the more temperate regions. The penguins would not be far behind followed by a new breed of predator--The USARPs! The deadly red-jacketed 'SARP. They who arrive flying in giant Globemasters and come into town riding in style in Ivan the Terra Bus and are delivered to the Chalet to dine on caviar and partake of rare wines. Where they thump upon one another's back and congratulate each to each other their extreme cleverness and grantsmanship in persuading the foundation to give them huge sums of money to carry out their ridiculous projects. While the more unfortunate Fengees and Airdales ride in broken down Power Wagons and are delivered to canvas Jamesways, wannigans and other hovels to dine on Spam and gobbered beer.
The SARPs are the masters of my universe and I must avoid them like the plague least they deport me. I will remain on the fringes of the camp. Lurking about the dump and visiting only the clubs until they, the stinking SARPs depart again. Unlike the skua gulls, and the winter-overs, the SARPs have the wit to leave this desolate place.
It's all gone now. The Navy now gone, The comraderie and the clubs as I knew them now gone. In their stead are coffee and wine shops where contract workers sip their mocas and lattes and quaff cheap wine as if they were conniseurs, reading poetry and conversing with false intellect one to one another. For these are the new OAEs and they come back year after year.
No longer able to make my customary rounds of the clubs I have disguised myself as a wizard--Wearing a wizards costume--bedrapped all over in aluminum foil, sporting a wizards wand and wearing a wizards cape. In this guise I will conduct Terra Bus windshield tours of McMurdo and its environs.
I will show the 'SARPs, who are now known as 'SAPs but who the New OAEs refer to as Beakers, the exotic secrets of McMurdo such as Lakey's Landing--the place where only I know about--the place where the last 55-gallon drum of Fanny's Secret Barbecue Sauce in the whole world is buried. I will show them the spot where Baker's Rock was rolled into the Chief's Club on Christmas Eve by two of the duty drunks. A rock so heavy that it could not be removed from the lounge by anyone lest they be drunk and two weightlifters had to be recruited to dispose of it.They came in black body-suits and thick leather belts, they grunted and they groaned and when veins were bulging on their foreheads and their bodies were covered with sweat they finally managed to budge the boulder. By the time the rock was removed, the weightlifters had to be taken to McMurdo Genral to be examined for hernias by DR Ben Crazy. The rock was sprayed with Day-Glo international orange paint--Not as a monument, but as a road hazard for the weightlifters had left the rock resting in the middle of Main Street unwilling and unable to move it any further. I may even show the SARPs the old Admirals Quarters where Zeek Zapp stood on the roof and urinated on Admiral Byrd's bust while the Chief of Navy Chaplains stood below, in the plume of yellow spray, having his photograph taken for prosperity. The chaplain still brags that he was fortunate to be a McMurdo during one of the rare occasions when it rained.
I will show the SARPs these and many other things and I will tell them sea stories and fairy tales and I will prosper. In my prosperity I will move from my small and cramped CONEX box into a grand and spacious MILVAN, that has only been dropped on the ice wharf once. There I will wait, drinking beer and eating my smoked oysters. I will wait until the Navy returns. God alone knows how long I will have to wait.
Copyright by: BILLY-ACE Penguin Baker
OLD ANTARCTIC EXPLORER,
DRAGON KILLER SUPREME, OLD BAG MAN,
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