I ate with T at a vast Chinese restaurant in Christchurch, where he told me that in the summer of 2001-2002 he and a friend explored McMurdo’s 100+ buildings by devising a game that involved using all the bathrooms. In December of 2002 in McMurdo, we sat in the Terra Bus and drank wine while I interviewed him about his research.
Using Firehouse bathroom (reenactment)
What did you do?
The goal was to use every bathroom on station without repeating. It took about a week and a half. All the plumbed bathrooms, not u-barrels. It was just to see if we could do it.
Your friend came up with the idea?
It was B’s idea.
How did he get that idea?
He said that he’s done this in other places.
He’s a serial bathroom user?
I don’t think that he ever attempted it on such a grand scale. He said that in other places he’ll use different bathrooms, he won’t always go to the same bathroom. One night I walked into a room where they were trying to name all the buildings on station that had bathrooms. I joined the conversation. He said he was going to try and use all the bathrooms and wanted to know if anyone else was interested. I said, “Sure, what the hell, sounds like a good waste of time to me.” So we figured out where all the bathrooms were, and the next day we started.
Did you use blueprints of the station or anything like that?
I was a GA in the UT shop so I changed light bulbs in all the buildings on station. That was one of my jobs, so I had been in a lot of the buildings. B was a GA in Operations, so he’d been all over station too. So we knew where a lot of them were. We asked around. We knew there were some in Medical, but we didn’t know where they were, or how many. It’s pretty easy. If you want to know if a building has a bathroom, you just see if there’s any bondstrand going to it. It’s not hard to find them.
Since the game didn’t include u-barrels, you could just follow the bondstrand.
What were the rules?
It was on the honor system. It wasn’t a race. Everyone thinks it was a race, but it wasn’t a race. We weren’t competing. U-barrels were off-limits, partially because it would have been harder to identify all of them, and also because they weren’t true bathrooms. If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to go find a plumbed bathroom. You might have to walk across town in the middle of the work day. You couldn’t use a bathroom twice. It was cool because it turned an everyday chore into an adventure. We’d have a fifteen or twenty minute debriefing every day at dinner about where we went.
When you got up in the morning were you thinking about it?
Yeah! What’s the first thing you do in the morning? You go to the bathroom. But you can’t go to the bathroom that you’d normally use because you don’t want to use that up. There was a strategy to it. So you’d get dressed and walk to a different building.
So you would plot the night before where you would go to the bathroom the next morning?
And you’d try and save ones that were close to you?
Yeah, you wanted to work the perimeter.
What dorm were you in?
155. I was in the center of town. 155’s got seven bathrooms. There’s two behind the Galley, there’s one in the boiler room, one on Highway One, two upstairs, and one in the dorms downstairs. So I had it pretty easy in that sense. It was a lot easier for me than it was for B.
Where did he live?
He lived in 201. He only had two there.
But he could go to 202, 210, 211…
Right. That, and…I had a work order to change all the light bulbs on station to go look for burnt-out light bulbs, so I had a legitimate reason to be in any building on station.
You had a license to pee.
Basically. And he might be working at, say, Waste, and he’d be in the Waste Barn all day. So he’d have to disappear for fifteen minutes to hike across town to use the bathroom. Any given day he might be in a new place, but he was stuck there. For him it was more of a challenge.
Were there any sketchy circumstances? Did you ever use a bathroom and have people wonder what you were doing there?
No. I mean, there were definitely some that we were nervous about going in to. As time went on though, we were less and less nervous, more confident, about where we were going. For example, the Firehouse: there’s two bathrooms in the Firehouse…
Did you have any reason to be in there?
Oh, none at all. There’s no reason to be in the Firehouse, and if I was in the Firehouse for some reason, I would use the bathroom on the first floor. All that’s upstairs is a couple of beds. That’s just where they sleep when they’re on-duty. There’s no reason in hell I should be up there. But no one even looked twice. Not that they would care anyway, or if they did, who the hell cares? They’re just firefighters. But I just walked in there. Number Two, right upstairs.
Number Two. Which buildings were targeted for dumps?
The Chalet, definitely. You had to take a dump there. It wasn’t a rule, but B and I both agreed that you weren’t to go there until you had to. Firehouse not as much, though I did.
Were there any other buildings that could have been troublesome?
There’s 202 and 206, you’re not “supposed” to be in there without an escort…
Right, because they’re ANG dorms.
…but I’ve been in there a ton of times, and no one even questions you.
What about 175?
Yeah, that’s bigwig, but everyone’s in their own office. It’s just a hallway and there’s offices on either side. There’s people in and out of there every day. People just sit in their offices.
I can’t think of any others that would be a hassle.
The only other ones are the NSF berthing.
What about those?
That’s my biggest disappointment in the whole thing. There’s two bathrooms in each of those buildings. Two buildings, two bathrooms in each. I only got one of them.
We never really decided if they counted. Because in the Upper Case dorms, two rooms share a bathroom. Those aren’t “public” bathrooms. Neither are the NSF berthing bathrooms, really. Those are basically private apartments. So they weren’t really included, but it was an extra challenge…
An honorable man would want to defecate in them.
Right. And I only got one of the four.
How many bathrooms on station are we talking about total?
I don’t remember, but I think it was in the range of fifty to sixty.
When you look at McMurdo, that sounds like a high number. If I tried to name sixty bathrooms I don’t think I could. What was one of the most obscure bathrooms?
The one that caught me off-guard was the diveshack. I’d never been in there. B had been in there. He’d dive-tended before. Power Plant, I wasn’t aware of that one at first.
Are there any shacks that are just a pile of wires and a bathroom?
Not really. There’s a lot of warehouses here, and none of them really have bathrooms. There’s no bathrooms up the hill past the Heavy Shop. Down in the diveshack area there’s the Gym and 159. The Chapel was a good one.
Chapel bathroom reading material
What? The Chapel has one?
Yeah. That was a required defecation.
We gotta go over there now.
It’s nothing special. But it is the Chapel.
The Chapel of the Snows. So do you feel like you know McMurdo better after your tour?
Definitely. Not that much of it, but I could tell you where every bathroom is.
By McMurdo standards, what are the good bathrooms and what are the bad bathrooms? What’s the premium, ideal bathroom?
Privacy is nice. Single bathroom, you lock the door, no one else can get in there. And you got freedom to do whatever you want, and as long as it takes. A little bit of artwork on the wall would be nice.
What places have artwork?
BFC. They got some polar bears. A yellow flag on the door, a pee flag.
Any reading material?
Uh, I don’t think there was any in BFC. I think best reading material on station was 165, second floor. It was a nice, single bathroom, and they had one of those books that was designed to sit next to the toilet.
Uncle John’s Reader, or whatever?
I’m in 211, and in the bathroom there’s National Geographic animal photos everywhere. On the outside of one of the stalls there’s a clean hippo. A nice washed hippo. On the inside is a hippo covered in mud. When you’re taking a shit it looks like the hippo is covered in shit. I took an Economist in there one day but someone took it. You can’t put reading material in there because someone will take it…
Unless it’s a place like 165 where only people at work are up there. Or some weirdo.
The Heavy Shop has some reading material. Hunting magazines, sometimes a Maxim. That’s about it.
I think I only peed there. Last year they had a daily calendar, with random historical shit taped in front of the urinals. It’s always good to have something for that twenty seconds you’re there.
So you didn’t have to use each toilet in every bathroom?
We thought about that but…
It would get complicated. You’d need charts and graphs or a check sheet or something.
Mm-hmm. There’s actually a guy on station now who wants to try and shit in every bathroom.
He’s upping the ante.
He didn’t actually hear what we had done until a couple of days ago.
He came up with that independently.
So there’s a social trend toward…
It’s kind of like the seventh summit, hitting the highest peak on each continent, or going to the fifty high points in the U.S., or going to every state, or whatever.
And here you can’t leave town.
Yeah, so what are you going to do? You can’t go anywhere, you’re pretty much limited to town, and what are you going to do in the buildings? You can’t just go into every building. You have to actually do something there. What can you do? Shit in it. I don’t know if that’s exactly how B came upon this idea, but that’s my logic to the whole thing, in retrospect.
The whole idea of bagging continents is ludicrous.
Yeah, been there, done that.
Pissing your achievement seems perfect. As you achieve, you’re making fun of the achievement. It’s pointless.
It’s like having a checkmark next to a continent.
I’m a little distracted because I have to pee so bad. Let’s go to the Chapel.
All right. Let’s go.
From The World: Antarctica: New Method Finds Twice as Many Emperor Penguins
Michelle LaRue: Well the good news is that we have a first ever full census of the emperor penguins which of course were made famous by the movie The March of the Penguins. And what we were able to find is that there are 595,000 emperor penguins in Antarctica which is about twice as many as previously suspected.
Mullins: So how’d you find out the good news?
LaRue: Well, what we did is use high resolution satellite imagery so what we were able to do is kind of zoom into some of the locations where you would see a brown stain on the sea ice, and that’s an indication that there’s an emperor colony there.
Mullins: This is guano.
LaRue: That’s right, yep, this is their guano, so by zooming into the locations of their guano we were able to actually see the individual penguins and then train the computer to differentiate the differences between the individual penguins, the guano that they’re sitting on, and then the surrounding ice.