This guide is intended to assist you during your stay in Antarctica. It briefly covers Antarctic culture to provide an overview that may help you through your exciting visit. You are going to be treated like a king. Maybe this is because of your engaging personality and your energizing conversation. Or maybe it is because you just recently passed a bill that doubles the NSF budget over the next five years. Whatever the case, enjoy it! Live a little! Unfortunately, even Antarctica’s most luxurious accommodations and special treatments are still somewhat slipshod compared to even your standard district function. That’s why we’ll illuminate your privilege, to help you make the most of this unfamiliar territory.
Many of the early explorers who came to Antarctica were underfunded buffoons who did not first consult Appropriations Subcommittees before facing the unique and exciting challenges that Antarctica offered for the future. As a result, they lacked innovative leadership, and died miserably of starvation while freezing to death. This unique frozen heritage is visible just across the bay from McMurdo Station at historic Discovery Hut, built by Robert Scott in 1902. In that noble wooden hut, several men once spent four months, clothes awash with gore from their endless seal slaughtering, their faces black from the soot of their barely flickering blubber stoves, their faces and fingers blistered and pocked from slogging a thousand miles with a ripped tent and a salvaged stove, their spongy gums still bleeding from the scurvy incurred on their futile sledding journey to lay depots of food for Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition that would never arrive because Shackleton’s boat was crushed in the ice, he and his men fleeing the continent for their lives. In other words, their proud success for the future of progress encouraged the hopeful challenges of tomorrow.
In all likelihood, you are being served special food. The Galley has worked overtime to prepare the fresh food that has been flown for you from New Zealand. One year some Senators came down so that NSF could beg them for $125 million for a new South Pole Station. Those powerful Senators were served a banquet by Galley DA’s (Dining Attendants) whose job descriptions do not include waiting hand and foot on elected representatives of democracy, but they didn’t complain. They smiled, and hoped not to get fired. They make so little money that the rest of the station points at them and laughs in terrible mockery. Deep, long, belly-laughs that sometimes span minutes. Some of us feel sorry for the Galley staff and their terribly low wages, but none of us feel sorry enough to stand up for them, not even their managers.
Don’t worry, the water does not contain pteropods. Also, lead levels are found to be acceptable.
You are staying in the most luxurious accommodations on station. If you weren’t a Congressman, you would be staying in a room where the sounds of lurching sex and vomiting firefighters groaned beyond the paper-thin walls. If you weren’t a Congressman, you would be housed according to Ice Time, a point system that awards status according to months in The Program. It works like this: if you have less than 36 months Ice Time, you add up your months and multiply them by .125. If you have more than 36 months, you multiply by .25. The resulting calculations are then added to your job points. Job points vary, but most people get two or three, managers get ten or fifteen, and you get three or four thousand. You have thus earned the most comfortable quarters on station. Perhaps this is because of your engaging personality and your energizing conversation.
Your entire experience here is what people on “the ice” call “a boondoggle”. A boondoggle is any desirable trip away from station. They are few and far between. Most people do not come to McMurdo, fly around in helicopters, go to the South Pole, visit the Dry Valleys, get hearty handshakes from the NSF representatives, then return to New Zealand to be wished a good journey by Raytheon representatives. Most people come to McMurdo, work in something equivalent to a concrete box filled with screaming monkeys, then return to New Zealand to be ramrodded through Raytheon’s spiteful travel agency. You should enjoy yourself, but remember not to use the words “real” or “authentic” too liberally when you return home feeling all leather jacket and fedora. Your entire experience has been shaped by people who stand to benefit from your powerful economic decisions. Consider yourself coddled. Of course, none of us will be around to witness your sparkling future accounts. But if we were, we would know when you strayed from the truth. And so would you.
Workers are intimidating. They wear dirty clothes, they operate loud and greasy machines, and they often bear menacing scowls. They seem to look at you as if you don’t belong. This is because you don’t. Your presence has an unreal quality which few workers can comprehend. Your clothes are clean. Even though it is exciting and novel to don the bulky Antarctic gear and show dress-up photos to your friends back home, the Antarctic working class has long ago extinguished these pleasures like a cigarette butt. The glorious glaciers and infinite expanses of pristine white are tempered by a sloshing glycol nightmare of infinite labor punctuated only by NSF emails saying that they will be fired if they are caught doing something their Raytheon manager tells them to do every day. You will probably remain most comfortable if you avoid speaking with workers altogether. NSF is most comfortable with this as well. They will do everything in their power to minimize your contact with workers. When you step from the plane they will fly you by helicopter to town. This has the dual purpose of giving you the regal impression of a high-tech moonbase outpost, and of keeping you away from hoi polloi who ride the shuttle van and grumble about their lunch. NSF will escort you everywhere. This is meant to reassure you, and allows you to keep a familiar face nearby. It also allows everyone you meet to regard the powerful and unpredictable NSF representative at your side, who will do anything to eradicate your slightest displeasure. Perhaps the smiles you see reflect your engaging personality and your energizing conversation. We hope that you have a good time and leave before anything bad happens to us.
You have just returned to the States from Antarctica, the highest, driest, coldest, most hostile and remote place on Earth. You describe to your friends and other associates the astonishing white expanses, the articulate variations of simple snow and ice, the landscape that is so unfamiliar and foreign that it might as well be another planet. Your usually chattering friends are unusually silent, actually hanging on your every word, eager to learn more about the alien landscape and rugged polar culture that they have perhaps brushed across in the news but still can’t quite imagine. Every detail astounds them. They could never have guessed. They can’t buy a ticket to the places you’ve been. They can’t imagine the things you’ve seen. You’re talking about the south polar region, the most inaccessible continent, a block of ice renowned as the most distant psychological space on the planet.
Except by the IRS, who claims that Antarctica is part of the United States for tax purposes. This results in a paycut for an American at the South Pole who would otherwise be rewarded if he or she worked for NSF or Raytheon in Canada or the Bahamas or in Europe, none of which are the coldest, deadest, place in the world. Despite that OSHA has claimed to have no jurisdiction when workers have been exposed to asbestos in Antarctica, that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Antarctica is a foreign country, and that Antarctic workers are conveniently exempt from Davis-Bacon wages regarding government contract work and from federal laws regarding overtime pay, the IRS is presently hounding Antarctic workers en masse for already-returned taxes as if they were working down the street in Utah. What kinds of stories are you going to tell your friends at home? Are they stories about how Antarctica is remote and foreign? Or are they stories about how Antarctica is much like Utah?
Welcome to Antarctica. Enjoy your stay. We hope this guide has been useful for you. Your input is appreciated. Send suggestions for topics you would like to see addressed. If you are not a Congressman, but you are a worker who observes or has had an interaction with the Congressmen, we would also like to hear about that.