The South Pole Bar Albums, Volumes I-V

This is my holiday gift to you as I put together some other thoughts about Antarctica. A lot of things happened around New Years 2003, so they will take some collating. In the meantime, I have a YouTube playlist for you. While I was bartender at Club 90 South at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I was not it’s DJ. Two weeks into summer I walked into the bar, looked around, and saw the only available seat was behind the bar. So, I sat down and put my feet up on the beer case.

Random Polie: “Hey, get me a beer.”

Me: “Do I look like a fucking bartender?”

Random Polie: “You’re behind the bar…”

Me: *tosses him a beer from the case* “Whatever.”

Random Polie: “Hey, can you mix anything?”

Me: “As a matter of fact, I can.”

And there I stayed for the next 11 months after mixing that first manhattan.

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing "The Dragon" by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing “The Dragon” by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

I got to see and hear a lot behind that bar. I also became the unofficial barometer of mood for the station manager. As an honor bar, Club 90 South didn’t have a bartender like the bars in McMurdo, so mixed drinks didn’t usually happen before my tenure there; typically just whiskey and beer. Unfortunately, this also really cemented the barfly vs. teetotaler factions for that winter. Mixing between the groups was somewhat limited in the first place and got no better as the year wore on. Over the coming few Antarctica posts, we’ll discuss that a bit more.

The link to the playlist above is five CDs worth of music that I culled from our Winamp player for our most listened to songs over that year. I would like to reiterate that I was not in control of the music. I suggested many songs and as the person most likely to be in the bar at any given moment that winter, I have some honorable mention in presence of songs like Oingo Boingo’s “Insanity”, Royal Crown Revue’s take on “Beyond The Sea” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Ultimately, control of the music was in the hands of the person sitting next to the keyboard for the computer installed in the wall of the bar connected to the, in 2003, 2TB jukebox of the X Drive on the server. This was typically the IT guy or the belligerent heavy equipment operator that liked tequila.

NOTE: Dear MPAA auditors searching for the X Drive, you will never find it. It is normally buried in the snow. Antarctica is big and mostly made of snow. Please accept that people at the ends of the Earth would like some music and that we collectively share what we’ve all brought down.

Some of these songs may be tied to specific people. Fore example, Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” became the 2002-2003 Winterover Anthem thanks to one amazon Alaskan equipment operator/boat captain/pilot that demanded it be played for her during the summer. By the time winter hit, we had an entire drink in hand dance routine worked out for that song we loved it so. The song “Tribute” kind of came along for the ride.

David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By Name” is the Australian telescope mechanic and former New South Wales rugby prop that could drop a sheep dead with his flatulence at 20 yards. He was also fond of the Lee Kernaghan’s “Goondiwini Moon” but that’s not included on the albums.

The Geto Boy’s “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster” may be squarely laid at the feet of the very meek meteorologist who went a bit off the rails early. She loved that song.

The Dropkick Murphy’s “Spicy McHaggis” is my favorite electrician, Mark. He comes up prominently in many of my stories. In many respects, Mark and I were the same person that lived completely different lives. We got along like a house on fire, without actually committing any arson.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is Drew, the other IT guy. When not in Antarctica, Drew wrangled his family’s marina in Logan Harbor, ME. He brought this nautical disaster gem to us near midwinter and we adored it. Along with the construction manager’s love for Led Zepplin’s “No Quarter”, these two songs combined were for relaxed, leaned back in the chair, contemplation of the glass of whiskey.

As you look at the song list, you might notice some trends. I can’t help but see the repetition of the topics of madness, alcohol, and murder. Of course, I’ve been listening to these songs for the last decade and the music of Antarctica never leaves me. I can only hope you enjoy them, despite the ads that YouTube inserts.

The Noble Sport of Volleybag

Before our slice of Antarctic life for the day, I should let you know that most of the “Complete by December 16th” pre-order slots are already gone. The next pre-order slots to go up will be set to complete by January 6th. I am going to do my damn best to crank out some of these before Christmas, but anything that ships after December 20th has no guarantee to make it by Christmas Eve. If there is something you desperately need to get under the tree and have been procrastinating, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

And now we set the Wayback Machine to December 2002 at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to discuss physical fitness and the Noble Sport of Volleybag…

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line - The architect wouldn't like this either.

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line – The architect wouldn’t lick this either.

Prior to the construction of the elevated station, South Pole had three gyms: a weight room under the Dome, a laminate wood floor gym that was the back half of the old building in the Garage Arch, and an exercise room full of stationary cycles, rowing machines, etc. out in the Summer Camp which shut down every winter. I believe the weight room was the oldest continually used gym there. It wasn’t the best weatherproofed of buildings but decades of sweaty grunting had caused all the cracks to seal up with ice on the inside nicely. One time, I offered to pay a guy $20 to lick the ice on the weight room wall. I did so over dinner, ruining yet another meal for our architect. For a man with such a delicate constitution, I don’t know why he kept insisting on sitting with me and Mark.

The gym was a mutant. The limited space at the station combined with the varied athletic pursuits people need to keep sane and the fact that this space used to be part of the garage meant it didn’t quite do anything right.

First, ventilation. The gym was created when the old garage was partitioned into a smaller garage, a parts room/paint shop, and gym. Obviously, the first two need good ventilation or people asphyxiate, so the systems that used kept the air clear for the entire building were dedicated to just these two. This meant that after enough time in the gym, you had to prop open the door as it overheated so badly just due to your physical exertion (remember, Antarctic buildings are generally very well insulated). Air that was over 80F went rushing out the top of the doorway as -80F swept across the transom. A cloud instantly formed that began roiling in the middle of the doorway, caught between the convection currents.

Second, you have to take into account thirty years of shifting athletic pursuits. The gym’s original purpose was to provide a half court basketball game that could double for volleyball for the Navy personnel of Operation Deep Freeze. Of course, that was just silly because the ceiling was so low that you couldn’t make a shot from any farther back than the foul line and any volleyball set or bump was likely to come right back down on your head from the ricochet. Later, the adventure tourist faction of Antarctic workers (which make up a high percentage these days) got climbing wall holds installed on two of the four walls. Finally, the gym was also an emergency refuge, so it had all kinds of speakers and alarm systems in the corners of the ceiling. Basically, the two of the four walls and the ceiling were covered in junk, including a basketball hoop.

It was room meant for all sports and thus it was good for none. The solution, of course, was to make a game that required these things.Volleybag was the product of these physical constraints. The game didn’t just work around these obstacles, it depended on them. At heart, it was volleyball, but instead of a volleyball it used a basketball-sized hacky sack made of Carhartt’s heavy duty #5 duck cloth, stitched together like a baseball, and filled with the stuffing from a dearly departed sofa. The only out of bounds was the back wall and your serve had to be a perfectly clean shot, but other than that the game was like racketball with knobby walls. You actively aimed for the obstruction to change the direction of your shot or to drop it dead to the floor. Players had to be willing to make abrupt changes in direction and sudden stops when playing for this reason.

It was chaotic bliss, a sport I could truly get behind almost as much as Calvinball. One of the IT guys played with us, so he wired up the stereo to run through the emergency announcement speakers. We played at least twice a week for a couple hours each time. The memory of lying prone on the floor exhausted and overheating, door open, ice crust of sweat forming on me, and listening to the Lords of Acid blasting on the PA is vivid. I regularly went home bruised and battered from running into the climbing wall at speed. One time I ended up kicking the wall so hard that I broke my toenail off and discovered that many orthopedic implements haven’t changed much in appearance since the Inquisition’s “presentation of the tools”.

And, oh yes, the cold and lack of maintenance had taken their toll on the floor.  The slats of the hardwood were gapping ever so slightly, exposing blade-like edges to lay your knees or whatever open if you dove for a save.  I bled for that sport often and it shows in the scars.The obstacles that made the game so fun took their toll on the volleybag. Despite being made of the same heavy canvas as our insulated Carhartts, it still tore. The guardian of the volleybag, Johan, one of the South Pole’s denizens of longest duration, kept it in his room with him and had a sewing kit dedicated to mending it. By the end of our winter, it looked as stitched together as Frankenstein’s face. Since I had never worn them, preferring my shorts and Hawaiian print, I volunteered my Carhartts to provide replacement material for the volleybag for the next season (not a new one, much like Grandfather’s Axe). I have no idea how old the volleybag actually was but rumor has it that the game dated back to the seventies.

The Dome and old buildings are gone now. To the best of my knowledge, the sport of Antarctic Kings went with it. Last I heard, the metal skin of the Dome was going to be reconstructed in a quad somewhere at the University of Wisconsin, Madison since they bought it originally back in 1975. I will have to make pilgrimage when that day comes, but there will be no volleybag under that Dome.

THE DECEMBERING: 2012 Edition

The end is upon us. ‘Tis the season for staring concerningly at calendar and realizing all the things you need to do before it is 1/1/2013. It’s enough to make one hope the Mayans are right and that you should just sit down and enjoy a leftover turkey sandwich in the meantime. Perhaps a beer. In fact, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll be right back…

MUCH BETTER.

The December 16th production slots have gone up, as a few of you have already noticed, but there’s a few things you should probably think about when placing an order for a gift from Funranium Labs:

  1. BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three).  If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping.
  2. The December 16th date is “Ship By”, not “Ships On”. I get your orders out as soon as I can, but even in the furthest flung corner of the US with the slowest mail carrier, this means you should have your order in hand by the 21st.
  3. Yes, I will probably add a few more slots as I get a handle on how much I can make at the last minute but shipping gets dicey in those last days before Christmas.
  4. International Shipments Of BBotE Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time.
  5. APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive. Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE on the basis that it is, and I quote, “Morally Questionable Material” because, obviously, any liquid from the West must be alcoholic in nature. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
  6. Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments are going out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is convenient for you. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
  7. Italy: It breaks my heart to say this, but I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving.
  8. Steins of Science Have Lead Time Too: The steins are built to order and it sometimes takes a while to get parts in.  Generally, things move much faster and ship within a week but you have now been warned of the possibility of delays.  For some insight into which stein is the best fit for you, I rambled on that a while back. Dewars that are on hand for me to build steins with RIGHT NOW can be found here.
  9. BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
  10. There’s No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall, this does not permit me to sanctify food.  Sorry.
  11. The 4300mL Stein of Science Is Ridiculously Large: Seriously, BIG.  It will should take an entire pre-game, Super Bowl, and wrap up to go through this much beer.  Or one cricket match. You may think you are a super drankin’ badass, but consider that you may want to drink more often than once a year, so think about a smaller size. I’m just sayin’…
Xmas Lights 2002

Christmas Lights 2002 in my room in Upper Berthing of the old dome (the madness in the eyes and smile is actually always there)

I have high hopes to actually share a tale of Antarctica or two between now and New Years. There’s some fun 10th anniversaries I’m hitting here in the summer, some of which I’ve already rambled on about. Yesterday, in fact, marked 10 years since the unintentional Twin Peaks marathon described here. But, for festiveness, here is the picture I sent home to my folks showing that, yes, I did indeed but up the Christmas lights in my room in the Dome. You may also see the first signs of Shining-esque madness creeping in.