Many of the early explorers who came to Antarctica 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 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, amputating limbs as necessary.
F. Scott Robert
Your first experience with Antarctic Sex will be this:
It's one fifteen in the morning but it's as bright as it is at ten in the morning back home. The pipes in your room are gurgling so loud you're sure they're leaking onto you. There's a backhoe outside your window that beeps every time it backs up.
The wind makes a howling sound like there's a massive blizzard. When you look outside from the warmth of your room, it seems like a beautiful sunny day to stroll along the frozen bay. The wind chill is minus forty.
It sounds like something's broken in your room. You wonder if your roommate knows.
But , hell. You're an adult. Let's presume what's happening is what has the highest probability of being true, given life as you understand it.
You think of a good phrase. Put it right in the front of your brain so you can blurt it when you stand up and turn toward the bed near the door.
You think better of getting up. You can't un-see something you didn't want to see.
You sit upright in your bed screaming:
"Goddamn it, man. Have you NO self-respect?"
The sound stops. There's no answer. After thirty seconds:
erkerkerkerkerkerkerkerk --- erk --- erk.
rustle rustle rustle
Welcome to Antarctica.
Your second experience with Antarctic sex will be this:
It's one fifteen in the morning. The sun blares through your window like a bad high-school marching band. The frostnip on your cheek burns and oozes. Your muscles hurt from an afternoon of carrying ninety-pound hardigg cases full of instrumentation up to science cargo from Crary lab.
You have a slight hangover from the shots of Bushmill's she dared you to drink in a stupid game you thought would be fun, but wasn't.
Now you can't remember if you're sleeping--if you ever fell asleep--or if you're awake. You're in bed, so at one point you must have thought it was a good idea to go to attempt unconsciousness.
You hear a woman giggling. As only males have been assigned to your room, this is notable. Cloth rustling. Then.
Think of a good thing to say. Get it right in the front of your head. Repeat it silently a few times.
Then sit up straight in bed screaming:
"Good god, don't you people have any shame?"
The reply is only giggling.
Now say the stupidest thing sentient protoplasm can generate.
"Is this really necessary?"
Then, because one of the only for-rent VHS tapes that hasn't been mangled in an Antarctic VCR is When Harry Met Sally you hear
"I'm such a bad girl."
"I'm such a bad girl."
"I'm such a bad girl."
"I'm such a bad girl."
"Oh God, I'm a bad girl."
You know God hates you now. This is why you're at the end of the earth. It's much easier to flick you off the planet into space from here.
You've been working outdoors all day. It's twenty degrees below zero farenheit.
You're wearing six layers of clothes. Poly pro. Space-age materials.
She's got at least as much. From a distance of two feet nobody could determine if either of you was male or female.
You go into the hut when the work is through. Yank off a couple layers. Put on a cup of hot water for tea or coffee.
As she takes off her outer layers, she starts looking female. Breasts. Hips. Eyelashes. Rosy cheeks. Glistening blue eyes.
You make sure to look away. You wouldn't be looking at another colleague this way.
She's spouting data. Amps. Volts. Gallons per second.
You'll get the next datalogger on line tomorrow. She's starting to look like a supermodel. Before your eyes she's turning from a lump of Antarctic worker meat to a guest-host on the Oscars show.
The water boils; she says:
"Hey, do you want to have tea now or should we go back to my tent?"
Her tent? What the hell is in her tent?
She maps the contours of your face for five seconds. Says, "Oh, sorry. I should have asked if you were married. Are you?"
"Yeah," you say. "I think so."
"I mean down here. You hooked up with someone on the ice?"
Furrowing your brow is a good substitute for seeming a complete idiot and uttering the confusion in your head. Should you make tea?
She's making a pass.
"I don't think so," you say, confused.
You've never realized how much she looks like your cousin Eugene till right now.
"Huh. 'I don't think so'---so when you say that, does that mean 'yes' or 'no' to going up to the tent?"
In that light, she looks a lot like your own mother.
You're afraid to answer. You make tea. You give her some.
For the rest of your Antarctic season, neither of you acknowledge she ever said anything.
You're sitting in a group of people washing down gulps of Speight's Dark with jelly jars of Glenfiddich when you realize someone you don't know is rubbing your neck.
Then they start rubbing your back. Up and down, sideways. Amateur massage. Fingertips descend past the beltline more than once.
A voice at your ear: "Follow me, okay?"
You see who's said it to you.
You follow him/her out of the lounge and into the sauna. It's off. Not so hot in there.
Close the door. Lock it.
Warm and wet, someone's lips are clamped over yours. You have to giggle out of the corner of your mouth. This is like something you did when you were really small.
In the dark you can't see the buttons and zippers. You can't even remember what this person looks like. But they're warm and they feel nice.
"She was riding so much cock she lost all her credibility as a serious journalist."
"Huh?" I say, "Huh," a lot when I'm drunk.
"You know her, right?"
In the acceptable indecency of being nearly drunk, Janet took the opportunity of telling me what needed to be said behind closed doors--in the type of secrecy you can obtain only by wedging yourself between forty other people in a room eight feet by eight feet square. She was on my lap, the only free space around.
I was trying really hard to think of terrible things, lest having a gorgeous woman on my lap have the usual physical consequence, which she most certainly would detect in one of her ass muscles--causing me to become an Antarctic story.
It's bad to be a story. Our poor over-sexed friend was becoming one as Janet spawned the rumors that give people the ideas they need to have to modify their behavior. We were sitting on Bob's bed, crammed into the room on a Saturday night party, swilling Bushmills and talking as much shit as we could.
This is how you send people messages in Antarctica.
"What if she had been a guy?" I said, finally realizing what was being said to me. "Would she still have her credibility?"
"A guy can't do what she did. Guys can't have sex around here like women can. Women can get whatever they want, whenever they want it. Guys gotta beg for it."
I was going to say something egotistical like, "Yeah, well, sister, this guy doesn't have to BEG," and the first words actually came out my mouth when I stopped myself.
Janet said, "Like she was doing everyone. She'd come up from one blow job, call her office to send in a story, then go right to the next guy in line. She didn't think anyone knew. But damn. This is ant-fucking-arctica. We all know everything."
"Everything?" I asked.
"She had a list," Janet said. "She did everyone on the list. Don't think I haven't checked."
"And they admitted it? The guys?" I said. I finished my Bushmills and Bob, the consummate host, noted my empty glass and refilled it.
"All except you," she said. "But don't think we don't know you were her first conquest."
You know in movies where one character says something and the other spits a mouthful of liquid all over the place in shock? Do you know why that happens? It happens because something goes down the wrong pipe and you choke.
Bushmills hurts descending your windpipe.
I only spit a little on Janet.
"Didn't think we knew, did you?"
"You're so wrong," I said. I'd been there and I didn't remember being "had". I remembered going back to my room to listen to my roommate erk himself into temporary ecstasy over some internet porn he'd downloaded to his laptop.
Janet replayed a conversation I'd had with the journalist the prior year in an Antarctic bar, word for word. It freaked me out. It's like she tape recorded the whole conversation.
I was flirting like a madman with the tall, blonde woman who'd just gone ice diving. She was drinking boilermakers to get trashed and laid, as she'd said to me directly.
I thought she was joking.
"You mean you didn't?" Janet said, summoning up all the incredulity one can when in a vicious Bushmills stupor.
"You're accusing me of getting a blowjob I never got and besmirching my good name as the result," I complained. "The least that could happen is I get the goddamned blowjob so I can have the experience to go along with the bad rep."
"Don't push it, you sick fuck," Janet said. "We're all on to you."
Then she got off the bed and went into the bathroom to puke.
I've always admired that about women. They can puke at will.
When she came out she said, "You know what's even sicker--I believe you."
Then she left.
So did I.