Ups and downs – aka Life – even in Antarctica.

The week since Happy Camper has been a bit of a rough one for me, with no special fun things to report on and actually some conflict and drama to contend with, as well as numerous little things going wrong. In the interest of keeping you all abreast of the nitty-gritty side of life down here, I shall lay it all out for you. And after the bombardment of pictures of the landscape in the last few posts, this will mostly be picture-free, so you can breathe a sigh of relief!

On Monday, my roommate stopped by the kitchen to let me know she’d be moving out this week to move in with her best friend who is coming down here on a month long contract. She checked with housing and they had no intention of moving anyone else in with me until they needed to started placing the winter staff who would be arriving in February. So hooray! I’d have a single room for a little while!

Unfortunately, not long after this excellent news, the poo hit the fan, figuratively speaking. There had been some issues brewing over the last few weeks relating to another cook’s observance of basic food safety rules. The cook-in-question was technically under Sarah’s and my “jurisdiction” so we had been trying to correct these mishaps as they occurred but we were finding we had to make the same corrections over and over again. That day, during lunch, there were no fewer than three of these same instances so I finally took it to the only direct supervisor I have – Russell and Todd – to ask what might be a more effective means of resolution. To make a long and not very interesting story short, the issue got sorted but while I believed I had taken the correct steps to resolve the issue, Todd made the comment that he “hoped this wouldn’t turn into a catfight.” Ladies and gentleman, I was quite literally struck dumb by this comment. I opened and closed my mouth trying to compute how and why he would think that at any point I had done anything that would make him think I was being catty. Surely I did what you are meant to do when faced with a workplace issue? Address the issue directly and if you don’t get the desired reaction, seek the advice and assistance of a higher authority? No? It is further complicated by the fact that my position is hazy relative to the position of the cook-in-question – while Sarah and I have shared a somewhat supervisory role, neither of us are sous chefs so technically neither of us is a supervisor, although we are both expected to attend the weekly supervisors’ meeting. Furthermore, none of the actual sous chefs claim us so it’s not like there’s a natural middle manager we could approach on the matter. It’s all very confusing. And to make matters worse, the cook-in-question got very upset with me because they saw my going to Todd and Russell as a personal attack. And I was quite simply livid at Todd’s incredibly sexist, inappropriate response.

Fortunately, after work, Roger walked me out to Hut Point and listened to me rant for a good 30 minutes while I drank a glass of wine or two and encouraged me to wait until I’d calmed down to address the sexism issue and as for the cook-in-question, well, there’s not much I can do if they’re determined to take the matter personally except to wait until the hurt feelings have dissipated. Then we watched some penguins playing on the ice and that kind of perked me up too because, come on, where else do you get to watch penguins frolicking?


Then on Tuesday, Josh had asked to spend some time with me on his day off. I think he had hoped to go to the bar but as I was still feeling slightly raw from the unpleasantness the day before – I opted instead for the Coffee House where we sat and had hot chocolate and talked. It was during this conversation that Josh informed that “on a scale of 1-10, [I’m] a 5 or 6…but [my] personality makes me a 20”. Tell me this young man doesn’t know how to sweet talk a woman!! I laughed so hard I snorted hot chocolate out my nose – a response I don’t think he knew how to interpret but if he had known more Wellesley Women, he’d surely know what I thought of his rating my physical attractiveness as separate from my personality, let alone rating me at all!. But I think I knew what he was trying to say, so instead of getting irate and giving out to him for attempting to reduce my awesomeness to some kind of rating, I tried as best I could to be explicit that while I enjoyed his company and was pleased to call him a friend, we would never be more than that.

The next morning, the big news was that one of our bakers had been fired – apparently the station has a “Three Strikes” policy and while her job performance had been phenomenal, she had apparently been posing a problem to housing, as they were having difficulty placing roommates with her. Whether this is the whole truth or not is beyond me but this was the general consensus from everyone I talked to, including the baker herself. But I heard she’d been invited to apply again for next year so here’s hoping she comes back because her cookie and cupcake creations were truly inspired!

On Thursday, I brought my coffee tumbler with its built-in French press to the dish room to be washed since I’d used it at Happy Camper and it had been in my bag with all my grubby clothes and hiking boots. It’s one of those design-your-own tumblers where you unscrew the bottom and insert a photo or a collage or some such and then screw the bottom back on. As a Christmas gift to me, Roger had designed a collage of pictures from down here and it had turned out beautifully and I had absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the instructions that stated I needed to handwash the tumbler and as his collage was printed on regular paper, not photo paper, it disintegrated in our dish machine. I felt horrible and was so sad! And THEN I realized that I’d missed the morning mail room hours so the package I had waiting for me would have to sit there until lunch! I know it sounds like a small thing but on top of everything else, it just made me feel even more miserable about things.

But by the end of the day, Roger had promised to remake the collage and we’d laminate it this time and I picked up the most awesome care package from Tiffany Vora – lip gloss and fun hair ties and some dried figs and a package with four little water guns! Sarah and I each took one and we gave the others to Russell and Amy, with plans to stage sneak attacks on people in the galley at random intervals – our code word would be “Machiavelli”.

Then that evening, I attended a lecture by Dr. Scott Parazynski, MD. For those who have no idea who he is, well, he’s the only person to have gone to space (5 times! And spacewalked 7 times!) and summited Mount Everest and he happens to have recently taken over as Director of the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Polar Operations. UTMB’s Center for Polar Operations handles all our physical qualification paperwork and this year was something of a disaster as the contract for all support services for the United States Antarctic Program changed hands from Raytheon to Lockheed Martin and things got all screwy. So Scott flew down to discuss the changes they would be implementing to make the process smoother next year…but first, he’d give a lecture on just how fully awesome he is. And trust me, he is awesome. As my friend Asad asked during the Q&A, “So, is your wife really hot or really super hot?” And listening to him describe the feeling of holding a piece of the moon on top of Everest with a crescent moon in the sky above him, waiting for the sunrise…yeah.

scott moon and moon

The people that come down here are so inspiring. I’m hoping to have a link to the presentation to share on here if my friend who took the video ever puts it on Youtube (WordPress doesn’t let me upload videos, yet). So that was a nice way to end yesterday.

Today has continued to look up a bit – I was able to get ahead on preparation, I did a good job on the sandwich line today, and I’ll probably be heading to the bar for a drink tonight. It would usually be my day off today, but I’m pulling a long week because Sarah and I did a little schedule shuffling. See, we’re both due a two day weekend for New Year’s and today is her birthday so she’s taking today and tomorrow off – which means I’m running the sandwich line – and then I’ll get Sunday and Monday off, which is ideal for me since it means I get to actually eat brunch like a normal person (instead of scrounging from the leftovers like usual) and it coordinates nicely with Roger’s regularly scheduled three day weekend so I’ll have someone with whom I can do things.

I feel I should say a quick word here explaining the firefighters’ schedules because it is probably the most coveted on station. The firefighters, unlike the galley crew, work 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Because a week has seven days, this would mean some weeks they would work a 96 hour week, so every other week, they get an extra day off called a “Kelly Day” or “K Day”. The “K Day” means that every other week, they get a three day weekend. And before you feel too badly for them having to spend 24 hours “at work” and think, “Oh, but they deserve a three day weekend after that much work!” you should know they freely admit they spend the majority of those hours on duty doing things like sleeping, watching movies, surfing the internet, having Nerf gun wars, playing video games, and other such nonsense, since fire calls aren’t exactly abundant down here.

So I suppose I should jump in the shower and get out to the bar so I can buy the birthday girl a drink! Hopefully with a two day weekend around the corner, things will continue their upswing!

*NB: I went ahead and looked up the derivation of the term “Kelly Day” because I’m a nerd and like to know these things. The term is derived from Chicago Mayor Edward J Kelly who strove to improve working conditions for the city’s professional firefighters, including raising wages and, in 1936, mandating that every firefighter receive a day off for every seven days spent on duty. I’ve also read unconfirmed reports that Mayor Kelly was, in fact, a firefighter’s son. Awww….


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