11-2-19 The Smell of Halloween

Tales of Antarctic shenanigans are legion. How could they not be? It’s a land first colonized by the US Navy and sailors aren’t known for misbehavior for nothing. It wasn’t long ago that stories were published of excessive alcohol and promiscuity, tales the program was actively trying to combat. It was a rather unfortunate and unfair portrayal of the program (we make astronauts and, you know, take pictures of black holes, but whatever, minor details). Nevertheless, scientists and support staff are going to cut loose from time-to-time so it was no surprise to see gonorrhea running rampant at the Halloween party. In fact, it was the biggest gonorrhea I’ve ever seen. Had to have been 5’6”. Turns out dancing really makes gonorrhea come alive.

The medical staff usually consists of a lead physician and a PA or NP. This year, the PA/NP role was fulfilled by an infectious disease doctor. She and the flight nurse dressed up as gonorrhea. I’m pretty sure it is a far superior manner of warning off would-be suitors than a wedding ring could ever hope to be. The doc is married to the lead physician. I haven’t seen the flight nurse yet today.

Halloween in McMurdo is quite the scene. It is one of the bigger holidays on station. People spend days working on elaborate, and often pun based, costumes. The craft room is a mad house. The regular crafters all seem a bit irked by the sudden influx of bodies into their space the week before Halloween. The Big Gym gets decorated. There are costume contests, both individual and group, followed by a massive dance party. It has been an ongoing tradition for years.

As has the conversation regarding the smell of the Big Gym at the end of Halloween. Antarctica, for being such a pristine environment, has a few awkward smells. I volunteered that it smelled of old socks and desperation (station wisdom says that if you’re not paired up by Halloween, it’s going to be a long, lonely season). I was admonished and abruptly informed that the correct identification of the smell had been previously, and definitively, determined.

The Big Gym at the end of Halloween smells like “mouth.”

I didn’t even stay to the end of the night and the gym was already taking on a “mouthy” odor. Mouthy and dark. The Gym stays minimally lit throughout the evening. While in the middle of it, in the middle of Macklemore bumping over the PA system, in the middle of the sweat and dancing and flirting, we could be anywhere.

And then you walk outside. There’s a blast of cold air when you first walk out. Even on a warm night like this years Halloween, it still stings just a bit. And it’s bright. We are in 24-hour daylight. The blinking when party goers first walk into the light is comical. The Gym is at the edge of the station, just to the left of us is the sea ice. And across that the Royal Society mountain range. They seem almost an arm reach away but are deceptively further. Looking left is the scenery that draws people to this hostile, barren land.

And the right, people trudging up the hill back to the dorms. Some in costumes in disarray and some costumes discarded entirely. And in the morning, brunch.


*I still haven’t downloaded any pictures from my camera. But will. At some point.

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