12 March 2006

Antarctica Now

The Chronicles of a Proud Liberal Veteran


by Dave in Texas


Antarctica, shit. I'm still only in Antarctica. Every time I think I'm going to wake up back on the ice floe. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing... I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce. When I was here I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into McMurdo. I've been here a week now. Waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I stay in this tent I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the snow he gets stronger.

Each time I look around the tent flaps move in a little tighter.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service.

******

I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn't even know it yet. Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a glacier that snaked through the ice like a main circuit cable and plugged straight into Byrd. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's memory, any more than being back in McMurdo was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling
my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.

*******

How many penguins had I already killed? There was those six that I know about for sure. Close enough to blow their last fishy breath in my face. But this time it was an American and an officer. That wasn't supposed to make any difference to me, but it did. Shit...charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out snow shovels to Roald Amundsen. I took the mission. What the hell else was I gonna do? But I didn't know what I'd do when I found him.

*********

The sled dog, the one they called Shep, was from New Orleans. He was wrapped too tight for Antarctica, probably wrapped too tight for New Orleans. Lance on the forward reins was a famous surfer from the beaches south of LA. You look at him and you wouldn't believe he ever fired a harpoon in his whole life. Clean, Mr. Clean, was from some South Bronx shithole. Ice and snow of Antarctica really put the zap on his head. Then there was Phillips, the sled driver. It might have been my mission, but it sure as shit was Phillips' sled.

*********

At first, I thought they handed me the wrong dossier. I couldn't believe they wanted this man dead. Third generation Annapolis, top of his class. North Pole, Virginia. About a thousand decorations. Etc, etc... I'd seen his handwriting on the parchment and it really put a hook in me. But I couldn't connect up that scribbling with this man. Like they said he had an impressive career. Maybe too impressive... I mean perfect. He was being groomed for one of the top slots of the corporation. Admiral, Assistant Director of Human Resources, anything... In 1912 he returned from a tour of advisory command in McMurdo and things started to slip. The report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Woodrow Wilson was restricted. Seems they didn't dig what he had to tell them. During the next few months he made three requests for transfer to flight training at Lakehurst NAV New Jersey. And he was finally accepted. Flight school? He was 38 years old. Why the fuck would he do that? 1926 he joined the US Navy Flying Boats, returns to Antarctica ...

*********

It was the Amundsen Expedition, First of the Norwegians, our escorts to the mouth of the Onyx river. But they were supposed to be waiting for us another 30 kilometers ahead. Well, Dog-Sled Mobile, those boys just couldn't stay put. First of the Norwegians was an old accordian division that had cashed in its horses for dog sleds, and gone tear-assing around 'Tica, looking for the shit. They've given Charlie a few surprises in their time here. What they were mopping up now hadn't even happened an hour ago.

*********

AMUNDSEN
"What happened to your mission, captain ? Did Axel Heiberg forget all about you ?"

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"Sir, two places we can get into the river. Here and here. It's pretty wide delta but these are the only two spots I'm really sure of."

AMUNDSEN
"That weather station your pointing at is kinda hairy, Proud Liberal Chopper Jock."

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"What do you mean hairy, sir ?"

AMUNDSEN
"It's hairy. Got some pretty heavy ice there. I lost a few recon sleds there now and again. Is that goddamn Mount Fridtjof Nansen via the Liv Glacier? Damn Norwegian names all sound the same. Slublog, do you know anything about that point at Mount Fridtjof Nansen?"

SLUBLOG
"That's a fantastic peak."

AMUNDSEN
"Peak ?"

SLUBLOG
"About six feet. It got both the long right with left slide. It's unbelieveable, it's just Tube City..."

AMUNDSEN
"Well why the hell didn't you tell me that before ? There aren't any good peaks in this whole, shitty continent! It’s all goddamn ice floe."

SLUBLOG
"It's really hairy in there,sir. That's where we lost McDonnel - they harpooned the hell out of us. That's Charlie's point."

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"Sir, we can go there tomorrow at dawn. There's always a good off-shore breeze in the morning."

CHIEF
"We may not be able to get the sled in. The river may be too frozen."

AMUNDSEN
"We'll pick your sled up and put it down like a baby, right where you want it. This is First of the Norse, Snow Cav, son- snow-mobile. I can take that point and hold it as long as I like -- and you can get anywhere you want up that river that suits you, young captain. Hell, a six foot peak.

You take a steamship back to division -- Slublog, take Lance with you – let him pick out a board, and bring me my Yater Spoon -- the eight six."

SLUBLOG
"I don't know, sir -- it's -- it's --"

AMUNDSEN
"What is it explorer?"

SLUBLOG
"It's pretty hairy in there - it's Charlie's point..."

AMUNDSEN
"Charlie don't ski!"

********

You smell that? Do you smell that? Penguin shit, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of penguin shit in the morning. You know, one time we had an iceberg shelled, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked on. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' penguin body. The smell, you know that penguin shit smell, the whole iceberg. Smelled like - victory.

*********

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK hears something :

SLUBLOG
"What is it? Enemy?"

Suddenly a walrus appears from the ice cave. PLCJ and Slublog start running back to the sled, Slublog yelling:

SLUBLOG
"It's a Walrus, a fucking walrus!"

CHIEF
"Let's go !"

SLUBLOG
"Never get offa the sled..."

CHIEF
"What happened, how many is it ?"

SLUBLOG
"A fucking walrus, fucking walrus... I don't wanna take this goddamn shit man... I didn't come here for this, I don't fucking need this. All I wanted to do is fucking cook, I just wanted to learn to fucking cook. Allright, It's allright, it's gonna be all right... never get offa sled... Hi walrus, hi walrus..."

PLCJ (v.o.)
"Never get off of the sled. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way. Byrd got off the boat. He split from the whole fucking program. How did that happen? What did he see here that first tour? 38 fucking years old. If he joined the US Navy Flying Boats, there was no way you'd ever get above Ensign. Byrd knew what he was giving up. The more I read and began to understand, the more I admired him. His family and friends couldn't understand it, and they couldn't talk him out of it. He had to apply three times and he had to put up with a ton of shit, but when he threatened to resign, they gave it to him. The next youngest guy in his class was half his age. They must have thought he was some far-out old man humping it over that course. I did it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me. A tough motherfucker. He finished. He could have gone for Admiral, but he went for himself instead."

********

There has been a new development regarding your mission which we must now communicate to you. Months ago a man was ordered on a mission which was identical to yours. We have reason to believe that he is now operating with Byrd. McMurdo was carrying him MIA for his family's sake. They assumed he was dead. Then they intercepted a letter he tried to send his wife :

SELL THE HORSE
SELL THE SLED
SELL THE KIDS
FIND SOMEONE ELSE
FORGET IT
I'M NEVER COMING BACK
FORGET IT

Captain Alton Parker - he was with Byrd

***********

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"Chief, tell them to hold fire. It's just little harpoons. They're just trying to scare us."

CHIEF
"You got us into this mess and you can't get us out 'cos you don't know where the hell you're going, do you ? Do you, you son of a bitch, you fuck !"

Chief is hit by a harpoon :

CHIEF
"A harpooooon."

Chief dies.

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"My mission is to make it up into Victoria. There's a Naval explorer up there who's gone insane. I'm supposed to kill him."

SLUBLOG
"That's fucking typical, shit. Fucking Antarctica mission. We got to go up there so you can kill one of our own guys. That's fucking great, that's just fucking great! That's fucking crazy. I thought you were going in there to blow up a bridge, or some fucking railroad tracks or something."

PROUD LIBERAL CHOPPER JOCK
"Sorry...there aren’t any bridges or railroad tracks up there. It’s freaking Antarctica."

SLUBLOG
"No, no wait. We go together. On the sled, we'll go with you. On the sled. OK ?"


Again they move on, but now it's only PLCJ, Shep and Slublog:

PLCJ (v.o.)
"Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most, much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him."

They meet a group of Argentines in boats :

PLCJ
"Just keep moving... Shep, keep your paws away from the gun."

SHEP
“Woof”!

Finally they arrive to Byrd compound :

PARKER
"It's all right, it's all right. You're all being approved."

SHEP
"Arf. Woof. Whine."

PARKER
"Sound the siren...There's mines over there, there's mines over there, and watch out those goddam penguins bite, I'll tell ya. Eh, that's a pretty one. Move in right in towards me... I´m an American ! Yeah, American civilian. Hi yanks... American, american civilian. It's all right. And you got the cigarettes, that's what I've been dreaming of."

PLCJ
"Who are you ?"

PARKER
"Who are you ... ? I'm an explorer. I've covered the ice since 94. I've been in McMurdo, Prudhoe, Rejkavik, 'Tica... I´ll tell you one thing, this sled is a mess, man."

PLCJ
"Who are all these people?"

PARKER
"Yeah, well... They think you have come to take him away. I hope that isn't true."

PLCJ
"Take who away ?"

PARKER
"Him. Admiral Byrd. These are all his children, as far as you can see."

PLCJ
"Could we, uh, talk to Admiral Byrd?"

PARKER
"Hey, man, you don't talk to the Admiral. You listen to him. The an's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic snse. I mean sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to hm, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you on the ice floe, and he'll say do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you -- I mean I'm no, I can't -- I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent icebergs -- I mean --"

PLCJ
"Stay with the sled."

PARKER
"Hey, uh, don't go -- don't go without me, OK? I want to get a picture.

He can be terrible, he can be mean, he can be right. He's fighting the war. He's a great man. I mean... I wish I had words. I can tell you the other day he wanted to hump me."

PLCJ
"Why did he want to hump you ?"

PARKER
"Because I took his picture. He said if I take his picture again - I'm gonna hump you. And he meant it! So you just lay it cool, lay back, dig it... He gets friendly again, really does. But you don't judge him like an ordinary man.

OK, now watch it. They are americans... americans. Can you feel the vibe of this place ? Let me take a picture. Hey, hello... hello. Would you hold it for a minute."

PARKER
"The penguin heads. You're looking at the penguin heads. I, uh -- sometimes he goes too far, you know -- he's the first one to admit it!"

SHEP
"Woof woof. Woof!"

PARKER
"Wrong! Wrong! If you could have heard the man, just two days ago, if you could have heard the man! You going to call him crazy?"

SHEP
"Woofing A!"

PLCJ
"I just want to talk to him."

PARKER
"Well man, he's gone away. He's gone away. He disappeared into the jungle with his penguins..."

PLCJ
"I'll wait for him."

PARKER
"... he feels comfortable with his penguins. He forgets him with his penguins. He forgets himself..."

SHEP
"Woof woof! Arf."

PLCJ
"Ok Shep. We'll go back to the sled for a while."

SHEP
"Arf!"

PLCJ and Shep return to the sled :

*********

"I've seen horrors...horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that...But you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face. And a chest. And a left elbow...And you must make a bestest friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your bestest friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with US Navy Flying Boats...Seems a thousand centuries ago...We went into a hangar to change the oil.

We left the hangar after we had changed the oil, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and unscrewed every drain plug. There they were in a pile...A pile of little drain plugs. And I remember...I...I...I cried...I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized...like I was shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters...These were penguins...trained cadres...these penguins who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had little penguin children, who were filled with love...but they had the strength...the strength...to do that. If I had ten divisions of those penguins our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have penguins who are moral...and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordal instincts to kill without feeling...without passion... without judgement...without judgement. Because it's judgement that defeats us. "

*********

They were going to make me a grownup for this and I wasn't even in their fucking thread any more. Everybody wanted me to do it, him most of all. I felt like he was up there, waiting for me to take the pain away. He just wanted to go out like an explorer, or a viking, standing up, not like some poor, wasted, rag-assed liar about having served in the military. Even the ice floe wanted him dead, and that's who he really took his orders from anyway. That and momma.

*********

Horror. Horror has a face...

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