By Nicholas Johnson

Johnson’s savagely humorous [book] is a grunt’s-eye view of worry and loathing, conceitedness and madness in a dysfunctional, dystopian closed group. It’s like M*A*S*H on ice, a bleak, black comedy.”—The Times of London

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An adventurous woman once left a pile of food in the hall for less than one minute and returned to find a bag of avocados missing. “No one skuas3 a bag of avocados,” she said angrily. This incident recurs, but the objects change, from hot pots to bundles of clothes hangers. Despite problems of liberal interpretation, skuaing is a treasured community practice, convenient and practical for some, and for others a fond hobby, like rooting through thrift stores, but where everything is free4. Aside from the tally counter, I had recently skuaed a functional light bulb (an item sometimes scarce for those who don’t know anyone in Housing), a bag of seaweed, a bottle of cumin, the sheet music for Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a reference book of bone fractures and their treatments, with photos and X-rays.

It is a classic story of fingee awakening, and it makes old-timers laugh because everyone remembers that brief period where going to Antarctica somehow meant going back in time to a world without technology. Before I came down I imagined I would be sleeping in a hollowed-out pit of snow and braining seals for food. I had never imagined institutional modular dorms with laundry rooms and foosball tables. Few come to the ice prepared for relatively comfortable quarters. So it is no surprise that neither are they prepared for the entrenched class structure by which comfortable quarters are allocated.

I had just arrived back in McMurdo for my third summer, but this time I would stay for the winter also: a year contract. I was in Sid’s room with him and Milo, upstairs in 155. I had expected them to be wild-eyed and deranged, with big beards and lips glistening with spittle, but Sid and Milo, both on the tail end of a winter contract, didn’t look so bad. Sid’s face looked a bit pasty, and Milo was a little haggard, but overall they seemed fit and tranquil. A few minutes after I greeted them I realized that the winter-overs were emitting a low harmonic drone that I was overwhelming with my turbulent piercing chatter.

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