Monday, July 18, 2011

That Time I Was a Door-Decorator for Eight Months (Or, Why Balloons are Important)

In my first year at the University of Toronto, I stayed at a residence that was brand new and had no name. We called it the 89 Chestnut Residence, because it was located at 89 Chestnut Street, and we were a really clever bunch. It was a hotel that the school bought to accomodate the extra influx of students accepted that year due to the Ontario double cohort of 2003. It is no longer a U of T residence and is something of a universal student dorm for several of Toronto's downtown schools, but for that glorious first year, it was just for the narcissistic bunch of us that made up U of T's off-campus first years. Also, part of Resident Evil: Apocalypse was filmed right outside while I lived there, and that was pretty sweet and one of my friends saw Milla Jovovich walking around Nathan Philips Square.

One of my floor-mates (17th floor what up) and sort-of roommates was a lovely young woman I'll call Kate. Kate was a sort-of roommate because our rooms were attached by a common door, and all four of us - Kate, myself, and each of our own actual roommates - got along really well and pretty much just left the door open all the time, treating the two rooms as one big kitchenless studio apartment. Kate was a great friend (as were the other two) and we spent a lot of time together that year.

It was my friendship with Kate that led to my participation in some residence activity I wouldn't normally have gotten involved in as a party-hopping alternativish 19-year-old. I was never much of a "joiner," but Kate was quite the opposite. We used to say only half-jokingly that she would become Canada's first female prime minister. (Canada's first elected female prime minister. YOU DON'T COUNT, MS. CAMPBELL.) I still believe this is a strong possibility. Kate became the president of our residence immediately and I believe that some time after I dropped out, she eventually became president of the entire university. When we were 19, I was trying to figure out how to get my friends into bars underage, and Kate was trying to figure out how to get her friends into voting. She was passionate about student government, and is now working for someone important in the province of Ontario. So as you can imagine, Kate was also a persuasive kind of person, and as such she pretty successfully managed to get some of her friends, like myself, to take part in things like the residence dance that I wouldn't normally have been interested in. And that's how I became one of my floor's two birthday door-decorators.

That's right: Door-decorators. Officially I think we were called the "Social Committee," but that's really all the job entailed: we were given a list of everyone's birthdays on the 17th floor and we were told to decorate their doors on the proper dates.

Now, I don't know much about birthday decorations (is there really all that much to know?) but one thing I do know is that balloons are kind of a big deal. Birthdays = balloons. It's pretty much a no-brainer, right? So when I agreed to help decorate people's doors on their birthdays, I figured it was a pretty simple way to show support for Kate and help her out and be one of those joiner people: all it would entail was cutting and taping some streamers and blowing up some balloons and maybe hanging up a "Happy Birthday" sign before proceeding to get drunk with said birthday person, assuming they were awesome. I had this.

However, we reached a problem. The only other member of the Social Committee was someone who I will call Penelope. After Penelope and I volunteered for the lame job and, shockingly, were uncontested, we met and shook hands and the first thing she said to me was "I don't like balloons."

I thought that was a rather strange thing to say, but I wanted to be polite, so I probably mumbled something about "Oh, yeah, balloons fucking suck ass." But then Penelope proceeded to elaborate and told me that she had a terrifying and debilitating fear of balloons, and that as long as she was on the Social Committee, we couldn't use balloons on people's doors. I read her face to see if I was once again being a pathetic nerd missing the joke, but alas, I was not. She was serious.

Further explanation revealed that it wasn't balloons themselves that were the problem. Penelope was not afraid that balloons were going to slide under her door at night and assault her family and microwave her pets and smother her in her sleep. She did not have nightmares about balloon monsters terrorizing Tokyo or scaling the Empire State Building. What Penelope was afraid of was balloons popping. She avoided places that had balloons because she was utterly petrified that the balloons might pop all at once and she would have to hear the popping and that would be the worst thing ever. So she wanted to make sure, right away, that I was cool with not putting balloons on people's doors for their birthdays because the thought of it sent her spiralling into a Fear Factor-style panic, except instead of having to eat elephant dick or lie in a tub of scorpions, she would have to stand beside a balloon and maybe even touch it.


Look, I'm not here to judge. People have weird, irrational fears. I am one of them. I am terrified of those stairs that have spaces between each step because I feel like I'm going to slip and fall through the cracks and break my skull, even when the crack is only like four inches wide and the ample junk that resides in my trunk would never possibly be able to cram through. I occasionnally get out of the shower and call my boyfriend, who's in the basement, to come upstairs and kill a bug for me. I have to call him on his cell phone, rather then go downstairs and get him, because I can't walk away or else I might lose sight of it and I know it will eventually eat me in my sleep.

But can we maybe agree that although sometimes irrational, a fear of heights and a fear of bugs are pretty understandable? Heights are bad because they can kill you if you fall off of them. Some bugs have poisonous stingers, and it's safest to just hate them all, even the tame ones that crawl around my bathtub in eastern Ontario. And even when those fears manifest themselves in silly ways, like being afraid of slipping through impossible-to-slip-through cracks, at least we know those fears have their base in something rational from an evolutionary perspective. Heights and venom = death.

But a fear of balloons is stupid, guys. Maybe some of you are also afraid of balloons and I'm really sorry about that and it probably sucks a lot for you. I honestly don't judge and I'll try and respect your fear by not popping balloons in your face. But you have to know, though, right? I just admitted it about my fear of tiny Canadian bugs, so don't be shy. Even though it's your own fear, you have to know it's fucking stupid. You have to know that balloons are actually harmless. Sure, it sucks when they pop unexpectedly because there's a loud bang and it can make you jump and spill your red wine all over yourself. But that's it. That's all that's going to happen. Unless you're walking across a tightrope seventy feet in the air and there are balloons everywhere and you're scared one will pop and make you lose your balance and die, then there's no reason to be afraid of balloons. And I promise there were no tightropes on the 17th floor.

So when Penelope told me about her debilitating and life-altering balloonophobia, I said that it wasn't a problem, we didn't need balloons for the doors. But secretly, I was hating her a little bit for being my Social Committee partner. Because why, Penelope? Why? Why on earth would you volunteer for a decorating job if you are afraid of balloons? Balloons are part of decorations, end of story. It would be like taking a job at a pancake restaurant and then revealing that you're afraid of spatulas. Or securing a job at a tent factory and admitting you crumple in the face of zippers. Or getting a gig in porn and then informing the producer that comically oversized dildos give you the creepies.

Penelope, you were making things difficult for me.

The first birthday rolled around a week or two later, and she and I got together to discuss what to use to decorate the door. We didn't have much of a budget for fancy Party Mart decals, so we bought some streamers from the dollar store. We considered a "happy birthday" sign that we could switch between doors when appropriate, but that seemed inefficient for a college dorm where drunken idiots are likely to run around stealing things and stuffing them into their underwear or whatever it is that drunken idiots do - you'll have to ask me when I'm drunk - and we didn't want to have to buy multiple signs. We decided we would just make our own signs on our computers and print them off.

Of course, two average teenage girls circa 2003 were not typically well-equipped to work with graphic design programs. So we used Word, like everyone expected us to. And we fell into the horrible overly excited, clip-art-and-Comic-Sans-font-fuelled design trap that leads to websites like these and flyers for terrible church bake-sales. Signs that looked like this:

I am so, so sorry to my graphic designer friends for making you all look at this.

Or this:
Seriously, I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to never speak to me again.

Do you see how pathetic this all was? With a limited budget and no artistic talent whatsoever, Penelope and I really needed some fucking balloons. Streamers look terrible if you don't have balloons to hide the tape in the corners. We couldn't afford fancy decorations like real signs. And really, what else is there, especially if you're pretty apathetic about the job to begin with and you don't actually give a crap about Julie or Phil?*

After awhile, it became pretty embarrassing to look at these terrible signs as the centerpieces to some cheap paper streamers, and we ran out of streamer paper after a couple of months. Penelope and I kept meaning to buy more, but we would forget until it was the day of someone's birthday and then we were too lazy to care, so we would just print off the signs and that's all the decorations would consist of: a single 8.5 x 11 " sheet filled with crappy Microsoft Word clip art and near-sarcastic tidings of enthusiasm.

By midway through the second semester, I'm pretty sure we forgot about the task entirely. So on behalf of the Social Committee, please accept my sincerest apologies for not acknowledging your birthday if you were born between March and May. I can't be blamed for my own half-assery in the job though; it would have all gone down differently if I had been allowed to use balloons. Balloons are fun, and help make streamers look better, and maybe we would have even gotten to use a helium machine and talk like chipmunks, and that's pretty much every 19-year-old pothead's favourite thing ever.

So to all the dorm residents out there, if you're thinking of volunteering for your Social Committee or Door Decoration Enthusiasts Squad or Birthday Justice League or whatever your residence calls it, please make sure you don't have any dumb fears first. Because otherwise, your fellow committee members will resent you and think you're weird and they might even blog about it in eight years and make you look really stupid.

*I have made up these names. Julie and Phil are not actual people, nor are they pseudonyms for actual people. However, I smoked a lot of pot when I was 19 and as such there may or may not have been real live people on my floor coincidentally named Julie and Phil whom I have since completely forgotten about. If there were, I'm really sorry that I just announced to the internet that I never gave a crap about your birthday. I hope you enjoyed some really really delicious cake, and that you got laid by that hot person you liked back in 2003, and that all your enemies were either sunburned or frostbitten, depending on the month you were born in.

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