~ Wednesday, February 23, 2005 ~
Okay, so I've just conceived and carried out my most interesting prank yet. After hearing all sorts of stuff about Christo's Gates and feeling kind of taken with the concept of giving art to the public for them to enjoy like that, and after wishing for the millionth time that I could be in New York instead of being in stupid Philadelphia, where your 300-year-old Elite Social Club excommunicates you for ever deigning to have a conversation with a stranger, I decided to make a christogate for RRC. RRC has a stoop-ish-type thing in the front of the building (yes, *the* building--it used to be two, but then the library and the main building were joined, so now the college is comprised of a grand total of one building) with two flattish steps leading up to a white platform, upon which rest two cylindrical white columns, ornamented at their bases by ponderous planters containing a few remnants of plant material. The columns support a little balcony, with a waist-high wrought-iron railing, that protrudes from the second floor of the building. Apparently, nobody ever uses this balcony, although it looks accessible and welcoming from the exterior. You can kind of tell, from this picture, what I'm talking about.
Yep, that's the extent of our "campus". The balcony's hard to distinguish, but that small white blob in the center of the building is the becolumned stoop leading to the front door.
Anyway, I was feeling mischievous and creative and restless, and wishing I could be around the christogates, so in honor of Purim Katan, I decided to bring the gates to RRC by installing one at the entryway. I planned to have it visible for the first time on Wednesday morning, which was the first day of normal classes after a long weekend. (I was hoping it would be more noticeable if people were looking at it after several days of not looking at it.) Glitter was supposed to help me, but she decided on Monday that she's been reprimanded too many times for too many stupid things, and for some reason she was *sure* that someone would become angry about the appearance of a christogate, and she didn't want any more black marks on her record, so she bowed out. That made my plans more complicated...you see, Glitter drives an SUV. I have a bike. Jarah was into the idea, but was too busy to help, so I was on my own. Thus, my original idea of using three wooden beams bought from Home Depot, nailed into the appropriate shape, and spray-painted "saffron", fell to pieces. Instead, I had to do what I could with whatever I could carry in my backpack while I biked.
So, yesterday (Tuesday), the last day of our long weekend, I found a jewel of a fabric store in Germantown called Gaffney Fabrics, where I purchased six yards of bright yellow-orange wonder fabric (it didn't ravel, it tore straight in both directions, it had just enough elasticity, it draped beautifully, it didn't wrinkle, AND it was just the right color) for 1.99/yard. Score. I also asked for a couple of cardboard bolts that they might not need (the cylindrical kind, not the flat rectangles), and received two for free. Double score. Those were long enough that biking home was a challenge, but I finally figured out that I could pass them through the straps in my backpack, so that they rested horizontally between my backpack and my back. The nice drivers made sure to leave me an extra few feet as they passed me.
I arrived home, reorganized my stuff, devised a vague plan for how I was going to manage all this, and set off to RRC. It was a completely different challenge keeping the cardboard bolt (I decided I only needed one) at just the right angle as it poked out of my backpack--not so far forward that it'll fall out, not so far sideways that it'll be knocked by the passing cars, and not so straight up-and-down that it'll render my helmet mirror ineffective. Don't worry, I arrived safely. My next challenge was to look like I'm entering the building for a legitimate reason, but to then be forgotten, so as to avoid having to leave when the building officially closes. Now, the building closes at 5 on normal days, but I've frequently noticed that if I'm working in some classroom when 5 pm comes around, the custodian will poke his head in, remind me to turn the lights off when I leave, and leave me alone to finish my work. So, I walked in all smiley and greeted Bubbe, the receptionist, trying to look like it was a perfectly unremarkable thing for me to be carrying a five-foot-long cardboard cylinder. I plunked myself down in our Media Center and hammered out some homework for Learner's Minyan, a class in which our weekly assignments involve, among other things, making recordings to prove that we can sing through certain prayers with sufficient aplomb. It was already 5:30 by the time I finished (I was a week behind, and I took the oppportunity to go a week ahead, so I was doing three assignments instead of one, which took a while) and no one had even come in at 5 to tell me to turn the lights out. I must have been in the middle of a recording or something at that time, and the custodian must not have wanted to interrupt me. I congratulated myself on my good luck.
Then I realized that it was already 5:30, and I had to be home by 7 for a study date. It takes me about 25 minutes to bike home, so that left me just over an hour to pull the whole thing off. I left the media center and headed back to the lobby (Bubbe was gone, thank goodness; she's too sweet to entangle in even a minor act of vandalism) and climbed the stairs to the balcony entrance, which isn't even an entrance at all, but rather a large window that has to be opened. Actually, I had to pull up the blinds, the sash, the screen, and the extra pane of glass (what are those called? Storm windows?) and that presented a challenge of its own, but I got it in the end, and the window didn't even break. Phew. I knew there were still plenty of people in the building, even though it was officially closed to students, so after sneaking out onto the balcony I pulled the blinds back down to avoid arousing suspicion suspicion. It was windy and getting windier, so the opened window let plenty of cold air in and blew the blind around, but you know how people are in a space where they work all the time. They see their expectations and not their surroundings, so they don't notice changes, and although several times I froze as I heard someone go by, nobody noticed me up there.
Four of the six yards I tore away from the other two, and then I tore those four yards down the center the long way, planning to wrap each resulting 12' x 2.5' strip around one of the columns. The remaining two yards was going to be for the curtain/skirt/thing. I ducked into a classroom to do the handiwork (my fingers were getting too cold to thread the needle): I folded over three or four inches from the selvage on the skirt, and sewed a casing (with the grossest running stitch I have ever sewn, but I was in a hurry) around the bolt. Then I took my skirt and my two strips and tried to figure out what to do with them. The next 45 minutes involved a lot of me going back and forth from the balcony to the outside, up and down stairs and in and out the window, tweaking it until it looked right. I ended up making a long rope out of postage tape (lucky thing I brought that with me, because I hadn't planned on using it), threading it through the cardboard bolt, around the base of a post in the balcony railing, back through the cardboard bolt, and around another post. Then I fastened its ends together. That way, the bolt was positioned several feet below the bottom of the balcony, and the skirt fell to about three feet above my head.
Now I had to do the sides of the gate. Originally, I'd intended to encase the white columns in the fabric strips, but even though the strips were about twice as wide as the columns, they still weren't wide enough to stretch all the way around (darn geometry), and there wasn't enough yardage to wrap the columns candy-cane-style. Besides, the bolt was only about five feet long, and the columns were at least seven feet apart, so (as I discovered when I went downstairs and outside to see how it was looking) the "gate" would have looked stupid if there had been a giant gap between the sides and the top. So instead, I didn't-quite-knot one end of each strip around the tape-rope, positioning the knotoids just at the point where the tape-rope emerged from the cardboard bolt (this required me practically lying down on the balcony and sticking an arm all the way through a space in the wrought iron railing, and maneuvering the upper end of the strip with one hand so that it was secured to the tape-rope, hoping and hoping all the while that a. I wouldn't drop the strip, and b. the tape-rope would be strong enough to support the weight of the strips and wouldn't break and make me have to start all over again (and, I suppose, c. no one would drive up to the building, headlights a-gleaming, and find me plainly visible, but that was a constant concern). Somehow, the tape seemed to hold. I breathed a shaky sigh and went back downstairs to twist the strips so that they'd look a little bit more solid and more like the metal beams that Christo used, and finally, I tucked the bottom ends underneath the gigantic planters. I had to move the planters a little bit closer to each other, so they'd allow the strips to be parallel instead of A-lined, but I figured no one would mind much.
Stepping back to admire my work, I allowed myself to crow a little, silently, at my own achievement, and then I dashed back upstairs one last time, closed the storm window (that was tough, since it was huge and heavy and had come off its track), the screen, the sash, and the blinds, dusted the mud off myself and the under-window bench (I'd been standing on it to reach the window), gathered my things, and jetted off to meet my study partner. He was nice enough not to ask where I was coming from at that time of night.
All night I was worried that the tape rope wouldn't be able to support the weight, and that when I arrived the next morning I would see a sad crumpled mess instead of the christogate I'd made. When I finally arrived at 8:27 the next morning, there it was, just as I had left it. Jarah saw it and laughed with joy when she drove up, and Glitter heaped praise upon me, apologizing for having backed out. I kept waiting for someone who *wasn't* in on it to mention it, but no one did during my first class, and no one did during the passing period between that class and my next one, even though I hung around in the kitchen, listening. There's usually a stretch-break halfway through the two-hour classes, and during my second class's stretch-break, at 11:35 or so, Glitter invited me outside to "go get something from her car". Out we went, me still walking on air with glee at my own successful bit of mischief...
...and it was gone.
I couldn't believe it. What?? Already? So soon? Where was it? Where had they put it? Why? What was wrong with it? I could see someone objecting to the process of putting it up (being there after I'm supposed to be gone, being on the balcony, etc.) but objecting to the thing itself?? What's the big deal? I was all set to explode with indignation. I worked hard on that! How dare they remove my vandalism?! And I didn't even have time to take a picture!! Glitter was sad for me, but she couldn't resist a little bit of Itoldyouso. Well, she had told me so, and it turned out that she was right. But still!! Once back inside, Glitter asked Bubbe, with the innocence of a newborn babe, what had happened to the Christogate that was up earlier this morning. I hovered, waiting for an answer. Bubbe got all quiet and serious and looked intently at Glitter and asked, "Did you put it up?" Boy, was I out of there quick. I didn't want to be next...I couldn't lie to Bubbe. As I said, she's too sweet.
I zoomed back to class and Glitter came in a few minutes later, but by that time class had begun, and I wouldn't be able to pump her for the details of what Bubbe had told her...or at least, not until 12:30, an eternity of 45 minutes. I tried passing her a note asking what happened (okay, so I'm a little highschooly sometimes, but this was important!) and she only responded cryptically (and in Hebrew) that "the Prophetess Glitter spoke truly". She was no help. So *she* wouldn't tell me anything, and Bubbe, who obviously knew stuff, I couldn't ask. Going home that day wasn't much fun.
Later, this afternoon, though, I received a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. I forgot to mention that while I was pulling this all off last night, two people saw me. Both are members of RRC's administrative staff. One was a lady I didn't recognize, who saw me outside while I was trying to figure out what to do with the strips of fabric, now that I'd realized that they wouldn't wrap around the columns. "Shh," I told her, by way of explanation. "It's a surprise." "Okay," said she, "but you know you have an opened window upstairs?" "Yeah, don't worry, I'll take care of it," I said, and off she went. The other was a guy who I know because we've played klezmer together. He plays drums. He saw me because he was coming downstairs and passing by the window just as I was crawling back inside from the balcony. I surprised him. "Whoa," he said. "What's going on?" "Um, nothing," I said, pretending I hadn't just crawled through a window. "Nothing at all. I've really got lousy timing, haven't I?" "Looks like a fraternity prank or something," he said. I grinned. "I don't know what you're talking about." "Oh, I see," he said. "Well, let's just say I didn't see anything."
So anyway, I got this call from a number I didn't recognize, and of course I'm not going to pick it up now that I know from Bubbe's reaction that someone's probably on the warpath after me (I still have her quiet, fearful question ringing in my head) but there's a message, and it's this fellow, the drummer, saying that a certain person on the administrative staff has reacted very strongly to this incident, and as luck would have it, she went to my informant first, because he's in charge of P.R., or the way the college looks to the outside world, or something.
I called him back, and after assuring me that he wasn't telling anyone about what he'd seen, he gave me the story: Madame Drill Sergeant came pounding into his office this morning demanding that he address the problem. Unfortunately, he had reacted honestly when she brought the subject up: he laughed. "Oh yeah," Mr. Informant said, "I saw that happening. I assumed it was just a harmless prank." "You saw it happening?" she apparently sputtered. "Who was it?" And at this point, he won my undying admiration: "Well, I don't really want to say, because the student and I had a kind of unspoken agreement that I wouldn't say anything, and I don't want to break that trust." So instead, she convinced him to call me up and to encourage me to go and talk with her, which he did, but he did this in such a way that it was clear that if I never presented myself to Mme. D.S., he wouldn't do anything to make it unpleasant for me, nor even think any less of me. Wow.
Oh, and he also told me that not everyone reacted the way she did; that many of the people came in and saw it, and thought it was funny. That did more to soften the blow than anything else, honestly, because the harshest part of this whole thing was the disappointment of seeing it gone so quickly, and knowing that people wouldn't be able to appreciate it as I'd hoped they would. Most of the RRC people probably didn't even notice it, much less understand that it was there for them to enjoy. I wanted people to think it was funny and clever and whimsical, which I think it was, but to have it disappear so quickly is kind of like performing a piece to an audience who won't look at you. It's not that I'm starved for attention, either, but take my word for it, this christogate was worth seeing, and I'd like to believe that RRC folk are the sort of people who would appreciate it, and I wish I could have seen more people reacting to it. So I was glad to hear from Mr. Informant that other people thought it was funny. Too bad the lady with no sense of humor happens to be in such a position of authority.
Now, of course, my task is to go and make nice to Mme. Drill Sergeant, although I think I'll take Mr. Informant's advice and wait awhile until she's had time to cool down some more. Apparently she was quite the tempest this morning. Amazing, what a little christogate can do. What gets me is just *why* she was so angry. You want to hear her reasons for being angry? Mr. Informant told them to me, so I'll list them for you. There are three.
1. There was a student in the building after hours.
She's got a point. I shouldn't have been there after hours.
2. This student was probably up at some elevated place, and could have fallen, been hurt, and sued the school.
Okay, I was on the balcony, but it's not like I'm not going to pitch myself over the side in a sudden fit of greed. Suit, my trousers. Oh, I forgot to mention that Mme. Drill Sergeant told Mr. Informant that she was also worried that I might have used a ladder to get up there, which would mean that I must have broken into the custodian's closet. Of course.
3. The presence of orange fabric over the doorway might give people the wrong message about the institution.
Because everybody knows what orange fabric means.
~ prattled by Miriam at 2:39 p.m. [+]
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