By Greg Hudson
The biggest roadblock was the electric fan. It was a beautiful, working, Airworks fan — at least after I unraveled the long human hairs from its sooty black blades. And as it gleaned, I wondered: How can you top a fan? Doesn’t everybody want a fan?
My goal was to go from a simple Eyeopener pin to a working television. The TV didn’t have to be big, but it had to be working. The subsequent article about my journey would either reveal how kindness in Toronto is dead, or illuminate how giving the Ryerson student body could actually be.
But before I made any conclusions, I saw it as a challenge. Besides, I’m a student in the springtime, facing deadlines, final drafts, and an ambiguous future — it’s not like I had anything better to do with my time.
From July 2005 to July 2006, a Canadian blogger named Kyle MacDonald traded one red paper clip for items bigger and better until he got a house in Saskatchewan (read about his exploits at his website, Oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com).
MacDonald accomplished his goal in 14 trades over the course of a year. I had one week.
Four steps before I was momentarily impeded by the fan, I was the proud owner of an Eyeopener pin. It was green and emblazoned with the paper’s logo. It got me a pack of Tic Tacs when I flagged down a stranger just outside Pitman Hall.
The kind Pitman residents promised me that the package hadn’t been opened yet. This was crucial. No one would exchange anything for an open package of Tic Tacs. That would be like accepting an apple on Halloween — no one needs the razor blade.
Armed with the little pebbles of mint that tumbled and shook like castanets in my pocket, I wandered over to Neill-Wycik.
When I called her before hand, a girl in my class, Eve Tobolka warned me that roaming the halls of Wycik might get me arrested. She wouldn’t sponsor me to get in. But that didn’t stop me. In fact, if I learned one thing from this mission, it is that the security at the housing on and around campus is permeable. A little charm and a creative excuse got me into Pitman, the International Living Learning Centre (ILCC), and of course, Wycik.
From an acquaintance in her pajamas, I was able to switch my Tic Tacs for a high-quality, plastic pirate sword. Her room reeked like bleach and potential victory — two smells that are almost indistinguishable. I moved down the hall.
A student wandering the halls offered a can of pop for the sword. Had it been beer, I would have gone with it. But it was 7up. Please. I was going for a TV here. Yet it felt dangerously presumptuous to say no to any trade. Beggars really shouldn’t be choosers. But traders? They can choose a little bit.
“Sure, I can give you a plate. Let me just check if it’s clean,” he said with a groggy Newfoundland lilt. His room smelled different from the last trade, like the morning after a party. But somehow still victory-ish. He offered me his inspected plate for the plastic blade: it was white, sturdy, microwaveable, slightly triangular. Classy. I felt like I was getting somewhere.
It also was rough with stubborn food remnants, like plate acne. Some doctoring was in order.
At this point my photographer, Aaron Schmidt, made a realization. “It doesn’t matter what you trade. If people are going to trade, they are going to trade.”
Even still, the plate needed to be cleaned.
We’ve hit the big leagues. A girl in my class, Eve, let us into her place to clean the plate on the 17th floor of Wycik. In the meantime, I asked if they wanted the plate. Her roommate took it. We left with a four-speed fan.
The fan was speckled with dust. The blades looked like they had cut through coal. And the amount of hair attached made you wonder if someone had used the fan as some kind of rudimentary blow dryer or Flowbee. (Remember the Flowbee? It attached to your vacuum and cut your hair? No? Really? Too bad.)
That was the plateau. For the rest of the week, I rested on my accomplishment and did other things. Getting a TV would be a cinch — or so I thought.
The adults and families along Mutual Street were friendly and encouraging. But no one would give a Ryerson kid a break. Either no one had a TV, or nobody wanted a fan. I blamed the weather. If it didn’t feel so much like February, maybe the fan would have looked more appealing. Stupid climate crisis.
But I did get to relive my days as a Mormon missionary, knocking on strangers’ doors, offering something they didn’t really want. But people were actually kind to me this time.
At the ILCC, everyone I met was trusting. Yet it took the excessive kindness of a girl I met in the hall to break free from my slump with the fan. It’s tough to know whether the coffee maker she gave me was actually worth more than the fan she received, but after two hours of getting nowhere, I was willing to make the trade.
I said it so many times that it was starting to lose its meaning. It’s like when you repeat the word “sugar” over and over until you barely believe it’s a word.
“I’m writing a piece for The Eyeopener. I’m actually on a mission. They gave me a pin, like a button, and I have to keep trading it and trading it until I get a working TV. Right now, I’m at this really nice coffee maker/fan/plate/etc. I’m wondering if you have anything that you could give me that would help me get a TV. Or you could trade me a TV directly.”
By then I had moved back to Pitman where my first trade occured. I was making my way through the lower floors. I don’t mind telling you, I had eaten some Burger King earlier that day, and I was feeling mighty sick.
My bowels had time for one more door.
Clarke Heipel, a first-year radio and television arts student, has been wondering what to do with his useless TV for some time. I like to imagine that I was almost an answer to a prayer. It was an Easter or Passover miracle.
“It’s amazing,” he said, “It’s the highlight of my day.”
When I got to The Eyeopener office, everyone applauded, as I raised the new TV over my head like a tiny Stanley Cup. Now, I just need to find it a new cord.
It would be wrong of me to say that charm had anything to do with getting my television in six steps. People want to be a part of something big, or crazy, or different. Students often lament about the apathy around Ryerson, but I’m no longer convinced. If I was able to bother complete strangers and convince them to happily trade useless goods, for a thing of infinite value, such as a TV, surely there is untapped potential here.
I mean, people were actually disappointed when they couldn’t help. Maybe somebody just needs to convince us that by being here, we are a part of something big, something crazy, something different. Or maybe I’m just irresistible.