Buckle up, kids, because we just passed the six-year anniversary of the time I caused more property damage to my university than the cumulative effects of Hurricane Sandy, and I am breaking my silence at last.
During the 2012/2013 academic year, I spent some time as a transfer student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, because I was 20 years old and going through some stuff, and I somehow decided that the only way to fix my life was to make an academic pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland.
A homeland that once tried valiantly to expel my ancestors, killing almost one-third of us in the process, but hey.
For those of you who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of small, Canadian liberal arts institutions, Mount Allison is a university of approximately 2,200 undergraduates and exactly 16 graduate students, located on the edge of a swamp in southern New Brunswick. Mount Allison was originally founded by an Irishman, Charles Allison, who ran away to Canada in 1816 after getting into an argument over some spoons; today, the school is best known for getting into dick-measuring contests with other universities over who has the most Rhodes Scholars, and for having the dude who designed the current Canadian flag buried in the backyard.
Also, the university still has the spoons.
There’s not a lot to do in Sackville. It’s important that you understand this. It’s a town of just over 5000 people, and as far as small towns go, it’s less “Smallville” and more “Welcome to Nightvale”. Once you’ve grown tired of staring at George Stanley’s grave, standing in line at the town’s only Tim Hortons, and drinking away your evenings at Uncle Larry’s Pool Hall (a place that protected against underage drinking with the “I’ll take yer word fer it” system in my day), things start to get weird. When I think back on the most memorable town events from my time there, it’s hard to choose between the time four men held up the pharmacy in broad daylight using only a syringe of their own blood, or the time one of my classmates straight-up vanished into the woods in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again. I have plenty of normal college memories from my time in Sackville – many of which were related to my newfound ability to drink shots of tequila out of a Super Soaker – but I also have terrifying, confusing memories of being alone in the marsh at night, feeling my way back to town along the broken boardwalk and trying to ignore the sounds coming from the dark waters inches below my feet.
Seriously though, if you have information on the whereabouts of Chris Metallic, please contact the RCMP. That was really, really not a joke.
With all of this in mind, the university’s main goal was to try to make sure us students spent as much time as possible on campus, and as little time as possible drunk-driving to civilization or sacrificing small animals to Slenderman in the woods. Their solution? Mandatory house parties. Every dorm on campus was contractually obligated to throw a full-building rager of a party once per year, complete with free alcohol, and invite the entire school. By some stroke of dumb luck, I happened to live in the dorm building responsible for throwing the school’s annual Halloween party.
A role I began preparing for in earnest in the 8th grade.
We wanted our party to be extra creative, so we decided it would be hilarious and unprecedented to have a Christmas-themed Halloween party. I know. Believe me, I know. Half of the house was pouring wine in our breakfast cereal and the other half was smoking a great deal of cheap weed purchased from the sketchy dude who hung out behind the Lebanese food place. It was the best we could collectively come up with under the circumstances.
Behold. The creativity of the leaders of tomorrow.
Everyone knows that a Christmas-and-Also-Halloween party is only as good as the decorations, and we went as nuts as the contents of the local Great Canadian Dollar Store would allow us to go. My housemates put up Christmas trees in the lounges, draped tinsel and cobwebs over the banisters, and sloshed a truly irresponsible quantity of fake blood through the hallways. My friends and I were known to be the sort of people who absolutely could not be trusted with fake trees or fake blood under any circumstances, and so we were assigned to the relatively idiot-proof task of taping large pieces of festive wrapping paper to the fronts of the bathroom stalls. My RA sent me on my merry way with rolls of paper and scotch tape, content in her blisteringly naive belief that I was incapable of causing mass destruction with only these implements.
Guess again, fuckers.
It started out innocently enough. We measured the paper. We cut the paper. We taped giant pieces of paper and bows to the front of the stall doors until they looked like gift-wrapped presents you can poop in. We diligently worked our way through our 70-person house, causing no mayhem and leaving no toilet un-festooned. By the time we got up to the women’s washroom on the second floor, late into the evening, we were confident that we could finish our task without incident and go to bed.
That didn’t happen.
Before I go any further in this story, there’s something I need to make very clear: I am not very tall. I’m short. Vertically disinclined. Diminutive. Lilliputian. I was ahead of the curve, height-wise, for much of my childhood, until I hit the age of 14 and my body said “that’s it, fucker, you’re only growing outward from here on”. At my full adult height, I stand 160cm tall – or, if your country thinks the metric system is for girls, I’m just a hair shy of 5’3. And when you’re just a hair shy of 5’3, there is nothing that tall people find funnier than placing things you need just slightly out of your reach in order to make you jump for them. Maybe this is how tall people take their revenge on us for all the times we’ve asked them how the weather is up there. Maybe tall people are just terrible. I don’t pretend to know.
Height chart provided for your convenience.
Instead of having bathroom counters with sinks in my dorm building, someone way back in the halcyon days of the 1960s chose to install old-school haunted-orphanage style standalone sinks, with a small shelf for toiletries six and a half feet off the ground. Asking me to put my toothpaste on a shelf more than six feet off the ground is about as practical as asking me to fling my Colgate into the sun, and I tended to ignore these useless little shelves entirely. So naturally, my friend thought it would be hilarious to put all my decorating supplies up on this shelf when my back was turned.
I think my friend expected me to hop around for a bit and make a fool of myself before giving up and asking for help, because maybe this is what tall people need to do in order to feel better about themselves after all the time we spend scrutinizing their nostril hair. If I’d just played along, or enlisted an even taller person to take pity on me, this would have been an uneventful night with no story to tell. But because I can always be trusted to make the worst possible decision available to me in any situation, I planted both hands on that sink and hoisted myself up, completely ignoring the fact that I have the shape, bulk and approximate density of a butternut squash.
And that was when the sink broke right off the wall.
We stood there gaping at the porcelain ruins I had just She-Ra’d into oblivion. The empty hole in the wall where the sink had once been looked like a damaged tooth socket – it was full of delicate things we did not understand, and we knew immediately that it would be extremely expensive to fix. My tall friend broke the silence.
“Maybe it’s not totally broken,” he said, as the warm glow of our parents’ hopes and dreams faded from his eyes. “Maybe we can just kind of… stick it back in.”
By my estimation, the people present in that room had a total of eight years of post-secondary education between them, but none of us did anything to prevent my friend from gathering the broken sink tenderly in his arms and then roughly cramming it into the hole he didn’t understand like he was in his date’s car on prom night.
And it turns out that we probably should have stopped him, because that was when the water pipe exploded.
I’m assuming that most of the people reading this have never personally witnessed what happens when you rupture a water pipe underneath an industrial-calibre sink. In two minutes, the situation went from “unfortunate accident” to “live reenactment of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami”, and we only had two options at our disposal. On the one hand, we could go wake up the dorm staff, take responsibility for what had happened, and prevent widespread and possibly irreversible water damage to the only home we had. Or on the other hand, we could just hide in the shower stall together and hope that the situation magically resolved on its own.
We chose that one.
We kept waiting for someone to walk in and discover the destruction, but it was well after midnight by this point and we were in the “quiet wing” of the house where they kept the good students with normal sleep schedules, and not the third-floor corridor where they stashed us, the nocturnal house-wrecking shitlords with the plumbing abilities of a panicked dolphin. If we’d left right then and gone upstairs to our rooms, my destruction probably would have gone unnoticed until the entire university was washed straight into the swamp.
Honestly, this probably would have been better than what we did.
I don’t know how long we stayed in that shower stall. I do know, however, that there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend crouched down in a dark, rapidly-flooding dorm shower with four of your friends, desperately hoping that object permanence will cease to be a fundamental fact of the universe. The gushing pipe showed absolutely no signs of slowing down, and eventually the risk of drowning in a grimy bathroom outweighed the risk of getting a stern talking-to from the adult staff member that the university paid to live with us and keep us alive – this person was called the house “Don” at our university, because apparently we were all being prepped for illustrious careers in the Canadian Mob.
Pictured: our reasoning.
We learned three things after we stepped out of the shower and opened the bathroom door.
The first was that the fake blood our housemates had slopped through the house was very, very much water-soluble. The simple act of opening the door turned the hallway into the lowest-possible-budget remake of that elevator scene from The Shining.
Blood gushing out of an elevator turned out to be beyond my drawing abilities, so enjoy this culturally recognizable reference to “The Shining” instead.
The second thing we learned was that the university evidently cared more about the foundations of learning than the foundations of its buildings, because the floor in our building wasn’t level. Not even close. Instead of trickling out into the hallway at a steady pace, to sort of spread the destruction around, the water was pooling on our side of the building and quickly filling the kitchens, lounges, and the dorm rooms of sleeping Dean’s List students.
My athletic abilities are less “runner” and more “person who stands motionless in the road to mark the marathon route like a giant human pylon”, but I sprinted for the stairs. The Don lived in an apartment on the ground floor of the building, and at her age, I didn’t actually think she would survive the shock of having an unexplained wave of blood wash under her door in the middle of the night. I made it to the bottom of the stairs and started down the hallway when I passed the ground-floor student lounge, and learned the third important lesson of the night.
Behold the peak of my athletic abilities.
It turns out, we’d been so worried about the upstairs floors and walls that we’d completely forgotten to worry about the ceilings. The building was a cinderblock fortress designed to withstand generations of undergraduates, but the builders had never anticipated the destructive powers of Me, Crusher of Sinks and Destroyer of University Property. All through one half of the building, the pooling water from above was leaking through the upstairs floor, and quite literally making it rain through the downstairs ceilings. It was pouring. Water from the ceiling was mixing with plaster dust, college-student grime and more of that goddamn fake blood to turn the main kitchens into a horrifyingly convincing murder scene. And that was when my mother decided to FaceTime me.
When my mother video chatted with me at night, she normally expected to find me in my dorm room, working away at my homework or watching bad True Crime shows on TV. So you can imagine her surprise when her phone lit up to reveal me, in an unfamiliar room, covered in fake blood, while water from an unknown source rained down upon my head indoors.
She immediately knew it was somehow my fault.
The background noise at this point was a gentle chorus of screaming as students woke up to discover that their least favourite housemate had apparently been engaging in a game of late-night Jumanji. I hung up with my mother after she made me promise not to bring any more shame upon the family name in the immediate future. I made it down the hall to the Don’s front door, and she emerged in her nightgown after just a moment or two of frantic knocks. This was a woman who had been called out onto the football field at three in the morning the previous weekend to deal with an intoxicated student smearing himself in donair sauce as he howled at the moon. She was ready. She could handle what ever I had to say.
I didn’t have to say much. The wave of blood-coloured water that flowed around my ankles and into her living room did most of the talking for me.
At this point, it was just past 1:00 in the morning on a school night. On the Don’s instructions, I ran through the house with my friends like an undergraduate Paul Revere, waking up everyone who lived on the second floor and letting them know that they were going to have to start making plans to float to safety on their bedroom doors if we didn’t get the situation under control.
Donkey-kicking a bunch of doors in the middle of the night while screaming “WAKE UP BECAUSE WATER IS COMING TO CLAIM THE STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY OF EVERYTHING YOU OWN” is pretty much the most effective way I can think of to start a mass panic, and that’s exactly what I achieved. People were suddenly awake and piling their possessions on top of their desks, ripping the sheets off their beds, and running up to the third floor to demand more towels and sheets to cram into the crack beneath their doors, in hopes of minimizing the number of textbooks they’d need to air-dry the next day. Someone tracked down a couple of buckets and we started trying to bail the still-gushing water out of the windows, only to remember that our building’s windows were suicide-proof and angled just slightly outwards when fully opened, creating a fun water slide that sloshed water right back into our faces.
Our Don had disappeared to call the necessary authorities and inform them of my shame, and she returned with bad news. Despite the fact that we lived in the province of New Brunswick, all of our utilities were controlled by a company in Ontario, two full provinces away. This company did not offer overnight service, and there was no way for us to turn the water off until they re-opened at 10am the next morning. An emergency plumber had been summoned from the nearby city of Moncton, and after being repeatedly reassured that this was not a crank call, he agreed to come help us out. It would take an hour for him to collect his equipment and make the drive out to Sackville, meaning that for 60 full minutes, the fate of an incredibly expensive 72-room housing building would be in the hands of sleep-deprived 19-year-olds who struggled to operate an electric kettle without maiming themselves. No one else could save us now.
Map: Places that are and are not Ontario.
It’s worth mentioning that out of all the housing buildings on campus, ours had a bit of a reputation for being the place where strange things tended to happen. Each house had a constitution that was amended every year to accommodate new behavioural violations, and our house was notably the only one on campus that allowed unlimited full-frontal nudity in all parts of the building, and had to explicitly ban indoor snowball fights. Our house cheer was changed shortly after I arrived, on the grounds that the old one was a crime against common decency. We had a lockdown after a drunk resident picked up a feral raccoon by the scruff of the neck and hurled it into the building. We once held a house meeting to discuss whether or not residents would continue to be allowed to have public sex with the inflatable Barack Obama sex doll that lived in our house, eventually voting that you had to nail the rubber effigy of the 44th president in the privacy of your own dorm room, although no one could force you to shut the door. The more studious house across the courtyard was well aware of our antics, and they were perpetually ready for some new strange and terrible thing to go down in house.
His mouth screams ‘give me penis’ but his eyes scream only for help.
So to that end, residents of the studious house were probably not entirely surprised to look up from their late-night studying sessions to see a waterfall cascading out of the second-floor bathroom window of our house. In a rare moment of ingenuity, we had cobbled together dustpans, duct piping and a vacuum hose to direct the water outside, like a weird Rube Goldberg device of water damage.
My friends and I hung around to help out with the worst of the bailing, mopping, door-stoppering and screaming. Eventually though, we’d had quite enough of facing adult responsibilities for one day, and slipped out to make a light-night comfort food stop at McDonald’s, the only 24/7 fast food restaurant between us and several kilometers of unbroken wilderness. Our building was perched on the side of a hill, so that the door to the parking lot opened into the basement, and we returned just in time to see the emergency plumber swing upon the door and drench himself from the knees down with blood-coloured stagnant basement water. We snuck in behind him with nuggets in tow, and headed up to our perfectly dry lounge on the third floor for a 3am guilt-feast before going to bed for the night.
The party went off without a hitch several days later, despite my desperate act of violence toward a plumbing fixture. A week after that, the Don timidly knocked on my door in the middle of the afternoon, saying that she wanted to talk about what had happened. She started out by giving me a minor heart attack when she let me know that the total cost of the emergency plumber and immediate aftermath had come to around $3000, which was an amount of money I could have only paid back by selling myself into the rural New Brunswick sex trade.
Which, it being rural New Brunswick, I can only assume is dominated by sexy moose.
The Don then assured me that the university was not holding me responsible for anything that had happened, and that I wasn’t on the hook for any of it. Apparently, the sink that I had She-Hulk’d off the wall had been defective for a long time, and the university’s maintenance department had just been ignoring the residence services’ repair request for more than a decade. It was only a matter of time before a portly undergraduate came along and ripped it free from its crumbling moorings in a desperate quest for tape. I just happened to be that unlucky undergraduate.
Some people have cool destinies, like fighting evil wizards or destroying magic rings. Mine is to be a chubby sink-wrecker.
And it’s possible that the monetary damages to the building and the university’s budget went far beyond the initial costs of summoning some poor bastard to Sackville in the middle of the night. In the months after I left, the building developed a serious mold problem, forcing some of the residents to move to other campus housing. The second year after I left the school, my old dorm was completely closed for the year to undergo a top-to-bottom gut renovation. The university never explicitly said that this renovation was due to the long-term effects of water damage from 2012, but they didn’t have to. Deep down, I know. I’ve always known.
So there you have it. I’ve done a lot of careless and destructive things in my life before and since, but I’ve never managed to top the Great Dormitory Sink Flood of October 2012. When other people screw up in life, they have to fall back on pithy sayings like “it could always be worse” or “there’s always a silver lining”. But me? When I’m struggling financially, personally or academically, I take a good look at the mess in front of me and think “Ehh… at least this isn’t a shattered dorm sink in the heart of Sackville at two in the morning”.