When I made the trade for 'one instant party', I also set a deadline for all upcoming trade offers: Dec 1. I would decide which offer I'd take on Decemeber first. No sooner, no later. Unless, of course, somebody made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Well, guess what happened.
I got an email from a fellow named Michel Barrette who wanted to trade me his snowmobile for one instant party. I thought, sweet, this is perfect. A snowmobile is EXACTLY the kind of thing I need to trade for. Especially if I'm going to do a trade in Quebec. Quebec and snowmobiles are like, well, Quebec and snowmobiles. One simply cannot exist without the other. I showed the email to Dom and her jaw almost hit the floor. "Michel Barrette?!" she said. "You got an offer from Michel Barrette?!"
I, like you, had no idea what she was so excited about.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Michel Barrette has his own radio and TV shows here in Quebec. He's very famous."
This was definitely the kind of offer I couldn't refuse.
I googled him and found out he was now the host of a talk radio show in Montreal. Turned out he was on-air right then. Turned out I called him up right away and accepted the trade. Turned out when he came back on the air after the commercial break he talked about the project and announced to all of Montreal that he'd just made a trade with the paperclip guy.
My inbox to public radio announcement in less than ten minutes. Like I said, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
So I posted the big trade news on this site and a few days later I got a call from a local TV station that wanted to cover the trade for their evening newscast. Then CBC, the national broadcaster for Canada called. Then Global TV called, another national broadcaster. Just as I negotiated time slots for film crews for two of Canada's biggest newscasts to visit our apartment, the phone rang again. It was CNN. They wanted in too. Now up to this point, the only video I'd had of any of the trades was the shaky low-res one-take clip of Marcin and I swapping the generator for the instant party. Things were different this time. CNN has really good cameras. Hi-res cameras that pick up a lot of detail. I would even have to brush my hair.
On the day of the trade I had two camera crews from national newscasts in our apartment at the same time and I had to kick them out because we were running late for the interview with CNN. I did the live hit for CNN then Dom and I drove down to the CKOI radio station building where Michel worked. There were a few camera crews hanging out front. We hopped out of the car and said hi to everybody. Dom and I pulled the complete “instant party” kit out of the car and put it on the curb. Just as we finished, a sunglasses-clad guy walked around the corner and nonchalantly came in out direction. I stepped to one side of the sidewalk to let him pass by, but he hesitated, and a large grin broke across his face. “The paperclip guy!”, he said, beaming. I scrunched up my face and thought: Did this guy just watch CNN or something? He took off his sunglasses. It was Michel Barrette. We shook hands and smiled at each other. It's a funny feeling when somebody recognizes you from a picture on your website that you set up in your bedroom while eating toast in your underwear. Definitely the far end of the spectrum from CNN, but just as possible. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small paper bag. He extended his hand toward me, looked right into my eyes and said, “Do you want a cookie?” I ate the cookie and then we laughed. It was delicious. Cookies are like that.
Michel opened up the back of the giant semi truck he'd organized to transport the snowmobile down from Northern Quebec – snowmobile heartland, if you will.
We climbed inside and he grabbed the starter cord. It fired on the first pull. Awesome. Michel revved the engine and looked at me with a big grin on his face. The TV cameras rolled. He revved it up real good, checked a few gauges, then hopped off and gestured for me to hop on. I got on and grabbed the handlebars. Just as I was about to rev it up and generally make a lot of noise and exhaust fumes for the TV cameras, Michel grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Don't rev it too high. It'll take off and you go right through the front wall of this truck.” I thought about it for a sec, it's not the kind of thing you ever really imagine yourself doing – smashing through the front end of a tractor trailer on national TV. I briefly considered going for it, as it would make for some unreal footage, but then re-considered. I couldn't smash through the front of the truck - I wasn't wearing my helmet. I carefully revved it up just enough to make a lot of noise and blow some exhaust out the back of the trailer for the camera guys. They ate it up. Camera guys are like that.
Michel and I did the obligatory 'handshake' picture, this time for the TV cameras and I walked over to Dom - a massive grin plastered across my face. This was it – a snowmobile. In only a few trades I'd managed to parlay one red paperclip into a snowmobile. The back of the tractor trailer didn't exactly double as the front of a majestic ocean liner, but Dom and I were on top of the world. Anything was possible. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned around. Michel looked pointed at the snowmobile, “So mister paperclip, where do you want me to tell the truckers to take your snowmobile?” Uh oh. I hadn't thought of this. I always figured that the snowmobile would stay at the radio station until I decided who I was going to trade it with. I was in a pickle. I hate being in pickles. Actually, I can honestly say that pickles are my least favorite food. Definitely the most over-rated gherkin. I thought hard. Our apartment was tiny and it was on the third floor, so that was out. My buddy Matt was at work and it'd be pretty cheeky to drop it off at his place, which happened to be his parent's place too, without at least a little bit of warning. I could definitely make it up to him with vast amounts of beer at a later date, but I'd just gone and traded away my keg full of beer, so that was out too. Dom shook her head, gave me 'the look', and said, “Nice one. I told you you should find a place for that snowmobile. What were you thinking? That it would just find a place all by itself?” I obviously did think the snowmobile would find a place all by itself. After all, it was a snowmobile, isn't that what they do? I frantically tried to think of where I could store the now-famous snowmobile. Then it hit me: Justin. I looked at Dom, who still was all about 'the look', and attempted to regain some credibility.
“What about Justin? He said I could probably keep it in his garage for awhile...”
She looked back at me, this time with the 'the eye' then progressed to 'the voice', “What? You can't just send it over there now. You need to call people a long time before you do stuff like that.”
I didn't have a long time before I did stuff like that. I had now. Now would have to do. Anyhow, Justin was the kind of guy who'd understand. I'd met him a few years previous at a hostel in Australia. The first time we met he was fresh off the plane from Quebec and hardly spoke a word of English. I remember thinking how difficult it must be to learn a new language by total immersion. I watched as Aussies gave him the gears for not understanding simple English stuff like “How ye goin mate? Yeh, toss the slab of VB in the ute. That sheila you were just talking to's got a few roos loose in the top paddock but I reckon you can get a quick root in before this arvo.”
We laughed about it then, and I couldn't help but think how humbling it must've been for him - not knowing what arvo or ute meant. Sheesh. He must've felt like a total moron. Now was my turn to face the music. I pulled out my phone and dialed Justin. He picked up right away. “Hello?” I looked up. Two TV cameras were in my face. The red lights were on. I swallowed, then went for it. “Hey Justin, do you remember how you said I might be able to keep the snowmobile at your place?”
“Well, um, I kinda just found out that I need to find a place to keep it for awhile.”
Justin laughed. This was such sweet revenge. He couldn't see the cameras, and I didn't exactly give him a visual description of my situation, but I'm sure he could hear it in my voice. This was probably way more humbling than the time he had to muster up his best English and ask a pair of true blue Aussies what they meant by 'root'.
I spoke again, “Is it cool if it comes to your place?”
He laughed again. “Sure man. I'll give you the address.”
The camera guys ate it up. Camera guys are like that.
We said goodbye to the camera guys and reporters and lugged the instant party into the radio station. We made our way to a room filled with people milling about and shook lots of hands. There were no TV cameras here. It's funny how even a room filled with people asking you questions in French is a relaxing stress-free oasis after a day spent in front of multiple TV cameras. I could make the most embarrassing phone call of all time and it wouldn't be replayed on national TV. I considered making a real embarrassing phone call, just for kicks, then gave up on the idea. Being able to make an embarrassing phone call without TV cameras capturing every dramatic moment was always something I'd taken for granted. It's funny how your life changes when you go on national TV.
Michel and I talked on-air for awhile about the project. I managed to hold my own in French, and even convinced Dom to get in on the conversation. She was a bit nervous, seeing how every person she'd ever known had heard about the interview and was probably listening. Going on the radio in French was a big end to a big day. When I first came to Quebec a few years before this moment, I hardly spoke a word. Learning French was the hardest, most humbling experience of my entire life. Way harder than that silly little last-minute phone call to Justin. I’d worked outside as a roughneck on oil rigs at forty below, and that was tough, but nothing compares to sitting at the dinner table with your girlfriend’s family, totally oblivious to the real life in front of your eyes. It's amazing how us English first-languagers have got it. We expect pretty much expect everybody to understand us wherever we go, and for the most part, they do. It's amazing when the coin is flipped and you find yourself as an outsider to a culture. Speaking to Michel on the radio in French with all of Dom's family listening was when I felt like I finally bridged the gap. I was still the 'Anglo', something I'm toally cool with, but now I had a least a little bit of Quebecois street cred. I chilled with Michel Barrette on-air. The Michel Barrette.
Michel told us how he was going to give one instant party to his buddy as a gift. He'd originally decided to give him the snowmobile, but after he heard about the project, he changed his mind and decided it would be a whole heck of a lot funnier his buddy got a full keg of beer, a Budweiser sign, and then about thirty additional cases of beer. I figured his buddy might be choked at first, especially if he found out I'd snaked the snowmobile from him, but after downing a handful of beers and seeing the vast amount of intoxicating potential before his eyes, would tell Michel that he was a genius. One thing was certain, I definitely thought Michel Barrette was a genius. A genius and a really cool guy.
Now would be a good time to add "The snowmobile Song" by Stompin' Tom Connors to your ipod arsenal. Yes, now would be a REAL good time to do that.
Click here to see what happened next!