Throughout university, my dad would send me a monthly cheque for $400 to cover my rent, utilities, food, transportation, and books. What little was left was (over)spent on long distance phone calls to my boyfriend back home. I wasn’t always the best at budgeting. I can remember on more than one occasion being mid-month, having $5 to my name, and spending it on a brownie sundae from Ben & Jerry’s.
I have never been very good at asking for help, so when I would frequently run out of money for fun little discretionary things like food, I had to get creative. First, I hawked all of my worldly possessions at a pawn shop near the bus station, which included a few pieces of Christmas gift jewellery, a Polaroid camera, and a bunch of CDs. When I ran out of things to sell, I had to think of something else.
With McGill University nearby, there were always lots of science students looking for people to experiment on. I think the first one I guinea pigged for was a study on low protein diets and mood change. For this one, I was given prepared meals for 2 weeks, which was great because it meant I could save money on food. I can remember that dinner was a bland frozen stir fry consisting of celery, carrots, and water chestnuts. At the end of each week, I had to go spend the day alone in a room at McGill, where I could watch videos, read, and do whatever. But I wasn’t allowed to leave the room. At the end of the day, I had to fill out a survey on my mood. I did this twice. The second time I did it, I remember throwing up in the garbage. Conclusion: a low protein diet, sitting in a room by yourself for 8 hours, and puking DO affect your mood.
The more interesting and lucrative experiment I took part in had something to do with brain activity. For this one, I had to get a picture taken of my brain, which was awesome, except for the part where I had to get a plaster cast made of my head to hold it still during the scan, and it pulled half the hair on my head out.
Then I was hooked up to some kind of brain scanner while I had radioactive liquid injected into my bloodstream, while identifying whether music chords were in a major or minor key. The scientists assured me that the amount of radioactivity I would be exposed to was the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes or boarding a flight. Apart from that, it was a painless effort and I got a picture of my brain and $135 out of the deal.
A few months later, I read in the paper that the scientist in charge of that experiment had committed suicide. Apparently she had been under a lot of professional pressure by her colleagues, who were questioning her credibility, so she and her husband went and sat in their garage with the car running and gassed themselves.
After that, I subjected myself to experiments of a different science in the world of hair modelling. Included in my pay package of $150 were: having my eyebrows plucked for the first time, getting made up, outfitted, hair cut, permed, and coloured, then strutting down a runway at a huge salon industry event in front of hundreds of stylists. Given that this was Montreal, though, said hairstyle ended up being this weird multi-lengthed, frizzy, purply thing that got me in so much trouble with my mom. “Don’t ever do that again! Hair is such an important thing!” Totally worth it.
I wouldn’t say I worked hard for those dribs and drabs of cash, but I earned it and it was fun. And it sure made those brownie sundaes taste extra delicious.
* * *
For those of you who have started following me recently via The Interview Stage, welcome! Happily and relievedly, I’ve found a job, so I probably won’t be talking about career stuff for a while, at least while I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my new gig. I do hope that you’ll stay and enjoy my random musings such as the one above, though. Cheers!