robertisenberg

How to Plan a Halloween Party: 1

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2009 at 4:21 am

Spooktacular 015

Back in August, some folks at Chatham informed me of my Halloween duties: As part of my fellowship, I had to organize “Spooktacular,” the traditional grad-school party. I chuckled. No problem. How hard could it possibly be to organize a modest Halloween bash?

Turns out, incredibly hard.

For the past two months, I’ve been wandering in a labyrinth of paperwork and meetings, where every idea is instantly shot down by some unexpected university policy. I’m not complaining; this was my job, after all. But here were some notable goofs along the way:

  • All food had to be ordered through the university’s catering company, Parkhurst. We could not, under any circumstances, bring our own food — unless we made the food ourselves. When I realized that we couldn’t even bring candy, because we hadn’t baked the Snickers bars in our own oven, my nerves started to rattle.
  • In order to serve alcohol, a bartender had to be hired from Parkhurst and a security guard must man the door. Total expenses were estimated to be $500, just for these two people. We later heard that a security guard wasn’t necessary, as long as a faculty chaperone was on the premises (That’s right: a chaperone for people who are 21 years old or older, and all in graduate school).
  • We were told that the bartender would cost $100 (flat fee).
  • Parkhurst provides supplies according to the number of people arriving. For beer and wine only, this comes to $2 a head. In order to put together a budget to request funding, we had to predict how many people were coming — in September. We guessed 50, because it “sounded about right.” Really, we had no idea how many people might show up. Last year, about 20 came.
  • Meanwhile, 50 people times $2 a head equals $100. I inferred this meant wine glasses and beer pints. All cups, it turned out, were plastic, and for some reason, the bartender brought 150 of them. Theoretically, this number of plastic cups should have cost the MFA Council $300.
  • At one point, Parkhurst guessed our food order, which made a grand total of $475 for cups and cookies. I sprinted to the university’s catering center and cancelled the food order, since our entire budget was $500. Since we were so frustrated with the ordering process and the outlandish expense of Parkhurst food, we opted to make our own damned food. Spooktacular would become a potluck of baked goods and caramel apples, made by students. (Although I only had vague oral promises that this would happen. If any of these promises fell through, there wouldn’t be any food at all).
  • In early October, we learned that “dancing” was “frowned upon.” No official prohibition, but a dance-party would apparently be bad PR. As soon as MFA students learned this, their interest in throwing a dance-party exploded by 100 times.
  • Soon after, I learned that Spooktacular, the “traditional” Halloween party, was started only five years ago. I had imagined this party beginning in the 1950’s, where a masquerading Rachel Carson played polo with her fellow ladies. Apparently my imagining was 50 years off.
  • Through a series of miscommunications, the Spooktacular Committee (yes, a committee) reserved one room, then two rooms, then to the first room again. The first room was then switched to a third room, because Student Affairs forgot that the first room had been reserved for some kind of hypnotist.
  • In order to secure funds, we had to write a formal proposal to the Graduate Student Assembly. On average, the GSA’s meetings attract about 5 participants. After a voting process that included me, two of my Spooktacular Committee members, one woman from student affairs and the GSA’s president, the budget of $500 was officially passed.
  • Although the budget passed, it took over a week to learn how, exactly, we would procure and use the money. Would it be a check deposited in the MFA Council’s account?
  • When the MasterCard was finally issued, we had to pick it up at the Student Affairs office, not from the GSA. (Keep in mind that I had never even heard of these organizations when the Spooktacular party was assigned to me). Before I could take the card, I filled out a form and a sign-out sheet; the secretary wasn’t sure exactly how to fill out the first form, and she kept apologizing for the confusion. Before I hightailed it out of there, she added: “We don’t pay taxes.” She handed over a nonprofit-we-don’t-pay-taxes form, which I was to show at the liquor store.
  • Oh, yes: On top of everything else, we had to buy our own booze (Parkhurst doesn’t have a liquor license). Since I don’t drive, I hitched a ride with my friend Cat. The liquor store’s cashier took nearly 10 minutes to confirm our nonprofit status. Three distinct employees were required to process our paperwork.
  • The beer distributor was much easier: We just showed him the paper and he didn’t hit the “tax” button.
  • The owner of the dollar store spoke mostly Korean and didn’t understand what this nonprofit form meant, so we gave up. Total taxes: About 70 cents.
  • At some point, the manager of Parkhurst mentioned that if under-age students were served at the party, the infraction would be partially my fault. Just FYI.
  • Since our budget was mostly spend on booze, a superfluous bartender and 150 plastic cups, this left only around $80 for decorations. On a separate shopping trip (which took an entire afternoon), my colleagues Teresa and Sarah and I headed to the party store in the Waterworks. Most of this was spent on fake spider webs and garlands (pictured above).
  • We decided to hold a raffle, to help pay back the GSA for their generous support. Ten books were donated by Chatham professors, thanks to my MFA Council colleague Athena. Two days before the event, Student Affairs clarified that accepting donations at a party required filling out yet another goddamned form.
  • Simultaneously, I learned that not a single department on campus had access to any kind of sound or speaker equipment. I ended up borrowing the speakers to my girlfriend’s computer, and the reading had to be held without a microphone.
  • Meanwhile, I learned from Parkhurst that the $100 flat-fee for the bartender wasn’t correct. The bartender would actually cost $25 per hour. Altogether, the bartender and his plastic cups would cost us $275.
  • Then came the most insane twist of all: Because I had not recorded the addresses and phone-numbers of my fellow officers on the proper form, the MFA Council did not technically exist until four days before the party. Everything that we had done was basically rogue activity until that form was finally handed in.
  • An hour before the party, Parkhurst was aghast to discover I had not informed Chatham security that we were hosting a party with alcohol. “You need to do that,” they said, nodding grimly. (Not that a single person, in over two months, had advised me to do this). The last I had heard (see above), no security guard was necessary as long as we had a faculty chaperone. The Parkhurst people were kind enough to call on my behalf. In the meantime, I searched for a paper bag to hyperventilate into.
  • I was told, after weeks of trying to approve a meager $5 “suggested donation” at the door, that “these events are usually free.” Only three people ended up donating the $5.
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