The Next Chapter

The time Elan Mastai made balloon animals for prison inmates

The screenwriter and author of the novel All Our Wrong Todays has a particularly strange memory of the weekend job he had during his university years.
All Our Wrong Todays is screenwriter Elan Mastai's debut novel. (Penguin Books/David Leyes)

Elan Mastai's science-fiction novel All Our Wrong Todays presents two alternate versions of 2016 — the futuristic version that was imagined in the 1950s with flying cars, food pills and jet packs — and our real, present-day version. Below, Mastai looks backwards in his own timeline, to his student job working as a clown for children's birthday parties. 

We got hired to do an event at one of the penitentiaries in Kingston. Inmates could have their kids visit them, and we would paint faces and make balloon animals for everybody. On the one hand, it was sweet. On the other hand, it was super weird because a lot of the cons wanted us to paint in their tattoos. Some of their tattoos, it was fine. The other tattoos were kind of weird and offensive. We ran out of balloon animals and the kids were really upset and then the inmates were mad at us. And then you remember you're in a prison, with people who are often there for violent reasons — not all, of course, people make mistakes. And it was boiling hot, so everybody's face paint was melting. It was like a totally surreal fever dream.

Elan Mastai's comments have been edited and condensed.