Man, I love a fresh roll of masking tape. Have you ever seen something so stable; such a symbol of humility? There’s something in its bland color, affordability, and nonchalant quality that chants no sweat, I got this. It knows what it is and that it cannot and will not solve all of my problems, but by god it’s going to try.
There’s a comfortable understanding between masking tape and I. And that understanding is that I put too much trust in what it’s going to do for me in the long run. My dad scolds me for using to hang long-term decorations.
“It’s going to take the paint off the wall.” He tells me over the phone as I ask him various questions about the nuances of decorating an apartment in which the main feature is its steeply slanted ceilings. Which is extremely true. The last three apartments I moved out of all bore the mark of my presence with swatches of missing paint flakes that I quietly ignored and blissfully accepted my full security deposit.
Since high school I’ve received the same comfortable energy from art supplies. And once I’d gained a suitable amount of anxiety from such complexities as oil paints and various mixing media, I’d crave the quiet variability of a fresh roll of masking tape.
In my senior year of high school I created a temporary mural out of masking tape. This thing won awards. This thing garnered me a lot of compliments. Masking tape is gentle where silvery duct tape or clear packing tape seem ominously permanent or stubborn. Masking tape allows the user peel it back and replace as many times as necessary until it loses all of its tact (roughly 4 times). It’s generous, sometimes too generous, and ultimately self-destructive.
Masking tape is the first friend to show up the party. They bring a case of beer to share (it’s the cheap stuff, but hey, it’s beer), they ask if you need help setting anything up, but they stay out of your way. This is the friend that refills the emptying chip bowls and gathers loose cans and bottles from the living room before quietly exiting the party before midnight. It did not show up to be the center of attention, it showed up to support your dream of having a party.
I feel a nostalgic sense of tranquility when I open the supply cabinet above my desk to reveal and gaze at four untouched rolls of tape. I never wondered why I felt a thin blanket of security when I slid a roll over my wrist, donning the armor of a prepared-for-almost-anything art student. The tape’s straight edges did little to keep anything out save for the bleeding of a bit of paint or ink into an area I wished to keep free of paint or ink. It’s durable, but truthfully not the best option if you’re looking for a tape to outlast the competition. I felt an easy superiority knowing I could peel up the ripped edge of the roll and tear off a new piece ripe with casual possibilities.
If I didn’t have anything else in my undergraduate art studio, I had no less than six rolls of masking tape at any one time hung from thumb tacks hammered into the shoddy plaster-filled walls, tucked into my backpack or stacked on a shelf. I used it to tape up scraps of paper with notes or drawings depicting an idea for a project, for labeling folders, notebooks and sketch pads. It has served as my devoted security detail over the past six years – reliably covering the webcam of my laptop day in and day out. I’ve entrusted many one-of-a-kind objects to the singular care and unproven longevity of a roll of papery beige masking tape – my entire BFA thesis project being one, which consisted of several hundred strips of paper woven together and then frozen in place with my trusty ol’ pal. The tape really did prove itself in this situation though. It kept its composure while being lifted by several sets of hands, carried down two flights of stairs and across an alley way – a wasteland of discarded projects, shop tools, supplies for various construction projects, and so on, until it safely entered the doors of the gallery space.
I’ve condemned my whole collection of postcards to a life of touting around a scarlet letter of tape. I’ve created a system of a stationary piece of tape assigned to each postcard or remnant of a postcard which would serve as the anchor for a new and therefore temporary tape which would affix itself to the wall.
I was hard pressed to find any kind of scholarly article to validate my emotional response to this particular inanimate object. I wished for some philosophical answer to this connection. I can only theorize that I slip into some misguided psychosis when I pull off an arms’ length of masking tape. In reality, and according to the American Chemical Society’s website, masking tape was invented as a product of the automobile industry’s exacerbated attempts to develop an easier process of painting cars in the fashionable two-tone style popular in the 1920s. Adding to the existing 3M brand of sandpaper, masking tape, a kind of easily-removeable adhesive paper allowed for parts of the car to be protected or masked from the secondary paint color.
I’d like to draw a comparison to this attachment (pun definitely intended) I have to masking tape to German philosopher, Walter Benjamin’s essay about Proust and being transported, at least mentally, into his past experiences by the simple bite of a madeleine cookie. Masking tape is my madeleine cookie.
Jessica Brasseur is currently working on her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction at the University of New Orleans. She has a cat named Lewis. This is her first publication.