Monday, September 21, 2020

Fortress Party Retrospective 2003

Room themes: 
The Citadel
The Widow's Walk 

The first sign-in sheet! Estimated attendance: 30. 

This is the Widow's Walk, so named only because it is on the second floor of the house. This is the room that would one day be the nursery. 

This is the first time I remember taping a sign to a wall directing guests to different named Fortress rooms. 

Nirvana had fake snow, real rose petals, a backlit Buddha, and some Krishna Das music playing from speakers behind the curtain.  


And tortilla chips in a bowl. This is only remarkable because a few years later, we decided to stop serving snacks unless they were specific to the theme. Food requires tables, and tables take up valuable floor space. Plus, no matter how many snacks we bought,  they were always gone by 10 pm, leaving the unsightly dishes and crumbs everywhere. 

Since we stopped serving food, there have been a lot more guests getting sick from drinking too much, but I think that's a coincidence. 

The Leveques were always early adopters of the latest tech, so the camera she is holding is probably 3 megapixels!

This was the room called the Citadel. The name was chosen entirely because it was loosely a synonym with 'fortress,' rather than because it was actually a theme. Some guests found their first Fortress Party to be a little overwhelming. 

Steve was our first guest who traveled from a different state to attend the party. 

This was a couple weeks after Michigan beat Ohio State. These smiling fans don't realize that would happen only one more time in the next 17 years. 

After two years of temporary tattoos, we upped our custom swag game and had these balloons made. 

I go through thousands of clothespins, and there is no better place to keep them at the ready than the then in a 6 inch radius around the navel.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fortress Party Retrospective 2002

And then one day, Fortress Party moved to Ann Arbor. We bought a house because of the name of the street it was on... Roon the Ben. 

Home ownership confers many benefits, but foremost is the privilege of hardwiring the house to be fortress-ready. We installed about a dozen screw eyes into the wall a few inches below the ceiling to hold up the line. 

We used drywall anchors so we could put them wherever we wanted. It would be a few years before I learned what a bad idea anchors were. The weight of the Fort loosens them, and they eventually pop out, leaving holes in the wall, and sometimes causing a corner of the Fortress ceiling to collapse. Learn from my mistakes, future Fortress-builders, and always screw your screw eyes directly into studs. 

This Fortress was about 500 square feet, filling the ground floor of the 2-story house. A few leftover temporary tattoos from 2001 made it onto guest bellies.

This couple would eventually get married. Did they meet at Fortress Party? Maybe, but even if they didn't, this event clearly solidified their bond.

Note the little paper sign taped to the wall that says, "Control Room." This was the first time a Fortress room was labelled to represent its theme.

The "Control Room" contained a TV that was hooked up by a 10-foot cable to our Mini-DV camera, which was pointed at the front door of the house. When people came in, we saw them and shouted their names drunkenly. (We were not drunk; we were just shouting drunken-LY. It was part of the theme.) 

The music at FP'02 was... cassettes!

Another future married couple who may or may not have met at Fortress Party.

The London's early board game collection. Pretty sorry, even by 2002 standards.

These two would eventually become BFFs. Is it because of FP '02? A lot of people are saying so.

Ignore the Franzia wine stand for a second, because any party can have that. What's cool about this picture is that this is the first Fortress that included any rooms with uncarpeted floors, and we already knew that was unacceptable. In this case, an afghan was placed on (though not yet taped to) linoleum floor in the kitchen. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Fortress Party Retrospective 1998-2001, part 1

Fortress Party1998

I have not been able to find any photos from Fortress Party '98, but there is an artifact that has survived, and it is one of my most precious possessions. 

This sign was drawn on six connected sheets of perforated printer paper. It's the earliest documented appearance of the term, "Fortress Party," and it encapsulates the excitement and terror of being only 13 months from the next millennium. The drawing on the sign were supposed to represent our predictions for the year 2000.

From left to right:
  • A hand holding a DIVX disc.
  • Some kind of malevolent space god cursing a farm in a crystal ball
  • A retro rocket ship
  • A nuclear explosion at the North Pole
  • A laser blaster
  • The gravestone for Jim O'Keane (Who I think was Jeff Bercovici's middle school English teacher?)
  • An envelope with a 34-cent stamp
  • A small (but apparently futuristic) shovel.
  • A sinister bug-creature
  • A robot with an oscilloscope on its chest
  • An alien
  • A tower in the clouds with a nearby flying saucer

Fortress Party 1999
I only found one picture. The centerpiece of the evening was Fortress Gladiators, in which hosts and guests would put on costumes and beat each other up. Note that we were in the middle of the Fort, and the ceiling was high enough to stand up. 

Fortress Party 2000

As you can see, things turned out pretty much as we predicted in 1998. (34-cent stamp not shown.) 

The reason this picture is wonderful is that it shows a bottle of custom Fortress Party beer. My dad was going through a home-brewing phase and produced two different custom beers for the event: Fortress Tonic and Fish Piss Fortress Brew. 

I think there were 6 of each beer, and the handful of guests had a chance to sample both. Everyone agreed that both were delicious, but we argued fiercely about which brew was better. 

The next day, my dad confessed to me that while he had, in fact, made several bottles of beer for the occasion, he deemed it too good to waste on Fortress Partygoers. What we had been drinking was Milwaukee's Best that he had relabeled. 

Even with that knowledge, I maintain that Fortress Tonic was better. 

Fortress Party 2001

Lauren and I had moved to Ann Arbor by this point, but we were weren't sure how to introduce this concept to a whole new crowd, so we decided to do one last Fortress Party at my parent's house in Milwaukee.

String lights (or as the gentiles say, "Christmas lights") have become a staple of Fortress Party. They are clothespin-friendly, and provide consistent low levels of light and fire risk. In this picture, you can see them only vaguely through the green sheet and reflected in the TV. 

We had three custom temporary tattoos made. The The first was a two headed horse with the words "Fortress, etc." 

The second temporary tattoo was a smiling factory with the text "FP '01." 

The third one was red, and I can't remember what it said. 

A Ronald Reagan quote book was awarded to the year's Fortress Gladiator champion. 
Turns out, he wasn't a fan. 

And before I forget: Please bury me with this Superfriends sheet.

Fortress Party 98-01 will be back!
I found mini-DV footage from these parties, and we took them to Costco to have them turned into mp4s. When we pick those up in a couple weeks, we'll discover together what other magic and mayhem happened in the peri-millennial Forts.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Fortress Party Retrostpective: 1997

Year 3 was the first time we used clotheslines and clothespins to hang the sheets. This was only possible because of a unique architectural feature of the family room in my parents' house.

If you look just to the left of the light fixture, you will see a bit of clothesline leading up towards the corner of the room. It is tied around an angled support beam. There are one these in each of the cardinal corners of the room. We tied the clotheslines to these very loosely, and the fort dipped considerably in the middle, where it was still bolstered from below by furniture. 

Still, the idea of supporting the sheets from above was a major game-changer. In the evolution of Fortress Party, this was the year it sprouted legs and walked out of the ocean. 

The family room, which housed all Fortress Parties between 1995 and 2001, is a single large space over the garage. In 1997, we subdivided it into two fortress rooms.

For some reason, there were five cans of chicken broth lined up below the table. Perhaps that was an early attempt at a theme?

There is paper Hanukkah menorah on the table. In 1997, Hanukkah was late, from December 23-31. so FP'97 was probably some time that week.

It looks like this picture was taken from inside the tent. Can anyone figure out what board game they are playing?

Jeff and Mindy discover that covering yourself with fortress clothespins makes you irresistible. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Fortress Party Retrospective: 1995-1996

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for September is called, "Puff Piece." If the first 15 seconds of this song don't make your day better, you have my permission to throw your work computer into an open manhole.

It is with both sadness and relief that we officially announce the cancellation of Fortress Party 2020. If this comes as a surprise, you must be living under a rock. In which case I envy you, because that living situation would simulate the Fortress experience, at least a little. 

On one hand, it would be irresponsible to cram 400 people into a single-family home during a pandemic, but on the other hand, what if that home was modified to impair air circulation as much as possible? 

For those of you who aren't privy to the lowdown, Fortress Party is an event that Lauren and I have hosted every year since before Lauren and I met. This would have been our 26th consecutive year turning the house into a giant maze of sheets, crawlspaces, and fire hazards. 

Since I won't be spending the next three months hanging sheets, I've decided to use some of that found time to share the history and highlights of the last 25 years of Forts.  

We'll start from the beginning, and work up to the present by December 12, the day that would have been FP'20.

Note to those of you reading this on email: I will post most of these Fortress Party updates to blog and Facebook. The monthly Hard Taco digest emails will continue to have links to the newest Hard Taco songs, as well as links to the Fortress Party history updates.

1995 - The fort with a lower-case f.

This is the real story of how it started. I was home on college break, some high school and camp friends came over, and someone suggested we build a fort in my parent's family room. I think it was borne out of nostalgia, which is a funny emotion for a teenager.

We draped sheets over furniture and secured them with heavy books or photo albums. The highest point in the fort was the sheet that rested on the NordicTrack ski machine. 

The main activity of the evening was playing Trivial Pursuit. As you can see, it was Trivial Pursuit Genus I, but of course they didn't call it Genus I because Genus II hadn't been invented yet. Fortress Party was the same way... this night wouldn't come to be known as Fortress Party '95 until many years later. 

Slumber Party '96

In year 2, we made a few seemingly inconsequential choices that laid the groundwork for several Fortress traditions. First, we gave the event a name. And that name was... Slumber Party? When we rebranded it as Fortress Party the following year, corporate America took notice. "Maybe we can achieve greatness by subtly changing our name, as well," said the executive boards of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin' Donuts, and The Facebook. 

By associating the party with the last two digits of year it took place, we created a filing system for all future Fortress Parties. At least until 2095, when the recurrence of a second event called Fortress Party '95 will cause banks to fail and planes to drop out of the sky. This is sad, but unavoidable.

Here I can be seen handing out job descriptions (Food, Plans, and Linens) to the original Slumber Party Steering Committee (SlumPSeC). 

Steve takes meticulous inventory of party snacks.

Jeremy shows me his expansive vision for the fort layout, which involves pouring several truckloads of concrete around the bay window.  Logistically, it turned out to be easier to drape sheets over furniture.

The phone. The floppy disks. The computer monitor. 
The fact that the guest list is just four people, and two of them are my parents.

Slumber Party '96. 
This is from the same angle as the 1995 picture, and you can see that the ceiling is higher. This established another longstanding Fortress Party tradition: The Fort must be bigger every year. 

I notice that three of the four guests shown in this picture were not among the people I called to invite. These were the first in a long line of unwanted party crashers.

With warmest regards,