Friday, January 24, 2014

Party over here, party over there

So the Super Bowl is approaching, and that is an occasion I always look forward to, more and more for purely social reasons. I am completely uninterested in the Commercials Are The Only Reason To Watch/People Who Loudly Proclaim They Only Watch For The Ads Are Worse Than Hitler debate. Some years I have a vested interest in rooting for one of the teams playing for the championship (while other years I have a vested interest in rooting against a team), and some years it’s just a game the outcome of which will not really impact me emotionally. Mainly it’s a designated big cultural event on a specific date which prompts a bunch of my friends whom I don’t see very often to gather together over buffalo wings and beer. I deem this a worthy use of time.

I’m slightly biased on this subject because I’m an extrovert and I love parties. I love attending them, and I love throwing them. And I’ve thrown some doozies, if I do say so myself. I mentioned back around Halloween how me and some buddies made a grand entrance as a bunch of Smurfs at one of our house parties, and I (blurrily) remember that entire party being a good time had by all. For a while there, when I was living in that townhouse-full-of-roommates arrangement, we were making a concerted effort to throw at least one party every month. In practical terms this meant just asking people to come over to our house and hang out and drink, but more often than not we made some token effort to tie things together with some kind of theme. Sometimes that meant simply staking a claim on traditional party dates, like Halloween or New Year’s Eve, and going with that. Other times it involved a little more creative effort:

- We hosted an honest-to-Jove toga party
- We hosted two different “Screw Winter” parties, revolving around tropical drinks and (minimal) beach attire in the dead of winter. The first one was actually a bit of a bust, since a ton of snow dumped down on the day of the party and it ended up being just those of us who lived in the house and one friend who braved the roads. The follow-up was much better.
- We hosted “Drinking Star Wars” events, which were deadly (not literally, but not for lack of trying) day-long marathons of playing a drinking game along with the entire Star Wars trilogy.
- We hosted parties based around the “Purity Test” that was floating around the proto-internet back in the day. This was a yes/no questionnaire about things you’ve done in your life (mostly sex/drugs/drinking and petty crime) where the more questions you can answer “yes I’ve done that” the less pure (or prudish) you are. We gave everyone paper and pens, administered the test orally (hehhehheh) and asked everyone to tabulate their own score. Then everyone wrote their scores on nametags, which made for a hell of an icebreaker as the party progressed (as did various attempts to alter scores in the downward direction over the course of the evening)

And so on. Having roommates to defray the costs and co-shoulder the logistical burdens of hosting parties naturally led to more and more elaborate scenarios, but even after I had moved out into my own place I still threw the occasional theme-heavy bash. (Once I got an actual 300 lb. pirate bar in my basement, it would have been an absolute sin not to host a Pirate Party.) That’s just my personal predilections at work. I enjoy a good dinner party or cocktail reception, and backyard cookouts make life worth living, but what really pushes my buttons are orchestrated excuses for eating and drinking combined with costumed pageantry and/or organized competitive events.

Of course, that’s basically the provenance of the childless as well, and especially at this point in time where my kids are not all sleeping through the night (so close! but not quite!) I have neither the energy, desire nor ability to make an epic rager happen, even in the comfort of my own home. But apparently there is a dedicated segment of my brain for thinking about such things, and it continues to hum along in the background, waiting for the time when I can truly embarrass my offspring by hosting parties for all my should-be-too-old-for-this-but-refuse-to-grow-up friends. Of which I plan to have many (friends like that for sure, and possibly parties).

And in fact there remain a number of parties which I have never had the opportunity to host, and yet which I still hope to maybe get around to organizing one of these days, when all of my kids are teenagers and I have regained the ability to stay up past 11 p.m. and I have more disposable income than I know what to do with. I now present five of these potential party ideas, in increasing order of elaborate expense and general improbability:

1. Any kind of pubquiz/gameshow. This is also, coincidentally, a kind of party I have wanted to throw for a long, long time, at least as far back as the townhouse days. Back then, there was a brief-lived show on MTV called Idiot Savants which was basically just a pop culture trivia gameshow, with the added twist that contestants got to pick their own wheelhouse category for the final round in advance, and the producers would come up with questions in that category. I so very much wanted to throw an Idiot Savants party back in the day, but the prep work involved was pretty daunting. And I knew from experience with the activity-heavy parties like Star Wars and Purity that just getting people to show up at your house on time could be a challenge, let alone running an elimination tournament in rounds. So it never materialized, but since those crazy early-1997 days I’ve held onto the idea, and continued to enjoy everything from Comedy Centrals Beat the Geeks to VH1’s World Series of Pop Culture to NPR’s Ask Me Another, and bided my time.

2. Casablanca immersion. This one I’ve wanted to pull off even longer, ever since I was first introduced to Casablanca in college. I’d love to have people over to watch the movie and serve Moroccan food and all the fancy cocktails that get ordered by name at Rick’s. Maybe even rent a roulette table and croupier for the night? Evening wear optional, but inherently part of the appeal, I think.

3. Superhero murder mystery. I have been to a couple of murder mystery parties, both as host and guest, and I think they are awesome. I know there is a counterpoint opinion that they are cheesy like a fondue-tsunami, but I have never not had fun with them. The key is to invite the right people, who all have to be (a) willing to dress up in costumes and (b) able to do in-character improv and (c) amused by the thought of trying to solve a fictional mystery and then (d) know each other well enough or at least potentially get along well enough for it to feel like an actual party. Amazingly enough, I believe myself lucky enough to know a lot of people like this, and on top of all that, those same people are by and large total geeks like me. Theoretically, they could totally get behind a murder mystery party where the milieu was superhero pastiche. The problem, though, is that I have never seen one commercially produced, which is kind of critical, since I’ve also never heard of someone inventing their own murder mystery on the fly. An out-of-the-box murder mystery of course provides the pre-printed invitations and the cheat sheets of what each character knows and/or is trying to hide, but most importantly it contains an actual mystery that hangs together in a logical way, plays by the rules of the genre, and can be figured out. That is harder than it sounds. The only approach I’ve ever thought might work would be to get a commercial murder mystery kit, strip out the period details for pirates or cowboys or gangsters or whatever, and then fill in comic book inspired details, possibly with input from the guests who would be allowed/encouraged to come up with their own vigilante personas for the evening. But again, that is an uphill logistical battle.

4. Float-in movie marathon. Now we’re getting really crazy, as this would require more than mere disposable income. It would require sufficient wealth to move to a different house with its own pool, for starters. And then I would have to order up some special equipment from SkyMall. (I fully admit that window-shopping through the pages of SkyMall is often one of the guilty pleasure highlights of commercial airline travel, for me.) Specifically, a full-size outdoor projection screen system, which is a beyond-luxury item that I have coveted for as long as I can remember, or at least as long as I’ve been aware that such things exist. If I did own a house with a pool, I like to think I’d be generous about having people over to enjoy it whenever seasonally appropriate. But to really take it to the next level, I’d set up a movie screen right next to the pool (which, again, I swear is an idea lifted straight from the catalog photo) and make sure there were plenty of pool noodles, inflatable innertubes and buoyant chaise longues to go around. I reckon for the inaugural event (because of course it would become an annual tradition) I’d be hard-pressed to resist the temptation to go with an ironic movie choice, like a double feature of Deep Blue Sea and Waterworld. But after that, I’d mix things up, take requests, and whatnot.

5. Midnight Madness! Finally something both prohibitively expensive and logistically ludicrous! This is an idea lifted wholesale from the movie of the same name, which I listed amongst my non-canon movie memories and which I acknowledge is a fairly obscure flick (despite featuring a very young Michael J. Fox and a whole bunch of “hey, it’s that guy!”s). The entire plot of the movie, such as it is, revolves around a bunch of teams playing an all-night game of solving puzzles which lead to locations where more puzzles are hidden, the solutions of which will lead onward and onward, until at the finish line there’s a giant party and whichever team gets there first wins some grand prize. I am such a huge nerd that I would find it deliriously fun to come up with these brain-teasers intended to lead people around the local sights. The biggest obstacle (above and beyond the cost of the venue for the finish-line party, and inviting the right people who could recruit teams, &c.) is getting buy-in from third parties. In the movie, some of the puzzles and clues are hidden as menu items in restaurants or victory screens of cabinet games at video arcades or special exhibits at museums, because of course the movie is a fantasy. But even securing enough cooperation to guarantee that a simple puzzle is going to stay where it needs to be for the players to find it on the night of the party could be tough. (I have seen organized events along these lines in the real world, but usually put together by a large group with its own infrastructure, not an overenthusastic individual.) Oh, but to pull it off would be glorious.

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