One of the thousands, or perhaps trillions of things I don’t understand about the opposite sex is the fondness of girls my age for old Disney movies. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Aladdin too. But I was five at the time. I don’t have the entire soundtrack on my iPod. I don’t know all the words to all the songs. I don’t consider it among my favorite movies, because I see it as a film for children, and as a 22 year old college almost graduate I consider myself above such shenanigans.
In other news, when two of my roommates came tumbling into the kitchen of the beach house we were renting this weekend and said, “Truman! We’re building a blanket fort in the living room! You want in?”, my response was, “What the fuck do you think? Of course I do!”
What compulsion, as children or childish adults, drove us to build forts? Is it some leftover hunter gatherer instinct, or was it just what we did in the days before games like Minecraft allowed us to exercise this urge on a grander scale? I don’t know, but I can tell you that I spent several hundred afternoons as a kid tearing up mine and my friends’ houses in search of vital building supplies (they were usually in the linen closet).
There were two central problems to fort building:
The first was that the most abundant building supply, quilts, were usually the most difficult to work with. (Light, flexible sheets are like gold.) Sure, a quilt makes a good floor for your fort, but if you try to use it as a ceiling it’ll sag down in the middle, compromising what precious little vertical space your fort already has. You can use lots of heavy household objects to secure the edges of the quilt on whatever surfaces you’re stretching it between, but that brings us to the second problem, which is:
Mom hates it when you build forts. She might have just enough patience to let her kid and maybe a couple of his dumb friends roll around on the family’s valuable bed linens for a little while, but eventually someone’s going to come over who will want to sit down on the couch, and she’s going to want those cushions back, east wall facade be damned. Furthermore, the commonly accepted tactic to hold blankets in place is to anchor them by setting heavy objects on top of them, but heavy things are inevitably valuable items like lamps or the Bible or something, and mothers have shown time and again that they’re willing to let their fear of heirlooms getting damaged stand in the way of architectural progress.
At the beach yesterday, however, we had no such constraints. We had four bedrooms’ worth of blankets and sheets, and without any parental figures in the house our imaginations were only limited by our own common sense. Like the creators of Jurassic Park, we were pursuing our dreams with careless abandon; unlike the creators of Jurassic Park, we succeeded completely and nobody got eaten by dinosaurs.
And if any dinosaurs did show up, we could hide from them inside this totally sweet fort that we built.
We used the surface of a glass coffee table to make a skylight so we could watch TV from inside.* We used a broomstick to prop up the ceiling over at the north end, which served as a valuable ventilation source for a stuffy fort filled with serial abusers of the ‘no farting’ policy.
*No, Mom and Dad, it didn’t shatter because it was about an inch thick. Resist your urge to file a claim.
As we built with the fevered intensity of five hungover Frank Lloyd Wrights, we agreed that we were satisfying a unified childhood ambition to build the grandest, most improbably large fort of all time. Because I feel like that’s what every fort builder tried to achieve in his or her childhood, but couldn’t because they ran out of blankets or Dad pitched a fit when he came home and couldn’t walk through the living room.
One of my last fortmaking endeavors before this weekend happened at a friend’s house when I was twelve. We were in the middle of construction of a modest two room affair in the basement when we ran short on blankets and I was selected to awkwardly ask my friend’s Mom where we could find more.
I went upstairs and outlined to her our cause: We were building a fort in the basement, and did she know where we could find some more blankets? She responded by snapping angrily that no, we could not have any more of her blankets, and we were too old to be making forts anyway.
This was, I think, the first time in my life that I ever felt indignant. Stifle our creativity by denying us construction material? That’s one thing – I understand Michelangelo had a fair amount of interference with his masterpieces as well, and he never let that stop him. But trying to tell us we were too old to be making forts?
I had a very distinct urge to say something Samuel L. Jacksonish, to the tune of “Woman, I will tell you when I am too old to play GameBoy in a fortress made out of an All That blanket and the dining room table, and today is not that goddamned day!”, but instead I just mumbled an apology and glumly relayed the bad news to my friends downstairs.
I reflected on this experience yesterday. Who’s to tell us when we’ve outgrown something, anyway? That’s a decision everybody has to make for themselves. Incidentally, I thought about all of this while lounging in the West Wing of our fort, drinking a screwdriver and watching Arrested Development through the skylight.
As I write this, it’s Sunday morning. We have to be out of the house in a few hours, and currently every linen and cushion in the house is haphazardly tangled up in the living room, along with a good chunk of the furniture.
No regrets, but when faced with the prospect of carefully dismantling Fort Kickass and returning its component parts to their rightful places throughout the house, I’m suddenly seeing this from a Mom’s perspective and sort of wishing we’d decided to outgrow forts sooner.
Truman Capps has seen that episode of Community where Troy and Abed built the huge fort in the dorms, so you don’t even have to ask.