On November 11, 1998, when Howard Braham was a student at Columbia University, he realized around 10:30 p.m. that it was about to turn 11:11 on 11-11. He knocked on the door of his friend Steve Schwartz and they decided to gather 11 people, head up to the 11th floor, turn on the television and watch channel 11, which, Braham recalls, was the 11 o'clock news.
Since then, Braham hosted 11-11 parties almost every year, spacing them out so that the 11th of these parties took place last Friday, on on 11-11-11. The venue was George Izay Park, selected because its address is 1111 Olive Ave., in Burbank.
Braham, who now lives in Glendale and works as a Disney Imagineer, arrived just before 11:11 a.m. and stayed until the final moment of truth — 11 seconds after 11:11 p.m.
Throughout the day, guests came and went from party headquarters, the bleachers next to a baseball field. Braham's first choice location had been the Staples Center — located at 1111 Figueroa. A year ago he inquired, and found out there was a Clippers game that conflicted. After the NBA lockout, he inquired again, and found out it would be $15,000 to rent one of the inside restaurants. A park would be fine.
Each guest received a badge with a number between 1 and 121, which is 11 squared (though there only ended up being about 60 people, Braham's one regret about the party). One person asked about being 111. “111 is my least favorite number,” Braham told him. “It's a false 11. It's trying to be 11.”
Braham wore the Back to the Future t-shirt he reserves for special occasions — he likes the movie in part because a digital clock and the number 88 are featured prominently.
His guests ate cakes, soy chocolate milk and other foods that expired on 11-11-11 — including an 11 sandwich, with multiple choices of meats, cheeses, breads and spreads, all with 11-11-11 expiry.
Braham started collecting the foods two months earlier and discovered that at Trader Joe's, each individual item always expired on the same day each week — like a certain kind of bread always expired on a Friday, like Nov. 4, Nov. 11 or Nov. 18. “When I saw any item that normally expired on a Friday, I could figure out what week I would have to go back to get that item,” he says.
For activities, the guests played 11-hole Frisbee golf and an 11-person game of Pokey, in which participants lock hands while trying to poke each other. They played tennis while scoring using powers of 11: 11-Love, 121-Love, 1331-Love.
On a wall at the back of the bleachers was a row of 11 photographs of 11 athletes, such as Mark Messier and Edgar Martinez, who all wore the number 11. Next to them were the written agendas for previous 11-11 parties. One involved meeting on the 11th floor of the Columbia library, heading to the 11th shelf and turning to the 11th page of the 11th book, which turned out to be a Russian poem about euthanasia. Another involved assembling 11 people to listen to Beethoven's 11th Sonata while reading the 11th article of the Treaty of Versailles until 11:11, at which point they ate 11 donuts. (The Treaty was signed at 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, which is the reason why that day is Armistice Day — now called Veterans Day.)
Braham's interest in the number 11 started in elementary school, when he got a Casio Databank digital watch, the same type of watch he has now, many generations later. “I just like when I look at my watch and see all ones,” he says. “It's the symmetry and the unity. It's a palindrome, it's symmetrical along several axes, it's the same digit. For all those reasons.”
Eventually, at some point during his series of 11-11 parties at Columbia, he hatched the master plan that would culminate with a party in 2011. “Friday was the first time that I could look at my watch and even the year was ones,” he says. “It said 'Friday,' apostrophe, and then everything else was a one.”
Have people poked fun at his obsession? “Yeah, they have,” he says, “but after they attend [their first party] they email me on the day and post Facbeook messages on the day and are more willing to attend future parties.”
After Columbia, Braham got a Masters of Entertainment Technology degree at Carnegie Mellon, learning how to construct entertainment experiences such as video games and amusement park rides, training him for his current job working on interactive attractions for Disney theme parks.
This tech-entertainment combo goes a long way toward explaining Braham's passion for the party. Half of the impetus is an obsession with precision — involving the number one, part of the binary language of computers. The other half is a flair for the dramatic, the urge to create a unique experience.
Leading up to the moment of truth, Braham stood in front of a big television screen, which showed the time in seconds. He had at that point assembled 1,111 11s of some kind (including eight 11s on each of the 121 11-11-11 buttons). Friends called in via conference call, from San Francisco, and the East Coast — 11 parties in all. At the moment of 11:11:11, everyone cheered. Braham experienced the moment while looking at the screen — in the morning, at 11:11:11, he had looked at his watch.
“The number of things I had to take care of in the last 11 minutes of the party, it's like, 'Oh man, it's already time.' It snuck up on me,” he now recalls. “But the word that I would say best describes the feeling of the final moment was 'unity,' because everyone was looking in the same direction and all focused on the time and thinking about 11, but also unity because the Latin root meaning of 'one.' And it was all one.”