The long-anticipated project to transform a corner of our basement into a functional office space is now well underway. Two sections of cinder block foundation wall have been liberally coated in DryLok and white paint, new electrical outlets and lighting fixtures have been installed, a portion of the exposed ceiling has been painted black, and a generous new carpet remnant stretches from wall to unfinished wall. Our master bedroom is, for the first time, starting to resemble the sort of sleeping quarters that befit adults rather than containing the hodgepodge of office furniture and assorted media that had lent it the air of an aging dorm room. Meanwhile, downstairs, I have been carefully arranging an inviting refuge, a secluded spot where I can work surrounded by cherished memorabilia that refreshes my spirit, even if my assorted tchotchkes are not revered by the rest of the family.
“Thank God that thing is going down into the basement,” commented my wife, referring to a delightful three-dimensional diorama of Alice Cooper complete with a functional guillotine and a severed head prop. Apparently she has never liked having it in the bedroom, nor did she appreciate the nearby statue of Alfred E. Neuman, the autographed ELP tambourine, or the cardboard cutout of Salvador Dali. Not that she finds all of those objects necessarily repugnant (though I sense the diorama might warrant that categorization), but I guess she never envisioned such items persisting among our bedroom decor even as we live through our forties. No longer must she seek slumber within an environment that evokes an adolescent boy’s bedroom. Instead, we shall have a basement office that evokes an adolescent boy’s bedroom.
“I’m going down to my man cave,” I announced one day before realizing the inaccuracy of my words. “Actually, it’s more of an adolescent boy cave,” I clarified, “but that sounds a bit sinister. Man cave it is, then!” For my office retreat is devoid of stereotypical masculine iconography. There are neither sports collectibles nor cheesecake calendars, and the only reference to beer is a charmingly retro Miller High Life crate that encloses a portion of my vinyl record collection. Rather, I am populating nooks as well as crannies with things that reflect interests I’ve had since I was a teenager along with complementary pursuits I’ve picked up along the way.
For years, my wife tolerated a large print of Rene Magritte’s La Grande Guerre (the famous painting of a man in a bowler hat with an oversize apple obscuring his face) affixed to our closet door. It looked great in my college dorm room, but it was as incongruous as surrealism itself in the context of our allegedly grown-up bedroom. It is now prominently displayed in the basement office, where its mystifying subject overlooks a colorful riot of interior decoration. Or at least it would overlook it, were it not for that big apple in its face.
Down here in my sanctuary, I am free to unleash my undiminished passion for my juvenile preoccupations to a degree that would surely have ended our marriage had I attempted to decorate our bedroom in the same manner. Here I can hang the big promotional posters that I obtained by begging record store managers decades ago. It is a wonderful place for the giant inflatable tube of Crest toothpaste. Nothing strange about Greg and Marcia Brady bobbleheads and a Hawaiian tiki down here. The occasional skull or skeleton merely adds to the frivolity. And whereas the sight of DEVO in their red energy domes may be antithetical to the typical suburban bedroom aesthetic, it suits the stunted-growth aura of my office space just fine.
Just the other day, I enhanced the nostalgic atmosphere of this basement time machine by breaking out some vinyl and giving my long-silent turntable a spin. First up was Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Brand New Day, a 1977 release that I do not have in any digital format and therefore had not heard in a long time. I enjoyed hearing the scratchy fuzz of the needle meeting the outer groove, and I didn’t even mind flipping the album over after only five songs. I’m hardly an audiophile, and I’ll take a CD over 180-gram vinyl any day, but it was undeniably fun using “legacy technology” to let a neglected record speak again. I took out Mike Pinera’s 1978 Isla and gave it a spin, too.
The old boombox to which I attached my turntable has a cassette player, my primary means of audio reproduction in college. After weeding boxes and drawers of cassette-tape duplicates of recordings that I can currently stream from my digital archive in the cloud, I still have a substantial number of prerecorded titles as well as original content that I recorded myself, some of which is helpfully labeled and much of which is not. Thus, as I continue to plaster the new office walls with Monty Python trading cards, vintage Wacky Packages stickers, and Marx Brothers lobby cards, I can go about my decorating while enjoying my well-worn cassette of a Mama Cass compilation, or I may uncover lost bits of inanity that I recorded with friends many years ago. These audio treasures, too, are cheerfully at home in my basement office in a way that they would not be in the bedroom.
Already, though, there have been subtle threats to my subterranean paradise. Once the paint was on the walls, the carpet was on the floor, the furniture was in place and the bright new lights were turned on, the rest of the family began to appreciate the potential of our unfinished basement. Observing me contentedly sitting at the desk in this newly reclaimed space, I suspect they saw themselves similarly retreating from the cares of the world and hanging out down here. Already there have been teenage band rehearsals in my sacred corner. There has been an agreement between my wife and I that I shall extend the foundation wall painting, and we will eventually install a futon and perhaps even a basement theater. Our eldest daughter envisioned mass sleepovers (though I think the preponderance of embarrassing paraphernalia that I have since tacked up to the walls has put the kibosh on that).
And it is here that I gently put my foot down. I don’t mind doing some more painting, and I would enjoy a futon. A basement theater would be great. The occasional band rehearsal does not bother me. I wouldn’t even say no to the odd sleepover. But whatever we do, I maintain the right to unabashedly celebrate and display my adolescent interests in this otherwise unseen corner of our house. After all, every boy needs a room of his own.