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 am sitting by the front windows at a table adorned with a small vase of fresh-cut daisies and miniature yellow roses, clacking away at my laptop while sipping from a large mocha espresso. It is mid-morning, well after the breakfast rush and still more than an hour away from the onset of the lunch crowd, yet there has been no scarcity of customers. An ebullient woman dressed as a skeleton and a cocky guy in the garb of a Mardi Gras king are competing for the approval of the audience as Let's Make A Deal unfolds on a flat-screen display. No one pays any attention to the spectacle, though, its raucous proceedings muffled by the general din of conversation and an industrious, cheery staff.
The dining area is a collage of browns, beiges and oranges, offset with bold murals of modern art featuring swaths of black and white, red and yellow, and a high-contrast, monochromatic portrait of a young woman of ambiguous expression staring upward as her negatively silhouetted hand cradles a photorealistic hamburger. Behind the counter is an even more aggressive design scheme: yard-long, rectangular backsplash panels in adjoining fields of midnight black and fire engine red. A light wood grain laminate dominates not only the floor but the walls as well. Unobtrusive lighting recessed within acoustical ceiling tile illuminates a variety of seating options, from a long, tall, wooden table flanked by a dual row of upholstered bar stools to a series of white fiberglass tables adjacent to a long, cushioned bench that runs along the front of the room. It's a quirky mix of variety and uniformity, as though an interior decorator were given complete artistic freedom within severely defined constraints.
As Aunt Peg would have said, "Isn't that somethin'?"
I remember my Great Aunt Peg as a kindly old woman who seemed to be in a perpetual state of amusement. She ambled about with her stout frame and white hair, her sparkling eyes framed by glacial grooves of laugh-worn wrinkles, her cherubic mouth always somewhere on the continuum from Mona Lisa grin to tooth-baring smile.
Her infectious laugh was gentle and silly. It began with a short, guttural warning, followed by a cascading repetition of rollicking chortles. A-hill, hill, hill! A-hill, hill, hill, hill! If you didn’t happen to think that the object of her outburst was funny, it was no matter to her – she just went on a-hill-ing, and you couldn’t help but be amused yourself by that silly laugh.
She was a childless widow by the time I came along. Though she lived only a block away, I never visited her, as it was the custom for her to visit us. Then one day, by circumstances I do not recall, I found myself the sole guest in her modest home.
I was perhaps nine years old, and I must have known I was due for a visit of some length, for I remember bringing along a small collection of treasures to show and tell. We sat before a coffee table in her ordinary living room, sunlight filtering through the window from the quiet intersection that bordered her corner house. I embarked on a detailed lecture concerning the assorted items I had arranged on the table. Aunt Peg sat patiently and attentively through my thoughtful discourses on the merits of one trading card over another and the means by which my portable slide viewer worked.
“Oh, how ‘bout that, it has a little battery inside,” she enthused, “a little battery, a-hill, hill!”
When at last I had exhausted my knowledge and fell silent, Aunt Peg was ready to take her turn. She fixed her whimsical countenance upon me and asked, “Have you seen my tent room?” Her casual tone made it sound as though she was referring to something everyone had in their homes. Nonplussed and inquisitive, I followed her into the hall.