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A Salute to The Man Cave (and Other Places of Inner Sanctum)

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: Man Cave, Sanctuaries, The Man Cave, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgThe garage was a hideous-looking thing; a detached one stall made from pressboard painted white, with green trim that would be a pretty color only if it was seen when staring wistfully into someone’s eyes, or even acceptable to wear one day a year, on St. Patrick’s Day. But for a garage? Eeeew! It been this ugly since the day it was built 25 years ago, long before we bought the house. Oh, I tried to hide it’s ugliness over the years with a trellised grape vine on one side, and by letting a rambling rose grow massively out-of-control on the other side. I planted hydrangeas between the garage and the equally hideous-looking, rusty old metal shed in an attempt to mask the hideousness of both buildings.

Ugly garage 

The garage finally got a facelift this summer when Keith noticed a bit of wood rot around the foundation. I picked the siding color – red. “Red? Are you sure?” he asked. “Yes, red. Barn red.”

Our house is a 100-plus year old farmhouse that in my mind needed to be red; I love red houses. Since re-siding the house is not in the budget now, I figured why not start small, with a red garage. Once complete, I thought the newly-sided, barn-red garage was a pretty backdrop to the vegetable garden in full swing, surrounded by a lawn of Dutch clover in bloom.

Finished garage 

The only thing out of place now is that rickety ugly shed. I’ve got my heart set on a potting shed – a beautiful, barn-red potting shed with space not only for the mowers, tiller, shovels, and rakes, but I vision shelves of pots, a small chest of drawers for seeds, balls of twine, and gloves, a peg-board for my hand-tools, and a roof overhang with a potting bench beneath. And windows; it must have windows! I cannot convince Keith that a shed needs windows. He wants to replace the old shed with a new utility shed – one that adds nothing to the charm that I’m trying to create in our backyard. In fact, he cares nothing about my beautification efforts. He would be equally fine with nothing but concrete surrounding the garage as he is with the new daylily and hosta bed I planted this fall along the garage’s foundation. I’m fairly certain whatever color siding I chose would have been fine too. As long as it’s functional, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

It’s not about appearances; it’s what’s inside that counts. And inside the garage…well, it’s a sanctuary. Oh, look – there’s Keith now, still suited up from just finishing snow-blowing. He’s beckoning us to come in.

Shhhh….we are about to enter the sanctity of the Man Cave.

Beckoned into the man cave 

The story goes that the term “man cave” first appeared in print in 1992, when a newspaper ran a story about a man’s newly remodeled basement. The idea though, has probably been in existence as long as men, women, and children have coexisted in the same habitat. In times with more genteel conversation than Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor’s simian grunts, gentlemen would retire after dinner from the under scrutiny of the female persuasion to discuss business and politics over port and cigars, while the women presumably either cleared the dinner remains, or gossiped. The notion that “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden” is how the word “golf” originated is false, but the myth does have a certain appeal ... to both sexes. To women, because it implies that they’ve overcome another obstacle in what was once a man’s world; to men, well, a man just needs a place devoid of feminine influence – a place where he can be a man. Hence today’s testosterone temple – the Man Cave.

IKEA’s even got a commercial mentioning the “man cave.” Complete with plush carpeting, a huge flat-screen television, sleek, Scandinavian furniture accented with candles, vases, and modern art, it’s a room designed by women. A woman designing a man cave? It seems like sacrilege. Never-the-less, that plush carpet and flat screen T.V. would probably trigger a case of Man Cave Envy in Keith. Actually, I’m pretty sure he might be suffering a mild case of that now. If his garage is the Man Cave, his best friend has a Man Cavern. Andrew’s man cave is a spacious, heated, three stall attached garage, with a wall-mounted television, a full-sized refrigerator, and easy access to the all-important bathroom and kitchen just a few steps away.

In contrast, Keith’s Man Cave does indeed have the air of being a cave. It’s small; heated with only a 40K BTU kerosene heater on one end and a dual burner heater attached to a propane grill tank on the other, it remains a chilly 50 degrees. It’s dimly lit, and has a kind of dank smell to it – an earthy, musty smell, lightly perfumed with just a hint of oil and gasoline.

But it’s a place he can escape the resounding booms of rap music that aren’t contained just to Shelby’s room, but loudly echo throughout the house. Classic rock is the only music heard in the Man Cave. The Man Cave is where he can get a break from Shannon’s favorite Nickelodeon or Animal Planet television shows to listen to the news, a football game, or the weather.

It’s a place he and his buddy can talk politics, sports, and world news over a few beers, or work on the small aluminum fishing boat that was barely lake-worthy when they bought it. He can tinker alone, or ponder about tinkering. It’s where he fixes things that may or may not need fixing, or builds wonderful things like grape arbor he made for my birthday which arches over the pathway from the house to the Man Cave.

Grape arbor birthday present 

There’s no “Men Only” sign on the door; I’m just as welcome as his friends. Sometimes the Man Cave is the only place Keith and I can grab a moment to talk without interruptions.

Sometimes he spends Man Cave time doing nothing more then getting the Man Cave in order – his order with everything in its place, where he doesn’t have to rummage for five minutes through a drawer of junk just to find a roll of tape. The only disorder in the Man Cave are the three drawers that hold my hand tools and other gardening junk ... which wouldn’t be in the Man Cave if I had my potting shed.

Yes, a man needs his cave. My friend, Chris, explained the man cave as “a sanctuary of testosterone protecting men of the world from overly frilly intrusions. Women have an entire house in which to express their feminine side – we have the garage which consists of tools, power tools, yard tools, mowers, gas cans, cars, and if we’re really lucky, a small fridge! We can’t even go to the bathroom without running into something pink and flouncy – we need our garages!”

Frilly? Pink and flouncy?! I don’t think I own anything pink. And the bold reds, yellows, and greens, or muted tones of the same that are present throughout the house, scream neither frilly nor flouncy. But yeah, I get it; looking around the house, there’s not a room that doesn’t have a floral fabric or botanical print, only because I am in charge of the decorating. Beer mirrors and neon bar signs aren’t allowed; they’re resigned to the Man Cave. I don’t begrudge the time Keith spends in the Man Cave either – I believe everyone needs a place where they can take a moment’s refuge.

But what about the Woman’s Haven? (A nice potting shed would be perfect!) Remember those old “Calgon, take me away” commercials in which a woman escapes the chaos around her by relaxing in a nice, quiet and leisurely bath? In what dream world does this scenario take place? If a man can’t go to the bathroom without running into something flouncy, a woman can’t go into the bathroom without intrusions. I think my family lurks outside the bathroom door, just waiting until I’m in the shower to begin their barrage of constant knocks, questions yelled through the door, and one or more of them running in “to get something” or “tell me something” that can’t possibly wait until I’m out of the bathroom. I can’t brush my teeth for five minutes without interruption, let alone take a 15 minute shower.

Whether or not I ever get to shower in peace, or eventually get my potting shed (I haven’t given up hope yet. How many hints can I leave Keith in one blog?), I do have my own place of inner sanctum. Its boundaries are not contained within walls. Its door leads to the outside world. The only music is alternative metal, and it’s heard without ridicule from the rest of the family who terms it “noise”. It’s a place where I can go with friends, or be alone to ponder. If someone peeked in the windows to my mind, they’d still see a jumble of thoughts, but while I’m there, the thoughts are less frayed; their edges are more defined. My cross-country skis take me there. Shannon, my budding skier, summed it up perfectly after a particularly beautiful, special evening we spent together on the torch-lit trails of the nature center, “Skiing takes me away ... it takes me to different places in my mind.” That is my sanctuary.

What’s yours?

cindy murphy
2/9/2011 7:55:29 AM

Oh, Shannon, Shannon, Shannon...I hate to burst your Mom Bubble, really I do, but their neediness seems to grow as quickly as their shoe size. Finally you'll make it into the teenage years; they've become independent, and you'll think you can hold on to that shred of sanity you still have left. Pfft! There is a reason, so I'm told by the few I know who've survived, that the teenage years come directly before the college years. It's so you can at last enjoy a moment's peace. Enjoy that 5 minutes time to yourself while you can!


s.m.r. saia
2/9/2011 5:35:42 AM

Cindy, we have a similar man cave here. Actually we have two, which my husband is constantly talking about joining together into one BIG one. I'm afraid to go into either of them! Oh, and am I to understand that the inability hold a private thought in my head for 5 minutes inside the house without someone needing Mom isn't going to go away? Ack!


cindy murphy
2/7/2011 12:27:10 PM

Michelle - how very cool you are learning about some of your Native American heritage through those books. If you ever want to identify some of the plants discussed in them, you can always get a native plant book to use as a reference while you read...or e-mail me the description, and I'll see if I can help. Enjoy your day!


cindy murphy
2/7/2011 12:15:20 PM

A horse trough, Stepper?! Pfft! I was going to offer my condolences over the loss of your Man Cave, but a horse trough! I shall instead say that a woman can never have too much closet space, and congratulations to your wife! Dare I ask what a Morgan is - the only thing I can think of is a horse (for the trough?), or a very attractive guy on Criminal Minds. If a Morgan is also a decent shed of some sort, I bet it comes with windows; any self-respectable shed has windows! Just kidding with you, of course. Thanks for stepping in, and hope you get to enjoy some of that BBQ soon!


michelle house
2/7/2011 12:07:06 AM

Cindy, I have learned alot about Native American plants by reading those books. lol, I wish they came with pictures, so I could identify them. I am part Native American, Iroquois, Six Nations out of Canada and upper New York State. Those books "speak to me" I guess. Jean Auel. Clan of the Cave Bear series. I do believe her final book is coming out this year. I have all the other books. Her detail in the clothing, foods, medicine,and plants is really awesome in my opinion. Though Archaeologists, differ on that opinion. lol


chris davis
2/6/2011 7:20:59 PM

"green trim that would be a pretty color only if it was seen when staring wistfully into someone’s eyes" As usual it didn't take you long to get my attention. Thank you for acknowledging men need a sanctuary, and I'm on your side with the monstrous metal contraption. For Keith: allow me to suggest you replace it with a nice Morgan! With a little planning you could have it plumbed and install a shower or even one of those Calgon moment tubs. (Or a horse troth - wink wink nudge nudge.) I don't get the windows thing though. Wouldn't that detract from peg-board space? :) And of course, having generously donated 10' sq or so, the rest could be put to appropriate man cave use. Alas, I lost my "man cave" when my wife confused it for an extremely large attached closet. I go down the street where a neighbor - who is single - converted his garage into an open BBQ with a bar and large screen TV. It makes me think of Fred Astaire. "Heaven, I'm in heaven..." Nice piece Cindy.


cindy murphy
2/5/2011 10:28:37 PM

I like history too, Michelle - all kinds of history, but sadly have to admit I've not delved into Native American history much (except how it relates to plants). Jean Auel - she's the author of Clan of the Cave Bear, yes. I believe I read somewhere she's got a new book coming out this year, which is supposed to be the last in the series.


michelle house
2/5/2011 8:29:46 PM

Cindy, mainly Native American books, written by a husband and wife archaeologists. Jean Auel, I like history.


cindy murphy
2/5/2011 6:56:31 PM

Hey, Michelle! Thanks so much for your not-quite subtle hint to Keith! I can use all the help I can get in convincing him not to replace the ugly, old shed with an ugly, NEW shed. Oooo, books! I'm reading a good one right now, "Love and Pasta". It's a sweet story of growing up in a first generation Italian-American family on Long Island. I had to restrain myself at the library the other day; I went in just to get a bit of information, and was almost tempted to start browsing for something to check out...but I've got a varied stack of books I swore to myself I'd get through first, before bringing home anything else. What's your favorite genre? Take care, and hope you made it through the snowstorm without too many hassles. Hugs backatcha.


michelle house
2/5/2011 4:36:28 PM

Hi Cindy, I loved your article, and since being subtle is not my thing. HEY KEITH, Cindy wants a potting shed, in barn red, with lots windows, and an overhang with a bench table under it. :- D I did giggle at you saying Keith cared nothing for your beautification efforts. Most men don't. My place, is books, I get lost in them. I like it. Hugs Michelle


cindy murphy
2/5/2011 9:32:49 AM

Ah yes, Dave. Gardens of any kind certainly are sanctuaries, aren't they? I love my gardens - working in them, and sitting in them and just watching (every garden should have a place to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of labor). As much as I love time spent in the gardens, x-country skiing tops my list for those times when I want to enjoy the solitude of just me and my thoughts...and with my roller-skis, I can do it all year 'round. I'm with you about mowing - I love to cut the grass! Don't be too sad about losing your lawn to your garden, though; a garden provides more benefits to both you and the environment than a lawn ever will. Stay warm with those thoughts of getting back in the garden and the projects that go along with.


nebraska dave
2/4/2011 8:35:55 PM

@Cindy, a man cave, huh. I really should have one I guess. Mine would have to be the garden which means it's only a place for nine months out of the year. It's been a work of pleasure and joy and increases in space each year to slowly take over the back yard. If I live here another 25 years there won't be much to mow which is kind of a sad thing because I like mowing grass. Be that as it may the backyard grass grows ever smaller and the projects roll on. It will be a sad day when there is no more room for projects. Nah, I'll just start over again. So long live the man cave and those that dwell in them.