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

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The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?