JIM DODSON: What Guys Need: a Man Cave
This week, I officially got to work on my customized man cave.
Truthfully, I never knew I even needed a man cave until a few months ago when my wife made me go to some guy's retirement party and everybody kept mysteriously wandering off to the garage.
I asked the honoree's wife what they were doing -- having a group seminar on changing a tire?
"Oh, no. They're just checking out Chuck's customized man cave," she perkily explained. "He's so proud of it. Go see. You'll want one, too."
I'm still not sure how she knew I didn't have a customized man cave of my own, even though I'd never heard of a man cave until that very moment. Maybe I just don't seem like the customized man cave type of guy. Possibly I'm just a plain old garage type of guy.
In any case, I grabbed a handful of corn chips and an adult beverage and moseyed out to the garage to see what all the hubbub was about.
Chuck's customized man cave was really something, I'll admit. One grass cloth wall was taken up with artfully lighted photographs of various baseball and football stars, while an entire trophy case was filled with autographed pigskins and baseballs by former greats like Johnny Unitas and Mickey Mantle and pre-prison Barry Bonds.
Taking up half an adjoining wall was the largest in-home video screen I'd ever seen, a one-man Jumbotron. There were also several blinking pinball machines, a built-in wet bar, a sectional couch large enough to seat comfortably an NFL offensive line, a popcorn machine, and even a deluxe exercise machine.
"I never have to leave this room," Chuck explained to his impressed guests. "I even have my own gas generator so that, in the event of a sudden power loss or national emergency, my man cave will still be up and running."
A National Fad
A couple of weeks later, I was having my oil changed when I opened a national news magazine and found three pages devoted to how customized man caves are sweeping the nation faster than avocado-colored refrigerators once swarmed the suburban kitchen. No garage is immune from being made over into a man cave.
"Men everywhere are discovering the need for their very own dedicated space, where they can shut out the world and just be themselves and do the things men love to do most in private," said a thoughtful customized man cave designer named Enid.
Funny, I thought, isn't that what the throne room has been for since the dawn of time? But evidently not. According to Enid, customized man caves "simply allow men to express their innermost passions. They are the ultimate personal spaces in an increasingly impersonal world, a sanctuary where men can let their hair down and be themselves."
Not two days later, I came across this report on the modern man cave epidemic in The Washington Post:
"Men are becoming increasingly eager to claim part of their houses for their own use. They no longer want to be shunted out to a bleak unheated work bench in the garage, or limited to a single worn-out recliner in the rec room. Now architects, builders and interior designers are recognizing that men are looking for their own sphere in the house, a place to do what they most like to do."
The Post concluded that even in a dismal housing market, customized man caves are one of the few bright spots attracting buyers -- suggesting that creating one might even be one's patriotic male duty in a down economy.
"Men are coming out of the closet," said best-selling real estate author Mark Nash.
A Space of One's Own
Not long after we moved to our old house, I informed my wife in no uncertain terms that I needed my very own sphere, some place I can really be me and do what I most like to do in private.
"But you just like to read books and mow the lawn," she pointed out.
"That's true," I admitted. "But men have spent 10,000 years evolving from rock caves to the modern man cave, and I intend to claim part of this house for my own dedicated personal space. I'm coming out of a closet, so to speak, and making a customized man cave!"
Since our new house was a rambling affair with four bathrooms, three more than we could actually use at any given moment, I considered claiming one of them for my customized man cave . But our three dogs had already beaten me to the punch, each claiming its own dedicated space. They think toilets are man's gift to dog -- an indoor spring.
That's when we made a rather remarkable discovery. Because the movers had filled the garage with boxes and furniture, we'd failed to notice that the previous occupants of the house had already transformed the garage into something eerily resembling a man cave.
They'd installed fancy cabinets, redone the concrete floor, even constructed a leather-padded wet bar with a refrigerator.
"What a perfect rec room for the kids!" my wife declared, swiftly staking claim to the garage the way the dogs had laid dibs on the extra bathrooms.
Into the Closet
Before anyone else could speak up, I hurried upstairs to a minuscule room that looks remarkably like an oversized clothing closet and boldly claimed it as my own dedicated space before anyone else in the family could get there.
Actually, it is an oversized clothing closet. But I promptly moved in my favorite leather chair, a small bookcase full of books, a rug and a lamp. Then I sat down and tried to think of all the really cool stuff I would soon put into my customized man cave -- but, alas, soon found myself reading a great book about life in the year 1000 -- the turn of the last Millennium.
Consider this fascinating tidbit on the quaint traditions of male sociability that have filtered down the ages from cave to modern man cave:
"Archeological excavations have uncovered some particularly large and beautiful drinking horns, along with ceremonial jewelry and ornamented goblets -- but no cutlery. The eating fork was not invented until the 17th century, and when you went to a feast you took your own knife. Mead was the reveler's drink of choice -- a supersweet alcoholic beverage with quite a kick, brewed from the refuse of crushed honeycombs."
Those were the days, I thought nostalgically, shortly before my wife informed me we were going to our friends' house for cocktails.
A Show-Stopper Shed
Their renovated house was perfectly charming, but the real show-stopper sat outside just across the backyard from the swimming pool.
That's where my buddy Geoff had built an entire personal man shed -- a beautiful little structure made from heart-pine timber where he can escape to do the things only men love to do. His personal man shed, for example, has a beautiful Danish wood stove, a gorgeous built-in desk, even a world-class workshop attached.
Forget Enid and her satellite entertainment centers, walk-in humidors, and Vegas-style poker tables. I'd seen a glimpse of man's next evolutionary stage: a wooden shed.
As a violent thunderstorm broke overhead, Geoff and I sat in rockers on his man shed porch and argued about politics like a couple of Anglo-Saxons who had a little too much mead from the drinking horn. Don't know when I've had as much fun with all my clothes on.
Later, at home, I retreated to my closet to jot down more good ideas for my own evolving man cave. All I could come up with, though, was a new John Deere self-propelled mower and maybe some nice cedar-bark mulch for the hosta beds. Perhaps, I sadly concluded, I'm just not the modern man cave type after all.
"What are you doing in there?" asked my wife from bed, sounding a lot like a woman waiting impatiently outside the bathroom door.
"Just thinking about the yard," I admitted, closing a riveting chapter on feudal bathroom habits in the last Millennium, wondering where I might lay hands on a drinking horn to call my own, but otherwise perfectly happy to be a man safely back in a closet I could call my very own.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, The Pilot's writer-in-residence, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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