Man Cave

If you haven’t read this by Maureen Dowd, do. Writing about a subject that has lately become dear to my heart, she quotes from an expert in the field:

Gordon Thorburn, the British author of the book “Men and Sheds,” explained that the word shed derived from the Anglo-Saxon “scead,” or shade. It was, in a metaphorical sense, obscure, an “intellectual pantry” or “spiritual home” where a man could reflect. and dawdle with tools and toys.

Apparently, my need to dawdle has reached a fever pitch. Fair hearings and middle-aged indignities (something called a “cystoscopy”) have driven me out of the house.

I need a place to write, to contemplate, to plot an early retirement. I need a place for a wide screen TV.

My “shade,” which incidentally is what my son calls it, is a lean-to built on the back of the garage. We determined that it was constructed in 1935 from some newspaper insulation we found stuffed in the cracks. I managed to unroll a bit of it before it disintegrated into dust. A headline read Taxi Dancer Poisoning Confession Asserted.  I looked the article up in the LA Times archives, found that it was about a 40-year-old cement worker who tried to kill a 23-year-old who had “spurned his affection.”

I take the noir-ishness as a good omen as I write my depression-era novel. It’s about a family that struggles with a disability that has yet to be named, a disability that causes a 14-year-old boy to stare into fans, that makes his education at a new consolidated school a living hell for him and his family. Again and again I turn for inspiration to the letters of a mother of a child with the disability, notes to Dr. Leo Kanner who quotes from them in his seminal “Autistic Disturbances of Autistic Contact” in 1942.

The following are abstracts from letters sent subsequently by Donald’s mother:

September, 1939. He continues to eat, to wash and dress himself only at my insistence and with my help. He is becoming resourceful, builds things with his blocks, dramatizes stories, attempts to wash the car, waters the flowers with the hose, plays store with the grocery supply, tries to cut out pictures with the scissors. Mumblers still have a great attraction for him.

While his play is definitely improving, he has never asked questions about people and shows no interest in our conversation….

October, 1939 [a school principal friend of the mother's had agreed to try Donald in the first grade of her school]. The first day was very trying for them but each succeeding day he has improved very much, Don is much more independent, wants to do many things for himself. He arches in line nicely, answers when called upon, and is more biddable and obedient. He never voluntarily relates any of his experiences at school and never objects to going….

November, 1939. I visited his room this morning and was amazed to see how nicely he cooperated and responded. He was very quiet and calm and listened to what the teacher was saying about half the time. He does not squeal or run around but takes his place like the other children. The teacher began writing on the board. That immediately attracted his attention. She wrote:
Betty may feed a fish.
Don may feed a fish.
Jerry may feed a fish.

In his turn he walked up and drew a circle around his name. Then he fed a goldfish. Next, each child was given his weekly reader, and he turned to the proper page as the teacher directed and read when called upon. He also answered a question about one of the pictures. Several times, when pleased, he jumped up and down and shook his head once while answering…

March, 1940. The greatest improvement I notice is his awareness of things about him. He talks very much more and asks a good many questions. Not often does he voluntarily tell me of happenings at school, but if I ask leading questions, he answers them correctly. He really enters into the games with other children. One day he enlisted the family in one game he had just learned, telling each of us just exactly what to do. He feeds himself better and is better able to do things for himself.

March, 1941. He has improved greatly, but the basic difficulties are still evident….

Sounds like my five-year-old.

Yesterday, while I was clearing out the shed for remodeling, he wanted to play.

“Play with me, Deedah,” he kept saying, becoming more and more adamant, as I humped boxes back and forth.

Finally, I must have yelled at him because there he was standing in the shed doorway, threatening me the only way he knew how: poetically: “If you don’t play with me,” he warned, “I’ll get tears all over your floor.”

Tears all over my man cave? That wouldn’t be right. I half-assed played with him, getting whipped up once again into a frenzy of purpose, steamrolling into Sunday, over his insistence that I pay attention to him and my wife’s pleas for civility, plowing toward the light at the end of the tunnel: a room empty of those who are dear.

And there’s the rub, the punch line.

You can never escape the ones you love.

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One Response to “Man Cave”

  1. Marty Berg says:

    That is beautiful, V. Made my day.

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