taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Friday, January 24, 2003

My husband Nick spends a lot of time in the basement, where he records songs. Sometimes in desperation he asks me to sing things like "oooooooh" because he lacks a reliable vocalist. Every time he does it, I know he regrets it, because I produce no less than three thousand takes of flat Cs and wavering Fs, which he then has to cut up and autotune into some kind of usable mush that no longer sounds like me at all. Britney Spears I'm not. Though the upside is that if he ever gets famous, I might get royalties.

What interests me, though, is his love of the basement--actually, all men's love of basements. Our plumber, Chris Jensen, who's also a friend of ours, came down to install new pipes down there, and Nick couldn't have been more thrilled. To top it all off, Jensen fixed the basement potty, which has been sitting unused since probably, I dunno, 1967. Nick thought this was just great. Never mind that he has to wash his hands at the enormous zinc laundry sink--he has a basement potty, very convenient.

When I was little, we always had what real estate agents call a "club basement", which was actually plaid carpet and pine panelling. My dad loved these club basements and spent many hours watching football and playing the piano down there (my mom relegated the piano to the basement, I suspect, because my dad really only knew how to play "Dancing in the Dark" and "Perfidia" through to the end.) We always had a basement potty which my mom forbade me from using because the maid never cleaned down there and anyway, who wants to be in the basement? I internalized this division: top of the house for girls, bottom of the house for boys; and it's followed me the rest of my life.

My friends report similar behavior from their men. Whether it's computer-related or workshop-related or just TV-related, men seem to need basement time. They're like yams or mushrooms, requiring damp darkness to thrive.

Maybe we've just taken over the top of the house. Up here, there's no room for mess or smoke or wood chips or noise. Up here we have children and Barney and white wine and curtains. Maybe the men can't stand it after a while. They can behave themselves for a while but soon find that leaving socks on the floor isn't an option, that they muss up the sofa cushions, that when they sit in a chair it moves a little bit and someone comes along after them to readjust it. But in the basement they're truly free.

Until, that is, we rearrange their tools and organize their CDs. Then their only refuge is the basement potty.

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