Feb 13, 2009

Notes on basement rooms

1. "Hey," she yelled, and I was silent, down below, hoping hopelessly she didn't mean me. "Hey!" she yelled from the top of the stairs, down into the dark of the basement where I had a room without windows. "Hey Daniel, you need to be quiet."

I used to keep the light on above the stove, the little one that switched on above the electric burners, just to keep the room from collapsing completely into the dark. It was on then, and my one bag of groceries was under it, tipped over like a building built on a bad foundation.

"Did I make a noise?" I said.

"You slammed that door," she said.

"Oh," I said, and I let the word wait until it was weighted down with the darkness that came from the corners, and I hoped she would go away. I couldn't see her, where she stood at the top of the stairs. I could feel her seething, despising me.

"You slammed that door," she said. "You have to be quiet."

"I'm sorry," I said, still standing in the gut of the dark, in the basement with the washing machine and the unused weights, the boxed clutter, the deep freezer full of pizza and the stationary bike. "I'm sorry," I said, and my voice was monotone.

"You have to be quiet," she said. "I can't have you making noise down there."

2. After all this time, after two decades or so, it's still there, smiling and saying "hi."

"Hi!," says the little graffiti, which she penciled on the paneling when she was young. "Hi!" it says, and it smiles with exclamations for eyes.

No one's erased it, though that would have been easy, so the silly mark greets me every time I come through the door: friendly, wild with welcome, and it's always a little ridiculous.

3. The room rattled and whistled, clinked and went tink!, boiled and burped and broke into orchestra. It had my name on the door, this basement room, on a sign on a white sheet of paper, but it was really rather like a cartoon factory. Like a factory for sound effects by Seuss.

The room made the sounds of silly monsters, with made-up names and funny dispositions. The room made the sounds of coyotes falling and anvils catching heads with crashes. It made the sound of a smart rabbit laughing and outsmarted sputtering, the sound of a gold-weaver wheel fluttering and flapping, animated side-slapping and tin whistle triumphs. It tittered and whooshed, swished and snapped snap!, entertaining itself like a band playing bottle caps.

Before it was my room it was the boiler room, and when I fell asleep each night it went back to being as wild as what it always was. The boiler kicked on by my feet with a clatter, some wick lighting shick and then the heater for the water went BOOOOhhhhhhRR with rumbling RHHHOAR! RrrrhhhhhOARHHHH! RRRHHHoooar! Some soprano pipe started pink plinking, like a quarter 'gainst glass, and the beat held steady, 12-per minute and pass. The tiles on the wall each said their name, one syllable each and in a circle, all the same. The other pipes pitched in their pitches, at each thump down the scale, and the big one, the big-as-a-whale one opened upaaaAAAAAAAHHHH and aaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHH, like a prep for a sneeze. The red gauge clicked and twitched, and the vent went plea? pleeee? pleaaaaaaaase?

It muttered and uttered in sputters, my room, it farted and flushed and more. But I just snored, dreaming the racket was really music, that the sounds matched some hilarious score, and my bed was way down, down inside the belly of a giant-piped organ in the middle of one fantastic wheeze.

What is it, she says, with you and basements? You always end up living in basements.

I don't know, I say, even though I do know and always did, but it's not like they're all the same.