Saturday, July 28, 2007

Basement Boy

It seems like an entire lifetime ago, the hours spent in the basement of our home during my formative pre-teen years. Even at that young age, my inner bubbleboy was seeking refuge away from the hustle and bustle of neighborhood goings-on (which usually involved the older kids next door and their ATC or snowmobile-enhanced backyard antics).

I enjoyed the comfort and solitude offered by our basement, with its seventies decor of paneled walls, red indoor/outdoor carpeting and regulation-size pool table in the back. Dad taught me how to shoot pool and I really enjoyed that, but rarely played if he wasn't also there to join me. We also had these large boards that covered the table, and a net that converted the whole thing into a fantastic ping pong setup. Dad and me played countless hours on that too, and chased many a paddled plastic ball around the basement in the process. What fun that was.

As early as my eighth birthday, I can recall spending a significant portion of most days alone. I was big time into Star Wars and had many action figures and spaceships from the movie. I loved to draw and loved The Muppets and had a brain that could remember just about any commercial on television, word-for-word. I was much more comfortable being in surroundings that I had complete control over and had little or no desire at all to be "out of my element." This included playing outside with neighborhood kids, playing inside with neighborhood kids, and getting involved with any organized group activities like sports, camp, or school-related productions.

In our small, ranch-style home, the basement became my fortress of solitude. And the wooden ping pong boards that sat atop our pool table became a vast, green field of playful possibilities. Many elaborate stories unfolded on that stage including tales of adventure, science fiction journeys, epic struggles and daring car chases. My thespian troupes were often as unique as the stories they performed, with Storm Trooper and Jawa action figures fighting side-by-side on the same team with Smurfs, Matchbox Cars, Penny Racers, a really cool rubber Incredible Hulk, and various generic action figures from long forgotten toy companies that had been modified with markers, tape and other crafty whatnots into original (and far more interesting) characters by yours truly. Their adventures took place on mountain peaks (folded-up piles of mom's hand crocheted blankets), immense industrial complexes (Lego buildings, Lionel train bridges, and stacks of carefully arranged pieces of wood scraps from Dad's workshop) race tracks (plenty of fast straight-a-ways on that ping pong table) and into the unknown reaches of outer space (thanks to the dark basement corners and four ceiling-mounted florescent lights, each with its own switch for perfect atmospheric control).

Hours would pass and I would completely lose track of the real world down there, locked away inside of my imagination. Mom would have to call me repeatedly for unimportant life events like dinner and bed time. The basement was my bubble for many years, and while I now remember only random details from the stories that unfolded --- the heroic battles fought, the rescues and escapes, the races won, and the miniature cars, injection-molded figures, and the articulated plastic characters who played out every adventure on the four feet by eight feet piece of pressboard that covered our pool table --- there is one thing about the hours spent in my cellar dwelling that I will NEVER forget:

The trance-like state that would commandeer my brain for countless minutes after slothing up the stairs and having the shocking, out-of-basement reality and bright lights of the world slap me in the head without warning.

That trance-like state looked much like this...

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