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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

A peek inside the cave


The term "man cave" has been added to the dictionary. At last.

I'm referring to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but surely those other country clubs of words and wisdom will follow suit. For once you've been welcomed by the language Vanderbilts, everyone else soon yearns to have you over.

So here it is, the Merriam-Webster plaque of honor, presented late this past summer: "man cave n. (1992): a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities."

I read that and almost broke both wrists in applause. For it's high time that my humble sanctuary — heretofore referred to as my kingdom, my Shangri La, my tiny island in the stream — earned its own official nook in the English lexicon.

Yet I wager a Japanese man cave might not quite reach Merriam-Webster standards.

For one thing . . . basement? The Japanese home with a basement is sort of like a surfboard with an upper deck. They are rare.

No, Japanese man caves are not stuck in basements. Rather they comprise some other part of the house. Or — as the case may be — the entire house.

For here, many a man cave is into multi-tasking. According to the need, they might perform as a kitchen, bedroom, dining room, living room, nursery, playroom, library or lounge. Or any combination thereof at any given moment.

Or they may have a time-share arrangement. As seen in this short but instructive skit:

He: Honey? I finished the dishes. Can I use my man cave now?

She: Sorry. I'm still searching for split ends. Ask again later. Like tomorrow.

My personal man cave, however, is neither multi-tasked nor time-shared. It is mine, all mine, and for that I realize I should be grateful. In a land where space is precious, I have been blessed with my own individual man cave. Life can be sweet indeed.

Of course, my man cave is — a la the definition — designed according to my personal man tastes.

"Meaning," says my wife. "It's a dump."

Wives, however, have limited understanding of man caves. She assumes my books and papers have been strewn about on the floor in random order.

This speaks to a lack of aesthetics, as she fails to see the mosaic pattern amidst the heaps of rubble — artwork so refined that the cave dwellers of Chauvet might have feasted their eyes and said . . . "Hmm. Now why didn't we think of this?"

There are also structural issues that are beyond her. Like . . . if I try to stuff anything more onto my shelves, the walls might crack.

Plus, there is that all-important man cave element of leisure. I enjoy winding my way through stalagmites of printed matter. Who knows what I will find around the corner? Perhaps my desk. Or the way out. It's a maze of adventure.

I also have — for my leisure — a sit-up board, which I never use, as anyone who has ever seen my stomach will attest. But the only way to enter/exit my man cave is to hike across the board. What fun! And while my stomach may be jello, my hamstrings are like iron.

In this paradise of leisure, I can sit back and restfully contemplate my hobbies. Too bad I don't have any. But while staring at the wallpaper, I will on occasion fish up a very deep thought. Like . . .

Hey . . . if I removed the wallpaper, I might gain more space.

Space — or the lack of it — is the chief demerit of a Japanese man cave. Once you cram in all the necessities — the desk, the chair, the computer, the printer, the books, the air — there is not much room for those hobby items that might grace a man cave abroad.

No dart boards, no pool tables, no jukeboxes, no putting greens.

And no bar. If I want a drink, I have to bring it to my man cave in a space-friendly container. Most typically, my mouth.

The portal to leisure is thus the computer. Few people know Word Whomp the way I know Word Whomp. Not to mention Sporcle.

In my case, however, the computer is also my portal for work. Which means my man cave can morph from paradise to dungeon at the ping of an email.

A good reason to keep my mail application turned off. If it were paper, I would add it to the mosaic on the floor.

"How can you live in this mess?" says my wife. "Mess" being a female euphemism for "man cave."

It's not so bad, I tell her. For one thing, here I can be alone. Not even the roaches care to crawl inside.

"Well clean it up. Before we're condemned."

Something in her tone makes me bark my response. "Yes Ma'am. Right away."

Which means, a Japanese "man cave" might be more of a "mouse cave."

And remember, Merriam-Webster . . . You read it here first.



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