That ’70s Room

Sometimes I have a hard time getting going. No, not that. Please: this is a family blog. I mean writing. Sometimes getting down to the writing is so difficult that I run out of things to do to avoid writing.

One of the reasons for this, I’m convinced, is because I don’t have a designated writing space. There is a desk in our living room where our laptop is set up, true, but it’s in the middle of traffic and within earshot of the braying television in the next room, not to mention within walking distance of that bag of jujubes in the kitchen.

Sometimes I’ll put headphones on to tune out other sounds, but more often than not I unplug the laptop and relocate, maybe to an easy chair or propped up in bed where the only distractions are a snoring cat and the lure of sleep.

There was a brief time, before our children outnumbered us two to one, when I had something of an office – “the spare room.” But once our eldest daughter took over that room, I migrated from space to space. I wander to this day, a nomad with an iPad.

Thinking of this recently made me understand my Dad a little more and why he maintains the space he does in the abandoned basement rec room of my childhood home. I wouldn’t call it a “man cave.” More of an “accountant alcove.”

My parents built the basement room in the early seventies, and it had the décor that you would expect: wood-panel wall covering, afghan-covered furnishing, foam-backed carpet. The carpet was a mistake, not because of the colour, but because the basement would prove to grow increasingly damp over the years, and by “damp” I mean “puddles.”

We spent hours down there, oblivious to whatever toxins were festering in those puddles, watching “Carol Burnett” and “Three’s Company” and Montreal Expos games. Our mother would call us up for supper by switching the light off and on from the top of the stairs. This was an efficient means of communication and had the added benefit of disconcerting our friends.

Along with the main room, there was – in deeper, darker corners still – a game area. This was initially where my brother and I fiddled with chemistry sets, wood-burning kits and other potential hazards unrelated to puddle poison. Eventually, though, as low-traffic spaces tend to do, this area became default storage for board games, National Geographics and all things pile-able.

JohnnyWestThunderboltRivets1-JWWhen we weren’t outside, this was where we hung out, this mildewy room lit by a single basement window – a window, by the way, you could escape through if necessary, or into, if you happened to forget your house key. Our toys were down here in the basement – the GI Joes, the Johnny West Ranch, Big Jim’s Sports Camper, Hot Wheels. But the room was the focal point. We even had Pong, which briefly made us cool kids. We didn’t have cable, though, which cancelled any coolness.

Then there was the hypnotism. For a while, my brother and his friends went through a phase of putting each other into deep trances and at the hypnotist’s mercy. I can’t remember details but I have a vague memory of dog food coming into play. I was younger and excluded and therefore a pest, so to this day I’m not certain whether they were really hypnotizing each other or concocting an elaborate hoax for my benefit. Methinks I shouldn’t flatter myself.

Eventually, my parents built an addition onto to the house. The television moved back upstairs and with it all basement life as we knew it.

Except for Dad.

Dad, a bookkeeper by profession, never met a committee he didn’t like, and quickly took over the basement room as his office. Even after, the seeping water went from being simple puddles to complex, sickening colours that stained the concrete floor in increasingly slick and disturbing ways, he remained ensconced.

“Dad should not be working down there,” we children would scold. “It can’t be healthy.” Not to mention going up and down those stairs.

Well, Dad has outlasted the Love Canal, which mysteriously stopped seeping about two years ago. The last time I was home, the floor was dry and Dad’s office was intact. It is now exclusively his space, mainly because no one else cares to set foot in it.

So what I’m thinking is we need to convert our basement into a TV room. Then, in about 15 years, I’ll get an office. I’m fine with toxins.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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46 Responses to That ’70s Room

  1. Karen says:

    Good stuff. We’re at the point where we’ve outgrown the house we live in and my husband keeps texting me links to houses he finds on (shouldn’t he be working?) and his major selling point for this idea: I could have dedicated space to write, instead of the dining room table where the cats and kids mill around me on their way to the kitchen where the food bowls (for both cats and kids) are kept.

    And I’m amazed and impressed that you compose on an iPad.

  2. Paul says:

    You could grow and introduce some mold and put it in visible places -that would keep most people out. They also make those fake turds – you could spread a few of them around on the floor to disgust others. There are a lot of possibilities Ross to make your “office” undesirable to others.

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    Beautifully put, especially the image of the lights going on and off to signal time to come up. Reads so real, and reminds many I’m sure of their lives growing up. I had friends with a basement like this, and we’d turn the lights off (it was darker than dark) and beat the shit out of each other with wiffle ball bats and pillows. The floor was covered with wrestling mats, and there would be about five of us guys just swinging in the dark, biting each other and screaming. My friend Matt Dugan had a baby brother Damian who was like a hulk of a man, like his dad, a large Irish cop who’d come home from poker games around 4 AM with TV sets and other things he’d won. I’ve been taking notes about them for a while (I sound creepy don’t I) and you sparked my interest in that scene, again. Thanks buddy.

  4. Liz Hott says:

    I like this! You bring the room fully to life, I can imagine it perfectly. And A-MEN to the pains of getting going writing, oof.

  5. Beth says:

    You described the 70’s basement perfectly! In ours, there was the hanging punching bag that we practiced on to learn how to slow-dance and a wall of canned goods leftover from when we thought we’d need to survive an attack by the Russians and the Cubans. If all the old National Geographics from the basements of that era were collected, they’d probably fill the Grand Canyon.

    Good luck staking some territory! I like the mold and turd idea:0)

  6. I think that I grew up in the same house that you did. 🙂

  7. Sounds like you need a Les Nessman (WKRP) office space. I put tape on my classroom floor near my desk and labeled it “student free zone” in hopes it would give me some alone space. All it did was cause students to try to get their toes in my zone.

  8. Carrie Rubin says:

    Glad to hear toxins don’t scare you away. Hopefully mold spores won’t either. Now that’s the sign of a true writer!

  9. Letizia says:

    I always imagined you writing in a pleasantly dusty study with bookshelves lining every wall. The desk facing a large window which overlooks a nature scene. Either a wooded area or perhaps a lake. I see papers on the desk, a mug, a laptop. A comfortable wooden chair with armrests and a cushion.
    Not that I’ve given this much thought.

  10. markbialczak says:

    You had Pong! Your brother and his friends hypnotized each other!! The unspoken visitor in your house who would never leave was Al Gee!!!

    The things you can learn about a guy on Throwback Thursday.

    Fabulous memories from the basement, Ross. We lived in a house on a concrete slab on Long Island. No basement. I really missed out. Maybe I would have had Pong if we had had a basement. But we did get cable when I was in junior high …

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I have fond memories of watching a repairman (!) take the back off the Tv and seeing the old vacuum tubes glow. Ever think how many memories are tied around the box?

      • markbialczak says:

        I do, indeed, Ross. I had an old black and white on a roll stand in my bedroom to go with our console color set in the living room, and I thought I was such a big deal to be able to watch the night ballgames in my room with my father when my sisters and mother wanted to watch their shows in the living room.

  11. gavinkeenan says:

    They do grow up and move away one day. I’ve taken over my daughters old bedroom as an office space, where I spend most of my time reading your blog. Oh, and other less important things like paying the bills and trying to write. Mostly I just think of how small the room is and wonder how my kid managed in here for twenty years.

  12. ksbeth says:

    this sounds like a solid plan.

  13. Your lamentation about not having the right writing space reminded me of one of my favorite Bukowski poems, which I will now litter your comment section with.

    air and light and time and space

    “–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
    something has always been in the
    but now
    I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
    place, a large studio, you should see the space and
    the light.
    for the first time in my life I’m going to have
    a place and the time to

    no baby, if you’re going to create
    you’re going to create whether you work
    16 hours a day in a coal mine
    you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
    while you’re on
    you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
    you’re going to create blind
    you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
    back while
    the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
    flood and fire.

    baby, air and light and time and space
    have nothing to do with it
    and don’t create anything
    except maybe a longer life to find
    new excuses

  14. Ned's Blog says:

    With your description I can almost smell the mildew. Wait… that is mildew (It’s an old newsroom.) This brought back some great memories, Ross. My mom used to whistle from the front porch when it was time for me to come in. You could hear her whistle for blocks. She is now our town’s official Tsunami siren. Saved Florence thousands of dollars.

    Well told, as always, Ross — with a nice slice of heartfelt whimsey 😉

  15. Dina Honour says:

    Your puddle filled basement sounds perfect. It sounds like the place where you could actually have a childhood.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Man, did we ever. And outside we had a vast willow tree. With a legit treehouse! A story for another time, but I can say I used to spy on my brother there too.

  16. See?! I told them all that Big Jim was real, that he wasn’t a hallucination brought on by a high fever. I still consider the year I got the Big Jim Rescue Rig the best Christmas ever. Why doesn’t anyone else remember Big Jim? Is Big Jim Canadian? Am I Canadian? Is this another fever dream? I need to finish reading this post to see if it holds the answers to any of my questions …

    • rossmurray1 says:

      At last we’ve found each other! Maybe we were the only two Big Jim owners in the world. Maybe it means something. Maybe you’re supposed to send me a money order. Something along those lines.
      But does Johnny West ring a bell?

      • I try to limit myself to sending money orders to Nigerian royalty. And Johnny West sort of rings a bell, but I thought it was Johnny Quest … And didn’t he have a terribly stereotypical friend/servant named Hadji?

  17. cat9984 says:

    Your kids and the dog will still find you. 🙂

Go ahead, don't be shy.

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