Thursday, April 19, 2007

adventures in basement sitting

When we moved from our Capitol Hill row house into larger Chevy Chase digs, we were nothing but thrilled to finally have a basement. It's not what you might call a "finished" basement (yet), but it's more than a concrete storage hangar. It's your grandparents' basement -- the asbestos tiled play land where, as kids, you, your siblings and cousins kicked it, secretly said curse words like "shit" or "damn," and exchanged common colds and other bacteria during family gatherings while the grownups did boring grownup stuff upstairs. You always felt safe and secure down there and believed that even a nuclear war, like the one in The Day After that made you piss your pants and gave you night terrors, couldn't touch the place.

You never wanted to leave that basement, but there were certain reasons for ascending the stairs and mixing with the parents:

1 - hydration, usually in the form of kool-aid
2 - tattle tale
3 - defend yourself as the victim of a tattle tale

As all good things come to an end, the symphony of childhood laughter, bouncing balls, squeaky shoes, and belching contests would eventually wind down, and you'd find yourself in deep REM sleep in the back seat of the car on the way home. How much do you miss the simplicity of those days?

I think the Jackal has designs on sabotaging our basement, if two recent incidents are any indication.

Sunday morning before church I walked into the basement's back laundry area in search of clean socks and found a sea of standing water greeting me. It had rained the entire previous night, so we were experiencing our first flood. I'm so not handy, so my mind was reeling over this. I mean, hanging a picture on a wall is a major event and often, as my wife calls out, turns into a side show. Still, I had to pretend to be a man about this, so I went outside to take a look. That's when I saw the Jackal's Tonka dump truck parked next to a disconnected gutter drainage tube. The result was hell and high water. Since we were headed to church anyway, I went ahead and unleashed a tirade of expletives, figuring I'd cleanse my soul in half an hour.

Monday night the flood was a memory, yesterday's news, so the Jackal and I hit the basement to kill some time while mommy worked late. Remembering what my mother drilled into my young head about never passing up a life maintenance opportunity on the fly (often phrased, "make yourself useful"), I took a minute to to throw a load of laundry into the washing machine. Well, I should have remembered a more immediate lesson -- a minute is waaaay more than enough time for a 2 year old to find trouble. The fact that no crying followed that initial burst of breaking glass gave me a shred of solace.

Behind the bar the the Jackal wielded a fluorescent light tube back and forth like a light saber over a puddle of port wine littered with broken bottle shards. I approached gingerly, not wanting to alarm him.

"Hey, buddy, can Daddy have that?"




By then I was right next to him, so I got a front row seat on how the rest played out. In slow motion, the tube slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, creating an explosion of glass that enveloped us in a cloud of shrapnel. Immediately I grabbed him and ran ran upstairs as he buried his face in my shoulder and shrieked.

While he soaked in the tub, I Googled the shit out of key words like fluorescent, light, break, health risk, child, mercury, poisoning and learned that our basement had become a temporary toxic waste zone. Silly me for expecting a run-of-the-mill Monday night.

When mommy got home, daddy spent an hour in "throw-away" clothes with a t-shirt tied around his face cleaning up the mess. Needless to say, we had some wine later that night to decompress.

Also needless to say, while he survived without a scratch, the Jackal is indefinitely grounded from the basement.

Just last night he parked the Tonka truck near the basement door and said, "No basement."

To which I replied, "That's right. And next time you try to take yourself out, maybe try not to take daddy with you, okay?"

"Okay, daddy."

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