High Plains Literary Review XXII.2
In some parts of the country, a man is judged in part by the quality of his outbuildings. I have three, including a world class shed.
The pleasures of adult male sheds derive directly from the pleasures of kid forts. Men who did not have forts as kids, who missed that vital developmental stage, may have difficulty understanding the full emotional significance of the adult male shed, no matter how eloquent I wax. Women, however empathetic, may have similar difficulty. (Carol once called my shed my "studio." She didn't make that mistake again).
From the outside my shed is an 8x12 foot one story wood frame structure with white shingles, light gray trim, dark blue door and asphalt tile peaked roof. Two windows almost meet at the corner facing south and east. A window box hangs from the east window, overflowing with flowers in a dozen shades of purple, blue and white. Pansy, Petunia, Lobelia. Ageratum and Veronica. Cedar decking connects my shed to the house and to the free standing guest cottage that serves in the summer as the master bedroom.
My shed door locks from the outside and the inside. No one can enter unless I want them to.
My shed windows have drop blinds. No one can look in unless I want them to.
My shed has unfinished interior walls with 2x4 struts serving as supports for shelves of various sizes and heights. A computer/word processor, printer, monitor, and coffee maker sit on a white Formica desk facing out the south window. Using the desk as a reference point, my collected works are on a shelf above and to the left. (Brave little row of magazines and anthologies! Here I am! I exist in print!). Above right, a radio/tape deck, cordless phone, and clip on electric fan hang on the wall. Behind and to the sides, on the walls and in boxes, all manner of tools for measuring, hammering, screwing, smoothing, cutting, splitting, bashing, plumbing, and gardening compete for space with bicycle equipment: tubes, seats, pedals and spare parts.
A high sleeping platform with mattress is fixed to the west wall. Beach towels are piled up on it, beach chairs stowed below. Hanging baskets contain baseballs (hard & soft), baseball gloves, bats, bocce balls, tennis balls, Frisbees, water guns (standard and 50 foot pump blaster). On the walls, an annotated map of a white water rafting run down the New River in West Virginia hangs below a surf casting rod with Shakespeare reel; a panel hung with bright fishing lures sits cheek to jowl with a stuffed and mounted Jackalope head (if you don't know what a Jackalope is, you've never spent time in Texas or engaged in the Texas custom called "squattin' and braggin'").
What else? An aluminum step ladder, a high shelf of paint cans, a lower, smaller shelf of tapes and office supplies, still another shelf containing sun lotions (PF #s 4 & 6), alcohol, Vaseline, THREE IN ONE oil, light motor oil, Liquid Wrench, and a single doll's leg mounted on a wooden block with what appears to be a small electric motor attached to the thigh stump (don't ask). Sun hats. Carpenter's glue. Various lengths of rope. A drawer of nails, screws, bolts and hooks. A duck decoy. A kite.
And facing out the east window, onto the deck, an orange neon sign spelling out 'SHEA'S LOUNGE,' the 'G' in lounge drooping down and sideways as befits the kind of roadhouse envisioned by the lovely and cheerful girlfriend (now happily married to another) who designed the sign and gave it to me.
I can do almost anything I want in my shed except major athletics. I can read and write, sing and dance. I can fix things. I can break things.
I can ignore everyone and sleep.
I can celebrate myself.
Shed Views And Sightings
The east window view, through the flowers, is mostly house exterior, cedar decking and walkways. The south window is where the action is. Sitting at the desk, I look up and see my cat, McGuane, a thirteen pound black and white Tom, engaged in mock attack and chase games with cat buddies Skinny and Buster. I watch them race tumbling across grass and sand, under the black pines and blueberry bushes.
A bout of writing ensues. I hear a noisy scolding chatter and look up again to see an upside down squirrel ten feet up a pine trunk, its tail shaking with anger, screaming down at McGuane who lies indolently at the base of the tree. A white tailed deer enters the scene, grazing. When the deer is within two feet of McGuane, my cat looks back over his shoulder, a wholly relaxed territorial affirmation.
Looking down and to the left, I see the vegetable garden. Four kinds of lettuce. Arugola. Sugar snap peas. Parsley. Tomato plants already five feet high although it's only the first day of July.
Looking up and to the right, I see the sitting platform nailed twenty-eight feet up in my big double trunked black pine, tallest and oldest pine tree I have.
Shed Power (An Example)
My shed fills many vital needs. Financial command and control center, for example.
I wake at 5:30 AM, McGuane scratching softly at the back bedroom window to remind me that his breakfast time is but a scant half hour away. I slip from the bed, careful not to wake Carol, and out the bedroom door into the cool early morning air. It is black as coal; God hasn't even begun to think about how the coming dawn will look. (I tend to view God as mostly just keeping up, not really planning too far ahead).
I cross the deck, enter my shed, flip on the hanging desk lamp, click on the coffee pot, and fire up the computer. It's near month end, so I decide to update my net worth financial spread sheet. I punch up my brokerage firm's twenty-four hour seven-day-a-week 800 number on the cordless phone.
I want vital, up-to-date information, and I want it now.
My electronic request pulses from my tiny shed in my tiny village on this barrier island off the Long Island coast and is routed through the night sky to a telecommunications hub city, usually in the mid-west, where it is answered promptly by my Financial Representative. (I don't actually have a specific Representative of my own, but the different ones I talk to are all unfailingly polite and helpful).
My Representative speaks with the clear, flat, optimistic inflections of middle America. I envision him as young, ambitious,
principled, and garbed in proper business attire. And as he accesses my account, I ask myself, what, after all, is this firm I deal with but the sum of its many fine Representatives, from the President right on down to this earnest lad manning the phones in Cleveland or Houston who feeds my 5:30 AM appetite for up-to-date balances and stock prices, permitting me to bask in predawn fiscal security in the exquisite privacy and comfort of my very own shed?
Some time ago, I made a tape of favorite songs from a dozen artists (Willy Nelson, Janis Joplin, The Stones, Dylan & Cash, Dave Van Ronk et al). Into this tape I patched a few songs with myself singing and playing guitar. It was my secret hope and conceit that someone listening and not paying too much attention might think for a moment that I, too, was a recording star.
One clear spring morning, I found myself sitting in my shed reading one of my own stories in a literary journal while simultaneously listening to myself singing and playing on the tape deck. I was enjoying the hell out of both activities.
This is something that would be utterly shameful to do in the presence of another human being.
But in the welcoming and forgiving embrace of my own shed, this personal porcine epiphany did not seem wholly inappropriate.