Just after dusk, with my field-notebook and rucksack in tow, I came upon a habitat whose existence so many have doubted. And yet here it was, in the remote basements of a suburban neighborhood. I saw the distinctive markings as clear as day: the flickering light of a big screen television flashing up from a subterranean layer; the primal thudding of an ESPN “Jock Jams” mix emanating from some unseen compact disc player; the noxious odors of old fermented belches still sitting in the flat, muggy air. My biologist’s training left me with no doubt: I’d happened upon a Man Cave.
Although darkness was setting, the naturalist in me could not let this opportunity pass. I ventured past the threshold. Man-caving (or bro-spelunking) can be dangerous. Apart from the natural obstacles of the environment, there is always the possibility of encountering the cave dweller himself: the Man. But as long as one follows the Man Cave Rules, then it is possible to negotiate the pitches, squeezes, and water hazards of the Man in his natural habitat (or hang zone).
Although the nesting that the Man engages in often results in a disheveled dwelling, this Man Cave seemed to me to be particularly dank. The floor appeared to be covered in a hardened food compound of flattened dough, tomato sauce, and cheese—the Man’s preferred meal—and several inches of stale fermented yeast water. Although the Man is usually thought to be a prodigious and skilled drinker of such alcoholic drink, much of the liquid often ends up on the surrounding floor.
The Man Cave was poorly illuminated, forcing me to don my headlamp. As I switched it on, I saw that although the dwelling appeared to have been outfitted with energy efficient light bulbs—perhaps by the Man’s wife, Deb?—the dwelling remained dark, as the bulbs had all been obstructed with polyurethane sports team banners, presumably the creature’s favorites. I bro-spelunked deeper into the cave.
Step after cautious step, my headlamp illuminated artifact after strange artifact: an Xbox One video game console placed on top of an apparently still operational Xbox 360 video game console; a hardened pile of guacamole on the top of a pile of a stalagmite of Maxim magazines standing several feet high; a dusty rectangular bench raised at an angle, adorned with a system of pulleys and cables, and inscribed with the insignia TOTAL GYM EXERCISE SOLUTION.
Then, near disaster. I made an amateur mistake and nearly fell into a hole in one corner of the dark grotto, cursing myself for not following proper Man-caving technique and maintaining three points of contact with the cavern’s surface at all times. Leaning down toward the hole, I saw that it led to a crawl space of some sort and had been made into a makeshift trash-dumping site. I took out a pencil and began to make tallies, but soon gave up after counting upwards of 300 Slim Jim beef jerky wrappers. The Man is a peculiar beast, making in effect a “trash pit” so close to a location where he almost certainly spent many hours relaxing (or chillaxing).
But before I could ponder the various intricacies of the Man Cave dweller’s psyche any further, I was startled by a wheezing noise. I spun around to find—no further than three feet from where I stood—the cave’s primary resident: the Man himself! At first I couldn’t fathom how I hadn’t disturbed the creature and gained his aggression for my trespassing, but then I saw the small intermittent green LED light pulsating from the ear-covering headphone on his head. I was saved from my clumsy excavation by noise-canceling headphones, and additionally aided by, I soon saw, the Man’s intense fixation on the program being telecast on his large screen. The words “This Week’s Fantasy Football Trade Recommendations” appeared on the screen. I knew that I was safe from detection-at least until the next commercial break, that is.
Not wanting to push my luck, I took out my trusty Instamatic 110 and began snapping photographs as I began inching back towards the exterior world from whence I came. I hadn’t brought any drinking water and, noticing my canteen was empty, briefly considered filling it using a SodaStream—perhaps a gift from Deb?—placed near what was undoubtedly some halfhearted attempt at a stocked wet bar. At that very moment, once again figuring that my luck had run out, the Man bellowed, “Deb, we got any more Pizza Bagels?” But to my luck, his gaze remained locked on the screen. I rushed toward the fading light of day.
Just as I was about to pass out from the threshold of the cavern, I saw on the wall an orange tin sign, stylized as if it were an official decree with the title: MAN CAVE RULES. A profound lesson, even for an old naturalist such as myself. We scientists spend countless hours cataloguing and labeling the inhabitants of the world around us, but so often forget that they may have already undergone some self-reflection of their own, and are after all the true experts of their own lives, their own rules. Before I took my final leave, I snapped a final photograph of the sign, smiling as I read the top Man Cave Rule: MY MAN CAVE, MY REMOTE.
Well said, Man. Your Man Cave is indeed your remote. For what is a Man Cave other than a remote place removed from the main thoroughfare of suburban life, a remote escape from the tedium of work and family obligations, the one remote locale where life is for the Man, at long last, chill.
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