The thing about our basement is that places like that shouldn't exist in the twentieth century. My husband says it is filled with fond memories. If that's true, then why is he afraid to go down there without first calling 911 and checking on his insurance?
On my better days, it resembles the worst part of the landfill section, the part that's been closed because strange objects are floating to the top. There are things down there, even older than I am, and that shows you how bad things are.
I remember last year, when one of the neighborhood kids went down to get old newspapers for a paper sale and came up screaming. “It's nothing honey,” I comforted. “It's just my old red wig from twenty-five years ago. It's tangled up in the aluminum Christmas tree. And, the whirling noise you heard is the sound the tree makes when you push the abandoned bowling ball across the room, and it tags the tree with it. He had thought it was a Martian, emerging from one of the stacked boxes lining one wall.
"Did you know that Little Larry from next door almost had a heart attack when he saw your invention?" I asked my husband, the day after Larry stopped screaming.
“You mean you let someone invade the privacy of my workroom, and thereby risked the security of a machine which will someday make us wealthy?” he shouted.
“But it's been there for ten years. And it hasn't done anything. What's it supposed to do anyway?" I had used one of the sharp edges once to cut a piece of yarn, when I had been temporarily trapped trying to locate the bathroom plunger.
“That's the wonderful part of it!” he said, his eyes gleaming. “It's so secret that no one has a use for it yet, but when they do, our fortune will be made!"
“Would you care to give me a hint?” I'd asked.
“It has to do with cigarettes,” he said excitedly.
“Does it roll them, smash them, or grow them?”
“None of the above. It puts them out."
“That's really terrific” I said, planning to be poor forever. Just what everyone wants. A two by four foot gismo that flashes, clunks and gurgles, and puts out cigarettes.
“Where is it to be used?”
“The living room, of course! Didn't you notice the woodgrain contact paper on the face of New Life?”
“That's the copyrighted name I'll use.”
“Would you care to explain how New Life functions?”
It was an ingenious plan. New Life was to be activated by the warmth from a lighted cigarette held by someone naive enough to sit near a wood grained crate that made weird noises. New Life would refrain from its primary activity just long enough to permit a cigarette to be smoked down. Then it would spring into action, and douse the cigarette, which by that time would be in the nearby ash tray.
“But we don't smoke,” I had reminded him then. That was when we still had friends. They came two by two, or in bunches, thinking that we had ordinary living room furniture. They left wet, bedraggled, holding dry and burning cigarettes as they wiped the water out of their eyes.
“Tell me the truth,” the man down the street panted, “this has to be Candid Camera, doesn't it? Where's Allen Funt?”
But that was not the only money making idea we had! We were constantly driven to try and figure out how to get more money. Needs existed that had not been considered when we got married, such as two hundred pizzas a week and for the kids, and their friends, and strange people wandering through the house after hearing we were having a pizza party.
And, the little bitty fish bowl that once held one guppy (already in the family way at purchase time) who produced dozens of little new guppies who needed to know other types of fish so they would not be prejudiced. These colorful fish practiced mating in an unrestrained way before the neighborhood children, and had dozens of little sex crazed progeny. All fish grew, spawned, ate each other, copulated before our very eyes and needed new tanks and new divers and even more fish to keep them company and pretty soon one of the older kids opened a fish store in the basement. We went from residential to commercial rate.
“Money, Money, Money,” my husband charged “Got to get money.”
New Life had a cabinet nearby, filled with even more dreams and drawings. There was the reverse Chinese Checkers, or Reverse Marbles, In this game , you not only moved the marbles to capture your opponent’s marbles, but had to remember where all the marbles were - on the underside of the cardboard game board as well as the top. The marbles were mixed steel ball bearings, and the top was magnetic to hold them top and bottom. But the magnetism didn't last long and soon the “Force” departed the game.
“I've just lost all my marbles,” my husband said in despair, after planning how to spend the millions Reverse Marbles would bring in.
"Don't ask me to comment on that one."
But by that time, I had joined the game. There was a man who had teeny little board, put nails in it at a strategic locations, and created a ribbon winder. It made him millions, or so we heard. In between all the laundry and pizza and fish funerals, I had little time to use the appropriate materials.
Mom: "Come here, Honey. Just let mama borrow your fingers for an instant. If you’ll just hold them up. Mama's trying to invent a way to wind little yarn animals that will just make us a fortune."
Kid: "No way, Jose! You had Sis tangled up for three hours yesterday, and her fingers are still glued together."
That didn't last long. They rushed around, eating pizza. Seasons blurred into one another.
“Where did all the time go?" my husband asked, following me into the basement to prepare for the rummage sale. “And where in the name of heaven, did we get all this stuff?”
From our vantage point at the top of the stairs, we counted five bowling balls, two sofas, three Christmas trees, two clotheslines holding abandoned garments we'd been too busy to toss out. And that was just the top layer.
“I don't think this is going to be much fun,” I told him.
“There's really not any hurry. Tell you what - I'll give you a choice between cleaning out the basement or sex in the bathtub.”
“Get the broom,” he said urgently.
Time passes. Things change. Had he chosen basement cleaning in the beginning, all the rest might not have happened.
Opaline Marks is the pen name of Opal Markiewicz, a writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction essays.