It's a room roughly twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide with dark paneling on three walls and, mercifully but inexplicably, one accent wall of off-white mottled panels, the sort you find in value-priced pre-fabricated homes. There is a sizable foyer and a walk-in closet, and there is an afterthought of a bathroom (toilet and sink, but no shower). In one corner of the exterior wall, an air-conditioner occupies what might once have been a window but which is now simply a cutout that gives the AC access to the outside. Other than the cutout, there are no windows. The only way to know if it's day or night is to have faith in what the clock tells me; the only way to determine whether I'll need a jacket or possibly an umbrella is to descend the stairs and step out onto the sidewalk. It is strange and occasionally insufficient and frequently surreal, but for the past thirteen months it has also been home. It is the Bear Cave.
How and why I came to be living in the Bear Cave is a less than inspiring story: I went broke, as a wise guy once said, gradually and then quite suddenly, lost my marbles, lost my house, and then spent the next ten months living off the largesse of friends. I finally managed to scrape together a few bucks, but only a very few, and in a stroke of what felt like genius it occurred to me that I didn't need a big, fancy apartment: what I needed, quite simply, was four walls and a ceiling, with a lock on the door, and this being Waterville, there was plenty of low-rent, no-frills office space available. The lack of a shower has certainly been less than ideal, but just as necessity is the mother of invention, it is also fair to say that poverty decides the relative value of convenience. My friends Chili and Smurfette gave me a mattress and a desk, I lugged my remaining belongings up the stairs, and for the time being I had most of what I needed.
Not unexpectedly, living in a windowless cave has its downsides. The lack of ambient light considerably screwed with my sleep patterns. Stretches when I was flat broke saw me hunkering down in the cave for a day or two at a time, not venturing out for any reason. The walls, already close, crept in, casting a pall over already dark days. A couple months after I moved in, I scratched "RIP GB," very faintly, into the desktop. With the overhead fluorescent lights on, you can't even see it's there, but if I turn out the lights, illuminating the room with nothing more than the glow of my computer monitor, the inscription jumps right out at you.
It wasn't all bad, though. There was a reliable unsecured wifi signal. There were distraction-free hours sitting at my desk typing away. For a few months there was a long, tall dame who dared to cross the threshold from time to time. And there was a roof, and walls, and a lock on the door.
At the end of my first summer after college, I moved with my girlfriend to Seattle. This was 1991, and Seattle was an outstanding place for kids like us to go for an adventure. The day after we arrived, though, she announced that she didn't think we should live together. She wasn't entirely wrong: it didn't really fit her sense of herself, this shacking up with a dude she was sure even then would never become her version of husband material. Of course, she had no sense of how or why this was devastating to me: she didn't know because I'd never really talked to her about my own sense of the precariousness of HOME. She was a nice upper middle-class girl from Winchester, Massachusetts, and as intriguing as parts of my story were to someone like her, that part I was still keeping to myself. We were staying with her sister and broth-in-law for the first few weeks in Seattle, and when she made her announcement about our future living situation, I walked out the door and made my way up to Capitol Hill, where my friend Q was living with his mother. It was a long walk, and I made it longer, pausing frequently to ponder the terrain, sizing up benches and discreet corners where, as far as I knew that day, I might soon find myself holed up. I was twenty-two years old and three-thousand miles from home and scared shitless. And I hated my girlfriend's guts a little bit right then, not because she didn't want to live with me, but because she could have told me that before I got on the fucking plane.
But it wasn't her fault: I put myself there in that distant city with a girl who was, ultimately, a placeholder. Just as I put myself here, in the Bear Cave which, a week from tomorrow, I'll have to vacate. In spite of the fact that my landlord is kind of a dick, this isn't his fault -- he's been patient. Plus, I wasn't really supposed to be living here in the first place. Even a dick is entitled to his money, and a cave is no place for a man. There are things I'll miss about the place, but they are the obvious things. I can't say I feel at all sentimental about it. Anyway, until further notice, the view from this particular Bear Cave will be cloudy at best. I'll leave you with a little Twilight Singers for your Sunday pleasure. You can dance to it if you want.
Underneath the Waves -- Twilight Singers