Twain's Man Caves

Friday, August 13, 2010

An article about fourteen historical man caves both inspires me and brings back fond memories of the three-bedroom house we rented for next to nothing back in our Houston days.

In particular, the fact that Mark Twain appears on the list twice made me smile. Included are his descriptions of each of two different man caves of his -- a free-standing writing studio (for summer visits with his sister in upstate New York) ...

It is the loveliest study you ever saw ... octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window ... perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head -- imagine the luxury of it.
... and a billiards room in his Connecticut house. (I think I now have a day trip to suggest to Mrs. Van Horn. We can try the steamed cheeseburgers here, while we're at it, too.)
There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It's dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that ... Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.
Both are pictured within the article.

Twain's two man caves reminded me of the two I had in the Houston house with similar purposes -- a small study for my writing and research, and an odd room between the kitchen and the back porch, which we called the "poker room." My roll-top desk and barbecue supplies lived back there, along with a small table for poker and a couple of cabinets containing most of my tools including, of course, ashtrays and other poker supplies.

Also -- how could I forget? -- I had a small beer refrigerator back there.

We had to cut things to the bone on the move to Boston. I do have a man cave up here -- a small study I now have a standing order in my mind to improve. And the kitchen has become a de facto second man cave. It's not perfect, but it'll do until we get back into a house.

And, if we remain in New England, that means one thing: I'll have a basement. Nice.

-- CAV


Andrew Dalton said...

Beware that basements are prone to flooding at unexpected times. This happened to us in June, after a series of heavy thunderstorms caused the river to rise and all of the storm sewers to back up. There wasn't a huge amount of water, but enough to soak and destroy the carpeting. Supposedly this had never happened in our condo complex before.

I'm not dealing with another finished (carpeted and drywalled) basement unless it has an active system of water control like a sump pump.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the heads-up. By coincidence, another couple we know from Houston moved up here around the same time we did and exactly the same thing happened to them -- the week their second son was born!

I spent a day helping him clean things up. It was an unfinished basement, but he was storing lots of things, so it was still a huge mess.

Yep. He has a sump pump now.

kelleyn said...

So, what do you call it when a woman has a cave? "Sewing room," "yarn room," etc--ok, but what if it's for something else? Stuff like reading, coding, practicing music, or just hiding chocolate bars? "Woman cave" doesn't sound right at all.

Gus Van Horn said...

You've got me. As you have discerned from the term itself, and could further attest from the various half-joking definitions at Word Spy and elsewhere, the term is an attempt to capture some half-understood grain of truth about men as males. It's not that women don't have similar needs, but the right term, as well as the general types of activities would be different.

That's an interesting question, and rather than crack wise and say something like, "The term you want is 'the rest of the house,'" I will ask any other women who have read this far for their insight. That particular question I feel ill-prepared to answer!

Vive la différence, as the saying goes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I'm curious as to what small beer is and how many you can fit in a refrigerator.

Does it have anything to do with Munchkins?

C. Andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I so closely associated that small refrigerator with the beer I kept in it for so long that the ambiguous phrase "small beer refrigerator" just flowed right out of my fingertips.

Nevertheless, there is an answer to your question: Small beer is, "a beer that contains very little alcohol. Sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like, it was a favoured drink in Medieval Europe and colonial North America, where George Washington had a recipe for it involving bran and molasses." I can't say I personally have much use for it.