A Married Man Stakes Out His Very Own Jungle Room

The intangible glory of the man-cave.

The cat boxes are right outside my man cave.

Compromise. That’s what they tell you makes relationships work. 

I’m the youngest in a family of three boys, the other two of whom
preceded me down the aisle.

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“Do your best to keep the basement,” my brother Pete told me. There was a vague look of resignation in his face.

Twenty years ago, when my wife and I bought our house, I was thrilled to see that it came with a retro oak bar complete with a brass railing and worn plank floors.

“Honey, I’d like this to be mine,” I said. “You can have the whole rest of the house.” There, I thought: I just relinquished any claims to 95 percent of the biggest investment I’ve ever made while at the same time planting a flag in my coveted territory.

“Oh, Honey,” my wife said, “I want the whole house to be ours.” 

It wasn’t exactly a “no,” but I had an uneasy feeling, and, when I looked in the mirror, my face had the same expression that Pete’s had had.

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I was a much younger man then, and, in the ensuing years, I’ve realized that my wife controls how the house is going to look. I’m not sure how this evolved. It may be that she has some sort of secret hypnotic, subliminal, Svengali-type training, or maybe it is a DNA-based nesting thing and evolution meant it to be. 

I am not a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal type. I’m hip to color palettes, swatches, and HGTV. I just can’t pull the trigger any more. I’m like a boxer who’s been hit with so many different combinations he’s afraid to move. And I think I know where it started.

The leather hippopotamus ottoman.

There used to be a high-end furnishings store at the mall and, right by the door, they had a life-size baby hippo footrest. My wife’s an animal lover, so I thought it was a no-brainer. I surprised her with the cute little fellow and even put a red ribbon around his thick neck and named him Mike.

She made me take Mike back.

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So, over the years, I’ve developed a kind of learned helplessness when it comes to decorating. In short, I just don’t do it much anymore because I feel my work to date has been underappreciated.

Instead, I’ve thrown all of my creativity right into the basement. It is my poker kingdom, where I watch vintage boxing and endlessly listen to the classic music of Elvis Presley. The walls are adorned with old-school Vegas photos of long-gone casinos like the Stardust and the Barbary Coast, pics of Sinatra marrying Mia, Elvis marrying Priscilla, Rat Pack concert posters, and my collection of cheap ’60s guitars that I’ve accumulated from flea markets over the years. 

It is a masterpiece of post-modern masculinity. It is also adjacent to where my wife insists we keep the cat boxes.

My proudest design point is the room’s refrigerator. It came with the house and was that yucky old-fashioned cream color, so I reached deep into my creativity stores, thought outside the box, and came up with a plan: With my own hands, I decided to cover it in leopard contact paper. I know; you wish you’d thought of that. 

Now, I will admit that, because of my bias toward completion, I could have been a bit more meticulous. There are a few wrinkles and the pattern is a bit off-center. In fact, if you struggle with vertigo, you shouldn’t look directly at it for more than a few seconds. However, I like to believe the imperfections in the work accentuate its appeal. I’ve dubbed my man cave “The Jungle Room” after Elvis’ favorite spot in Graceland. It pains me that I’m relegated to the cellar where the cats crap, but I just don’t feel the freedom to bring my gift to the rest of our home because, well, frankly, there is a flaw in my marriage. 

That’s okay; tonight I’ll be listening to the Aloha From Hawaii soundtrack and sipping a bourbon while I watch the first Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fight. Sure, when I adjust my leather-like recliner, I get a hint of cat. I may not be permitted to smoke a cigar in the house, but I can still fire up my leather-scented Yankee Candle. It’s the most masculine scent they make and it’s the perfect aromatic addition to a room that says so much about its designer. And it makes me miss Mike.

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