Oh god I live in a basement? Yes.

And you may ask yourself, do I really live in a basement? And you may find yourself reflected back in 12 inexpensive mirrors, the kind that you placed all over to make the place look bigger, and to capture more of the daylight that finds its way into your window, the kind they sell on the second floor of Fred Meyer for $9.99, down the aisle from the little lamps with the zebra-print shades. And you may see 12 of you, 12 faces looking back at you, all nodding affirmatively, each hovering over a large metal salad bowl filled with oatmeal. How did you afford so many of these mirrors? That's an easy one - you work hard, you mostly eat oatmeal, and you live in a basement. 

Soon you'll join the super-rich.

Join the super-rich.

Take a good look around and tell me what you see. Not in real life, you goose, on the Internet! Yes, that’s correct - a cursory glance-about will convince you absolutely that the world is divided rather neatly into two groups: the super-rich and you. Why is it so? Well, Democrats say it's the unfortunate circumstances of your birth. Republicans say you're just not working hard enough...and the Freegans say it's because you keep buying stuff. All I know is you can get all sweaty clawing your way to the top, or you can simply apply some Pioneer Spirit and live in a basement for a few years. I chose the non-sweaty path. Suddenly my rent was just $575 - and in only eight months time I was able to buy a really nice bike. Brother I'm here to tell you it felt good! So if you're as serious as I am about becoming super rich, you don't have to work hard at being freegan - just get serious about living in a basement, and get a job in lawn care - experts are expecting a lot of growth in that area.

And with all that dough, high-society romance is sure to follow.

Underground dating

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.  ~ Oprah Winfrey

Surprisingly, people of all classes will descend your crooked stairs and good-naturally keep their coats on in your chilly domicile if you are a gracious host. Due to the fuss created by recent articles in Vanity Fair and on WebMD, all stripes of the curious public will find you curious, and perhaps downright interesting, simply because you live in a basement, so make sure to keep extra slippers around.

Most basements lend themselves very unselfconsciously to low, moody lighting. Why not make the most of it on date night by dining completely in the dark? Without the decor to distract her, and with plenty of incense and perhaps a pair of mittens, your guest will be able to focus completely on the flavors in the meal you've prepared. 

This is what I think Oprah means about "getting it right" in the new year - it's about learning from the past and building a better future by truly owning our whole selves, basements and all. Of course, if you're actually dating Oprah, don't bother with owning anything - just hang out at her place.

What if my home scares me?

If your basement HQ is truly awful - it's an actual root cellar or maybe less like a groovy hacienda and more like a carpeted crawlspace - your best bet is to SALT-A-PIT: "Spend As Little Time As Possible In There." It's true that living in a basement is having a renaissance with the Reader's Digest crowd and other trend-settelers, but I think you'll agree after some measured objective meditation that if you're starting to rack up medical bills related to your domestic situation, you're doing it wrong. 

Do not despair if this is indeed the case - a terrible home can be the spur that sets your life a' galloping. Just think of all the things you can do and all people you can meet when you're out in the world for 16-20 hours every day.

Here's a list to get you started: 
  • Get to know your all your neighbors: Ingratiate yourself to them with humble gifts - a bit of poetry framed in autumn leaves, for example. Then see if seven of them will have you over for a meal and a nap once a week.
  • Enjoy each moment: There's a lot to see in the big city if you've got money for the ticket - museums, theatricals, tennis matches...but don't forget that each clump of wet leaves is truly its own bit of poetry.   
  • Take notes: Let the world be your raw material, and you its sculptor. Create masterpieces for the Ages - a bit of poetry framed in autumn leaves, for example. Blog about it, make out like a bandit, and move into a better basement.

Having second thoughts about basement living? Consider this alternative.

    Basement alternative #1

    What's the alternative to living beneath the ground, where Oprah never treads? If you're a dude, the first thing that probably comes to mind is living with all your dude-bros.

    You're not living in a basement. Might be a profound plus if you're unfamiliar with how much a basement can rule.

    You've got dude-bros all over the place. My second unsupervised living situation was one such arrangement. I lived with fellows I'll call Marc, Kip, and Jim, in a $160-a-month studio above a hair salon in downtown Smalltown USA. Fraternal angst, cigarette smoke, Cool Ranch Doritos. It was one in the kitchen, two on couches in the living room, and me on a futon on the floor in the sliding-door closet beneath my hanging clothes. An OK deal when every one of us was in a deep sleep, but at pretty much any other time it was somewhat crowded and effortlessly unhygenic. 

    So if being "normal" and having "friends" is a high priority for you, sure, buy some earplugs and some sunglasses and move in with your fellow apes. But if you prefer a little more elbow room and 75% less mess, get yourself into a basement of your own, where often the earplugs and sunglasses are built right in. 

    Next week: What to do about non-human guests.

    Non-human life

    We all know Nature's Eighth Law: "Any sheltering harbor beneath the ground is OK to crawl into." So if you see ants, beetles, spiders, centipedes, mice, possums, feral cats, or raccoons in your roots-level apartment, do not be alarmed. They are most interested in fresh air and a warm place to sleep, and so are probably just passing through on their way upstairs. 

    Just because I believe there's a best way to do everything, here's a handy how-to to keep handy: 

    Life form Quick and dirty way Proper method 
    Ants Spread cinnamon liberally around wherever you see them.  Trap and release.
    Beetles Trap and release. Invite to lunch with the spiders and centipedes.
    Spiders, centipedes Ignore them, they are your
    Create a welcoming environment
    Mice or 
    feral cats
    See one? Add the other.
    Better than Saturday morning TV.
    Trap and send to Hollywood.
    Raccoons. Just don't make eye contact. *Bait and switch.

    *Bait and switch: Leave garbage and food in a place where the raccoon can find it, retreat to a far corner, and don't move. While he busies himself with a snack, grab your sleeping bag and hammock, leave quietly, lock the door, and go live in his former house in the neighbor's oak tree - you'll get more fresh air and he'll be stuck with that noisy dehumidifier. 

    Speaking of which, it's time to gear-up on gadgets.


    Batman is not a nobody - he is high-class and righteously awesome, and lives in the Batcave, which is a basement! What makes Batman's Batcave basement not just a basement but an actual bona fide Batcave? Gadgets and gadgets. Here are some of the essentials that'll take your lowest-level penthouse apartment to the next level - the billionaire superhero level.
    • Radon detector: Radon is said to be a noble gas, but it's actually a creepy silent-invisible-odorless-type villain that causes more deaths per year than swimming and pie-eating combined, so get yourself a detector. This notable model is $130, but gives you a reading after only two days, which means you can return it well within Amazon's 30-day refund window. 
    • Animal-shaped humidifier: You won't need one of these in the summer when you're living east of East St. Louis in a modern sealed-up-type basement, but they're adorable! I bet you get one or two anyway. Essential winter gadget if you're using a space heater in a drafty older place and need to preserve your singing voice for busking. Humidity extremes can cause nosebleeds and death from black mold, so for real-time continuous humidity updates, befriend an older old person with bad joints, or get a hygrometer as well. 
    • Dimmer switches: Nothing surprises like the unexpected, and most of the cringes associated with basement living are due to garish overhead lighting. The New York critics and the minivan moms will never expect you to be wielding dimmer switches, and therefore they are essential.
    • Crock pot: When all you have is one outlet and one bowl, a crock pot is all you need. And a hug. Go ahead, refer to it as your Batcrockpot. 
    • Grappling hook: Even if you grapple only rarely, this $20 marvel, hung casually on the back of your closet door, will enstrengthen your boldness and embolden your strengthfulness whenever you're looking for your belt during the winter months when your basement feels less like a state-of-the-art Batcave and more like a down-and-out mole's second choice. It says, "Tighten your belt and go fight some crime, you lazy sad-sack billionaire!" Get yours today. Righteous awesomeness waits for nobody. 

      Basement alternative #2

      So you've tried living with your dude bros, and you're still not 100% sold on basement life. Alas, whither then? Another alternative, if you prefer that your ceiling not be another man's floor, is to shack up. Shacking up for fun and profit is as old as - well, it might even pre-date dating itself.   

      In the classic shack-up scenario, two upbeat and downright delightful people work full-time so that they can have a view of the tops of parked cars outside their kitchen window instead of looking up into unwashed bumpers. The arrangement works over 35% of the time and can have several beneficial side-benefits, such as having someone handy who will eat what you prepare - sometimes without complaining at all - and who can teach you how to stretch and grow and blossom as you learn to love all their little foibles. Don't think there will be no foibles! Everyone has a few funny little foibles. 

      If you find you are perhaps a bit of slow grower and that the foibles are getting the best of you, here are a few suggestions:
      • Take turns enjoying the shack. One of you could work even more than 40 hours a week or could perhaps take a keen interest in long distance slow-walking.

      • Role play. Many itchy domestic situations have been soothed simply by spending half the time pretending you both belong to another species. Ferns have few foibles.   
      • Liberally apply Paul and Art. A little Simon and Garfunkel always helps take the edge off. Or, if the DJ is not feeling super couple-ish, maybe just a little Simon.  
      One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor by Paul Simon on Grooveshark

      Next week: Feng Shui for hobbits!

      Interior decoration

      image: feng shui and beyond

      An interior decorator is someone who knows - who somehow just knows, deep in their bones - that the produce aisle in the grocery store needs a massive stack of canned pineapple in it. Even if you're not Mr Feng Shui himself, you can use the following insider insights to make your basement home as homey as any basement in China.
      • Clutter: Nothing says "lived in" like piles of clothes, junk mail, and those cute take-out boxes. A made bed breeds mites, but the expert experts agree that it's OK to make your bed once a week or so.
      • Books: Books bring a bookish quality to your home, and if read once in a while can also be a reliable early indicator of black mold.
      • Lamps: When lit from below, even a mausoleum becomes warm and inviting.
      • A fern: Having at least one other living thing in your basement can go a long way toward proving to doubters that your home is indeed inhabitable. If your ferns die too quickly, consider a Mother in Law's Tongue, which needs a minimum of sun, water, and love, but will definitely listen patiently if you feel like talking. 
      • Drum set: A basement without a drum set makes no sense whatsoever. In that time when everyone's cheering, just before the encore, drummers often leave them unattended.
      • Fine art: People who spend real money on works of fine art that were created by actual human-type beings are categorically considered culturally enlightened and generally afforded generous slack in every other aspect of their often peculiar lives. 
      • Guitars: Old guitars can be had for a song at garage sales and thrift stores, and every basement should have one or two, because the sound of music and laughter always brightens a room (even when the laughter is caused by the music). If you really can't play, spend a couple more bucks on a used electric guitar, a little amp, and a delay pedal - bam, you're The Edge. 

      A basementful of foodstuffs

      As one who lodges at an address below sidewalk level, you’re most likely marshalling your strength, saving your money, scheming for a brighter tomorrow, and possibly in occasional need of a little cheer-up -- so you require food that is nutritious, inexpensive, easy to prepare, and tasty.

      Healthfulness starts with water. And vegetables -- vegetables chock full of vitamins, minerals, specially formulated anti-bummer agents, and fiber. Put them both together and what do you have? Soup.

      Thriftiness means planning ahead, to a time five minutes or five hours in the future when you’re starving. There’s a place where all are welcome, where the sun is always sunny and the children never weep. It is the bulk aisle. And if you’re remotely located or a little lazy-ish, there’s also Amazon.com. A little up-front money can make you rich later. Buying in bulk will literally save you billions of micro-dollars.

      Imagine you’re a surfer shopping for clothes. You want comfort, durability, and style. In a somewhat similar fashion, take a moment to envision in your pretend surfer brain a kitchen full of minutes-to-make basics that all combine well with each other. Dood!

      Here’s a little secret: Herbs and spices help make food taste like delicious food.

      Might as well choose from the world’s healthiest foods, eh?

      Foundations: Quinoa ($), whole grain pasta ($), potatoes, squash, oatmeal. These carbs are the most nutritious, tastiest, least-expensive, easiest to prepare, easiest to combine with other foods, and best re-heated.

      Protein: If you find that meat and dairy are too fraught with moral, nutritional, and preperational complications, stick to plant proteins (even a 1/2 cup of broccoli has 3 grams). When not scarfing pintos or garbanzos, you may drink your protein. You may! Pea powder ($) tastes like nothing so blends with anything. You can also get a lot of mileage out of toasted walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds

      Fruit and vegetables: Bananas, apples, frozen berries. Raisins. The hardest-working vegetables are broccoli, kale, chard, collards, carrots, celery.   

      Other: Multi-vitamin with B12 and D. Veg bouillon. Olive oil for soups, salads, and so on, safflower oil for sauteing. Flaxseeds for omega-3s (you’ll need a little coffee grinder).

      • Keep your crock pot on: You can cook almost everything overnight.
      • Keep your immersion blender handy: Essential for smoothies and souping ($).  
      • Always cook three or more servings: Make the most of your fridge and freezer to make the most of your time and money. 
      • Clean as you go: You’ll do your best scheming when cleaning.  

      Cook a pound of pasta, four cups of quinoa, a pot of red sauce, and a vegetable soup, and you have 5 different ways to eat about 10 separate meals: pasta+red sauce, quinoa+red sauce, pasta+soup, soup+quinoa, red sauce+soup=tomato soup.


      • Shopping time: Since you buy your staples in bulk, you only need weekly trips for fresh food.
      • Cost: Rest assured, this is the cheapest way to eat, short of fregan-ing. 
      • Prep time: Almost nothing -- time to chop the vegetables and open a few cans, plus clean up.
      • Flavor: Did you add some spices and herbs?
      • Nutrition: Yus!