Sunday, May 25, 2008

Through the Vent Door - A History of My Fort

The prospect of adventure has always lured me in aggressively. For me it wasn't just adventure, it was ADVENTURE. I was determined to go all out and to make everything I could grand and incredible. I think in some ways I still live with that philosophy.

I remember wanting to bond with nature, so I smashed berries on rocks for ink and wrote with cattail and feather pens. I even went as far as bringing cattail pens to school, insisting on taking my spelling tests with long pens that made me feel adventurous and rugged. That was just how I was, and I didn't know any different. Everything was involved, ornate, and all out.

Growing up on Costa del Sol I remember countless forts, but there's one that burns vividly in my memory. The fort was underneath a row of townhouses built on a hill, so structurally everything was already there before I came upon it. It was in what I called "the caves" and to get in I unscrewed a vent and walked in to find myself in the most massive fort I've ever seen a kid enjoy. One room was a large expanse, and I called it the master room. The other room, which I called the kitchen, was through a hallway and probably 1/6th the size of the other room.

The kitchen was barely large enough to comfortably fit a row of homemade makeshift cabinets (and an old filing cabinet I found) along with a card table and chairs. I liked to call the wall of cabinets and storage space my "walk-up pantry," and the card table and chairs fit perfectly without anyone getting too near the walls that we imagined were laden with black widows and tangled spiderwebs. Of course because the fort was under a row of townhouses it wasn't ever very bright, but a series of flashlights and lemon-fired-battery-rigged-lightbulb-lamps made us very aware of a dire pest problem that needed to be addressed. Except for the threat of spiders the fort was our sanctuary.

I reacted to the bug problem like the Department of Defense would react to a breach in homeland security. I took a broom and violently swept all the spiderwebs away (a jumpy process that requires the utmost courage) and then scheduled a regular, calendared series of bug spray installments. You'd be happy to know that for safety reasons the fort was given time to air out before we entered again for construction and play, but any given bug spraying outing could require anywhere from 1/4 to half a can of Raid.

The bugs were a constant and fearful battle but once they were mostly controlled I took to leveling the fort's floor. The incline of the room was impeding on our living space dramatically, and I decided there were far too many unusable square feet. There was even a point along one side of the fort that wasn't tall enough for storage because of the close proximity to the ceiling and possible threat of spiders. I dreamed of somehow bringing power machinery into the fort so I could level the floor easilly but ended up slowly chipping away the hill's incline with rocks. I made stair steps, reclining chairs (basically large and comfortable hill indents that I lined with sheets and other various materials), and evened out the softer ground.

When my hand held rock methods became intolerable and I felt I was blessed with enough even floor space for my friends and I to sleep if we wanted, I started in on aesthetic appearance. After all, I didn't want a fort. I wanted a house.

Although I'm sure I took far too many blankets and household accessories during my day (I'm pretty sure I even took potpourri) , most of the mansion's aesthetic adjustments were a direct result of the treasures I found while dumpster diving. There was constant construction around my neighborhood during elementary school so resources were easy to stumble upon. I found large pieces of wood for the flooring and eventually scored on a huge piece of cream colored and nearly new looking carpet. I couldn't imagine why, but it seemed like someone had decided to remove their perfectly fine cream carpet and replace it with something else. I recruited neighborhood kids and friends, and together we pulled the carpet through the vented door via an intricate folding, pulling, and feeding process. My fort was carpeted. I kept backpacks, canned foods, a sleeping bag, games, MagLites, sodas (a friend of mine used to have loads of Pepsi in fridges in her garage and she would take a few every time she came over for our fort stockpile), and much more. At one point a neighbor, concerned with how much I was taking to the fort, even phoned my house to make my parents aware of her concern that I might be planning to run away for good somewhere. My fort was incredible.

Then there came a day when I grew taller. I had to duck through the door a little before I came upon my mansion of a fort, whereas the door before was an easy step in. We still frequented the fort but it was different. My friends started getting boyfriends and we were seeing PG-13 movies like Ace Ventura Pet Detective more often.

One day they started construction on "the caves" around my fort and I was condemned from the space I felt I had built myself. Every time I tried to sneak a peak to make sure the workers weren't raiding my space I encountered a someone on scaffolding and had to leave. When the workers left for good and took their scaffolding with them I went back through the bushes and into "the caves." I was alone but wanted to sidle through my vent door and step on my welcome mat where I usually left my shoes so I could keep the cream carpet clean and undisturbed. I wanted the comfort of the musty, cool air but instead found a sealed vent door. In rage, I pulled out my keychain all-in-one screw driver and tried to peel away the caulked and painted seal. I tried to unscrew the screws holding the door on but found them too covered in stuccoed caulk to make any headway.

I never entered the fort again and I wonder if any of the construction workers ever found out what I had made my second home. Did they take their shoes off at the welcome mat as I had done so many times? Did they relax in one of my recliner chairs and enjoy a Diet Pepsi before sealing the fort for the last time? Or did they go about their job routinely, never seeing the personality and life that my friends and I breathed into my fort house in the span of hours and years? Either way, I still think about the fort. Sometimes I feel its cool air or see something that triggers my memory. I think about the black Nike backpack with the red swoosh that's probably still there and wonder if that Cat In the Hat patch is intact like when I first brought it into the fort. Are there still cans of pineapple and other foods in the walk up pantry, and is there still art on the wall? Or did all that disintegrate when the spiders took over their land again?

In some ways I hope that the pieces of my fort are entangled in webs, somehow supporting new life and making new stories. The fort and everything in it, including what happened inside, is part of my memory. It was part of what sculpted who I am today.

When the vent door was sealed for the last time without my knowing it I was forced to grow up a little and realize that childhood is temporary and memories become just that. They say the most important things in life happen in your absence. Perhaps that is the case through the vent door, looking in on the memory of my mansion of a fort.


And now I'll share perfect music for memories, a blues artist who makes the cello sound like Jack Johnson caressing his guitar. Check out Ben Sollee and and groove to his truthful lyrics. Then look for a review of his debut full length album "Learning to Bend," which comes out on June 10th, at Thrill Magazine.

Take a listen below (don't mind the long intro, this video is beautiful and well worth the time), and while we're at it, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed that long winded window into my past.