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True Stories by Steve Keely
IíM BEGINNING TO THINK LIKE THEM
When I was 28 and a retired veterinarian, I spent a year sleeping in a coffin. It was simple, pine and lined with electric blankets against icy Michigan nights. It was the logical progression to riding boxcars on-and-off around America. Before that, I built a box in a closet in a garage to stay in. Prior, my worst nightmare surfaced on getting lost after hours in an Auckland, New Zealand House of Mirrors and kicking doors until the janitor unlocked the real one. Where did this small fetish begin? Mother used to open my boxes inside boxes each Christmas that unlocked a love passage. Bless her understanding heart for allowing me as a child a pet pocket worm.
I suppose the idea of digging a burrow, moving in, and observing my fellow creatures came from a besotted visit once to an Anchorage, Alaska bar. Looking up from their drinks, patrons gradually became aware that in place of the usual bar mirror stood a wall-to-wall glass window. It permitted a menagerie of rhesus monkeys to cease cavorting on spruce branches, and every few minutes to examine us drinkers with great amusement. We were each othersí floorshows.
I just put the finishing touches on my burrow at the Sand Valley rancho, and urge visitors. I meditate and type ten-feet beneath the desert floor. Itís cool, quiet and airy with one side open and a stair to the surface. No mammal near the tri-section of California, Arizona and old Mexico can claim a deeper burrow. I like to think Captain Nemo would turn in his grave. The twist is an open side wall of ľĒ hardware mesh flush with the vertical dirt. A half-dozen species scuttle in auxiliary tunnels off my main bore and peek. There are various rodents, snakes and giant scorpions, so far.
Sand Valley, California is a round sandbox crosscut by dry washes and ringed by 600-foot mountains. A single access track from the town of Blythe leads an hour to the pristine 100-mile circle where seven residents survived the past summer that decimated 30% of the population. That heat, and the adjacent Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range where daily jets pepper 1000-pound bombs leaving gaping craters, are the other reasons I built the hideaway.
Too far-flung for a backhoe, imitators do well in starting with a pick as well as shovel. Stake a 10í x 8í plot the size of a camper shell and put on thick gloves. Toss the initial four feet of dirt far from the hole to make space for the deeper, harder earth. One hundred hours later, jack the camper onto four old tires and put two more in front of it. Come-a-long the camper over this path, advancing the freed set of tires like a sweating Egyptian toward the cavity. Slide it gently in on pipes. Place the tires as vertical retaining walls between the shell and dirt, and the pipes as beams for a false roof. Pile on the dirt to complete the project.
The lair ceiling is flush with the desert floor so one unknowingly walks among the local creosote bushes, ocotillo, barrel cactus and tweeting birds. Itís equipped with a computer and the rare desert waterbed that doubles as emergency storage. Water is hauled an hour from a well. Solar panels via an inverter provide electricity. The showcase mesh supplants TV. A tarantula called Thing is the hand-sized doorkeeper. The annual fixed expense at the rancho is $35 property tax.
The den is virgin. The portal is too small to admit large bosoms, and I prefer slim girls dating back to the coffin. Above all, I love practical ideas, and the creatures lurking beyond the wire think me no queerer than I them. Three lessons from living ten-feet under are: Laugh at yourself. Never laugh at anyone else. Jump at life like a Jack-in-the-box.
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