Tag Archives: basement

My spirit animal is a daddy long legs

Whenever I see a cockroach in the house, my body automatically goes for the kill. Even if I’m outside, but it’s close enough to my house where I suspect that, given enough time, it’s possible that the little guy might somehow randomly make its way into my domain, that’s enough of a potential threat to warrant extermination. And it’s more than just fear, it’s a physical sensation. I see a cockroach and the insides of my body feel like they’ve all contracted inward, trying to find their own hiding spots to get away from the gross little bug. My skin crawls, my breathing accelerates, I don’t know what’s going on, but just looking at a cockroach has a very real effect on my body and mind.

But today I was looking for something in the basement. I moved a stock of plastic containers and, always on the lookout for a potentially hidden roach infestation, a daddy long legs crawled out from behind a corner. And my heart kind of melted a little. I thought, aw, look at that, a daddy long legs. And I just kind of watched as it went from one side of the room to the other, finding a different pile of junk to hide behind and make his home.

His. Look at that. I was already anthropomorphizing the little guy. If he hadn’t disappeared against that far wall where I keep my skis propped up for the majority of the year, there’s a very real chance that I might have tried to lure him upstairs with me, maybe I’d even give him a name and figure out some way to prevent him from pulling another inevitable vanishing act.

The daddy long legs had probably been living downstairs in my basement comfortably for generations. He probably has a whole family that he’s a part of, a mommy long legs, at least a dozen baby long legs. So why doesn’t it bother me the same way that a cockroach does?

Because daddy long legs should be scarier. I mean, they have giant spider legs. Yeah, even though I know that they’re not technically spiders. And isn’t there that urban legend that a daddy long legs has enough poisonous venom to kill an elephant, but they don’t have the fangs necessary to get that toxin into other animals? I’ve never bothered to look it up, but that story enough is at least somewhat convincing that, even if it’s not true, it should still make me want to at a minimum, keep my distance.

But there’s nothing, no killer instinct, I’m a daddy long legs pacifist. I see a daddy long legs and I can’t even imagine how I’d go about killing one if I were forced to. It doesn’t make any sense in my head. But give me a giant cockroach, like a mouse-sized, giant bug, and I don’t care how messy the clean up is, I’d stomp it out with my bare feet if necessary.

What’s wrong with me as a human being that I assign such very different values to insects? That’s got to be some weird sort of evolutionary hiccup. Cockroaches must have done something to my ancestors back when nobody had yet evolved past anything more complex than a lemur. But now that we’re the dominant species, I’ll be damned if I let those cockroaches think that we’ll ever forget whatever it was that causes us to continually lash out at them as an organism.

As long as I don’t have to deal with earwigs, I’ll be OK. Thankfully I’ve never seen an earwig where I live now, but when I was a little kid, we’d go camping upstate every summer. And by the end of each week, the tiny little holes where the wires slipped through the nylon to prop up our tents would be filled, I’m talking jam-packed with hundreds upon hundreds of earwigs.

They’re just like little cockroaches, only smaller, and they always travel in groups, like ants, like the sand-people of Tattooine. And they’ve got these little chompers toward the front of their bodies that, well, I’ve never let them get close enough to find out if they can bite, but I imagine they can. And in my imagination, it really hurts. Fuck earwigs.

And fuck cicadas. But I’ve already written about the seasonal terror that is cicada season in the Northeast. No need to revisit that horror. Daddy long legs, I don’t know what you did to escape my paralyzing fear of the rest of the insect kingdom, but whatever it is, keep up the great work. It’s actually a pleasure running into you every now and then. If all pests and vermin were as pleasing to the mind as you were, I’d be in great shape, just terrific.

A Way Out

When my wife and I moved into our new apartment, we thought we hit the jackpot. It was almost too good to be true, and I know how cliché that sounds, like it’s the intro to every single creepy story you’ve ever read. “There’s only one catch,” I can just see the real estate agent selling that murder house to the unsuspecting newlyweds on every bad horror movie ever written. But there wasn’t any sort of warning when the broker showed us around.

It was exactly what we were looking for. It was more. It was a two-bedroom, two-story apartment, beyond what we had imagined was affordable for our price-range. The only sort of weird thing was that, for whatever reason, the building’s only access to the basement was through a door in the back corner of our living room.

And that does sound weird, right? But, and maybe this was us just really wanting this to work out, it didn’t look that weird, not really. It was just a regular door, a little old, it was locked and it remained locked, we didn’t even have a key. The landlord assured us that, other than the utility guy coming by to check the building’s gas and electric meter once every month or so, there wasn’t really any reason that anybody would have to go down there.


It took us a while to finally settle in, with the both of us working full time, the boxes from moving day just had a way of blending into the background of our daily lives. But after a couple of months we were mostly unpacked, and that’s when I started feeling it, a little uncomfortable having that door there all the time.

I blamed most of it on my overactive imagination. When I was a little kid, I was always scared to go down to the basement by myself. I’d think about old episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark or scary stories told by classmates at school, and I’d freak myself out. Shadows would morph into monsters and footsteps from upstairs would turn into the muffled sounds of dead spirits. I knew it was all in my head, but the fear, that palpable panic, I’d run upstairs positive that something was chasing me up, reaching out to pull me back down into the darkness.

But I grew up eventually. Every once in a while I’d read something online, an especially creepy story, or I’d see that rare horror movie that kept me up for a few nights afterwards. But I was an adult, I’d grown up. All of those feelings, that mounting sense of dread, I could dismiss it when I really needed to. If I had to go to the basement, maybe I’d have like a sense memory of what it felt like to be terrified of nothing, but that’s all it was, nothing more than residual emotion.

In the weeks after we had unpacked, we started to get more comfortable in our new place. When I came home after work, it would feel less and less each day like I was walking into a stranger’s house and a little more like home.

Except for that door to the basement. At first I tried to will myself to ignore it. I’d tell myself, just wait it out, sure, it’s a little spooky, the idea of a blocked off passageway to a hidden downstairs, but I just had to learn to not pay attention. We set up the TV on the opposite side of the room, so as not to be forced to stare directly at it while we sat on the couch.

Only that seemed to enhance that sense of unease. It was like running up from the basement as a child, that tingling sensation on the back of my neck, like now when I tried to veg out on the couch at night, I’d feel the door, the back right side of my head would have this almost physical awareness of my location, my proximity to the door. There’d be the occasional shuffling sound, almost imperceptible. Which, yes, I was getting a little spooked, but this is the city, it’s a loud place. You hear noises everywhere. It could have been mice, or rats, something legitimately scary.

But it was getting to me, more and more, so I flipped the layout around so the couch now faced the door. And it was better, kind of. I still felt uncomfortable, but not as much, now that I could direct most of my attention toward the TV, pretend like whatever it was I was feeling was a result of whichever show or movie I happened to be watching.


The whole door stood out of place in the otherwise neatly kept living room. While the building itself was old, you could tell that the owner must have renovated this apartment sometime within the last ten years. But that door, it must have been from like way before. Years of paint jobs had accumulated on the top layer, giving it that kind of over-smoothed, rounded look. And the molding around the frame was a little more warped than the rest of the room’s woodwork.

A couple of times late at night I thought I caught something out of the corner of my eye. There was a gap underneath, maybe an inch and a half from the ground to the bottom of the door, and I’m telling you, a few times I’d be watching TV with most of the lights out, late at night, and I could see the reflection of the screen onto the tile flooring, illuminating just maybe half an inch underneath. That’s what I’m talking about, it was like I kind of saw just a tiny movement breaking that glow from underneath.

And each time that I thought I saw it, it happened so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to really confirm if it had actually happened, or if it was just my mind playing tricks. You know, like sometimes you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, but it’s nothing? That’s what this was like, I’d be staring at the TV, I’d never get a chance to look at it directly, but that flicker, it gave this illusion, like something moving on the other side, something pressed right up against that door.

My wife is easily spooked, and so I didn’t want to say anything to her, not directly, she’d start to panic, I’d have to start accompanying her downstairs every time she needed anything from the ground floor. But she started spending less and less time in the living room. Eventually we set up a smaller TV upstairs, and we wound up kind of just hanging out almost exclusively in the second bedroom. It was this unspoken thing between the two of us, almost like we were afraid to verbalize exactly what it was we might be thinking.

Because what if I told her, hey, honey, I’m getting really creeped out about that basement door? I can’t explain exactly what’s making me feel uneasy, and I don’t have anything to back up my unexplainable but growing sense of dread. What if she said, “Me too?” Would that have made it real? It’s like, I can think about my own crazy thoughts and fears, but to hear them validated like that? No, I wouldn’t want to ever go downstairs again. And what were we supposed to do, break our lease? Find another apartment?


I had this dream one night. I was downstairs watching TV, and the door to the basement was open. There was a man sitting on the stairway, and even though I was conscious of the fact that this was totally out of the ordinary, I still just kind of sat there, hoping that if I could pretend to ignore what was happening, then it wouldn’t be real, that maybe he’d wouldn’t interact with me either, maybe he’d go away.

But he turned his head toward me. I couldn’t make out what he looked like, because he was just sitting there on that first step, obscured by darkness. “Come here,” he said, “I can show you a way out.” And despite the fact that everything in my head told me to get the hell out of there, in my dream my body just kind of calmly stood up and starting walking toward the door, like I didn’t have any control, like I was getting sucked in.

That’s when I woke up, it was the middle of the night and I had a lot of trouble even just laying there trying to go back to sleep. I kind of just waited out the rest of the night under my covers, pulling them really tight, all the way up to my head. I forced my eyes shut, absolutely terrified that if I looked up I’d see something in the room with us, like I’d open my eyes and there’d be a face staring at me from only inches away.

I was getting lost in my imagination, and when the sun finally rose, I took a shower, I packed my stuff up for the day and I bolted out of the front door without so much even looking back toward the living room. “Did you sleep well last night?” my wife asked me on the phone sometime during that day, and I lied, I told her that everything was fine. “Did you?” I asked her back, and she was kind of just like, “Yeah. Me too. Fine.” And I couldn’t tell if she really was fine, or she was afraid, like I was afraid, like maybe she needed me not to be afraid, because I kind of felt like I needed her not to be afraid. It was getting too much, I was starting to feel a little boxed in.

When I got back home, there were footprints coming from the basement door, white, dusty footprints, like from work boots maybe. I froze where I stood and called up the super. “Hey man, did the utility guy come today to check the meter?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “The utility company’s got its own schedule, and their own key to the building, so it should be like I said, like every month or so.”

“But you weren’t around today? Like you didn’t see if they went down to the basement?”

“Look man, I just don’t know OK, I’m sorry, is everything OK with the place?”

“It’s just some footprints, must have been from the basement.”

“Yeah man, that could be it, I’m sure it was the utility guy.”

After I hung up, it took me a couple of minutes to muster up the will or the energy or courage or whatever to move from where I stood. I walked to the basement door, I put my hand on the knob, and I turned. It wasn’t locked. I kept my hand there for a minute, like would I pull the door open? Part of me felt drawn to, but I was frozen, I didn’t want to see what anything looked like, I didn’t want to give my mind anything real to build any more dreams or illusions around, OK, I didn’t want this basement to be any more of a reality than it already was.

I called the super back up.

“You know what? I don’t think it’s going to work out. OK, it’s not enough privacy, not with people having access to our place, I think we have to figure something out.”

“That’s going to be tough,” he told me, “If you want a way out, it’s going to cost you.”

My wife must have felt similarly uncomfortable, because she didn’t tell me I was crazy when I told her I wanted to leave. We agreed to the terms right away, the first and last month’s rent, plus the security deposit, gone. She went with my line, that she didn’t like it that other people had access, but I could tell there was something else.

And now that we’re in a new place, it’s like I still can’t shake the feeling, that mounting sense of doom. Like when I try to sleep at night, I can still sense it, something hovering just right there, like all I have to do is open my eyes. Every noise I hear is something coming to pull me down. And I can’t shake it, right, I’m not getting over it, I don’t think my wife’s herself lately either.

And when I dream, I’m still right there in that living room, or I’m even right here in this bed, and there’s that open door right to my side, a little closer each time. I want to turn away, I want to do something, anything, but that guy is calling to me, “Come here,” always hidden in the shadows, and I’m not sleeping at all really anymore, I just feel like I’m losing it, like I don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with any of this, it’s like I’m totally unraveling here.

Lack of sunlight and its effects on the skin

When I don’t go outside for a while, like if I don’t make an effort to get out of the house and stand in the sunlight, I get really pale. I work in a restaurant, it’s in a basement, it’s so dark inside that after a really long shift I don’t leave until the sun has gone down, which, especially in these summer months, that feels like a long time, a really long shift.

One time I had this friend, he put this whole thing of tape around his forearm. I was like, “Man, what are you doing?” he was like, “I’m just trying to see if I keep this tape on my arm for a while, like maybe it’s going to get really pale,” he’s a construction worker, always outside, he’s got that golden coat of tan, you know, like you see on the well-to-do, always golfing. But my friend’s not golfing, he’s hanging shingles or something, I don’t know, not shingles, whatever, I just made something up, but he’s outside, like installing windows or something, something outside.

I was like, “Why do you want to do that?” he’s like, “I don’t know, why not?” so I said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Doesn’t your skin need to breathe?” and he got defensive, he shot back, “All right man, you know, maybe that’s a risk I’m willing to take, and maybe you should just stop asking so many questions.”

And so I did, I stopped asking questions. But maybe I should have asked a few more, like aren’t you worried about keeping the skin clean under there? Or, aren’t you afraid that it’s going to hurt really badly when you try to just rip that tape off? Because he did keep it on there too long and, I’m sure something happened with the pigmentation, but nobody was ever able to tell, because he got a rash, and he kept itching it, probably in his sleep, because people would ask him, “Hey dude, you should get that checked out. Are you itching it?” and again, he’d just kind of turn his body, like protecting his taped up arm, “Leave me alone, all right? I’m not itching it.”

Why would he lie about itching it? Like I said, itching it in his sleep, whatever, just a theory, but there was a definitely a rash, an aggravation, and it must have gotten infected, and there was an extended stay in the hospital. It turned out to be one of those antibiotic resistant bacteria, and we were all really scared, I thought that was it, for his arm anyway, I was like, if he’s making it out of there alive, it’s going to be with one less arm. And for what? Why did he put the tape on in the first place?

I don’t know, the doctors handled it. They got some sort of different antibiotics or something, I have no idea. But it made me think about my job, my lack of sunlight, our differences in tan, my lack of any color. One time I went to the beach and made a little design out of sunscreen on my chest. Sure enough, I went home, took a shower, and there it was. I should have maybe thought out the design a little better, it was crooked, my applying of the sunscreen was definitely inconsistent.

I kept my shirt on for a while, not that I really have any reason to take my shirt off, still, I’d look at myself in the mirror and think, why did I do that? What was the point? Maybe it was the same thing with my friend, with the tape. Maybe he was really just very bored, maybe he wanted to see a really crazy precise white stripe across his arm. Why? Why not?

Back to my job, back to the basement. I get worried that my skin is going to get so pale that I’m going to get that same resistant bacteria covering my whole body, they’re going to have to put me under a giant human-sized heat lamp, just like a tanning bed, but red and yellow instead of ultraviolet blue, they’ll be like, “Sorry Rob, even the antibiotic-resistant-resistant antibiotics couldn’t knock this thing out of your system. We’re hoping that these big lights here might cook it out of you. Yes, it’s going to be painful. All movement is going to be very unpleasant. But when it’s all said and done, we’re thinking you might walk out of here with a pretty sharp looking tan. And that’s something to look forward to, right? In this time of year, right? That’ll be pretty cool, don’t you think so?”