I turned my basement into an apocalyptic talent show. The cause of the apocalypse was almost irrelevant — although I preferred natural disasters. The important part was that recovering from an apocalypse required putting on a mixed tape and dancing. Hence, I was very territorial of my reconfigured basement being that it was in the perfect atmospheric arrangement for end-of-the world dance-offs. The space was perfect, and I was definitely going to play this game all week, thank-you-very-much. All my favorite toys (from dinosaurs to Barbies, Disney dolls to action figures) got the invite to rebuild a (much more glamorous) society — with fun and dresses and music.
My grandma’s basement suffered a different fate — that of a roller rink in a magical fantasy world. There were werewolves prowling at the doors, but if you were in the bunker turned skating arena, you were safe. It was an extremely 90s pop influenced Fortress of Solitude. Once again, there was a pathological reliance on CDs, mixed tapes, and the radio (these are clearly what you need to survive in a harsh, barely settled fantasy land). The downside to this was there was always a tremendous number of spiders and silver fish in the basement, and these are way worse than dragons, orcs, or werewolves. Apparently those creepers still inhabit fantasy worlds.
In the real world, I’ve been in a tornado and don’t consider the damages of disasters to be funny in the slightest. But that’s what play-acting is — a cathartic way to deal with fear, shame, and guilt. In our age of Big Disasters, it’s not a huge shock that I play-acted those out. There’s something random and completely inevitable about natural disasters — there’s a lack of control. In fiction, you get that control back. It’s magic — it’s choose your own adventure. You get to pour whatever glitter-infused lotion you want onto the things that keep you up at night. Being separated from your family is no problem when you get adopted into a magic, fantasy bunker of disco-awesomeness. Your house is destroyed, but you can rebuild with Batman, Sailormoon, and their dinosaur friends.
But like all things, the literal days of Basement Magic came to an end. Basements are storage places, workshops, and game rooms now. But the macabre fantasies blended together with the touch of absurd (you really need mix tapes to survive) lives on. We all fear something (from silverfish and spiders to failure and death), and we crave community — a place to be safe from the wolves at the doors in our own heads. You always need someone there to help you pick up the pieces. And sometimes, that person is fictional — an idea instead of flesh and blood. And sometimes, that person is a phone call away, and when you don’t know the way back to the basement, they most certainly do.