Into The Sewer

The Cast: Erich (Leonardo: he really, really loved a good sword, and still does), Myself (Raphel: more of the 80’s sarcastic one than the more recent just angry one).

Remember, how I said Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are awesome? I hope so. If not, you can read about it here and here. Anyway, after the fire in the hole incident, it became clear that setting up our fallback position in that old cement block wasn’t going to be worth it. But, we still needed a backup lair. Oooohhh… a liar… That’s it! A lair! A real Ninja Turtle lair.

I love old homes. They have the oddest things built into them. Back before certain building codes were established. For instance, on the side of my house, we had a coal delivery shoot. Not so unusual, many older homes do. Ours, however, had a manhole-like lid. Like a sewer manhole. Why didn’t I think of this before? The old coal room never had anything stored in it because it was so dirty. Go figure. So I talked to my mom about using it for myself. She agreed, so long as I didn’t make a mess when I cleaned it out. That was easy.

The porch where the manhole was is now walled off. But each night when we would climb out of The Sewer the moon would illuminate the surrounding area but keep us in shadow.

Because our home was an old pioneer home, the basement was an add-on. And the floor drain was within six feet of the coal room. I opened up the manhole cover and dropped in a hose, with spray nozzle attachment, and just washed the room clean. I just gently sprayed the walls and let all the coal dust drain away. Easy-peasy.

Next, was to move elements from The Turtle Tower over to The Sewer. Like the television, laser-disk player (and movies), set-up a table or two (one of which was a 1960’s “classy” table top—who’s base had long since broken—placed upon a couple of milk crates (they doubled as “secret” storage)), a couple of throw pillows, a T.V. news reporter… Wadda’ think?

The thing that almost did me in was the electrical work. With a couple of adaptations, I just needed to run an extension cord into The Sewer and add a rocker switch. The overhead light was a plug-in so I could use that to see (also the manhole cover was open, but that caused stronger shadows). I carefully traced the correct wire, once, twice, three times… Lost track of it. Traced it once again, twice, three times, another time. Unplugged it. Grabbed my utility knife, with wooden handle, and cut. Sparks exploded! I froze. Did I just die? Did I almost just die? Wha’…? What happened? I checked!?! How…?

The razor blade had holes blasted through it and where the metal had been vaporized (is that the right word? Well it’s the one I’m using) there was a purple-blue discoloration. I wish I had kept it just to show my kids how close I came—once again—to dying. You lose track after a while. Drownings, electrocutions, plummeting off cliffs, electrocutions, thrown from buildings, electrocutions, car crashes, electrocutions. You lose track.

Um… Back to the story. So once everything was in position, we just needed another ladder so that we could climb up and out. After all, you can’t have a manhole and not use it. We just couldn’t find another ladder that would fit. So, Erich suggested we take the one from the tower because we could cut it to size due to the wooden frame. We had moved just about everything over to The Sewer anyway. So we moved the Tower’s ladder over to The Sewer. We were able to bolt it to the wall so that we could have a steep incline and not have to worry about it tipping over. That only happened once, which is why we bolted it to the wall.

The floor: concrete. The walls: rock. The furnishings: mostly old stuff on the verge of garbage. Time spent: heaven. (I still have the swivel chair, my kids have loved it!)

I had added remnants of pipe and old ductwork to the walls with carefully concealed wires so that they would look like the real thing and add to that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Sewer Lair vibe. Down to a rickety-looking wooden door with a hidden lock so that not just anybody could open it. It was a little bit of stupid, nerdy heaven. And because it was underground it was about 40° cooler than the Tower ever was. So, in the winter I had to set up an old portable electric heater.

In there I could craft and build and nap and watch old movies—old movies are so grand—and not worry about what I might burn or explode. It was safe, because cement doesn’t burn, and messes could be washed down the drain, paint spilled didn’t matter. I loved my time spent in that filthy sewer.

One last thing, a way to open the manhole from the outside. From the inside, it was easy to lift the cover and climb out, but from the outside… From the outside, we needed something to pry open the manhole cover.

With enough looking a person can find anything. And we did too. I found an old hoe with a broken handle and a pointed tip that fit into the notch on the edge of the cover. We cut the handle down and found a spot to stash the tool so it wouldn’t get misplaced. Ironically, we had to create a secret panel wherein the tool could be secreted into one of the fake ducts placed in The Sewer. I still have that tool and use it in my garden to battle weeds.

It would be in there that many a creative new gadget would come to life. I became a little more Donatello as I would craft my first Casey Jones mask (not for cosplay, but for fighting crime), as well as the second, and third (they were broken in battle and I had to improve their durability). Tools and other devices would go from the drafting board into reality while I dwelt in that dark chamber. But one of the best gadgets I ever developed was The P.A.W.

The Personality Attuned Weapon (P.A.W.) was a simple stroke of creative fortune. In our battle against crime, we needed devices that would be useful, real comicbook-like superhero gadgets, The P.A.W. was a palm-sized device that contained coiled rope, that when thrown would zip out and could tangle, or snag, or grapple whatever it hit. I’ll talk more about the P.A.W. later, as well as the Tiger’s Claws.

I now do all that kind of work in my studio. When we bought our house, giving me a room to be my studio—my Sewer—to do whatever I wanted in, was one of the “pitch-points” that my wife gave me to help persuade me to want to buy the house—it worked. On the back of my studio door is the 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie poster my sister gave to me for Christmas that same year. It was the same poster that hung on the wall of The Sewer, under the ladder, so it was the first thing we saw on our way in—to inspire us, and the last thing we saw on the way out—to inspire us. When I see it now… It just brings back all kinds of wonderful memories.

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