“Living in a Cave,” by David Kingsbury

Mar 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I would like to live in a cave. Not one where you take an elevator to get down to it and the tour guide lady reminds you to dress warmly because it’s a climate-controlled 52 degree Fahrenheit cave. That’s too cold and you can bang your head on stalactites and stub your toes on stalagmites. Most people can’t remember which is which. That tour guide lady told me there’s a way to remember: “stalactite” has a “t” in it for “top.” That way, you’ll know it’s a stalactite when you bang your head on it.

My cave would be one that is just a hole in a mountain, but not too far up the mountain, because it would be hard to park or walk all the way into town.

The first thing I would have to do is clean the bat shit out of my cave. The town where my cave was would need to have a prison. I would become best friends with the warden. That way, he would lend me his prisoners to clean the bat shit out of my cave. I guess I could get a specialized cave cleaning company to do it instead, but that would be expensive – they’re unionized. It’s not a pleasant job. You need masks and the smell sticks to you for days. If you’ve ever been to a pig farm or gotten sprayed by a skunk, it’s the same thing.

Most people don’t know what bat shit smells like. I do. It’s musty dusty stinky sweet. I once left a carpet outside in the weather for two months. It smelled just like bat shit after awhile.  I even thought I had bats in my house until I figured out it was the carpet stinking up the place.

I like the smell of cow and horse manure. I could live with that smell. I couldn’t live a minute with the smell of people or dog shit or pungent vomit-inducing kitty litter. Bat shit is somewhere in the middle. But it’s bad enough I’d need to get rid of it.

Bat shit is also called “guano.” So too is seagull shit. Ever wonder why that goes only for bats and seagulls? If you’ve got the answer, please tell me some time. I’d really like to know.

The town where my cave is would need a hardware store. After I got rid of the bat shit, I would need doors and windows, with screen doors and windows too. After I got rid of the bats, they might fly south, but I couldn’t count on that. So the screens would keep them out for good.

There are a lot of stereotypes about people who live in caves. My town would need an upscale clothing store to help me dispel the ridiculous myth that cavemen all dress the same. I would dress in polo shirts with alligators on them and freshly-ironed khaki pants with razor-sharp creases. Nice loafers too, made from soft leather.

Another stereotype is that if you live in a cave, it’s not a lifestyle choice. You’re there because you’re poor. I once visited a town in Italy where the people lived in caves all the way into the 1930’s. Mussolini, the Fascist guy, threw them all out. He said they were giving Italy a bad name. Yeah right! Like that fat dictator jerk was a PR agent’s dream? Nowadays, they use that town for making movies where they need people living in caves. But those movies just reinforce bogus stereotypes

Speaking of movies, another stereotype is that lepers live in caves. I used to like the movie Ben Hur, until I started thinking about living in a cave. I don’t like Ben Hur anymore because lepers lived in caves in that movie and now I’m stuck with the consequences.  My town would need a pharmacy with a wide array of skincare products. Even if it had nothing to do with leprosy, if I started getting white blotches on my skin or my fingers and toes started falling off, once people heard I lived in a cave, they would run away from me. With skincare products, I could prevent that from happening.

My town would need a home electronics store. The acoustics are great in caves, so I would want state-of-the-art audio components to take full advantage. I would invite friends over to listen to New Age music. With the right equipment, New Age music is the best music to listen to in a cave. Wagner’s good too.

I would need a second cave next door for a garage. A car would be essential: towns where people live in caves just don’t have good public transportation.  You would think they would have good subways. But if they built subway stops and tunnels, the naturally cave-inclined would want to live in them.

One great thing about living in a cave is that there is stuff you don’t need any more. You don’t ever have to replace the roof with new shingles. Unlike a house, you only have to worry about keeping one side painted real nice or in aluminum siding. Your basement never floods unless you’re dumb enough to pick a cave with a subterranean river running through it. You never have to hire a chimney sweep because chimneys and fireplaces are impractical. Hiring a chimney sweep is real expensive nowadays. I might get my warden friend to lend me prisoners, but in the end, I just don’t think fireplaces and chimneys are worth the trouble.

If I lived in a cave, my town could really use an IKEA store. That’s because they have the best bookcases. I would read a lot in my cave and would need a place to put all my books: philosophy books about the existential implications of living in a cave versus more hum-drum above-ground dwellings; “how to” books with helpful hints on cave home improvements; and accounts of famous people who opted for the subterranean lifestyle during turning points in world history. Chairman Mao lived in a cave for awhile before he was chairman. So did General Matthew Ridgeway on Corregidor Island in the Philippines during World War II.  I even saw that cave once. It looked like a big bus terminal. My cave would be cozier.  Bin Ladin lived in a cave too, but I don’t want to read about assholes like that.

I could get a nice coffee table at IKEA too for over-sized art books with pictures of stick figure caveman hunting stick animals with spears. Those would be real nice to look at with my friends while we listened to New Age music and Wagner.

I’m of two minds about keeping Batman comics around my cave. Like Ben Hur, they reinforce misleading stereotypes about cave life. But they also have lots of great ideas about tech gadgets you can have in your cave: Bat microwaves, Bat Cuisinarts, and other great Bat stuff. That said, I have no interest in getting a Batmobile to put in my cave garage. They are fuel hogs and I live in Massachusetts: It would cost an arm and a leg to insure a Batmobile here.

If I lived in a cave, my town would need Congressional representation. I would have a right to tax credits and deductions, as well as mortgage interest breaks. Why should I be any different from other homeowners in getting my proper slice of the federal pie

If I lived in a cave, my town would need a hospital, or at least a research lab. The long-term health consequences of cave dwelling are poorly understood. Scientific research has inexplicably lagged in this area. There’s probably some type of cancer associated with cave life: there always is.  I’ll guess there’s a higher probability it has to do with lung cancer than prostate cancer, but that’s just a hunch. It’s too important a question to leave to guesswork: lives hang in the balance.

The Internet is the best way to keep up on the countless fast-moving developments in the cave lifestyle as well as linking up with other cave owners. I’d have my own Facebook page. All my Facebook friends would be cave dwellers too and we would all post pictures of our caves for each other to see. We would tweet each other in 144 characters or less, saying stuff like “Just walked across cave sans banging head on stalactite.” Or “no smell of batshit 4 22nd strate day.”

I forgot to say why I want to go live in a cave. I probably should have said that at the beginning. Sorry. The reason is that my family is driving me crazy and so are my neighbors. When I move to my cave, I’m not taking any of them with me. My family doesn’t want to move to a cave. I already asked. And if I’m lucky, given the sorry state of the housing market, I’ll have the entire side of the mountain to myself without any nosy neighbors ruining my day.

I could go on and on about the positive aspects of the cave lifestyle. There are so many reasons that I don’t know where to end. I suppose here’s as good a point as any so I’ll just wrap it up now and start packing.


David Kingsbury lives in a nondescript aboveground dwelling in Stoughton, Massachusetts. He has had articles published in the Boston Herald and West Roxbury Transcript. He recently completed the sixth major revision of the next Great American Novel. With only 48 revisions to go, it is on-target to appear in a bookstore near you in early 2026.  It should win that year’s Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and, two to three years later, an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. When not revising his novel, he frequently rehearses acceptance speeches in his head for the above-mentioned honors.

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