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Man caves, forts and secret gardens

They say most people want a house. But I've noticed most men are really more in the market for a man cave. This can take many forms, such as a garage, a rumpus room, a boat, a barn, a studio, an attic or a wood shop; really anywhere they can hole up and do manly things. Which literally translates into whatever they feel like doing. I remember Burt Lipe had a full-on teepee in his backyard.

For me, I've always wanted a fort. Not one of those big structures America erected on bluffs overlooking the ocean or the Great Lakes, instead, a simple fort carved out of nature. I guess similar to the man cave, but definitely in a natural environment. Of course, I'd always settle for a cottage by the sea.

My brothers had a sweet fort down by the railroad tracks near Wreck Pond in Sea Girt, NJ. At least I think it was sweet. I was never invited.

My brother Michael made a fort in his walk-in closet. He even had a secret panel where he had hidden a phone that he picked up at one of the shuttered old shore hotels. He had that phone wired in with the ringer off. It was pretty sweet technology for a teenager in the 1960s.

We also had a fort under the stairs that led down to the basement. This is where Michael drilled a peep hole so we could check out who was using the stairs while we hung in the fort, doing fort things, which usually involved eating candy and running flashlights.

Michael had also rigged the house with the occasional two-way mirror and secret passageways he installed for ease of getting to and fro.

That house had four usable floors. But he didn't stop with the inside, as he also could ring the doorbell from within the house, making us run to see who was on the front steps. I should mention that he created this character, we called the Mysterious Man, who would come around when my parents weren't home, and sinisterly walk around the outside of the house in a top coat and fedora.

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