Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Life with Rodents: A memory (Along with 3-Word Wednesday)

The photo to the right was taken in 1981 at Camp Bowers, a Boy Scout Camp in Eastern North Carolina. My thanks to V , whose search for a pet got me thinking about some of the pets I've had in my past....
Sigmund died on my 25th birthday. I was feeling so old I wrote my mother to complain about reaching the quarter century mark. She wrote back a short letter asking, “How do you think I feel?” Until then, I thought it was safe to take my concerns to Mom. My 25th birthday was a disaster in other ways. My relationship with my high school sweetheart was waning and about to fail. That evening, we drove into town with friends and went out to eat at an expensive Japanese type of restaurant where they cook your food at your table. This would have normally been a wonderful meal, but as the chef dropped a piece of meat on the floor and immediately picked it up and placed it in the wok. My mouth dropped in amazement, then I said, “we’re paying way too much for this meal.” He went and got another pan and ingredients and gave us a discount which allowed me to have a couple more drinks. I wasn’t driving.

Afterward dinner, we went to a movie. The day was going from bad to worse. I don’t remember the title, but the film was one of the stupidest movies I’d seen. It was about the closing of a military academy. The kids at the academy revolt and take over the academy, showing that violence and weaponry are valid ways to solve problems. This can be explained as it was early on in the Reagan era. Making the experience even worse was the hoots and hollars from the guys and gals in the seats in front of us. They looked like Marines from Camp Lejeune. They were encouraging the cadets on the screen to fight it out. Feeling that I was already so old that I didn’t have anything to live for and having become best friends with Johnny Walker, I tapped the guy in front of me on the shoulders and told him if he wanted to cheer for something he should go to a basketball game. Immediately, he stood up and turned around and called me a punk. I laughed as others in the theater started whispering “shut up” and “sit down.” He did, and we left as soon as the credits started rolling in order to avoid another confrontation. When we got home, Sigmund was dead in his cage.

Sigmund was a gerbil and the first pet I had after leaving my childhood home. Not being content to have just any dumb animal, I decided I wanted one that had at least been to college. Sigmund was freed from the psychology department (and named for the father of psychology). He was nearly four years old when he died. I’d gotten quite attached to that little rat. One year, for Christmas, I wrote him a check for a million dollars. He promptly processed it, turning it into mulch, much to the relief of my bank account. He was also great at recycling toilet paper tubes. Together, we made quite a pair, both chewing on toothpicks. I wish I could find a picture of him.

Gerbils are compulsive about cleaning themselves. One summer, I had the windows open and a lizard got in the house. I was trying to catch it as it ran through Sigmund’s cage, running over the top of the sleeping gerbil. Sigmund immediately woke up and starting a purification ritual that lasted all day as he tried to clean himself, constantly licking his hands and running them over his fur. It’s amazing the little guy didn’t have a heart attack, for you could see his heart pounding as he washed himself over and over.

After Sigmund’s death, I was given a pair of gerbils from one of the Cub Scout volunteers who had an excess on hand. She insisted that I take two, so that they keep each other company. Seeing what two gerbils could turn into, I told her that they both better be male or that her son would never see his Eagle badge. It wasn’t that I wanted gay gerbils; it was just that I didn’t want to be over populated with rodents. That might necessitate raising snakes and that hobby was bound to be a hindrance as I re-entered the dating world. She must have guessed correctly for Ivan and Alyosha (named for two of the brothers in Dostoevsky’s, The Brother’s Karamazov) never had any offspring. The two were quite a pair and fought like brothers. Ivan especially liked to get in the wheel and to run when Alyosha was fast asleep under it. I think that’s where the term “rude awakening” came from. Alyosha didn’t live but about a year, obviously traumatized by his bully brother. Ivan, ornery as he was, stuck around for four years, a decent life for a gerbil. In 1984, being totally disgusted with the prospects for president presented by our two major parties, I made up a campaign button touting “Ivan for President.” It featured a thumbprint gerbil (take a print of your thumb, add eyes, mouth, nose, ears, whiskers and a tail). Ivan passed away right before I moved to Pittsburgh and returned to school. At my moving garage sale, I sold his cage and wheel. Since that time, I haven’t willing had any rodents in my house. Today, those freeloaders who do occasionally stop by for a bite to eat are offered a tray of D-Con.
Three Word Wednesday
Bone has a fiction writing assignment every Wednesday. I don't claim to be a fiction writer, but I have often tried to participate by posting some of the shortest pieces of fiction (generally one sentence) on his blog. Here's my enter for yesterday's assignment. The three words are "hoarse, bended, and downtown."
“I’ve gotten hoarse from the long ride from downtown,” the man told the bartender as she shook the rain off his slicker.

“You want a horse to ride downtown? Mister, you need to go across the street to the stables, this here is a saloon.”

“I’m hoarse, some whiskey will do the throat good,” he said plopping himself on a stool

“You want whiskey for your horse’s throat?” the bartender asked as he bended down for another bottle of whiskey.

“No,” the man said, slapping himself as he pulled on his slicker and headed for the door. “This is a bad movie, I need to find another Western to star in.”


  1. Good story :) Don't know where to start.

    It's horrible when we first realize our Mom's are real people with their own problems--usually we realize it around our 25th birthday so you're right in the curve

    Can't believe you were with your high school girlfriend that long

    Love the Sigmund story. Glad he didn't cash the check

    Glad you have nothing against gay rodents, you would have the society for gay rodents after you

  2. I think you are referring to Taps starring Tom Cruise and Sean Penn . . . and yes, it is terrible! The only birthday that has hit me hard is 30 . . . then I realized that the 30s are a great age to me, as are the 40s, and I imagine - 50s.

    Pets are an important part of life, and Sigmund and the Brothers Karamazov sound like fine little rodents!

  3. Pia, I suppose my letter to my Mom ranks up there with some of the more insentive things I've done.

    Diane, you get the prize. That's the movie, Taps!

  4. You almost make gerbils sound cute. Your 3 word Wednesday contribution wasn't bad but it kinda makes me wish you'd return to dabbling in poetry. ;-)

  5. Thirty hit me worse than 40, and 25 was great! Maybe women look at it differently than men? My kids had a gerbil once and that devil bit me! He had teeth an inch long.

    I like your story....LOL

  6. murf, my 3 words exercise was silly and kind of stupid. And yes, I do think gerbils are cute

    Kenju, never had a gerbil bite me, but Ivan use to grab toothpicks from my mouth!

  7. Excellent story. I've been around a lot of pets of my parents but I've only had one pet and I've written a lot about him. Maybe I should write about some of my parent's pets.

  8. 25 and getting old, that's classic. Just think at 1 the gerbil was that old, or older. Enjoyed the tale!!

  9. I just can't seem to get my brain willing to focus on a story for 3 word Wednesday but I do enjoy reading what others come up creative minds. :)

    My girls want another pet. A gerbil, bird, rat, it doesn't matter to them. My cousins had a rat, but I can't get past that long tail. It just creeps me out. I'm not sure a gerbil would last around here. The cat hates the minidog and the minidog irritates almost all other animals.

    Now I'm thinking I'll have to write about former pets. I prefer dogs to rodents.

  10. That had to be Taps! I remember that movie. Except I loved it at the time...of course I was only about 14 I guess.

    I love those Japaneese Steakhouses you wrote about. Sometimes we still go to Arigatto's for a family birthday.

    Your fiction was quite humorous!

  11. I will go to bone's blog and give it a try...

    Fascinating story about gerbils. I do not know much about them...

  12. Love rodents. Enjoyed your story and the names you gave them.

    Michele sent me!

  13. I raised gerbils - more gerbils than I dare to remember without the assistance of a psychiatrist - when I was around 11. They kept procreating. Incestuous, endless procreation that resulted in my trying to hide the truth from my parents. When they had a litter, I'd cover the cage and tell my mother they were sleeping. When I had to go out and buy food every other day, they wised up and I fessed up.

    But your story takes the cake. An absolutely brilliant memoir...I love how you write.

  14. That was an excellent story, well told.

    Michele sent me here.

  15. Oh... I remember that awful Tom Cruise movie - YUCK!

    You made me cry a little with your rodent story. =o)