Whether or Not the Cat’s Away, The Gerbil Will Play

When I was about twelve years old I had several pets.  My mother luckily allowed me to have almost any animals that I wanted and there was usually a menagerie of sorts around the house.

I had pet hamsters before, but for some reason I decided that a gerbil may be more fun and I asked my mom if I could have one.  She agreed.  My mom let me pick out a gerbil and I picked out a gorgeous shiny black male gerbil who had a white stripe down the front of his face and chest.   We brought him home and he lived in a plastic habitat about the size of a ten gallon aquarium.  His habitat was custom made for hamsters and gerbils and it had a few tunnels that led him to other small attachment rooms from which he could view his domain.  I thought the habitat was really cool and looked really fun.  I envisioned all the fun I could have if I were a gerbil in the habitat, climbing through tunnels and going to different areas of my house.  However, the gerbil didn’t seem to appreciate his fancy digs and he spent his time scratching frantically from within a small “turret” attachment attempting to dig his way out of the cage.  In my mind this was very funny because it seemed to me that even though he had the fanciest home I could possibly imagine, all he wanted to do was get out of it.  I wanted to name him “Stupid.”  My mom firmly forbid me to name him “Stupid,” and instead I named the black furry creature with a white stripe down his face and chest “Zorro.”

This was my gerbil "Pipsqueak" and me as a kid.  I don't actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a "stand in"

This was my gerbil “Pipsqueak” and me as a kid. I don’t actually have a photo of Zorro, so Pipsqueak will have to suffice as a “stand in”

This is me with my hamster "Fluffy Chumpster"  Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

This is me with my hamster “Fluffy Chumpster” Fluffy Chumpster was pregnant when I got her from the petstore (surprise!) and he had several babies which were fun and a bunch of my friends in grade school adopted them.

I also had a cat named Muff who was absolutely fascinated with Zorro.  Muff would sit next to Zorro’s cage staring with wide eyes, positioning his face about one inch from where Zorro stood scratching and attempting to escape.  Muff’s tail would twitch with excitement as he stared at Zorro.  Again, I thought this was funny.  I also thought it gave me some credibility for my idea to name the gerbil “Stupid,” because he didn’t seem to understand the fact that where he was frantically trying to escape to was directly into the clutches of a cat, but again my mom nixed the “Stupid” idea, and I supposed it really was too mean of a name for an animal that I liked anyway.

Zorro was a cute little guy and I really did like him.  He wasn’t very playful and didn’t really seem to want to spend a lot of time with me.  Every time I tried to play with him he tried to run away.  I had a “hamster ball,” which is a clear, or at least see-through, plastic sphere enclosure for a hamster or gerbil to be locked inside of.  A hamster or gerbil can then walk around the house by walking inside of the ball and rolling it around.  Of course the benefit to a hamster ball is that your pet can run around and explore, but would not be able to escape forever under your bed or behind a dresser.  The hamster ball prevented the possibility of your pet escaping freely into the house, making nests in the walls, pooping all over, chewing wires, etc.  It was mother approved.  The hamster ball turned out to be the best play item for Zorro.  It was difficult to play with him without it because he always wanted to run away.  He was pretty fast little guy and challenging to hold onto.  Besides, I always had to be careful to lock Muff out of the room if Zorro was going to be out of his cage and not in the hamster ball.  Zorro used the hamster ball and ran around a lot in it.  Sometimes he would poop and pee in the ball as he ran around and little turds would stick to the inside of the ball and rotate around him as he explored the world of the floor.  Since Muff also enjoyed watching Zorro in the hamster ball, I thought it was a good way to play with both pets at the same time.  After excursions in the ball I would put Zorro back in his house, and even with all the rooms and tunnels of his house and possibilities to explore, he inevitably would climb directly back into his turret and resume rapid and frantic scratching attempts to escape.

One morning I woke up to find the turret of Zorro’s cage knocked out of place and fallen off of his cage.  Zorro wasn’t in his cage.  My bedroom door had been open during the night and I really had no idea when or to where Zorro may have escaped.  He could be anywhere.  I figured he was probably under a couch or dresser or under some other piece of furniture, so I grabbed a flashlight and started looking around.  It was amazing to me how big the house suddenly seemed when I thought of all the places that a gerbil could hide.  I started with my room, and after looking everywhere I made my way down the hall and to the living room.  I searched under the couch and under the bookshelf and I was walking to inspect in and around the piano when I stepped on a small ball.

I rolled the ball a little bit under my bare foot and looked at it.  This happened to be around the same time in my life when I needed glasses, but as a stubborn child I never admitted to my parents that I couldn’t see well.   I hadn’t actually gotten glasses yet.  I looked down at the ball and it looked like a small marble.  I thought it was strange because I didn’t have marbles and I didn’t think my brother had any either.  It sure looked like a black marble with streaks of white and red throughout it.  Feeling it under my foot, it didn’t seem as cold or as round as I imagined it should be.  I rolled it under my foot for a moment more.  Then I bent down to look at it closer and with absolute surprise and horror discovered that it was no marble, but it was Zorro’s severed head!  The red color was the stump of his bloody neck and of course the black and white color was his fur.  His little head had his whiskers fully intact and I noticed his rodent teeth looking the same as usual and his eyes were half closed.  I suddenly realized that Muff ate him.  Muff. ATE. Him.  And I supposed Muff probably left his head because it was too bony and didn’t taste as good.

I dropped the flashlight and started screaming.  I ran into my mother’s room and woke her up by screaming and crying and jumping all over her bed.  She probably couldn’t understand me for several minutes, I’m fairly sure I was babbling things that were unintelligible.  Eventually I was crying and sobbing and repeating “He ATE him, he ATE him” over and over.  In my twelve year old mind, the thought that Muff would actually eat Zorro was unfathomable to me.  I was absolutely surprised and shocked.  How could Muff do this to Zorro?  How could Muff do this to me?  Surely he understood how much I liked Zorro.  Zorro was a member of the family.  I knew Muff understood that.  Muff knew that I loved Zorro and he knew that Zorro was my pet, just like Muff was my pet.  The absolute worst thing I ever had imagined might happen if Muff got ahold of Zorro was that he may catch him and play with him.  I never ever, ever thought that Muff might EAT him.  Oh, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, it just couldn’t be true.

My poor mother felt very sorry for me.  She tried her best to calm me down.  I think I remember that at one point she even said to me “Well, what did you think Muff would do?” and I remember feeling betrayed.  My mom knew Muff would eat Zorro if he had the chance?  How could that be true?

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat.  I created my own MEME

Yes, this is an actual photo of Muff, my cat. I created my own MEME

It was a hard lesson for a twelve year old girl.  Poor Zorro was the casualty of life’s lessons learned.  It was a cruel and difficult step during the journey from childhood to adulthood.  I began to learn some harsh realities of life.  I began to learn some lessons about death.  I started to realize that I needed to stop seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses.  In fact, I needed to trade them in for some real glasses.




The Green Tea Experiment

From left to right:  Ruby, Isabelle and Rosemary on my bookshelf

From left to right: Ruby, Isabelle and Rosemary on my bookshelf

I once unknowingly ran an experiment using rats and green tea.  I didn’t realize that I had run an experiment until after I had some results.  It wasn’t a very “scientific” experiment by any stretch of the imagination, but it meant something to me.

When I was about 20 years old my brother’s girlfriend at the time, Amber, had a pet snake.  Amber bought a live rat to feed her snake and the snake never ate the rat.  After about a week Amber decided to keep the rat in a separate cage.  The rat had babies.  Amber, my brother, and I all liked them and we loved to play with them all.  They were all really cute.  The babies were all very playful and they were very friendly.  They had a wheel to run on and they seemed to love it.  Also, for entertainment they jumped and ran all over the cage.  They would jump all over their mother and use her a launching board to jump through the air.  It looked like it was a great time for the babies, although no one was sure how much the mother rat liked it; she didn’t seem happy about it, but didn’t seem unhappy either.  She seemed to tolerate the babies‘ game.  The babies actually jumped on her so much that she lost hair over her back.

One of the baby rats

One of the baby rats

Amber wasn’t able to keep all of the rats and needed to find homes for them.  She decided that it would be more fun to keep a baby than keeping the mother and I agreed to take the mother and also one of the female baby rats.  Other friends took other babies and Amber kept one female baby and named her Isabelle.

I named the mother rat Rosemary.  Her baby that I kept and took with her I named Ruby.  They were so much fun.  I played with them every day and found them to be very intelligent, gentle and playful creatures with loads of personality.  They would come when I called them and ate food from my hands.  They ran around my room when I was home and would actually go back in their cage to use a particular corner in their cage as their “bathroom,” and didn’t poop around the house.

Ruby and Rosemary explore a drawer in my desk

Ruby and Rosemary explore a drawer in my desk

I had a lot of fun with them.  I’d hold them and pet them and sing them songs.  I liked to watch them run around the house.  Every day I would drink some green tea and quickly discovered that Rosemary and Ruby liked it too.  I would let them drink the left over tea from my cup every day.

After about a year, Amber needed to find a new home for her rat, Isabelle, because she couldn’t keep her anymore.  I eagerly agreed to take her.  I wasn’t sure how the rats would get along and I was a little nervous about introducing them to each other.  Even though Isabelle was Rosemary’s daughter and Ruby’s sister, I didn’t expect them to remember that fact and I didn’t really know if rats that were strangers would fight, or what would happen.

I took Isabelle home and was very surprised indeed by what happened when I introduced them.  I put Isabelle directly in the cage and stood back to watch.  Isabelle and Rosemary approached each other and Ruby stood in the corner and observed.  Isabelle and Rosemary sniffed each other for about 30 seconds.  Suddenly Isabelle started sniffing in a more excited manner, she started sniffing Rosemary all over her body.  Isabelle then started jumping in the air and spreading out her little legs when she jumped, as though she were jumping for joy and was happy.  She stopped for a moment to sniff Rosemary and touched her with her front legs and climbed on her.  The again Isabelle jumped up and down.  She then used Rosemary as a launching pad and jumped off of her back and through the air.  It was almost as though you could read Isabelle’s thoughts during the re-introduction to her mother.  “Hey it’s another rat, I haven’t seen one in a year.  I think I’ll go sniff her.  Wait just a minute, this rat seems familiar.  I think I’ve seen this rat before, I better sniff some more to be sure.  Could it be?  Yes!  Yes!  It is!  This rat is my mother!  I’m so happy!  I feel like jumping for joy!  I am so happy to see my mother again!”

The reunion of mother and daughter appeared so touching that it made me cry.  It truly appeared as though the rats remembered each other.  After joyous celebration (mostly on Isabelle’s part,) all three rats settled into comfortable life with each other.  They seemed to enjoy each other’s company when awake and later would sleep happily together in a pile in a little rat house in their cage.

Isabelle fit easily into life at my apartment.  She had just as much personality and charm as the other two and I enjoyed her very much as well.  She also would come when called and seemed to know her name.  She also became potty trained.  She also loved to eat food from me and would join in the daily drinking of green tea.

Having rats was so fun.  I enjoyed them every day that they shared their lives with me.  The saddest part about having rats is that they do not live very long.  Usually a rat doesn’t survive much longer than the age of three or so.

Isabelle was the first rat I lost.  She got big tumors on her body which grew very large.  One day she died in her sleep.  Ruby and Rosemary never got any visible tumors.  They lived about 6 months and a year longer than Isabelle, respectively.

It’s been over 10 years since I had them, but still fondly remember them as some of the most fun and cherished pets I’ve ever had.  I still miss them.

They say that green tea is supposed to help prevent cancer.  My experiment of three beloved animals seems to suggest that may have been true for them.  Isabelle went without green tea for a whole year while Ruby and Rosemary had it every day.  Both Ruby and Rosemary never got visible tumors while Isabelle grew large tumors all over her body and died much sooner than they did.

As someone who was educated in science, I am fully aware that my little experiment is complete bullshit.  It has no scientific basis or significance.  However, it’s enough to make me continue to want to drink green tea.  Besides, drinking green tea makes me remember the three beautiful souls that once shared my life and brought me joy.

We Don’t Need No Education: What albums would be in your “School of Rock” curriculum?

I’ve been “re-discovering” old music recently.  Lately I’ve been listening to music that my parents would have listened to, and a lot of the music that I listened to while I was growing up.

Some of the artists that I have been finding renewed appreciation for include David Bowie, Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Cars, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, just to name a few.

Upon listening to these old classic artists I have several times said to myself:  “Damn, this is really fucking GOOD,” and I am amazed at the genius and innovation of some of the bands who created this old music.

It is amazing to me that a band can create a song and have it bring so much joy and happiness to people around the world.  Over the years I have had much joy singing Queen songs to my dogs and dancing and bouncing all over the house to songs by The Cars.  As a teenager I used to fall asleep nightly to the first side of the record “Dark Side of the Moon,” by Pink Floyd.  So many Beatles songs simply make me happy and I have fond childhood memories of my mother singing along to Simon and Garfunkel songs.

When I was a little kid, my dad introduced me to the album “The Wall,” by Pink Floyd.  As a kid I didn’t understand the meaning behind the songs, but loved the tunes and especially loved the children singing with British accents “We don’t need no education”  and the old man scolding “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.  How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”  I loved listening to the album and listened to it many times during my childhood and continued listening to it into my teenage years.  Over time I slowly began to develop an understanding for some of the deeper meaning of the lyrics regarding the subjects of mental health issues, war, government and society, alienation and isolation.  To me, listening to that album was part of growing up, and learning about the adult themes poised within this “concept album” was also, for me, a part of growing up.  Image

So as I’ve been re-discovering these various bands, I began to contemplate how amazing some of these classic artists are and I think about the fact that there are probably people on the planet who do not know these artists, albums or songs.  I find that to be a shame.  I really feel as though some of these classic albums were so inventive and groundbreaking that they have provided a stepping stone for many other great artists to take music to another level.

At one point in my life, I would say that every single person I knew was familiar with the albums “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd, “Abbey Road” by the Beatles, and “The Rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” by David Bowie.  Now, with the passing of time, and as my circle of friends has grown more diverse, I wonder how many of my friends are familiar with these classic albums and artists.

I feel like there there is plenty of amazing innovative music out there and although some may think:  “We don’t need no education,”  let’s pretend for a minute that you were in charge of providing a basic music 101 class, in which students must become familiar with classic albums in an effort to encourage music appreciation.

If you were in charge of assigning albums for someone to listen to to improve their music education, “School of Rock” style, what albums would you choose?


Some of my choices would be:

Abbey Road by The Beatles

Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin

The Wall by Pink Floyd

A Night at the Opera by Queen

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie

Nevermind by Nirvana

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

Thriller by Michael Jackson

The Cars by The Cars

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

Purple Rain by Prince

I could probably list more, but I am curious as to what your list includes, please comment and let me know, and then I can start doing some homework.

The Bitch in the Beer Truck

As a junior in high school I decided to take a car repair class.  The school had a big garage and offered a couple of classes.  I signed up for a basic auto repair class.  I thought it would be fun.

My first day in class I discovered that I was the only girl in class.  Cool, I thought.  All the guys will like me and it can be a good time.  That was NOT how it went.  Turns out all the guys seemed to wanted to have their own boys’ club and they wanted time without a stupid girl in their class.  They relentlessly made fun of me and gave me a hard time, asking me why I would take this class and they implied that I wouldn’t be able to lift a tire, let alone change one.

My strategy was to ignore them and to do my best.  I figured that I was smarter than all of them anyway and that I would do fine.  I figured they would chill on making fun of me soon and things would be fine.

One thing that was awesome about the class was that you could bring in your own car and fix things on it.  I didn’t really have a car, but my mom let me use her newer Honda Accord and take it to class.  After changing the oil and rotating and balancing the tires, there wasn’t a lot left to do on the car.  On any given day in shop class if you didn’t have something to work on with your own car, you were supposed to help someone with their car.  Obviously the shop couldn’t accommodate one car for each student anyway.  I tried to help some of the boys with their projects, but nobody wanted me to work on their cars.  I would constantly be told “We got it handled,”  “We already have too many people here,” or “There is nothing for you to help with here.”

My grandpa had heard about my class and he was proud of me.  He decided to buy me a vehicle that could use a lot of work, so that I could learn a lot in class and get to do a lot to it.  My grandpa bought me the biggest ancient piece of shit truck I have ever seen.  It was a Mazda B2000 two wheel drive, manual-shift pick up truck, I think it was a 1983 model.  The cab was sort of like a tin box with toy doors.  The entire thing was rusty, parts were falling off.  The exhaust system had holes in it and it was so loud that everyone would stare when I started it up.  The gas tank leaked and I could only put a couple of dollars of gas in it at a time because it started leaking out.  I literally would fill it up until I saw the gas leaking on the ground and then stop, usually about $3 or so worth of gas.  I was at the gas station a lot.  One time as I was driving down the road I heard a loud noise from the engine and as I looked in my rearview mirror I saw a reasonably large rusty part, maybe about the size of a softball, had fallen out of the engine and it was bouncing down the road spraying rust everywhere with each bounce……  Ummmmmm….. the truck kept driving….  I decided it must not have been that important of a part.

The real kicker was that this truck had once been a advertising truck for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.  It was painted white and blue.  It had the logo “Pabst” across the hood and it had the logo on the side with the slogan: “What’ll You Have?”


The truck was so awesome!!!   I took it to shop class and I learned so much.  I got to replace brake pads and turn down rotors.  I learned about fuses and replaced several.  I got new tires and put them on and balanced them.  I changed oil, I changed antifreeze, I changed brake fluid.  I even ended up replacing the gas tank.

The boys in the class, however, would never help me.  They relentlessly made fun of me.  They tried to rip parts off of my truck and use them on their own cars.  They teased me for having the biggest pile of shit truck and told me that Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sucks.  They called me the bitch in the beer truck.  I continued to ignore them and tried to learn as much as possible.

The shop teacher liked me.  He thought I was a hard worker.  He, however, was also astounded at what a junker the truck was.  We had it up on a lift and he looked at it skeptically and then asked me how much my grandpa paid for it.  I knew my grandpa paid $500 for it, but it seemed like a lot so I just told him I didn’t know.  He told me he hoped my grandpa didn’t pay a lot.

Shop class only lasted a semester, but I managed to fix enough on the truck that it lasted quite a while after.  I ended up driving the truck to work and back for over a year and even drove the truck to my junior prom.  It was awesome.  All my friends would know where I was in town.  I learned so much from it and I was proud to be the bitch in the beer truck.

The Caboodle

Any american child or teenager of the 90’s probably had or wanted a caboodle.  For those who may not know it is a hard plastic makeup case, somewhat like a mini treasure box that is colorful.  They were very important in the ‘90s.  It was important to me anyway.

I was out to breakfast with two of my girlfriends this morning and somehow caboodles came up.  We laughed about them for a bit and I told my friends that I still had mine, and used it.  I got horribly ridiculed.  “Why do you have it?” “What do you keep in it?”  The jokes about keeping my banana clips, scrunchies, topsy turvy hair ties, hair crimpers, aqua net hairspray and Sassy magazine clippings flew around the table.

I came home and got to thinking…. what the hell do I keep in it?  I really do use it, but for what exactly?  I pulled it out and really looked at it.  It’s actually amazing.  I think I got it when I was 10 or so.  I wrote on it in white out and the writing is still there.  It says “Melissa’s caboodle,”  “Caboodles” and (my personal favorite) “I ♥ ?”  It is green and pink and purple.  I opened it up and looked inside.  The contents consist of spare razor blades (which is really the only thing I remember using it for recently), jewelry from Africa, jewelry from Nicaragua, jewelry from ex boyfriends, an electric razor, other jewelry I never wear.  That is pretty much it.  It’s basically a glorified storage box now.

I wonder why they lost their popularity.  Looking at it now, I still think of it as useful.  It would make a nice makeup box.  I could store my hair crimper in there.  But I’ll have to get a second caboodle…. this one is full.  Image

Image (4)This was me with my caboodle back in the day!