Life In A Cage
My young daughter wanted a hamster; I wanted her to have a goldfish. After some debate she decided we would get her a hamster. I got the goldfish for myself to save face. I don’t think she was fooled.
We entered the Pet Co. in the suburban town of Ruislip, England just before lunch on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It is always raining there so it must’ve been rainy, but I want to paint the scene anyway. Pet Co. is one of those huge UK interpretations of an American chain store. British chain stores always get close to pretending to be an American chain store but never quite hit the mark. They are able to capture the nonthreatening yet soulless part, but usually forget the customer service thing that makes it so much easier to part with your money for stuff you don’t really need.
We passed through an aisle of assorted dog toys made to look like other household items a dog is not meant to chew and then the aisle of aquariums with rows of Disney cartoon aquarium decorations to make the fish feel loved or like it lives on the set of The Little Mermaid. After a brief look at the lizards we made our way to the back of the store where the mammals were penned.
I was surprised at the variety of hamster species available for children to torture; there are many. I can’t recall all the different types, but my favourite was the one with the giant balls. This entire species had male hamsters with balls the size of cashews dragging through the sawdust of their cages. My young daughter was not as amused by the big balls and asked for a female or simply one without the “weird extra butt.”
The clerk finally stopped trying to avoid eye contact with me as she pretended to shine her pen on the Pet Co. issue green apron. She sighed once she realized we meant business, hamster business. Her unwillingness to help us was then quickly overridden by the uncontrollable desire of English people to seem polite. Normally, this irrepressible urge is a nice thing, but I feel less receptive to it when I know they are acting.
After lying and telling the clerk that I had done a great deal of research on hamsters I asked if she had any tips. To my surprise she did and actually seemed generally excited to tell me. Then again, how often could she use her hamster knowledge outside of this environment? I instantly felt we’d reached a new stage in our relationship, but since I was lying about how much I cared about hamsters I knew our relationship was built on a lie and would never last past this transaction.
She recommended a type of sawdust and different foods they like. She explained how a bit of cardboard gave them something to do with their mouth when they weren’t eating. I made a joke about buying it some small cigarettes and she did not laugh. “Most importantly,” she said while looking at my daughter, “you have to build trust with the animal. It does not happen right away.” As my daughter was six at the time and was about to spontaneously combust with joy at the idea of not only having complete power over something (other than me), but at its also being so fuzzy and adorable, I don’t think she appreciated the responsibility she was just given.
My little lady friend then picked out a nice Russian hamster sans balls, took a step back, placed her two clenched fists near hear mouth, and began to vibrate in joy. It pleases me when buying her stuff makes her happy. It is much easier then just spending time with her. The clerk opened the cage and all the hamsters ran like people in the film War of the Worlds when the alien craft was trying to pick them up to make fertilizer out of them, but she eventually snagged one. I said, “Get in the box Boris.” No one laughed. “Boris, because he’s Russian.” The lady gave me a half smile without eye contact. I don’t know if the hamster was born in Russia or how many generations his people had known captivity, but apparently his breed of cuteness roamed free somewhere in central Russia. I thought that would be an adorable infestation to have.
We were not allowed to carry the box with our new friend. It would be taken to the counter where we could collect him after paying. I thought briefly to myself that they probably switch it with an ugly big-balled number when our back was turned, as I can’t imagine that many people would be buying pets with freakishly large testicles for their children to play with.
I was much less fussy about the selection of my fish. The choice was primarily driven by cost and it looking like a standard gold fish. I would have bought a goldfish with huge balls if there were such a thing, but sadly there is not. I was surprised to find out the purchase of a £2 goldfish was not as straightforward as the purchase of a hamster.
“What are your intentions with this fish?” I was asked.
Confused, I said, “Probably get to know it first. I’m not looking for a serious thing, but a few laughs every now and then.”
Annoyed, she interrupted my hilarious answer, “I mean what are you going to keep it in?”
Again I was puzzled, “Water?”
“Is there a filter?”
“No, it’s a goldfish bowl.”
“Well I can’t sell it to you. Fish need a filter; it’s inhumane otherwise.”
“Ok. I have a filter.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“What’s the difference? People buy these fish to feed to bigger fish.”
“That’s a different use. If you keep this fish in a tank without filter the RSCPA can come and take it and fine you.”
“But they won’t fine me if I feed it another fish so long as that other fish has a filter?”
“That’s a different use.”
I began to imagine the RSPCA swat team style knocking down my door and taking my fish from me. I would only be allowed to visit it every two weeks under supervision. It would be heart breaking as the fish would never remember me and I would always leave the court appointed visiting centre in tears. However, this was hamster day, not goldfish ethical treatment debate day. This was not the time for a show down so I just stuck with my filter lie. I really wanted that fish.
The RSPCA was never to find out about my illegal fish holding. They never really had the chance since it died so quickly, probably due to a lack of a filter. It was a sad day and a small private ceremony was held in the bathroom before he was flushed. I will never forget the time we shared.
Unlike the unregulated hamster we were allowed to carry the goldfish with us and after collecting the necessary fish and hamster accessories we proceeded to the counter. Waiting for us was our small Russian friend and its no balls. My daughter and I were again told of the strict fish keeping regulations before being able to pay. I was made to sign a form that I understood the laws of the fish. Maybe the fact the England is an island means they respect the fish much more than other places, but little to nothing was said about the hamster. Even though everyone involved knew it was going to be in the care of this small woman with the terrifyingly rabid look in her eyes. I’m not one for more regulations, but it should have been at least addressed. If I appear to be too drunk I am not allowed more booze, but this lady who appeared to have snorted pixie dust was allowed to waltz in and be given a living creature.
I paid the clerk and exited through the automatic sliding glass doors. I put our animals in the driver’s seat while I buckled my daughter into her car seat. She could barely get out the words, “I need to hold the box,” due to her excitement. The fish would ride in the cup holder.
Her mother had already prepared the hamster equivalent to a four star hotel suite in our daughter’s room. Once home we put its box into the cage and allowed it to leave in its own time. Its own time was extended in large part to the six year old human violently shaking in ecstasy every time its head peeked out of the box.
Taking the advice of the store clerk we began the process of building trust with the small beast. As I have often struggled with maintaining relationships with people out of laziness, or just selfishness, I was somewhat resentful that I had to now spend time getting this critter to love me. Over the next few days I would sit at the cage occasional while my offspring seizured orgasmically next to me. Each day it got closer and closer to eating food from my hand. It was difficult to keep both the hamster and my daughter calm.
But by the six day it felt secure enough in our relationship to put one paw on my hand. It felt rather nice. However, as its trust grew so did the excitement of my child. I remember as a kid watching the space shuttle launch in school. The way the huge amounts of thrust built up under the craft until its immense weight could become air born. But if one could imagine that power on something much smaller, let us say a six-year-old girl, they might be able to picture what was happening beside me. I did my best to calm her, or at least keep her quiet. I failed.
As the hamster completely left the cage for my hand it grabbed the food but quickly checked its surroundings. It made a terrible error in making eye contact with the throbbing mess that was its new roommate. The eye contact was brief but long enough to send that little girl into orbit and she let out an amazing scream of happiness. The powerful screech caused the animal to bite down on my hand and the bite caused me to pull back my hand, launching it into the air. It seemed to cartwheel through the air in slow motion. It fell the human equivalent of eight stories, but seemed to handle it remarkably well.
I began to get very angry. I thought it was from the bite and the nearly being made responsible for the flinging death of a cuddly Russian hamster. But as my daughter’s joy turned to fear for her animal’s safety I realized the true source of my anger. It was hard to face, but I quickly understood that I would never, ever be as happy as she was in just making eye contact with a hamster. I thought not even with winning the lotto, being given an island paradise full of beautiful women (and a few hot guys if I change my mind), and Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and the Hindu Elephant thing feeding me drugs would I ever be that happy for a single mount for the rest of my life. And here she was just flaunting her joy in my face. At that moment I picked up the hamster and though we both had different reasons we agreed that my daughter was a bit of a dick.