Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Sock Puppet, Bernie, And Me

From a comment to another post: 'The latest Tama Janowitz novel ("They Is Us") features a lonely old man whose only social contacts are the people who write him scam letters. He's always trying to offer them advice ("Maybe you shouldn't be so trusting of me? Maybe you should learn more about me before you offer me all this money? Let me tell you something about MY life...") It's very funny and very sad.'

I should try that. I'm getting older, and I don't have that many friends since my hamster died. Not that many. Not any, really.

Sure, after the freeze-drying he still looked pretty much the way he always did. Though of course he'd slowed down a lot. Death all by itself does that, let alone freeze-drying, but we still had a good relationship, and he was available all the time. Whenever I needed someone to confide in, he was there, since he no longer slept all day.

And hamsters are naturally quiet. You might not know that. You don't get a hamster if you want noise. They aren't noisy. They're for quiet conversations, for confiding in, for working through things. You want noise and a lot of action, then it's dogs. It would be a big change if your dog died, but for a hamster no. Not really so much. They don't change all that much.

So our relationship continued.

Everything was fine for a good long while. You know a cynic would say that it couldn't be the same because I'd have to grab his little dry corpse and move it around because, of course, it was a corpse, and didn't move on its own, but really, no, it isn't all that different after you get used to it. Hamsters are always snuffling around and digging into things, and kind of twitchy, but it's like they're listening to you all the same, and they aren't noisy, so it really wasn't all that different.

Well, everything really was pretty good for a while. I'm not that social. Just someone to talk to every now and then, that's about all I need. I'm not typical that way, but it works for me.

But then Bernie made a couple of unscheduled trips off the kitchen counter way down onto the tile floor and things got a bit strange. These incidents introduced some unfortunate changes, and our conversations just haven't been the same since.

For one thing something broke loose inside, I don't know what. You wouldn't expect this. You look at a live hamster (or a freeze-dried one in my case), and the first thing you think (if you even think about it at all) is "solid all the way through". No. No longer.

Now he rattles a little when I shake him. I don't do that much but I do it sometimes when we're having an argument. He never did that before, especially when he was alive, the rattling, though I suppose I've gotten somewhat rougher since his death. Gentleness is less important now.

Hamsters are sturdy but really quite delicate in some ways, and you can't simply throw them around, squeeze them, or give way to anger just because of a little disagreement. Not with live ones. At the very least they bite, and can be quite fierce, but are very much too easily injured, so you hold back. You control yourself for the good of the relationship.

Well, that rattling was one thing. Only one thing, sadly.

After a few months of this his fur was starting to look disorderly, exhibiting some disarray, and became a bit matted in spots. I didn't know what to do. Something.

I really should have known better, but I tried shampoo. I tried shampooing him.

What a disaster. Almost immediately he began to balloon up (freeze-dried, remember?) and then, eventually, got all mooshy inside. I believe it wasn't the shampoo as such, but the rinsing. Rinsing took a lot of water, more than I expected. I didn't know a hamster could soak up so much. I mean, sponges, yes, but you don't expect a freeze-dried hamster to hold so much.

I wasn't thinking.

But what else could I do? He was sort of like this little furry bag. Couldn't stand up anymore. I had him set in a cute upright position with his little front paws just ready to reach out for a treat. No more. It took about a week of dangling from a wire hanger by a clothespin before he firmed up again, at all, and then I noticed it - mold.

Talk about creepy.

Once mold gets a foothold the game is about over. Seriously. But he's still about all I've got for now.

Yeah, there are days when I think of taking him out for a drive in the car, and when we get out there, far enough from home, just making a quick flip and out he goes, through the window, over the side, down into the grassy ravine and that's the end of it, before he even knows it's happening.

But this isn't like the old days.

The household is down to only us two. If the sock puppet was still here, Bernie would be gone in a flash, but that isn't the way the game played out. Mr. Socky had some serious problems and had to go. Serious, serious problems. Really. Serious. Problems.

At first he seemed OK, and was a welcome addition to the family, and we all had some good times together, great times even, but his dark side surfaced all too soon.

I can't go into it right now but eventually things got very strange. Some nights Bernie and I even locked ourselves into the bedroom and stayed there until daylight, but even then our eyes kept returning nervously to that crack under the door. Sock puppets can squeak through some really narrow places, and the last thing we wanted to see was Mr. Socky sliding in for a visit. I still shudder to think of some of the things we had to go through.

Well, after too many unpleasant experiences and, let's be honest, close calls, Bernie and I just left one night. Just like that. Sneaked out. Changed apartments. Changed cities. Changed states even. Got a new phone number, a new mailing address, new job. The whole deal. Never heard from Mr. Socky again, though we kept our guard up for a long time. A long, long time.

But the downside is, well, the family is pretty well down to just me now. Bernie won't be around that much longer. Not the way that mold is going. I really don't know if I should try having a talk with him or simply end it with a one way car ride, but then where will I be?

I don't even have anyone writing me scam letters. No one at all. It's just me here.

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