New friend

I went to the pet store after work yesterday with every wicked intention of adopting a snake and hiding its tank in a spot in my office where Ron would be unlikely to notice it, at least for a while.

I have been pestering him to let me have a snake for at least a year, partly because I’ve never had one and would really like to give it a try, but mostly because I miss our friend Ken’s late albino corn snake, Juliet, who — besides being one of the most gorgeous creatures I’ve ever laid eyes on — was instrumental in helping me earn Ken’s respect the day I met him. (If your best friend’s girlfriend is not squeamish about handling snakes, she is obviously a keeper.)

Trouble is, all the corn snakes were babies — cute, but so tiny that you have to feed them frozen newborn mice, known in snake-owner parlance as “pinkies.” And not whole pinkies, either. You have to cut them in half, because baby snakes aren’t big enough to eat a whole baby mouse.

I couldn’t handle the thought of cutting a baby mouse in half — even if it was already dead and frozen solid — so I decided maybe I’d just wait and adopt a snake later, when I could find one that was big enough to eat full-grown mice. (Yes, I know adult mice are cute, too, but look: I’ll eat chicken-fried steak but turn up my nose at veal parmigiana. I just have a hangup about eating baby animals. I know it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense. That’s why they call it a hangup. If it made sense, it would be called a rational decision.)

Anyway, I had some time to kill, so I wandered through the pet store and proceeded to fall in love with at least seventeen different species of birds, snakes, lizards, rodents, and fish. The crowntail bettas were gorgeous. The zebra finches’ soft little “beep-beep … squeakity-squeakity-squeakity” songs were too cute for words. The hamsters were adorable.

But I already have a betta … and I’m not in the mood to clean up finch feathers right now … and one of my most vivid childhood memories involves my oldest friend showing up to a party with a Superman Band-Aid on her finger after a disgruntled hamster bit the snot out of her. (Knowing Margaret as I do, I am sure she had it coming, but still … I already have a rat terrier who has no compunction about biting the hand that feeds her, so I really don’t need any more animals getting all bout it bout it with me.)

I peeked into a gerbil cage.

I used to breed gerbils. They are charming creatures: cute, docile, funny, low-maintenance … ideal pets, really.

You don’t need another gerbil, I thought.

Two young gerbils were hiding under a pile of Carefresh. The agouti one poked her nose out and looked at me. She had a pretty little face, all mousy-gerbily-cute, with big dark eyes and long dark eyelashes and a sweet expression that I was utterly powerless to resist.

“Can I get you anything?” a clerk asked.

I sighed and shook my head in disbelief at the words coming out of my mouth: “I need a gerbil.”

Like I need a hole in my head, I added silently, but I signed a piece of paper saying I promised to take good care of my new friend, handed over my credit card, and became the proud owner of a pretty little female gerbil with big dark eyes and long dark eyelashes and a sweet expression that I was utterly powerless to resist.

I think maybe I’ll call her Juliet.