Sunday, February 13, 2011

Of Mice and Dogs

My first real pet was a white mouse I named Archie  I was in my thirties at the time.  I never had any pets when I was growing up.  In my youth, the closest I came to being a pet owner is when our next door neighbor, who also happened to be my junior high English teacher, owned a female beagle that had had a litter.  He gave one of the pups to me and my family.  He had already named the puppy Scotty.  I was disappointed that I did not get to do the naming.  It never occurred to me to rename the dog.  Our back yard was fenced off on all sides except for the driveway leading to the garage.  So when we let Scotty outside, he was put on a leash.  On the third day of ownership, Scotty disappeared from our back yard.  I walked the neighborhood for the next several days shouting out Scotty's name.  No luck.

The following week, I had finally given up the non-stop search for Scotty.  Even though I had quit perusing the neighborhood hollering his name, I still kept one eye peeled for the puppy as I resumed a dog-free life.  On the second week of his disappearance, Scotty suddenly reappeared on our doorstep.  He had a portion of a clothesline tied around his neck. You could see where, at the end of its two foot length, Scotty had chewed through for his freedom.  Someone had been keeping Scotty against his will.  He had broken free from his captors and returned to our house.  This was amazing.  Scotty had only spent two nights with us.  By all rights, if he was seeking his roots, he would have returned to our neighbor's house where he had been born and spent the first five or six weeks of his life.  If fact, he would have known the dognappers better than me and my parents. Yet he came home to us.

My father did not enjoy the rigmarole caused by the puppy.  First by the abundant attention by joining our family, second by the upset to my mother and myself at the dog's disappearance, and thirdly by the commotion and celebration at his return.   So on the day after Scotty's return, my father deemed that puppy proprietorship is not meant for our family, that he had found a safer sanction more suitable for Scotty with one of his co-workers.  He made the argument to relinquish our pet for the benefit of Scotty; how he would be loved by a bigger family who's children were still very young (I was sixteen), he would have a larger yard to play, and he would not have to worry about being snatched away.

To disagree with my father was futile.  Once he set his mind, his decree was as if etched in stone.  Plus, my mother and I never had the chance to attach ourselves strongly to Scotty.  Of the three weeks since we got him, he had only been with us for a total of four and a half days.  Mother would quickly side with father's will and I, without further recourse, reluctantly agreed to forfeit the puppy.  I would not have another pet for twenty years; which would be my first real pet.

I bought Archie on a whim.  I had taken the girl I had been dating at the time to go shopping.  Being bored at her comparing the different types of washcloths ("Ooh, John, feel the texture on this one.  Do you like the lemon yellow better than the canary yellow.  I wish they had egg yolk yellow."); I slipped away and ventured out of Bed, Bath and Beyond, and made my way to the pet store next door.  I was just killing time.  I looked at the kittens and puppies, the hamsters and the ferrets, the guppies and the goldfish, the snakes and the snakes food... What?  They sell live mice here as snake food!  I looked into the glass case that held Archie and his relatives.  Archie stood out amongst the rest by his actions.  He was wedging himself into a corner while the others romped freely across the cage.  I could tell he was trying to make himself less conspicuous, praying that he would not be the next mouse to end up down a snakes throat.  Archie looked at me with pleading eyes.  The small white mouse tried to smile and make himself more appealing.  Archie knew that I was not a snake owner and sanctuary awaited him at my home.  The price on Archie was seventy-nine cents.  I made the purchase and our man/mouse relationship began.  From that day forth I always wore pocket shirts.  Archie loved to nestle in my pocket, peaking out on occasion to take in the ever changing scenery.  At times he would crawl onto my shoulder to see where we had been.   Archie was amazed at the distances he traveled just by hitching a ride on my shirts.

Since Archie is the only mouse I ever owned, I did not know if his intelligence was normal or extraordinary.  It took me several weeks to teach Archie to do simple math problems.  If you were to ask Archie how much is two plus three, his right front paw would tap the ground five times.  If you asked him how much was seven take away four, he would tap three times.  If the answer was five or less, Archie could do it.  Sixteen divided by four?  Four taps.  What is one seventh of twenty one?  Three taps.  The square root of nine?  Three taps. But ask him what is four and two, and he'll tap the ground once, hesitate, tap once more, then roll on the area he had tapped as if to erase it.  He'll tap five times, look at you to see if his guess was correct.  He would finally curl up into a ball, close his eyes to feign sleep, and not respond to anything for the rest of the day.

Archie loved going to the bar with me.  He was always eying the waitresses.  He would do little tricks trying to impress them.  He would balance a swizzle stick across the top of two beer bottles.  Then he would take the cocktail parasol from a Mai Tai and use it to keep his balance as he crosses from one bottle to the other.  I never saw a waitress that did not enjoy this exhibition.  He would also pull three pits from lemon or lime wedges and juggle them.  He could only juggle three pits and not very well.  Yet the more he drank the more determined he was to perfect his juggling.  He could make a fool of himself at times.  It was pathetic to watch a drunken mouse dropping pit after pit, never getting close to success.  He would get so upset at his failure that he would  knock over every drink on the bar as he makes his way to the bathroom where he would yell in frustration.  Archie thought no one heard his baneful wails.  He was wrong.  When I offer to replace the drinks Archie had spilled, the barflies usually sympathize with me and decline my invitation.  They, too, have had friends that have embarrassed them.  I wish Archie would have been content only to do his tightrope walk.  I am not certain, but it may be because Archie did not have thumbs that he so bad at juggling.

Archie stayed with me for almost a year before moving on.  He met a cute little field mouse and was smitten.  He no longer wanted to go barhopping with me.  He wanted to spend all his time with Prissy May.  I guess I can't blame him.  But it still hurt to lose a friend.  I have to admit that I did not handle it well.  I would hint to Archie that Prissy May was seeing other mice.  It wasn't true.  I just wanted my friend back, so I said some things that I am not so proud of.  I told Archie that Prissy May made a play for me.  That it was because of my loyalty to him that I turned down her offer and to let him know what a two timing mouse she was.  Archie quit seeing her and then moped around all miserable. All because of my pack of lies. I had never seen Archie so depressed, so dejected.  I felt so bad at what I did, that I arranged for Archie and me to meet up with Prissy May at the Cheesecake Factory, and I confessed the truth to them both.  They were furious with me, but who could blame them.  They left together and I didn't see either of them for about a week.

Archie came home only to pack up his belongings.  Our friendship was over.  Still, just before he left to start his life with Prissy May, he looked back at me and gave me one of his sweet smiles.  He was such a forgiving mouse.  I miss our good times together, but at last I am happy for him and the love he found.  I truly do wish them the best.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, this is such an adorable story, that it encourages me to completely overlook the fact that you are insane!