Finally having arrived at the monumental decision to adopt a couple of gerbils, I set about looking for a breeder. (In my gerbil research I’d read it was best to buy from a breeder.)
How could there possibly not be a single gerbil fanatic on Long Island, with a household of gerbil generations multiplying in ten gallon tanks?
I called the local pet store where we’d purchased our hermit crabs (who passed this past winter).
They had gerbil pups! An unexpected litter of one month olds!
We knew this store well; it was like visiting a mini aquarium, to while away hot summer mornings when our boys were toddlers. For a quarter, you’d get a cup of fish food to drop in the tanks of mammoth goldfish.
Along one wall is the enclosed area, and through the glass you can see all the other pet options: parakeets, canaries, lizards, snakes, hermit crabs, mice, rats etc. and gerbils.
And behind that glass is Carol.
Carol must be in her late 20s, and when we'd been picking out hermit crabs, she'd had this way of standing there, like a cashier waiting as customers fumbled with their wallets; her mind on other things, maybe what plans she might have for hanging out with friends after work. But sometimes I’d seen her on a cigarette break outside, not even checking for text messages on a cell phone.
Ultimately, I couldn’t imagine Carol anywhere else but tending to the tanks and cages in that glass-enclosed area, changing water bottles and scrubbing poop out of bird cages. She stood over six feet tall, had shoulders of a football player, and a stutter that got louder the more she tried to speak clearly. I couldn’t imagine her without the parrot that always rides around on her shoulder, wearing some kind of birdy diaper.
She let us in through a door she kept propped open with a box, maybe because she was afraid of being locked in.
She took the tank with gerbil pups down from a shelf. About eight gerbils scampered around the tank, and the boys looked daunted . ”They’re fast,” Ryan managed to say. When he tried to hold one, he grabbed it by the neck.
I suggested Carol show him how to pick one up.
“Never by the tail,” she said. “It could break off.”
Kenny looked horrified. “Its tail can come off?”
Carol did nothing to mitigate the shock. “They’re very….fr…fr…fragile. I p… pulled one off as a kid.” She laughed. “”Yeah, the fur and even the muscle came with it, just leaving the b…b…BONE. They are made that way to get away from pr…predators.”
Kenny took a step back from the tank.
“You’ll learn how to hold them,” I said. Although I suddenly had my doubts. "These are good pets for this age, aren’t they?”
“Shh…..sure. I had my first gerbils at six.”
I was relieved; just Kenny’ age.
“The rats came later, but I always had gerbils. And r….r….rabbits.”
I saw her most clearly then; as a child. A large awkward child who more easily bonded with rodents than humans.
The boys couldn’t decide on their gerbils. Kenny went for a white and brown one (they come in all different colors now!). When he found out it was a girl, he didn’t want it.
Ryan wanted a pure black one, of course, since he loves bats, and black is his favorite color. But there were a lot of pure black ones…
“Which are which then?” I asked, knowing I did not want to breed.
Carol pointed to the girls and then to the boys, but I couldn’t keep track.
Ryan and Kenny kept pointing to different ones, it seemed, as they’d scamper this way and that.
Kenny liked one with a streak of white on its head, so Carol grabbed that one, and then she grabbed a pure black one. “These two are boys.”
“But I like that one,” Ryan said, pointing to a different black one in the tank.
Carol stood there, with a gerbil in each fist, only their tiny rumps sticking out, feet scuttling in thin air. She seemed not to notice their squirming. She was wearing that cashier look again.
By the time we'd made a final decision, we’d spent $118 on two gerbils, a tank, bedding, bottle, wood hut, food, vitamin C, chew sticks and a food dish, and I don’t think any of us were clear on what gerbils finally were destined to come home with us.
And they weren’t coming home until Monday, since I had to be away over the weekend. Daddy would not be happy with the new charges all by himself. Carol was nice enough to offer to set up the $118 investment and keep it at the store for me.
But we must have worn her out; as we were walking across the parking lot, I saw her go out for a cigarette break. The diapered parrot was still adorning her shoulder.Tweet