Hamsters

My friend and fellow University of Nebraska MFA Graduate David Atkinson posted a link to an article about a man with too many hamsters, noting that it reminded him of a story of mine.

Here’s the link, and below is the story.  It goes better for the hamsters in the link.

Lonely Days Are Gone

It started with one hamster because he was lonely and wanted companionship and his landlord would absolutely not allow a cat or a dog but instead suggested a bird that would stay in a cage such as a parrot but the lonely man’s aunt had had a parrot when he was younger and quite possibly she still had it or probably it died but maybe she got another one he really didn’t know he hadn’t visited her in quite awhile which saddened him since he now knew what it felt like to be lonely but at any rate it had always seemed that the parrot was taunting him and it wouldn’t shut up and the thought of it reminded him of his ex-wife and that quickly turned him off of the entire bird idea so he opted instead for a hamster but of course after a few weeks the hamster was not as peppy as he too had grown lonely and needed companionship so the man went out and got another hamster that the first hamster could hang out in the cage with but the first hamster was kind of mean to the new hamster and wouldn’t share the food with him and one day the man found the second hamster dead so he threw it in the trash and went and got another hamster but this time also got a bigger cage with a retractable partition so the hamsters could play together during the day but be separated at feeding time and the hamsters seemed very happy and so the man felt happy but that night he was awakened by a lot of scratching and thrashing coming from the direction of the trash can and it turns out the second hamster hadn’t died after all but had passed out due to malnutrition but since there was plenty to eat in the trash can he was revived and so first thing in the morning the man went and got another even bigger cage with yet another partition and he put his hamsters in it and all seemed very content but one day after some time had passed he came in to find that the third hamster had had six baby hamsters and it seemed that the first hamster was helping her take care of the babies which was enjoyable for the man to watch but eventually he began to notice that the second hamster acted as if he felt left out like a third wheel so the man went and got more cages with more partitions and a girlfriend for the second hamster with whom he got along great but time passed and passed and no babies so the man took them to the veterinarian who told him that no babies were born because both hamsters were girls but this confused the man because when he had just the first and second hamsters they did not get along and had no babies so he brought in the first hamster and the veterinarian told him that that hamster was also a girl and this is when the man realized he had the first and third hamsters mixed up because hamsters kind of look alike so he went back home but not before stopping at the pet store to buy more cages with more partitions plus boyfriends for the third and fourth hamsters and over time all the pairs had babies and the babies grew and formed new pairs and more babies and before he knew it the man had lots and lots of hamsters and was very busy feeding and cleaning and buying cages and retracting partitions but the man eventually realized that the hamsters had not kept him from feeling lonely and soon after he spent a week locked in the bathroom crying and no one fed or watered the hamsters and they all died.

First Week in NY

I claimed here that the next post would be about our first week in NY, but I think I’ll stick, for now, with our first day, maybe just our first hour or two.

We flew out, as mentioned, with all of our stuff packed into 4 suitcases and with a cat (in carrier) as a carry-on.  We had drugged Rooster (the cat) at the airport in Sacramento, the drugs not knocking Rooster out but rather putting him into a trance under which he spent the next ten hours uninterruptedly plucking at the mesh screen of his carrier at three second intervals, creating a race between the plane landing and Rooster plucking his way through his carrier and running free and high around said plane.

But the carrier held up and made it to LaGuardia intact, around midnight.  One thing we learned that day—and would be reminded of several months later, walking through Brooklyn for a vet check-up—is that a 19 pound cat plus a three-quarter-pound carrier equals 19.75 pounds, and 19.75 pounds feels like a goddamn lot of weight when you’re toting it through an airport terminal.

Another thing we learned is that New York crowds are not like California crowds, and after somewhat reluctantly bumping and shoving my way through men, women, and children and one-by-one collecting our 4 overweight suitcases from the baggage carousel and depositing them onto a cart and bumping and shoving (now with the aid of a cart loaded with 200 plus pounds of luggage) our way out the sliding doors, I spotted an open cab across the street and in a fit of adrenaline—charged by an arduous hour of cat-carrying and women and children bumping—I lifted all 4 of our 50-plus pound suitcases—2 handles in each hand—and awkwardly jogged toward the cab’s open trunk.

The cabbie did not recognize the address of the Brooklyn sublet we had rented sight unseen (our key had been FedExed to us by our friend Joe), but as we came closer to what our research indicated to be our neighborhood and our apartment, the cabbie began to repeatedly inform us that, “No, you don’t live here.  Not here.”  Not “You don’t want to live here,” but definitively, “You don’t live here.”

“This is what we call East New York,” he said, “This is the worst part of New York.  You don’t live here.”  Now to get the whole picture here you have to consider that we’ve quit our jobs and sold all of our stuff other than the contents (more or less) of the 4 bags in the trunk and it’s nearly one in the morning and very dark outside and this guy is repeating over and over, “No, you don’t live here.  Not here.  You don’t live here.”  The thoughts that Liz and I were having about the situation and the hypothetical conversations our minds were each having with the other as we sit silently in the cab are probably fairly easy to imagine.  But our faces?  All poker.

As we got closer to the apartment, the cabbie’s mantra changed from “You don’t live here” to “Past Washington.  Past Washington is nice.  You live past Washington.  You don’t want to live this side of Washington.  Past Washington is okay.”  When he got to Washington, he cut over to Dean, the street we lived on.  I looked out the window at the address of a building.  Then at the next one.  “Other way,” I said, “It’s the other way.”

The cabbie drove us to our apartment in silence.  Liz and I looked at one another:  Poker.

Moving to New York

In the Fall of 2009 my then girlfriend now wife Liz and I decided that at the end of that school year—we are both high school English teachers—we were going to quit our jobs and move to New York.  Just to do it.  And we did.  We notified our principal on Veteran’s Day and spent the next seven months, amongst other things, sending out cover letter/resume combos and responding to craigslist postings for apartments.

Our plan was to depart the end of July, and by the middle of July, we still had no jobs in NY and nowhere to live.  But we did have non-refundable plane tickets.  In June, we had sold all of our furniture and appliances in a three day yard sale and had put our other belongings—those that didn’t fit into four suitcases and two carry-ons—into storage.

Though we spent most of July jobless and concerned, Liz and I had each flown to NY for interviews—me sometime in June and Liz in early July.  I interviewed with Bronx Lighthouse Charter School.  Actually, I had already interviewed with Bronx Lighthouse—a phone interview in late May—after which they had expressed how excited they were and that they just needed me to come on out and meet them and do a demo lesson.  So Liz and I bought plane tickets (more plane tickets) and flew out and got an awful room at the HoJo in the awful Bronx and I gave a seventh grade lesson on making inferences from Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky,” after which we had another interview, after which they said they just needed to bring it up to the board, which would meet the next week, and then they’d give me a call, not telling me that in actuality they would never be calling me but instead would six months later be sending me a form rejection by email, leading me to the view—perhaps out of bitterness but perhaps also because they knew I had flown from fucking California—that the folks at Bronx Lighthouse Charter School are kind of assholes.

Unlike Bronx Lighthouse, the school Liz interviewed with three weeks later, Uncommon Charter School (who, it would turn out, despite the following, are also kind of assholes) paid for her plane ticket and put her up in a hotel.  Strapped for cash from the previous trip (as well as the upcoming one), we couldn’t afford a second ticket and Liz had to go alone.  When she called me from the airport on her way home—in tears—it seemed to have not gone well, but two weeks later, when they called to offer her a job, things began to look up.  The same week, we found and put down a deposit—sight unseen—on a sublet apartment belonging to a Frenchman named Jean Louis who was studying Arabic in Spain.

So on July 31st of 2010, our respective parents dropped Liz and I off at the airport in Sacramento, each of us toting two (two each) overweight suitcases (having planned in advance to pay for the extra bags and extra weight), a carry-on (one carry-on consisting of a cat carrier appropriately carrying a 17 pound cat), a personal item and a bottle of tranquilizers (for the cat).

Next post: Our first week in NY.