Last week, I took my daughter to San Diego's Comic-Con. We marveled at the costumes, oozed our way through the crowds, and then she endured my presence on a panel ironically titled "Zombies: Myths and Misconceptions."
Apparently not to be outdone, my wife and younger daughter were plotting their own apocalyptic scenario back home, and when I arrived back in Boston, beleaguered and grimy from the lengthy flight, I was excitedly introduced to Mr. Speckles.
Mr. Speckles is a hamster.
As you might guess by his name, Mr. Speckles is a male hamster. If you are wondering how I know that Mr. Speckles is a male hamster, then you have obviously never seen a male hamster. It's pretty obvious and therefore intimidating to the rest of us with Y-chromosomes to see Mr. Speckle's impressive package. It kind of obviates an explanation for all sorts of adult things to your children and can ultimately force the necessary discussion into unpredictable and potentially treacherous trajectories.
Let's put it this way:
My older daughter and I ran into a pretty darn good Hellboy at Comic-Con. Hellboy, as you might be aware, has a really big hand. Mr. Speckles has a really big... well... you know.
And he plans to use it.
Because what I haven't told you yet is that we already had one hamster before my wife and younger daughter took it upon themselves to procure Mr. Speckles from the local pet store. That hamster is named Peach. She is sweet and dainty and admirably fastidious, carefully pooping in one corner of her cage and sleeping as geometrically far as possible away from her bathroom. Peach eats pumpkin seeds (her favorite) one at a time, and, like a proper lady, she chews each seed to a careful and precise consistency. Then she takes graceful hold of her water bottle and drinks only that which she needs. This incredibly cute behavior is next predictably followed by her journey to the corner of her cage to relieve herself, and then again to the opposite corner where she settles in for a nap.
Viva those two X chromosomes!
But not so with Mr. Speckles. He's all guy.
Both hamsters are, of course, in separate cages for now, because it turns out also that my wife has been keeping from me an essential detail of her preadolescent development. She, too, it turns out had a male and female hamster when she was young. The girl hamster was named "Princess," and I don't know that she ever even bothered to name the boy hamster. (More reason for me to worry...)
And thus, my wife soon had five hamsters, and then 10, and then 30. And so on. Eventually my wife had more hamsters than Bartholomew Cubbins had hats.
Ring in the rodent apocalypse at Chez Schlozman! We, too, will soon be swimming in hamsters. You can't really take a hamster back to the pet store, and I'm certainly not going to dispose of it.
Plus, I kinda like Mr. Speckles. I live in a household of women. There's my wife, two daughters, and two tadpoles of unclear gender. Our two dogs and two cats are neutered. They don't really count in the gender tally.
But Mr. Speckles?
Like I said, he's all guy.
In fact, he's the Homer Simpson of Hamsters. He poops wherever he wants to. He leaves his food scattered about his messily arranged bedding. When he goes to his bottle to drink, he grasps the nozzle with both wiry claws, shakes it until big globules of wetness escape, and he covers himself in more water than he could possibly ever consume. He might as well be a fratboy drinking straight from the keg.
By comparison, I am a prince compared to Mr. Speckles. This is a benefit that I did not immediately appreciate. He is, after all, nothing but good news for me. I poop with efficient cleanliness and I always clean up afterwards. I have mastered my water bottle with impressive dexterity.
I tried to tell Mr. Speckles all this. I tried to tell him that if he wanted Peach's favor, he'd have to clean up his act.
But Mr. Speckles just stares back at me as if he already knows the obvious. Mr. Speckles is the last guy on the island. He's Adam to Peach's Eve. He's present at his own private Blue Lagoon. It is he or no one, he seems to tell me, and then he carelessly farts.
(I didn't know Hamsters could do that, and maybe only Mr. Speckles can, but still I find it oddly impressive.)
This is not to say that Mr. Speckles can't use my help. When we show him Peach, he freezes at first, unsure, it seems, of how to begin his courtship.
HA! Where's that breezy confidence now, you filthy rodent?
But then I feel bad, because Mr. Speckles looks genuinely panicked.
He actually starts to wheeze. Raspy hamster breaths go in and out of his grungy hamster body, his crooked whiskers moving faintly with each exhalation. For her part, Peach just stares back with what I gotta say looks for all the world like impossible love. I am reminded of Miranda in Shakespeare's Tempest when I watch Peach react to her suitor. She has, after all, never seen a boy hamster before.
"O brave new world! That has such people in it."
My daughter innocently and provocatively inquires:
"How will we get them to have babies?"
"Well sweetie," I say, "First we gotta put on some old Marvin Gaye tunes."
Before YouTube, this advice would have been met with a longer and more drawn out pondering. But just the other day my daughter watched Jack Black at the end of High Fidelity.
"Daddy," she asks me. "Will Peach and Mr. Speckle's 'get it on'?"
"Bedtime," I announce.
And, I think to myself, that's the last time I leave my wife and younger daughter to meet Hellboy at Comic-Con.