One summer day in my youth, Mom took me to The Pet Shop. Sitting in a prim little aquarium along the rear wall was a single, white rat. A big orange sticker on the glass said “Only $7.99!” This seemed like a pretty good deal, and I talked my mother into letting me buy the poor, lonely thing.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, it didn’t take much prodding to get her to agree. See, when she lived in Manoa as a kid she too had a white rat. He was a retired UH lab rat named Merlin, and she’d loved him enough to keep a fingernail-sized photograph of him in a miniature heart-shaped frame all these years. She jokes that she doesn’t know what was done to him in the lab, but Merlin was abnormally brilliant. Growing up with that story, I came to believe all white rats were brilliant to some degree; and if this $7.99 rat was not yet, my expert care would make it so.
The cashier rang up my living purchase (plus a new aquarium, pine shavings and other essentials), put the rat in a tiny cardboard box and sent me on my way. With such flimsy accommodations, I was afraid the thing might try to spring from its container like a rabid jack-in-the-box and bound away before I made it past Tasaka’s Guri Guri. But the box proved unnecessary altogether. My new friend was so docile, in fact, that she sat unmoving on my lap the whole ride home to Kula.
As soon as I got home, I erected a small shrine to her, accenting the aquarium’s table with a patterned cloth and raking the pine shavings with Zen-garden precision. My new rat just lay there like a lump, staring at me.
The next morning, I woke up to find I had 12 rats. My $7.99 rat had squeezed out 11 jelly blobs over the course of the night, and was no longer the docile creature of God she’d been the day before. Gnashing her teeth with perpetual hiss, she wouldn’t so much as let me peer through the glass, let alone touch her.
The Pet Shop claimed all sales were final, so the next few months were spent rearing (or rather, letting be reared) the litter. I ended up keeping one as a companion to the first, but neither ever quite settled and the story drags out long and unhappily, capped with a cloud of guilt that lingers to this day.
Let’s just say I’ve been careful and more caring (maybe even manic) with my pets ever since.
My ex-boyfriend and I had a few exceptional pets in our time (he retains custody). One was a tiny, peach-faced parrot named Waldo who showed up on our doorstep and refused to leave. He’s a specimen of perfection with pronounced color and defined features. But the best thing about him is that he fully lives up to his lovebird status. His eyes roll back in his head when you scratch his neck just right, and if he’s not perched proudly on your head, he’ll burrow under your collar, poke his head out and watch TV with you.
I dreamed of Waldo the other night. Well, I dreamed of something like Waldo. In the dream, a pet store had opened in Wailuku and I high-tailed it in to get a new beloved bird. It didn’t take long to discover the parrot was damaged goods. Unlike real-life Waldo, the thing didn’t automatically know how to fly to my finger or perch on my head. Its cyan and apple green wings looked like they’d been caught in a sifter, and its beak was so obnoxiously odd-shaped, it made the pitiable creature cross-eyed.
I was proud nonetheless and immediately decided to bring it to work for show and tell. Whereas with Waldo I might have been able to put on an aerial show, this dreamt-up alternate flopped in a small circle around my office before exhausting itself by trying to hold its misshaped head up.
No one said much in the dream except my editor, who took one look at it and offered this: “Hmm. Well, I hope it gets better.”
I love pet stores for supplies and whatnot, but personally have never had much luck—real or imaginary—with actual purchased pets. The Maui Humane Society, on the other hand, is a surefire bet for finding the furry friend of your dreams—and one in need—especially with experts on hand at this Saturday’s big Adopt-a-thon, running 10am-3pm.
Read more Kula Kid at mauifeed.com/kulakid. You can also follow her on Twitter at @anuheayagi