Figaro and Samantha

- by Joanie

My family had a cat, named Figaro. He was the perfect cat—he’d let you pet him, he took care of pests in the yard, he gave you surly looks when you did something stupid. He waffled about going in or staying out, but that was just so you really knew who was in control.

It was kind of like having another person around the house.

In fact, when Harry Potter first came out, we were convinced that Figaro was an animagus. I mean, he always turned away, embarrassed, when he was lounging in my room and I decided to change my clothes. Other pets stared, aghast, that I had taken off my fur and put new fur on.

Figaro was a very patient cat, dealing with little girls dressing him up in little outfits and posing for Christmas pictures.

Figaro, doing something important, and not sitting patiently for a photo for the 100th time. I have no idea where all these precious staged pictures are, so this is what you get this week.

He was also patient with the string of other pets in the house. Mostly the dog, but also the hamsters.

Yes, hamsters.

See, I was a “kindergarten helper” in the sixth grade. This consisted of using part of my recess time to fetch the snacks for the kindergarteners and staple things for the kindergarten teacher, whom I’ve already written about in this post. You may wonder why on earth I’d help that woman. Very simple: I was unpleasant, and therefore did not have friends, and playing with the rodent in the kindergarten classroom seemed more fun than being shunned by my peers.

So at the end of the year, Mrs. Adamson, the kindergarten teacher of nightmares, gave me a hamster.

My mother was less than thrilled.

She hates rodents and snakes and all manner of creepy-crawly animals and insects that could be considered pests.

So when I brought it home, she said it was completely my responsibility.

I’m not sure how she thought that would turn out—I’d learn a valuable lesson either way, and later, when she’d tell of my Years of the Hamsters, she’d reflect on how she never had to do anything—no feeding, no cage cleaning, nothing.

I took complete responsibility, thank you very much.

This is in part because if I contributed to the death of a living thing I’d feel unbearable guilt that would haunt me forever. Unless that living thing is a cockroach. Or a cow.

So I took care of the hamster. Whose name I cannot remember. Mostly because the hamster died three months later. It might have been the cat swatting at its cage on a daily basis, or the fact that it had been dropped all year by overzealous kindergartners. Or that it was a rodent with a short life span to begin with, and its traumas may not have contributed to its early demise at all.

So we went to a pet store to get another hamster. Cause I’d done such a good job taking care of it. I don’t count making it ride the plastic elevator in the Barbie house or putting it in my dad’s model train to run around the track and then escape from the train, knocking over pieces like Hamsterzilla as part of taking care of it. Why did that hamster die?

Note: anyone who thinks this stuff is cruel, let me remind you: it was a hamster. That’s a rat without the tail. Also, I was a dumb kid, and while I did stuff like that, I also fed it daily, gave it treats, cleaned its cage very carefully every week, and took extra effort to put it in its hamster ball and go outside for “fresh air and exercise,” thank you very much.

The emotional turmoil of a dead hamster lasts slightly less than the brief candle that is its life. So, about a week.

Now, my mom normally didn’t go in to pet stores—my grandparents had a farm, which was an endless supply of kittens, and puppies were slobbering balls of fur that came from the shelter or another farm.

But hamsters, you can’t just get those anywhere.

I believe my mother said something like, “I can’t believe I’m paying for a rat” amid my protests that they were most certainly not of the same species or genus (or subfamily, family, superfamily, or suborder, for that matter).

I might be making that up, since she really wasn’t that opposed to bringing another rodent into the house—I mean, it’s not like she had to feed it or anything.

So we brought home Samantha, a hamster who was not nearly as gregarious as the previous hamster—she bit if you petted her and didn’t really like to spend time in the ball, and made a terrible habit of escaping from her cage.

That’s right, hamster on the loose.

Now you know why the story is about the cat AND the hamster.

I know what you’re thinking—the cat ate that hamster.

No, not this in this story. That would be normal, and this is Cure for the Common Crazy.
I woke up for breakfast one morning, and noticed that the cat was spending an awful lot of time near the fridge.

My mom was the one who suggested I check the hamster cage to see if she’d escaped again. She was right: no hamster in the cage.

We put the very disappointed cat in the basement, and looked by the fridge, seeing a little nose and whiskers poking out of the grate. We opened the door, and took the grate off the fridge to get the hamster out. The noise must have scared it, because it ran further back under the fridge. We couldn’t just wait for it to come back out—I had to go to school, mom had to go to work, and my mother was not about to have a rodent loose in the house.

So she called to my dad, who pulled the fridge away from the wall, revealing lots of dust bunnies, but no hamster. The frightened thing ran even further back, and squeezed itself in a tiny crevice between one of the kitchen cabinets and the wall. Even worse: it was stuck, and couldn’t get itself back out, making desperate squeaking noises.

My mom tried to calm me, and dad said, “I can get it.”

No, no, he didn’t reach his fingers to the hamster. He knew that little [expletive deleted] thing would bite him.

He went to the basement, to get “tools” and in the process released a very excited cat.

He comes back up with a handheld electric saw, climbs around the fridge to the hamster and cabinet, and starts to saw away at the cabinet to leave a big enough hole for the hamster to get out.

My mom is screaming, “my cabinets! my cabinets! You’re putting HOLES in my cabinets!!”

And I’m screaming, “my hamster! my hamster! You’re going to MURDER my hamster!!”

And all the while, my older sister, Jayme, sits quietly at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal, because this was not really that much different than any other day.

My dad got the hamster out without any blood, and she went back to her cage, “repaired” with copious amounts of duct tape. He “repaired” the cabinet with a yardstick to cover the gap and the hole, screwed to the wall and cabinet—I can’t wait for some future owner to find that and wonder “why in the world…”

The cat went outside, making us keep the door open and let the cold air in even longer than normal as punishment for taking away his snack.

After this experience, I decided I didn’t want another hamster, but would instead stick with cats. It’s not like they cause problems when they escape…right?