Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Skip: a profile

Before I even met Skip, I knew I wanted to get a chinchilla just to name him Skip. I don’t know what inspired it. I hadn’t seen a chinchilla in years. When I was in middle school, the mid-late eighties, there must have been a lot of press for strange pets, as a kid, the things that happened always seemed a bit unexplained. In my little world, cats and dogs were so passé, the pets d`jour were potbellied pigs, sugar gliders, and chinchillas. If you must have a dog, a shar-pei would be the only way to go. Those were the days that my sister wanted a potbellied pig named Cookienose. Looking back it disappoints me still that my parents were not up for a pig in the home, and I say this without an ounce of sarcasm. Pigs are clean, they are smart, and they are cute. Those are major pluses in my book. A couple of years later my parents conceded to letting us adopt a cat, Mocha, from the pound. After that a TV news segment led to the adoption of a giant rabbit, Harvey, and two other cats, Tigger and Baby, followed in the ensuing years. I feel compelled to mention here that we owned probably 2-3 hamsters before I was ten. To this day, I am plagued by guilt that I didn’t pay more attention to those hamsters. I wake up in a cold sweat, dreaming of a very messy cage and a savagely wild hamster, the result of not enough nurturing in the critical stages.

I don’t remember the prices of the pets in the fancy pet store or its name, but I do remember the salesperson telling us that you could break a chinchilla’s bones just by holding it wrong. What a terrifying thing to tell a child. At the time I wanted nothing to do with those little creatures. It is entirely possible that they were just trying to discourage us from asking to hold the little things because they do not like to be handled and their fur absorbs the skin’s oils. It made me feel like an awkward giant, and the mere possibility of squashing something with my bare hands, or hands at all, disgusted me, and still does. Until 2003, I had only purchased hamsters in pet stores, so it was a sore spot. When I first stated that I wanted a chinchilla named Skip, I was half joking. I was on the phone with my boyfriend on one of our marathon calls. My sister and I lived in a petless apartment. It just seemed natural, a chinchilla named Skip. Surprisingly, they are not hard to find. I went to a couple of pet stores, and quickly found one with two chinchillas. I went back to the store three times to visit Skip. I grew to know the salespeople, and I grew to dislike the way they handled my pet. When I finally bought Skip, I really felt more like I was saving him from a life of being awoken in the middle of the day by the barks of a hundred puppies, and definite obesity judging by the saleswoman’s liberal hand with the raisins.

Skip has a scrutinizing countenance. He has big black eyes rimmed in blue, a pushed in nose with long teeth, and giant ears. Closely resembling a tyrannosaurus rex in shape, he has giant lower legs (for jumping), and tiny forearms with little hands. His spiky bristled tail is almost as long as his body and he can move it in 360 degrees. Skip’s thick fur is grey and black, each follicle is black at the roots and mottled grey to the tip. It is also the softest fur I have ever felt in my life. I would bury my face in his body, were it not for my acute allergies. He is very brave, always ready to jump out of his house or run after Buster. When I first got Skip, I tried to take a picture of him in his cage with a disposable camera. The flash went off and he produced the most pained sound I have ever heard, sort of a sharp gasp. It made me feel like a terrible awkward giant; the kind that could crush you or burn out your eyes with a single flash.

These days Skip has grown accustomed to my ham handed ways. He knows how to push me away with his tiny paw-hands or give me a warning nip. I know about him too. He likes raisins, anything wooden to chew, Pepsi cola boxes, lava sticks (but he chews them too fast and they are too expensive), carrots, parsley, lettuce, cilantro, banana, apple, papaya, his ball, and to be scratched on the belly, behind the ear and neck.

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