Posts Tagged ‘Elmo the Gerbil’

I’ve always been an animal guy and have had the pleasure of having many pets over the years, but none was more famous than the legendary Elmo the Gerbil.*

*Until Sparky of course. Sparky is world famous.

Anyway, Elmo was cool. He’d sit on my shoulder or in my shirt pocket when I went out in Columbus, go shopping with me, just generally hang out and be my buddy. He never bitched or complained, never called me selfish or self-centered, never got upset at me for being impatient. We loved each other unconditionally.

Hell, once he got sick and I took him to the vet. Keep in mind he only cost $3.99 to begin with. As my buddy J.R. told me at the time, “Shoe, that’s like taking a disposable lighter in for repairs.” True enough, but a disposable lighter never snuggled up on my chest at night or helped me meet girls in bars. Trust me when I say Elmo was one helluva wingman.

I basically let Elmo have the run of the house, I just had to warn visitors, as I didn’t want him to get stepped on. That would have been tragic. Also, girls tended to scream when he darted up their leg in search of a kiss on the ol’ snout.

Elmo had some weird tendencies bordering on, well, insanity. OK, I think he might have been batshit crazy. One night I couldn’t find him, became worried, and went on a search.  I found him in a closet, hanging from a clothes hanger by his back feet, upside down. How he got there I’ll never know.

Another night I came home and found him lying on my recliner, looking sort of bloated. I looked around and discovered the problem. I’d left some food out in the kitchen and he’d eaten half a piece of a deluxe pizza with extra cheese, including hot peppers. Hey, that doesn’t sound like much to you and I, but that’s a lot of food when you only weigh 5-ounces.

On another occasion I’d read where gerbils liked to tunnel in the ground, so I removed the woodshavings from his cage (which he rarely used) and replaced it with some dirt. A few hours later I was walking by, looked down, and saw that Elmo had buried himself up to his chin. There he lay, just watching me walk by. Like I said, nuts.

Once I bought him one of those clear plastic balls you could put him in to run around and get exercise. All was well until he rolled into the kitchen and down the basement stairs. I thought he was dead but he shook it off like a boss.

Dude was a genuine hardo.

Alas, as was bound to happen, Elmo died. I found him when I came home late one night. He was lying on my pillow as if he’d died in his sleep. He’d never shown any signs of illness so I was stunned. Was I sad? Hell yeah. Did I cry over a gerbil? Maybe. That said, I knew I couldn’t just bury Elmo in the backyard or toss him in the trash. Elmo deserved more. Much more. And so it began . . .

Elmo had passed on a Monday so the Funeral/Wake/Party was scheduled for the following Saturday. After gently putting him in a Stroh’s beer can (took the top off and fashioned a lid with duct tape) and depositing him in my freezer, I sent out a boatload of Death Notices/Funeral Announcements/Party Invitations. You have to remember that Elmo had more friends than I did, and by a considerable margin. He could have run for local office and won by a landslide. You know, as long as there was no psychological evaluation and stuff. In addition, Elmo had no enemies. Well, other than my neighbor’s cat. He hated that damn cat. But I digress. I then called my closest friends to make the plans. It was to be a wake, followed by the burial, followed by the party. If you’re shaking your head, you didn’t know Elmo. If you knew him, you’re nodding approvingly.

Finally the day arrived, and everything was ready. Elmo lay majestically on my mantle in a tiny, beautiful mahogany coffin constructed by my cousin Mike. The gerbil casket (possibly the only one of its kind in recorded history) was satin-lined and held together by little gold nails. When I first saw it I got misty-eyed. I also must add that Mike showed up in a coat and tails for the event. As much pomp and ceremony as possible was in order and he knew it. I never loved my cousin more than on that day.

Positioned around Elmo were probably 30 or more beautiful flower arrangements with various notes from mourners. I remember one in particular that read, “As I took my morning walk through the woods, I fully realized just how much I’ll miss that little rodent. My heart goes out to you.” And believe me when I say that person wasn’t kidding.

After the viewing and some cocktails it was time for the burial. Cousin Mike led the procession in his coattails, holding a bible although for the life of me I can’t remember why. It just seemed to be the thing to do. I followed him, carrying the casket in one hand and a beer in the other. Behind me followed about 60 people walking in pairs, bearing lighted candles. Keep in mind this was all happening in my front yard, and I swear cars stopped in the road as a show of respect. Or curiosity. Or amazement. Or disgust. We can’t be certain.

After we got to the gravesite, everyone circled around the little hole we’d dug for Elmo. I gently laid his casket down amid sniffles from the crowd. At that point my friend Tom stepped forward for the eulogy. It was based, fittingly, on Ted Kennedy’s eulogy at Bobby’s funeral. After all, both Elmo and Bobby were compassionate, groundbreaking dreamers, and heroes to many. You could hear a gerbil hair drop as Tom spoke. He concluded with these moving words:

Those of us who loved Elmo, and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”

And later:

As he said many times, in many parts of this state, to those he touched and who sought to touch him . . . ‘eek eek.’”

Touching, I tell you. Just moving as hell. At that point I tossed some dirt on the casket, which basically finished the burial process. Hey, he was a gerbil after all. It didn’t take a whole lotta dirt.

Then everyone blew out their candles and headed back into the house. I, though, stayed for a few minutes and said my last goodbye. I then went inside and partied the night away with Elmo’s closest friends. Stories were told, anecdotes related, and everyone discussed what we’d learned from Elmo. Other than always remembering to check where he was before we sat down, turns out we hadn’t learned much. Still, if that cat would have wondered over we would have ripped it to shreds, just for Elmo. We loved him that much.

I never owned another gerbil, because quite frankly none could ever reach the bar Elmo had set. The fact that said bar was about 3 ½ inches high is irrelevant. His greatness could never be matched.

May his legend live on.                           

Advertisements