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hamlet, the hamster with no regrets
february 20, 2002
Hamlet, the Hamster With No Regrets
hamlet: the hamster with
no regrets

Today is my birthday. I am 43 years old!

It is a fine day, though somewhat shadowed by the news that an Olympic bobsledder has suffered a hamster injury.

I had no idea they used hamster guides.

I am no stranger to hamster guides. I had a fine one in the years 1987 to 1990.

The day I went to the pet store get Hamlet, a whole penful of baby teddy bear hamsters waddled around like dustballs on the cedar chips, their downy fur ruffled by vespers from the ceiling fan.

"I'll take that one," I said, pointing to a porcine fellow the size of a dung beetle. He had copper fur and a showy brown ruff around his brisket.

The Hamster Catcher, a skinny young college fellow with knobby wrists, pulled a thick suede glove over his right hand as though setting out to fetch me a timber rattler.

He reached into the pen. All twenty-or-so baby hamsters flipped onto their backs and pinched their eyes shut. As the ominous glove roved toward its prey, relieved hamsters in the rear of the pursuit popped upright. The hunted one quickly realized playing 'possum would not save him. Horrified, he scrambled all about the pen with the goatskin monster in pursuit and baby hamsters flipping over onto their backs in its wake.

The chase went on for several minutes, with hamsters flipping on their backs and popping upright in all directions, until finally the Hamster Catcher scooped up the copper one and plunked him into a Chinese fast-food carton.

Home once again, I opened the carton inside a spacious pen made from an old 20-gallon fish tank carpeted with fresh cedar chips and furnished with a sparkling clean water bottle, an exercise wheel, a little house on stilts with a ladder running up to the door, and a food bowl filled with millet and sunflower seeds.

The immobile creature slid out onto the cedar chips in a tiny, crumpled heap.

He was dead!

No, he had just fainted. A carrot under the nose revived him. He staggered groggily around his new pen, picked up a sunflower seed and played it like a harmonica, climbed onto the exercise wheel, and sat there resignedly whilst it rocked with a soft creaking sound.

The next morning I awoke to the sound of a clothes dryer gone mad. Following the loud whirring into the kitchen, I found Hamlet racing hell bent for leather on his exercise wheel. He hopped down and waddled up to the glass. I presented him with a grape, which he consumed like a watermelon.

Thus began an excellent partnership. For his one-week anniversary, he received an exercise ball. At first he could only wheel it into a corner, whamming the walls repeatedly. He got the hang of it quickly, and rumbled all around the big apartment, clocked at about 15 miles an hour. The place sounded like a bowling alley.

An ingenious escape artist, he sometimes disappeared for days. During these times, dusk would often bring the directionless sounds of important documents being chewed to confetti.

Then, when I would not be expecting it, a long shadow with round ears would spill across the living room carpet. I would look up.

There would be Hamlet, looming in the doorway.

We watched movies together on the 12-inch black-and-white TV, he perched on my knee or clinging to my sweater. His favorite movie was Picnic at Hanging Rock. He enjoyed the Pan flute music.


photo by the spence
Hamlet grew up to become impressively portly. He bore a resemblance Orson Welles. He enjoyed being photographed with his carrots. He carried the lovely scent of wood smoke and the cedar chips in his fur.

He adored classical music, much more so than I. But his favorite musical venue was listening to my accoustic guitar. The first twang of a string would bring him crawling and blinking sleepily from his nest of batting mixed with cedar chips. He'd sit upright with white-gloved hands folded in front of his heart, gazing at the beautiful Ovation Legend with a look of deep reverence. Never has a musician had such an unfailingly appreciative audience.

His full name was Wolfgang Hamlet Von Bundt Cake.

Alas, the good die young. When I returned from the farm after Easter in 1990, I found a note from Edsel explaining that Hamlet had passed away in his sleep. Edsel had placed him in a cardboard box in the garage. When I opened the box, there was the body of my hamster guide curled up in his food dish, lying on the millet and the sunflower seeds he once played like harmonicas.

Edsel had placed over his tiny corpse a single red tulip. . . .

Weep not for this hamster.

For he lives on in folk stories and songs! A large flower garden bore his name for several years: The Wolfgang Hamlet Von Bundt Cake Rockery. And when we moved the entire garden 22 miles over the mountain into the valley where we now live, I debated for a while and then exhumed his tiny skeleton. Hamlet's bones now preside in the Shade Garden.

I hear that a Broadway musical called Hamlet: The Hamster With No Regrets is in the works.

Photo: hamlet resembled Orson Welles
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