After the whole Farmel debacle, the next step was deciding on what pet would replace her (him?). I did some research. Turtles and geckos live way too long. I don't want to be cleaning up after Rodriguez the Box Turtle when I'm a grandmother. Gerbils, it turns out, are illegal in the state of California. Does that have anything to do with Richard Gere? Finally, I came to guinea pigs. Their expected lifespan is about four years. They're reportedly friendly. And, if their mess and smell prove to be overwhelming, we can set them up outside.
Next stop, craigslist. Ben and I are big believers in craigslist. We've bought three stoves, two refrigerators, a sixties-era chartreuse sectional sofa, and a playhouse hand-built with all the care one might take with a real house (insulation, double-paned windows, shingled roof), amongst other items. We're more buyers than sellers when it comes to craigslist though we did once give away a washer-dryer set for free only to have the seemingly nice young couple hassle us for three hundred dollars to cover their moving costs when they couldn't figure out how to make it work in their apartment. A good deed never goes unpunished, I suppose.
Craigslist is always a foray into sociology. Meeting a stranger, usually in their home or yours, could be a sketchy situation. Generally, though, it's pretty friendly. Friends always ask if I just trust something is going to work when I buy it. The answer is yes. I know where they live. And, admittedly I'm an optimist, but I like to trust other human beings. That's kind of what craigslist is all about.
A couple days ago I found a listing on craigslist for two female guinea pigs plus their cage for eighty-nine bucks. After a couple emails, I gathered that the dad in the situation was allergic, their house was small, the pigs, though his young daughters loved them, had to go.
And so, yesterday at five o'clock, in 104 degree heat, the kids and I loaded in the van for the hour's drive to Petaluma. We found his house in a neighborhood that had seen better days, boarded-up windows on two buildings on the block, ramshackle dirt patches where lawns once were. We knocked on his door. No answer. We walked up the driveway to the back of the house. Just a very old labrador sleeping in the shade of a shed filled with rusty bikes, cracking plastic kids' toys, and other assorted junk.
We walked back around to the front and planted ourselves on the porch steps. Already I knew that this was probably not a good idea. Given the general tone of neglect that I could already see - and smell - I knew that these guinea pigs were going to be sitting in their own filth, their cage cheap and coated with grime. I also knew that we were past the point of no return. If I'd been alone, I could abort and hit the nearest PetCo. But the kids had firm plans for these particular pigs. That was that.
Moments later, our man pulled up. I'll call him John. John was so sorry he was late, he was just trying to make a sale to his biggest client and well, did I try to call, oh his cell wasn't working, and what cute kids and hey, little one, give me a high five - where's she from - oh he - Ethiopia, wow - and man, he wished his girls were here to meet us but they were with their mom this week. He seemed like a nice guy, a good guy, a guy who didn't have his shit together.
He led us into the house. The actual house was a haze of battered eighties furniture, tired linoleum and the stench of bachelor. John, still chattering, apologizing that he hadn't had time to clean the cage, led us into the living-room. There, on one wall of a tiny room was a giant cage. The cage was just as I thought it might be, with the added bonus of two empty water bottles hanging on the side. They were green with mold. The animal themselves looked healthy enough, though when Mihiretu approached the cage, John quickly warned him that they might bite his finger if he stuck it through the wire. It wasn't their fault, he said, they were just hungry.
By now I was trying to move along the sale, grab the pigs and get out to the fresh, if hot, air. John, sensing that he'd cinched the deal, was on a roll, searching high and low for a guinea pig related "goodie". After a group trip back out to the shed, then when that proved unfruitful, into the kitchen, he produced a leash. A guinea pig leash.
Then, like a flash, he was giving us a tour of his girls' room. Look, he said happily, chalkboard paint! And, indeed, over each bunk was an amoeba-shaped patch of grey paint. Cool, I said, come on, kids, let's get those little ladies into the van.
Finally, what seemed like hours later, John was handing me an uncooked chicken (that's what he sells, apparently) and insisting on a hug. Not lasciviously, I don't think, he was just euphoric that these pets were off his hands and hopefully on to somewhere better and that he had eighty-nine dollars he didn't have before.
And we were off, driving an extra fifteen minutes to get a bombastic Mihiretu to sleep, hauling the cage up to our back patio to hit it with the hose and some dish-soap, finally, way past bedtime, settling the newly named Sugar (she's brown and white, like sugar) and Bonnie (Mae's idea, don't know where it came from but I like it!) into their revitalized home, their scrubbed water bottles full of filtered water.
In the end, it probably all worked out. Farmel, Mae's momentary frog, got to return to his/her home by the wooded lake and Sugar and Bonnie escaped John's grimy cave and emerged into what I can only imagine to be a better situation.
This morning, at seven, Lana was feeding Sugar a carrot and murmuring her private ideas in her little rodent ear while Mae and Mihiretu were far up on the back hill, walking Bonnie on her leash through the shifting brown grass. It seems we have a couple new members of the family.