This is a story about college life. Maybe not your college experience, but mine.
Freshman year was spent housed in a building called C-section. It’s just now dawned on me, that’s a term for a method of childbirth, but this enclosure was more of a prison building, made of cinder block and steel doors, painted in an ugly, drab, blue-green shade of industrial paint.
I lived on the third floor with my roomies Mark, Rick, and Steve. Across the hallway were sweetmates Sean, another Mark, and Monkers (not even close to his real name).
There were three Biology majors among us (myself included), two Business majors, and a future felon. So, it only made sense that Fauna would become part of our dorm life, at a reasonable price, in an illegal manner.
The movie “Animal House” had reared its irreverent head in the theaters and the gang took it to heart that the movie was a guideline for proper student life. The movie’s soundtrack album played continuously on the turntable, all songs and dialogue memorized word for word. The movie’s characters lived amongst us, Belushi’s role was shared by everyone.
There were impromptu underwear-clad Congo dances through keg parties. Afternoons spent lounging on the hill in deep, right-center field watching the girls softball games, coolers of beer protecting against any long home runs. Bi-weekly trips to the center of town to play 8-ball with the townies at the local pool hall. And apparently there was also a rumor of a schedule of classes to be attended.
(Sidenote: My Dad, who never experienced college dorm life, came to visit and stayed in our dorm for a weekend. After a long evening hanging with the guys, he awoke from a sound sleep at 3:30 A.M., his chest pounding from what seemed to be a life-ending heart attack. Upon further review, the reverberations were the result of an Olympic-sized shot put being heaved against the janitor’s steel storage door by a few drunken sweetmates.)
That’s nice. But what about the hamster?
It all started simple enough. Across the hallway, Sean set up a terrarium, which became home to two small lizards. My roomie Mark, a New Jersey Black Sabbath fan full of stress and bad thoughts, set-up his own terrarium, which became home to a tarantula spider. The zoo began to grow.
Over the Christmas vacation break, my buddy Steve brought back to school his new pet, a 3 & 1/2 foot Boa Constrictor snake. For the uneducated, and as foreshadowing for this little story, boa constrictors only eat every other week or so.
The snake’s name was Ludwig, named after Steve’s favorite brand of drum sets, Steve himself being a drummer back home in a rock’n’roll band.
Initially, it’s a ‘creepy’ feeling to have a constrictor snake wrap itself around your arm. The flickering tongue takes a sniff of your smell, it’s exothermic body feels cold on your skin, and the grab and release of the snake’s muscles, as it slowly coils around your limb, can make you wonder if it was a good idea to begin with. But after you relax, and the snake relaxes, it becomes almost therapeutic. Especially if you drink a lot of alcohol beforehand.
Steve and I were like two peas from the same spoiled pod. Like the rest of C-section, Floor Three, we weren’t from North Carolina, as were most of our classmates. We didn’t own any IZod polo shirts, our hair fell over the collar, and we had a tendency to ‘buck the system’.
So, the word around campus was that there was a big party planned for the small, exclusive dorm that housed most of the college’s football players. Steve and I weren’t invited, or welcomed, so we thought that we’d check it out.
We headed off to the party. Steve, myself, and Ludwig, who was comfortably wrapped around my neck, hidden by a hoodie jacket. There was no cover charge, but the cash bar was a bit of a challenge, seeing as how we didn’t have any cash. The party was rocking, full of football players, cheerleaders, and the pretty people who would never acknowledge our existence in the school’s cafeteria.
After Ludwig poked his head out of my jacket and made his presence known, several large men squealed like little girls, but those cheerleader/beauty pageant types became curious and flocked about.
“Can I hold your snake?” was the last thing that you’d think the head cheerleader would ask you.
“Tell ya what. If you’d go get us two gin and tonics, with lime please, you can hold him for ten minutes.”
This went on for hours. Ludwig didn’t realize it, but he had become a babe magnet.
The entire gang took a non-school-sponsored field trip to a local forest preserve. A beautiful 50 acre lake surrounded by a thick forest. After entering the preserve, near the edge of the lake, there was a small information center. Much to our delight, there were different displays housing the different indigenous species of the local area. Box turtles, frogs and toads, and snakes. Copperheads and rattlers, garter, corn and hognose snakes. And at the bottom right hand side of the display were enclosures of mice and baby chickens (peeps).
We knew the fate of the mice and peeps (snake entrees), yet somehow we talked the attendant into letting us take a lame peep along home to the dorm. Initially, it was to be dinner for Ludwig, but Rick took a liking to our newest zoo addition and the chick’s life was spared. The chick quickly grew into a small, gimpy chicken, fuel with leftovers from the school’s cafeteria.
(But, but, but…what about the freaking hamster?)
Now, during this entire period of football dorm parties and nature bonding, Ludwig had only eaten one dinner, a small, store-bought mouse. And Steve didn’t have the money for another one. So, C-section, Floor Three, came up with a brilliant, drunken decision. We’d host (and fund) a virginal sacrifice, but more spectacular than King Kong and Jessica Lange. We had our King Kong (Ludwig), but we still needed a Jessica Lange. And where does one get a sacrificial virgin when you’re on a tight budget? Kmart.
A poorly-oiled group of six entered the Kmart that fateful Sunday evening, all six wearing big coats with deep pockets. Fortunately, it was cold out that night, or else we’d have looked really silly. Monkers, Mark, and Sean headed back to the Pet section. Monkers had partially funded his college career with thievery, and naturally headed straight to the hamster display. Mark and Sean calmed suspicion by tapping on the tanks of the tetras, mollies and goldfish. Steve, Mark(2), and myself casually flipped through the record section.
Monkers slipped a hamster into his pocket and the three of them headed towards the album section. Somewhere around the Joan Jett/Elton John section, the hamster jumped from Monkers’ pocket onto a KC and the Sunshine Band album. I snagged the furry beast and into my pocket he went. As inconspicuously as we could be, we slithered out into the parking lot and safely back to our college of education. I had stolen a hamster.
For the sake of Mother, I’ll go no further in describing that Sunday evening, with a hallway full of college roommates, six on one end, releasing a furry, fuzzy hamster, while the others waited behind Ludwig, his tongue extended, sensing smell and warmth and movement.
But that’s not important right now. What is important is that six sweetmates, two lizards, a tarantula, a gimpy chicken, and a boa constrictor with a lump in his stomach had a peaceful night’s sleep.