Friday, December 16, 2005

An allegory

Once upon a time there was a little gerbil. This little gerbil tried to do everything right all the time. It kept its cage neat, didn't snack upon its own poop, and never peed up in the Habitrail tunnels. Sometimes people picked up the gerbil and held it upside-down by its tail. It didn't squirm or try to bite the people. It was truly a very well-behaved gerbil.

The gerbil liked to chew on cardboard tubes. It was really into the cardboard tubes. Paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes, what-have-you. It would only share its cardboard tubes with one of its cagemates. The two gerbils spent a lot of time destroying cardboard tubes together. They were very well-behaved, although sometimes they stayed up very late, chewing on tubes and chattering.

One day, the people got a huge new cage with some more gerbils. They hooked up the new cage to the old cage, and the gerbil and its cagemate got to know the new bunch of gerbils. They chewed some tubes together in the new cage, but soon the gerbil's cagemate got tired of the new cage and went back to the old cage. The gerbil really missed its cagemate.

The new gerbils told the gerbil that it was chewing tubes all wrong. They said that real gerbils all chewed tubes in a very particular way. The gerbil wanted to do everything right and make the new gerbils happy, so it started chewing tubes like a real gerbil.

The gerbil had always thought it was a real gerbil, but it started to have its doubts. Maybe it was a hamster, or a mouse, or a very small guinea pig. It spent a lot of time looking at its tail. Hamsters and guinea pigs don't have tails, so maybe it was a mouse. Maybe it should start calling itself a mouse, or at the very least, a gerbil imposter. It wasn't chewing tubes like a real gerbil, but its cagemate kept saying they were both real gerbils. The gerbil was very, very confused.

After a while, the gerbil grew tired of trying to do things the right way. It wanted to do things its way, because it realized that sometimes other gerbils' right ways were not the right way for it. So it did most of the same gerbilly things, like keeping the cage neat, not eating its own poop, and not peeing in the Habitrail tunnels. It still didn't squirm when people held it upside-down by its tail. But it did go back to chewing tubes its own way.

The other gerbils were very mad. They told the gerbil it would never be taken for a real gerbil unless it chewed tubes like a real gerbil. They told the gerbil it couldn't have any sunflower seeds unless it chewed tubes like a real gerbil. They started pooping in the gerbil's favorite corner of the cage. Once they put some poop in a sunflower seed shell and gave it to the gerbil. The gerbil was so happy to see a sunflower seed shell that it didn't notice the poop inside until it was too late.

Finally the gerbil couldn't take it any more. It went back to its old cage and its favorite cagemate. It chewed tubes the way it wanted to. It tried not to pay attention to the other cage. Every so often it saw the gerbils in the other cage giving it nasty, disapproving looks over their half-chewed tubes. Sometimes the other gerbils tried to throw poop at the gerbil, but they threw like gerbils and the poop landed in their own cage. The gerbil focused on keeping its own cage neat, chewing on tubes with its cagemate, and trying really hard not to care about the other gerbils.

Then one day the gerbil looked over at the other cage and saw that the other gerbils were practically swimming in gerbil poop. They called over to the gerbil and asked for help. The people had been trying to bring home new gerbils, they said, and the new gerbils wouldn't move in on account of the filth. A couple of gerbils had stayed over for a night or two, but none of them would stay longer. The prospective gerbils all complained of the poop and the rules about tube-chewing. No one knew what to do, because the poop-throwing and the chewing rules had always worked just fine.

The gerbil was indignant. How dare they ask for help fixing the very things that prompted it to leave? The gerbil stayed up many nights, chewing on tubes, wondering what to do. It finally knew, in its gerbilly heart, that it was a real gerbil. The other gerbils--maybe they didn't even have gerbilly hearts. Maybe they were all rats. They certainly behaved like vermin.

After a lot of searching of its gerbilly soul, the gerbil said to the other gerbils that it would, indeed, help. It would never benefit directly, it said, because it would never, ever, ever go back to that other cage, never. But it wanted to make life better for future batches of prospective gerbils. The other gerbils were very eager to hear what the gerbil had to say.

The gerbil said it had a single piece of advice.

What is it? What is it? clamored the other gerbils.

The gerbil said it was a really radical idea that the other gerbils might not like.

What is it? What is it? Please tell us! clamored the other gerbils.

The gerbil took a bite of a cardboard tube, stood up on its little haunches, and said through a very full mouth:

"There's no wrong way to eat these pieces."


1 comment:

Mrs. Gerbil said...

I love the snarky gerbil, just as she is! Who needs those stinky rats anyway?