For every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing. — Friedrich Nietzsche
It was a cruel thing to do, but I don’t blame him. I doubt he understood the ramifications of typing those words and hitting “send.” Or maybe he did — you never know with Ollie. I might have held off on viewing the message had I not been charmed by the subject line, “in terms of cuteness...” I coaxed my cursor and clicked to read the simple sentence that would purloin hours of productivity: “You’re going to want to look up ‘sugar gliders.’” I had a lot to do. I should have waited until I’d at least responded to a few emails before opening Google and typing in the two innocuous seeming words.
The moment my eyes alighted upon the first picture of the velvety squirrel-like creature with huge black eyes, itty-bitty paws, a thick, fluffy tail, and webbed flesh on each side that allowed it to sail through the air, all thoughts of to-dos evaporated from my mind. How had I never come across this adorable critter before? I clicked on every link and thumbnail photo I could find. I learned the sugar glider is a marsupial — a bit of trivia that, for some reason, only made the thing seem cuter. Then I found out they live as long as cats and that people keep them as pets. As pets! I pictured myself relaxing on the couch, watching a movie, when suddenly, my very own sugar glider floats across the room from where it had perched atop my television, lands on my lap for a bit of a cuddle, and falls asleep in my hands as I absentmindedly stroke its fuzzy little head. Then I frittered away more time researching how to care for them and where I might acquire one. It didn’t matter that — like the almost as adorable but just as lovable ferrets — keeping sugar gliders as pets in California is illegal. I wanted one.
I don’t know how I’ll die or when, but chances are there will be some kind of fluffy, cuddly animal involved. My prognostication is not mere whimsy; it’s based on an extrapolation from past events. When I was four, I stood in a neighbor’s garage and patted the ears of their St. Bernard until the beast became irritated — expressing his displeasure, he knocked me onto my back and pinned my neck to the ground with his teeth. Stitches were needed to reconnect the torn edges of my throat. My parents were horrified, but even at four, I knew guilt, and I blamed myself for antagonizing the animal. As soon as I was well enough to go out and play, the first thing I wanted to do was pet the doggie again.
Two years later, curious to see how my family’s new puppy would react to a neighbor’s giant, fluffy, white cat, I collected the huge Persian into my arms and carried it over to where our puppy, Penny, was tethered to a pole in the back yard. The cat freaked out, bit my arm, and then used my face as a launching pad to rocket into the air. This time, the doctors had to suck some kind of cat-tooth poison from my arm before sewing one of my eyelids back on. When I was 13, my front tooth was busted in half when, after leaning forward to pet my friend’s mini-Lassie, the stunted pup suddenly leapt at my face. As the dog was unable to find purchase on my face from that weird, flying-through-the-air angle, and as I was in a sort of open-mouthed surprise at the time, our teeth collided. It was one of the funnier moments of my life, and I chuckled all the way to the dentist.
My most recent animal-inflicted wound was the work of a fat, furry rodent. It happened in November 2005, when my sister Jenny and I went to Balboa Park to feed the squirrels and take some pictures of the wildlife. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to touch one. And not just any one, but the big-ass fluffy one that was bold enough to come right up to me and put his tiny toes on my hand. As a reward for my affection, the cutest squirrel in the world gave me one tooth-punctured nail and finger, and several scratches on my arm, from what I’m convinced was an attempted hug. My epitaph will read, “Here lies Barbarella, dead for her inability to resist cuteness.”
“Animals are your kryptonite,” David said as we drove my new Mini toward Ocean Beach. “And anything sparkly,” he added as an afterthought. I wondered if he was aware that the dog-per-person ratio would increase dramatically once I veered toward Sunset Cliffs, which was not only the direction of our dinner destination, the Third Corner, but also of both an immense dog park and the popular Dog Beach.
“You saying I’d let something cute or sparkly get the better of me?” I prodded.
“I’m saying,” David said, sitting up in his seat, “that if, when you were buying this car, those dealers had set a puppy on the counter and told you to pay twice as much, you would have signed the paper without blinking. Or tearing your gaze from the puppy.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “Hey! Dog’s head out the window, to your left. It’s a Siberian husky. I love huskies. Aren’t they beautiful? Are you looking?”
“I wish I had a video camera at the ready to catch all the times you dork out over an animal. How ’bout you look at the road?” David said in an I-told-you-so tone of voice. “But isn’t she beautiful!” I shrieked. “Yes, you are! Aren’t you? Yes, you are!” I baby-burbled at the husky.
This past weekend David and I attended a small gathering over at Kimberly and Shawn’s place (a couple in the adjacent building that I have befriended since first ogling them from my office window two years ago with the binoculars David had given me for my birthday). Kim and Shawn have a large black-and-white cat. Their neighbors, Eric and Robert, have two teeny wiener dogs. Vinny, a squat black pug belonging to Gretchen and Daniela, whom I’d just met, was trotting around our ankles, hoping to catch some scraps from the table.
What does David know anyway? I thought, as I maintained a delightful conversation in the face of all those cute animals. I wasn’t struck dumb or incapacitated. Sure, there were animals all around, and if I let my mind wander, I could easily imagine myself in the forest glen, communing with the wildlife like Sleeping Beauty, but I’m a grown woman. No smooshed pug faces, gregarious cats, or silly-shaped dogs were going to distract me from taking part in stimulating conversation with other adults over wine and Robert’s edamame tofu dip. Kryptonite, my ass, I thought smugly.
“Did you hear that, Barb?” David asked, pulling me from my reverie to find a mischievous look on his face.
“No, missed it. I was thinking about the topic we were on a moment ago, about the crazy shit we get to see because we live so close to these nightclubs,” I said, proud of myself for thinking quickly.
“Yeah, clearly you didn’t,” David said, stoking my curiosity. I extended my arm, and David filled my glass from the bottle in his hand. He was watching me carefully.
“Well? What did I miss? Are they leaving?” I gestured to Gretchen and Daniela, who had risen to their feet.
“Yeah, we’ve got to go, I’m pretty beat,” said Daniela. “I was just saying I wanted to check on Mr. T.”
“Mr. T?” I asked.
“Thomas, our rabbit.”
“Rabbit?” I said, playing it cool. “You, uh, got him in a cage over there?”
“No, no cage,” said Gretchen. “Thomas is house-trained, so he just roams around the apartment.”
“You have a bunny, just out, like, hopping around in your place right now?” I shot to my feet and set my glass on the table. “Can I see him?”
As I pushed Gretchen and Daniela to the door, I caught David leaning toward Kimberly and saying, “Told ya.” But I didn’t care. I was about to pet the bunny!