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Monday, August 22, 2005

Marvin the Hamster

When I was a kid, I had a hamster named Marvin, and he was a running fiend. He loved to run in his clear, plastic ball. He would run all over the house, run for as long as I would let him, or until his little legs were ready to give out; Marvin had inexhaustible energy. But his running was not in vain; no, Marvin won himself a brand new house by being the fastest hamster in Monument, CO.

The local pet store hosted a hamster race one year. They built a race track with alleys for the hamsters and their clear, plastic balls, and all the children gathered with their hamsters at the starting line. I was nervous for Marvin because he'd never raced professionally, but I was confident in his love for running, so I knew he'd do his best. I knelt down by the starting line and held Marvin still in his ball, and when the race official yelled "Ready, set, GO!" I let go of Marvin's ball.

But he didn't move.

All the other hamsters were running, running down the track, but Marvin just sat there. He looked at me, looked at the other hamsters, and just sat there. I yelled, "Go Marvin! Go! Run!" But he refused to budge. Suddenly, a strange thing happened. Every single hamster in the race that had previously been racing their little hearts out, just sort of slowed and then stopped in their tracks. Some of them even turned around and started jogging back to the start line. That's when Marvin saw his opportunity. He shot out off the start line like a bullet out of gun and he was sprinting toward the finish. I was jumping up in down in excitement. The other hamsters were still looking confused when Marvin cruised across the finish line in first place.

We both got our picture in the local paper, and he won himself a brand new home that had all kinds of little rooms with narrow plastic tunnels connecting all of them: Plenty of room to run. It took up the whole top of my dresser when we brought it home. That was the only race in Marvin's running career, but he still jogged everyday in his ball or through his endless maze of tunnels in his shiny home.

Before he'd won himself the luxury hamster condo, Marvin had lived in a simple metal cage with narrow little bars and a metal wheel for running. Because he loved to run, run, run, Marvin would hop on that wheel every night and run for hours. For the first year or two of Marvin's life we lived with my grandparents on their farm, and once my aunt and uncle came to stay with us for awhile as well. They stayed in the living room on a pull out couch every night just below the upstairs balcony where Marvin's cage sat. Well, Marvin would jump on his wheel every evening for his daily cardiovascular workout and that wheel would squeak away all night long. No one was ever bothered by Marvin's squeaking because we all had bedroom doors that shut the noise out, but my aunt and uncle had no door and every night they lay awake listening to Marvin sqeaking away.

So one day, my uncle got up and grabbed a wire tie (the sort used to close bread loafs and sandwhich bags) from the kitchen and headed upstairs; there, he tied Marvin's wheel to the top of the cage while Marvin was in mid-stride. Poor little Marvin fell right off his wheel and then couldn't understand why his wheel wouldn't turn anymore -- he must've been very confused. After that, my mom told me I should leave the wheel tied up for my aunt and uncle's sake and let Marvin get all his running out in his ball.

I often think about Marvin when I'm at the gym running my heart out on the treadmill or peddling to nowhere on the exercise bike. With those rows of runners, walkers and bikers running, walking and biking in place, it seems as though we're not too different from a hamster running on his wheel. At least Marvin got to get into his ball and go somewhere, even if accidently that was sometimes down the stairs; at least he was taking in some scenery.

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