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The Man of Alice’s Dream

Yes, the man of my dreams is the size of a salami. I know there are stereotypes about kids who have rats: They are the loners. They are the misunderstood. They are the weirdoes who use their animals as freak flags. But honestly, the reason most folks have rats is because they’re fantastic companions, especially when you consider the list of other “pocket pets”:

  1. Hamsters: Aggressive little a-holes who, when they’re not sleeping, which they do for about twenty-three hours a day, will bite you and draw blood.
  2. Gerbils: The neurotic Ben Stillers of the rodent world, all jerky movements and self-doubt.
  3. Guinea pigs: Stupid. I know you’re not supposed to say things like this, that not everyone can be in the gifted and talented program, but, well, not everyone can. Some of these guys even look dumb, with hair that grows in different directions and seems to need product. And they make creepy noises.
  4. Ferrets: Freaking stinky. Even if you de-nasty them by surgically removing their scent glands, they still smell musky and rank. Plus, they kind of look like snakes with fur.
  5. Rabbits: High maintenance. You have to feed them salad pretty much every day and then they poop out these round pellets that look like something animals should eat and not expel. They have super-soft fur but don’t like to be held, which strikes me as obnoxious.
  6. Mice: Well, I have to admit to a fondness for mice. When you see a whole bunch of them in a cage in the pet store, it looks like a city. Everyone’s on the move. Everyone’s busy. Sometimes there will be three or four guys on a wheel going in one direction and another guy going the other way, and that guy ends up up riding around upside down and it looks like they’re all having a blast. Mice have a lot going on. But cool as they are, they’re not rats.

Some highlights of Alice’s college tour:

  1. Going to Yale we got ridiculously lost on the one-way streets in New Haven and ended up in some really sketchy parts of town. It was rainy and not quite as magical as I’d hoped. It was still my first and only choice.
  2. At Trinity College a dad had a heart attack during the group information session and my mom was the closest thing around to a real doctor. So we waited with him for the EMTs and spent the afternoon with his daughter in the hospital.
  3. When we stayed at the Four Seasons in Boston we got bitten by bed bugs, which was as uncomfortable as it was disgusting. All that money for an expensive hotel and it turns out the beds were already occupied—with creepy critters.
  4. Also in Boston, someone broke into our rental car and stole my laptop. I know, I shouldn’t have left it in there, but I was tired because we’d been to Tufts, Boston University and Harvard all in one day. Then I had to listen to Mom tell me eight thousand times that I shouldn’t have left my computer in the car. Also in Boston, we had a blow-out fight (see above under: computer loss) and I told my mother I wanted to go to college, to any college, just so I could get away from her. She said, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” I said, “Fine.” She said, “Fine.”
  5. In Providence Mom got food poisoning. She stayed in the hotel room and barfed while I did the tour of Brown. I felt a little guilty for being so happy to get away from her for a bit.
  6. I managed to convince Mom to let us stop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory on the way to see Middlebury. They had a “flavor graveyard,” where these little headstones mark the deaths of flavors that didn’t make it. It made me kind of sad to see where good ideas go to die.
  7. Our rental car got a flat in western Massachusetts and while we waited two hours for AAA to show up, we had another giant fight.
  8. A bunch of drunken frat boys at Amherst hung out the window of their house and screamed that Mom had a nice ass. I thought it was funny and laughed, and laughed even harder when she got mad at them, which made her mad at me too. I asked why she wore tight jeans and high heels if she didn’t want people to notice her ass. Then she got madder at me and we didn’t speak for the rest of the day.
  9. The information sessions all sounded the same, and were so boring I thought I was going to die. Except for the one at Trinity College, where the dad almost did die. Not funny.
  10. I had on-campus interviews and Mom made me get dressed up, even though Walter-the-Man said Deborah said the interviews didn’t matter. Most of them were awkward and painful. The guy at Wesleyan had a half-eaten PayDay on his desk and I told him I thought if Pluto could be fired from being a planet, PayDays should be banned from the candy aisle. We had a lively debate about what makes for a good candy bar, though he was completely wrong.
  11. This was different from the interview with the woman at Dartmouth, who asked me with a straight face, “If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?” I thought she was kidding and laughed. She wasn’t kidding. So I thought about it for a minute and gave her an answer I thought she was looking for. “I’d be an artichoke,” I said. “Why?” She leaned in, as if she wanted to know. “Because I have a prickly, tough exterior, but inside there’s a big, warm and fuzzy heart.”Then she told me I was going to host a dinner party and I had to invite twelve people from any time in history. “Who would you invite and where would they sit? Who would be to your immediate right? Who would be at the end of the table?” When I get asked a question like this, my mind goes blank. I couldn’t think of one person to invite to this made-up dinner party. Finally, I said, “Ben Franklin.” “Why?” she asked. So I said, “He invented electricity. Well, he didn’t invent it, but he figured it out with his kite-and-key experiment. He also invented bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove—which he didn’t want to patent because he thought people should be able to use his ideas for free. He originated fire stations, figured out how to predict storms, and mapped the current of the Gulf Stream. He invented the flexible urinary catheter when his brother John suffered from kidney stones. (Um, ick.) He was a postmaster, printer, and politician. He was a journalist, a businessman, a philanthropist, and a good swimmer. He invented swim fins! Swim fins! And the lightning rod! He calculated population growth! He invented a musical instrument called an armonica, which you played by rubbing the rims of glasses filled with water! And he wrote this funny letter to a horny young man on why older women make better mistresses. He was the Dr. Phil of the founding fathers.”Okay, so I got a little worked up, but how can you not love Ben Franklin? The Dartmouth lady looked a little weirded out and said, “Okay, that’s one. Who else?” I told her Walter, and explained who he was. Let’s just say it went downhill from there. She couldn’t get comfortable the idea of a pet rat. She cringed when I talked about him and that made me hate her.
  12. Every night when we called home to talk to Dad and I asked him how Walter was doing, he’d say, “Fine.” And I’d say, “What? Why did you say fine? Is something wrong?” And he’d say, “No, nothing’s wrong. He’s fine.” “Then why didn’t you say he’s good?” “He’s good, Alice.” “Are you playing with him enough?” “Can I talk to your mother?”