Oh, Henry! Notes from a Very Conservative Guinea Pig’s Life

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thanks so much for the parsley! I shared it around with my whole hall (they said that it was good, but that next time I should include some hummus). I’m settling in just swell. I’ve joined a community of like-minded vegans. We all agree that Sharples way overcooks the vegetables (of course, any cooking is overcooking), and that there’s nothing better than a good fresh salad of carrots, peppers, and celery! In fact, some of them convinced me to join the Good Food Project, a student group in which we plant and eat our own produce.

You shouldn’t worry at all about my not eating well. In addition to good food, the dining hall has a full salad bar for lunch and dinner (though I usually have to eat my own breakfast). We’re only allowed to eat three times a day here, but the campus is very green, so I usually just grab a quick snack in between meals; and they have some really good grass here! Though I didn’t dare to start my snacking until just recently; no one else seems to do share my love for it.

I have a story about grass. I was walking through Hallowell (one of the dorms here) to visit one of my friends. Suddenly I just felt the urge to eat something. The hallways of that dorm are really crooked and I accidentally walked right into someone’s room. We started talking, but after a while I mentioned that I was practically starving.

“You got the munchies?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m really hungry, but I’ve asked all around, and there’s no place to get anything eat at Swarthmore late at night!”

He gazed empathetically past me, “Yeah, I know what you mean, man. You want some chips or something?”

“No, I’m vegan. But I haven’t had any high quality grass in a long time. You don’t have any grass, do you?”

“Sure man! I’ll get you hooked up.” He turned around and pulled out a crazy-looking contraption, sort of like an exotic desk lamp. “I just got this last semester in Egypt; try a hit!”

I ambled up and took a sniff. Woah! For the whole rest of the night I felt really weird but really relaxed too. It was the strangest stuff I’ve ever met., and I’m not sure that I really like it. I think from now on, I’ll stick with normal grass from the ground!

Classes so far have been really good. One of the other guinea pigs here was trying to convince me that I should take some courses in Rodent Studies, but I’m not sure that I really want to do that. For now I’m just taking introductory courses in biology, linguistics, economics, and classics. They are all interesting, but sometimes it is hard to get to class on time – the buildings are really far away when you’re only four inches high. I usually get to hitch a ride with one of my friends, though, so it’s not too bad. Girls especially think I’m cute and furry, and are happy to carry me over to my classrooms.

It’s funny, Dad, how you said, “liberals are tolerant of everything — except intolerance,” because I have found it’s not really true. It seems more to me that people everywhere are happy with things they like, and try to avoid the things they don’t like. For instance, most people here believe you have to take a shower at least once a day. I tried to explain that I don’t really feel that’s entirely necessary, and simply tongue-washing myself is sufficient for me. It’s part of my identity as a guinea pig. But everyone I talk to seems disgusted by the idea of washing yourself by licking yourself clean; it’s not very tolerated!

Other lifestyle adjustments I’ve made include some of my experiences with my roommate. I realize that he and I really are very different creatures, and even though he himself creates a huge mess of our room, he continues to insist that I use the toilet — easy for him to say, he doesn’t have to worry about falling in and getting flushed away.

We were also encouraged by our RA to write up a contract saying what sort of stuff we agree to do. Listening to some of the upperclassmen I know, it sounded like the most important part was to decide when do you when you want to have time alone with someone — of the opposite gender. (Or, as I guess my friends would remind me, maybe of the same gender. People get easily upset here if you don’t make a lot of caveats.) I try to be very agreeable, but I don’t support that kind of behavior, and it’s my room just as much as his. I don’t see why I should agree to both inconvenience myself and help him to do something morally wrong by signing that sort of contract. Is that just being selfish, though? Please tell me what it do, because I’m worried that with Pub Nite starting up now, I will need to know very soon. I’ve never had to think about these sorts of things before!

Other than roommate troubles, life is good. It’s really hard to remember the names of all the new friends I meet, so to make things easier for them, I began introducing myself as “Henry, a very conservative guinea pig.” Every time I did that, though, people would kind of stare at me and make me feel uncomfortable. One of my new friends — I don’t remember her name, but she was very nice — told me that I should just introduce myself as “Henry, a guinea pig.” I tried that, and people seemed to like it much better, especially the part about my being a guinea pig, since guinea pigs are pretty rare here at Swarthmore.

In other news, I’ve decided to branch out and am taking a swing dance class! Don’t tell my friends back home, or I’ll never hear the end of it. It’s certainly something new (I jokingly told my partner that I felt like I had two left feet), and it’s tricky not getting stepped on, but I’m enjoying the change to try something that isn’t for my real classes. Plus its fun way to meet new people.

More coming soon, I promise!



The Phoenix