The Gerbils Who Did Their Own Research: An American Fable

Once upon a time, there was a chicken hawk called Howard who was tired of hunting teeny-weeny wild gerbils out in the badlands. You spend all morning spiraling upward on a thermal updraft, displaying excellent form, just to swoop down on an unsuspecting rodent, but quicker than lickety-split, that slick nitwit scampers away, and you’re left with nothing but a beakful of dust.

“There has to be an easier way to make a living,” Howard said to himself. “Perhaps I can trick the tasty morsels into walking right up to my nest and begging me to grab them in my sharp talons.” But how to do it? No gerbil would trust a word he had to say. If they so much as spotted him far up in the sky, they’d run away into their burrows to hide.

Howard spent a day flying around the Great American Desert trying to come up with an idea. He couldn’t help noticing the human settlements were all dominated by huge used car lots, where the sun sparkled hard off the chrome and the glass windshields, and red-white-and-blue triangular pennants flapped gaily in the wind. So he went out and bought a whole passel of those pennants on strings and some black Sharpies, the marker beloved of presidents and kings. Holding the writing implement carefully in his talons, he painstakingly wrote out a message.

The very next morning in Gerbil Gulch, all the scampering little varmints were startled and then delighted to see a line of red-white-and-blue triangular pennants strung between two distant saguaro cacti, on which the words MAIK NU FRENDS ON DIS LINE were boldly blazoned (chicken hawks being notoriously indifferent spellers). Though some of the older gerbils were afraid, the young ones laughed at their fears and enthusiastically adopted the new technology, scampering along the string befriending strangers, while the chicken hawk, with impressive self-restraint, watched through binoculars.

Over the following days the small brown rodents grew increasingly comfortable with the string of pennants, which bore a fresh and entertaining and sometimes informative message each day: THE WURLD IZ GETING CLOZER TOGEZZER, perhaps, or DID YU NO KAKTEYE STOAR WATTER? or even YU HAV NO PRIVASEE, GET OVER IT. They met and married there, did their shopping and banking there, studied for gerbil marketing degrees, and did virtually everything that makes a gerbil’s life worth living.

But then there came a change. The messages that greeted the gerbils on the string of pennants each morning grew dark and strange, which caused fierce intrarodential arguments to break out. MEKSIKAN GURBILS ARR BITERS, it might say, or ELEETISTS ARR EETING UR SEADS, or BLAKK GURBILS GET SPESHAL PRIVLEDGES. And then, one bright clear morning, came this stark warning: THE BERROWS ARR DETH TRAPS.

“But ever since hawks arrived in this gulch, we have always lived in burrows!” some of the wiser gerbils cried in horror. “They are our only protection!”

“Wake up, you fools!” retorted the gerbils. “We read it on-line, so it must be true! They have been lying to us!”

“They who? We dug those burrows!” protested those who still favored the holes, but it was no use; more and more of their fellows spent all their time scampering along the pennant line, even sleeping there. “You’re putting yourselves and everyone else in danger!” the burrow-fanciers protested.

“We’re not comfortable in those smelly holes,” the others replied. “And we get pricked all the time with saguaro spines! You can’t make us go back down there!”

So the argument continued, until a gray-haired scientist gerbil named Tony Ow-Cheese ran up and reported that he’d seen a whole flock of hawks headed straight toward the gulch. “But not to worry, I’ve dug the deepest burrow yet for all of us to hide in. You’ve got to come now, though!”

The pennant-waving, patriotic gerbils razzed him. “Old fart! I’m not going with you! Not to some hole in the ground! I don’t know what’s in it! And it hasn’t been properly tested! I’ve done my research on-line, you can’t fool me!” Tony pleaded with them until the last possible moment before running to safety with the few gerbils who would listen to him.

The hawks ate so well that day, there was talk of Howard running for governor, but a Very Stable Genius endorsed his opponent, so he was “primaried” before he could even get his campaign started.

Moral: Don’t believe everything you read online, even if it’s spelled out in red, white, and blue.

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