By Goldy Gopher
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You might think it’s an easy gig, being a big anthropomorphic gopher. In some ways, that’s true. I prance and mug in an oversized jersey, hugging kids, waving my massive, human-like paws, tolerating wave after wave of smartass freshmen at orientation, confident that my fuzziness and lovingly rendered tail will carry the day. Usually, I’m right.
But what I really long for is an opportunity to pursue my passion. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. Just once, to see those little models go wriggling down the runway in an ope-backed satin cheongsam with waist-high slit by Goldy, and I tell you, I could just die on the spot. That may never happen. I may be a dreamer, but I’m realistic. Minneapolis isn’t exactly Madison Avenue. But when I heard the university wanted to put my bucktoothed face on a leather-strapped, custom-printed cotton canvas tote by Victoria’s freakin’ Secret, I felt, for the first time, that somebody was seeing me for who I really am. Underneath the jersey and synthetic fur, behind the comically oversized, surgically fixed grin, there’s a sensitive soul that longs to express itself to the world. Here was my chance to be somebody!
And the University of Minnesota took that away from me.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my little slice of fame. Yes, I have to wear these gauche colors, and sometimes I feel like they take me for granted. Sure, occasionally they force me to parade around pantless, flaunting the disconcerting lack of genitalia that was the personal shame that eventually forced my estrangement from my conservative family back on the prairie. Just because of the way I look, some ivory tower know-it-alls have actually questioned whether I am, in fact, a real gopher (a chipmunk? Puh-leeze! Hello? Do they think I would be caught dead squeaking out some McCarthy era novelty song?). Just because of the way I look.
While he remains admirably stoic, Goldy’s friends in the Minnesota student community rallied emotionally around his personal snub.
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I’ve met some amazing friends and been nominated for awards. But like everyone who’s been on the job for 56 years, I long for so much more. I wasn’t always Goldy. My real name –– and I’ve told anyone this before –– is Gomer, after my grandfather. Gomer Gopher. As a little baby gopher scratching his way through the burrow, I always felt, well, different. Like I didn’t really belong. The other gophers were only interested in soil density, and the most efficient method for clearing roots, scavenging for foord and their petty tribal rivalries. They seemed completely oblivious to the big, wide world out there, like nothing existed beyond the burrow. They never even seemed to notice the patch of Western hedysarum over the hill from the tunnels where I grew up. Once, on an impulse, before I really understood anything, I took the piece of wood my dad used to prop up the west end of our den inside the burrow and gnawed it into the shape of a crude elegant-crested tinamou, then created an inlay pattern on the stomach with the smoothest, shiniest pebbles I could find from the stream and used a yellow columbine as the crest. Not my best work, but pretty good for the first time out.
When he saw what I’d done, my dad beat me for ruining the support beam and ate the flowers in front of me, chewing in big, grotesque mouthfuls, so I could see the delicate petals being ground to mush between his dingy, terrible teeth. I decided then that if this was what it meant to be a rodent, I wasn’t meant to be a rodent. The next morning, when he asked me to forage for the day’s forbs and grasses, I looked straight into his black, almond-shaped eye and told him to go to hell. He took a step toward me, and I instinctively bared my teeth. He stopped and took a step back. I crawled out of that damn hole into the light and haven’t been underground since.
It was the butchest moment of my life!
I haven't heard from my father since I left. My mother has visited me here, but even she doesn’t respect me as a mascot –– she always knew, by the cartoonishly huge size of my head, but she’s remained in denial. I’m like a clown. But with the underwear line, I thought maybe that could change. Just for a moment, a few fleeting months, I had something I could send back to that burrow to show them, See?! Do you see what your ambiguously-gendered progeny has made of himself in the city? Now I guess I’ll always be the clown, thanks to the prudes in the Darland Administration Building.
There’s no use getting so grumpy, though. I’m still smiling. I literally can’t stop smiling. So don’t worry about little old me. Goldy will be fine. I’ll just keep on keepin’ on! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go perform the splits at a ribbon cutting.