Among the Drunken Lab Mice

The National Institutes of Health spent over $1 million for mice to binge drink. 

                                                                                    News item.

We were sitting around, me and Mikey and Ike, nursing a pitcher of Bud Light at Bill’s Bar, voted Boston’s Worst Ambiance for three years running.  We’d scraped together the five bucks to pay for the beer at two dollars a head for a study on mouse phylogenies, whatever the hell they are.   That’s the only work any of us has had for months, and let me tell you it felt good to have some walkin’ around money for a change.

“It’s not like the old days, is it,” Mikey said, and he was right.  It used to be lab mice like us were busy as hell, shuttling between Harvard and MIT, running mazes, climbing little ladders, responding to stimuli all day long.

“Nope, it sure ain’t,” I said.  “We was rolling in it there for a while.”

“I miss the Charles River Rat Food,” Ike said.

“Yeah, them little brown pellets,” Mike recalled.  “The liver and onion flavor was the best.”

I picked up the pitcher and topped off everybody’s glass, trying to be as fair as I could.

“That does it,” I said when I was done.  “We got a dollar left–not even enough for a bag of Andy Capp Hot Fries.”

“See if Paddy will let us run a tab,” Ike suggested.

“I heard that,” the proprietor said, “and I got two words for you: N-O.”

“Cheez, you don’t have to get all shirty about it,” I said.  I picked up the copy of the Directory of Federal Grants we’d been looking at, trying to find some work in the shrinking world of funded scientific research.

“Anything at the Health, Education and Welfare Department?” Mike asked hopefully.

“Nothin’ doin’,” I said as I scanned the “H” pages.

“How about the Defense Department,” Ike suggested.  “They’re always comin’ up with some cockamamie scheme.”

“Like giving LSD to unsuspecting housewives in the 50’s?” I said.

“That would explain avocado green appliances,” Mikey said.

“How about . . .” I began, but Ike cut me off.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said.  “Don’t go there.”

“What?” Mikey asked.  “Let him finish.  Any port in a storm.”

“He’s gonna bring up cancer research again,” Ike said bitterly.

“Actually, I could go for a cigarette right about now,” Mike said.

“Look–we’ve had a great run, and we never had to stoop to Red Dye #2 or cigarettes,” Ike reminded him.  “I’ve got a couple of good years left in me, then I’m gonna retire to a nice triple-decker in the North End and eat mozzarella for the rest of my days.”

The guy at the next table got up and left his copy of The Boston Globe behind.  I sauntered over to check the lottery and the comics.  Laughter is always free.

“How’d the Sox do?” Ike asked.

“They won,” I said.  “We’re not mathematically eliminated yet.”

“It’s only May,” Ike said.

I gave him the sports pages–I can’t stomach the stories of millionaire ballplayers anymore.

“Let me see the front section,” Mikey said as he grabbed it from my hand.

“Since when did you turn into Mr. Current Events?” I asked.

He straightened himself up in a fit of umbrage.  “I like to know what’s going on in the world around me,” he said defensively.  “I may be just a mouse, but I’ve spent my whole professional life in the freakin’ Athens of America.”

“Suit yourself,” I said as scanned down the comics.  “Can someone explain Zippy the Pinhead to me?  I never get it.”

“You’re not supposed to ‘get it’–it’s absurdist humor,” Mikey said.  “Speakin’ of absurd, listen to this headline: ‘NIH to spend $1 million on binge-drinking mice.’”

“Ha,” Ikey laughed as he downed the last of his beer.  “What’s the Mark Twain line again?”

“There is no distinctly native American criminal class–except Congress,” Mike quoted.

“Wait a minute,” I said.  “Let me see that.”

I grabbed the paper and scanned the article.  “Don’t you guys realize what this means?” I asked, stumbling over the words in excitement.  “We’re back in business!  Paddy,” I called to the bartender.  “Drinks are on me!”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”

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