I’ve been a reader all my life, and so it was only natural that I would spend a lot of time reading to my kids when they were little. They’d get all dressed up in their footie pajamas, we’d hunker down in bed with a big, fluffy blanket covering us all, and I would open a book and begin to read: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Hahahaha, just kidding. I would never read Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas to my kids. Too many words. We mostly read things with lots of pictures, like Hustler, although if the comics were good, we’d read Playboy in a pinch.
Ok, for the benefit of those of you who happen to be employed by Child Protective Services, I do not read pornographic magazines to my kids. Their lives have been filled with standard reading fare for children: Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears, and that one book about the stupid fucking squirrel who can’t figure out where to hide his goddamn walnut. All of my kids have shared a common experience in school as a result: A kindergarten teacher breaks out a book that we happen to own, and my child would excitedly “read” it in front of the class, astonishing the teacher who didn’t realize at first that they weren’t reading the book, they had simply committed it to memory.
Now that they’re older, though, we can enjoy different books together, and a few months ago I started reading my boys Watership Down before bed each night. Watership Down, in case you don’t know, is a book written in 1972 by Richard Adams under the influence of extremely powerful narcotics because, holy shit, the entire book is about fucking rabbits. You have got to be pretty goddamn stoned to start making up rabbit stories. That’s how I come up with most of mine, anyway.
But Watership Down is really an incredible read. It’s very well written, and seems to portray the lives of rabbits accurately in that they talk, make plans, and tell stories about their rabbit god, Frith, and El-Ahrairah, the Great Trickster Rabbit, who outwits elil (predators) and ensures that rabbits prosper in great numbers all across the land. You know, all the things that real rabbits do.
Honestly, I’ve only had experience with one rabbit, and that was in college. Some guys I knew somehow got their hands on a pet rabbit. They had a cage for it and everything, and although I had reservations about their ability to care for themselves, let alone another living creature, I was happy for them that they had found a fuzzy-wuzzy bunny wabbit to share their depraved lifestyle with.
Turns out I was right to have reservations. A couple of days after getting the rabbit, I dropped by and noticed the cage was missing. “Hey, what happened to your rabbit?” I asked.
In response, one of the guys handed me a stack of photos in order, each photo with more empty beer cans present than the last:
- Everyone is sitting on the couch, getting stoned.
- Pete is pictured blowing a hit in the rabbit’s face.
- Everyone is pictured simultaneously blowing a hit in the rabbit’s face.
- A picture of rabbit, alive.
- A picture of the rabbit, dead.
- A picture of Pete’s cousin arriving who happens to have a lot of bushcraft knowledge, including how to skin and prepare a rabbit for cooking.
- A picture of a group of stoned and drunk guys standing around in a kitchen, a pot bubbling away merrily on the stove.
- A group of guys burying rabbit entrails in the front yard, with numerous empty beer cans laying on the lawn.
I’d always believed that marijuana was not toxic (I’d have been shit out of luck in college if it was), but either that’s not true for rabbits, or this was one of those pussy, store-bought rabbits that are always dropping dead at the drop of a hat, which is another way of me saying, I don’t know shit about rabbits.
Which brings me back to Watership Down: It’s a wonderful book, but while my kids know that it’s a work of fiction, they don’t know how much of it is based on fact. So I’ll get a lot of truly insane questions during the course of our nightly reading:
8 Year Old: Dad, what’s the rabbit word for “eat”, again?
Me: Silflay, it means grazing.
6 Year Old: How do they know that’s the word?
Me: Well, in real life they don’t really have a word for it.
6 Year Old: So what do they call it, then?
Me: They don’t call it anything. Rabbits don’t talk, right?
6 Year Old: So, what, this guy just made it up?
Me: Well, he’s telling a story. A very interesting story. And it’s more interesting when he gives the rabbits words for rabbit things like eating, or pooping.
8 Year Old: What’s the rabbit word for “poop”?
Both Sons: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
In case you’re wondering, yes, I know the rabbit words for both “eat” and “shit”. I first read Watership Down when I was 13, and it is the one specific thing that I remember from the book, over 30 years later. (To be fair, the author works those words in repeatedly because late in the book, during a dramatic confrontation between wuvable bunny wabbits, one of the rabbits says to the other one, “silflay hraka!” which is awesome because it means that rabbits have catch phrase-spouting action heroes, just like people do. I never knew rabbits led such interesting lives!)
In fact, with any luck, I’ll soon have an entire elementary school full of kids speaking rabbit-talk. “Dad?” asked my eight year old. “Instead of saying the s-word at school, is it ok if I say ‘hraka’ instead?”
“Sure, knock yourself out.”
And you know what? It will be awesome. Anyway, it’s a better option than my eight year old son getting up to read his book report in front of the class and saying, “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”