The conference took place shortly after I had started to realize that one of my reasons for being was that I was to be a guardian for sweet, furry creatures that bring comfort, joy, and much silliness. Among my fellow entrepreneurs, my perspective was unique. I did not own the rabbits. God did. I just helped take care of them.
As focused and busy as the business kept me, I had plenty of time for being a kid. Why rush through the best part of life? To me, that meant playing with my neighbors, creating forts in my room, going to school, and participating in baseball, church, and scouts. When I was in fourth grade, a local bank president had said, "This kid is a bunny farmer for now. But I can't wait to see what he's doing after college." Before I picked a career, though, I had to pick my Little League uniform number and classes for middle school.
Even when pursuing adult-sized dreams, I still enjoyed being a kid, and that included just hanging out with my rabbits. When that wasn't possible, I brought them along to whatever else was scheduled. Having a bunny around makes almost anything more fun.
No more proof was needed than the crowd in Philadelphia. After coming offstage to rousing applause, I picked up Whatchi, whose long wool locks attracted the kind of attention the Beatles did when they were known as the "mop top lads" from Liverpool. Only I think Whatchi was cuter than Paul, John, George, or Ringo. People surged close with their cell phones out, taking pictures and videos. Then the group migrated to the next bar, and Whatchi, my mom, Uncle Kris, and I rode the wave of people down the street.
I'd never surfed the sidewalk amid such energy and spirit. Whatchi sat in his wagon like he was part of a parade organized just for him. At the next stop, someone introduced me and Whatchamacallit to a little woman who looked like a great-grandma. She watched me hand Whatchamacallit to my uncle and invited me to sit down next to her on the outdoor patio.
"Your rabbit is beautiful," she said.
"Thank you." I smiled.
"What can you tell me about rabbits?" she asked.
Initially, I had some trouble understanding this inquisitive woman because she spoke with a thick German accent that made her voice both choppy and sweet. We were surrounded by people leaning in to hear us and recording the conversation with their cell phones. There was also traffic in the nearby street. So the environment wasn't perfectly suited to my Rabbits 101 talk, but I shared the basic facts that I normally share at birthday parties, bunny camps, and other events, like that all mammals with eyes on the side of their heads are vegetarians, and that mammals with eyes on the front hunt and eat meat.
"Very good." She smiled. "Keep going."
"Because rabbits have eyes on the side of their heads, you shouldn't approach them from the front," I continued. "It's also important to be gentle and not over-cuddle them immediately, like that one relative we all have who smothers you as soon as you walk into the room."
People nodded and chuckled. I guess everyone really does have that relative.
"And Angora rabbits," I said, pointing to Whatchi, who was being held up by my uncle Kris, "need gentle haircuts three to four times a year because their wool grows extremely fast, about an inch a month. Their hair can be spun into yarn and is highly prized for being super soft and warm."
I reached into my backpack and showed her a gallon-sized baggie with several Angora yarn samples. Some of the people around the table asked for a closer look, and the bag was passed around the group of enthusiastic onlookers. I thought our chat was winding down when the baggie got back to me. But then the woman started asking about the reproductive habits of rabbits, which caused those closest to us to smile and jab each other as if this was a funny question.
And who knows—maybe it was funny to them, or a little embarrassing. It wasn't to me. I'm asked those questions all the time. I know the jokes about rabbits. I was ready with answers, and my sincerity and seriousness seemed to amuse the older woman. As her titter turned into an audible chuckle, people lost it. They started laughing quite loudly, enough that my flow was interrupted, and I felt myself snickering too, wanting to be in on the joke, although, quite honestly, I didn't see what was so funny about a rabbit's reproductive cycle.
Eventually someone who was standing nearby, a woman I saw later in the week at the conference, leaned in and told me that I was explaining the sex life of rabbits to Dr. Ruth Westheimer. I turned to my mom and mouthed, "Dr. Who?"
It was an interesting topic on the ride back home.