Grooming the Dead Office Decor

I’d like to formally introduce you to a member of my office decor set. Reader, meet Si Gung:

This is Si Gung dressed in his Christmas finery  in 2008 (note the ornaments hanging from his tail and right hind paw). When I was a PhD student, Si Gung inhabited the fireplace in the house I shared with two other students. I acquired Si Gung while working parttime in a natural history store in Berkeley, CA called The Bone Room. He is a spotted skunk. I’m also not entirely sure if he’s a ‘he’ sex-wise, but my mind has already gendered him as male, for whatever reason, so we’ll keep referring to him as such. Why the elaborate pose? Spotte skunks do handstands whenever they want to spray someone. ‘Sigung’ is Indonesian for ‘skunk’, and ‘si’ is often added before someone’s name to indicate familiarity or intimacy (e.g., ‘Mana si Tiff?’ or ‘Where’s Tiff?’), so ‘Si Gung’ seemed like a cute way to transform an animal name into a personal name.

In any case, after I graduated from UC-Berkeley mid-2009, Si Gung came with me to Atlanta, Georgia, and inhabited my shared office. And then, Australia beckoned. And he made it past customs, and hung out on my desk in the Indonesian Studies Dept at the University of Sydney. And then this past year, he made the move to my office at the University of Newcastle (Australia). The following photo of my current office may look familiar (it’s from a previous post), and you can espy him on the far right.

Si Gung is generally a low-maintenance kind of skunk. He doesn’t need feeding. Whenever he starts to smell a bit skunky, I dot him with a little bit of deodorizing liquid. And occasionally, I’ll fluff out his fur with my fingers. But when I was fluffing him a few weeks ago, I noticed something disturbing: little tiny flakes in the fur of his hindquarters and a few shedding hairs. As far as I could tell, they weren’t larvae cases, which is a sure sign of infestation. But I was worried that flakes and loose hairs were an early sign of insect infestation. There are many little insects that enjoy feasting on the sawdust-stuffed remains of animals. It was possible that Si Gung had picked up some hungry bugs from hanging around Newcastle. Uh-oh.

From my experiences working in the insect collections at the natural museum at Oxford and the natural history store in Berkeley, I knew that freezing was a sure way of getting rid of insect-infestation. However, regular home freezers are not cold enough to kill all insects for sure. You need an industrial freezer or a chest freezer, neither of which I had. ‘Does anyone have access to a large industrial-size freezer?’ I asked my students the day I discovered this problem. They looked at me rather strangely. So I explained why I needed such a freezer. Which made them look at me a little more strangely. So I decided to try and find an alternative solution.

A quick phone call to a local taxidermist yielded this advice: spray Si Gung with insect spray and wash his fur with shampoo. This sounded easy enough. So I decided to give it a shot. I put Si Gung in a cardboard box, brought him back to Sydney, sprayed him with insect spray, put him back in the box, and sealed it to ensure maximum effectiveness for the insect-spray. I sprayed and sealed him once again during the week. And the next weekend, it was time to take him out, assess the situation, and give him a little bath.

I was a bit lazy to give all of Si Gung a bath, so I just bathed his hindquarters–the area where I saw the flakes to begin with.

Here is an unflattering portrait of Si Gung with a wet, shampooed behind:

And here is Si Gung getting a brush and a hair-dry:

He’s in tip-top shape now. Now more flakes, no shedding hairs. Time will tell though: insects are very hardy creatures. Right now, Si Gung is staying on my desk at home: it’s not worth the trouble of bringing him up to Newcastle right now since still not sure whether I’ll be rehired for next year (they’re talking about it as a possibility, but the powers-that-be said they’ll probably decide by the end of October). If they do rehire me, I’ll be teaching Modern Asian Literature and Victorian Literature the second semester. In the meantime, Si Gung will just chill out around the house. Maybe I can convince him to do some vacuuming.

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