Monthly Archives: November 2012

Holiday Chaos Part 2: The Umbrella Cockatoo From Hell!

    I realized that in part one of this installment I didn’t really talk about any of the pets (minus a couple of pet’s ailments) so I thought it best to relay a tale specifically regarding a couple of pets I took care of. It was December 2006, and my pet-sitting business was just taking off. I still worked part-time at an animal hospital, but only three days a week. I felt that left me plenty of time to overnight pet-sit and take on several visit and walking jobs over the holiday.

My overnight pet-sitting job was indeed unique; it involved three pets: a very spoiled (but extremely nice) dog; an easily frightened cat, and the piece de résistance: a four-year old Australian Umbrella Cockatoo. The dog and the cat were no problem; besides a dietary arrangement that consisted of dog food, an over-easy egg topped with grated cheese and two walks each day, Chelsea was easy. The cat’s bowl I simply kept full of dry kibble; she was shy, I didn’t really see much of her. The quandary I had with this job was the Cockatoo. The owners required that I take her out of her cage for at least sixty minutes twice daily, something I thought little of when I signed on. She was a feisty bird, of that I’d been made quite aware, but if I projected myself as the alpha of the household (so I was told) there shouldn’t be any question of who was boss. Also, her wings were clipped so she couldn’t fly, which was good because the house had thirty-foot vaulted ceilings and many high shelves decorated with potted plants.

The very moment I took the reins this bird made it clear who the boss was, and it wasn’t me. I quickly grasped why the cat often hid, skulking about like a prisoner of war: this bird terrified everything that got in its path. Inside her enclosure she would screech loudly, a dissonant, cacophonous wail that could make your eardrums bleed. She was so loud that I had to take all of my phone calls outside, and even then I had to retreat to the farthest point of the backyard. Invariably however, the person on the other end of the line would inquire as to what was making the infernal racket, and I would explain about the bird. In attempts to silence her I would brandish the large sheet, which was used to cover her cage at night, promising to use it if she wouldn’t be quiet. This bird could talk (as most Umbrella Cockatoos can) yet she had a very limited vocabulary. When I showed her the sheet and threatened to cover her up she’d resort to her favorite phrase: “I love you.” She’d say this syrupy sweet, as if she truly meant it, but I understood quickly it was merely a ruse to keep from being excluded.

The first time I let her out of the cage (a very large structure, easily five feet high and three and a half across) she stalked me; there is truly no other way to put it. She followed me around the house, pecking at my legs, trying to climb up my pants and get on my shoulder. At first I was wary and didn’t allow her to do so; I didn’t know if she would bite me or not. So for sixty minutes twice a day this bird followed me around, pecking and fluttering up in the air in front of my face. To say this was nerve-wracking is being trite. Those one hundred and twenty minutes passed like days. If she couldn’t get at me she would then go after the dog, which would nimbly avoid her attacks and then retreat beneath one of the beds.

Since my pet-sitting business was in its infancy, I really tried to befriend the bird, despite its myriad psychoses. I figured I’d probably have plenty of birds in my future so it would be best to get to know one, see how it ticked. There was a book about Cockatoo’s in their library so I read up on it, learning whatever I could to aid me in its care. Yeah…nothing I did worked, it only got increasingly naughty as the days progressed. As it turned out, the owners trip was of a long enough duration that the bird’s feathers grew in; eventually it could and did fly about the house, perching atop the highest shelves. Standing on a ladder I found in the garage and using a broom was how I got it down to get it back in its cage. It would step onto the broom handle (if I was lucky) and I would then use that to place it in the cage. When she was on the ground and I wanted to get her back in the cage and she wouldn’t climb aboard her stick (a piece of wood used specifically for this purpose) I would let her climb onto my shoe and would hop over to the cage one-legged and propel my leg forward, thus depositing her therein.

Of course the inevitable happened: I allowed her onto my shoulder one day. I thought by doing this we’d bond. No sooner had I allowed her access she twisted her head, took my glasses in her beak and flung them across the room, where they shattered against the wall. Blinded, I was momentarily defenseless, and she climbed onto the top of my head and got her talons tangled within my long, curly hair. Not knowing what else to do (and not wanting to hurt her; I’d read that bird bones are hollow and break easily) I dropped to my stomach onto the floor and shooed her off of me as gently (but resolutely) as I could.

And despite all of this I still let her out of the cage twice daily. I must have been nuts. The coup de grace occurred on my last day, mere hours before the owners were due home. The bird flew to the highest point of the house, some thirty feet up, and even on my tip toes on the top most rung of the ladder I couldn’t reach her. I begged her, pleaded beseechingly, holding the broom handle out to her. She wouldn’t budge. I started yelling, cursing; by this point I was a frazzled mess. I was totally losing it. This bird had me on the ropes. Somehow this worked, all my screaming and swearing, and she got on the broom handle. When we got to the floor she jumped off (by this time I was apologizing and cooing soft words of encouragement) and immediately started attacking me, pecking my legs, my arms, my face. I was waving my hands about, defending myself; the dog, seeing this, bolted. I have no idea where the cat was; he hardly made his presence known the entirety of my stay. Having had enough, while the bird was on my shoe I hopped over to the cage and shot my leg forward quickly, sending the bird flying haphazardly inside. She squawked loudly and landed awkwardly, but I didn’t care. I closed the door and shot the bolt. And then, for the next hour, she sat there on her perch glaring at me, holding one of her legs in the air. A dreaded certainty filled me, one that struck me with mortal terror: I’d broken her leg. This entire job had been a complete and total waste of my time; I was going to have to forfeit the money I’d earned paying for her vet bill. I paced in front of the cage, muttering to myself, preparing my story. There had to be some way of explaining this, of how the bird took over and was terrorizing me, but I knew in the end I would be at fault. So, when their key hit the lock, my heart jumped into my throat. Here it was, time to pay the piper. The owner and his wife came in, patted the dog on the head, and quickly approached the birdcage. The Cockatoo was their prized possession after all. Flinging open the door and holding out his arm, the bird hopped aboard and began twittering. ‘Here it comes’ I thought, but that wasn’t the case. She walked up his arm to his shoulder, over his head and down his other arm. Her leg was fine; she’d been playing me! To prove this, long after the job was over the owner called me, thanked me again and asked if I was available for next Christmas.

“I’m already booked with someone else,” I lied easily and, as I did so, I could hear the bird in the background, squawking loudly and uttering it’s most used phrase: “I love you.” Little bastard!


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Holiday Chaos

    As we are on the cusp of another Thanksgiving, I’m given to think of all the holiday cluster f*ck’s I’ve endured over the years. As a professional pet-sitter I must state the obvious: I hate holidays. Simply loathe them. While everyone is celebrating with family and enjoying time off from their jobs I am working through the busiest time of my year. Thanksgiving and Christmas have long been a source of malaise for me.

Why? you might ask. Certainly I make more money, and that is when a pet-sitter expects to work. Yes, true on both counts. Yet over the years I’ve soured, burned out as it may be. I can’t help but be jealous of all those holiday meals I’ve missed, those mellow occasions spent before a raging fire, sipping cocktails and talking about football and Black Friday and the promise of a new year.

Some years are worse than others, and as I write this I am about to embark on my busiest Thanksgiving ever. I’ll be up at 3:30 a.m. this Thursday through Sunday, and won’t be finished until nine in the evening. Four seventeen-hour days await me. Yay! But if everything goes smoothly it will be all right. I can only hope.

Christmas of 2010 I had a similar schedule, the peak being on Christmas day. All I needed, I reasoned to myself, was for everything to go as planned and it would be fine. It was going well up till the 25th, until my fifth house at 10:00 a.m. When I rang the bell there was no answer from the owner. After waiting five minutes I called her home phone. She answered, said she would be right down to let me in. This was an elderly woman in her nineties so I was patient. As I awaited her arrival I heard a loud crash from inside the house, followed by a dreadful silence. I waited another five minutes then tried her on the phone again. No answer. My mind whirled, wondering what happened, and who I would call if something did. While I was pondering this, the door abruptly opened and the woman stood there, looking dazed, bleeding profusely from a large gash on her chin. And when I say bleeding I mean gushing; she was in immediate need of a trip to the emergency room. I’ll admit this here (even though I feel like an insensitive jerk) but my first thought was how far behind this was going to put me. She was one of the only houses where an owner was home; all the other houses were empty save for the pets. These poor souls really needed me. But, presently, she needed me even more.

Owing to the fact that she was severely concussed (she’d fallen on a marble floor), she was unable to provide me with the name or number of a friend or relative. I searched a desk in vain for a Rolodex but came up empty handed. Before doing that, of course, I bandaged her wound to attempt to stop the bleeding, but I knew it was only temporary; she was going to need stitches.

After a fruitless forty-five minutes I finally called another client of mine to help (my business is a one-man show, operating in a city where I have no family and, increasingly over the years because of an erratic schedule, almost no friends). Seriously, I had no one else to call but another elderly client who lived two doors down, unless I was to call an ambulance, and this woman was adamant that I do no such thing. She was a proud lady; the last thing she wanted was for her neighbors to see her carted off on a stretcher. Luck was on my side in that the other woman came to my aid and took over. Helping the injured woman into the other’s car, I bade them farewell and then took her dog for a walk, feeding him when we returned and rushing off to the next house on my list. I’m going to sound like an asshole, but I was grateful that the situation only put me an hour and a half behind schedule. As it turned out she spent five hours in the emergency room, receiving six stitches. I could only imagine what would have happened had I been the one to have taken her; all those houses of dogs and cats needing to be walked and fed and medicated and me not there. I could have dropped her off at the emergency room and left, but man would I have felt like a bastard.

So, you see, holidays suck. I have other holiday stories (hopefully none I’m going to write after this coming week) but I’m sure that will suffice. I could tell you about the dog that was vomiting and defecating blood during Christmas of 2011, simultaneously with the constipated cat at another house sneezing blood, meanwhile my back had gone out and I had a cold and one morning my car wouldn’t start and I had to call triple A (I’m not making this up), but I’ve made my point. In the end everybody survived, and that in itself was a holiday miracle I am truly grateful for.

So please buy my novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World so that I may retire from this madness and write for a living. Please! I’m begging you! You don’t want to see a grown man cry like a little girl, do you? You do? Fine…

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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Humorous Anecdotes, true stories


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The Logistics of Dog Poop

When you think about walking a dog it doesn’t seem like work, right? A casual stroll on a nice, sunny afternoon, blue sky, clouds floating by…some days, yeah, that’s what it’s all about. Others, well, let’s just say it ain’t all sunshine and lollipops.

As my business progressed it seemed I attracted more and more ‘special needs’ clients because of my background working with animals in the veterinary industry. Some people called me ‘The Dog Whisperer’ and ignored my protests that it really wasn’t true. I simply love animals and am willing to communicate with them, that’s all. But it was for this reason that troubled owners called me, needing my help. Seemingly overnight my business suddenly catered to dogs that didn’t behave on leash (because of the lack of training), animal aggressive dogs, and people aggressive dogs. This became the norm for me. Sure, I still had some ‘normal’ dogs, but gradually the majority was in the former category. I was forever crossing the street whenever another person or a person with a canine came my way, constantly struggling to keep these bucking dogs from tangling their leashes around my legs as they strove to get at the dog or person or rabbit or squirrel or whatever. I really had to stay on top of it during some of the walks, couldn’t day dream, talk on the phone, or listen to music. If I listened to my Ipod I sometimes didn’t hear people and their pets coming and a skirmish would occur. Ditto with the phone. I had to stay focused! But there was another angle as well. If I wasn’t paying attention some of my dogs would eat things off the ground that might harm them. I took care of a chocolate lab that ate everything. When I say ‘everything’, I mean EVERYTHING. Nothing was off limits. I was forever pulling such things out of his mouth as: bottle caps, coins, paper clips, empty lighters, dead animals, nails, poop (yech!), tar (yes, wet tar), paper cups, food wrappers, waste of any kind, leaves, clumps of grass, dirt…the ground contained a veritable smorgasbord for that guy. He was always hungry, obviously. When I walked him I had to keep my eyes on the ground several feet in front of him, watching for something he might pick up. But what a human might not construe as a possible snack, well, a dog may think otherwise. I learned. It took time, but I learned.

Another logistic of the dog walk is poop. Being a professional, I always carry plenty of bags. That is not the problem. The difficulty sometimes lies in where to dispose of them. Some neighborhoods I work in don’t have public trashcans, and the clients I am walking for don’t have an available can at my ready disposal. One of the perks of my service is that the client need not worry about that end; in fact I never mention it at all. So, over the years, I’ve had some interesting things happen with bags of dog poop. In the early days I’d toss them in my trunk to get rid of later. I don’t recommend this. It only takes an hour on a hot day and your entire car reeks. Sometimes I’d toss them in a bush to retrieve later; it seemed someone ALWAYS saw me, and I felt like I was littering. You can store it in your khaki pants pocket but I can’t tell you how many times I had a bag of crap in the thigh pocket and forgot it was there. I’d be in line at the store, library, gas station etc. and at once the smell of feces would waft up to my nostrils. Once (this is the most ridiculous) I had no other place to put a bag of crap so I put it in the breast pocket of my flannel shirt. Moments later I came upon a cute girl with a dog and we started chatting. You can pretty much guess the rest from there.

Dog walking is an awesome profession if you can get it (depends on location, location, location!) because of the fresh air and free time it allowed me to write my novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World (except when I got really busy). Just give some thought about where the poop is going to go and you’ll be fine.Image

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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Humorous Anecdotes, true stories


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Oh Lord I Feel Like I’m Dying

As I lay on the table, my legs and abdomen inside the CT scan, a lot of thoughts went through my head. The most predominant thought, of course, was that I hoped the pressure/discomfort in my abdomen was nothing. If I really, truly believed that, though, I probably wouldn’t be here. My health insurance provider certainly didn’t want me here; they’d protested my need for such a test, and only after the receptionist at my doctor’s office fought valiantly for my cause did they grudgingly agree to it. I had to pay $543 out-of-pocket (who knows what the difference was that they paid; I certainly wasn’t privy to such information).

I’d been suffering from the discomfort for well over five months, and during that time I was ignoring it, simply trying to finish my novel, The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World, a lengthy tome I’d been working on for well over two years while slogging through a seven-day work week with a busy pet-sitting business. The only reason I’d finally decided to schedule this test was at the insistence of one my sisters. One of her closest friends had recently suffered from a similar ailment and was diagnosed with colon cancer. She figured it was in my best interest to at least rule out the worst.

Why I’d ignored it, besides the obvious that I am a male who doesn’t see a doctor unless I believe conclusively that I am dying, was that I was planning to self-publish and promote what was to be my debut novel, a task I considered to be of the utmost importance. I didn’t want to squander (yes, I said squander) the money I’d so diligently saved for this project on chemotherapy and other expensive medical bills. I was of the opinion (and rightfully so, as you can tell by the health insurance providers reluctance to allow a CT scan) that they would do little for me in that event and I would be forced to spend my life savings. So it was I continued to work on the book and my business, hoping that if the worst-case scenario did arise that I would at least leave something behind.

So there I was, getting the test, because the book (to the best of my abilities) was finished. At least, was finished in the sense that I had done the very best I could. I had not had it proofread nor copy-edited, as these required more time than I felt I had. I’d simply gone over it and over it myself, hoping I’d caught every continuity problem, every grammatical mistake. The thing with this book, however, was that it was HUGE. I’d realized late in the game that you didn’t want your debut novel to be the size of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’, but it was too late for that. What was done was done. I wasn’t about to try to write a much shorter, condensed book.

The CT tech placed a catheter in my arm and injected dye into my system. After the warmth passed she went into the control booth and snapped some shots. I watched her through the glass, trying to get a read on her reaction as she studied the computer screen. Time passed slowly. She called a doctor in who looked at the results, shaking his head. They both looked at me through the glass and, when they saw me looking, quickly looked away.

    ‘Oh shit…’

She came back in and with a wan smile told me they needed to take some more pictures.

“Is there anything wrong?” I asked.

“I just need a better angle, honey.” Her answer seemed evasive, and she wasn’t looking me in the eyes. It was in my humble opinion that I was, officially or otherwise, dead. She took the shots, came back in and told me I could get dressed.

“When will I know the results?”

“Someone from your doctor’s office will call you within the next couple of days.”

Two days passed, then a week. No word from my doctor’s office. My initial thought was ‘no news is good news’ but I decided I’d better set the wheels in motion and get my book to a publisher, as well as find someone to promote it. If I was going to spend the next six-fourteen months slowly wasting away I wanted to at least have my book available for public consumption. I decided upon Createspace as the publisher because the ex-mayor of New Orleans deemed them worthy to publish his book and, besides, they owned and controlled Kindle. I did very little research into their company besides that. Then I solicited four or five promotion firms and picked the one that seemed as if they gave a crap about my book and me. They worked almost solely over the Internet so I then needed to hire someone to create a website. As all these pieces of the puzzle were being assembled my sister continued to pester me about the results of the test.

“I don’t know and I don’t want to know,” I said.

Then my mom called, insisting I find out. Cancer is not a matter to be taken lightly. So I called the doctor’s office and was told they would get back to me. Days passed, then another week. I called back, asked what was going on. By this time I was certain I was living on borrowed time. I’d just lost a cousin to breast cancer a year earlier; cancer ran rampant through my family genealogy.

Meanwhile I was trying to make good decisions regarding the book but I wasn’t getting much sleep. In fact I made many bad decisions. No one liked the picture of myself I chose for the cover (nine out of ten thought I was an idiot for choosing that photo) but I kept it because it was an inside joke with myself. I looked positively deranged, and that was how I felt. And when the digital copy came back and I reviewed it I found dozens of mistakes still within the manuscript. Fortunately the publisher also made several mistakes so I was allowed to go through it and resubmit it for free. Many of my mistakes were continuity problems, as well as the use of celebrity names that (if it ever sold) would get me in trouble. In a feverish eight days I went through the 1021 page manuscript and corrected everything to the best of my abilities, hoping against hope I’d gotten everything right.

And still the doctor never called. I was feeling very tired every day, nauseous, dizzy, weak. I struggled through every day in physical and mental anguish. Depression settled over me and I could not shake it. Suicide came to mind several times and it was only with great effort that I fought it off.

Several panicked messages later the doctor’s office finally called. This was over a month after I’d gotten the test, finished the book, sent it to be published, hired a promotion company, hired a website designer and prepared (in a most unprepared fashion) to launch the book. I didn’t catch the call, my voicemail did. With bated breath I listened:

“Hi Edgar, I am so very, very sorry. I was out of the country for three weeks and somehow your test results got lost in the shuffle. I can’t begin to express my concern over how you may be feeling about this.”

    ‘How I feel?’ I thought. ‘I wanna kill you assholes!’

“Let me start by telling you it’s very good news…”


“All of your major organs look fine, very healthy. A small hernia, a tear in the muscle lining your abdomen, is causing the pressure you are feeling. At this point it’s so small that I wouldn’t worry about it but, eventually, you may need surgery to have it corrected. So, again, nothing to worry about, and I am so sorry about the mix-up. Please call me if you have any other questions.”

That was it, I wasn’t dying; all the physical ailments I was feeling were entirely psychosomatic. I thought I was sick so my brain made it so. Suddenly I wasn’t tired, weak, dizzy or depressed. I was in the pink, a right proper example of male health at it’s finest! I wouldn’t have to spend my life savings on saving my life (or dying painfully) after all! But now there was the small matter of the chain of events I’d set into motion. Would people notice when they read my book that it hadn’t been proofread or professionally edited? Well…yes, probably. Will it matter? Only time will tell…

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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized