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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Puke-O-Rama

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My illustrious pet-sitting career began as quite the lark. I’d been working as a veterinary technician for over seven years when I met a vet who seemed quite similar to myself. He enjoyed heavy metal, drinking beer and adult cartoons. We had so much in common! So when it came time for he and his wife to take a trip for their wedding anniversary I was the logical contender to stay at his house and watch his pets. No problem, I told him, piece of cake. I’d been over to his house before, had met all of these wonderful companion animals and thought I’d enjoy a week of watching his high def flat screen TV, drinking beer and hanging with his pack. As this job would teach me, nothing is ever quite what it seems when you are taking care of someone else’s pets.
One thing of note: he had ten pets, three dogs and seven cats. He’d brought two dogs and three cats to the marriage, his wife one dog and four cats. They got on famously, of that I must assure you; there was no problem regarding the dogs taking after the cats, but it meant the house was quite full. He told me that if he took on one more pet he’d have to apply for a kennel license.
The invaluable lesson I was to learn was that animals, like children, acted differently when someone else was in charge. My veterinarian buddy was the alpha-male of the house and his pets knew and respected that. I’ve never been an alpha anything. Houseplants don’t listen to me, much less cats and dogs. When I took over they perceived me as an easy mark.
The first sign of this was when I had dinner. I was making a frozen pizza and suddenly the twelve by fourteen space was filled with the lot of them, vying for room on the counters. Eerily, it reminded me of the movie ‘The Birds’. They just perched there, looking like a ravenous flock of vultures. I admit my efforts to shoo them were half-hearted at best; like I said, I’m not a very dominating presence. I tried to scare some loitering eight-year-old kids out of a store I worked at once and they laughed at me. And that was after I pulled the baseball bat out from under the counter and began swinging it around like a lunatic. So these guys were no different. When my meal was ready I found myself hiding in the bathroom, eating on the toilet. Outside the door I imagined I could hear their bellies rumbling, their chops slavering drool. Kitty paws appeared under the door, looking for any scrap that may fall within reach. Throughout my entire stay that was how I took my meals, hiding in one room or another. Now, when I’d hung-out with my buddy this had never happened, and it wasn’t because he yelled at them. Silently, they simply obeyed.
The next bit of business I must attribute to my own lack of awareness. Just that week I’d decided to quit smoking, so my head wasn’t quite where it should have been. I was trying to counteract the nicotine urges by drinking a lot of caffeine during the day and a lot of beer at night. Not a very brilliant idea, I have to tell you, as this made me crave cigarettes even more. I admit I was a bit on edge.
Plopped on the couch in a spot I’d claimed as my own, I sat watching Futurama DVD’s while sipping cold bottles of Grolsch. Since I was doing this for free food and beer (no actual money) I was making myself quite at home. Rest assured that these critters were getting their walks and meals and medications; I enjoyed these frothy beverages only after their care had been tended to. So it was that I vaguely noticed when one of the dogs brought forth the granddaddy of all chew bones, a rawhide monstrosity in the shape of a candy cane nearly two feet in length. To this day I have no idea what I was thinking (besides “God I want a cigarette, God I want a cigarette!”) as I let the three dogs have at it with reckless abandon. And have at they did; they devoured nearly all of it by the time I was ready for bed. I feel very irresponsible about this now because I really should have known better, and am very lucky that nothing worse than what happened transpired.
I awoke to take a pee around three in the morning and for some reason decided to look in on the dogs. Entering the living room where they had their beds, I stepped into a large pile (barefoot, of course) of something warm and chunky. Quickly backing away, I landed in another pile, and then another, and another as I made my way to the wall light switch. Once I could see I saw that the shag rug was covered in mound after mound of rawhide-laden puke. Seriously, it was fucking everywhere. My first reaction was to get mad (nicotine withdrawal is, truly, a bitch) and after yelling and cussing for a bit I decided I might as well get to it. This barf wasn’t going to clean itself up. The dogs watched me from their respective beds, not a one of them with a look of guilt in their eyes. And why should they? I was the idiot who let them eat the whole thing in the first place. In retrospect what I was grateful for later was that none of them got any stuck in their throat. Those rawhide chews can be quite nasty in that way. But, at the time, all I saw was the gallons and gallons of puke I had to clean up. It took me almost two hours.
My third lesson would later become advice I’d repeat to myself ad nauseum for future jobs, when pet-sitting became my primary occupation: no matter what instructions an owner imparts upon you about how they do something (or how their pet reacts to something) do it how you would do it, not how they would. For example: whenever an owner told me how they administered their pet’s medication and I followed suit, it never worked. I had to do it how I was accustomed to doing it or they would spit the pill out. Some told me to cradle their cat like a baby and simply drop the medication down their throat. Some claimed I could offer it like one would a treat. These methods never worked. Instead I had to use an industry standard ‘pillgun’ to get those suckers down.
So, in this case, my good friend told me his dogs were fine off-leash, that they were trained to always come when they were called. Once again I cannot emphasize enough: people’s pets will always do something else when someone different is in charge.
On one of our mid-morning strolls I decided to allow the boys (the dogs were all males) a little room to stretch their legs, so I unclipped them from their collars. Big mistake. At once they ran in three different directions, disappearing quickly. I spent the next hour running through the neighborhood, screaming my voice raw, in a state of semi-hysteria. When I at last corralled them I was so relieved I gave them all treats (instead of a reprimand) and vowed never to repeat that experience again.
And so the job went and the week passed and my friend returned. I told him everything, of course, and he had a good laugh. He told me he’d thought the dogs wouldn’t be able to get at the giant rawhide but wasn’t surprised at their cunning. He also marveled that they ran away when I turned them loose. His wife found it hilarious that I was forced to take my meals in the bathroom. We cracked three beers and toasted their continued good health and safe return. Sipping my beer, I had no idea that this would later be something I’d embark upon professionally, and be quite successful at it to boot. If you’d told me then I probably would have laughed in your face, judging by how badly I did on one of my first go-rounds. Well, the ability to have time to write necessitates many things, and sometimes we’ll do almost anything for it. That’s what it was for me, that’s why I wound up here. In the end it panned out and I wrote ‘The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World’, a rather lengthy tome I am quite proud of. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened had I gone down the other path and continued to grind away at the normal nine to five. Who knows?
For questions regarding my prices, my availability and just how much puke it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket (hint: five gallons) give me a call. Operators are standing by.

 

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I Love Your Pet But I HATE You!

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I’ve written some about clients I’ve worked for, one in particular that was a client from hell, but during the course of this business I’ve encountered many that are tolerable yet seemed to lack any sort of empathy whatsoever. Now, everybody has a job to do, and we do it like it or not because bills have to be paid, food must be eaten, butts must be wiped and so on, but in a specialty service job like mine I get tired of explaining myself all the time, in particular to certain clients who just don’t have a clue about anything that doesn’t pertain to their own life. That said, in addition to that, one thing creative people have to constantly deal with is non-creative people’s perception of them, and the lack of understanding they so readily employ. You know these types; they are the people who think that writers like Hemmingway and King were destined for greatness, regardless of what they did to get there. They think Eric Clapton popped out of the womb with a guitar in his hands, ready to shred scales and blow minds. They don’t appear to understand that movies were first a screenplay, and that hundreds (thousands) of people worked hard to put those ninety minutes on screen for their enjoyment. No matter what kind of tell-all they read, they focus on the lurid details, not the hard work that went into creating the star persona they so identify with.
While writing my debut novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the world I found that the only way I could make any consistent progress was by getting up early almost every morning to have time to write before doing the job that paid me. To do so I had to go to bed earlier at night. I had clients (one in particular) who would consistently call after nine (to get up at four a.m. I was going to bed around then) and when I returned her call the next day would tell her I went to bed very early and if asked would proceed to explain why. She never got it, seriously, it just never clicked. She’d continue to call after nine and her message would always include some snarky remark about how early I went to bed. Something to the effect of: ‘Of course you’re probably already in bed, after all it is after seven.’ After I finished the novel and allowed myself to stay up past nine on work days again (for a few months, until I began my next novel) I’d take her calls and when she expressed surprise that I answered I would patiently elucidate that I was no longer writing my novel, hence I didn’t have to get up so early. This explanation truly never elicited any type of response, like she actually thought EVERYONE was in the process of writing a novel, so why should it come as any surprise? The only thing she ever asked was: ‘Would I like it?’ She never asked me what the title was, what the subject matter was, what I intended to do with it…nothing, just ‘Would I like it?’ Knowing she read romance novels exclusively I simply said no and that was the end of it. She never asked about it again, and to this day continues to remark upon my early bedtime as if I’m some jerk-off who needs ten hours of sleep a night (when I get by on six and a half).
Another client expressed interest when I told him I was writing a novel and, being a self-professed writer himself, had a shitload of advice for me.
‘If you are going to write you have to go all in,’ he’d tell me, as if I were just dabbling in this creative art form and would soon fold faster than Superman on laundry day. ‘You have to do it constantly to acheive perfection.’
Now, I am no stranger to artistic devotion. I was a performing musician for over a decade and all I did was live, eat and breath music (between all the sex and drugs). When I shacked back up with my first love, writing, it was the same deal. No one had to tell me to be obsessed; I’m waaaaayyyyy ahead of you on that one. I’ve sacrificed EVERYTHING for this; I don’t need anybody’s unsolicited guidance.
The kicker here was the look on his face when I told him the book was finished and I self-published it. I answered all his unasked questions: the title, the subject, where it was for sale, how much it cost, etc. He never bought a copy, and he never asked me about writing ever again. The subject didn’t exist between us anymore.
As writers (to be good writers) we have to have empathy, to understand people and their motives and how they think so we can create realistic characters. It is a shame that the majority of people taking up space on this planet have no ability to do so, and I can never expect them to understand why it is that we do what we do. All we can hope is that they leave us alone so we can get some work done, period.

 

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Shut The Hell Up and Write The Damn Book Already!

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The predominant thing you hear from people who want to write is their complaint that they don’t have enough time, what with their family, friends, social obligations and, the biggest of the bunch, their job. It would seem there just isn’t enough time in the day for writing because of the myriad other things demanding your time. Well, I have a few things to say about that, the employment issue.
While writing ‘The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World’ I was also running my own business, a pet-sitting/dog-walking operation that involved a lot of driving, a constantly changing schedule (some mornings I had to get up at six, some four-thirty, some five etc.) and a new location every two to ten days, depending on how long the pet-sitting job was. Sometimes it was a weekend, sometimes a month. In June of 2011 I stayed in six different houses, none of them my own. This business demanded that I live out of a suitcase almost 300 days a year, give or take. Here’s the kicker: the reason I initially started Moonlight Pet-sitting was because I figured it would give me ample time to write! Don’t get me wrong, it did in the beginning, but that was before it really picked up steam. Within two years I found I was now working well over forty hours a week, getting up very early every day and eventually booking myself seven days a week. With clients coming and going for various reasons I felt the necessity to take everything that came my way. You just never know what is going to happen next; the jobs you say ‘no’ to are the jobs you may not get later. To solve that, I overloaded myself. Between the end of 2009 to the end of 2011 I worked seven days a week non-stop, only taking days off for vacations, of which I took two a year.
Suffice it to say I began ‘The Gyre Mission’ in September of 2009, right before my business went full-full-time. I leisurely began the novel in earnest, fleshing out the characters, the plot, the setting and so on, and within two months had most of part one (of three parts) written, roughly a couple hundred pages. I figured I’d finish it within eight months, do a few re-writes and have it ready by Christmas of 2010, at the latest summer of that year. Oh how wrong I was.
Moonlight Pet-Sitting kicked into overdrive and suddenly the book came to a screeching, grinding halt. The two to three hours I had to write daily soon became forty-five minutes to an hour, if any. There were days I was so busy and so tired I couldn’t get anything done, and weeks, then months, slipped by with very little progress. Why didn’t I hire someone to help me with the business? you might ask. I tried, actually went through several people who bugged out on me for various reasons, leaving me to handle their work load as well as my own. I eventually gave up and tried to only schedule what I could handle myself.
So what did I do to find time? Well, I don’t recommend this because most humans wouldn’t want to live this way, but I sacrificed everything extraneous in my life. Social outings, dinners with friends, beach time, movies, family gatherings (not to sound like a monster; my family lived out of state), casual coffee shop loitering…all kicked to the curb. My life became my business and my writing, taking time to eat, sleep and unwind with some TV or a book at the end of a day.
I tried to keep a regular schedule for writing but it was nearly impossible, what with my constantly changing schedule. I wrote a lot of the first draft in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep (which was often due to my rampant insomnia) and then subsequent drafts in the late morning or early afternoon. First draft stuff, I realized, was easier to do when I was still half-asleep, when my mind could wander off into a nether land of crazy ideas. Fine-tuning was best done when I’d had a couple cups of coffee under my belt. I was never very good at writing late in the day, as my mind is pretty much frizzle-fried by that point, so that is when I unwound. Why didn’t I take time for social engagements then? Because I was (am) an overnight pet-sitter; my job is 24/7 baby, like it or not. It takes up your evenings but it beats punching a clock any day. Besides, most people are boring assholes and I’m better off without them around.
So over the course of three years I completely alienated myself, trying desperately to finish a project I thought I would simply never see to fruition. I thought about it constantly, obsessively, while I walked dogs and fed and medicated cats. I talked to these animals about it, hashed out plot points, argued over motives and weak characters or dialogue. It became a compulsion that wholly owned me, with no sign of release.
By January of 2012 I’d done five drafts, each successively better than the last, but I knew there was still much more work to be done. Relief came to me in the form of my business gradually slowing down; the chaotic fourteen-hour workdays were abating, resuming a normal eight-hour day. Over the course of six months I did another three drafts, shaping it into something I thought was professional, could be taken seriously in a worldwide market. As of this writing I have yet to find out; all that time may have been wasted, time that could have been better spent phoning my relatives, taking in a sunset, enjoying conversation with a friend. Maybe this book won’t sell a single copy (it will, of course, as my family and friends will want to buy it and read it just to see what the hell kept me so preoccupied for three years); perhaps it will be reviewed most horribly by a reputable source and my reasons for writing it will be nothing but a farce, the idea that I could have written something that would be successful.
Well, I’ll tell you what: I don’t regret any of it, no matter how it turns out. During the writing of this novel I learned discipline like I’d never known before, dedication to the craft, of starting a project and watching it take on a life of its own until at last it was finished.
This puppy might tank, yet I benefited by learning something very valuable: no matter what, how or why I can finish something I started and be proud of it in the end. And if that doesn’t make the whole thing worthwhile what will? Selling a million freakin’ copies of the damn thing and having someone pay me to write the next one…

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Companion animals, true stories

 

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