Pet Sitting in Paradise; Toxic Toads and Centipedes
I wrote Pet Sitting in Paradise ten years ago and every word still stands true. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below.
Pam Lewis lives in one of the most fantasized about places on Earth, while enjoying an occupation many animal lovers dream about. Pet Sitting in Paradise is a hilariously sidesplitting look into the bizarre world of professional pet sitting that takes place on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. On any day she contends with toxic toads, biting 8"centipedes, and scariest of all, giving up her New York City ways. Common canine hijinks still occur with regularity including getting sprayed with anal glands or getting violently dry humped. Weirder still is being interrogated by the secret service when President Obama enjoys his yearly sojourn in her neighborhood. Throw in family dysfunction and living in a completely foreign culture and this describes Pam's life since 2001. On the positive side, what other job could she have where those in her care are so happy to see her that they pee on the floor?
I could only afford one day to contemplate the fact that I had moved to a hellhole rat-trap before I looked for work. I spent some time at Waikiki beach, which was absolutely beautiful. Many of the people I was passing on the street looked just like me, which I guess made sense because we all had pasty white skin. I would later learn that very few locals spend time in Waikiki mainly because of the traffic and the tourists. While it was nice to pretend that I too was on vacation, I knew the sooner I looked for employment, the sooner I could leave the hostel. The sooner I could start living in paradise. Taking Oahu’s bus system was terrifying. The Hawaiian language only has twelve letters and half of them are vowels. Many of the street names sound alike and one mistaken vowel could have me ending up on wrong side of road like dawg as my cab driver suggested. The words Kamehameha, Kahekili, Kalanianaole, Kahuhipa and Kahaluu might look similar, but the meanings are completely different. Similar to the mainland there are names of streets derived from historical figures. One crucial difference is that on the mainland no one cares if you mispronounce Abraham Lincoln’s name. In Hawaii, Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses names are to be said properly and never abbreviated in mixed company. Just the cost of paradise.
Finding employment in Hawaii seemed like an impossible feat. I was the only hostel guest that left by 8 a.m. in a suit to search for work. I only had two blazers and one pair of dress pants that I would wear over and over. I remember hand washing just the armpits of the jackets and hanging them in the shower to dry. Every day I would go to staffing services where the protocol would be identical. A receptionist would greet me and I would follow her into a room with rows of personal computers. She would offer me a quick disclaimer stating that I wasn’t going to be tested on my computer abilities. Instead, I would go through an analysis of my technical proficiency, aka a test of my computer abilities. In addition to the fact that I'm not great with computers, the test-taking was totally undignified. I had no permanent address, no local references, but what I did have was haole (pronounced: how-lee: means: outsider) white skin. The staffing agencies would call every day to give me details for interviews they had set up. My looking for work became so predictable that even the hostel prostitutes would rollover in the morning and yell, “Good luck girl, you can do it!” The challenge I faced in Hawaii was to convince business owners that I wasn’t in paradise for a vacation and therefore a waste to train. Not only was it challenging getting employers to trust me, it was equally daunting locating potential employers’ offices. Once on my way to an interview I was so lost that an employee from the company I was to interview with had to get in her car and find me. She brought me back to the office strictly to say I was two hours late and I should go back to wherever it was I came from. Lest we not forget the one interview at Catholic Charities where I explained I had enormous sympathy for lost souls and those who are dealing with disaster. I started talking about The September 11 Attacks, and then proceeded to cry uncontrollably at their conference table. They didn't know if I showed up for counseling or a job. It was becoming clearer by the second that without my medication, I was getting a tad crazier every day. I would spend the longest months of my life going through this process with no money coming in while paying for my cell phone, food, hostel, Internet, and transportation. Paradise at my luxury accommodations was becoming unbearable. I would wake with red sores all over my legs that itched terribly. I began to look at the limbs of other hostel guests and realized ‘holy crap, being hungry, and approaching broke is making everyone at this place sick.’ I would later learn that the sores were from bedbug bites. I was so pissed off that these opportunistic feeders thought they could take the one resource I had left – my blood! I bought bug spray to soak myself in before going to bed. I can’t even imagine how bad it was to be breathing in those chemicals, but the alternative was worse to me. It was my blood damn it and I wasn’t going to part with it under any circumstance, it was all I had left. I could only hope that after sucking me dry, the bed bugs themselves would become affected by my depression and jump to their death.
I became so desperate to stave of impending sadness that I even attempted to incorporate foods into my diet that are known as happy foods. Unfortunately just the thought of having to eat beans, grains, lentils, and nuts depressed me even more. It should come as no surprise that I have some odd food phobias. In my 20s, I had a psychiatrist who wanted to prescribe an anti-depressant that couldn’t be taken if I ate dairy. I remember telling him that I couldn’t be responsible for making a reasonable decision if forced to choose between a slice of pizza and being hospitalized. However, I was willing to compromise by driving myself to an emergency room and ordering a pizza from there. Diet changes aside there was very little I could do to improve my situation. If I was unable to find employment and a safe place to live soon, I would have to leave paradise and return to the mainland. Making it work in Hawaii became a challenge at which I would likely only have one chance. I would break down and cry every time I pictured myself with my beat-up suitcase getting into a cab en route for the airport.
With both my will and my funds practically depleted, I received a call from an employment agency asking me to interview at an architectural firm in downtown Honolulu. Over the course of two days I met with three people who seemed to have liked me, but it wasn’t until human resources called that I knew I had the job. I was ecstatic at the thought of becoming gainfully employed. I called my friends, my parents, and even announced it at a bus stop to an indifferent crowd. The job itself was mind-numbingly boring, but complaining about it never crossed my mind because I was just grateful to be there. Within two months I was able to afford a unit in a high-rise building in Waikiki. A Finnish couple that would spend their winters in Hawaii owned the rental. Despite the Finns having a different decorating sense than me, the cat-inspired artwork, olive painted walls, and shag carpet was heaven on Earth. The apartment had air conditioning, an oven, full-size refrigerator and even a television. It also came with two twin beds; maybe the Finns didn’t get along? The bathroom was sparkling clean and the dirtiest reading was the back of a Fleet Enema box. No one on Earth could have convinced me that my surroundings weren’t paradise. It felt so good to enter my building and know that after I got off the elevator and entered my room I could actually lock the door. I got happily used to the routine of taking the bus downtown and walking several blocks to the office. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt like a human being.
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