When I got to Hawaii, I had no idea what kind of job I would get. I, like usual, had no plan. If anyone asked I would tell them, “I plan on teaching….or working in hospitality.” The two are not related in any way, and all it really revealed to anyone was that I had no plan at all. I applied to almost every hotel on the Big Island and got absolutely no call backs, but I did however have a few interesting teaching interviews:
“And what did you do at David LaChapelle?”
“I worked on photoshoots. On set I would do all sorts of things. Run errands, cater to the talent. I worked with all sorts of people, like Amanda Lepore. I also was responsible for making chains of life out of photographs of naked bodies.”
“Chains of nak-who is Amanda Lepour?”
“A transgender pop singer. One of her big hits is ‘I don’t know much about clothes but my hair looks fierce. Wait, I think it might just be called my hair looks fierce, but that’s the hook.”
“I am not familiar..so why do you want to work with…special needs children? Is that why you moved to Hawaii?”
I paused, because it had all become very unclear. One day, after another awkward and confusing teaching interview, I received a call from a veterinary hospital asking me to come in for an in person interview. My in person interview ended with a follow up working interview the next day. “Do you like animals?” My friend asked me once I got home and told her. “Of course! I like cats in theory but I would never actually want to care for one. Feral cats are cool, I think I like cats because they are so bitchy and to themselves, ya know? Although, I think everyone should be the kind of person their dog thinks they are. And I am very fond of sea turtles.” My friend was quiet, and we sat together in silence, but a blaring silence, one that screamed impending disaster, hopefully one that didn’t involve death or lawsuits.
I had never really given animals much thought before. I love to look at cute pictures of puppies wearing funny hats as much as the next person, but other than that I never really… reach out to them. If I see a dog in passing on the street, I never pet it, I just smile at it and keep my distance, because animals are unpredictable. That dog could sense my fear and weakness and just go for my jugular. I have no idea. They are wild and have really tamed them? These beasts we walk around on leashes and buy fake stuffed squirrels for? I mean, who do we think we are?
When I was a child I was scarred by three incidents involving animals. The first was involving snails. When I first learned to walk I would toddle around my grandmother’s garden stomping on snails who were eating her plants. “Smash them!” My grammie would instruct, pointing at one, slowly trying to escape the pathway leaving a trail of shiny, fluorescent slime behind. I would toddle over to it, wobbly and unstable in a way that made it look like I was dancing over it’s body, smooshing their gooey guts all over the sidewalk while my grandmother cheered me on. Later in life, the guilt of this would lead to me becoming an advocate of shelled slugs. When I saw a group of kids at recess, all gathered around an overturned snail, slowly sprinkling salt all over its boneless body and squealing as it bubbled up in pain, I would go a-wall. Tattling on them and calling them killers. In retrospect, I probably scarred them more than they scarred me, but I had a debt to repay.
The second, was my friend rolling her hamster, who was trapped in it’s “hamster ball,” down a flight of stairs. The hamster lived, but I don’t know how. I also called her a killer, even though she didn’t kill her hamster, and I’m not sure what her intention was. Some sort of sick enjoyment, rolling a tiny rodent down a flight of stairs in a plastic neon pink ball. Senseless. The last was when my friend’s older brother shot a cat with a bb gun. The image has been burned into my memory forever. The cat was white, it’s fur stained with red blood, running away from my friend’s evil older brother who was chasing it with a gun. I ran home screaming to my mom about blood and dead cats and I wept for days. My so-called safe, suburban childhood was full of animal abuse. Before going into my working interview I contemplated whether or not I should share any of these stories with the veterinary technicians or even the doctor- perhaps they would make me memorable or set me apart from the other candidates. I decided it absolutely would. “Don’t just offer that stuff up,” my friend told me, adding, “no offense.” I was offended.
When I got to the hospital which was surrounded by banana trees and in a huge blue house that has been converted into an animal hospital, making it seem cozy and safe instead of sterile and scary, I was met by a group of girls who all looked around twenty-five, and all wearing scrubs. I was given a pair of scrubs to wear and told to change in the bathroom. In the bathroom, I stood looking at myself in my new uniform. My scrub top fit ok, but my bottoms were a little too short, and too wide around the waist, resulting in them sagging down my butt, but still awkwardly hovering above my shoes. I did not look like a doctor, I looked like I was wearing an ill fitting last minute Halloween costume. I had also been instructed to wear my hair up, so I fashioned it in a bun. When my hair is in a bun on top of my head I look like a ballerina, but when worn with ill fitting blue scrubs I look like a lunch lady. I gathered up the waist of my pants to hold them up and went to join the others.
I was immediately put in front of a phone and told by a vet technician to “do the recall list.” In front of me was a long list with names and numbers. “These are pets that we need to check up on, some of them have had surgery, some of them had vaccines, and so on and so on. Look up their records here.” She started clicking boxes on the screen, pulling up medical records. “And ask them the basic questions, are they eating and drinking normally, are they vomiting or having diarrhea and what their bowel movements are like. Any questions?” She sat down next to me, “I’ll be here if you need anything.” I looked at the list and realized residents in Hawaii name their pets interesting things- “Elehu, Pounder, Bijox, Moo, and Spit” were all cats. There was a “Bo,” a “Beau,” and a “BoBo,” all dogs, five “Konas,” also all dogs, three “Coco’s” two of which were cats, and one was a dog, another dog named “Kevin,” and the last name on my list was Hitler- a male cat, not neutered.
The first name on my list was “Zaboomafoo Leons.” When I looked at Zaboomafoo’s record it stated that Zaboomafoo was a male cat, who had just gotten neutered. I looked at the tech sitting next to me, who smiled at me encouragingly. I picked up the phone. In Hawaii, when you are making calls you begin with “Aloha!” and you end with “Mahalo.” “Aloha!” I squeaked, “This is Jennifer, calling from the Kona Veterinary Hospital. I am just calling to check on Zaboomafoo and see-” “Oh I was just about to call you!” the voice on the other end of the line said. “We noticed Zaboomafoo has been having watery poop, is this normal after the surgery he had?” I started to sweat. “Watery…waste?” I repeated, I somehow couldn’t bring myself to say “poop.” “Yes, yesterday it was hard but today its much softer. He’s been eating a little more than yesterday, but why is his poop so watery? What does that mean? Also we are having a hard time giving him his pain meds, what do you suggest?” I could feel myself clench my butt, something I do when I’m nervous. “Um, you could try putting the pill in cheese,” I said, who am I? Does cheese kill cats? Put them on hold! “Cheese? Really?” I looked at the tech sitting next to me, who was nodding, like she could hear the whole conversation on the other end through the phone, and then gave me the thumbs up. “We also sell pill pockets in different flavors, cats like the salmon flavored ones,” she whispered to me. “Yes cheese, and maybe that would harden up his waste?” I said, half like a question. The tech frowned. “We also sell pill pockets that taste like salmon,” I added. “Has Zaboomafoo been drinking water?” I asked. “Oh yes, yes. You know what we will try the cheese and get back to you, we’ll keep you updated, but if you could ask the Doctor about the watery stool that would be great. Also if you could ask the doctor if we do a fecal test, does sunlight affect the stool sample?” I paused, “Like if it’s been sitting out in the sun?” I whispered. “Yes, would it mess up the results in any way?” I paused. “I will ask. And then…I will call you back about the runs I mean watery stool and sunlight..”I trailed off. “Ok great thank you!” “Um, mahalo,” I hung up. The tech smiled, “Great, now I’ll show you how to record what they just told you.” Inside, I was panicking.
Next was answering a phone call. “Aloha, Kona Veterinary Hospital, this is Jennifer how may I help you?” “My dog got hit by a car, his leg is bleeding, can I bring him in right now?” My butt clenched so hard. “Hold,” I said and pushed hold. In emergency situations, my natural reaction is to pass it on. Hold! Let me go find someone who can handle this, I yell as I run away my butt cheeks tightly pursed together. I repeated this info to the tech, who did not seem the least bit rattled, in fact she seemed calm, like aloha mucho calm, as she soothingly instructed me to get back on the phone and ask how far away they were, if they were a current client and if the dog was breathing. I tried to mimic her nurturing and soothing voice. “Alohahankyouforholding,” I said all in one monotone breath which made me sound like a sex phone operator. I could feel my ill fitting scrub bottoms drooping, and am pretty sure my neon colored underoos were on display as I hovered over the phone trying to scribble everything down on a piece of paper.
Whoever I was talking to was cutting in and out and I could barely hear him. “Eee-hoo is my dogs name, the last name is Kai. He’s breathing, we are about an hour away.” I typed Ehu Kai into the patient database and a client listing came up. “Ok we have your information, we will see you in an hour.” I said hanging up. I told the vet tech the information, and she told me to come with her while they alerted the other nurses and the doctor. “What kind of dog is Ehu?” she asked. I looked at the file. “It says a chihuahua,” I said reading off the computer screen.
Then it time for a prescription filling tutorial. “People will call with prescription request, just always look in the file,” she started clicking buttons on the computer as I stared into cupboards filled with animal drugs, needles and syringes. “This,” she said opening a cupboard below all the prescription drugs, “Is the dead binder. Anything that dies, the paperwork goes in here.” I cocked my head to the left, “Anything that…dies...” I repeated, trailing off. “Yes euthanasias mainly,” she explained. “Euthanasia…” I repeated. She then motioned to a large freezer, “And that is where the bodies go,” she said nonchalantly. “Next I’ll show you the exam rooms,” she said leaving as I stood staring at the large white freezer, half wishing she had opened it so I could stop imagining what lay frozen inside. As I followed her out into lobby we were interrupted by a large Hawaiian man who appeared on the lanai holding a sturdy drooling pit bull whose leg was covered in blood. He burst into the lobby a flurry of energy and chaos. “We are here, Ehu Kai is here!” he exclaimed, holding Ehu under one arm and fanning himself with his other hand. He was the first gay man I had ever encountered on the island of Hawaii, and he was holding… not a chihuahua. The vet tech looked at me. “That’s not,” I finished her sentence, “the right Ehu….”
Around 4 pm, I had experienced a work day so different than anything I had ever done, that I felt like I was on another planet. I had not shared any of my animal stories but I also imagined that “the girl who got the wrong Ehu,” surpassed memorable, and would create a legacy for others who would have working interviews. “Don’t worry, you are doing great. Let me tell you about this girl who got the wrong Ehu on her working interview,” vet techs would tell possible employees, laughing at how incompetent and confused I was. “Jenn,” the vet tech I had been with all day told me. “Our boss would like to talk to you in her office,” she said. I gathered my the waist of my scrub pants and walked slowly to the back office lurking creepily in front of my potential new bosses desk. “We’d like to hire you,” she said looking up. “Hiuh?” I said accidentily letting go of my pants and then gathering them back up as they sagged back down. “We really liked you,” she said. “Can you start tomorrow?” “Yes of course, thank you,” I said and started to wander out of her office. “Oh and Jenn?” she called after me. “Yeah?” I turned around. “We will order you some extra long scrubs in size small,” she said and smiled. These are kind, kind people who do good work here at the Kona Veterinary Hospital, I thought as I gathered up my pants again. And then, what did I just get myself into?
If I have learned anything though, it is to go through doors that open for you. There’s always some reason and rhyme to why they do- if nothing you realize how much you can learn and do, how truly capable you are. I’ve gone through doors where I have been on set helping a transgendered pop star sit onto of a plastic life size unicorn, sending lunch meat via airmail to my boss in Utah for Sundance, posing as Katy Perry’s arm stand in on set, sitting behind John Legend as he played the piano for a commercial, made chains out of photographs of naked models, sat in a teepee at different music festivals gifting musicians tie dye tank tops and now taking fecal samples and handling animal emergency situations. Just, always say yes. Say yes and let life surprise you.