I've been working at PetSmart for the past seven months. Animals aren't the easiest to work with, but in my experience, they've been a whole lot easier to work with than humans. We get some strange people coming in who look like they might either be buying that puppy to sacrifice to some god or alien or are going to make that litter of kittens fight each other in order to make money betting on which of the furballs would win. I'm not that desperate for either money or entertainment. Or to sacrifice cute, little animals to made-up entities either. One time a teenager came in and asked me what kind of gerbil would make the best burger. I told him "The darker, the better. It'd be easier psychologically to stomach something that looked closer to just a plain hamburger." I'd never support making gerbil burgers, but my manager said to sound intelligent and to answer all questions, no matter how stupid they are. I haven't lost my job yet, so I want to keep that up. I don't even think that guy was being serious, because when I answered him that way, he promptly turned around and left.
Although, admittedly, that guy was weird, he wasn't as strange as the person who walked through the glass sliding doors yesterday. He seemed normal enough at first, in khakis and a buttoned-up blue shirt, but when he got closer his eyes just seemed to bore into mine and I tried to look busy stocking cat-nip. This facade did not work. He strolled right up and planted himself right next to me.
"Hey," he said. "I'm looking for a pet."
I didn't turn my head, but replied, "What kind of pet?"
I had hoped he would have just said iguanas and I could have said aisle two and he would have walked away forever, but he didn't. "That's my problem. I don't know yet." I finished stacking the last can of cat nip, turned to him, but did not smile. "Perhaps you'd like to know why I want a pet in the first place?" he offered.
Remembering my manager's words I said, "Yes, I would absolutely love to know so that I can better assist you in finding the pet that best suits you." Then I smiled. "Here at PetSmart, we want to put you in a good humor. That's why we sell so many spider monkeys!"
He didn't seem amused. In fact, he seemed kind of agitated this entire time, as if he was as sick of having to deal with people as I was. Because of this, I resolved to actually help this man out. "Tell me what you are looking for in a pet."
"I'm looking for a pet who can deal with living with a man who is going to live the rest of his life, serving penance in solitude. I need a pet who deals well with someone who is lonely."
At this, I took interest and offered him the best of my knowledge. "Well, sir, it really depends on what kind of loneliness you want to be cured from. If you need to feel like you are needed, buy a hamster. If you need to feel like you are fun to be around, go for a dog. If you need to feel like you are serving someone, buy a cat. If you need to feel like you have someone listening to you, buy a fish because sounds travels faster through water and they'll be able to hear you much better. If you need to feel like someone wants to talk to you, you can't go wrong with a parakeet."
"No, no. I don't want to be cured from my loneliness! I welcome it. I deserve it. What I need is a pet to take all of my- all of my-" At this point he was sweating excessively even though it's not hot by any means in PetSmart. He looked as though he was about to faint, but composed himself. "I need a pet who I can project every thing wrong I ever did on, so I don't do that anymore . . . to my girlfriends." He sighed as if he knew I could never understand.
I didn't understand, but since I wanted him out of my life as soon as possible, I folded my arms, contorted my lips, and stared up at the ceiling for a few moments so he'd think I was deep in thought.
"I have just the thing!" I said abruptly and turned on my heels with a squeak of my sneakers. He followed me to the back and I brought him to a cage. "Ferrets are good-natured and mischievous, a good combination to take anything you might throw at them."
He stared at the cage for a moment and pointed at a gray one. "I'll take that one."
I smiled, said "Perfect," picked up some food on the way to the check-out and had him out of there within minutes. I didn't want anyone else to have to deal with him and was satisfied with having made a sale. Before he left, he shook my hand real hard and looked me in the eyes so that I had to look away. "Thank you so much," he said gruffly. "You don't know what you've done here, son (He didn't look much older than me!). You've just saved a lot of women a lot of hurt." And then he was gone, with the ring of a bell.
I took a look at the signature on his receipt because I thought I might see his name on America's Most Wanted soon and I've always wanted to call in to something like that. It read: John Melmoth. I'll remember that.
When I called Lester and told him the story, I asked, "So why did he want a pet? I never quite understood what he was saying."
"I think it is some religious thing," Lester answered. "They always seem to get ya feeling guilty over something."
"Yeah," I said. "That's true."