Written by Michael Claxton
The hero is out riding his bike. Suddenly, he smells smoke. Oh, no! The pet store is on fire! Flames leap out the front door as terrified animals are trapped inside. Since no one is there to help, our hero charges in. He releases a caged monkey, who helps him unlock the dogs. Each time he guides more animals to safety, he goes back in and passes by the snakes.
“Ugh,” he shivers, and moves on. Bravely, he springs the cockatoos. Then the ducklings. After that, the mice. He even grabs a scoop and empties the aquarium into a glass bowl full of goldfish. That’s it. The pet store is clear. He’s free to leave. But as our hero goes back in one more time, he has a crisis of conscience.
And that’s when Pee-wee Herman runs screaming out of the store, his hands full of garden snakes, and passes out on the sidewalk.
I thought of that scene when I heard on July 30 that Paul Reubens had died. In 1978, the actor created the childlike Pee-wee — with his impish giggle, too-tight gray suit and red bow tie. He entertained audiences in comedy clubs, in three movies and on a CBS Saturday morning show that ran for four years. As a freshman in high school, I would imitate his voice all the time.
At the 10-year reunion, no one was shocked that I was still single.
I also thought of that scene from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” when I visited the Neighborhood Pet Shoppe last month. You may recall that I broke the news recently that the Searcy store had sold a $3,500 turtle. About a week later, an African grey parrot found a new home for another three-and-a-half grand. If you’re keeping score, that’s $7,000 for a bird and a reptile. And I’ll bet someone’s eyeing the blue-tongued skink, priced to move at $479.99.
I was frankly stunned when I went to the Pet Shoppe. The world of pet care has changed since I had a dog named Pepper in the 80s. I’m told that 62% of Americans own a pet these days. As part of the “lower 38,” I live without one, though technically I lease my house from a crime syndicate of moles who live underneath it. Anyway, a stroll down the aisles at the store on Race Street is eye-opening.
Toys galore. Does Fido need a plush squeaky taco? How about a rubber cactus? I discovered an entire wall of Kong Cozies—the hottest brand of stuffed animals for your real animals. Or you can get a Wubba, a toss-and-fetch toy for hours of fun. I was tempted to get a Lambchop doll for myself.
No wonder the sign on the front door said, “Adult Supervision Required at All Times.”
The pet food aisles were next. Back in the day, Pepper ate Gaines Burgers. These individually wrapped meat patties were like feeding your dog a Big Mac and a Little Debbie all at once. Empty doggie calories.
No Gaines Burgers for sale here. Instead, the staff recommended the Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Bison Soy-Free meal. Fluker’s Grub Bag turtle treats were available in River Shrimp or Insect Blend. Grain-free Duck and Green Pea Recipe was a pricey option for Mr. Whiskers, but I noticed that the Fussy Cat brand cans were BOGO.
Harnesses and leashes in all colors and prints. Studded collars for your tough-guy pet, and Melatonin Calming Aid for your other pet. Nursing bottles are available for gerbils, rabbits and ferrets. When I was there, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was playing over the loudspeaker.
Who knew you needed castles, sunken ships, diving helmets and even Minions for your fish tank? Or that your 48-cent goldfish will require air diffusers, pumps, a quartz glass heater, filter cartridges, coral cutters, soil spades, forceps, reef glue and an algae scraper? Remembering my brief experience taking care of guppies as a kid, I was relieved to see that the Neighborhood Pet Shoppe has a 14-day freshwater fish return policy in case Nemo tanks early.
They’re stocked for every conceivable pet need. Terrarium moss for snakes. Infrared heat projectors for bearded dragons. Hammocks for lizards. Ferret Finders (“Never lose your best friend”). Rabbit hay feeders. Wee Away grooming wipes. Cat paw gel. Bath sand for chinchillas.
And yes, there is a birthday room and a pet spa. Thirty-minute baths with cucumber mint soap. Bird, nail and beak trims. I could have sworn I saw a corgi getting a massage and an updo.
The cash register rings all day as folks spend big to indulge their pets. Meanwhile, I’m grading composition essays at 18 cents a pop. I knew I should have gone into retail.