Pet Tricks — and an Accidental Career
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Like many people, commentator Bill Langworthy got a job out of college that he thought was temporary. Years later, he's made peace with it and thinks it just may be his calling.
I never meant to make a career out of it. When I was offered the position of Stupid Pet Trick coordinator for "Late Show with David Letterman," I figured I'd do it for at most a year, then move on to grander things. At 23, getting into Stupid Pet Trick coordination made a lot of sense: good dental, a 401(k) and a title everyone but my dad enjoyed. `Four years of college,' he pointed out, `and it says "Stupid" right on your business card.' I didn't think I'd be doing it long, because I had no experience with animals.
But it turns out all you needed was an open mind. When you meet the girl whose duck eats cottage cheese out of her mouth, don't ask why. When an owner tells you they're willing to fly coach, but their dog only flies first class, don't judge. A few more tips I picked up on my temporary job: Don't record birds with overhead microphones. They perceive objects above them as predators. Hide all camera cables from horses. They look like snakes. Finally, keep handy a healthy supply of towels, antiseptics and a good shovel. As one stage manager commented while we were on our knees, sopping up pig pee, `Still beats working with actors.'
Before I knew it, I had coordinated "Late Show's" Pet Tricks for three years. I decided I had to take my career in a new direction, but quickly learned Stupid Pet Trick coordination isn't a readily transferrable skill. There just aren't many other positions where you have to find a three-legged dog that dances to a one-legged banjo player. Just when things were looking the bleakest, Animal Planet launched a new show called "Pet Star." They needed a pet trick coordinator, and I was at the top of their list. I don't know any other Stupid Pet Trick coordinators, so it must have been a short list, but still, I was at the top. This job was only supposed to last three months, but three months became a full season and then another and another. Seven years and 500 animal acts after starting my temporary gig, I still considered myself a pinch-hitter, filling in until the regular guy got back.
It took a janitor to put things in perspective. I was at the studio, on my hands and knees, adjusting the costume of a ballerina poodle. It was an ordinary day. Suddenly, the studio janitor approached. `Excuse me, sir. Is this what you do?' I realized how strange it must seem to him that a person can make a living adjusting dog tutus. `All day?' he asked, `Every day?' I panicked. They say everyone has a calling. Was this mine? Was this the only thing I'd ever be good at? Would I still be booking basketball rats when I was 70?
My first instinct was to lie, but then I thought, `Who else has spent the night with an Aardvark in a fully-lit hotel room because it's nocturnal and needs to get over its jet lag? Who else knows how to smuggle flying squirrels through airport security in their underwear? In seven years, I'd seen the country, met fascinating people, accrued a never-ending supply of cocktail banter and never once been bored. I held my head up high. `All day, every day,' I admitted not only to him, but to myself.
BLOCK: Commentator Bill Langworthy is now a writer in Los Angeles.
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