Horrors of Pooperscooper U.

Pooperscooper U.--a pet hospital stuck like a hairball in the throat of one of San Francisco's poshest enclaves. I got myself hired as a receptionist there in a moment of economic panic.

Three months later, the obsessive cocker-suckers and poodle-diddlers that stump and stagger through P.U.'s piddle-varnished portals have me baring my teeth. So has my supervisor, an obese Sha-Na-Na fan and neo-Nazi known to the rest of us "girls'' as the Elephant Woman. Not to mention the stunningly meager pay rate ($3.75/hr.) or the exalted status I enjoy as one of the kickballs on the front desk. But the best part of this nine-to-six stint is that it offers no opportunity for advancement, let alone for taking a creative five minutes on the crapper.

The duties assigned to us, the under-underdogs, are varied and colorful. First, there is check-in. Say a cluster of German-speaking ladies come hurtling in--mother, grandmother and three teenage daughters, all dressed in tight skirts and tennis shoes. They are moaning up a storm--something about a fluffy my own has been hit! A big black limousine has crushed his tiny bones. I whip out a registration form. With a confident flourish, I indicate to the larger of the two matrons which sections she must fill out.

"But my address--who can remember? What is a Sip Code? Fuffy-- he is a male--could you not tell?'' (Sure, lady, with a microscope.)

"Okay, now what exactly happened to (guk) Fifi?'' The moaning starts again in five-part harmony. Just then a tired-looking bald guy emerges from an equally tired-looking black Volkswagon outside and tries to explain, while the women go into a huddle. "Look, this little fuzzy thing took a hike across the street just as the light turns green. I'm sorry--I thought it was a piece of laundry.'' Nice try, but they don't let him go until he's proved he can't finance a week's vacation for five at the Mark Hopkins. Poor Mr. VW ends up being allowed to pay for Foofy's body-lift and a bonus full-length sweater, whether sleeved or sleeveless to be determined at a later date. Mein Gott!

The (very) personal habits of the doctors must also be considered at all times. One never snarls: "Young Doctor Doctor is having a bowel movement, and if everything comes out all right, he'll call you back.'' Rather, one chirps: "Doctor Doctor is presently in long-distance consultation with the Phillipines. When he is through, he will be most happy to guide your beloved Doberman throught the miraculous journey of her first natural birthing."

Nor does one mention that nice old Doc Rictus has a tendency to fight back when Kitty won't sit still for a shave-'n-shot. "What's that slamming noise?'' Kitty's mom may ask. "Why, didn't you know? We have a handball court between the lunchroom and the back office.'' Beaming, the Doc comes out holding a limp Bobo or Noodles in her claw-torn hand. "He's just a bit groggy from the sedative--don't mind the drooling. He may bleed an eensy bit when he wakes up. Don't hesitate to call, Monday through Saturday, between nine and six--'' And they don't.

Yes, P.U.'s receptionists must know their stuff, especially over the phone. Suppose a young interior decorator wants his cat declawed and dyed violet within three days. Never mind the cat's feelings--will it be detrimental to the orange-focussed bedroom scheme? And telephone procedure is inflexible. When a pug plummets from a seventh-story window and the owner inquires: "Juno's listless--do you think it's due to the fall?'', you must go through the catechism with the demure calm of a nun on Valium: "Has he seen a doctor since the accident/Is he bleeding/Is his stool abnormal/Is he vomiting/Is he eating? (Amen)."

"Well he hasn't really moved much--he just lies on his back and he's sort of stiff when I pet him.'' Then, and only then, you coo: "Sir--here is the number of Bubbling Wells Pet Cemetary, located in picturesque Sonoma.''

Most traditional feminine occupations exploit our maternal impulses--the teacher's aid cleaning up after brutish children and the secretary after childish brutes. P.U. expects its desk- jockeys to extend this motherly attitude not only to the furry parasites which are its patients but to their owners and the doctors as well.

Just let some unruly, unloving female at the front desk ask for a raise, let alone gag when a fresh fecal sample wiggling with worms is shoved under her nose, let alone scream back at one of the stethoscope-toting prima donnas in the surgery, let alone lose her cool with even one of the spoiled, peevish or penultimately stupid clients or their drooling, scabrous, psychotic mammals. Instantly her decades of training are played upon to make her feel like a monster, unfit to be a member of the U.S. Feminine Love-of-Babies-and-Fuzzy-Cripples Institute.

No one but a congenital idiot would pursue a clerical "career'' at P.U. Even the pink-collar hoboes, the temp-worker types who change jobs the way richer women change hairstyles, don't stop here much. They choke on the mingled stench of piss, puke and panic even before they hear about the pay.

The rest? Like the patients, they come in combinations of four basic shades: newborn, desperate, decrepit, and anesthetized. Girls fresh out of high school grabbing for the bottom rung; shellshocked divorcees tiptoeing timidly into the labor market; weary spinsters whom inflation has elbowed out of an early retirement; aging "young ladies'' still listening for the hoofbeats of Prince Charming's charger...

"Solidarity'' might as well be a brand of margarine to most of them, especially Miz Fink whose favorite trick is to yell at her colleagues for making filing errors just as the Elephant Woman lumbers by. Some even join in the Guilting Bee, like prim little Jersey-`n-Pearls who never tires of asking: "But isn't it the animals we're here for?'' Only the real basket cases can stand it for long. P.U.'s door doesn't just revolve, it spins like a centrifuge.

So goodbye to Pooperscooper U. Goodbye to the Puppy Paramedic Corps and its pissing and moaning, yapping and scratching clientele. Goodbye too to the Kat Kare Klub where tortoise shell curry-combs and French satin ribbons decorate lumps of hairy fat that can hardly waddle from bowl to box to bed. Goodbye to being ranked lower in the scheme of things than Persians and their fleas. Pit-bulls and their diarrhea. Goodbye to all the mental cases who hallucinate an intimate world of love and understanding around retarded mutant carnivores like Elmo the Basset Hound, known to his owner as "the only man in my life.''

My case is closed. But there will be many more to follow in my footsteps on this particular hamster-wheel. A world which mass- produces loneliness and boredom, always a little faster than it mass-produces the merchandise meant to make up for them, will see to that.

--Melinda Gebbie