Daniel Jackovics
The wall of fish and aquatics.

Elvis the Pet Store Owner

March 16, 2017

When I first walked into the Red Hill Pet Center, I knew exactly what kind of interview I was looking for; I wanted to tell some wacky story about the life of a peculiar pet-shop guy. Being a past customer of Red Hill Pet Center, I had encountered the owner Elvis on multiple occasions but had never actually spoken with him directly. His shoulder length rocker-hair, mismatched clothing, and discombobulous storefront gave him an outlandish and colorful aura. From the outside, Elvis appeared to be the perfect character to investigate; I could only imagine the wild stories he would tell. However, the man I encountered during my interview process was not the quirky and personable Elvis I had expected but was nonetheless unlike anyone I had met before.

Red Hill Pet Center is located in a quaint part of downtown

If you have ever been into Red Hill Pet Center, you can understand why I assumed the owner was eccentric. Heaps of miscellaneous dog foods, product boxes, and animal cages piled waist-high created a labyrinth of product that replaced the need for indoor shelving. Filling the entire back end of the store were stacks upon stacks of aquariums, each one filled to the brim with of every sea creature imaginable. Within this small aquatic-metropolis is where I was greeted by Elvis, who seemed like a part of the store himself. He was wearing blue sweatpants, shiny dress shoes, and a crisp blue sunshirt over a ratty white wifebeater. He also had on wool gloves, which he took off halfway during the interview because he suddenly remembered he was allergic to wool.

Daniel Jackovics
Elvis works behind the counter, busily moving around sacks of bird seeds

The first aspect about Elvis that stuck out to me was his obvious high intelligence. When I tried to “break the ice” with some fairly basic questions about the animals, his electric blue eyes lit up from behind dusty glasses in a very mad-professor-esque fashion. He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge about anything and everything relating to animal care, specifically about fish. During the middle of our first conversation, a customer walked over to briefly ask about tank requirements of goldfish. Elvis politely excused himself, turned around, and proceeded to give the customer a ten-minute lecture about everything there is humanly possible to know about keeping a goldfish alive. Every twenty minutes or so, Elvis would walk along the wall of tanks and scan the inventory to “keep it tidy and up to date,” much like how a librarian would scour a shelf of books. However, he only marveled at the color of the rare tropical fish and seemed to simply not notice the dead koi bobbing around the tank next to me.

“I know the entire store inside and out, top to bottom. I always keep a mental list of the fish we have in stock at any given… It helps keep me organized. Organization is a huge thing here”

Daniel Jackovics
The aquarium fish are obviously the prized possessions of Red Hill Pet Center

Daniel Jackovics
Elvis’s personal favorite aquarium takes center stage

Here Elvis exhibited his first personality-paradox. He considered himself and his store very methodical and organized, but the products, the way he dressed, and his business philosophy were anything but well-ordered.

“I prefer to sell only the highest quality stuff, so there is less ending up in the landfill. We are not always throwing things away all the time here.”

By the pile of unrinsed plates and towers of clothes in his office, I could see that he definitely stuck to this mantra of ‘reusing.’ Elvis’s pride in his storefront was admirable, but the self-proclaimed superiority of his ‘high-end dog and cat boutique’ was simply a fabrication. I found this to be very interesting, especially coming from a man who valued truth and righteousness above all else.

Daniel Jackovics
Elvis’s ‘cleanly’ office space

“Honesty and integrity are the major points we value at this store. We had a problem where my employees and everybody were telling a lot of lies… So we had to make up stricter rules on that front.”

Elvis placed a little too much emphasis on “lies” for my comfort. The previously lighthearted atmosphere between Elvis and I changed quite drastically when he then insisted I put tape over the camera of my phone during recording.  He only continued to grow more stand-offish and aggressive when I implored further into the topic of lying employees.

“Yeah, we have a rule, no lying! If you got caught lying you were fired… We don’t tolerate any untrustworthy customers either.”

He looked at me up and down again with obvious, squinty-eyed suspicion. The half-eaten pickle in his hand was now used as an accusatory finger pointing right at my face. This seemingly out of nowhere hostility was very strange and completely random. Was I being threatened? Had I done something wrong? Did he think I was a shoplifter– or maybe even worse– a health code inspector? Throughout the rest of my encounter with Elvis, my questions were consistently scrutinized and responded to with uneasy apprehension. Any question I asked that was not directly about animals or the store was either answered with a curt response or an ominous warning against causing trouble.

“We’ve had a few crazy people in here over the years, but I think the reason that we don’t have more is ‘cuz word is out on the street that you just can’t come here and [mess] around,” Elvis proudly asserted, swelling a bit with pride. “Not only do we make it that it becomes hard for you, we make you answer questions and make you tell the truth.”

Daniel Jackovics
Elvis and a long-time employee worked closely, but never talked with one another

At this point, I realized that Elvis was most definitely not the personable and funky guy I had assumed him to be. He possessed a mindset towards customer service that dangerously bordered indignation. I was just a teenager with my clipboard and phone attempting to ask some light questions, but to Elvis and his employees, I was some strange threat to their store. I felt like I was stuck in a weird limbo between conducting an interview and being interviewed.

Elvis was an enigma. He was completely uncategorizable. I could not detect any rhyme or reason behind the character traits he displayed. He wasn’t personable enough to be considered ‘eccentric,’ but not unfriendly enough to be rude or a ‘hermit.’ The only feeling I could identify from my experience was an overarching and unsettling sense of weirdness.

Everything from the layout of the store to the way Elvis spoke to me was indescribably strange. I may have never found some noteworthy story about Elvis’s past life explaining his suspicion, or discovered some wild secret behind why the store is run the way it is, but maybe I didn’t have to. Maybe oddities cannot be explained, strangeness quantified, or peculiarity answered with an appealing solution. Maybe this man named Elvis and his wild pet store was nothing more, or nothing less, than a weird man and his weird store.

Daniel Jackovics
Many small signs such as these were posted on cages around the store, reminding pesky children to keep their hands away from the animals!

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