DESPERATELY SEEKING MURPHY

(Murphy’s Law: Colloquial axiom which originated with an engineer by the name of Murphy stating that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and usually at the worst possible time.)

I should have paid attention to my horoscope that morning. “Today you will face many challenges. Colleagues may be less than cooperative. Your organizational skills will be called into question and your patience will be sorely tested.”

Phooey. These things were never right, I thought as I glanced out the window. Raining again. Then I tripped over the cat, spilling coffee all over my clean pants. Somewhere in the far reaches of my mind an ugly thought began to take shape. (Will this be one of those “Murphy’s Law” days?)

When I got to the grooming shop, there was a phone message from my most talented groomer, calling in sick — again. She was a wonderful person but she had one major flaw: she was a world-class hypochondriac. She should never have read the newspaper or watched the evening news if the topic was health-related.

If a rare disease made the news today, this girl would be showing symptoms by the end of the week. She’s had them all, from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to Legionnaire’s Disease but today’s excuse was really stretching it. As far as I knew, there hadn’t yet been any cases of Mad Cow Disease in eastern Massachusetts.

Before I have the chance to take off my raincoat and arrange my appointment cards on the counter, Mrs. Johnson arrives with Leroy, her extra-large cat, squeezed into her extra-small carrier. She sets the crate down gingerly and bolts for the door, telling me she’s already late for work. “By the way, Kathy, he’s really in a mood today,” she says as I watch the cat carrier hurtle across the floor like a mini-tornado, its occupant hissing and sputtering inside.

“Have a nice day!” she smiles.

Next comes Mrs. Obermeyer with Clyde, her Airedale, who stops to relieve himself on the mat inside my door. Here we go, I think glumly. Nobody walks their dog on a rainy day. I make a beeline to the back room to fetch the spray disinfectant and paper towels.

(Who is this Murphy person and what have I ever done to him? Did I offend him in a past life?)

Here comes Helen Higgins, a lonely retiree and Pomeranian owner with her purse clutched tightly to her breast as if a mugger might be lurking behind the rawhide display. I hate to call this woman cheap but I’ve actually seen moths flutter out of that handbag. Like a jeweler examining a diamond for flaws, she squints at each chew stick, each all-natural biscuit.

“Did you go up on your prices?” she barks. “These are two cents cheaper at that new Woofer’s Warehouse down the street.” Her skinny fingers fidget with her change purse, digging for that last lint-covered penny as the commuting crowd lines up behind her, their dogs straining at their leashes. Slowly the scowling senior citizen counts the change I just counted out for her and asks for some free food samples as the business-bound pet owners check their watches, stomping and snorting like the bulls at Pamplona awaiting their signal to run.

(Enough already, Murphy. I sincerely apologize for any slight I may have cast upon your esteemed ancestors. Now take a hike!)

I proceed to check them in like a short order cook: shorter feathers, fleas and ticks, out by noon, we’ll call you soon, oatmeal bath, file the nails, strip, clip, bathe and dip, close on the butt, thanks for the tip, degrease, deskunk, big pink bow, squeeze those anal glands, away we go.

Phew! Oh oh. Here come the bickering Browns, Bob and Beryl, with their cranky pet, Louise the Lhasa Apso. I say the words that I know will start the squabbling: “”What would you folks like us to do for Louise today?”

Him: “Leave her long and don’t cut the hair on her face. I don’t like the way she looks at me with those beady little eyes.”

Her: “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Bob! The poor little thing needs a good haircut. God knows YOU never brush her! Oh no — that’s MY job — like everything else around the house! I want that hair layered back on her head, Kathy. She almost walked into the lawnmower the other day when Mr. Wonderful here was cutting the grass.”

Bob shrugs his shoulders and glowers at the dog, looking like a man who lost the lottery jackpot by only one number. Louise curls her lip and growls. I mediate.

“How about a Teddy Bear Cut? She will be short but still fluffy and not shaved. I’ll thin and trim her head as well. She’ll look adorable — you’ll see!”

I pat the little tyrant on the head as she shows me each and every one of her teeth and I mentally flash back to the movie “Jaws.” After husband and wife duke it out over whether or not they want a flea collar, I take little Louise to her waiting crate and make a quick detour to the bathroom to grab a couple of aspirin, wishing I knew Dr. Phil well enough to call him up and ask him to come down and release the dog when the Browns return.

The staff trickles in, everyone in the place complaining of PMS except Joey. He threw his back out playing racquetball last night. “If I have to lift anything larger than a Mini Poodle today, I’ll need help,” he announces.

(Murphy, you are the scourge of my life. What can I offer you to make you cease and desist? My soul? My first-born son? My Lion King tickets?)

I resume my post at the cash register just in time to wait on Agnes Carp, a woman whose life makes the Iraq War look like a dance party. She’s never had a happy day and doesn’t plan to.

Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I proceed with the opening line. “Hi Agnes. How are you today?”

It seems she’s got a head cold and a post-nasal drip, she tells me, despite the fact that she’s been wearing a clove of garlic around her neck to ward off germs. You don’t say, I think as my eyes fill up and my nose starts to twitch. She would love to buy a new sweater for Pookie, her Poodle, but she lost all her money last night at the church Bingo game.

“Don’t tell me that game isn’t fixed! I notice Father O’Brien is driving around town in a brand new Buick!” She nods knowingly, narrowing her eyes. “And now those no-good bums in Congress want to increase our Medicare payments and tax our Social Security,” she continues, obviously outraged at the prospect. “The next thing you know, I’ll have to pay to go to the podiatrist to get my bunions treated!”

I nod sympathetically, wishing I could at least offer her Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s phone number but the way my luck is running, he may have taken his own advice because he’s not around anymore.

By mid-afternoon, things are looking up. The groomers may even finish on time. I munch on a candy bar but bite down on something much harder than a peanut. What is this, a rock? I examine the jagged particle which resembles a small meteor. My tongue takes an instant inventory around my mouth and I discover the answer — a cavernous hole where a twenty-year-old filling used to be in one of my back molars. What’s left of the tooth feels like a picket fence around the Grand Canyon.

Swell. Time to return to that excessively cheerful dentist and hear yet another lecture about Mean Old Mr. Tooth Decay. I throw what’s left of the candy bar into the trash.

(Murphy, do you remember what Kathy Bates did to James Caan in that Stephen King movie “Misery?” She’s my new role model if I ever get my hands on you.)

The day is winding down when Dennis, the handsome new mailman, strolls in. I usually don’t find red-headed men attractive but in his case, I’ll make an exception. I note that in spite of the weather, he’s wearing shorts. Just as I’m smiling and exchanging the pleasantries, Roland, my French bulldog, darts from under the counter and sinks his teeth into the letter carrier’s socks. “Don’t mind him — he’s just playing,” I say, smiling weakly and trying to disengage the dog from the young man’s ankle. Unfortunately, he’s dug in like a tick. I realize this puppy needs more than obedience school. Where exactly would one locate a reform school for dogs?

(This is it, Murphy. The last straw. As soon as my ex-brother-in-law Frankie gets out of the Big House up the street, I’m putting out a contract on you.)

After detaching the demented dog, I am glad to see that no skin is broken but I do owe the poor fellow for a new pair of sneakers and the socks to go with them. As I reach for my checkbook to make restitution, I ask him his full name.

“It’s Murphy,” he says, flashing a wide Irish smile. “Dennis Patrick Murphy.”

The weird thing is, I’m not even surprised.

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