When I'm channel surfing, I stick with Groundhog Day every time I catch it — which is often, as it's a cable TV warhorse. To me, it's just about the perfect movie, simultaneously hilariously funny and profoundly meaningful — Bill Murray at his quintessential best.
In a favorite scene (which is repeated numerous times, since our protagonist keeps reliving the same day), Bill's character, Phil Connors, runs into an erstwhile high school classmate on the sidewalk — the insufferable Ned Ryerson, insurance salesman from hell. Beating a retreat, Phil steps off the curb into a slush-filled pothole clear up to his knee. Laughing snidely, Ned points at him and says, "Watch out for that first step — it's a doozy."
Negotiating the slushy roads en route to the South Burlington home of Robin, one of my fave longtime customers, I thought of Ned's snarky admonition. This winter, from the onset, has been nothing short of a doozy. It came on quick — one day balmy, the next day freezing cold — and has been marked by extremes of temperature.
This roller coaster, in conjunction with healthy doses of snowfall melting and refreezing, has led to a surfeit of frost heaves, potholes and generally hazardous conditions for both walkers and drivers. Apparently, Robin was one of this winter's victims.
It was close to 10 p.m. when, following Robin's instructions, I parked and met her at the door. She passed me Poppy, her little schnauzer, who was peachy-white in color and as adorable as Toto (though I guess Dorothy's pet was some variety of terrier). Robin's pooch was clearly ailing: Her pint-size body was tremoring, and she kept blinking her left eye.
I placed Poppy gently onto the taxi's front seat and went back to escort Robin, a tall and lithe middle-aged woman. She was shaky herself.
"Did I tell you the dumb thing I did?" she asked as, arm in arm, we gingerly made our way to the vehicle.
"Not exactly," I replied. "You fell on the ice, right?"
"You see the top step?" she asked, turning around to indicate the stairs to her front door. "I left the house last week in kind of a rush and flew straight up in the air on the icy step, landing smack on the back of my skull. It was like a cartoon — I swear I saw little birdies tweeting around my head. Anyway, they took an MRI, and the results indicated a bad concussion. I'm still wobbly, as you can tell, and not safe to drive yet."
"Oh, man, that's crazy. You know, I've heard of so many people taking falls this winter, even youngsters. I bet the hospital ER is doing gangbuster business."
As Robin balanced Poppy on her lap while fastening her seat belt, I asked, "So, what's going on with this little lady?"
"Oh, gosh, I'm not sure, but she's been getting worse all day. She's about 10 years old, so I don't want to take the chance of waiting until tomorrow morning. Luckily, there's this all-night vet in Williston and they told me to come right in."
At the veterinary office, the young woman behind the front desk checked in Robin and Poppy. "So, what's going on with you, little darlin'?" she asked, coming around to examine the patient. After looking in Poppy's eyes, checking her mouth, and gently rubbing her limbs and chest, she said, "Well, she's in some distress, that's for sure. Make yourself comfortable, and the doctor will see you next."
"I'll hang here with you, Robin," I said. "And I won't charge you any waiting time."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," she said. "I don't want you to lose any business. I can just call back when we're finished."
"Hey, it's fine," I assured her. "I've had a super-busy day, and I'm just gonna chill here in the waiting room with the TV."
"Well, then, thanks. That's so nice of you. You know what's ironic? I just broke up with a man I was seeing, and he was a friggin' veterinarian! Damn, I should have waited a few weeks. I could've saved some bucks."
A few minutes later, a couple exited leading a German shepherd with a wonky, bandaged hind leg, and the doctor called in Robin and Poppy. I stayed put and watched a PBS documentary about some obscure country songwriter who never made it big but whose music continues to be enormously influential. In other words, right up my alley.
Robin emerged with a bemused look on her face. "Get this — they say her symptoms point to accidental marijuana poisoning. Apparently, they're seeing that a lot with the advent of edible pot products. Maybe my teenager and her friends? Anyway, they're going to run a urine test."
"Has Poppy been enjoying Phish music more than usual?" I asked.
She chuckled and shook her head. "Not that I've noticed. Pretty good, Jernigan."
Robin has a part-time career as a standup comic. I've seen her perform, and she's really good. So I'm always trying to impress her with my own sterling wit. Graciously, she indulges me way more than I deserve.
Robin returned to the exam room to wait with her pup, and I walked over to the woman at the front desk again. "So, it looks like you guys are doing a renovation or something?" I asked.
"No, but we're in the process of moving to a brand-new building on Marshall Avenue," she explained. "I've seen it, and it's gorgeous. We'll have over three times the space."
"Do you work here full time?"
"Close to it. I'm also full time at UVM. I'm studying to go to veterinary school."
"Well, good on you. I have such respect for working students like yourself. And I bet you're gonna be an excellent vet. You got a great way with the animals."
Robin emerged, Poppy in arms. "So, it wasn't reefer. They're going to run a couple more tests, which'll take a few days for the results. In the meantime, they gave me some pills for her."
On the ride home, Robin told me about the new comedy piece she was working on. "It'll be a one-woman show, and I'll be onstage for a full hour, if you can believe it."
"That is awesome, Robin! Will it have a theme?"
"But of course. It's about being single and dating at age 50."
"I see. In other words, it'll be a horror show," I deadpanned.
"Bingo!" Robin agreed, and together we laughed about growing older, frail sweet doggies and making it through another Vermont winter.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.