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And now I’ll never be able to listen to “Old Man River” without thinking about the cocker spaniel that made me cry

November 23, 2010

It’s a good thing Thanksgiving is in two days, because I could really use some turkey, buttery stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy to drown my sorrows. Today was just one of those days. You know, the kind that makes you question every decision you’ve ever made and leaves you a sobbing, snotty, hysterical mess.

Best. Musical. Ever.

It started out well enough. Jaque assigned me a cocker spaniel named Nola, which made me smile because back in 1990, when I was 11 years old and my classmates were busy grooving out to M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice, I was holed up in my grandparent’s basement, repeatedly watching a worn-out VHS copy of the Papermill Playhouse’s 1989 revival of the musical Show Boat. For the uninitiated, Show Boat is a 1927 Broadway show that chronicles the lives of five couples who live and work aboard the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat. With a score by Jermone Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the play explores themes of racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love. I adored Show Boat. In fact, I was so obsessed with it that I actually gave it up for Lent in 1991. Yes, that’s how cool I was.

By now you’re probably thinking, thanks for the positively FASCINATING bit of trivia, Vicky, but what exactly is the connection between your wretched day and the not-so-shocking revelation that you were a huge nerd in elementary school?

Hold that thought.

See, one of the main characters in Show Boat is named Magnolia Hawkes. She’s the daughter of Captain Andy, who owns the Cotton Blossom, and she’s best friends with Julie, the leading lady who gets chased out of town when the sheriff learns she’s of mixed racial descent. So Magnolia takes over Julie’s role in the Cotton Blossom‘s production of The Parson’s Bride, and her father hires riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal to replace Julie’s husband Steve as the leading man. Of course, Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love and move to Chicago and have a kid named Kim, except Gaylord’s gambling habit leaves them completely broke, so he up and leaves Magnolia and she’s heartbroken until she meets up with her old show boat pals Ellie and Frank (I had an ENORMOUS crush on Ellie when I was little), who help her land a gig at a Chicago nightclub, and even though she becomes an international stage and radio sensation, she never forgets Gaylord, who, after 24 years, finally returns to her and they tearfully reunite aboard the Cotton Blossom. And, oh yeah, Magnolia’s nickname is Nola. Aren’t you glad you asked?

Not really. But let’s back up a moment. Why was your day so awful?

Oh, right. Well, first of all, Mercury must be in retrograde or something (which is what Jenn’s mom says whenever she drops or breaks stuff), because I was 10 times more awkward than usual, which is actually quite terrifying because I am an extraordinarily clumsy person.

Um, then why are you training to be a groomer? Aren’t you worried you’ll cut off a dog’s ear or something?

Actually, no. I have an exceptionally steady hand, which is why I’m good at painting. It’s the whole walking part that gives me trouble. Today I kept tripping. And one time I slipped on the wet floor near the bathtub and crashed into a wall, so I felt really stupid.

I see. Then what happened?

Oh, I don’t know. It was just a bunch of little things that, when combined, added up to a shitty day. It seemed as if Jaque was constantly correcting me. First she said Nola wasn’t clean, so I used more soap and really worked it into her coat with my fingers. Then she said she wasn’t thoroughly rinsed, so I rinsed her for another five minutes, but Jaque said she was still soapy. Like most cocker spaniels, Nola has a super thick coat, and it took forever to dry her. Then she had mats, and even though I could have sworn I removed all of them, Jaque found some on her belly after I started grooming her, and then she told me that Nola wasn’t completely dry and she made me blast her with the high-V again, which meant she had to be brushed out a second time.

I don't even bother to take an after picture of Nola. That's how traumatized I was.

By the time I finished prepping Nola, it was well past one o’clock. Jaque carved a pattern into her right side in about five minutes, and then told me to try and mirror it on the left, which took a good 45 minutes, and Jaque still ended up going over what I’d done. Then she said I didn’t cut Nola’s nails short enough, and when I painted them, Nola moved and I got purple nail polish stuck in her fur. I didn’t work on her face at all–Jaque did the whole thing–and by the time I left I was so dismayed and discouraged by how little I actually accomplished that I climbed into my car and promptly burst into tears.

But why? You’ve only been in school for a month. You can’t expect to know how to do everything.

Blah, blah, blah. Who made you the voice of reason? It’s been a long time since I learned a new skill, and I’m impatient, okay? I worry that it’s always going to feel this awkward, that I’m never going to be any good, that I’ve wasted $10,000. I’m second-guessing my decision to quit my job. I’m feeling stupid and irresponsible, scared and overwhelmed. How am I ever going to be good enough and fast enough to actually earn a living doing this? What if–

All right, all right. We get it. Just take some deep breaths and pull yourself together. Call Kristi. She always makes you feel better. And will you please stop beating yourself up? This constant quest for perfection is getting really old.

Yeah, no kidding. Okay, I’m dialing Kristi’s number right now. It’s ringing.

Designer Dog, this is Kristi.

Hey, it’s Vic. Do you have a minute, because it’s been one of those days…

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