Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The Groundhog Variations
I had a lot of time to think about Groundhog Day today. I was stuck in the waiting room of Career Source, where an Unemployment rep holds court every Tuesday and Friday. I was waiting to refile my claim. I was #31, sitting at a table with #29, a man with a trim beard and an organized manner. People sat around with books and crossword puzzles, looking solemn, bored, wary.
I'll be ready if someone comes out with a clipboard and asks us, "Does anyone know what day it is?" Some people will answer, "Tuesday" or "February 2d." But when she calls on me, I'll say, "Groundhog Day." "That's right," she'll say, and others will wince that they missed the answer. It could cost them a job referral. "And what is the significance of Groundhog Day?" she'll go on. This time someone else rushes to answer, but in his haste he gets it backwards. "If he sees his shadow, it's going to be nice. If he doesn't, it's going to snow?" I raise my hand confidently. "If he sees his shadow, he'll get an interview. If he doesn't, it may mean he doesn't exist. And if he doesn't exist, his claim will be delayed. So that's why, to ensure that you cast a shadow, you should always carry a light source with you, like a flashlight or a candle. Hence the other name for the holiday: Candlemas."
She nods. "Which rhymes with?"
She marks something down in her clipboard that may have relevance to our future. Six more months of unemployment? A shovel-ready job destroying woodchuck habitat?
There follows a spelling bee that consists of one word: Punxsutawney. Only I get it right, and I add that it comes from the Delaware Indian word meaning "village of sandflies."
At this point, someone is shaking my shoulder. I lift my head from the table. "Number 31," a lady says.
"I have been here 4 1/2 hours," I say, following her to her cubicle. "I've been here eleven years," she replies. "What is your favorite holiday?"
"Groundhog Day," I answer carefully.
She writes that down. "Why do you consider the groundhog a role model in an uncertain economy?"
"You've got to take what you can get?" I guess. She frowns slightly. "Um. And whether he actually sees his shadow doesn't matter. It's that he got out of his burrow and looked." She smiles this time.
"If you could be any—"
"—animal besides a groundhog, what would you be?"
"Grog hound. No, ground squirrel. Aardvark."
"Take this seriously, please."
"How can I when your eyes are so bewitching?"
This time my shoulder is shaken more roughly. It's a tall, heavyset man with tattoos and a goatee. "We're closing," he says. They've turned out most of the lights.
"How long have I been asleep?" I ask.
"How the hell should I know?"
I pick up my stuff, shuffle to the door, then turn. "Just tell me one thing. Did I see my shadow?"
He grins, revealing metal teeth. "You're looking at him, pal."
They trundled me out of my burrow,
Set me down in this snow-crusted furrow.
And then for a sport
Waited for my report
Like I'm Edward R. (expletive) Murrow
How'd you like it, I wish I had said,
If some bears threw you out of your bed
So you're freezing to death
As they look at your breath
To see if bad storms lie ahead?
On the other hand, there's only one holiday in the pantheon of holidays that honors an animal, and you're it, Hawg. So contemplate your otherness. Is it what you is or what you ain't? Who knows?
Who knows what light we displace, what shade we give, what time it is when watches fail? The shadow knows.
(Cue spooky laugh. Fade to February 3.)