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Groundhog Day


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Phil Villarreal

By Phil Villarreal
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 31, 2000
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Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has the Easter Bunny and Halloween has the Old Recluse, who gives kids candy apples with razor blades embedded in them.

Groundhog Day - coming up Wednesday - has Punxsutawney Phil.

Until last Thursday, the only one of those characters I believed really existed was the Easter Bunny.

But I had some doubts that Punxsutawney Phil, the rodent made famous in the early 1990s movie, "Groundhog Day," was only a myth. I mean, they made a movie about him. If there's one truth to live by in this world, it's that movies never lie.

So I decided to do some digging.

In the two-hour break between my business management and psychology classes, I placed a phone call to the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce to find out if Phil was the real thing.

I did this partly in the name of journalistic intrepidness, partly to see the funny look on my editor's face when the staff phone bill showed up with a 95-minute phone call to a tiny town in Pennsylvania.

I found out that not only is Punxsutawney Phil real, he's one bad mother-shut-your-mouth groundhog.

Thanks to Mike Johnston, an Inner Circle of the International Groundhog Club member, my head is now filled with the entire legend of my groundhog namesake of the northeast.

He will emerge from his burrow, check to see his shadow, then make his prediction.

Now remember - most groundhogs make their predictions by either staying out of their burrows (meaning an early spring) or seeing the shadow, then running back into the hole like ninnies (meaning six more weeks of winter).

But not Punxsutawney Phil.

Phil comes out of his burrow at Gobbler's Nob all calm-like, weighs his options, maybe even tests the wind by putting a little paw up in the air.

If Phil should happen to see his shadow, there's no way that he'll go scurrying back into some hole in the ground. Would Bruce Willis go running from some terrorists?

If Phil sees the shadow, he calmly tells Groundhog Club President Bill Cooper in groundhog-speak that the citizens of the world can expect six more weeks of winter.

Bill Cooper, you should know, is the only man on the planet who can communicate with Phil.

And you read right a couple paragraphs ago that Phil's predictions stand for the entire world, except for the Southern Hemisphere, of course. What's more impressive is that Phil has never been wrong in any of his years of prognostication. That means that whatever Phil says in Punxsutawney Wednesday goes for Tucson as well.

How has Phil managed to live this long? By drinking groundhog punch, of course. One sip of the secret-ingredient punch - made by Cooper - gives Phil seven additional years of life.

At the end of the phone conversation, I asked if there was any way I could speak to Phil via an interpreter. I was told that I could ask just one question.

"What would you say to the people of Tucson to get them to further appreciate your holiday?"

After a few minutes' pause, I received my answer.

"Happy Groundhog Day," Johnston said.

"That's it?" I asked.

"Just 'Happy Groundhog Day,'" Johnston said. "He needn't say anymore."

The Easter Bunny couldn't have said it better.

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