I want everyone to know that any similarities between this secret interview in Punxsutawney and the one actor Sean Penn did with the Mexican drug lord are coincidental.
It is true that Punxsutawney Phil and Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera are both tunneling experts. And, both are known as “Shorty.”
But, Phil is no drug dealer. I know. I tried to cop some of the elixir he’s taken to stay alive for at least 128 years. He just wouldn’t share.
It is his long life and potential insights into the past that made me want to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding him.
All we know about him is what the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club wants us to know. I wanted more.
Phil is kept in a sound-proof bunker at the Punxsutawney Library. Vigilant librarians and volunteers watch over him. At night, it’s a different story. My best chance was to get into the library and break into his bunker after closing time.
That’s where the cleaning woman comes in. I smiled at her over a lattee at the Tip Top Cafe. She smiled back and that evening she met me at the library’s back door.
She was worried. I could tell. She warned me of the highly sensitive alarm and camera system. I gingerly walked passed the main desk and approached Phil’s home. As I expected, next to the door was a red switch labeled “ALARM.” I turned off the switch and wiped the sweat from my brow.
I opened the hatch and tossed in an open bag of dog chow. A small black hand grabbed the bag.
The Inner Circle, which always wears top hats and tuxedos, claims that only the president of their club can understand Groundhogs. Even then, they say Phil is difficult to hear because he tends to whisper. I reasoned that he whispers because he lives in a library, but he would speak loud enough for me and my smartphone. The phone’s translation mode would bring Phil’s words to me clearly in the voice of Siri. Oh, the truths it revealed!
By the way, the word siri in Swahili means secret. The iPhone guy who named it, however, was thinking of its Norse meaning: Beautiful woman who leads you to victory. Yeah, Vikings were always thinking that way. I like the Swahili better. Let’s unveil some secrets.
Me: Phil, I’ve read that the only reason male groundhogs come out of their burrows at the beginning of February is to scout around for female neighbors. If it’s cloudy and you cast no shadow, spring will come early, love will be in the air and there will be plenty of food for the resulting young-uns. If the sun shines, and you cast a shadow, winter will last another six weeks, she won’t be in the mood and there wouldn’t be enough for baby groundhogs to eat anyway. So, you go back home and sleep. Is that right? You don’t care if humans know when to put their boots away?
Phil: . . . .zzzzzzzzzz…zzzzzzz
Me: Phil, wake up!
I poke him with a broom the cleaning woman hands me.
Phil: What? Where are the chicks?
Me: I have also read that you are wrong much more often than you are right. In 128 years, you’ve cast a shadow 102 times. That’s a lot of sunny winter mornings. It’s meant, of course, that winter would drag on and you would have to do without female companionship for another six long weeks. But, modern computers say you were laying alone more than you had to. Average temperatures in recent decades often were moderate after your long winter forecasts. But, averages don’t tell us when winter is done. Don’t you agree? Am I right, or am I right?
Phil: Ned, Ned Ryerson? Is that you? (He’s the Punxsutawney insurance agent in the Groundhog Day movie.)
Me: No, it’s Now Then, Pittsburgh.
Phil: Oh, . . .Have you seen her? Have you seen Philomenia?
Phil stands up and sniffs the air.
Me: No. Now, about your name. I understand you were originally Punxsutawney Pete until a Pittsburgh Press reporter got your name wrong in the 1950s. His story generated so much publicity, though, that you had to go with the new name. Earlier newspaper accounts have you as Wiley William Woodchuck. The Inner Circle claims you’ve always been Phil. Is that true? If so, who were these others. And what happened to Frau Groundhog, who represented you on national television in the early 1950s?
Phil: She has a really nice tail.
Me: Who? Frau Groundhog?
Phil: No, Philomenia. Smells good, too.
Me: I haven’t seen her. I hear that groundhog burrows can be pretty impressive. This is pretty nice here under the fake tree trunk, but I hear groundhog havens can be nearly 70 feet long with rooms off to the sides. They include bathrooms for doing your business without going out into the cold. Females have a birthing room and a nursery in their digs. Still, I understand you live alone in these McMansions. You’re all loners. You won’t get close to another groundhog unless it’s a female and it’s mating time. Young groundhogs leave their moms five to six weeks after birth. Was your mother pretty distant?
Phil: . . . zzzzzzz……..zzzzzzz
Me: Phil! I just saw a woodchuck chick outside!
Phil: A what? Where?
Me: Stay with me. The name woodchuck is not about wood or chucking it. It’s just how we’ve altered Indian names for you. Those names, depending on the tribe, sounded something close to woodchuck. There is no correct way to spell Indian words because they had no written language. And, no crossword puzzles, either. You groundhogs exist only here in North America. European settlers used badgers and hedgehogs to tell them how much longer winter would last. Europeans still do. As far as anyone knows, Indians never used your ancestors for anything other than stew. Is that true?
Phil: Was the woodchuck chick a little heavy with buck teeth?
Phil looks out his transparent cell and through the building window into Punxsutawney.
Me: In fact, in the early 1900s people came from all over to hunt groundhogs, march in parades, dance the Groundhog Roll and feast on groundhog stew, A special train ran from Pittsburgh to carry the celebrants. Did you expect to be eaten when the city editor for the Punxsutawney newspaper captured you in 1877? Did you have any idea he would set you up to become the legendary prognosticator you are today. Oh, the power of the press, the willingness of people to be led by the nose out of winter. Don’t you agree?
Phil: A cop is checking your license number.
I look outside. Sure enough, a uniformed officer is standing in the parking lot behind my car. Most disturbing, tails from a formal tuxedo coat hang down from the back of his cop jacket. Time is running out.
Me: Tell me about your health at your advanced age. You are one of the few animals who truly hibernates, but you still get up a dozen or so times. Is that to go to the bathroom? Or, do you need a sleep-numbered bed? I can see why you are a loner. Who would want to sleep with you? Your body temperature can drop 99 degrees to as low as 37. Your heart slows from 80 beats per minute to 5. Snoring wouldn’t be much of a problem, though. You only breath twice a minute. What do you dream about?
Phil: Phyllis, have you seen Phyllis? I haven’t smelled her around here in a long time.
Me: Okay, Phil, I can understand what makes you tick. There is one final thing I would like you to clear up. It’s frigid out there. Give me the scoop. Will you cast a shadow or not on Feb. 2?
He rolled his eyes.
Hurried footsteps and a tenor voice wafted through the door from a distance down the hall.
“I, the pinnacle of this illustrious ensemble declare that if one follicle, I say one follicle of our Prognosticator of Prognosticators is laid asunder, I solemnly vow . . .”
I looked at the cleaning lady. She took a photo of myself and Phil for verification purposes. Then, she pushed a curbside “Book Return” container up to me. I climbed in and pressed Phil once more.
Me: Will winter end soon or will it drag on?
He closed his eyes and smiled.
I pulled the lid shut, happy with my scoop. And, now you, the readers of Now Then, Pittsburgh, have it, too.
Want to go to Punxsy and catch some of the fun? Get the details here.
–Sean Penn’s story on the drug lord El Chapo (Shorty) for Rolling Stone magazine is here.
— A preview of Don Yoder’s exhaustive book, Groundhog Day, is worth perusing here.
— The Stormfax Weather Almanac with Phil’s forecasting record can be seen here.
Originally posted 2016-01-20 14:08:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter