The Rodent Cycle
(I am writing a book. It is called Salamander. It is about burning in a fire. And a journal of the plague year(s). It will be longer than The Anatomy Of Melancholy. This here is a small sliver: 21,682 words. Lie back. Smoke some opium. See if it does anything, for you. & if it seems like, in this part, I’m dancing around the fire, not really burning, not being there, in the thing itself: have you never read Slaughterhouse-Five? Catch-22? “There, there. There, there.” And. “So it goes.”)
February 2 is the day the Americans everywhere pause in their labors to await word from an oracular rodent who comes up from out of the ground to deliver climate wisdoms.
“Zoomancy,” that is the fancy word for such: humans scrutinizing the parts, patterns, particulars, of non-human creatures, for clues as to past, present, future.
This has been going on forever, from long before there were any Americans. The Incas, for instance, would remove the lungs of a llama, and inflate them by blowing into the trachea; priests then studied the distended veins of the blatted llama lungs, discerning thereby what the Incas should do in the politics. A Babylonian who might have a question, s/he would walk up to a sleeping ox, and splash water on its head. The reaction of the ox would then be compared to a Chart containing seventeen possible oracular answers. If the beast opened both eyes, that would be a “yes”; if both eyes remained closed, that would be "no answer, try again later"; if the animal rose up and drove a horn through your groin, that would be “oops." The Lombards would bake the head of an ass, then burn a piece of carbon on it. The names of suspected criminals were next recited: if, as a name was pronounced, the judge heard a certain distinctive crackling, sounding from the carbonized ass-head, that meant the person was guilty. It should surprise no one that the Kleagle worked like twelve bastards to revive this practice in the Americans’ immigration courts.
And so, too, come February 2, among the Americans, sleeping rodents are yanked out of their burrows, and ordered to announce whether winter is ending.
These rodents, it is said, achieve their climate forecasts through their shadows. If such a beast sees its shadow, winter will persist; if no shadow, spring soon come.
The most famous such rodent is Punxsutawney Phil, of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
“Punxsutawney” is a totally shit-just-made-up name, concocted by the Lenape to punish the white people for smallpoxing them and stealing their land. Because no white person can really pronounce it, without spluttering like Sylvester the cat. They look and sound funny, when they try.
“Punxsutawney,” it is said, variously translates as "town of the sandflies,” “town of the mosquitoes,” and “poison vine.”
Needless to say, none of the Lanape actually lived where is today Punxsutawney. Because the Lanape were Sane. Also, Decent. Only white people, would put down roots, in a horror hole infested with mosquitoes, sandflies, poison vines.
As befits a creature who dwells in a Hell of sandflies, mosquitoes, and poison vines, Punxsutawney Phil has never been universally loved. Sometimes he is actually, actively libeled. Back in 1908, for instance, the luciferian time-traveler Jeff Bezos commanded the Washington Post inscribe an editorial damning Phil as a false prophet of fake news:
“We want it distinctly understood that The Post is no blind, fanatical disciple of the ground hog. There has always been with us a lurking suspicion that this greatly lauded beast is an impudent and stupid humbug. Our persistent inclination is to class him with the goosebone, the hen running sideways across the road, the Tar baby, Brer Rabbit, and Brer Fox. The conjunction of a sunshiny 2d of February and a subsequent spell of detestable weather has never occurred to us as more than a mere fortuitous coincidence. Even now, although events should bolster up the superstition and yesterday’s bright sun be followed by six weeks of gloom, and cold, and grippe, we should stubbornly adhere to our incredulity—still maintain against all comers that the ground hog is no prophet."
Phil must also ceaselessly beat off the many pretenders to his throne. These alternate rodential climate criers include Chattanooga Chuck, out in Tennessee; General Beauregard "Beau" Lee, of Lilburn, Georgia; Hutty The Hog of Kansas City, Missouri; and Smith Lake Jake of Graysville, Alabama, a burg formerly known as Gin Town, because no one but a rodent could stomach living there without guzzling at all times great gallons of gin.
On the American continent, predictive rodents seem to have first emerged among the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The first thing to be understood about these people is that they are not Dutch. They are German. That Germans, they would be called Dutch: this is because everything, in the humans, is confused.
These particular humans, they became Americans when they emigrated from the shithole countries along the Rhine, where everyone was being pillaged and rapined in the Thirty Years War, the Sunni/Shia conflict of its time.
Once they became Pennsylvania Dutch, they proceeded to make Farms. And, in the winter they would sit in the House, on the Farm, and stare out at the snow, until they couldn’t take it any more, and then they would go out and pull a rodent up out of the ground, and ask it if the winter couldn’t be over already please.
Back in the homeland, there on the Rhine, badgers, with those people, they were the animals that were in charge of ending the winter. But a badger, it can rip a human’s arm off, right at the root. And so the Pennsylvania Dutch, there in the new homeland, decided it was safer to go groping around for a groundhog, rather than a badger. Because, they were in wisdom.
Sometimes a badger will want to live under your house, and then what you do is move. A badger is not a rodent, but is instead closely related to the wolverine, an animal the size of a cat that can take down and kill a bear. Evolution taught the wolverine that the way to meet Danger is to stand there and face it head-on. This worked well, until came the automobile. Which is why, today: wherever there is a road, there are no wolverines.
My companero Jeff was once riding along atop his horse when he casually roped a passing badger. He then spent the next six hours desperately trying to prevent the enraged animal from climbing up the rope onto the saddle to there make mincemeat of his gonads. The badger was the most dangerous creature he ever roped, he says. Except for his wife.
Seems he was a-rest at home one day, out in the yard, lazily roping his children, when his wife, she detected a certain look in his eye, and she said to him: "Don't you rope me, Jeff. I mean it. I'm telling you. Don't do it." He avowed that yes, no, he wouldn't rope her. But then, he just couldn't help himself—as she passed by, he roped her. She said nothing. Just slipped out of the rope. He thought that was the end of it. Until the next morning. When he awoke, walked through the front room, and saw, there in front of the wood stove, all laid out, his nice new special roping rope, cut into one-inch pieces.
It is possible that woman employed a groundhog, to dismember the rope. Because, like all rodents, the groundhog has Teeth. These are very sharp, and constantly employed in Cutting and Sawing. The animals' incisors grow at a rate of an inch every three months. Which is why they are out there gnawing your deck. So their teeth will not become long as walrus tusks. If you go out and yell at them, they will for sure whistle, and maybe bark, which is their way of announcing Danger.
The capybara eschews whistling when there is Danger, going straight for the bark. The capybara is the world’s largest rodent, living around water down in South America, where it is the favorite food of the anaconda. The anaconda is a snake the size of a train that can wrap itself around and squeeze open a nuclear power plant. In order not to become the favorite food of the anaconda, the capybara runs fast as a horse. Once upon a time I conceived a great notion to ranch capybara and then accumulate many midas piles challenging cowboys to race said rodents on their horses. No cowboy would believe his steed could be outrun by a rodent, with a bird or a cat or a monkey strapped to its back . . . until I had taken his money. You see, while no horse really wants a human atop its back, capybara don't mind riders at all. Everywhere in nature, can be seen various members of the animal kingdom, standing or sitting on capybaras. There is in fact an entire tube, devoted just to this phenomenon.
Heather, cowgirl with the sass, refused absolutely to believe a rodent could outrun her horse. You just wait, I told her, and see. And, once you are won over, you can join me, traveling the land, in a sort of capybara caravan, stopping here and there to challenge people with horse-hubris to race against these rodents, who will be saddled with monkeys. The horse-hubris people will scoff at the notion that a rodent can outrun their equus, and so will wager all of their dollars, that it cannot be done. Then, will come the race, and they will Lose. We will, I explained, then take their money, and accumulate a great midas pile, which we can use to buy the oak lot next to the feed store, which you can then transform into the horse annex. As, it is written. So, it will be done. And, it will be, a new dawn.
I first met capybaras in the weirdo wing of the San Francisco Zoo, where they were placed right across from the backward-penis hippos. The backward-penis hippo is a form of pygmy hippopotamus where the male has a penis that juts not fore, but aft. I used to know what is the term for an aft-backwards hippo-penis, but it's slipping my mind at the moment, and I am not looking it up. This is because the Kleagle says that he does not exercise because the body is a battery, with but a finite amount of energy, and so, if he exercises, he will thereby deplete the battery of energy he needs for acts truly important, like grabbing women by the genitals, or feeding from the KFC bucket. The Americans elected the Kleagle to be their president, so that must mean he knows what he's talking about. And so, if the body is a battery with but finite energy, so too must be the tubes. You can only go into the tubes so many times, to research this or that, before the tubes battery runs down, is exhausted, and collapses in on itself, like a black hole. I do not want any black holes, here on this Duncan Phyfe. So that is why I am not going to find out what is the word for a backwards-penis hippo.
This, is Logic.
A potential impediment to the capybara Plan was that it is not "legal" in California to "own" capybaras. Which is a nonsense. Because capybara are already here, free-range, most notably down around Paso Robles, where they frequent waste treatment facilities. California has many stupid rules involving animals. For instance, once I decided there should be zebras on this property. But then I discovered that to roam zebras I would not only have to get a special permit, but also go to an actual zebra School. I do not need any zebra School. I already know what is most important to know about a zebra. To wit: (1) they will never be tame; (2) they need a ten-foot fence, not a mere six-foot deer fence; and (3) if they don’t like what you are doing, they will kick your head right off your body.
When you are marooned among the Americans, and you want to race capybara, then in order to cavort with said rodents, within the Law, you must live in either Texas, or Pennsylvania. Texas, because there pretty much everything—so long as you are a white person—is legal: not so long ago, it was perfectly permissible in Texas to speed down the highway with a loaded gun in one hand, and an open bottle of whiskey in the other. Pennsylvania, presumably because of that state's well-known rodent fetish: see Phil, groundhog, Punxsutawney.
But I had a scheme, to surmount any legal difficulty. I was going to obtain a pardon from the governor. Jerry Brown was nearing the end of his second go-round as governor, and executive officeholders are renowned for going strange, when issuing their final pardons. So I figured Brown could grant a pardon, prohibiting prosecution, and for all time, when I raced the capybaras.
I have an "in" with Brown because when he was governor the first time I wrote a story in the newspaper about him being naked. For this he has remembered me, for what is going on forty years now. What would happen is that I would promise not to write another story about him being naked, so long as there was the pardon. Also, I know where is his ranch, down there in Colusa County. There Brown is planning a quiet retirement. But his retirement, it would not be quiet, if he did not issue the pardon. Because I would round up a herd of free-range, unpardoned capybaras, and then run them onto his land. It would be like a cattle stampede. Capybaras push out babies every few weeks or so, and so soon it would be like a Soylent Green of capybaras, there on his ranch. Brown would not want that. So, he would grant the pardon.
Then, pardon safely in hand, we would clean out the cowboys of all of their money, betting on the rodent races. And then the cowgirl with the sass, she would saddle up her pony. And ride him, on a boat, out on the sea.
But then the town burned down, and I got distracted, and by the time I remembered the capybara pardon plan, Brown was no longer the governor.
And thus we are now back again with the subterranean rodents. And how, in 2020, when arrived February 2, and the humans, they went out to pull the groundhogs up from out of the ground, to hear from them about the winter, many of the groundhogs, they were not there. This is because the groundhogs did not have the proper papers, and so the Kleagle had them deported. The Kleagle has a great Hate for nature, because it is not gilded, and so he wants it all put to sleep. Many of the groundhogs have long lived in Canada, and when the Kleagle came after the American ones, for the deporting, a lot of them began gnawing their way there at top speed. It was like a Trail of Tears, except all the wood on the way is chewed. Which is why it will go into the histories as the Trail of Splinters.
Some of the groundhogs reached Canada upon an Underground Railway. A single groundhog will churn up some 700 pounds of dirt in constructing just one burrow; and each groundhog, s/he makes a lot of burrows. So it is nothing for them, really, to dig long tunnels, beneath the Kleagle regions, in order to reach Canada. Where, like the black people of yore, they can be Free.
The Kleagle also tried to ban the true-life documentary film Groundhog Day. He considers it wrong, fake news, a failure that should never have been made.
As, for many years, it wasn’t.
Groundhog Day was an emanation of the ether that traveled through the many levels and into the brainpan of the human Danny Rubin. He peddled his Groundhog Day script for many years, to the men with the money, who all said they loved it, but of course they would never finance it, because nobody would want to pay to see it.
Then, once upon an eon, Rubin was scratching around for a new agent. He sent that agent the Groundhog script. That agent said he loved the Groundhog script, though of course it would never be made, and of course he would never represent Rubin. But what he would do, he said, was pass the Groundhog script on to another client, who might maybe like it.
That client was Harold Ramis. Who had committed a series of serious crimes against cinema—Stripes, Meatballs, Caddyshack, etc., et al. And who knew that Ghostbusters, on its own, was not enough, to Atone. And so he decided to take Groundhog Day. To try to answer for himself, before the cinema gods. And because of the Ghostbusters, which brought in more dollars than there on leaves on the trees, the men with the money, they said they would let him make it.
Ramis then worked with Rubin to refashion the script, in order to rope into the project Bill Murray. Because Ramis felt it essential that the protagonist be a complete asshole. And Murray, Ramis knew, he, was that man.
And, indeed, during filming, Murray fully flowered, in all his utter assholeness. He threw extreme and dangerous tantrums, including demanding, among many other unsane things, that the movie go all dark and moody: he wanted a sort of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold feel. Murray was then still smarting from the reception of The Razor's Edge, his bid to break through in a "serious" film. But audiences did not want to see that movie, and the critics all laughed and called Murray names. It was a rerun of Steve McQueen's pants-down go at Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People. It is why Marion Morrison—that is, John Wayne—never indulged, on stage or on screen, his true affection for the works of Noel Coward. Said Wayne: "It never got past the thought stage. I guess they figured that maybe spurs and Blithe Spirit wouldn’t go together. Can’t you see the critics? ‘Wayne should go back to killing Indians, not Noel Coward.’”
Nobody ever gets to be what they really want. That is just a Law. Robert Redford. He got to be “Robert Redford.” But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to be a professional baseball player. But, for that, he just didn’t have it. And so, in all of his life, he is unfulfilled. The closest he got, was The Natural. Which is why he worked like twelve bastards, for more than twelve years, to get that film made. So he could be. If but for one brief shining moment. Something, like, a professional baseball player. In a shit. Just made up.
“My life,” he says in that film, “didn’t turn out the way I expected.”
“I believe we have two lives, “says the woman in white. “The life we learn with. And the life we live with, after.”
Murray these days is suffering from the curse that has descended upon those in the Hunter S. Thompson karass. In the years since Thompson blew his brains out, things have not gone swimmingly, for those in Thompson's once and future boys' club. Johnny Depp, for instance, today arrives at premieres so bibulated he is unable to walk without assistance. He has spent all of his money—which once totaled more than the annual GDP of many African nations—and now regards as a wise career choice nakedly frolicking in Marilyn Manson videos. He abandoned long-time partner Vanessa Paradis to become an Amber Heard tabloid toy. Once the Depp toy was broken, Heard moved on to Elon Musk, a man who has never really been sane—he wants to nuke Mars—but who completely lost all his remaining marbles, once he was Hearded. Heard left Musk blubbering in the bed, wondering publicly how best to suicide, but his "recovery" may be even worse: Musk now manufactures “personal flamethrowers,” and peddles them, laughing maniacally, all over the tubes. Depp meanwhile walked eyes wide shut into another Amber alert, saying Heard had him Libeled, but then the judge said: no, she spoke truth, you are an animal, go hide in a hole.
Murray has yet to experience an Amber alert, but he has meanwhile become Bobo the wandering sot, randomly inserting himself, while various sheets to the wind, into this life and that. Once—and this is in the tubes—he memorably weaved into some guy's bachelor party and there commenced dispensing whiskey-breath relationship advice. A thespian is really the last sort of person anyone would want to listen to on matters of love and marriage. This is because, by the very nature of the craft, a thespian is required to be so many different people. The kahuna Serge King talks about this in his book Changing Reality: a gift of shamans is becoming other beings, and "actors and actresses, whose profession developed out of an age-old shamanic tradition, are the most well-known practitioners of this skill today." This is why, when you become involved with a thespian, you may drift off to sleep next to sweet Sir Galahad, but wake up gazing into the glittering eyes of Chuckles Manson.
In Groundhog Day Murray shamans forth Phil Connors, a television weatherman in Pittsburgh, whose defining characteristic is that he is an asshole. The film also immediately establishes that this man is not about the Real: we see just his hand, frozen upon a field of blue, as he intones gibberish about temperatures. Phil is beaming through the television, emitting bloviations about the weather, working before a blank blue screen, upon which will be projected for the viewers at home a map, which is a non-real representation of various lands and waters—which themselves are, but only maybe, Real.
Before he is out of this intro TV spiel, we know that Phil is a smug, contemptuous ass. Hole. And we don't want to be around him. But we travel with him anyway, because the film compels us to, on his assignment to Punxsutawney. There to receive the wisdom. Of the rodent. On February 2. Groundhog Day.
While Phil's producer, Rita, and his cameraman, Larry, can appreciate the charm in such frivolity, Phil himself is volubly aggrieved that he must mix with those he regards as morons and hicks, in senseless service to an overgrown rat. He sneers his way through the day; then, at its end, is unable to return to Pittsburgh, because of a blizzard (that he failed to predict). Phil mopes with his crew back to Punxsutawney, and there grumps off to sleep.
To awaken the next morning: in the exact same day.
Every day, for Phil, is now Groundhog Day. He is trapped in an endless rerun. And only he is aware that everyone in town is in a time loop, reliving the same ol' day. Day after day after day.
Early on, along his stations on this cross, Phil sees a sawbones and a shrink: they have no answers. Next, he consults a pair of town tipplers, in a bowling-alley bar.
"What would you do?" Phil glums. "If you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"
To which one of the tipplers replies: "That about sums it up for me."
It is in the company of these tipplers that Phil decides that since he is forever looped into the same exact day, nothing he might do, on any particular manifestation of that day, will have any carry-over effects, into any "next" day—as there never is any "next" day: always he will inevitably awaken, at 6:00 a.m., there in Groundhog Day, begun anew, once again—and so this means he may safely, and without consequence, embark on a grand tour of the vices.
And so Phil avidly indulges, for centuries, in gluttony, lust, larceny, fetishes as outre as may be depicted in a film rated PG. Until eventually in this Phil reaches an Ecclesiastes moment: he's been through it all, and all, is just . . . boring. Also, stupid.
Next, he connivingly decides to seduce Rita. He’s still a complete asshole. And so, through endless repetition, he caddishly accumulates vast quantities of information about her, so as to craft what she will consider a perfect day. So that, at the end of it, she will consent to be his bed-toy.
Because, in this, in both means and motive, Phil is foully base, he never gets there. In the end, in each day, Rita can always sense it: she is—somehow, some way, she just feels it—the target of some creepy scheme. Phil almost makes it, once, but, ever after, he each time falls further and further from his goal. Sweating, desperation. Increasingly, repelling, her.
So Phil next goes Musk-like morose, and takes to sitting in his pajamas in front of the television, eating popcorn and drinking whiskey, impressing the old folks at his B&B by correctly “guessing” all the Jeopardy questions.
While in this meditative state, Phil, like a true American, conceives a CT: It is all the fault of the groundhog. The weather-predicting rodent, it is somehow responsible. For all of this. If the hog, he can in some way be Stopped, Phil figures, the days, they will then begin again.
So Phil kidnaps the rodent, throws it into a truck, and then they drive together to a quarry. And then Phil guns the vehicle off a cliff, and, together, Phil and the groundhog, they become a roaring fireball.
Because, everything, in the end, goes to, fire.
But it doesn't work. The CT—like all CTs—it was Wrong. Phil, the groundhog, Groundhog Day: they all persist. For Phil. Right at 6:00 a.m. The "next" day. Which. Is the same. Damn. Day.
Phil next embarks on a millennia-long tour of various ways of killing himself. Now that he knows he will live again, every time, he dies. Until that too, gets boring. Also, stupid. For several hundred years, immediately upon waking, he shuffles downstairs in his B&B to grip the toaster, take it upstairs, plug it in, and drop it into the bath with him. In this way, he can at least, short out the day, early.
Then, tired even of ending his life, Phil, as is common with humans who come to understand that life is non-ordinary, conceives a desire to communicate this non-ordinariness to other humans. So he announces to Rita that he is immortal, a form of god. As is also common, this does not go over well: he is not believed. As an attempt at proof, Phil demonstrates to Rita his intimate knowledge of the lives of the various townspeople, which he has gathered over the endless millennia he has lived among them. But Rita regards this as some sort of trick.
“Maybe the real god uses tricks," Phil moans. "Maybe he’s not omnipotent, he’s just been around so long he knows everything.”
Phil, now in the eleventy-billionth repetition or so of his day, has dialed down his assholeness sufficiently so that it is now possible for a human to stand to be around him without wanting to power-chug cyanide. And so Rita agrees to spend the whole day with him. To test, his story. And, through this day, let's give credit, Phil manages to restrain his Weinsteining impulses. But, still, no, Groundhog Day, it does not let Phil, go.
Nor does it let him go when Phil elects to devote his endless time to more than popcorn and Jeopardy and cad-manning: learning the piano, taking up ice-sculpting, etc.
Because Phil's still not there.
Phil starts to get there when he at last directs attention to the broken begging old man Phil has spurned hundreds of millions of times before. Phil gets the old man in off the street, and ultimately arrives with him at the hospital. Where the old man dies.
Phil refuses to accept this. “Sometimes people just die,” the nurse says.
“Not today,” Phil says. For no one can die, in his day. That day, that must repeat, over and over and over and over and over again. It can't be. That always. That man. Will die. In it.
We then see: repeat: endless eons: in which Phil tries all, in that day, to keep that man, alive.
And, we see that, all the attempts, they, always, fail. For, in that day, that man. He is. Always. Going. To die.
When next we see Phil, he has reordered all of his life. He cannot save that old man—who, in that day, will always die—but Phil has understood that what he can do, is identify the suffering, in that day, of those who can be helped, and that he can arrange to be there, to help them. Because he has lived in that day—forever—he can do that. Because he Knows. All of that day. So, he is there: when a boy falls high from a tree, when motoring senior citizens are arest with a flat tire, when a steak-choker is in gasping need of a Heimlich, when a woman requires a light for her cigarette. He knows when and where he will be needed, and he arranges to be there. All day. Every day. Even whom he formerly regarded as pure apparational plague, his high-school classmate, geekily pressing on Phil insurance—Phil now buys from this guy more insurance than any ten humans might ever need. And why not? It makes the man happy. And it costs Phil. Nothing.
This time, when, at the end of the day, Phil tells Rita he loves her, he really means it. And, this time, the next morning, it is, actually, and at last, for Phil a real, brand new, day.
Because Phil, he has at last graduated. Absorbed the Lew Welch "Course College Graduation Address":
(1) Freak out.
(2) Come back.
(3) Bandage the wounded and feed
however many you can.
(4) Never cheat.
Groundhog Day, it is a charming little confection. But because it is a Law that nothing is appreciated by everyone—not even capybaras, or even chocolate—there have been some grumblings over the years about this film.
One of the grumblings goes like this: why does it have to be framed as a rom-com, fall into a boy-earns-girl fable?
This of course is a criticism that can be howitzered at most all of the movies—even those about the politics. To wit, Reds: boy meets girl, boy and girl have some sex and some politics, boy's kidneys bleed out and he is buried in a Wall. Or, 1984: boy meets girl, boy and girl have some sex and some politics, rats in the face cause boy to shift his love to Big Brother. Etc. The movies, they are all always about love. Because love, is all there is. We know this. Because, Zimmerman. He, said it.
Also, in this case, rom-coming, it seems actually appropriate. When one considers just why it is that the groundhog comes blinking out of his burrow round about early February. It is not because he is a narcissist with an overwhelming need to stand staring starry-eyed at his own shadow. Or because he is some human helpmeet up to chatter about the weather. No. The r