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Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is February the second! I remember living in towns with rough weather—like Geneseo, New York, up near Rochester. And then there’d be a article in the paper every year about the so-called groundhog Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (What a GROOVY town name!) It seemed like Phil would always predict a heartbreaking six more weeks of Winter.

I formed a bitter theory that this so-called groundhog was in fact a fact a robot on rails. I’d discuss this endlessly with my three children, summing up my theory in the slogan:


The first “Zzzt” is the sound of the fake mechanical Pennsylvania groundhog rolling out on rails. The “*shine*” is the illumination by a powerful TV camera floodlight producing a shadow. And then comes the predetermined and automatic second “Zzzt,” which represents the rolling back of the mechanical groundhog and the extinguishing of all human hope.

What is the motive behind this cruel hoax? My theory is that it’s designed to crush the hopes of the public at large. Why? Because a despairing populace stays inside and watches TV, only going outside to visit the shopping mall or a big-box retailer. Sufficiently beaten down, we become ideal consumers, robotic drones in the capitalist hive.

An even more paranoid theory of mine in those times was that external reality is (as quantum mechanics tells us) nothing more than a consensual group hallucination and that therefore, if the media can convince us that the weather will be bad—then the force of our collective convictions will guarantee that the weather really is bad.

By the way, I worked this last theory (that a conspiracy to forecast bad weather is creating the bad weather) as an aside into my short story, “Schrödinger’s Cat,” which appeared in Analog in March, 1981. Just for the fun of it, I’m putting a PDF version of “Schrödinger’s Cat” online for you to read. And here’s the relevant excerpt from the story:

I had a nervous breakdown during my fourth year at Wankato. It had to do with the television weather reports. Quantum mechanics implies that until someone makes an observation, the weather is indeterminate, in a mixed state. There is, in principle, no reason why it should not be sunny every day. Indeed, it is logically possible to argue that it rains only because people believe it to be raining.

Fact: in Wankato, Minnesota, there is precipitation 227 days of the year.

Before too long I thought I had determined the reason for this. All of the citizens of Wankato … even the faculty members … watch television weather reports every evening. These reports almost always predict rain or snow. It seemed obvious to me, in my isolation, that if the weather reports could be stopped, then it would not rain so often.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to gather signatures for a petition. I went to the TV station and complained. Finally, I forced my way into the studio one evening and interrupted the weather report to state my case.

“Tomorrow it will be sunny!” I cried. “If only you will believe!”

The next day it was sunny. But I was out of a job, and in a mental institution. It was clear that I needed a rest. It had been folly to shift my fellows over so abruptly from one belief system to another.

Changing perspective a bit—the movie Groundhog Day is, I would say, one of the very best science-fiction movies ever made, and has a very clever and philosophically profound treatment of time. The author of the story and co-author of the script is Danny Rubin, who maintains an interesting Blogus Groundhogus about his career and about his sacred text. I notice that the second version of Danny’s script (as revised by the film’s director, Harold Ramis), is online.

In an email today, Danny wrote me, “The first draft of the screenplay — which everybody seems interested in — is going to be published soon so you’ll get to see how it developed.” And, late-breaking news flash, Danny is giving me an unpublished SF story of his, “The Palmetto Man” to run in the Spring-Summer, 2010 Issue #9 of my webzine, Flurb! Yeah, baby!

[Image copyright (c) Andrew Wyeth. See the link below for purchasing prints.]

And don’t forget Andrew Wyeth’s classic painting, “Groundhog Day.” Sylvia and I had a print of this on our wall for years, it was like having an extra window. And then it fell out the window and was gone.

And, changing the subject once more, I just finished my own groundhog-day-time-period painting today, the first painting I’ve done in awhile. It’s called Amenhotep’s Ghost, and it has to do with a creature who’s making some dramatic and disturbing appearances in the closing chapters of my novel-in-progress, Jim and the Flims. He’s holding the flail, hook and ankh, symbolic of a pharoah’s power.

[Image copyright (c) Isabel Rucker 2009.]

I got some of those hieroglyphics from my daughter Isabel, who used them in this frame of her masterful graphic novel Unfurling to depict a street-person speaking “Tweakenese.”

What are Amenhotep and the tweaker saying?

“It can be Spring starting tomorrow, if only we’ll open our minds! And don’t let them fool you with the Zzzt—*shine*—zzzt! of Punxsutawney Phil! And Danny Rubin rocks!”

7 Responses to “Groundhog Day”

  1. Mark Dow Says:

    Your creature in Amenhotep’s Ghost could use a few ocelli, light-sensitive organs that play a role in arthropod timekeeping. I just saw this fantastic photo of a European hornet with them at center stage:

  2. Alex Says:

    Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
    Mrs. Lancaster: I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.

  3. Steve H Says:

    PETA already suggested replacing Phil with a rubber groundhog, but what use would THAT be? It could never actually ‘see’ its shadow . . .

  4. Yamma Says:

    The latest report from Gobbler’s Knob PA, Phil’s official residence: 6 more weeks of winter.

  5. Rudy Says:

    Same old? Amazon is in a war with Macmillan, the publishing company that owns Tor Books, who publish much of my work. Details on this Author’s Guild page. As of this morning, Amazon seems to turned off all the “Buy” or “Add to Cart” buttons for buying Macmillan books from Amazon (as opposed to buying them used…and used books sales net no money at all for publishers or authors).


    Amazon has also turned off some of its pages for Macmillan books, such as the page for the Kindle edition of my Tor book Hylozoic…which is, however still available as an ebook from Barnes and Noble.

    I no longer think of Amazon as a Good Thing! As the site Fast Company puts it in their article, “Amazon Revealed: It Hates You, And It Hates Publishers.”

    Here’s another link, an article in the Washington Post.

  6. paradoctor Says:

    Quantum groundhog paranoia? I love it.

    Maybe the groundhog is entangled with other quantum barriers. Maybe the year that Punxsatawney Phil predicts an early spring will also be the year that the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. If so, then beware, for changes that great might cause a rift in the space-time continuum.

  7. Steve H Says:

    In the future, will they say that Rudy was the first to collapse the wave function of a groundhog?

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