Ask Ceil – Let Groundhogs Entertain You!

Dear Ceil,

Why Groundhog Day? Why?!

Pestered in Petersberg

Dear Pestered,

I concur. Just take a look at them. They have no right to their own holiday. Groundhogs are evil beasts of carnage. They have huge top and bottom teeth that never stop growing. To keep them short, they are biologically driven to gnaw on things. (Like human bones.) Then there’s the curved, thick claws, like scythes. They are the angel of death times ten. They’re antisocial, they’re aggressive. Their skulls are so thick that they can withstand a blow that would render the normal animal unconscious. They have those beady little eyes!

Why do we look to these savages of vile intent to forecast the weather? Surely there must be an animal better suited to meteorology. At least, there should be one that doesn’t want to kill us in our sleep.

In 1948, there was a study of woolly bear caterpillars, because a biologist thought he might be able to tell the severity of winter by the length of the caterpillar segments. The Koyukon in Alaska say that the size of snowshoe hares’ footprints predict the snowfall. And the Kutchin people say that where a black bear sleeps will predict the severity of the winter. All this brings me to a very important question:

Why do we want our animals to tell us the future?

I’ll just let that sit there for a little while, as you imagine a squirrel with a little turban and a deck of tarot cards.

And and then I’ll ask another very important question:

When we have actual scientists giving us data about global warming, we doubt them. But when a woodchuck sticks his head out of a hole, we are absolutely enraptured. Why is that?

Humans, as ages have proved, (and I have proved, as I sat in front of many a supervisor) only hear what we want to hear. We want to know the future, I think, but only if it’s good news. No one goes back to the fortune-teller who tells us we’re going to die. (I suppose if the fortune-teller is any good, you wouldn’t go back anyway, would you?) For instance, let’s look at old Punxsatawny Phil. The legend says that, if he sees his shadow (ergo, it is bright) then he scurries back into his hole. Six more weeks of winter. But if he doesn’t see his shadow, he comes out, calls his friends, gets a caterer and a band. He’s ready to go. Hello spring!

So, what is the likelihood that it’s bright and sunny in the dead of winter in Central Pennsylvania? Well, I live in Western Pennsylvania and I have to say, it’s usually not that great. So, we’re actually stacking the deck in our favor. We want our groundhogs to provide us with an early spring. It’s not fair, really, to the groundhog. We set him up to have all this power, when secretly we’ve already loaded the dice. It’s got to be a terrible disillusionment for him.

But here’s how bad we are at fixing the game: Phil has only predicted an early spring 13% of the time. Someone, somewhere, is terribly disgusted with their luck on February 2nd.

But regardless of the accuracy of whistle-pigs everywhere (Phil is only 39% accurate), we continue to celebrate them. No one knows why, but every year, up to 40,000 people have gathered to watch a man in a top hat hoist a large marmot in the air.

Frankly, I think we celebrate Groundhog Day because we will simply do anything for a party. It should just be called “Party Day”. Groundhog optional.

Dear Ceil,

My job is so boring, but I feel like I should be grateful to have a job. Even so, I have started to name my paperclips. Is there anything to be done?

Snoozing in San Jose

Dear Snoozing,

First, fear not the conflicting emotions, for it is actually possible to feel bored and grateful at the same time. Whatever you do, though, don’t throw another emotion in the mix, or you might end up in a role-play drama with your recently-named paper clips. We don’t handle emotions that well to begin with. If you must handle more than one at a time, see if you can rotate them. First feel bored, then grateful, then back to bored. That might even help with your boredom.

On to the matter at hand. You ain’t got nothin’ but the blahs.

In an office, there are a number of things you can do. The only ones that I practice, though, are practical jokes on my coworkers. Sure you could re-organize the supply closet or re-frame the pictures of your kids and your dog. You could even say to your boss, “I’m bored. Do you need anything?” But that’s not what I’m about.

So the first thing you do is see if you can change the sound files on your co-worker’s computer. I like to change the error tone to a wave file from South Park. Cartman is particularly entertaining. If your co-worker has a very distinctive email notification (“You’ve got mail, dammit!”) wait until they get on a conference call, and send him or her continuous emails. That’s just to get you started.

If you work somewhere that has a kitchen, it’s always fun to put a rubber band around the sink sprayer, and watch as the first person turns on the water.

If you work outside, see if you can’t put a Mickey Mouse sticker on the back of your co-worker’s neck and watch as the tan line develops.

Basically, I am suggesting that you use the people around you as entertainment. It’s better if you have a good rapport with these people first, though. If someone didn’t like you before, well, let’s just say that you’ll probably be off the Christmas card list for quite some time after.

Oh, and you didn’t hear any of this from me!

Ceil Kessler likes to write short autobiographies, and then write blog posts so that she has somewhere to put them. She also has a thing for truffles. Not the mushroom, the chocolate. And she absolutely, positively hates being bored. So much so that she will turn on you for her own amusement. You have been warned.

You can ask her questions using this form. (You fool.) Her editor would like to mention that getting these up at midnight, on time, feels really weird.

For your viewing entertainment, seven seconds of an evil groundhog.


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