You dirty rat

February began this year much the same as it does every year, with a weather prediction. In the wee hours of the morning, well before sunrise, the events begin in a tiny Pennsylvania town. You see Gobbler’s Knob is the home of the famous star of the day, Punxsutawney Phil. Phil, as those who know him best refer to him, has been preparing for days for his moment in the sunshine—or under the clouds, depending on how the day may turn out. Phil’s job this morning is to out-predict the national weather forecasters as to the remaining length of winter. Considering how often the forecasters get it wrong, Phil has a 50-50 chance of getting it right.

The group of regulars on the 5:32 a.m. train out of Port Jervis have a lively discussion as to how exactly Phil prepares for the day. Mind you, the “lively” discussion does not begin until we’ve had our morning ritual nap when, well rested and with the sleep rubbed out of our eyes; we once again join the land of the living. It is commonly assumed that he has been checking with the best authority available on the weather, The Farmer’s Almanac, just before he recycles it to shreds for his bedding. For days he sleeps on it, absorbing all the possibilities. Phil must then prepare for his day in front of the cameras.

Phil has learned that although his time in front of the national media is short, nothing can be worse than looking disheveled. He recalls the year he just rolled out of bed, and although his prediction of an early spring was accurate, all the media reported on was how unkempt he looked. The investigation as to whether he was being mistreated by his handlers went on for weeks. He thought of actually biting anyone who came close. Then he remembered what happened to his counterpart on Staten Island when he bit Mayor DeBlasio and was thrown to the ground, causing mortal injuries. Phil was determined to up his game for the following years.

Vidal Sassoon was considered a close friend and confident of Phil’s, and years after Mr. Sassoon’s passing Phil still prefers his products. His day of pampering begins a few days before the big event. Nails will be cleaned and polished, teeth whitened for that special sparkle, fur shampooed, conditioned and trimmed by hand—no waxing for this Marmota monax. He is also particular as to how his tail is trimmed and calls in a specialist.

This year when the big moment arrived, Phil had his morning coffee and breakfast. He demanded that a veggie bagel with cream cheese and lox be brought in from Bagel Boy in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn for the day. As luck would have it this year Phil saw his shadow, which as tradition holds means six more weeks of winter. True to his prediction, the next few weeks we in the Upper Delaware Valley were plunged into a deep freeze, along with a good heaping of snow. Then with a wink of his tail, Phil awarded us with the glorious weather we enjoyed on President’s Day weekend. Fear not; the forecasters are predicting we will be back to winter next week as a cold wet spell comes our way.

Spring officially arrives at 6:29 a.m. on March 20. Most of my train companions can’t wait. Already there is talk of gardens and summer vacations. But we locals know our spring does not arrive till the end of May. Till then, stay warm.


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