[written February 12, 2003]
On the Groundhog's Day weekend of 2003, I spent my first birthday in the U.S. Army.
It was also one of my most enjoyable birthdays.
A couple weeks before my birthday, I'd gotten my THERSITES tattoo on my leg and, as a present, my parents paid for it.
Other than that, I wasn't really expecting much. But, come the Friday of that weekend, one of my better friends here, who I met in Dallas and who I went to basic training with, and then DLI, called me up and let me know that he'd gotten reservations at the local Benihana's for about 10-15 people. Quite a surprise! Most of the friends I respect the most ended up showing that night.
I respect these people because they're hard workers and they don't slack off. They try to improve themselves. While I hated stagnant people before the Army, I didn't let myself appreciate the importance of being around dynamic people until afterwards.
So my friends were there, and I was happy to see them having a solid dinner out amongst other good people. Moreover, it had been awhile since all of us had gotten together, because we're all in different languages and don't see each other much anymore.
I only got one present from them, but I didn't need presents when they were there. The afore-mentioned Dallas friend of mine got me Scooby Doo, the new movie. I like this movie, despite what you might say, but also it was the last movie we all saw at the theater on-post here, which is where most people go in the first few weeks they're confined to staying on-post. Also, he and I used to have a repartée with him being Scooby, me being Shaggy, back in the days when we'd have to go to a bed-check formation.
After dinner, which consisted of having chicken and shrimp diced and riced in front of us, and also drum-banging while having a picture taken of us all while I was sporting a balloon hat (since I refuse to avoid birthday traditions, like most people do), we decided to drive to Nu Arts for fun. We didn't buy anything, but we had good fun perusing dildos, midget sex videos, novelty doo-hickeys and hickey-doers, and chortling at the regulars. If you have not yet witnessed the pure commercial goliath that the porn industry is, then you have to stop in to your local porn store. Those who pooh-pooh the creative potential of this generation haven't picked up some of the perplexing and curious toys at XXX shops.
After that, we hung out at a friend's house who's married and thusly lives over at Fort Ord with the rest of the married folk. Nice end to a nice night. I thanked those who came for doing so, and they said they were happy to attend.
Slavek gave me a gift certificate from thinkgeek.com as a gift, so I quickly snatched up a nice sapphire-blue Swiss Army knife with all the useful accoutrements (which, I was not aware of, is a word strongly associated with military equipment) but not quite as cool as my friend's whose knife also includes a small saw and a magnifying glass. I'll have to rough it -- whittling two sticks together in the middle of nowhere.
Anyway, a week later, I read something in an article which mentioned James Joyce as having started the tradition of Groundhog's Day, in which a prediction is made about whether winter would end or last a bit longer. The sense I got from it was that the prediction process was only given to groundhogs later, after Joyce. So I looked it up and, not surprisingly, it wasn't true.
I decided I had to start verifying these things after telling my parents that "influenza" was originally an Arabic phrase, after one of my more well-educated usta'ed told me that it was from "goat nose" phi arabi, referring to the condition of an unflagging runny, moist nose that goats always have. My mom doubted this as soon as I told her, and wasted no time, as is her custom, in looking it up for the true meaning. "Influenza" comes from the Italian for "influence", which used to refer to the emanations that people believed came off celestial stars to affect people. I was forced to recant my claim, an ignorant taleb phi arabi.
As a passing note, I found out that "disaster" originally meant, roughly, "the evil from the stars", from Latin, another notion of the stars affecting mankind from high above. Also, I called out my usted on his false story and he still maintains that some believe it to be true, but then perhaps showed concession by bringing up a more concrete example, "artichoke", which is roughly "qarshuf" in Arabic.
Ahem. So where was I going with this? Oh yes. Joyce, a famous Irish writer, paid attention to the fact that he was born on Groundhog's Day. So much, in fact, that: "In later years, fond of coincidences, he was pleased to discover that he shared his birth year, 1882, with Emon De Valera, Wyndham Lewis, and Frank Budgen, and his birthday and year with James Stephens. That February 2 was Candlemas helped to confirm its importance; that it was Groundhog Day added a comic touch; and Joyce made it even more his own by contriving, with great difficulty, to see the first copies of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake on that white day." (Richard Ellman, quoted from http://joycetrivia.virtualave.net/prefer.html)
Coming into this tiny bit of research, I never had any idea that I was born on the same day as Joyce. Now, I'm not one to go examining Groundhog's Day too much, because pretty much anyone can do the same with any day of the year, but perhaps Joyce's passion in the subject, combined with the seductive appeal of the desire for an obsession described in "The Orchid Thief" and the movie "Adaptation" adapted from it, I decided to look deeper.
Among other things, Joyce used to live in Rome when he was still young and trying to make it. He lived on the Via Frattina, which, I believe, is not far from a memory that sprung into my head, visiting John Keats' house that overlooks the Spanish Steps. These artists, they pick great places to live.
Now, apparently, I was born with strange company. Farrah Fawcett and Christie Brinkley (oldies but goodies), Stan Getz (jazz pimp), Ayn Rand (heroine for the uber cybergeek), and Holly Hunter. James Dickey, Danny White (Cowboys QB), Vlade Divac (go Kings), Barry Diller, Garth Brooks, Brent Spiner (Data needs to stop getting punked up in the Star Trek movies). The great Gene Kelly died on Groundhog's Day.
The Treaty of Hidalgo talks were concluded on Groundhog's Day, giving, among other parcels of land, much of California and Texas to the U.S. I've lived in Texas most of my life. The Battle of Stalingrad ended on February 2nd as well, as the Russians drew the Nazis back through a grave error on Hitler's part, changing the outcome of the war on the eastern front. Hitler was quoted as saying, "The god of war has gone over to the other side." Punxatawney Power at work.
The American Basketball Association was originally formed on this date. A great league that was better than the NBA in a lot of respects, but ultimately disintegrated. New Amsterdam, later to turn into New York City (I stand by my selection of Gangs of New York winning Oscars including Best Picture, despite no one else I know except my dad liking it), was incorporated on February 2nd. "You're Amsterdam? Well, call me New York."
Also on Groundhog's Day was the arrival of an emergency package of diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, an event which gave birth to the Iditarod races.
So what's Groundhog's Day all about, these days? Well, some crazy folks in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania, show up in the morning to Gobbler's Knob, an unfortunately named place that I thought only existed in the minds of puerile boys (such as myself) who can't help but snicker when they talk about knob-gobblers or Gobbler's Knobs. Knob gobbling is good, knob gobbling is great. Ben loves his knob being gobbled!
Punxutawney Phil, an ugly groundhog with nasty yellow teeth, emerges from a hole and, of course, if he sees his shadow, changes the course of history and weather patterns by extending winter by six weeks. Then this big fat guy in a top hat and cigar in his mouth holds the damn rodent up in the air while everyone takes pictures of the two disgusting fatbodies together.
Weird. As rituals usually are. And I guess that's cool by me. Rituals make life more interesting.
Where did this start? One site I read suggested that, funnily enough, the Scottish Celts passed the tradition to the Roman legions, who in turn passed the tradition to the Teutons, who formalized it later when their descendants settled in the New World. February 2nd is actually the mid-point of winter, and therefore has significance regarding the winter solstice. They called it Candlemas, and the Celts would say, ""If Candlemas be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." (http://www.noblenet.org/year/groundhog.htm) Fancy a boy with Scoh'ish heritage born on Groundhog's Day, only to later possess a Latin degree and be a soldier of another Army that shares and steals culture from all the places it visits! What's more, Chinese New Year occurred just a day before, Chinese being the other major component of his heritage.
So maybe it's all coincidence. Maybe one thing has nothing to do with anything else. Does it really matter? It's still interesting to think about, even if only for fun.
Mr. Joyce, consider this my entry into the world of Groundhog's Day. From now on, I'll be incorporating all that this day contains into my life, as well. Instead of shunning my birthday, as many do (to their friends' chagrins), I'll revel in it.
Happy birthday, me. =P 25 years old, each year getting better than the last. And the first birthday of many more within the military and government, and the first in a long while that I was surrounded by so many friends I respect and care about, since the days when I was a little boy.