How much ground could a groundhog hog?

2-10OP_webLate last Tuesday night, the doorbell rang. I peered out the window and, to my surprise, there stood a friend I had not seen in months. He was bundled in his winter coat and looked a bit unsteady on his paws, and when I opened the door, I could, in the parlance of the police blotters, detect the strong odor of alcohol.

Even so, he is a trustworthy fellow, so I did not hesitate to let him in.

“Shouldn’t you be hibernating?” I asked, ushering him to the sofa.

“Damn right,” he growled. “But this is Feb. 2, and the phone in the burrow has been ringing all day. ‘Did you see your shadow?’ ‘Did you see your shadow?’

“Gimme a break! How could I see my shadow when I’m in a #%*&# burrow?

“And what does it matter anyway? What is with you humans and Groundhog Day?”

(As you may have gathered, my friend is himself a groundhog or, as he prefers to be called, a woodchuck. As he has often said, “There is nothing hoggish about us.”)

“Where’s your hospitality?” he continued, slurring his words a bit. “I wouldn’t mind a little scotch.”

“First tell me how you got here,” I countered. “I hope you didn’t drive.”

He assured me he had not, explaining that his car was still snowed in in Kearny.

He lives in a den down along the riverbank off Passaic Ave., and the plows don’t plow riverbanks. (In warmer months, you may have seen him in the parkland there, or “shopping” in the community garden.) Last week, after his sleep was disturbed, he ventured out, hit a few watering holes and eventually found himself in my neighborhood.

“I’m surprised you didn’t continue your pub waddle,” I said, but then he reminded me that he doesn’t like drinking in public too late at night. By then, some of the heavy imbibers who see him sitting on a bar stool think they are hallucinating.

I poured him a glass of Bowmore 12. (He is rather particular and would have preferred his regular Bowmore 25, but that costs $500 a bottle. He can afford it; I can’t.)

His taste for scotch is hereditary. He is of Scottish ancestry, his forechucks having immigrated here in the 19th century. And his name is Kearny Kiltie.

These animals usually have alliterative names, e.g. Punxsutawney Phil, Milltown Mel, Essex County Ed. Now, you may argue that there are no groundhogs in Scotland. This is true. They all came here.

(Don’t for a second think I am linking Scots and drinking. I intend no insult. Besides, I’m half Irish, so . . . . )

Kearny Kiltie is proud of his heritage. He often wears his kilt — Clan MacMarmot tartan — and has a fur-andleather sporran bequeathed to him by his great-uncle. (Actually, it IS his greatuncle.)

Anyway, one of the reasons he likes Kearny is because it has no Groundhog Day ceremony. “I can’t see Mayor Santos dressing up in top hat and tails for some cheesy photo op on the Town Hall steps,” Kiltie said, adding, “He’s got more class than de Blasio.”

“But de Blasio skipped the Staten Island Chuck ceremony this year,” I said.

“Of course he did,” said Kiltie. “He’s been ashamed to show his face there since 2014.”

For those who don’t know, on Groundhog Day 2014, the New York City mayor, presiding at the ceremony, accidentally dropped Staten Island Chuck, who fell a reported six feet to the ground. About a week later, the animal was found defunct in its enclosure at the Staten Island Zoo. It reportedly had died from internal injuries.

In New Jersey this year, there was a sad Groundhog Day report, too. Sussex County Stonewall Jackson was found dead in his pen the night before, of natural causes (old age).

And in West Orange, Essex County Ed staged a rebellion, of sorts. He was in his deep winter sleep and would not be awakened. Turtle Back Zoo brought in a substitute prognosticator, Otis the Hedgehog — who did see his shadow.

Meaning six more weeks of winter.

“Good!” said Kiltie. “Six more weeks in a snow-covered den is fine by me.”

“So you’ll go back to dreamland,” I said.

“Nay,” said Kiltie. “I’ve finally taken up the bagpipes and I will use the time to practice. I am hoping to get a place with a certain local pipe band.”

I asked him if he thought he stood a chance.

“Aye, lassie,” he said. “I am actually quite good. And besides, I can provide them with all the Bowmore 25 and untied garlic they’d like.”

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