In a 2010 interview, I asked Phil about a request made by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He wore dark sunglasses, smoked an unfiltered Camel cigarette and sipped bourbon.
Purcell: In 2010, PETA said that groundhogs are constantly alert when out of their burrows — that yanking you out of a stump before bright lights and a large crowd is tantamount to animal cruelty. They want you to be replaced with an animatronic groundhog.
Phil: Look, do I dig the big crowds and bright lights? No, but let’s put things in perspective. I only work one day a year. Show me a groundhog who wouldn’t want that gig.
Purcell: PETA argued that your natural cycle has been disrupted. You should be hibernating this time of the year.
Phil: Hibernating? Only a fool would want to be in a comatose state in a dirt hole, when he could live a life of luxury indoors.
Purcell: But the organizers of your annual event, the Inner Circle, are exploiting you for human entertainment and profit.
Phil: That profit has afforded me all the luxuries a groundhog could want. I have a personal veterinarian. I eat as much lettuce, carrots, apples and grains as I want. I have a fine bachelor burrow that includes a running brook. And the Inner Circle fellows supply me with three female companions — the finest lady ground dwellers this side of the Mississippi.
Purcell: The Inner Circle is trafficking in woodchucks of the night? Sir, PETA believes you’d be happier in your natural habitat.
Phil: My natural habitat involves becoming the dinner of several larger creatures. Look, man, the cats at PETA need to lighten up. America needs to lighten up. You Americans need to get your priorities in order.
Purcell: Our priorities?
Phil: Look, there is animal cruelty out there. PETA does some good things fighting against it. But complaining about me is ridiculous. There are real problems in the world — poverty, unrest, suffering. America continues to struggle.
Purcell: Your point, Phil?
Phil: You cats are spoiled. You’ve misused your wealth — taken it for granted. Many of your politicians no longer know where wealth comes from or how it is maintained for future generations.
Purcell: You follow our politics?
Phil: I read the papers every day. Look, your “educated” people lack common sense. They are easily misled by silver-tongued politicians.
Purcell: You’re losing me, Phil.
Phil: As the American people attained material wealth, you let yourselves become spiritually and emotionally poor. So desperate are you for meaning, you latch on to any old “cause.” One involves meddling with the well-being of a groundhog in Punxsutawney.
Purcell: You’ve been brainwashed, Phil. We need to break you out of here.
Phil: If you or anyone disrupts my groundhog heaven, I’ll plug up your sewer line.