I was biking through a school-free drug zone, on my way to a temp job, cultivating bad habits. Not overtly bad habits — Marlboros and meth, and so on — but rather those drab little habits meant to ensure the absence of surprise and disorder from one’s life. God forbid I should fail to eat my oatmeal before 8 a.m. or choose a different route to that glass-and-steel tower in Center City. Surely there’s a bus waiting to crush me if I don’t use 18th Street or don’t ride past the rodent that’s been rotting on Fitzwater Street for two weeks.
I’m thinking of the rodent in Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman mad at the world because he’s trapped in what feels like a soul-killing routine. The gods punish him by literally making him live the same day over and over until he learns to enjoy what he has and treat people better.
The Murray character sinks into depression as he wakes each day to the cloying refrain of “I Got You, Babe” on his clock-radio. For a while his dread of sameness commingles with gratitude for it. He begins to mistakenly believe that the sameness, the repetition, is an opportunity to fix his life without taking risks. But that doesn’t work either, so he kills himself, only to wake up again to “I Got You, Babe.”
I wake to NPR and the hope that neurotic rituals will help me feel better, or at least no worse than I’ve felt since New Year’s, when the tree in my backyard snapped in the wind and crashed into my house, capping what was for me a really bad year. But that’s another story, one that feels too tritely symbolic to make into a good movie, or even a good blog post.
Footnote: Check out the late Roger Ebert’s review of Groundhog Day — a re-review, actually — for a good example of his insightful style.
Another: I had that “This is like Groundhog Day” feeling ten years ago while the mainstream media, day after day, backed Bush’s call for war in Iraq, just as it had backed the equally disastrous war in Vietnam.
One more: Listen to “I Got You, Babe” and try to get the insipid melody out of your head. I dare you.