Opinion | How to make Groundhog Day unforgettable — if you only get 10,000 chances

By Michael Clifford, Staff Columnist

It’s 6 a.m. There are few things many people dread more than the sound of their morning alarm. Some might describe it like clockwork, at least as far as Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” — the only appropriate song to wake up to on Feb. 2 — is concerned.

You swipe away all the notifications that show up on your phone, until you see an email about an exam from one of your professors — an exam that you already took. Your friend texts you about meeting for lunch — at the same time and place as yesterday. The hot water in your apartment is off again, even though they apparently fixed it last night. Two cold showers on back-to-back days is only a harbinger of what’s to come. That annoying guy on your floor that you try to avoid on a daily basis greets you again on the way out, violently shaking your hand. He hasn’t changed his clothes in 24 hours, either.

If this was you, you might shake off any suspicions early on. After all, everyone has seen Harold Ramis’s “Groundhog Day,” the movie starring Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a Pittsburgh weatherman in Punxsutawney who repeats the day of Feb. 2 — and all of the groundhog-related festivities — to the point of insanity.

Every single iteration brings out more details. The same car runs a red light after stopping in the crosswalk. Another dreary overcast day, despite predictions all week of no clouds in sight. Only by the time I arrive in class, now a completely empty room, can I confirm what I am seeing.

You have an instant to consider the possibilities, then it’s 6 a.m. again, and everything is undone. Everything except your mind’s state of being is washed away. Even catapulting yourself off of the Cathedral of Learning could not undo this. You, like Phil Connors, are a force acting independently of time.

Of course you’re going to attend every party on campus at least once — you’ll just wake up sober anyway, ready to sprint across a green-lit Forbes Avenue in the rain or ride through Market on a dirt bike. A few more cold showers might even put you in a bad enough mood to deck your building’s pariah on his first or 500th attempt to greet you — who’s counting anymore?

Of course I’m going to start a bonfire on Cathy Lawn and ride on top of the campus shuttles. I might even try my hand at scoring myself a date. Who knows who much money I would end up spending when my balance is always the same?

Surprise — it’s 6 a.m. again. You could just about crush your phone with your bare hands to stop this godforsaken alarm, knowing it will just end up right back here tomorrow. Exam. Check. Lunch. Check. Cold shower. Check. Even the annoying guy in the other apartment can’t bother you anymore. It’s reassurance, if nothing else. Check.

Slamming your backpack on the floor again and again, you sit and listen to lectures you’ve already memorized by heart. You catch someone’s coffee before they drop it. You give a homeless man all the money you have and take him to get food, knowing he’ll ask you to do it again next time.

What happens when you’ve learned every name, every face, every conversation? What happens once you know every single one of your peers on a deep personal level, despite none but a few having any clue about you?

That’s it. You know everything. It’s not a trick when you predict every NBA score of the day while playing pool in a bar for money. It’s not a trick when you run into a restaurant to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a random choking man, when you help a couple of old ladies change a tire or when you know exactly where to be to catch a kid falling out of a tree. You just know everything.

What does that make you? Who does that make you? Something more than human? Perhaps. It means that eternity for you is an instant for all others. And once you have spent eternity on self-gratification, but a whole eternity still lies ahead, what else is there to do?

This is about a lot more than taking the same exam so many times that you know the questions like the back of your hand, or saying the things your friends were going to say before they could. The future is in your hands, and consequences are nowhere to be seen. Yet this is a sort of metaphysical equivalent of letting a bull loose in a china shop — every action has unknowable consequences for the rest of space and time. What if the loop stops right now, and the choices you have made now are destined to become reality?

There might well have been numerous attempts to drive straight into the Monongahela — knowing, of course, that nothing can be done. Like Phil Connors, you have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned.

Invincibility is nothing to take lightly. As Phil Connors said, “I’m a god … I am an immortal.”

Michael writes primarily about politics and economic policy. Write to Michael at [email protected]