The Tale of the New York Groundhog

Janus Yuen '21, Columnist

As the featherless, headless turkey carcasses stared at me through the frost of the freezer window, I numbered them. 125. That’s halfway there. According to the sign by the entrance of the supermarket,  Maximum Occupancy 250, the freezer was nearly full, and numbers don’t lie. 

I came to the supermarket every day to count the turkeys in the freezers, whispering the mounting number under my breath—contained within a mask, of course—as my finger zigzagged along the racks. 

And, to be clear, the numbers were growing. Every day, there were more turkeys in the freezers. First they occupied only the back corner of the meat section, where the dingy lights flickered, where the crowds were thinnest, where if you were really focused on the thick, naked, headless turkeys, you could forget the squeal of every shopping cart’s front-left wheel.

But now they were expanding, immigrating, replacing porkchops and steaks, and creeping upon the grand central freezer––where the imperial chickens lay––around which shopping carts quivered and whistled in a reverent U-shaped path.

The next day, as I was about to enter the mausoleic establishment, I saw them. The delivery truck had arrived, and men were hoisting bags of turkeys by the bushel and lobbing them in through the market’s open window. I stood by and counted: 

20, 30, 50, that’s at least another 15… wait, each of those bags holds two?

Then I realized. Maximum Occupancy Achieved. I didn’t feel safe anymore. As I turned to leave, I saw people lining up by the entrance and waiting––three feet apart, not six––for the delivery to finish, their mouths obviously watering behind their masks in their thirst for turkey. Frightened, I scuttled off back to my apartment.

Thanksgiving was upon us, and I was barely ready. 

You see, I’m something of a Grinch myself. Not a big fan of the holidays, and if Christmas itself were a tangible object of monetary and sentimental value to those greedy, puckering children who prematurely peck with peevish avarice at the presents under the tree, I’d certainly steal it. But instead, I snatch Thanksgiving. After all, it’s just that much easier, always hinging on portable, edible poultry.

But not this year. Instead of my usual grand heist of turkeys, I needed to steal away something much more valuable: myself. 

As the virus was about to surge in its second wave and the turkeys hegemonized the poultrydom, I dug myself a bunker underneath the basement of my apartment, stocked with legitimately (shocking, I know) purchased turkeys, gravy, stuffing, anime body pillows, and Wi-Fi: all the essentials for a Thanksgiving spent in responsibly distanced quarantine. 

All this because I knew that they couldn’t hold it in. While I dug under the trapdoor, I knew that hordes of my fellow countrymen and women, who lendeth not their ears, were already zigzagging the country for the sole purpose of breathing roughly down the backs of the necks of all their relatives, from their 9 year-old nephews, who would not stop screaming about their teammates’ aim in Fortnite, to grandma, whom they just fished out of the nursing home for her will and testament and secret broiled turkey recipe. 

I, dummy rotund in my cranberry-saucéd thiccness, wished not to hazard such a risk. So, I lifted the trapdoor, and dropped myself in.


Feeling Scottishly, drunkenly blue on New Year’s, I wrote the following in Apple Notes… 

Jan. 1st, 2021, 1:30 AM

[N.B. Must recite with Gaelic accent, for rhyming’s sake]

I whiled away me hours

Browsing AO3

I heard the New Year’s fireworks

But knew theyw’re not for me 

Alas when Time Square’s ball drop’t

And there wasn’t the norm’ stampede

I knew the crisis was not yet o’er

So another slash it’ll be


But one day––Groundhog Day––I felt it tickling in my ears: a pool table scraping its tired but jubilant legs across the basement tiles; the voices of people murmuring so angelic-crisp above, as if they were maskless. Perhaps it was finally over. So, I donned my trusty N-95, covered it over with a tri-layer cloth mask, and started pushing up against the trapdoor.

They turned when they saw me. Wide-eyed like they’d seen a grimy unwashed man of sautéed turkey-stuffed corpulence climb out from a hidden bunker situated just below their feet. 

They were indeed maskless

Yet I paid them no heed

I had to leave the basement

And get some Vitamin D

So I lugged my body up the stairs, into the apartment lobby and the four o’clock February sunlight casting its long orange shadows through the frames of the windows. I walked up to the maskless doorman, and just as his hand reached for the phone, I pulled out my key. 

Please don’t. 465. 

So instead, he smiled and waved as I walked out onto the street.

No masks. Instead, people chattered fresh and clear, with youthful vigor as they sauntered across the intersections between me and Times Square. As I walked toward the tourist trap and its pretty billboard signs, I passed a nursing home. Peering inside, I saw abandonment himself, holding still the scattered wheelchairs and repainting the vibrant interior beige with dust. I guessed that their families took them home.

As I came into the middle of the square and a soup of humans swirled around me, as the Manhattan taxicabs honked once again with their usual aggression, I couldn’t help but just wonder at the billboards in the twilight like yet another overwhelmed, thunderstruck tourist, like I was there for the first time again. 

And I whispered to myself: I’m free.

But the nursing home came back to me. Skipping over the adverts for jewels and perfumes; skipping the bullish stock market; looking for “COVID”; praying it was gone. Eventually, I found it, rolling in small text across the bottom of a screen. 

“CDC: New COVID-19 Variants Drop Vaccine Effectiveness to 30%”

“US COVID Deaths Surpass 3 Million”

Then I heard a cough brush against the back of my neck.

By the time I crumpled down the stairs to the basement, I was wheezing. I grunted and pulled up the trapdoor as the frozen people stared from behind the pool table with their puzzled faces. One of them hunched his back to light a cig. 

O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And th’ groundhog’s lost his shadow.

I tore off my masks in the darkness and sank back down among my anime body pillows. I, the hardened larcener of turkeys, the great knave of stuffing… I wept. 

Because numbers don’t lie.