Tuesday, January 04, 2005

January Blues

Blah. January.

The holidays are over and another new year has begun, and just as before it always feels empty and dull. If December is a party that winds up as the month goes on, January is the month-long hangover that follows.

January is the eternal joykiller -- a party crasher who winds up sitting next to you, smoking stinking miniature cigars and talking in a dull monotone for hours about subjects you couldn't care less about, only succeeding in making you feel uncomfortable, irritable, and finally impatient as hell to leave.

January is a bleak, dead, soulless month. Even when there is a blanket of snow is on the ground, the sky in January always looks as gray and featureless as a cold slab of metal. The trees stand claw-like in the wind this time of year, stripped of leaves and offering no protection from rain, sleet or snow.

January's torpid, glass-eyed shuffle even drags out the days at work, making them feel like an endless slog through ankle-deep muck. This is the ass-end of the music business schedule - a dry wasteland of fourth-quarter cast-offs and slapdash compilations of Love Songs. It's a month when sales power down and down and down from the previous month's highs, a month with hardly anything to offer to create excitement or at least dispel the feeling that I am simply marking time at the store waiting for February to begin.

For many years, probably since I was a teenager, January has been my annual low point -- far and away my least favorite month of all. While everything above certainly counts as reasons why this is so, I think I hit upon what it was that really bothers about this month when I was driving home from work tonight: it's the lights being gone. No, I don't mean that in a kind of hackneyed "Ohhh, I wish it could be Christmaaaas every daaayyy" fashion, but more along the lines of "why can't these be seasonal lights for the Winter season rather than just the Holiday season?"

The loss of the holiday lights in windows, doorways, sidewalks and storefronts just sucks out all of the attendant feelings of warmth and beauty that make even the worst December weather tolerable (at least to my goofy psychological sensibilities) -- a blizzard around the holidays is far prettier than one in the depths of January. When the lights come down, it's not so much signifying the end of the holiday season as the start of the gray season, when even gently falling and drifting snow brings to mind Joy Division rather than Vince Guaraldi.

This is probably why I've always been so slow to take down our decorations every season since I left home ... not so much sadness at seeing the holidays ended as seeing the colors gone and replaced by cool, empty, open space. Moe's been sorely testing my patience climbing the Christmas Tree lately, and trying Sarah's by attempting to rend the tree skirt (not to mention chewing on the lower branches and wires), but so reticent am I to resign myself to the rest of the cold dim chasm that is January that even Moe's best efforts haven't been enough to get me working on putting all of this stuff away just yet.

Mm, only 4 weeks till February. I think we're gonna make it.

Monday, January 03, 2005

From Contentedness To Heartburn (or: The Return Of Inspector Scene)

Damn, has it really been over a week since I've actually written anything here? Well, let's get to it...

We'll start on a pleasant note: Christmas Day 2004 went just about as good as Christmas Eve did, with Sarah and I returning home from the 'rents late that night well-fed and loaded down with new clothes (including a new trenchcoat - my first in a decade, yaaay) DVDs, books, socks and even a giant ol' frosty mug. Even better yet, having the dreaded Day After Christmas off as well was like the cherry on the proverbial sundae for me. One of the biggest problems I've always had with the Christmas season is that a one-day layoff from retail insanity is never really enough for me to get my head together, relax, and return to the fray recharged and ready to deal with people again. The way this works traditionally is that you spend the week before Christmas getting busier and busier, building up the intensity to a fever pitch ... and then comes one precious day of relative peace and quiet before jumping right back into the frying pan, as busy as you were before (if not moreso). For this reason, I've been jokingly calling upon our nation's leaders for a two-day Christmas holiday for a couple of years now, and to get one this year from Greg was a very unexpected treat.

Following that incredible weekend off, it was pretty much back to work as usual. Post-holiday sales were humming along at a brisk clip that week ... so brisk, in fact, that we have since been able to come out of our snowstorm-induced pre-Christmas tailspin and exceed our December target. Rawkin'. Adding to this ever-growing mountain of happy news, my co-worker Brian called up and asked for some extra hours of work that week (he is presently unemployed save for Sundays at the store), and I was more than happy to set him up.

Inspector Scene, preparing to dine upon my very soul.With another holiday weekend approaching that already had me guaranteed off for two days in a row, I was damn near ecstatic to grab a couple of additonal days off as well. Suddenly, I was on a mini-vacation -- four full days in a row off (including a very relaxing New Year's Eve spent with our dear friend Kris out in the sticks). Amazing! Life couldn't have been any better ... save for The Return Of Inspector Scene.

Yes, our long-awaited re-inspection took place early last week just before I'd set up my little New Year's break, and it did not go as well as we'd hoped for.

Inspector Scene en route to our condo for a re-inspection.Nearly all of our November "violations" to Willowick's apparently-hyper-tightassed city code had been taken care of in the month and change since our first encounter with The Man. Going into the re-inspection, three minor issues remained unresolved, the first of which was of our own making. Being new to upkeep and refurbishing of dwellings, I didn't consider that showering in a bathtub that had been re-caulked just the night before might not be the greatest idea ever. Oops. By the time Inspector Scene took a gander at the tub, a few sections of the caulk had managed to come undone from the excess moisture. Yes, this is very easily repaired, but damn ... stupid mistake.

The second problem - the half-bathroom ceiling fan being too loud (there is actually a fucking city code dealing with this?!) - actually turned out not to be a problem at all. In our lone victory against the City Of Willowick this time around, Inspector Sean switched our cleaned-out-but-still-rather-loud bathroom fan on and off ... but he did it in a small enough timeframe that it didn't have time to rev up to it's full un-muffled muscle car roar. Woohoo! Sherry Bobbins would have been proud.

Inspector Scene, displeased with our ceiling fan.The third problem, however, was where the fun really started. Despite a whole lot of backbreaking work planing the shit out of the half-bathroom door, the best I could do was get it to fit into its off-kilter frame, but the damned thing simply would not latch. The night before the inspection, as I was desperately trying to make the door work, I noticed for the first time that I wasn't so much pushing the door into the frame as I was moving the frame itself (and the wall behind it) the tiniest bit to allow the door to close. Apparently, the wall at that point in the condo had separated just enough from the floor to allow this to happen, and when Inspector Scene realized the same thing I did during the re-inspection, he not only complained that the door closing-but-not-latching wasn't good enough, but that the wall would have to be fixed as well. Suddenly, three problems had become four ... and it wasn't over yet.

Weeks before, Sarah had done some work to the catch on the back door to the condominium and had succeeded in getting it to close correctly as long as you gave it a bit of an extra push while doing so (the same way we get the front door deadbolt to work). Well, that "as long as you give it a bit of an extra push" qualifier was not good enough for Inspector Scene, who then squawked importantly that according to the all powerful Willowick City Code, this door must be able to close with any effort at all. Wonderful. For the first time, I angrily started to wonder if this pedantic little prick was making this shit up as he went along.

To say the least, my landlord was less than pleased at this turn of events, but hardly shocked. From what I understand, the annual city inspections had been going fine for years until this annoying little turdfly landed in the ointment. It's one thing to flag problems that are structural or safety-oriented, in fact I welcome such alerts to important things that need attention, and despite my bitching, I honestly don't like the idea of violating anyone's city codes. However, when I'm getting constantly being zinged for idiotic, minor shit that somehow violates what must be the most intrusive building codes in the state, I start to get as snarky as my landlord was that afternoon.

What really makes these wall/doorframe issues infuriating is that any repairs we would make to correct the code violations would be useless (and probably a hindrance) once the building is raised the inch or so it has sunk into it's concrete foundation over the years. Rightfully, my landlord asked how was he expected to prop up a wall when the Condominium Association had no plans to fix the building itself? After a tense bordering-on-combative phone conversation between the two of them in which my landlord found some wonderfully subtle (and non subtle) ways to tweak Inspector Scene here and there, plans were set in motion to take care of the major new problem of stabilizing the downstairs wall and seeing what could be done with the doors afterward.

On New Year's Day, with a bit of ingenuity (and some small wooden shims hammered stealthily into place), the landlord's brother managed to stabilize the wall and allow the door to close unimpeded without having to rip the baseboards apart and nail a bunch of new boards into the existing stud framework (this was the suggested method with which we were to accomplish this repair). A subsequent bit of chipping and sanding away at the doorframe (along with cheating the doorstop back a half-inch or so) allowed us to move the door catch just a bit higher up and then the half-bathroom door closed with a *click* for the first time in God knows how long.

Oh man, I need to savor this.


Goat, that felt good.

Inspector Scene leaves the premises, happy to have royally pissed off yet another taxpaying resident of Willowick.Anyway, the back door to the condo was done a few minutes later: some small adjustments made to the sweep attachment on the bottom freed it up just enough to make it close and latch with hopefully enough ease to please Inspector Scene and the goddamned City Of Willowick.

And so here is where we stand at this moment in time: shy of re-caulking the bathroom tub lining (which we are going to do the evening before the next and ostensibly final re-inspection), our mandated repairs are now complete. Assuming all goes well, Sarah and I will finally be off the hook at last ... at least until this coming November.