Monday, January 12, 2009

Holiday Season Wrap Up

This was the 2008 Christmas season.On both a personal and a business level, Christmas 2008 will not be remembered fondly in the years to come. By the end of December, I was coping with a fair amount of stress, dealing with the nasty after-effects of that week-long godawful flu that had been going around, and worrying about of the future of my occupation more than feeling any kind of measurable Christmas Spirit. Hell, I could barely be arsed to string up any colored lights or mess around with the ol' metal tree ... and the ones I did wind up putting up came down all of two days after the holiday. Bah humbug, etc.

Ironically, this was the first holiday season in years where spending money was not really an issue for me, yet thanks to the collapse of the U.S. economy, it suddenly became a pretty big goddamned deal for everybody else. Thus, gift cards became the gift du jour at the annual Cooke family Christmas get-together, which itself was a strangely somber and empty-feeling occasion since, for the first time ever, my father was not present for it.

Thinking about Dad now, it seems really silly for me to complain about how 2008 basically went into the crapper just as the summer finished winding down, especially since I wasn't the one who spent nearly a quarter of the year (including all of November and December) in a freaking hospital. Dad basically started off last year in pretty iffy shape and seemed only to get worse as the months went by. By Thanksgiving, he had been reduced to a literal shell of himself (roughly 140 pounds, if that) by a series of ongoing health issues that seemed to beget additional problems in a disturbingly domino-like fashion. There are too many involved descriptions and eventualities to get into right now, but the end result of all of it was that my father spent the last two months of the year linked up to a half-dozen tubes, immobilized in a hospital bed, his once-booming voice now wasted away to a wheezy, thin whisper. I remember clearly leaving his hospital room on Thanksgiving Day and seriously wondering if he would ever be coming home.

Thankfully, one of the best parts of Christmas Day was all of us heading up to see him at a rehabilitation facility just outside Chardon and seeing him in markedly improved condition. We had brought along a mini-Christmas Tree, bags full of gifts, and visited with him for a few hours, having in effect a kind of "Christmas away from home." Though still terribly emaciated and dependent on machines for eating and breathing, Dad looked and sounded noticeably stronger and more upbeat than he had on Thanksgiving. For a combination Christmas/"get-well-soon" gift, I had spent nearly all of my free time in December hand-scanning over 1000 family photos to create a chronological "digital photo album" for him, and I was very happy to hear that he was delighted with the end product.

Happily, as I write this, Dad is finally back at home and getting around on his own. We're all hoping that the worst is finally over at last and that he can rehabilitate into a semblance of his old self once again, but time (and his compromised immune system) will tell. A version 2.0 of my photo album will soon be in the works as well: Mom found another 1000 or so pictures a few days after Christmas, and I'll need to sit down with my father sometime soon to sort out some dates, people and places in order to make the new volume a bit more informative and complete.

Business-wise, this holiday season felt like being given a sudden kick in the teeth following months of having one arm held behind our backs. Until about December 16, we were running a tad off pace (which had been the case with us most of the year), but keeping within sight of our sales targets. After that point, however, the bottom just fell out: instead of keeping within 5-10% of our expected sales, we were down by upwards of 30-50%. Ow. Save for a couple of days immediately before and after the holiday, we could have run the entire season with just the three of us ... it was that slow.

I suppose it goes without saying that coming out of a crappy Christmas and entering the year 2009 and the most foreboding economic climate in the last 75 years, we're expecting a pretty brutal January (and after a hopeful start, the sales over the last few days seem to be following our predictions). The prospects for the first quarter as a whole aren't looking a lot better, either, though forthcoming new releases from Bruce Springsteen, Morrissey, Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach and U2 should provide interesting field tests of just how bad things really are.

Ah well, at least 2008 is finally over and out ...

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