In January, a house is a million little things. The kettledrum thump of the furnace kicking on. The burned coffee smell when you yank the pot out a little too early and the last few drips sizzle on the heating plate. The booming echo of a shower door.
Add in quirky people, quirky traits and you get the full family symphony. Not a good symphony. Just three movements, all out of tune.
People, eh? We live in stubborn, caustic times. I was grumbling the other day how our little newspaper, once as jovial as a college campus, has grown less friendly over the years.
To me, acknowledgment is such a simple gesture. Look up from your phone, note the person passing, fake a nice nod. It’s not such a difficult thing.
Basic civility used to be taught at home and school, but that was in the days before our little Einsteins were primped, coddled and treated like celebrities. I’m pretty sure there are kids today who have never said thank you.
Perhaps our increasingly cold and unwelcoming ways are tied to this. Or, perhaps it’s the nature of popular entertainment. TV is wonderful but loaded with dark and dysfunctional shows, and our movies are all so cynical and loud.
And when was the last time you heard a love song?
It’s as if we’re afraid of hope and happy endings.
If I’m wrong, I’m wrong — and I often am. But on this particular issue, probably not. I must sound like your grandpa. Truth is, I like grandpas more and more.
Or maybe it’s just a seasonal thing, the warmth and sparkle of December giving way to gloomy middle winter.
My buddy Sam made an excellent point the other day. Sam noted that if you wedge your way into a line of cars and don’t raise your hand as a thank you to the driver who let you in, you’ve got issues.
I agreed with him, though someone else added that you need to wave only if you’re allowed in. If you have to wedge your way in, a wave is just sarcastic.
Who knew life could be so nuanced, and that a wave could be sarcastic? Yet these are the times in which we live.
Look, I’m all for sarcasm; it makes my world spin. It greases the gears of daily conversation and makes tolerable the tiny injustices of my too common life. Sarcasm is the little guy’s revenge on the bully. It’s Boise State beating Oklahoma. It’s the Bulls or Clippers beating anyone.
I take sarcasm like I take my coffee. Black. Like I take my steaks — charred and on fire.
Point is, we need to laugh any way we can. So don’t be so damn choosy, OK?
“A good laugh is sunshine in the house,” noted British writer William Makepeace Thackeray.
“If you have no tragedy, you have no comedy,” said Sid Caesar. “Crying and laughing are the same emotion. If you laugh too hard, you cry. And vice versa.”
Or, versa vice, as I always like to say, in another desperate stab at Dad humor, which also makes my world spin.
Like someone who sees Jesus in the clouds, I remain buoyant and a little naive. To be too wise is to be a little dead. To have all the answers is to have none of them.
Certainly, January is an optimist’s finest challenge.
January is dads on ladders taking down the lights and moms deciding when to toss the half-dead poinsettias. It’s boxes of Kleenex all over the house … the dog sleeping on the furnace vent … stale eggnog forgotten in the back of the fridge.
January is the lent before the Lent. It’s diets and boot camps and proclamations to be a better person.
If you start to feel sorry for yourself in January, just remember that February is even worse. Why do we always insist on starting a year like this anyway?
The January blahs are a thing. I actually kind of like them, because they remind us that much of life is mopping floors and taking care of those you love at your own expense. January is obligation and duty — de-linting the dryer and de-gunking the stove.
None of this is fun, but there are payoffs to that as well. It is a deep, unappreciated subset of our love for those we live with.
When I tell my kids that an adult’s life is 70 percent chores, largely unacknowledged, I can see the gloss of youth leave their beautiful eyes. They start to tremble a little, and the words catch in their throats.
“Chores?” they say, a word they only half-know. “Are you … kidding us? In our experience, life is life.”
But, oh, kids, this is January. And this is life too.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.