Columns » Bob Lancaster

Making it through

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Made it through another January, thank the Lord.

No progress toward fulfilling any life goals, but there never is such progress in January. Your January assignment, Jim, if you decide to accept it, is just to get through the whorehopper.

Alone among the months, January works on your will, which is why you see so many January obituaries. Why you scan them a little more attentively than usual half-expecting to find your own among them.

Enero snots up your want-to, drags down your get-up-and-go. It laughs at your rare bursts of resolve to trooper on, and with every icy transmontane blast down across the plain from Alberta, it iterates the question of why. Why becomes the standard January nag — Job's pitiless helpmeet egging him to just give it up, to curse ol' El and throw in the towel.

Days short and hostile, nights cold and long, and if you have bouts of insomnia, and as we get older, we all do, you lie there in anxious anticipation that something vital is going to break down, one of the machines, one of the fixtures that keep the cold back. Dawn seems a long time off, a long way off.

Anxieties born of a time when the pipes did routinely freeze, and often burst, and morning found windowpanes lucent with heavy frost both inside and out, tongue-hazardous as a flagpole.

My cousin Henry Joe, or Joe Henry — I don't think even he knew — who spent some of his Depression youth in a shotgun tenant-farmer house down at Dark Corner said he once Barlowed a hole in the clapboard floor so he could go pee mornings when he got up without having to make the frigid privy trek. He'd be going out soon enough anyway to chop kindling and bring in stovewood. To bucket up well water and prime the pump.

The hole-in-the-floor experiment concluded one morning with a meeting of peckers — a hen roosting under the house mistook the dangling Henry Joe modifier for a grub or some other breakfast succulent. Causing a triangular flesh wound possibly unique in the January annals.

Short days and long nights — and so frazzling many of them. By contrast, February fairly zips along, and December is meliorated or tempered or distracted by the build-up to Christmas.

The January anxieties might go considerably farther back than the Depression, back to the time when glaciers that would've dwarfed Everest held much of the Northern Hemisphere and forced our ancestors ever farther back into their caves.

They hunkered so far back in there that they felt entombed and those who were claustrophobic really had a hard time of it. Only a few of the hardiest of them ever ventured out into the bleak midwinter, and then only to waylay an embogged mastodon or gimp bison in order to lay in meat for another fortnight.

They didn't worry about power outages the way we do. They didn't know about electric power, how it danced all about them, only a cord and an outlet away from making magic. Only those who'd been struck by lightning might've suspected fairy dust. It's theoretically possible for TV waves of the future to go back in time and ride down on prehistoric lightning bolts, so only those Paleolithic conductors with smoke coming out their ears might've seen pitchfork flashes of "Green Acres" or puzzled over the retinal image of a talking sponge grilling crabby patties for a squid to serve to mackerels.

They kept a fire going fueled by buffalo chips, and they entertained themselves and each other fireside by chalking really wonderful murals on the cavern walls. Some of these still exist, notably in France and Spain.

They also sang songs, though it was more likely a grunt-along than a sing-along. The barbershop quartet probably originated then and there. And rap.

The glaciers began their retreat back north, back to where they'd come from, about 12,000 years ago, a pretty remarkable feat since they only came into existence with the Creation about 6,000 years ago, according to the prevailing belief these days in Texas, Kansas, Conway, and Shreesport, La. Yahoos.

Even after the glacial absquatulation, the ice mountains left us January as a kind of hostile legacy. Legacy with a message implicit: We'll get you next time.

The ball drops as January commences and the month is all downhill from there. You toot your horn, take a slug of Ripple, and then brace for the crud.

The rolling ball of death bewitches your computer. New godawful strain of stomach virus goes viral. Freezing rain beleaguers the trees, toppling oaks and snapping full-grown pines in two, the constant concussive reports sounding through the night like old-fashioned war.

A new Congress convenes, God help us. A new state legislature gathers to confirm worst fears of the sane. Dr. King and Gen'l Lee (the man not the car) have their tiresome annual tussle over which one deserves the holiday. Nixon's BD too, and a hecatomb should be oblated for that. Have to get the cat fixed. The generator degunked. Scripture argued with the Watchtower guy. Hogs gelded. Roaches moteled.

The winter constellations, in the rare instances they wink through the January dank, appear preternaturally close, and bright with curiosity. Deepest Hell according to our only eyewitness account is perpetual January. Not on fire but frozen over.

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