Valentine’s Day — Fiction


On the first night, they blew out the candles and whispered in the suspicious darkness like spies unravelling their secrets.  The tip-wary waiters kept their distance.  And only a lipstick line on a brandy glass betrayed that they were ever there.  Eventually, there was a cloud-careful moon and a long walk through the hotel-crowded streets smooth with the forgotten footsteps of long ago lovers.

On the second night, they found the river, simmering black with dancing silver ridges — so they hid on the balcony and wondered if anyone would find them.  No one did.  And then, when they had nothing left to say, their shadows leaned forward and undressed them, caressed them and covered them so completely with the night that only their breathing remained.

On the third day, they slept deep into the sun, and folded into the bedsheets and their newspapers, they drank coffee and had breakfast and spilled the orange juice.  They walked past the museums and found a few tales of conflicting folklore from the market merchants who had stories to tell.  Then, as the afternoon slipped into evening, they wandered and wined their way back to the hotel for late night shrimp and avocados.

On the fourth morning, they picked up their telephones from the hotel safe, and when the taxi driver asked them about their luggage, they just shrugged.  At the airport, they phoned the kids to come get them because — after 20 years of Valentine’s Day weekends — Mr. and Mrs. Cooper were not foolish enough to pay for airport parking.

Valentine’s Day: There’s Plenty of Time to Panic

ValentineI don’t care how many Popes resign and, you can forget about your nuclear North Koreans, too; if you’re having a panic attack this morning, it’s because tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day.  It doesn’t matter which side of the hearts and flowers you’re on; Valentine is a big deal.  Once the exclusive province of teenagers and hopeless romantics, these days, he’s strictly uptown and bringin’ the bling.  A simple “Roses are red; violets are blue” Hallmark moment just doesn’t cut it anymore, and most people are looking to De Beers or Alain Ducasse to demonstrate their depth of emotion.  Sounds serious?  It is.  Recent studies have shown that Valentine’s Day is now right up there with St. Paddy’s and Hallowe’en on our festive calendar, with an anxiety rating that rivals Christmas.  Do I have your attention?

It wasn’t always that way, though, St. Valentine himself is practically historically anonymous.  We have no idea who he was, what he was and only the vaguest notion of when and where he was.  In fact, chances are good he was at least three different people cobbled together by a fledgling church in need of some local celebrity.  The story goes that while waiting for martyrdom he “miraculously” cured his jailer’s daughter`s blindness and wrote her a card (which she could then see) signed “Your Valentine.”  It’s the stuff of legend but hardly provable.  Today, Valentine is not on the A-list of Catholic saints, and his questionable relics are in a number of churches, scattered all over Europe.  Actually, if it wasn’t for February 14th, most people wouldn’t pay much attention to the guy.

Our St. Valentine, the secular one that lovesick young people bankrupt themselves over, was born in the imagination of Geoffrey Chaucer.  You remember Geoff, he`s the poet whose long and windy Canterbury Tales has been terrorizing undergrads for the last eight hundred years.  Anyway, before Chaucer ever thought about Canterbury, he wrote something called The Parlement of Foules, which, at 700 lines, is a bit windy itself.  In it, he sets the scene in a throwaway couplet referring to Seynt Volantynys Day (St. Valentine`s Day) as the day when birds gather to chose their mates.  The idea caught on in medieval England (it’s where we get the birds and the bees metaphor from, as well.)  The Christian martyr Valentine became hopelessly confused with the more robust and ribald Roman god Cupid, and by the time Billy Shakespeare was wearing the King’s doublet, Valentine’s Day was universally celebrated as the day when spring fever met courtly love.valentine3

For the next four centuries, Valentine’s Day lounged around as a once-a-year occasion to declare one’s love — usually in the form of a flowery verse or paper card.  By our time, in the late the 20th century, it had been reduced to a harmless Victorian hangover.  We gave out valentines promiscuously, more as greeting than anything else, but nobody minded.  The day was reserved for school children and newly-minted couples who were busy ODing on simpy.  Life was good.

Then, sometime in the late 1970s, when no one was looking, all hell broke loose.  February 14th became the hottest date night of the year, and suddenly Valentine’s Day was the eater of souls.  No credit card was safe.  Dinner and a movie just wasn’t good enough anymore.  Elegant dining was de rigueur with the appropriate price tag.  Paper valentines had better have some jewelry attached, and even weekend trips and car keys were not out of the question.  Lovers and wannabes were expected to fork out some serious cash as a measure their affection, and for thirty years, we’ve been upping that ante.

So, today, as you sit there wondering if tomorrow’s champagne and caviar, moonlight, hot air balloon ride is going to melt your lover’s heart, you need to understand one more thing.  Statistically, more people commit adultery on February 15th than any other day of the year.  If that doesn’t raise your anxiety level, I don’t know what will.

Valentine’s Day: A User’s Guide for Men

I’m probably the most romantic creature on this planet.  I cry during the love scene in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, for God’s sake!  However, it has recently come to my attention that Valentine’s Day has gotten way out of hand.  It used to be that the only people who were getting rich off romance were those grubbers down at Hallmark.  I’m not one to brag, but I’ve bought a card or two in my time.  These days, however, come February 14th, it seems like everybody’s got their hand in your pocket.  Cupid has gone commercial, and he’s charging megabucks for those arrows.

Back in the day, when love didn’t come at the end of an eHarmony questionnaire, people had love affairs.  (Relationships were what you had with your cousins and co-workers.)  For those of you under thirty, a love affair was that brilliant time when nothing mattered to you more than the dull ache of your heart, the sound of her breathing and the solitary sight of her in a crowded room.  In those days, no words remembered love, no action spoke its name and no credit card was its benefactor: the only cure was proximity.  Love meant close enough to touch, and when it didn’t — it hurt.  That was when Valentine’s Day was still special.  It was the unspoken promise that couples made to each other.  But enough about that: I’m here to bury St. Valentine, not to praise him.

(Before I go any further, and the politically correct crowd start organizing the lynch mob, I realize that relationships come in a variety of permutations and combinations.  Unfortunately, I have a limited working knowledge of much beyond the male side of male and female.  Therefore, that’s what I’m dealing with; anything else would be just guessing.  If you’re looking for all-inclusive or if heterosexual offends you, stop now and re-Google.  It will save us both a lot of time.)  Personally, I think it’s a sad day when people need to put a disclaimer on innocent stuff like Valentines, but such is the world we live in.  Anyway …

Recently, Valentine’s Day has taken a distinct turn for the worst.  It has gone from a simple “Be my Valentine” card at dinner to over-the-top romantic gymnastics that would make Casanova wonder WTF.   Here’s the problem.  Regardless of how much they lie to themselves and others, men do not know what women want.  They never did.  They’re never going to.  And that includes romance.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Men know all about the clichés: those moonlit walks everybody talks about, the candlelight, the roses and the hearts and angels’ music.  But when it gets down and dirty, single tear in the corner of the female eye, 99.99% of men are lost.  However, rather than admit that romance escapes them (like the last inmate going over the wall) they throw money at it.  This is a traditional male strategy that’s been backfiring since before Antony gave Cleopatra, Syria, Persia and all points east to make up for the annoying fact he wasn’t Julius Caesar.  Unfortunately, having once set these cash-eating bolas in motion, it was only a matter of time before they started spinning out of control.  These days, men are waking up on January 2nd, knowing that in six weeks, they better come up with something fantastic and poetic or ladylove is going to be pissed off until way past Labour Day.  And every guy older than Justin Bieber knows that that’s going to take some serious dinero.  It’s an anxiety trap that men have been building for themselves for the last decade, and it’s not pretty.

Therefore, since I am a public-spirited fellow and do not wish to see my brothers suffering needlessly, I’m going to let everybody in on a little secret.  I know what women want.  No, I’m not going to give that kind of information away free, but since I do have it, I can give all men a bit of advice.  Boys, put away your wallets and change your thinking.  Quit having a relationship, and try having a love affair.  Lovers don’t send bouquets of roses. (She’s not in love with the delivery man.)  They hand deliver a single flower.  Lovers don’t make reservations for romantic dinners, weeks in advance; they show up unexpectedly with a two hot dog lunch because it seems like a good idea at the time.  They don’t schedule together time with cooking classes, or dance lessons; they cook, they dance and they prefer the company of the one they love.  They don’t fit it in on Tuesday nights after yoga.  Yes, it’s a busy world, and there are kids and jobs and mortgages and insurance and on and on.  Big wow!  The truth remains that two people playing grab ass for a quick couple of minutes in the kitchen while the pasta’s cooking is worth more than any number of prefabricated date nights.  Lovers don’t have a script, and they don’t have a schedule.  They just enjoy each other’s company.

Tomorrow, guys, remember Valentine’s Day is for lovers – full stop.  It isn’t for people in “a relationship” who “have feelings for” each other.  That’s just a generous way of saying, “Maybe I don’t love you all that much.”  And of all the things that women want, that’s not one of them.