Happy V-D Day! Uh, No, Just V-Day
Ah, Valentine's Day, when withdrawn and emotionally-stunted men can show the inchoate love and affection they hold for the women in their lives simply by purchasing a card and some candy. Some might call Valentine's Day a cynical holiday manufactured by florists and Hallmark to keep their otherwise pointless business models intact, but I like to think of it as the one day during the year where a guy can be sappy and gooey and vulnerable and express the joy the mere sight of his beloved brings to his life. And then watch him dissolve into a puddle of shame and self-loathing as that woman either tosses the card in the trash or slaps him with a restraining order. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic at heart.
A few quick and, hopefully, amusing stories about Valentine's Days in my past. Nothing sappy, nothing gooey, and God knows nothing humiliating. Though there has been humiliation on this day, believe me.
First one--as I was about to make my debut on this planet there were discussions about what I'd be named. My paternal grandmother came up with a great name--Valentine. Yes, my grandmother, who otherwise seemed to have her head screwed on straight, wanted me to be named Valentine after I believe her grandfather. My maternal grandmother, hearing about her counterpart's proposal, said something along these lines--"No fucking WAY is my grandchild gonna be called Valentine. She had two sons of her own and didn't fucking name THEM Valentine, so no fucking way in hell is MY GRANDSON gonna be named no motherfucking VALENTINE!!"
It was something along those lines. So, instead of being named Valentine, I was christened Eugene. Yeah, that's a big step up.
Two quickies, one a tale of transcendent ecstasy, the other a quest that led to incredible suffering. The good one first. Before I got married my then-girlfriend and I had a little tradition of making a big dinner on Valentine's Day instead of fighting the crowds and going out. On the Saturday following the Big Red Day we'd wake up early and go to the Strip District, which is home to a bunch of wholesalers and shops and where you can get the best seafood and cheese and other goodies. We'd take our time, loading up on scallops and shrimp and fresh Italian bread and good cheese and biscotti. And then we'd make dinner together and just hang out. Very nice.
On this day we made fettucini alfredo with scallops. I don't think I've ever told the story of my near-death experience with seafood alfredo, but this time it was pretty good. Not great, we were a bit disappointed, but not bad either. For dessert my fiancee made a cheescake, and after she put it in the oven we both got a bit distracted with other things we were making and forgot how long it'd been in. The smell of smoke alerted us to the fact that it was getting burnt. When we pulled it out the top of it was a dark, crusty...crust. She was really upset, thinking it was ruined, but I tut-tutted and said it was fine, even as I knew it was probably toast.
We eat, and if you've ever eaten fish and alfredo at the same time, sleep comes quickly. She conked out right away, and I watched the 1998 Olympics and tried to be interested in the men's figure skating. It was nearly impossible, and I thought a piece of that cheesecake might either perk me up or put me down. I cut myself a slice and hoped I could at least scrape the burned part off.
I loaded a forkful and moved it to my mouth. When I say that it was the best goddam dessert I'd ever eaten in my life I'm not kidding. It was fan-friggin-tastic. The burned part wasn't burned, it had perfectly carmelized and added such a scrumptious texture and flavor that I made a sound like, "GHHHUUUUUHHHNNNNN!" I made so much noise that she woke up, wondering why I was in a near-orgasmic state while watching Elvis Stoijko perform triple-lutzes.
I ate that cheesecake bit by tiny bit, my eyes closed, as if in prayer. It was so good, so GOOD. When it was gone I knew I would never see it's kind again. First, because it had been such a surprise. And second, we never could quite get the top to burn, but not burn, the same way again. It was magic in a bottle. Well, a spring pan.
That's the good story. The bad one happened when I was a sophomore at Penn State. I'd been introduced to a girl, we hit it off, but I wasn't sure I wanted to date someone after having my guts yanked out and fed into a pasta-roller by my last girlfriend. So I sorta blew her off, only to bump into her right before Christmas break. She was nice, I was nice, so why not? We ended up going out once or twice before Valentine's Day rolled around.
Guys, a bit of advice--if possible, don't start dating a girl right before Valentine's Day. Wait until AFTER the day passes. You will save yourself all sorts of pain-in-the-assitude, not to mention some long bread. If you meet a girl at a New Year's Eve party, as what she's doing for St. Patrick's Day. This should be self-evident.
Anyway, I didn't know if I should get this girl anything for Valentine's Day. We'd gone to a movie, we'd hung out once, but did this obligate me? I thought, a card, sure, with some witty note inside. But my friends looked at me like I was loco and said that I HAD to get her flowers. Hopeless romantic or not, I blew this one. I should've known that I had to do the right thing here or else I was either gonna be in the doghouse right out of the gate or immediately kicked to the curb. Trouble was, it was already the 14th. Time was not on my side.
You might think that, being in the mountains, Penn State gets a lot of snow. It doesn't, at least not while I was there. What we got a lot of was rain. And ice. On that cursed day it wasn't too cold out, maybe the mid-40's. I went to class wearing a heavy Irish fisherman's sweater my mom had bought me the year before. No coat. The sweater was warm and, besides, I looked fabulous in it. My plan was go to class and hit the campus bookstore on the way home, because the PSU Horticulture Society had been selling flowers in the lobby all week and I'd snag some posies then.
Good plan. Which was shot to hell when I walked in and saw that, while they might've had flowers by the bushel earlier in the week, they were now pretty much down to mulch. I didn't see anything that didn't look as though it'd passed through a lawnmower. "Any chance you're getting some last-minute flowers?" I asked. I was looked upon as a crazy person.
It was time for concern, but not panic. There were two florists in town that I knew of, plus I could hit McClanahans to see if they had any. McClanahans is a sort-of catch-all store in town, you can buy pretty much anything there. Except, on that day, for flowers.
I should mention, because it's very important, that the weather had changed. While I was in class the temperatures fell from the 40s to the mid-thirties. And, as I left McClanahans dressed only in a wool sweater, it started to rain.
And rain pretty hard. I had no umbrella. I walked up College Ave, getting colder and colder, and after four blocks or so went into the first flower shop. They had nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a PICTURE of a flower. I went back outside. It wasn't raining anymore. It was sleeting. It felt like a million ice-cold pins were hitting my face as I walked all the way down College to my last hope of salvation.
When I walked in the store I was nearly insensate from cold. But I saw a color I hadn't seen in any of the other shops--pink. They weren't roses, and I stuttered and stammed but finally managed to ask the person behind the counter what kind of flowers they were. "Carnations", I was told. "I'll take a dozen," I said, getting the shakes. "Do you want pink and red?" this sainted woman asked. "We have both." I nodded, and five minutes later I had a bundle of flowers wrapped in tissue and cellophane. And I'd spent about 1/20th what a dozen roses would've cost.
I was meeting my girl for dinner at her dorm, and I would have to hustle if I didn't want to be late. God Himself rained down ice and hail upon my head as I trudged my way home. My sweater now weighed as much as a flak jacket, and little icicles were forming at my cuffs and along the hem. My hair was plastered to my scalp and a rime of ice formed along my brow. I don't think I've even been so cold in my life. It really wasn't funny at the time, I was so hypothermic that once I got to my dorm room I couldn't get my fingers to pull my key out of my wallet. Once I pulled off that stunt I pulled off my sweater, sending shards of ice flying, put on a fresh shirt and de-iced my head. And then it was back out into the storm, this time armed with an umbrella.
She loved the carnations. "I don't like roses," she said, bless her heart, as she filled a vase with water and arranged the flowers. Her room was overheated and I gladly would've stayed there for hours. I was still so cold that I couldn't stop chattering, and when I gave her an abbreviated version of my story (I didn't tell her that the reason I'd been running around in the rain was because I hadn't been sure if she rated flowers) she thought that was just so precious. We ate dinner, with me not contributing much to the conversation because I was still thawing out, and when we returned to her room about 90 minutes later the carnations had blossomedinto big poofy balls of color. She was delighted. I was delighted. We hugged and I held her close and I held her long, both from a genuine affection and because the laws of convection meant my frozen torso was sucking heat from her warm body. It was almost better than sex. Almost.
So have a nice Valentine's Day, everyone. I demand it.