Card Snark

Against the accoutrements of Valentine's Day.

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I missed the moment when shop window displays changed from Santa red to sexy scarlet:  a fabulous froth of lace and slinky silken negligees. Most of the neighborhood still has Christmas lights up, but all the stores are pushing Valentine’s Day. In spite of the omnipresent window displays and advertisements, I’ll bet millions of men will forget Valentine’s Day. It could be chromosomal. Or maybe forgetting is a pose, a form of resistance. If men looked at Valentine’s Day like a second Halloween, it might be more fun.

 

That’s what I’ve decided to do, and it works for me.

Why not? After all, stores are filled with candy, and, while it’s not exactly the same as trick-or-treat, with a little imagination the evening of February 14 can be perked up to the next level with costumes. Just try to keep your skeleton in the closet.

With Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday this year, restaurants are pushing special (read: high-priced) dinners the weekend preceding the day. If this turns out to be a commercial success, maybe the holiday officially will be moved to the second Monday of February and float.

Once a boyfriend asked me — in all seriousness — “When is Valentine’s Day this year?” When was it? That year it was, for all practical purposes, non-existent. Men are like that. They’ll say, “Is Valentine’s Day the second or third Monday?”

That’s a good idea. Make it the third Monday, coinciding with President’s Day, and, if we work for the Federal government, we’ll get a three-day weekend. As Tax Freedom Day doesn’t come until April, we technically are working for the government, but that’s another topic.

Valentine’s Day is one more reminder that my mother was always right. When I got married she gave me a heart-shaped mold she’d kept in her cupboard. You might think she expected me to use it for a cherry gelatin dessert with floating grapes, bananas, and tiny marshmallows. But that’s not what she meant. She told me I should use it to make a romantic dinner out of meatloaf. I confess I didn’t do it often enough, but the first year of marriage I did make a meatloaf in that pan for a Valentine’s dinner.

My ex-husband never misses an opportunity to tell me — and whoever’s willing to listen — about something nice I did for him. I myself might have forgotten about that meatloaf except that nearly 40 years later he still talks about it. He even remembers that it was a South African style meatloaf (with curry, slightly sweet).

When I once resorted to the cliché about cooking being the way to a man’s heart, one of my friends, a savvy Southern belle, corrected me. She laughed and said I was aiming too high. Maybe she was right.

I’m pretty sure that the way to a man’s heart isn’t going to be found in the greeting card rack at the drugstore. Instead of buying any Valentines, this year I’m going to invest my card money in extra-strength Excedrin. Just in case.

If I did buy any cards, I’d prefer to buy kiddie Valentines that come in bulk packs. They’re cute and inexpensive. While friendship has a price, it shouldn’t have to be paid down with plastic in monthly installments. Besides, when I look for a Valentine, I feel like Goldilocks checking out the porridge. One card is too hot, another too cold.

I wonder how many other women have purchased more than one Valentine for a boyfriend and then produced the most appropriate card after he’s given her one. You go to the ladies room and hunt in your purse for the right card. You can throw away the other cards lest they create a dreadful misunderstanding:

“Just who is this ‘Darling’ card for, anyway?”

“Um, you?”  And then watch him back out the door.

Of course, if you don’t put a name or date on any of the cards, you can save them for another year.

Looking for a card when you’re in a bad marriage or weak relationship is even worse. It can precipitate a crisis. Reading the messages in cards can reveal the problems in a relationship, even in a marriage. All those pre-fab protestations of undying love and perfection are merciless, not only revealing doubts, but why you have them.

If I were a therapist, I’d leave my business card right there in with the Valentines. I’m positive no one can live up to the standards set in a run-of-the-mill Valentine’s Day card meant for a spouse.

Thanks to the imagination of the card manufacturers, a Valentine is available to recognize many relationships, including the one you have with a pet. Not just cards to pets, mind you, but from pets.

About the most pathetic situation I can imagine is buying your own Valentine from your cat. That’s almost as bad as a Valentine from an imaginary friend. I haven’t had a nice, long talk with my imaginary friend in years. I ought to send her an e-card.

As for flowers, February 14 is the busiest day for a florist. At no other holiday is the language of flowers quite as important as it is on Valentine’s Day. That language was codified early, and in the 19th century, gift books illustrated what each flower represented. You could send a message with a bouquet, but whether you want to or not, you still do. And it’s not subtle. The long-stemmed, dark red rose is a symbol of love, the de rigeur flower for Valentine’s Day.

If you doubt that, try giving your sweetheart a bouquet of mixed flowers on Valentine’s Day. A couple of white and yellow chrysanthemums, ferns and carnations will say it all. And you’ll be sorry you said it with flowers.

Not only does Valentine’s Day have the language of flowers and cards, even the candy has a message. The tiny (and slightly larger) hearts have messages printed on them, which make tweets look like War and Peace. These hearts are a nostalgic favorite, and though writing about them makes me yearn for their sweet chalky taste, they won’t replace chocolate in the Valentine ritual. And not a bar of chocolate, but chocolate in heart-shaped boxes. Red boxes, of course.

I’ve spotted one such red-silk-covered box, complete with a fat silk rose — and about a pound of chocolate — for $90. Even the drugstore hearts seem like a needless extravagance. I prefer waiting until February 15 when all those red boxes go on sale for half-price.

After all, at the end what would I have left of that fancy box of chocolate? More plaque in my arteries, and an empty, hollow heart. • 5 February 2010

 

Miriam N. Kotzin, associate professor of English at Drexel University, co-directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing and teaches creative writing and literature. She is a contributing editor of Boulevard and a founding editor of Per Contra. She is the author of A History of Drexel University (Drexel University, 1983), a collection of flash fiction, Just Desserts (Star Cloud Press, 2010), and two collections of poetry, Reclaiming the Dead (New American Press, 2008), Weights & Measures (Star Cloud Press, 2009), and Taking Stock. Her novel, Cutter’s Vision, is represented by Don Gastwirth.

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