Before I knew otherwise, I assumed Valentine’s Day was a conspiracy created by greeting card companies to push their pithy printed products on unsuspecting well-wishers. They’ve done this kind of thing before – consider the advent of “Grandparent’s Day” and “Secretary’s Day.” Can “Step-Great-Aunt Day” and “Houseplant Week” be far behind? I think not. However, when I take an honest look at my jaundiced view of the holiday, I have to admit it’s likely the result of the various Valentine failures that dot my romantic history like so many candy hearts.
In my bachelor years, I managed every foible and faux pas imaginable – from forgetting Feb. 14 entirely (“I thought it was Leap Year, baby”) to the inadvertent switch of cards intended for my mother and a girlfriend, the latter of which I had written with rather loose use of, ahem, lover’s lingo. My inner-Freud still winces from the moment. The coup de grace, of course, was calling my ex-ex-ex girlfriend (not to be confused with my “xxx girlfriend”) to explain why her best friend and I were locked in a freezer together and would she “consider opening the door?” Yeah, that was a chilly Valentine’s Day.
Of course, nothing in life adequately prepares one for the bundle of rituals that have come to define Valentine’s Day. It could be argued that the forced distribution of valentines in grade school was a tremulous first step toward mastering romantic protocol, but looking back, it seems to have only succeeded in fostering an epidemic of social anxiety disorders in my generation. If you were like me, you spent hours contemplating the romantic koans inscribed on the candy hearts that arrived in tiny fistfuls lodged in the corner of equally small envelopes. “BE MINE,” the scarlet command embossed into the wee heart in FDA Red No. 5, is daunting enough, but misreading it, as I did, as “BE MIME,” is downright scary. What would happen if, at age eight, I shattered the glass box containing my innocent heart and broke the deafening silence of unrequited amore? I’ll never know, for I was “MIME.” If the pharmaceutical manufacturers printed cute sayings on their psychoactive medications we could bring the whole thing full circle. To that end, “Chill out” finally passed muster with the NECCO Sweethearts Conversation Hearts editorial board and appears for the first time this year.
I’m sure some novelty candy producer has created a line of saucier candy hearts with unprintable inscriptions. Here are some suggested missives readymade for the chalky confection. “Run,” could have served me well and perhaps have even better served some of my amorous acquaintances. “Don’t” would be a perennial. “No,” of course, has several practical applications, as does “Call the police.” In their punchy brevity, it seems candy hearts are the text messages of a kinder, gentler era. LOL. At least they promote a kind of pseudo-dialogue between kids, unlike, say, square dancing – the chief means of torture inflicted on schoolchildren of my generation. An explicable part of the physical education curriculum, perhaps the exercise was meant to work on a metaphorical level, perhaps the awkward moments and constant switching of partners might mean something in later life as we spin, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, in an endless circle toward what? Only the great square-dance caller knows.
And now it’s Valentine’s Day again. Before the inevitable disasters befall my every plan, let me just get this out to my sweetheart, the Contessa: Thank you, as always, for attempting to turn a cad like me into something resembling a man. I don’t envy you, but I sure as hell love you. BE MIME.