Valentine’s Day Grinch

“On Valentine’s Day, the Spirit Club plastered the school with red streamers and pink balloons and red and pink hearts. It looked like Clifford the Big Red Dog ate a flock of flamingoes and then barfed his guts up.” ― Carolyn Mackler, Vegan, Virgin, Valentine

It seems, every Valentine’s Day is my own version of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Once again, I have shot myself in the foot but at least my bride hasn’t beheaded me like the original St. Valentine. I’m sure she has considered it.

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I have the Midas touch in reverse. Everything I touch turns to poop.

My first memory of a Valentine’s Day celebration was a preteen party in the early 1960s. The Church sponsored affair was supposed to be a dress up, Sunday best kind of gala. We were Methodist so dancing would be allowed, and I prayed my two left feet would somehow transform themselves.

The day before, the world’s largest zit appeared in the middle of my forehead.  It didn’t matter. I’m sure the dance was great, but I have no memories because I didn’t get to go. My anxiety over my “first date” was so great I threw up and was kept home. It might have been something else but Valentine’s Day has been a downhill drag since.

The dance worked out well for my date. A friend took advantage of the situation, and they became a couple. This weird Cupid moment might have been the high point of my attempts at being a romantic Valentine.

Can you imagine, on the average, fifty-eight billion pounds or two point two billion dollars’ worth of chocolate will be sold the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. Over two-hundred and fifty million roses are produced just for Valentine’s Day. That is two point three billion in flower sales. A whopping six point two billion dollars are spent on jewelry.

Love-struck Americans dole out almost twenty-four billion dollars on Valentine’s Day with men spending twice the average. Men will spend on average, one-hundred and seventy dollars to prove their undying love. Women? Half of that.

I’ve all but given up on making Valentine’s Day a special event. Attempts at romantic dinners have ended with food poisoning. I’ve tried poetry, “Roses are red, violets are blue, pizza is hot, and so are you.” I’ve tried to create artistic and rustic birdhouses with tin hearts or a couple holding hands. Most fell apart as quickly as my other attempts at romantic expression. I’m waiting for a masked psychopath to show up to carve out my heart in a real-life Valentine’s slasher movie. Blood splatter replacing rose petals scattered on the bedroom floor.

Speaking of bloody, how did the violent death of a Catholic saint become a celebration of love anyway? There are three suggested stories about three different Saint Valentines. What do they have in common? Martyrdom. Violent death. Two of the accounts involve beheading. Somehow beheading seems apropos. How many of us have lost our heads over someone we shouldn’t have?  

The seeds of the holiday we know as Valentine’s Day were planted in Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival honoring the Roman goddess of marriage some twenty-six hundred years ago. It was a pagan festival and involved excesses we have come to expect from such a ritual.

Lupercalia was a sexually charged and violent rite, involving the sacrifice of dogs and male goats as a sign of virility. Priests would cover themselves in milk and the blood of their sacrifices and run naked through the streets whipping women with strips of goat hide cut from the bodies of their sacrifices. Sounds like fun. Getting whipped would allow the barren to become pregnant and women lined up for the opportunity.

Later in the day, men would pick women’s names from a jar in hopes that they would form a romantic bond. In my mind I read that differently than it was written. I mentally visualize a Seventies wife swapping party with car keys drawn from a candy dish. I have no firsthand knowledge, I read a lot.

All this changes around 500 A.D. with the rise of Christianity. Pope Gelasius replaced the pagan rite by instituting the Feast of Saint Valentine on February 14. Christians feeling the need to end all the fun of naked men running around whipping women.

There are several stories involving Christians named Valentine who were executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II about two hundred years previous, but the most famous was a third-century martyr imprisoned for secretly marrying Christian couples and helping persecuted believers. This Valentine was reportedly executed on Feb. 14, 289 A.D.

As fiction became more interesting than fact, the future saint supposedly restored sight to his jailer’s blind daughter. Later, the legend grew even more to include a letter he gave the girl before his execution, reportedly signed “Your Valentine.”

That still doesn’t explain cards, candy, flowers, and jewelry but a historical change in Nineteenth Century America does. Prior to this time most marriages were economic rather than romantic despite what romantic writers would have us believe. Even the poor founded their marriages more as economic alliances than romantic love. “Two can live as cheaply as one,” I was told once. Someone lied to me.

This changed in the mid-1800s from economics to romance, or at least combined the two. It also triggered an increase in the giving of tokens of love and it has snowballed from there.

I thought I had nailed it this year but once again reality has reared its ugly head. A sweet token of my love involving puppy dogs I saw online. I immediately knew it would be perfect and I ordered it a month ago. Something cute to let her know of my undying love. It won’t be here until the end of February. Typical. Why would I expect any difference? The supply chain issues have bit me upon my chubby, pink, cherubic butt. “Cupid, draw back your bow….”

Don Miller’s author page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3yEfoldEBWs3ZbA6bCCQc13npcCrXWdZl0pVYvdbsRMQ86SppPZQVl3SE

Valentine’s Day…the Horror

The build-up to Valentine’s Day is stressful.  I’m so happy it’s over.  You would think after near forty years with my bride I’d get it right….  I’d rather be the first victim in a slasher movie.  At least it’s over for another year…maybe I’ll die before it comes around again.

I don’t do well with picking “meaningful” gifts or planning “meaningful” events.  Don’t do well?  And the Grand Canyon is a big hole in Arizona.  I’m better at spontaneity, flying by the seat of my pants, spur of the moment.  Who am I foolin’?  Damn, I’ve got an anniversary bearing down on me in late June.

My bride doesn’t like traditional Valentine’s Day gifts…you know…roses or chocolate.  Stress!  I mean she likes roses, but she’d rather have a bare-root rose to plant in the spring…you know the gift that keeps on giving…season after season.  I did that one year.  It died.

Chocolate would be fine if we celebrated at an intimate little Belgium chocolate shop we once discovered in Charleston…the owner, a Belgian Jew whose family fled to the United States as Nazi tanks began rolling toward France, died a while back.  How dare she.  The son who took over was…was…delicate and high strung, prone to fainting.  He couldn’t take the pressure of making handmade chocolate delights.  He sold out and for some reason, it’s just not the same.  It’s like the shop died too.

One of the first Valentine’s Days we celebrated after moving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, I found a nearby inn offering a romantic dinner for two on Valentine’s Day.  I jumped on it…it snowed.

The owner called us saying, “They say the roads are cleared.  We’re open but have no power.  We’ll be preparing your meal over an open fire if you can get here.”  We’ll get there.  They lied!

“Have four-wheel drive, will travel” which explains why we opted to take the Thunderbird instead of the old Landcruiser.  The Landcruiser just wasn’t sexy enough for Valentine’s Day.  “Fools rush in….”  Up the Saluda Grade for twelve or so miles.  Everything was fine until we hit the North Carolina line.  Snowplows?  Even South Carolina has heard of them.

It was a drive through the mountains that reminded me of the scenes from the movie “Battle of the Bulge.”  The road looked like it had been bombed.  Trees and powerlines down, six inches of snow on the ground with a heavy fog rising as it melted.  Instead of Nazis directing mortar fire on us, power crews in yellow helmets directed us around obstructions.  No artillery shells exploded, just transformers lighting up the approaching darkness.  We made it.  How are we getting home?  I’m sure the inn is full…it was.

Saluda, North Carolina is a rustic little village filled with memories of past days when it was a stop for the railroad.  The inn, built to serve the railroad elite, was located on the far side of town and welcomed us with hurricane lamps that gave the old structure a turn of the Twentieth Century feel.

Oil lamps provided a warm glow with a hint of kerosene wafting through the air.  An intimate table for two covered in red and white checkerboard.  A flickering candle in the center of the table caused shadows to dapple around us as if bathed in soft moonlight.

There was a view of snow-covered mountains as we sat next to an open fireplace that could have burned a giant Sequoia tree.  Everything was warm and cheery…and of course, romantic.  None of the waitresses called anyone honey or sweetheart.  The offer was of a young red wine, not sweet Southern tea.

The bill of fare included mushrooms stuffed with duck liver pâté, Caesar salad, a healthy cut of filet mignon sided with asparagus and roasted potatoes…can you believe I can remember a dinner from over thirty years ago?

A chocolate cheesecake topped with a cherry sauce finished the meal…a decadent, triple-digit priced meal…worth every penny…to me…but not to my bride which is the only reason I had come here anyway.  She enjoyed the meal when she ate it, later…not so much.

We decided to take the long way home by interstate…the interstate had to be clear.  The wide four lanes had to be safer than the two-lane we had traveled up.  We found it clear of snow.  We also found it shrouded in a heavy fog rising from the asphalt as thick as (insert your own cliché here).

Worse still, my bride was sick.

“Honey, you need to pull over,” she said weakly.  She looked a bit green in the light cast by passing headlights.

“What?”

Said with emphasis, “YOU NEED TO PULL OVER!  I’M GOING TO THROW UP!”

Slowing and easing to the side of the road, “STOP THE DAMN CAR WILL YOU!”  Okay, not fast enough.

I watched in horror as half of a triple-digit meal landed on the pavement with the force of a high-pressure hose.  Think Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

Once I helped her into the car, I pointed out, “The pâté….”  I shouldn’t have brought up food.

“What?”

“It had to be the pâté.”

“Oh, just shut up and get me home!  NO WAIT.  STOP THE CAR…NOWWWWW!

So much for the after-dinner festivities.

I’m only sharing because it exemplifies the horror that is Valentine’s Day…and it is more subtly humorous in retrospect than at the time.  The ‘meal from hell’ is not the exception; it is the rule.  So bad are my Valentine’s Day memories, I’ve blocked most of them, locking them away somewhere in my head and throwing away the key.

What can you expect from a celebration of love named for the patron saint of epilepsy?  A man beaten, clubbed and beheaded for trying to convert prisoners into Christians.  Nothing says “Be my Valentine” like a bloody, headless corpse.

I thought long and hard about this Valentine’s Day…just like every other one.  It’s been a rough month in a rough year.  I needed inspiration and I got it.  Right on a social media page as if it had read my mind.

A handmade (chortle) necklace…a cheap, fake silver locket in the shape of a sunflower on a cheap, fake silver chain.  The sunflower splits apart to expose an engraved message, “You are my sunshine.”  It’s beautiful.  Perfect.  She is my sunshine.  Sentiment over substance.

And it was…perfect, so far…but she hasn’t eaten my shrimp and grits yet so there’s room for disaster yet.

***

The image is from Horror Fuel http://horrorfuel.com/2017/02/13/love-horror-12-horror-films-watch-valentines-day/

Don Miller writes on various subjects, some fictional, some nonfictional, some at the same time…both.   His author’s page may be accessed  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

BUT I DANCE SO BADLY

I need to be working on the next great American novel but somehow my thoughts became twisted by a quote I happened to see on another blog site, “If you stumble, make it a part of the dance.” My problem? “I dance so badly…” and I stumble sooooo much! Thank you, Persia, “Blog of a Mad Black Woman”, for sending me into an afternoon’s tailspin of thoughts.

The statement is one of those make positive what is negative quotes, like “If life gives you lemons….” I probably make better lemonade than I dance. I’m just too self-conscience to let myself go without the benefit of large quantities of adult beverages…which causes hangovers and other stupid activities besides dancing. “Dance like nobody’s watchin’?” I have a hard time dancing when I know nobody’s really watching. Yep, I’m one tight-assed SOB.

My mind really got twisted into a knot or a maze of pig trails as I thought about my life. I realized most of my stumbles have been self-inflicted wounds. I tend to search out discarded banana peels to slip on. Many of those self-inflicted wounds were after evenings involving too many adult beverages. Some were more than stumbles, some were full-fledged, bust your ass, crash, and burns. Some make me wonder how I survived, others I just shake my head and smile. Somehow, I managed to regain my feet and will focus on standing rather than stumbling.

My favorite quote is by Walt Kelly’s philosophical, comic strip possum, Pogo. “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Two-word changes make it “I have met the enemy and it is me.” While I still occasionally imbibe I don’t stumble because of it. I guess I should celebrate not having had a hangover in thirty years and, despite those stumbles, my life has turned out awesome.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if I had just answered that email; the one where the foreign guy with the odd name and unusual syntax reached out to me thinking I might be an heir to a billion-dollar fortune. I really need to get back to that great American novel.

Don Miller writes on various subjects which bother him so. Check out his author’s or Facebook Page at
https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
For a dose of daily inspiration check out Persia at https://blogofamadblackwoman.com/

THE SUCCESS OF FAILURE

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Sir Winston Churchill

Lynn, a friend of mine, and I were conversing about what we might do once we grew up. She is a writer and a former student who has become a mentor to her former teacher and we sometimes bounce ideas off of each other’s very hard heads. She is wishing to expand her craft’s business while I am wishing to expand my very successful business of doing nothing of real importance since retirement. During our conversation I used the trite and overused “What have you got to lose, the worse you can do is fail.” As I thought about certain misspent aspects of my own life I realized that failure can be the best thing to ever happen to you.

Early in my teaching and coaching career I decided I was going to be a head football coach and for ten years worked hard to achieve this goal. Once I had attained my “dream” job, I don’t believe anyone could have worked any harder to be successful but success from a won and loss standpoint was elusive and after four years I was relieved of my coaching duties. I…WAS…BITTER! To say the least. I was deeply wounded and went into my next job with a good case of the “feeling sorrys”. I had all types of excuses for my failure, some valid…some not so valid, but as I look back with my twenty-twenty hindsight, I really have no one to blame but myself. To “somewhat” quote the cartoon character POGO, “I have met the enemy and it is me!”

I worked hard for the next couple of years to get another head job, updated my resume’, applied for many positions, interviewed for a few and was even offered one which I was forced to turn down because they could not promise a position for my beloved, Linda Gail. Once we invested in our “little piece of heaven” located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, I knew my dream of becoming a head football coach again was pretty much done although my “hope did spring eternal” for a time.

As I chatted with Lynn, my young mentor, it dawned on me how fortunate I had been not to have been successful at my dream job, a FACT I was already subconsciously privy to but had managed never to have consciously expressed. I would not have met Lynn, who compelled me to begin my writing, or a thousand other former students and friends who would become the subjects of much of my writing. I would not have found a niche as a baseball coach. I MIGHT not have found a best friend. I MIGHT not have become a better teacher. In other words, I MIGHT not have become the person I am today. I MIGHT have been a better person had I been able to stay on my CHOSEN pathway but on this pathway, the one chosen for me, I am SURE I have led a successful and rewarding life, EVEN IF IT IS JUST IN MY OWN HEAD, which would be the only head that counts.

This thought compels me to think of other failures, primarily in the areas of love and marriage. One failed marriage led to another and then I finally got it right. What if the first one had not failed and my daughter and grandchildren had never been born? What if the second had not failed and Linda Gail had gone on to find her “one true love” somewhere else. What if…? What ifs makes your head want to explode but I find it only fortifies my belief that out of our failures positives can be found even if we have to wait a bit to realize it. I am going to reframe from saying anything about Phoenixes rising from the ashes because my failures are pretty minor compared to those of other folks I know …okay I guess I did say something about Phoenixes rising from the ashes.

Lynn, thanks again for the conversation you started among the many voices in my head. As I said tritely before, “Spread your wings, the worst that can happen is that you fail” …and maybe that is not the worst thing in the world after all. To be trite again, “Life is what you make of it!”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try http://goo.gl/lomuQf