Sunday, February 14, 2021

Flashback 2005: How to bluff your way through another Valentine's Day

Veselka, East Village, NYC, Feb.14, 2020

     Exactly one year ago today, my wife and I were having a madcap Manhattan weekend with our two boys, and spent a festive Valentine's Day doing stuff we love all day long... a lingering breakfast at Caffe Reggio in the Village, a long morning stroll through the Whitney Museum, lunch and conversation with an old friend at Miznoun in Chelsea Market, shopping, a mid-afternoon pick-me-up pizza at Lombardi's, shopping in the Strand, and late night chowing down on excellent Eastern European grub at Veselka.   
Breakfast, Feb. 14, 2020
     Skip a year. Now we're in Day 9 of The Liquid Nitrogen Deep Freeze February from Hell, which came hard on the heels of Sedition January, which followed Deceit December, not to forget COVID summer and Civic Unrest Spring. A time when no one goes anywhere or does anything or can imagine going anywhere or doing anything but occasionally checking on the news to confirm that half the country is still crazy, plus occasionally heaving a sigh of gratitude that we're not all dead. Yet.
     Having spent Saturday working on the book, I'd rather put my hand in flame then write something else. Luckily, there is an infinity of old stuff slumbering in the computer, such as this, back when the column filled a page. I kept the old headings. Happy Valentine's Day, if you can swing it, if anything can said to be happy anymore.

Opening shot

     Today is Valentine's Day. If you had forgotten until just now, my sympathies. That forehead-slapping stomach-dip is an awful feeling. I hope at least it's morning, and there is still time to juggle meetings and skip lunch and scramble to find a last-minute token of affection. 
Lunch, Feb. 14, 2020
     If not, if you're on the train heading home, you're a dead man and would do better to face the music than to rush to a White Hen to pick up a limp clump of dyed carnations, the gift that says, "I don't care."
     Instead of that, stick with indifference. Don't grovel and apologize—women hate that. Set your face in a "hard day" look of exhaustion, walk in, sigh, shake your head, and go collapse on the couch. Refuse to talk about it. Accept her gift with a heavy sigh, a weak smile, a crushed "thanks" and toss it wearily away. Maybe she'll buy it. Or, better yet, maybe she'll have forgotten, too.


     The aerial snapped off our car. As a result, the only station we get in is WBBM-AM, whose signal is so strong you almost don't even need a radio to hear it. We usually keep it off, but on the hour I try to shush the incessant prattle of the boys in the back seat, reaching for the knob and announcing importantly, "I want to hear the top of the news"—one of those clenched dad phrases they'll probably be repeating back to each other with guffaws for decades after I'm gone.
     I'm not looking for breaking stories as much as I like to hear the urgent, jittery CBS Radio Network jingle and the newscaster, whose tone is the last gasp of the old-fashioned, hand-to-ear, loosened necktie, teletype clattering in the background gravitas that once defined radio news.
     The top story Saturday night, at 7 p.m., as we drove downtown for dinner—Greek Isles!— was Howard Dean being named chairman of the Democratic National Committee. They played a snippet of the announcement, and then something that shocked me—he famous "Heeeee-yah!" burst of crazed enthusiasm that doomed Dean's faltering primary campaign early last year. The newscaster quickly added that while Dean didn't primal scream again, he instead said this, and then cut to a quote.
     That seemed so unfair. No wonder politicians are such cringing cowards. Howard Dean is no doubt a man of accomplishment; he was governor of Vermont, after all. But he might as well be an escapee from a lunatic asylum who almost seized power before being betrayed by a spectacular public breakdown. He's carrying on, bravely, trying to make a contribution. But what good will it do him? He could escape to the South Seas, like Lord Jim, but strangers will sneak glances over at him as he stands rigidly at the bamboo bar, nursing his dark rum, then grin at one another and whisper, "Heeeee-yah."

Just keep going

     Speaking of things breaking off the car. We had an extraordinary moment last month. The family was in the Camry. As I backed it out, the right side mirror collided abruptly with the frame of the garage door. It shattered with a bang.
     Once, this would have upset me. Once, my wife would have commented upon it. Now, no one said anything. I put the car in park, went around to inspect the broken stump of the mirror. I gathered up the shattered shards of glass and plastic from the garage floor, disposed of them, got back in the car and we drove away without a word. You would think this kind of accident happened every day.
     I wish I could convince myself that is some kind of Zen-like calm. Don't sweat the small stuff. ... But I have the sneaking suspicion it more has to do with being so completely overwhelmed and burnt-out that nothing much upsets you anymore. The drown reflex kicking in, smiling at the rising bubbles as you settle slowly to the soft silt on the bottom. Not an unpleasant sensation, really.

Closing shot

     Getting back to Valentine's Day, the only reason I have exactly what my wife wants, wrapped and waiting for her this morning, is because she told me precisely what to buy, and reminded me until she was certain it had been taken care of.
      That's the beauty of marriage. It's more difficult for new couples. A new girlfriend wants to test her love's devotion. So she doesn't just tell him what she wants for Valentine's Day. That would be too easy. Instead, he's supposed to prove his worth by reading her mind.
     By the time they are engaged, a fiancee might drop hints, bread crumbs the guy is supposed to follow to the right gift.
     A wife doesn't have time for that, nor does she think her husband is smart enough to figure it out himself. At least mine doesn't. So she just tells him what she wants and then, when he gives it to her, feigns surprise and delight.
     That's love.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Feb. 14, 2005

1 comment:

  1. " a time when no one goes anywhere or does anything."

    As the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace put it to a lady named Althea:

    "Stone walls do not a prison make
    Nor Iron bars a cage."
    But then concluded"
    "If I have freedom in my love,
    And in my soul am free,
    Angels alone that soar above,
    Enjoy such liberty."



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