Haiku and a bag of Fritos

haiku, fritos, valentines dayLast night, in a fit of oh-no-Valentines-Day-is-coming, I went online to the font of all DIY wisdom, Pinterest, to see if there are any new ideas for Valentines Day floating around the Internet. And you know what? I’ve discovered that the crafts that girls used to make for their boyfriends in high school are alive and well among grown women. I’m talking about personalized scrapbooks, jars of reasons why you love him, handmade photo frames.

Forgive me ladies. I know handmade is better than store-bought, and I know it’s the thought that counts, but I just don’t buy that any man (or any person, really) would want any of those things.

So then I was curious. I went over to Google to see what guys were saying women want for Valentine’s Day. I think the gifts for ladies have been pretty clearly laid out by Hallmark and similar companies, but I was curious to see what the guys said.

On a couple of lists I read? “Amp up your usual hangouts” (this appeared to be code for do nothing differently than you would normally do) and “spend the day in bed.” Fascinating.

I really think the Askmen.com gentlemen and the ladies at Pinterest should be taking each others’ V-day suggestions. There might be fewer lackluster Valentine’s Days in the world.

I gave up and went over to Twitter. Scrolling down my feed, I came across this tweet from musician Amanda Palmer.

Palmer’s tweet gets me right where I live because that sort of unapologetic, idealistic declaration is the sort of thing I feel in my soul. If I were able to reshape the world*, I would leave Valentines Day out, because for me romance doesn’t look like pink and red hearts, because companies are capitalizing on our affections and because there are a lot of people who are already lonely and don’t need Valentine’s Day to make them feel worse.

But here’s the thing – I still celebrate it.

I guess I do it because it’s expected and there is some social pressure, but that’s not the whole reason. On the one hand, I do think it’s an example of capitalism on steroids, as Christmas is. On the other, I think there’s something worthwhile underneath the avalanche of plastic pink hearts and cheap chocolates.

Because I was curious about how other people felt about the holiday, I asked people on my Facebook page how they felt. I got a range of answers – some people love V-day, some people celebrate grudgingly – but mostly I was surprised by how many people’s responses fell into a gray area. Many people celebrate in a small non-commercial way, with a special meal or with parents, children and students. One commenter wrote that’s good to celebrate love with her family. Some people celebrate alone, and cheerfully, with heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts. (Jealous!)

A couple of people wrote that celebration is okay, but that cherishing a relationship year-round is more important.
“It’s awfully easy to make the romantic gesture, it’s much harder to maintain a consistent kindness,” commented writer Elizabeth Hilts.

And they are all correct. Maybe that’s why I can’t pull a Palmer and leave the holiday alone for good. Because Valentine’s Day exists, and it’s nice to celebrate love in a small way, even if it’s far more important to celebrate love year-round. I’d love to get some more input on this, if anyone wants to comment below.

Anyhow, unlike Palmer, we are celebrating this year although not in a Pinterest or Askmen.com kind of way. Not that I bought anything with a red or pink heart on it, either. Instead I’m falling back on my tried and true plan for Valentine’s Day, one which has gotten me through many a V-day: a haiku and a bag of Fritos.

It’s much less effort than a scrapbook and he seems to like it. And I’m willing to bet that when I wake up tomorrow, he’ll be there holding out his standard Valentine’s Day offering: breakfast with a side of haiku.

*Actually I think the only people served by this holiday are people who have been dating for less than three months. Because that’s when Valentine’s Day is appropriate, when a person is wracked by endorphins, infatuation and insecurity. If I reshaped the world I would institute mandatory Valentine’s Days for every couple on their three-month anniversary. 

The guest blog that started me off…

This is the blog post that launched my new-found bloggin’ career. Matthew Dicks, the author of “Something Missing” asked me to blog about the most awkward date of my life after I tweeted this:

“It’s been two years since the most awkward date of my life. And we’ll be married in two months. Bring on the lobster.”

Not having my own blog at the time, I guest-blogged on his site. And then I became addicted. Here is what I wrote:

The Most Awkward Date of my Life

Two years ago I went on the most awkward date of my life.

Telling you this date was awkward is saying something, because I have had some awkward dates. There was the guy who picked me up in a Cambridge, Mass. coffeehouse with an invitation to stroll across Boston. “I’m in a band,” he confided. It was only when he got outside and started walking that I learned that his primary instrument was the accordion. (“My fans! My fans!” he yelled, bowing to an appliance store’s window display during our date.) There was the time I went for coffee with a guy I’d met through his massive group of friends. Four hours in, all of those friends showed up, pulled up chairs and joined the getting-to-know-you conversation. And then there was the college boyfriend I met at our mostly-white school’s attempt at a drag ball. We were both serving very bad drag and his first words to me were “I’m the woman your mother always warned you about.” (She hadn’t, but after spending the better part of year in that relationship, I remember wishing she had.)*

What I’m trying to say here is that I know awkward. Still, nothing measures up to my September 3, 2007 trip to the museum with the man called Cowboy. He was fourteen years my senior and I knew him only from a local bar, where the other patrons referred to him only as “Cowboy.” We were meeting at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Labor Day morning. Thanks to a night of carousing in the city with my friend Beth, I was suffering an immense hangover that day, but I was nursing an unholy crush on the Cowboy, and I thought maybe this outing would rid me of it. It didn’t.

I accepted the date on a Friday in a fit of nerves, and spent the next two days feeling like I’d eaten jumping bean salad. When Labor Day rolled around, I was up early, running on no sleep, so excited I left my cell phone charger in Beth’s apartment. I realized my mistake two blocks away from the museum and had to sprint back to her place, then taxi to the museum. When he arrived, I was soaked with sweat and lugging an overnight bag.

It was the first time I’d seen him in daylight. There were two things we wanted to see, we decided, as we stood around waiting to make our $20-an-adult “donation.” He was looking for the medieval armor. I wanted to see the giant whale I remembered from a childhood trip to the museum.

We made small talk as we continued through the line, into the museum and into the exhibit in which to-scale models of protons and electrons hung in a room made completely of plate glass, which was, incidentally, too bright for anyone recovering from a night of cheap beer and ‘80s music. The pain of my headache pried my attention from the electrons and the conversation. I was gazing out of the glass wall when I realized that the small talk had taken a wrong turn. I tuned back in, and then tried to tune out again immediately, but it was not possible.

He was standing there, near a neutron, confessing family secrets. These were not garden-variety family quirks. These were major sins-of-the-father skeletons in the closet; the sort of ancestral horrors that a significant other tends to learn about gradually; the kind of revelations that take root as a suspicion, and finally explode years down the line when a family member gets drunk at Christmas. The tamest one involved a cousin, a dwarf from Texas, who chased his mother around the graveyard at his father’s funeral.

My first impulse was to wonder what that could do to a child; my second was a fight-or-flight response. The headache began to fade, and I remembered, as I searched for an exit, that two days before Cowboy told me he hadn’t had a proper first date since the ‘80s. When I relayed this information to a girlfriend, she stared at me and said, “Run.” Standing there, listening to him go on about his inappropriately horny Texan cousin, I readied myself for flight.

Then my phone rang. It was my mother. I tell my mother almost everything, but this date was on the short list of items I’d decided not to share.

“Hi honey.”

“Hi Mom. I can’t talk. I’m in the city with Beth.”

“Oh! I didn’t know you were visiting Beth. Where are you?”

“The Museum of Natural History,” I muttered. There was a pause as my mother sniffed the air for lies.

“With Beth? You’re at the Museum of Natural History with Beth?”

“She loves culture. You know Beth.”

My mother did know Beth. She also knew that after a night out in the city, we were more likely to be swanning around behind dark glasses than inspecting arrowheads and stuffed antelopes.

“Okay,” she said in her we’ll-talk-later voice. “Have a good time. And say hi to Beth.”

I turned back to my date.

“That’s my mother. She’s psychic when it comes to the phone. She always calls exactly when she shouldn’t.”

“She knows,” he said, smiling.

My mother’s well-timed intrusion saved me from any more horrific revelations but it did not break the ice. He walked a few steps behind me as we cruised through the exhibits. I could hear his boots echoing off marble floors and the dinosaurs’ glass display cases, each step accompanied by a jingle, which made me wonder if he’d taken his nickname one step too far and worn spurs.

Rejuvenated by a lunch of street-vendor hot dogs, we realized we had found neither the suits of armor nor the whale. We charged back inside only to be told by a sour old lady in a museum vest that there were not suits of armor in this museum. European history – unlike the history of every other continent – was housed down the block in the Met, with fine art. Ignoring for the moment the ethnocentric policies that shaped the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, we plunged into the heart of the building, searching for something that should have been unmissable – a gigantic whale, suspended from the ceiling.

“How do you hide a whale?” lamented Cowboy as we careened through the halls, led astray by maps that looked simple enough for a child to follow, passing the suspended Viking boat for the fifth time. We found it at last, by accident and it was exactly as underwhelming as I hoped it wouldn’t be. Left with nothing else to do, we left the museum and took the train back out to the Connecticut, making stilted conversation. I haltingly tried to kiss him good night in the train station parking lot, and missed when he turned his head, hitting him somewhere east of the corner of his mouth. He looked shocked, I felt stupid, and we went home — separately.

That was two Labor Days ago. In two months the Cowboy and I will be married. Last Labor Day, we went back to the city to find the suits of armor. They are indeed at the Met. I can confirm he does not wear spurs, although he does have the loudest car keys I have ever heard. Our local bar closed, but we still see the other patrons and everyone still calls him Cowboy. But I don’t. Now, I just call him Honey.

*Editor’s note, 2019: Some of this paragraph has been rewritten because I know more today about gender and ballroom culture than I did in 2009.