Sunday, February 24, 2008

Can't Buy me Love

I forgot to mention Valentine's Day. I've never quite gotten it. Harmless enough, I suppose. Other than Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries, I tend to resent holidays designed to make us buy more stuff. Oh yes, there's Mother's Day and Father's Day and Grandparents' Day. Every duty we owe to others, we turn into a duty to buy stuff.

I'd always thought it was mainly for the girls. But if you have a wife or a sweetheart, aren't you supposed to be rather attentive throughout the year, surprising her with the occasional gift? Why must there be a day when you must give her one? It just sets up distracted people like me for a big fall, and a big price to pay in terms of shame, public degradation, and groveling at the feet of the one you love to beg forgiveness and to ask if there isn't some way to make it up. "Nope. Better never than late."

Well, this year I remembered. On Wednesday night I got her a dozen yellow roses with a fiery orange fringe at the top and set them out after she went to bed. She found them in the morning with a "sweet" note attached. I got up later after she'd already gone to work (I work mostly nights) and wandered out to the living room to find a big box in my chair. There's a Valentine's card on it. Inside the box are about 15 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization, something I'd always wanted. The books are old but in mint condition. She found the set in an antiques gift shop whose owners were unaware of the value, so my wife got the whole thing for 25 bucks. There was also a 50 dollar gift certificate to a local art supply store. And a paint brush, a fine, one inch, Grumbacher sable that I had previously forgone purchasing because of the prohibitive cost: 35 dollars. Yep. 35 bucks for a single brush. But she'd hunted it down and gotten it, no mean feat considering she knew nothing about paint brushes. But then I remembered the sly questions the day I came back from the store grumbling.
"What kind of brush was it?"
"Kolinsky sable, I think."
"And what's it for?"
Leaves minimal visible brush strokes, I said.
"And how much was it?"
"35 bucks. Outrageous. I'll work with what I've got."
"I don't blame you," she said.
Of course, I wasn't even thinking about Valentine's Day (still several weeks away, out of radar range) and her questions seemed normal.

So as I stood there looking at the box full of a 120 dollars worth of goodies, I thought, "What is this? A competition?" It made my dozen roses look pathetic. "Oh, the roses were perfect," she'd say later, enjoying the high ground.

Men will never be as clever or inventive as women at this kind of thing. Men don't stow away information for future use the way women do. It's not in their genes. While men are thinking, "This is a waste of time and money," she's thinking, "If it will make him happy, money is no object." As I said, I'd thought this day was supposed to be about the girls, but somehow it's changed. Or has it always been this way? She's always given me something on V-Day, but I'd thought it one of her endearing peculiarities. If she forgot, I wouldn't even notice. But she never forgets. Some years the only reason I remember my own birthday is that, when I get home from work, a present is waiting for me. If she forgot that, I'd probably remember eventually, but I wouldn't have to forgive her because I wouldn't be mad. We're all marching toward the grave a year at a time, and if you fail to remind me of it I won't hate you. One more trinket won't put it off by a second.

If St. Valentine's such a great guy, why don't we celebrate him? Oh, you see, we don't celebrate saints in this country. We celebrate occasions, narcissistic exercises in material well-being and commercial boosterism. What did Valentine do, anyway, to become a saint? I guess it's not important. I remember giving a girl I liked in the 4th grade a Valentine's card. Teacher gave me permission to walk it down to her in the middle of class. She came to the door, I gave it to her, and she started crying in front of the whole class. Made my day. She was also a bit of a drama queen, precociously so. But I'll bet a lot of girls don't get anything on V-day, do they? That's another reason I don't like it. It reminds the lonely of the very thing they don't need reminding of. Is there some process by which a holiday can be abolished? It's probably just me. I don't get it.

Anyway, I've started dipping into the Durant volumes. I like reading about the history of philosophy - Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant and the crowd - and I'll be interested to see how he treats early Christianity. I've already read about its founding Personality, and it ain't too hot. Will was one of those Catholics who left and didn't come back until just about time for the death bed, well after he'd written the books. No second chances. I'll be using the gift card this weekend. And I put the sable brush to use today, applying an Alizarin Crimson glaze over a painting's background. Looks like a rich port wine. And no brush strokes either. Performs as advertised. I'll have to thank her again tomorrow. Worth every penny.


Lydia McGrew said...

I read somewhere St. Valentine performed marriages secretly when they'd been outlawed or something weird like that. Why would marriage be outlawed? But that's how he got connected to this day.

I've never understood the business about women storing up information for later, women remembering everything, men being sort of unaware. In their jobs, surely men _do_ have to store up information for later, pay attention to what's going on around them, be aware of possible pitfalls ahead, multi-task, all that stuff. Don't they? How do they survive in the world if they don't do more of that stuff than they do at home? That completely flummoxes me.

(Still no W4 connection. Looking more and more like my own problem, though I don't know what I'll do about that, and I'm told that's a priori very unlikely, given that I have a good Internet connection in almost all other respects. But my neighbor _across the street_ with the _same Internet service provider_ can get the site to come up on his computer. Go figure.)

alicia said...

yesterday was our anniversary - 34 years to be exact
myself, I'm with you on the why do we have to buy stuff to celebrate - oh well.
one of the best gifts john ever gave me in our years of marriage was in the first few months. he came home from work one day with a set of craftsman screwdrivers for my tool kit. gotta love that man - and I do.

Lydia McGrew said...

Alicia, I thought for a moment you were going to say that your husband came home with a set of screwdrivers and fixed some things around the house. :-) That would be a _great_ gift.

I'm with both of you on not buying stuff. We get simpler and simpler about that as time goes by. One gift my husband can give me is permission to *throw stuff out*.

William Luse said...

I've never understood the business about women, etc.

It's the kind of information. Men want to make the lawnmower work, the business, the battalion, the government. Women want to make relationships work.

Call your ISP provider and tell them to get out there and fix it. You're paying for the service.

Alicia, if I gave my wife screwdrivers as a gift, she'd make sure I ended up wearing them as post-piercing jewelry.

dylan said...


Enjoyed reading this.

Nârwen said...

The Sts. Valentine (there were at least two or three by that name, possibly more) were martyrs for the Faith. That's about all we know about them.
The connection with romance doesn't seem to have come in until late medieval times, and may have orginated with Chaucer's "Parliament of Fowls".

Here's an article:

William Luse said...

Good to hear, Dylan. By the way, I don't think you're a leftist.

And look who's back - Donna Marie. With good information as usual.

smockmomma said...

"Other than Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries, I tend to resent holidays designed to make us buy more stuff."

smockdaddy's says the exact same thing ... well, no, he doesn't think we should have to buy things for anniversaries. but i've made it easy for him. he's been forbidden flowers, lessen' they're daisies, and if he simply can't think of a gift to get, he can always just gimme the cash.

Paul Cella said...

I read the Durant volume which includes the French Revolution (found it at the library on the way to the beach some years ago, and thought it would make for some good beach reading).

The Durants really want to embrace that sanguinary irruption as sacred beloved Progress: and in a way they do, but being decent historians, they cannot neglect the sanguinary aspects. So in the end the book joins a long list of Liberal histories that argue one point but prove (merely by faithfulness to fact) the opposite.

The writing is general excellent too.

William Luse said...

Yep, it's going to be a mixed bag, no doubt.

he can always just gimme the cash
Uh-huh. And what's the punishment if he doesn't?

Lydia McGrew said...

When my husband gives me cash, I never know what to do with it. Pay my daughter for shoveling the walk?

William Luse said...