It’s Valentines Day. Pshaw! A Hallmark Holiday, you say. Singles Awareness Day, another jokes. I guess every holiday has its Scrooge. I have my Ngoc-Thu. My friend Nick Pinto would gripe about Valentine’s, Christmas or (especially) 4/20. He doesn’t need holidays to legislate his behavior. And yet his love of Halloween never once carried into the rest of the year. Why not don a Boba Fett costume and go door-to-door stating “Trick or Treat!” in March, you rebels? Despite what cynics claim about the supposed commercial origins of Valentine’s Day, the oldest known association of St. Valentine’s Feast Day with romantic love occurs in Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Parlement of Foules which was published back in 1382. In it he wrote,
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
It was written to commemorate the engagement of the 13-year-old Richard II to 14-year-old (cougar) Anne of Bohemia. The “volantynys” or “valentine” is variously assumed to be either Valentine (Valentinus) of Rome or Valentine of Terni, who may’ve been the same person or, more likely, never existed. Valentines, from at least that point on, have held special significance for lovers. By the 1850s, Esther Howland was mass-producing and selling Valentines after taking her inspiration from an English Valentine. Hallmark, the Missouri-based mass producer of greeting cards, began producing Valentines 532 years after Chaucer’s remark, making accusations that they’re behind the holiday somewhat less than likely.
I suspect that the roots of the holiday go back further, since nothing of St. Valentine’s legend makes any mention of love, chocolate or sexy underwear. I can’t find any support for this on the internet but I recall Hillbillies marked the day peculiarly. I think Valentine’s Day was the day that birds supposedly chose mates and Hillbilly farmers would rise out of bed and wordlessly (lest they decrease the fertility) sow seeds with nothing on but a gourd tied around their waist, placed in front of their crotches.
Before you laugh, non-Hillbillies engage in their own rituals, some with less obvious purpose:
Flowers. For example, nothing says “My old lady will henpeck me if I don’t do this” like the passionless chore of buying a dozen red roses. At Valentine’s Day, due to the demands of masses who care enough to send the very least, you can be assured that you’ll pay top dollar for the worst roses South America has to offer. Lame variations I saw in my days as a delivery guy: 13 red roses (i.e. the extra mile), two dozen roses (you’ve got money to waste, twice the ego and zero imagination) and a dozen roses of mixed color (how wacky). Any version of rose-giving ensures that this Valentine’s Day will be indistinguishable from every other, and you from every other lame ex. You could get a trumpet vase full of tulips that look much nicer for much less cash. And they don’t have to be red. Or you could get something erotic and suggestive like an arrangement with antheriums.
I went down to Los Angeles’ Flower District. When a seller was asked about how this Valentine’s season was going, he told me about how he bought a three-day supply of water, 100 dollars worth of canned foods to put in public storage, and a safe for his money. I didn’t ask for his plan for the apocalypse and I kept mine to myself (it’s so good!). But he ended on a happy note saying, “But I make each day a great one. There’s no reason to be sad. Happy holiday!”
Sexy underwear is a perennial favorite. I personally think the world started falling apart the day the sight of a man in shirtsleeves was no longer considered outrageous and provocative. Therefore I’ll be brief and keep remarks about unmentionables to a bare minimum. I have the suspicion that no one really finds thongs attractive, they just think they’re supposed to, like tramp stamps and red cowgirl hats. Then there’s the scratchy-looking hooker-wear that they sell on Hollywood Blvd. I’m pretty sure only fellers wear that stuff. Those high-waisted panties from the 80s seem safely and thankfully in the past. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde (or just willfully misquote), “Fancy underwear is in its essence inartistic. Nothing should reveal the human booty but the booty itself.”
Chocolates are cliché, and yet people seem to really, really like that bean-derived confection. For my money, marchpane is the most sensual of candies. But no one seems to agree.
Sex toys. When you turn to Messrs Fisher and Price to salvage your humdrum partnership, you may be in for disappointment.
Any kind of first might ensure some decent memories. Perhaps you and your loved one would like to watch a Nenetsian film after having dinner at a Oaxacan restaurant. Maybe attend your first play since your high school English class watched Death of a Salesman. Or watch a Valentine’s Day-themed film like these curiously horror-heavy examples:
2001 — VALENTINE
Kate loves an alchie. At least she’s got her girlfriends until one is murdered. Her friends start receiving gruesome Valentines and are offed one-by-one. They suspect it was a classmate they picked on and a macho detective starts to figure out that killer’s identity could hit close to home.
1981 – MY BLOODY VALENTINE
A bunch of Canadian miners are killed due to their employers’ negligence. The surviving miner killed his bosses in revenge on Valentine’s Day and promises to kill again if the town ever has a dance on the holiday. With the killer safely locked away in an institution, what’s to stop the horny kids from partying?
1984 — ON VALENTINE’S DAY
The year is 1918. Horace Robedeaux and Elizabeth Vaughn elope on Valentine’s Day. The penniless couple live, surrounded by eccentrics, in a boarding house until they agree to accept financial aid from his father-in-law, Michael Higgins.
2004 — THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE
Jennifer Love Hewitt receives an anonymous Valentine from her husband’s broham. She responds, thinking it’s from hubby, who hides it, apparently because he assumes that it’s from his mistress. Hilarity and drama ensue in equal measure.
1975 — BE MY VALENTINE, CHARLIE BROWN
Charlie Brown waits in vain for a hint of love from anyone. Sally’s cheesed about her sweet baboo. Linus stresses over what to get for his teacher that he nurses inappropriate fantasies about.
1981 — HOSPITAL MASSACRE
A jilted maniac stalks the object of his childhood obsessions. When she goes to the hospital he switches her x-rays with those of a terminally ill patient. This allows him to buy more time and for the former Playboy playmate to undergo lots of nude examination, all coinciding with Valentine’s Day and the 20 year anniversary that this creep murdered the girl’s brother in revenge for her spurning his advances.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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