By ice rivers
Twenty years ago I persevered through one of my favorite rituals, the annual Valentine’s Day masculinity panic. As of 2:50 PM on that fabled Febfourteen, I still had not confronted Valentine’s Day “responsibilities”
I was teaching Cinematic Literacy to a class ot twelfth graders and we were watching Charley Chaplin’s City Lights where the Little Tramp falls in love with the blind flower girl. This romantic situation inspired one of my students to ask, “Mr. Rivers, did you get your wife some nice flowers for Valentine’s Day?”
Most of the class was surprised when I confidently and proudly stated that I hadn’t bought anything “yet.”
I added that I wasn’t worried because I knew where the flower guy was on West Henrietta Road. I was pleasantly surprised that several of the males in the class also knew where the flower guy was and were planning to visit him after school. For the one’s who didn’t, we smartened them up as there would always be another February…another opportunity to panic.
The flower guy was a merchant who sold flowers out of his truck. I had been going to the flower guy for years, not just on Valentine’s Day but on those numerous occasions when I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for being married to the wonderful woman that I am married to and stop and pick up some flowers as a tiny token of my admiration for her beauty, integrity, patience, uh wisdom, uh reliability, uh responsibility, uh loss of two pounds last month, uh new haircut, uh savor faire, uh joie de vivre, uh etc.
By the time I got to the flower guy, a small line had already formed. I took my place in line and bonded with the testosterone surrounding me, all of us immediately recognizing that we were in the same circumstantial basket and proud of the fact that we knew the flower guy and their asses were safe. Most of the guys in line looked as if they considered their bodies more as taverns than as temples, but I did notice one guy who looked as if he not only did the cooking but also the cleaning in his crib. His fastidious appearance stood out in this particular line which featured beer guts, baseball hats, jeans, cigars and Carhart jackets. I blended as if I were invisible.
Usually the flower guy had a bunch of arrangements ready and would say, “this one’s five, this one’s eight, this one’s ten, you can have two of these for twelve etc.” On that day, the flower guy had been so overwhelmed before my line began that he was making up the arrangements as he went along which added to the length of time we spent in line which added to the bonding thing which added to the disparaging discourse about Valentine’s day as a “chick thing” or a “marketing gimmick” or a “fake love camouflage” .
By the time I got to the flower guy, he was pretty frantic and barely recognized me although I had been the only person in line on many previous Fridays.
I said, “Long time customer”
He said, “I recognize you brother.”
“How far does ten bucks fly today brother”, I asked.
“Flies this far”, he answered and handed me an arrangement with four red roses and six white carnations.
Normally, I would have expected the flower guy to cut me a special deal but I could see he was overwhelmed. The line and the grumbling down the line was growing fast. The cops would be arriving soon and then everybody would be shit out of luck until or if the cop got a good buy on the flowers he was gonna need.
I paid the bucks, grabbed the arrangement, said “so longboys” to the guys in line and made my way to Wegman’s for part two: The Card.
Rochester used to be famous for Kodak and then for Xerox…..both companies were fading fast and Rochester was now becoming famous for Wegman’s, the super duper market that was beginning its indomitable spread across the country. I made my way to the nearest Wegman’s with the perception that I could walk right in, pick out a great card, walk right out and be back home in ten minutes.
I made my way over to the card area and found a big red section called Valentine’s Day. I noticed the section was filled with men. I grabbed a few cards and realized this was going to be more complicated than I had imagined. All of the cards were of the My Dear wife, I love you so much that my tender heart breaks with the overwhelming joy of your radiant kindness on this our romantic day of days with hearts and angels and all of that crap.
In a panic, I looked at card after card. They were all the same, the kinds of cards that men hate to give and women hate to get because they SCREAM last minute.
I couldn’t help but speak out loud.
“Man. these cards suck.”
I immediately got responses from all the guys in the section who were having the same problem and realization.
“You got that right, man.”
Once again I could feel the bonding at this annual ritual. Then one guy pointed out an entire empty section of cards. Somebody figured out, “that’s where all the good ones were.” Naturally, all the good ones were long gone. We all paused for a moment to visualize wonderful guys buying witty, sexy cards two weeks ago and normally priced flowers two days ago. We all vowed to be that day nest year etc.
I started talking to the guy who had said “Word”. He said he couldn’t find a card and he didn’t even have flowers yet.
I explained the flower guy and the Word guy said he had only twenty minutes> the Word guy said he was going there but he only had a half hour. We estimated the time that it would take him to drive to the flower guy, wait in line, buy the flowers and still be on time so he wouldn’t get home late and have his ass chewed off by his furious wife.
He came to the conclusion he wasn’t going to risk it. He would pay the wildly overpriced flowers at Wegman’s, even though he was “broke” and wanted a beer.
I told him to pick up two of those cards that you stick in a flower arrangement, one for him and one for me which he did. I wrote, “here’s something simple” on the card that he gave to me. Also, since he had saved me money on the card, I gave him enough to buy a 24 ounce Labbat’s Blue Light which he now had plenty of time to drink in the parking lot.
I got home on time, gave Lynn her flowers. She read the note. It worked. She liked the presentation because it was “simple” not a big goofy attempt to gild a rose unlike my usual tendency to “make a big deal out of everything.”
Twenty years later, it’s even simpler. I buy her some daisies a week before Valentine’s day and truly love her all year long.
But just in case, Wegman’s opened a super center in North Carolina a year before we moved here.
I don’t know where the flower guy is but I wish ya well, brother.