Today, candy isn't so dandy

Kevin Cowherd

February 10, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

Valentine's Day used to be a wonderful time in the heady days before romance entered into its sordid relationship with Big Business.

Back then a man could dash into a drug store after work and pick up a sappy Hallmark card and cheap box of candy, and be relatively certain that the woman in his life would just about turn cartwheels at this incredible thoughtfulness.

Then, I don't know . . . something happened.

Suddenly, it wasn't enough to burst into a Rite-Aid 10 minutes before closing time and bark at the startled Whitesnake freak with the nose ring behind the register: "The little, y'know, chocolates in the, uh, sampler thing . . . YOU GOT ANYMORE OF THEM?!"

Suddenly couples were giving each other Caribbean cruises for Valentine's Day. Or candlelight dinners in expensive French restaurants. Or romantic weekend getaways in luxury hotels with garish mirrored ceilings in the rooms and heart-shaped bathtubs and God knows what else -- trapezes hanging from the ceiling, maybe, or headboards that convert into bondage racks.

It has gotten to the point now where if a man gives his lover a card and candy on Valentine's Day, the next sound he hears is that of an uppercut whistling through the air and the thud of the punch as it catches him directly below the sternum and drives him hard into the refrigerator.

With the wind sucked out of him and his knees buckling from the blow, the man might glimpse (if he hasn't blacked out already) the woman rustling about in the silverware drawer for a large knife.

Terrified and disoriented, some men will actually hurl themselves through the screen door at this point and limp over to the neighbor's house screaming for someone to dial 911.

After the police reports have been filled out, the poor man, if he is married or otherwise co-habiting, will find himself spending the night in the tool shed with a small space heater and a Labrador retriever named Skippy for company.

Look, let's get one thing straight from the get-go.

I'm not blaming women for what's happened to Valentine's Day.

I blame the all-encompassing avarice of the '80s, when the prevailing sentiment in this country was "gimme, gimme, gimme" and Valentine's Day became a neurotic study in one-upmanship.

Now people felt compelled to come up with ever more creative (and expensive) ways to express their love. The simple $4.98 card-and-gift package became as quaint as a car with running boards.

How else do you explain the whole concept of boudoir photography, which is all the rage as a Valentine's Day gift now?

As I understand it, this involves a woman reporting to a seedy studio with a cutesy name like Fantasy Fotos -- often owned, for some reason, by a burly guy named Mel who sports a Hawaiian shirt and several thick gold chains around his neck.

There the woman is instructed to change into a skimpy costume of her choice (Playboy bunny, French chambermaid, Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, Bangkok stripper, you get the idea. Look, this isn't a remake of "Othello." Cleavage and plenty of leg is pretty much all that matters.)

Next, with Mel drooling uncontrollably in one corner of the room, the woman is asked to strike a suitably provocative pose, reclining seductively on a canopied bed or leaning against a brass pole with a pouty look on her face.

The finished portrait, complete with the sort of understated Day-Glo red frame normally found only atop a piano in a Nevada bordello, is then presented to the woman's boyfriend or husband on Valentine's Day.

Well. I am certainly not going to sit here and judge anyone who would choose to give this sort of, ahem, gift.

If a woman wants to parade before a camera like a cheap little floozy, who am I to say whether that's right or wrong?

By the way, what exactly does a man do with this sort of picture? Does he put it on his desk at work, inviting the attention of leering colleagues. ("So that's Carol with the leather crop, eh?")

Or does he place it in a prominent spot at home, where the kids might get a load of mom tastefully dressed as a heavily mascaraed Filipino madam or Swedish dominatrix, setting in motion a series of lifelong emotional problems and tearful therapy sessions with juvenile counselors?

The point is that in our never-ending search for unique Valentine's Day gifts, we sometimes forget that the simplest gestures often work the best.

I'm thinking here along the lines of, oh, a nice card.

And maybe a box of candy.

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