Valentine's Day isn't about sweet nothings anymore

February 11, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

AS RECENTLY as 20 years ago, Valentine's Day was strictly no-pressure for a guy.

On Feb. 14, a guy would simply stop at a drug store after work and pick up a card and box of candy for his wife or girlfriend.

If he was a real sport, he'd spring for flowers.

Then he'd head home secure in the knowledge that his humble gifts would cause paroxysms of joy in his loved one and that he'd be treated as a veritable saint for weeks.

Gosh, it was a wonderful time to be a guy.

Then, I don't know, everything seemed to change.

Somewhere along the line, Valentine's Day became this ... this commercial juggernaut.

Suddenly men were being urged to "Give the gift of romance!" with diamonds and jewelry and weekend getaways at luxury hotels.

Suddenly, it wasn't enough to take your wife or girlfriend out to dinner; now you were supposed to "Make it an evening she'll remember forever!"(Look, no matter how good the angel-hair pasta is, are you really going to remember it forever ? Hip replacement surgery -- that's something you'll remember forever.)

Almost overnight, it seemed, guys were expected to pop for pricier gifts on Valentine's Day.

And now the gifts were supposed to be thoughtful, too, a totally foreign concept to most men.

That's why the whole card-and-candy thing worked so well. It required absolutely no thought, something men had been comfortable with for generations.

As we lurch into 2002, the pressure on men to come up with ever more innovative Valentine's Day gifts seems to be intensifying.

A card and candy for your lover?

Please. That seems as quaint as giving her a Herman's Hermits LP these days.

Flowers for that "special someone?"

Sure, sure. Why not just wear a sign on your back that says: "I am a cheapskate. I de-value women."

Look, here are just a few of the pricier Valentine's Day gifts being touted in newspaper ads the past few days:

A take-home lobster dinner for two from a local seafood restaurant for $64.99.

A day-spa package (massage, manicure, pedicure and facial) for $174.

A "night of fun and intrigue" at Joe Theisman's Restaurant -- yes, owned by the former Washington Redskin quarterback -- which includes Murder Mystery Dinner Theater entertainment, dinner for two, cocktails, champagne and a night at a hotel.

"All this just $200 per couple," the ad blares.

Interestingly enough, all the cheap gifts for Valentine's Day always seemed geared for men.

For instance, a fax I received from the Beck's beer people said it's been "proved scientifically through research" that "beer -- specifically Beck's -- is a top gift choice of men this Valentine's Day."

In other words: "Ladies, looking for something for that lump on the couch? Get him a six-pack! All he wants is to get loaded anyway!"

Another fax that crossed my desk touted something called Belly Lights as an ideal Valentine's Day gift -- a belly-button "accessory" a woman would buy to appear sexy for her lover.

"When the user turns on the light," the fax explains, "a flashing heart will illuminate from the navel providing a very cool effect."

Belly Lights, the fax continues, are "lighting up the midriffs of professional models, NFL cheerleaders, rock 'n' roll singers, a few grandmas and now Valentine's Day lovers!"(A few grandmas?! I don`t know, is this something we really want to see? Senior citizens with lighted navels gyrating like Britney Spears?)

The point is, know how much Belly Lights cost?

A whopping 6 bucks!

Can you see that conversation between the two lovers?

Him: "For Valentine's Day, I'm taking you to the finest restaurant in town. Then we'll be whisked by limo to the best hotel, where I've booked a romantic suite."

Her: "I bought you Belly Lights. I mean, I bought me Belly Lights. For you. Six bucks. But you're worth it."

But the ultimate Valentine's Day gift suggestion came from the Yamaha piano people, flacking something called a Disklavier Mark III.

It's a high-tech piano that actually plays itself. And with a built-in CD player, it can add vocal and orchestra performances. So you can close your eyes and think you're playing with Nat King Cole or the BSO.

"How much?" I asked Kevin Heinselman, general sales manager for Oren Music Inc. in Putty Hill, when I went to see the Disklavier.

"About $20,000," he said.

"And people actually buy these for Valentine's Day?"

"Yep," he said. "It's music! It's romance! It contributes to the spiritual, romantic side of you! All you need is the money."

OK, fine, it's a neat piano.

But for 20 grand, Tony Bennett should pop out of the back, give a two-hour concert and take you back to his place for drinks and dinner.

For more Valentine's Day-related features, log on to The Heart Beat at www.sunspot.net/love.

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