This is not a valentine. Okay, well maybe it is, but not in the traditional sense. How many of you have ever been disappointed by Valentine's Day? Come on, raise your hands. I can see them. What is up with this culture of sappy cards, cheesy chocolates shaped like roses on stems, butt-ugly baubles bought under the auspices of "maybe I'll get lucky tonight?" And the flowers... that are half-way dead and smell that way.
Last week I was in Portland, Oregon speaking at the Oregon Reading Association. The conference was great. It took place in the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel. I have stayed there before for other conferences, but this time things had improved. The hotel went through a major renovation and upgrade. I also think I went through some kind of upgrade. Sometimes I am somewhat unaware of the total picture of my surroundings. I'm good at blocking things out, which can come in handy in certain circumstances. For example, I had never realized that the Doubletree was across the street from the Lloyd Center. The Lloyd Center is a mall.
Malls. I hate malls. I worked in malls when I was a teenager. I was a salesclerk in Chess King in the Nanuet Mall when I was fifteen and sixteen. I was also a salesclerk in Foxmoor Casuals in the Paramus Park Mall when I was sixteen. I do have "mall memories" like double-piercing my ear when I was fifteen without asking permission. Drinking with my co-workers from Chess King after work when I was fifteen. (My fake ID said I was twenty-one and no one questioned it. Scary.) Buying fuzzy velvet black light posters at Spencer's Gifts.
But now I hate malls. I avoid them like I avoid greasy fried junk food. However I saw online that the Lloyd Center had a Verizon store, and I was about to receive my new iPhone 4. Yes. I caved. I've been using a six year old Samsung that does nothing except work like a phone, and I had to get the contacts off of it. I figured that a walk into the mall wouldn't kill me, and Verizon could get the contacts off my phone for me.
Walking into the mall, which involved crossing one street and entering through Macy's took maybe all of five minutes, but it was like I had walked backwards into some time warp. Not only that, but I walked straight into a balcony overlooking a skating rink. Apparently the very skating rink that Tonya Harding cut her first figure eights, and probably clubbed her first shins.
There were little girls twirling, a Tiger Mother chasing her perfectly poised daughter and giving her constant critiques. Then there was the mall itself- a behemoth of teen-oriented retail sturm und drang now blazing red and pink in its full Valentine glory. In shock, I made my way in the general direction of Verizon's store while salesclerks tried to put products in my hair and sell me bad jewelry.
Post Verizon, as I headed back towards the relative Zen peacefulness of the Doubletree Hotel, I was visually assaulted by three lingerie stores in a row. One was Victoria's Secret. I had never heard of the other. But the third was none-other-than Frederick's of Hollywood. In the Lloyd Center Mall. Lured by the site of lace, fur, pleather, rhinestones and skimpy pieces of polyester, I entered the premises. Me: dressed in faded jeans, puffy black parka, black baseball cap with a pirate skull and cross bones courtesy of Archie McPhee's... the saleswoman must have been seriously disappointed, but she did her best to point out the crotchless panties and the French Maid's outfit. Re: the French Maid outfit: I told her that I hated cleaning on a regular basis; why would I want to dress as a maid as a fantasy?
For a few minutes I fondled some fur trimmed negligee wondering how you would launder it or if my cat would attack it. I made a joke or two about surprising my husband, but mostly I got the heck out of there, leaving the mall with phone contacts waiting in cyberspace and some bad hair product in my pony tail. ("It's ceramic," the girl said. Great. Now I can use my hair as a coffee cup.)
What I did take home from the mall was a bad feeling about what Valentine's Day has meant in my past. We build ourselves up on this romantic notion of what love should be, but it really has nothing to do with the poorly written cards, the flowers that will pollinate your dining table, or the French Maid outfit that as my husband put it, "is much better lying on the floor in a pile."
My husband and I will cook dinner for each other this Valentine's Day. This is something we do all the time. There may be good dark chocolate involved at some point. We are lucky to live near the Theo Chocolate factory, so we get amazing chocolate no matter what time of year it is. We neither glorify nor put the kibosh on Valentine's Day.
But as I've gotten older, what I realize is that Valentine's Day is an opportunity to remind yourself that you love YOU- in all your imperfect beauty. Treat yourself lovingly. Make the vow to love yourself tender, partner or no partner. Buy yourself chocolate anytime. Don't wait for someone else to do it. Paint flowers on your toenails. They last longer and smell about the same as those commercial roses. And if you really need the French Maid outfit, I bet it will be half-price next month.
So this is my card to you. (apologies to Elvis)
Love you tender,
Love you sweet,
Never let you go.
You have made your life complete,
And you should love you so.