Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day to express love. It is not. Many men Thursday will try again to demonstrate that even as rotten, foul-mouthed, chronically tardy, deceitful and sloppy as we are, you women should keep us around another year.
Men, at least the ones I know from bars, coffee shops, lottery stations and the grocery store greeting card aisles just before closing time -- when the only Valentine cards left are off-color or vintage 1988 -- are a base, vile breed. Closer to jackal than human. Hyena-like.
Movie man: "I want to get her something that illustrates my love."
Real life man: "I forgot her birthday two months ago, and she threatened to cancel the NFL Network!"
Ask any florist. Debbie Grumbles from Jack's House of Flowers in Fort Mill has heard it all. The story starts always, since flowers were first cultivated, with "I forgot."
Then, it is followed on Valentine's Day around 5:55 p.m., as closing looms, with, "I didn't want to wait until the last minute, thought I'd get here early."
Valentine's Day has been Feb. 14 since about 412 A.D.
"Last year, I thought I had the topper: Guy came in here at the last minute in tears, they are flowing, said flowers were a last-ditch effort to save his marriage," Grumbles said. "Money was no object. But then another guy comes right in, says, 'Please deliver a dozen roses to the Love's Travel Plaza truck stop.' I tell him our drivers have been on the road all day, no chance, and he pipes up, "I will tip the driver $100, cash."
Employees trampled each other and got thorned in the thumbs to deliver the last roses in the shop.
"And then the lady gets the flowers and has no idea who the guy is," Grumbles said. "She called in here for a description. The guy spent more than $200, and the lady never knew who he was."
Jewelers know the drill, too, have heard and seen every guy's story.
"We closed at the end of one Valentine's Day and this guy is standing outside, face plastered to the window, slapping money against the glass," said Linda Hege Gordon. "One hundred dollar bills in both hands. 'I gotta have something!' he screamed. 'She's seen it here, and I can't go home!'"
The ladies opened and separated the man from his cash, and another man was saved from himself.
Yet, the terrific Kathern Hege, selling jewelry to distraught husbands for 58 years, said most men buy to be romantics, not to save their own hides. She's been married 62 years and sold thousands of charm bracelets, so she must know a little bit.
However, Hege also has heard men say: "Is sterling silver cheaper than white gold?" and "I forgot our anniversary last month," and the classic, "I'll take anything. I don't know what color her eyes are."
Wonderfully, the stuff gracious women will accept from groveling men Thursday is even easy to choose. But what will get a guy thumped in the jawbox with a frying pan is a far more vital list. No-nos include: appliances, especially vacuum cleaners; cases of beer (guy's favorite brand, in cans); mops, brooms or dusters; cartons of generic cigarettes or used jeans bought at the state line flea market; stolen watches; buy-one-get-one-free coupons for the oil change place or the fish camp; memberships to weight-loss clubs; power tools; fishing tackle; and basketball season tickets.
Scorn the fool who brings home that single rose from a convenience store Thursday. All men know that flower. All have reached for it in their past. Some time after 11 p.m., but before midnight. The other hand holds a six-pack, or a Pepsi-Cola and Snickers. The flower is covered in dust, has a price tag on it that cannot be taken off except with a sandblaster. If that man pulls the trigger, takes the convenience flower home, his bags will be packed for him Friday.
I am not saying that any man who forgets should steal somebody else's flowers today, either, then give them to his wife. Or cut the flowers from a neighbor's greenhouse, then present the flowers as his own doing. That would be wrong.
Besides, wives and girlfriends are on to that trick. Especially if you don't have a flower garden. Like me.
No, many men will tear into flower shops and drug stores for candy today and certainly Thursday for self-preservation. A husband will argue a restaurant bill for 20 minutes over $3.26, yet run up a credit card bill or spend the kids' piano lesson money to buy chocolates, flowers, spa treatments or jewelry if the alternative means sleeping in the back of a Pontiac where the cops will roust him.
Show up after work with nothing but upturned palms Thursday, and the man is no longer a thoughtful mate, but a scoundrel. No matter how many times that guy cozies up on the couch for "When Harry Met Sally" or some other unwatchable girl-movie that involves kissing and feelings and love instead of car chases and severed limbs and foul language, the man is "The Forgetter."
He can start to wear a sweater vest and pretend to notice new drapes or carpet, and claim to "change," but he is marked forever. Hester Prynne of "The Scarlet Letter" had it easy compared to The Forgetter.
He is somebody who remembers ball scores but forgets anniversaries and birthdays and Valentine's Day. Yet, the woman keeps him and loves him anyway.
Somebody like me.