Two married friends of mine who spent the holidays out of town told me the stores there were already promoting Valentine’s Day, and it was still several weeks away.
We do like to get ready for holidays, don’t we? Americans spend weeks or even months preparing for what’s going to happen on one single day.
It’s likely that we celebrate Valentine’s Day because, save for Super Bowl Sunday, there is a holiday void between the weeks of overindulgence that climax on New Year’s Day and the relative calm of Easter.
Oodles of money is spent on food, booze, presents, decorations and other holiday accoutrements between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The bingeing starts to crank up before Halloween and collapses into a lull that lasts from Jan. 2 until Super Bowl Sunday.
Some stores live and die by what they do during the holidays. When I was a kid, there was a fantastic hobby shop in Cumberland. It had ship and airplane models, stamps, coins, books and shelves filled with neat things I’d never seen before, and my parents took me there when we came to the Queen City to go shopping. It lasted for less than a year.
When I began frequenting The Famous North End Tavern, I was joined there by the late Bill and Bob Hill, who operated a toy store near the hobby shop. It was another of my favorite places to go.
I asked what happened to the hobby shop, and they said the people who owned it believed they would make the same money all year that they made during the holiday season and spent it accordingly. They were in for a harsh dose of mercantile reality.
Another store my parents and I patronized was absolutely first-class and wildly successful for decades while it was in the hands of the generation that started it. It didn’t survive being inherited by a son who, one of his friends told me, had a fondness for fast women and slow horses.
Our holidays are associated with buying things — booze and food on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July to food and presents for Easter and Christmas, plus decorations that usually are good for only one holiday and spend most of the year in the basement or attic.
Nobody puts out Easter baskets on Halloween or jack-o-lanterns on Independence Day.
Mardi Gras justifies in some people’s minds an orgy of food, booze, dancing, wearing garish costumes and other fooling around because Ash Wednesday is the next day, and that signals the onset of fasting, penitence and other self-deprivation during Lent.
Other people see it as merely an opportunity to throw the Mother of All Parties.
It’s likely that Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it weren’t so highly promoted, and that includes the widespread cultural infliction of guilt and envy. Dosing people with guilt and envy gets some politicians elected to office, and it also fills jewelry stores. (Guilt by itself is sufficient to fill some churches.)
Valentine’s Day is touted as an opportunity to give our loved ones things that are as impractical as they are expensive. In particular, it’s the guys who give their girls jewelry they can use to stoke the envy of their less blinged-out gal pals and give them a reason to tell their boyfriends “You should SEE what Ethel’s boyfriend got HER!”
When was the last time you saw a man wearing an engagement ring? Men wear wedding rings and other jewelry, but it’s the woman who get the engagement ring ... and it better be a rock for the ages.
Or, more to the point, a rock of wages.
There is a “two months” guideline that says the man should spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring for his girlfriend (I’ve even found reference to a three-month guideline), but is it pre-tax salary or post-tax salary.
Obviously, a pre-tax salary ring would be bigger than a post-tax ring, but I looked it up anyway. It’s pre-tax salary, no question about that.
I found a more practical website that said the amount to spend on an engagement ring involves a decision that is “both emotional and rational.” To me, this sounded contradictory because emotion and rationality rarely co-exist between the same person’s ears.
It said there were two things to consider: (1) Your lady’s expectations and (2) Your financial situation. The trick is to find a balance between the two.
As Arlo of our “Arlo and Janis” comic strip once said, “Knowing what women want isn’t difficult. It’s simply a matter of being willing to provide it.”
I watched the 1983 TV program in which the magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. Everybody knew it was a trick, but nobody could figure out how he did it.
Neither have I ever been able to determine how to balance a girlfriend’s expectations with my existing financial situation ... or, for that matter, how to live up to a girlfriend’s expectations, period.
I once told some of my favorite people that I could always tell which times in the past I had a girlfriend because the balance in my checkbook was always considerably higher when I was by myself.
The women hooted at me, but the men just looked at me and nodded silently.
I got engaged twice, once when I was in college and once after college, and on both occasions didn’t have all my wits about me.
My first fiancee and I split up, and she kept the ring (which my parents bought because I was a broke college student). My second fiancee became my wife and, after five months, six days and six hours almost to the exact minute of being together, she returned both the engagement and wedding rings and left. I still have them. They are souvenirs from another life.
The last time I did something romantic was a number of years ago. She went to Europe for two weeks and gave me the keys to her house so I could keep an eye on the place.
I spent the time decorating it — inside and outside — with more yellow ribbons than greeted Tony Orlando on that old oak tree. She was still finding them a month after she came home, and my recollection is that she actually found one after we had parted company.
No rings were exchanged, and I am happy to say that we remain fond of each other.
It’s possible that at some point in the future I may find reason to do something else romantic, and if that ever happens I will let you know.
Even though I’ll soon be 72, I still don’t have all my wits about me.