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by Thomas Blanton
Once a year, I go Goth. I dress in black, avoid sunlight, and listen to haunting, depressive music. I tell others all about the benefits of falling into the loving embrace of the sweet, sweet arms of Death. I stare into the mirror at the ebony circles beneath my eyes and wonder what I would have to do to get my lips the same color.
A psychologist once told me I had cyclical depression. “A lot of people get depressed during the winter months,” she assured me, waving away the smoke from my clove cigarette. “It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s perfectly natural, and easily treatable.” Wrapped up as I was in my own misery, I couldn’t muster the strength to explain to her that it wasn’t cyclical, or hormonal, or even chemically induced. It was Valentine’s Day.
I hate Valentine’s Day. I get queasy at the sight of red-and-pink decorations choking the life out of greeting-card stores. Those little candy hearts that taste like sidewalk chalk give me indigestion. I can’t even watch romantic comedies during February, even if they’re gay-themed and feature straight actors making out with one another.
“But, Thomas,” I hear you all saying, glancing up from your heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and stuffed toys stitched with squishy affirmations like I Wuv You Beary Much. “You’re in a long-term monogamous relationship with a great guy. Why would you, of all people, harbor ill will toward a holiday that celebrates love and romance?”
Well, first of all, Jack and I let each other know how much we love each other all the time. I put his term papers into MLA style, out of support for his recent return to college. Jack buys me assorted textured vegetable protein alternatives, like Soyrizo and Tofurkey, so I can stay vegetarian while he remains on the Atkins Diet. Granted, these may sound like small things, but I don’t do parenthetical documentation for just anyone. And the fact that a devout Atkins acolyte would spend his hard-earned money on carbohydrates and fake meat is in itself proof of commitment.
Secondly, as a gay man, I grew up surrounded by images of heterosexual love that surged to a nauseating crescendo around Valentine’s Day, leaving me feeling alienated and bitter. Even if, as an adolescent, had I been brave enough to express my true feelings, I’m not sure how the football team would have reacted had I shown up in the cafeteria on February 14 to present the star quarterback with a decoupage card and individually wrapped bonbons.
Mainly, though, I tend to muck up romance. I give it my best effort, but ultimately, like the mighty mallard duck flying high above a placid pond on the first day of hunting season, I just get shot down, and sometimes shredded by overzealous pointing hounds.
Last Valentine’s Day, my carefully orchestrated plans for an intimate day of flowers and low-carb delights devolved into a heated debate over who were and were not appropriate people to be talking to online. The year before that, my idea of giving Jack a gallery of framed photographs of the two of us crashed like a Diana Ross comeback tour. Apparently, Jack and I are hardly ever standing next to each other when someone starts taking pictures. Also, while individually we are both pleasant-looking guys, we are pretty much never photogenic at the same time.
I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my aversion to Valentine’s Day. Most of my friends have their own unique ways of surviving the holiday. My best buddy Patrick, who, out of all the straight people I know, is the one most likely to end up as the subject of a Michael Douglas movie, likes to go to the mall and try to break up high-school couples.
“Yeah, she says she loves you now,” he’ll say to startled teenagers who, up until moments before, were happily necking in the food court. “But I give it six months before she dumps you, probably for someone with a better car. Enjoy those waffle fries. Hope they give you comfort.”
Sarah, my writing collaborator, stopped recognizing Valentine’s Day years ago. Instead, she celebrates the birthday of Raymond Teller, of the comedy stage magic duo Penn and Teller.
“Penn and Teller are the best comedy magicians in the entire universe, so when I read that February 14 was Teller’s birthday, I decided to create Penn and Teller Day,” Sarah once told me. “It’s just a coincidence that February 14 is a nightmarish holiday filled with false sentimentality that I personally despise.”
As part of her annual celebration, Sarah creates fake Polaroid spirit photographs, plays tricks on her friends, and drinks chocolate Yoo-hoo while watching old copies of Penn and Teller television specials. “You could also celebrate the day in silence,” Sarah said, “but this is really only effective when you have someone babbling incessantly at your side.”
Sarah’s commitment to celebrating anything except Valentine’s Day inspired me, so I whipped out my trusty Internet search engine and went on a quest to discover other ways to make the day palatable. Following are a few of the various holidays and observances I found. Feel free to mix, match, and accessorize.
Hug-a-Theater-Queen Day. Oscar Wilde’s last play, The Importance of Being Earnest, debuted on February 14, 1895, at the St. James’ Theatre in London. To celebrate this anniversary, hold a tea party for your closest friends, but eat all the cucumber sandwiches before they arrive, just as Rupert Everett did in the movie. Or in true Saint Oscar tradition, fix up overweight acquaintances with cockney rent boys.
Kill-a-Bootlegging-Gangster Day. On February 14, 1929, seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang and a random ophthalmologist were gunned down in a Chicago parking garage by crime lord Al Capone’s henchmen, who were costumed as policemen. To commemorate this event, dress up like a cop and hang out in an underground parking garage. Whenever you see someone wearing a trench coat and/or a fedora, accuse them of “moving in” on your “turf,” and then shoot out their windshields with a pellet gun. You won’t get arrested. Just tell the real cops that you were vacationing in Florida the whole time. That worked for Capone.
Get-Kicked-Out-of-and/or-Executed-by-an-Organized-Religion Day. On February 14, 1076, an angry Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV for attempting to appoint Catholic bishops to office (apparently, Catholics frown on emperors doing that sort of thing, preferring that they stick to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and genocide). Later that millennium, on February 14, 1556, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer was charged with treason and heresy by Queen Mary I, who wished to return England from Anglicanism to Catholicism. To commemorate this day, get yourself excommunicated or accused of heresy. Donate a large sum of money to Planned Parenthood in the name of Cardinal John O’Connor, or send an announcement of your impending civil union to the Episcopal bishop of Texas. If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, invite a bunch of Southern Baptists over for Bible study and then lock them in your living room and force them to watch Footloose. Oh, and remember to pray loudly and openly later, when you’re tied to the stake. It makes the God-fearin’ people holding the torches uncomfortable.
Antonio-Banderas’s-Singing-Career-and-Mickey-Rourke’s-Butt Day. Writer and director Alan Parker, who gave us such gay favorites as Evita and Fame, as well as the Cosby-kid-career-ending voodoo thriller Angel Heart, was born on February 14, 1944. To celebrate, climb onto a balcony and sing about how you kept your promises to Argentina all through your wild days or orchestrate a big dance number in the middle of a school. Or just dump blood all over Lisa Bonét and then slit the throat of a live chicken. Which leads us to…
Sacrifice-Domesticated-Animals-for-the-Sake-of-the-Children Day. February 14 was sacred to the Roman goddess Juno, Protector of Housewives and Inspirer of Blinding, Homicidal Rages Based on Good-For-Nothing Husbands’ Rampant Infidelities. Following Juno’s big day was the Lupercalia, an annual event honoring the nature god Faunus. During the Lupercalia festivities, a dog and two goats were sacrificed to promote fertility. Now, sacrificing dogs and goats doesn’t usually go over well in most residential neighborhoods (except for the Woodlands, strangely enough), so to honor this holiday, just hold a massive banquet, followed by vomiting, a trip to the communal baths, and an orgy. Nothing says Roman like a nice, old-fashioned orgy.
A sidebar to this holiday planning: Dolly the Sheep, the first successfully cloned mammal, died on February 14, 2003, at the Roslin “We Make Sheep” Institute in Scotland. Wear wool in remembrance and use lanolin-based skincare products to retain essential moisture.
My hope is that one or more of these holidays really take off on a national level, and that soon none of us will have to deal with the tribulations of Valentine’s Day. If you don’t look forward to facing this February 14, though, then just head on over to my place. Jack and I have boxes and boxes of chalky candy hearts we’d be happy to share.
Thomas Blanton, who wrote “Old Green Eyes Is Back” in the February 2003 issue, is a poet and frequent contributor to the magazine.