Thursday, February 10, 2005

 
Another Standard column, but with fresh non-blog material.
Stupid Cupid
Traditionally, Valentine's Day has brought out insipid mediocrity, and only occasionally true inspiration in me. On one hand, there were the sheepskin car seat covers I once gave a spouse after 11 years of marriage and a trial separation or two. Admitedly they didn't exactly spell L-o-v-e, but they were warm, fluffy and had been on sale when I stopped at the auto parts store for fuses on my way home from work on that particular February 14.
"Seat covers!" a female co-worker spat out as we compared post-V Day notes. "I'd kill my husband. El zippo! One dead hubs walking! Your marriage must really be on the skids." Her acumen was remarkable. I was divorced later that year, though I redeemed myself – if not in her eyes, with one who would become No. 2 – with a fresh edition of a childhood book she'd loved.
There were some other missteps, though, and now I've found myself single and affectionate again in a country that more or less observes two (or possibly three, if you want to warp it a little) Valentine's Days – February 14 and, depending on whether you adhere to a lunar year or not, either July 7, 4703 or August 11, 2005.
And, until I asked advice from a mainland pal who has experience in affairs of the heart and eagerly observes both western and traditonal Chinese holidays – though Groundhog Day still eludes him – I realized that I had a lot more to learn when it came to romance, People's Republic style.
"I'm thinking of giving her some flowers," I confessed to him. "What do you think? Flowers are universal, right?"
"How many?" His tone implied something I didn't want to deal with, like an envelope from the Inland Revenue Department or a vestigial thumb sprouting from my abdomen overnight. I decided to briefy ignore the early warning system that began violently whooping within me.
"I don't know. A assorted bouquet of spring flowers, a dozen roses, something like that."
"For a Chinese woman, roses are recommended and the number can be very important," he cautioned.
"Important? Like how much I spend?"
"It's a code," he explained patiently. "If you give three flowers, it means you love her. If you give nine, it means your love will last a long time. If you give 11. it means you love only her. And if you give 99 it means you will love her forever.
"Ninety nine! What's three again?"
"Three is usually from a man who has many girlfriends but cannot spend a lot."
"Is there a number that says, 'I love you a lot but sometimes things change that we can't control, and if they do you can have the couch and washer and I can keep the DVD player and Sansui speakers?' ''
"Maybe in Hong Kong," he mused. "They are a little more modern. But I have not heard of it here, yet."
"How about 'Things have been great and I hope it lasts forever, and it will if you stop nagging me about my weight and cigarettes?'''
"Mmmm. No. Not even in Hong Kong, I think."
So caught between seat covers and with no rare first editions of Pippi's (Fi Leng) The Bright Wrong Path or even the Little Red Book in sight, I cautiously sounded out my beloved about numbers, flowers and Valentine's Day.
"You know my favorite flower, of course?"
"Ros...I mean, tuli...lillies. Yes. Lillies," I said confidently, as I focused suddenly on the oversized vanity portrait she'd had shot of her smiling visage amid a bouquet of pink ones.
"Okay. Yes, just know I believe in forever, not in a number."
"So, I can keep the speakers just in case?"
"What?"
"Never mind. Forever it is. Now, and in July or August, too."
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