February 14th, 2004
As I crossed the Kansas plains in my 1994 Toyota Turcel I thought for a turn about the ironies of modern holidays and their association with romance. The 2003-2004 school year held a lot of first for me. There was my first time moving out on my own, my first keg stand, my first time to vomit while upside down… lot of exciting new life experiences that were mostly forgotten after a few cleansing moments singing softly to the porcelain of a dorm toilet while my body rejected copious amounts of alcohol and Taco Bell meat filler.
I’m not one of those people who doesn’t realize things change after you graduate from high school. As soon as I took my diploma from my diabetic principal and then untangled myself after tripping down the stairs on the opposite end of the stage I was hit by two epiphanies. One: I should have worn something under my graduation robe; and two: I wasn’t going to be the cool kid in high school any more.
The one time I did try to go back the following fall semester I was impolitely escorted out for not having a visitor’s badge while beating up kids behind the stairwell. “How dare you!” I cried indignantly, “don’t you know who I am?” Sadly it seems resource officers have limited short-term memories, only jogged when reminded who the cool student was who rearranged the school’s Christmas lights into a giant penis visible from space, or at least by low flying aircraft.
Valentine’s Day evolves as you grow up.
In the first few years of grade school you start out by giving everyone and anyone a Valentine. Like baseball cards or herpes on a porn set everyone trades with everyone without discrimination.
Maybe around 3rd or 4th grade you start to realize that Valentine’s is a great time to be a vindictive little prick. Lisa cut you in line for frozen fruit snacks after recess? Jordan gets all the way to the top and then realizes she doesn’t have the balls to go down the fucking slide creating a logjam with you stuck halfway up the ladder? Dan laughed when you tripped while sneezing and drinking milk? Screw ‘em, they’re not getting your kick-ass Ninja Turtles Valentine’s cards. And when they come to give you their lame cards that don’t have any references to ninjas, mutants, or turtles, you watch their reaction as you slowly tear them into confetti and say, “Just because I can…”
Around the 5th grade you stop getting cards for the guys in the class because that’s kind of gay, and though you’re not sure why or what ‘gay’ is, it sounds worse than the cooties, and while you’re definitely not sure what those are you’ve been conditioned to associate them with something terrible like movies with Sarah Jessica Parker or Japanese pizza. But you’re still a little curious.
By middle school you’re making feeble attempts to imitate movie and TV romances which are your primary source for sexual education, because face it, your parents by now are probably fairly checked out as far as relationships go, and you sometimes feel like you’re the lynch pin holding together your traditional family. As for sex-ed in school, it’s such a laughably awkward endeavor that by the end the only thing you’ve come away with is how to draw Captain Condom and that girls will periodically bleed from their vaginas.
So you buy little candies and cards with your allowance for the girls who are homely looking enough that they wouldn’t reject your advances before at least seriously looking you over. And you apologize as you give it to them cuz it’s lame and gay, but well whatever… And sometimes you’re rewarded with a peck on the cheek or a hand job on the back of the bus (depending on the school zone I assume.) And you’re learning, as you dive headlong into puberty, that Valentine’s Day is a day where you can exchange material items for physical (and sometimes emotional) rewards.
By the time you hit high school you’re stocked with enough hormones to confuse you so much you’d fail a sobriety test in the morning and you gravitate to stuff you later figure out is terrible, like Abercrombie, Mountain Dew, and Nickleback. You continue to trade out store bought goods to buy favor with any and all tight bodied females in hooded sweatshirts and sweatpants with stuff like Juicy and Classy written across the ass. Sort of like dropping chum in the water, it doesn’t matter if you know the lady or not, you leave little secret admirer cards dropped through the slots of their lockers with a Valentine’s note and a photoshopped picture from the yearbook with the two of you on a fabulous date at someplace terrible, but disguised as decent, like the Cheese Cake Factory.
My senior year in school I went bachelor style for the day of love and bought two dozen cheap roses, some of them very near death, and walked the halls of school giving them out to girls who I knew for a fact had received no Valentine’s rewards; it was something I learned from watching lions devouring sick wildebeests, target the weak and solitary. It worked too, I had had three dates on Valentine’s Day with various lonely single women. That night, exhausted and broke I wondered if what I had just done was awesome or terrible.
Fuck, I got off topic…
February, 14th 2004
So back to driving across the windswept plains still covered with a dusting of snow, I finally pulled into a little suburban area with cookie cutter houses that looked like a collection of props from Happy Days.
After exchanging text messages and short phone conversations with a young brown haired blue-eyed girl named Megan, she had managed to convince me that taking her out for the evening was a good idea. Yeah she was still in high school, but I was less than a year removed from the same school myself so I assumed the age difference wouldn’t be too much to overcome. Plus she was aggressive and had perky boobs, which I were things I liked at the time…the latter is still something I can appreciate both appropriately and inappropriately.
Her dad was a large mustached man. I jokingly asked him when he had to return his glorious stache to Tom Selleck.
“Megan’s still getting ready,” he told me in response, in a deep voice with a tinge of that odd Midwestern accent.
Thinking he might not have been listening I tried it again but changed Tom Selleck to Burt Reynolds.
He sighed and told me I could come in and wait.
Deciding against a third attempt using Charles Bronson I said instead, “Women are always late getting ready,” I laughed, “and then they complain when we stop showing up on time.”
He gave me a bored look and rubbed his moustache while he stood guard at the foot of the stairs. Megan just then appeared at the top of the stairs wrapped in a pink towel that was quite short.
“Hey Matty,” she called down, “Just give me half a second.” Her face already had makeup on. “Be nice daddy,” she sang as she turned and disappeared with a flash of shiny dark hair and long clean legs. God bless high schoolers I thought to myself.
Her dad smiled and waved to her and then turned back to me, all joy gone from his face. “What are your plans for tonight?” he asked.
“I’m gonna start slow,” I joked. He didn’t seem like the laughing type so I told him, “Grab something to eat, then maybe head off to a movie. Probably go see something that’s been out for a while so the theater is nice and dark and empty. You know,” I gave him a wink.
“Where do you go to school?”
“I’m out in Lawrence,” I lied. It’s just something I do when I start to get bored.
“What are you studying?”
“Double majoring in Agronomy and Astrophysics.”
“You’re interested in farming?”
“Roads are a little slick from the last storm still. What do you drive?”
“A Toyota, but don’t worry it’s got front wheel drive.”
“No. Front wheel drive.”
He gave me a strange look then.
I winked again.
“Finished,” Megan cried as she bounced down the stairs. She was wearing a super short pink cotton skirt, a baby blue hoodie with beige ABERCROMBIE letters attached over the chest, a lined denim jacket, and some absolutely hideous brown boots.
“Meg, aren’t you going to be cold like that?” her dad asked.
“I think she’ll be fine,” I told them staring at her thighs.
Megan beamed at her dad and threw her arms around his chest, “Don’t worry, we’re not gonna be outside really anyway.”
He saw us to the door and watched us walk to the car.
“Your dad’s pretty cool,” I told Megan as we backed out the driveway.
“He’s a drag, but I’m a fan, so what’s going on, how are you?”
“Eh, the usual. School, work, parties, Frisbee-golf, time travel…”
“Yep, I’m traveling forward in time.”
“So, how about you?”
“I’m sooo good…” she proceeded to tell me why, but she was a speed talker who often departed her original narrative to extrapolate on strange anecdotes, which held little or no bearing to any previous topics. She shifted between narratives without pause or discretion. At first I tried to keep up and store one plot away for when she got back around to it and started connecting the dots, but the tale she weaved was less like a Guy Richie film and more like the artistic ability of a toddler who draws pink giraffes at airports riding surfboards across the tarmac and a stick figure floating just above the horizon that is supposed to be some boy named Jimmy apparently, but I have no clue who Jimmy is and apparently neither does the artist because Jimmy is wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and has cactus hands that are stabbing fiercely into the air and one of them has already impaled some sort of ball and a square-object with teeth, and now the giraffe has been converted into some sort of skyscraper, which seems like a safety hazard at an airport… and tree branches are sticking out of what was previously the neck of a giraffe and in the branches there are dinosaurs nesting despite there being no data on Pterosaurs ever being arboreal, but they’re in the fucking tree and now there’s a fish walking about on the tarmac, probably a missing evolutionary link and the fish is wearing high heels on it’s awkwardly sketched feet so it hardly looks probable and more like some hoax stitched together by a desperate and doped up Dutch explorer…
While Megan continued to pollute the very idea of speech with whatever the hell she was rambling about I took a magical journey myself to escape Kansas, cold Kansas weather, and the tiny hell my poor Toyota had become (in Kansas). First, I visited Socrates and asked him about love. Then I realized I didn’t understand a word of Greek and it wasn’t Socrates I was talking to but Socks, who was best known for being Bill Clinton’s cat and being the protagonist in an ill received Super Nintendo game appropriately labeled, “Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill.” Socks looked to me like he knew a thing about love, or at least had seen his fair share battles and disturbing images.
I abandoned Socks though, when he found out I had never bothered to switch my political party from registered Republican and when I remembered that I don’t understand a word of cat which is made up of mostly a series of glares, hisses, baby sounds, and bits of small dead animals left on your pillow.
Then I journeyed back in time to the festival of Lupercalia, which is the pagan holiday that Valentine’s Day was designed to replace.
Ancient Rome, I soaked in the splendor of the ancient empire of legend. It was a little weird wearing my toga without a beer helmet and 50 Cent’s latest blend of rap and autotune blaring in the background, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The architecture was white stone painted vibrantly and gaudily. The air smelled of grapes and baking. Women sang as they busted through their homes sweeping out dust and small rocks and then sprinkling salt around the briefly clean floors. I hiked through the streets and followed a flock of boys out past the city outskirts where the poor and sick people huddled and looked at me with hungry eyes full of sadness and greed.
We hiked up through the foothills and into the mountains to the mouth of the Lupa cave where the she-wolf had nursed Romulus and Remus as babes. The Order of the Luperci was gathered in red and white robes preparing a goat and dog for sacrifice. The dog let out a whimper, the goat chewed on some grass and stared vacantly at the priest approaching with the ceremonial bronze blade.
Two quick cuts and it was over and I guess the spirit of the she-wolf was happy and the priests had successfully slaughtered two helpless animals to mark the beginning of spring. The boys I was with ran to the goat and fell upon it. They tore the skin off the beast and cut it into strips about the length of my forearm. Dipping the skins in dog and goat blood we ran back to Rome in a frenzy, slapping crops and women as we went. The women let out shrill little shrieks of pleasure as we savaged them with our bloody hides, the crops didn’t complain either. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the romance of it all.
Actually, I got carried away, you can only slap so many women and fields of grain before you run out of blood. I slaughtered more farm animals as I went to replenish my ammunition, but eventually the city guards wrestled me to the ground. By that point I had replaced my strip of goatskin with a horse hindquarter that I was swinging about like a war hammer of fertility while drenched in the blood of a thousand barnyard animals.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked Megan who had stopped talking at some point.
“I said,” she rolled her eyes, “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, I want to go to Rome.”
“How romantic! With me?”
“Oh god no!” I shuddered. “There’s no way I’d slap you with my bloody goat skin and no that’s not a euphemism.”
“Ummmm…thanks? Let’s get something to eat,” the girl said seemingly unfazed.
“Maybe… Friday’s, or Denny’s, or IHOP?” she proposed.
“This is good,” I told her, “Let’s get all of your terrible ideas out at once. Got anymore gems? Should I go buy a Viao? Should I ask the Geek Squad to set up my Xbox? Do you wanna listen to Vanilla Ice while we make-out parked in front of Home Depot?”
She hung her head.
“Alright then. Let’s go eat.”
Not willing to spend much on a girl who I already hated not even 10 minutes into the date we went to the nearest Sonic where I had some expired coupons.
“I don’t really want to eat here,” she complained. She didn’t like eating where she worked apparently.
“See if they’ll give us an employee discount,” I told her. By now her poor young spirit was barely surviving. I was just grateful she was quiet.
We ordered our food. I convinced the kid who brought the food out to us to take coupons anyway. There was no way a guy wearing a visor, jean shorts, a mood ring, and a name tag that said STEFFAN was going get me to back down from saving $2.25 off my total purchase before tax.
Don’t feel bad for STEFFAN though, he got me back. He saw Megan in the passenger seat with her arms crossed and her little pink skirt hiking its way up her thigh and the little bastard said, “Hey Megan! What’s up?” This little comment spurred an intense 90 second conversation between the two of them that contained about 20 minutes worth of words, was about 30% giggles, and 100% uninteresting. It only ended because I started to slowly and dramatically roll up my window while staring at him vacuously. After he left Megan kept going. She started out by saying, “I can’t stand him,” in a tone that made me hate her hatred of poor STEFFAN while still not being too fond of STEFFAN.
I phased in and out after that. Thankfully I had my food to occupy myself with. If you’re gonna be a dick to fast-food workers be prepared to eat some spit or be able to out think them, not something that’s too difficult because they’re either really young, really old, or grew up in unfortunate circumstances that didn’t afford them the same intellectual training I received in my AP biology classes and my junior college statistics courses. I switched my food with Megan’s when the order came out.
At some point between eating and speed talking her way through 1500 calories Megan got ahold of my cell phone.
I’m not gonna brag, but my cell phone had hundred of names in it. Most of them women. She went through the list and made snide comments about some of the girls who she knew.
“You know Ashley? She’s such a slut!”
“OMG, Kelly is so stuck up, she’s such a bitch.”
“Is this Kristin Magnuson?”
“Is this Lisa blah blah blah…”
She made it to the M’s eventually.
“You know Matt Morrison? I love that kid!”
“Yeay…” I did a one man wave.
“Can I call him?”
“From my phone?”
“Yeah! It’d be funny!”
“Do it.” I had no idea who Matt Morrison was.
“It’s ringing! It’s ringing!” she cried.
“Phones do that when you call them, at least the good ones do.”
“Hi, Matt!” she said into the receiver. “No, it’s Megan. I’m with Matty right now.”
“He doesn’t know me as ‘Matty,’” I told her.
She ignored me. “What are you up to?” She nodded as she listed to him.
“He wants to talk to you,” she said offering me the phone.
I took it, still with no idea who Matt was. “Matt,” I said, “what’s happing bro?”
“Not much not much, just chilling,” an unfamiliar voice at the other end said back to me.
“You know Megan?”
He paused, “I don’t know, maybe. Megan who?”
“Megan G____, tallish, thin, brunette, bug-eyes…”
“She’s still in high school, she’s, hold on,” I turned to Megan and asked, “How old are you again?”
“Seventeen,” she told me like she was proud of it.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Matt.
“Yeah, okay. I know Megan,” I got the idea that he didn’t.
“Where do you live again?” I asked him.
“Antioch and 85th street.”
“We’re gonna go see a movie or something.”
I turned on the car and started backing out. “Heading there now.”
Megan seemed pretty stoked to get to see her old buddy Matt Morrison again. When we met him at the theater it turned out he was gangly looking white kid who looked like he listened to speed metal and used too much gel to hold up his spiked hair. He had a little soul patch that was too small and trying too hard to even seem a little pretentious.
“Sorry,” I told him as we leaned on some else’s BMW, “but how do I know you?”
“We had computer tech together at West.”
“We went to high school together?”
“Yeah… and you live in the same dorm as me now.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. What floor are you on again?”
“The 9th,” he said looking down at the ground.
“No way! Me too.”
“Yeah, I know. So where’s Megan?” he looked around.
“I sent her to go buy tickets.”
“What are we seeing?”
“Well, I gotta jet. I think you two are going to watch Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.”
“Are you fucking serious.”
“Look here she comes now.” I waved to Megan and she ran towards us waving the tickets. A winter breeze lifted her skirt as she ran, and even I had to admit that at a distance I didn’t mind her too much.
“You kids have fun,” I snickered.
“You’re an evil bastard,” he told me.
“Compliments won’t get you anywhere.”
“Hey Matt!” Megan came up and gave Matt a hug.
“Listen up Meg,” I snapped my fingers. “I gotta jet, I just remembered that I’m not allowed back in this theater whenever there’s a Ashley Judd movie playing. Court orders, ya know.”
“What?” she asked me.
“But you kids have fun. Really all the best. Hope Ms. Lindsaaay knocks it outta the park on this one, really I do.”
“Where are you going?” Megan asked me.
“I’m graduating,” I told her, and drove off into the sunset.