Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Valentine Tradition

As is the case with many women, Marcie loved Valentine's day. And though I did a number of things for her over the years surrounding the lovers' holiday, one little thing we saved for special Valentine's occasions.

It was not grand, or expensive, or even overly romantic. In fact, it was inexpensive, inauspicious and simple.

I remember well her excitement that morning as I prepared for school. It was the Thursday before Valentine's, 1994. The holiday fell on a Monday that year, and she was holding an ad up festooned with roses and hearts... and a pizza.

DiMille's was offering a special. Now, neither of us knew about this little restaurant in Normal Heights, being downtown-oriented and bus riders.

"Let's see," I said. "A pizza, heart-shaped, a salad, and a heart-shaped brownie for dessert. Hmmm. That's not sounding all that promising."

She dropped her hands and her lips pursed. She looked up and stepped in close and whispered, "You don't want to have a little evening out on the town and then maybe a big night back here?"

"Well, that's different, then," I said, my ears red as she played her hands up and down my chest with the ad still in one of them.

She laughed shortly and triumphantly, then the excited enthusiasm returned to her voice and she stepped away, manipulation utterly successful. "We can catch the 11 after you get out of school, and then after we eat, we can take a taxi if we're too tired to wait for the bus."

She slapped the ad on the refrigerator with a magnet and grabbed her coat, kissing me on the lips as she headed out for work. I simply shook my head and watched her walk, a favorite thign for me back then.

I thought once would be the limit, a simple experiment that would go somewhat awry or that would taste bad. Either way, I would bring her a gift or two, and she would have flowers, if not See's to go with it. Monday came and we set off.

I was quite wrong. Even the bus ride went well. We played all the way up, kissing and whispering into each others' ears about the people around us. Marcie played at moving around the bus, "avoiding me," calling me a "masher" and putting on a show.

For my part, I would slide into a seat behind her after she moved, ,or next to her and wait a moment or two, playing along behind my dark shades. Then, as soon as she was distracted, tickle her or nibble her neck.

I loved to hear her squeal and playfully say "Noooo, stoooop," in her cute falsetto. It rings in my ears even now.

When we got up to debark across Adam's Avenue from DiMille's, she took my hand. A senior who had observed our shenanigans all the way from Downtown stopped us by the disabled seats at the front of the bus.

"You two are just too cute," she said. "I hope you kids have a good Valentine's tonight. You are such a perfect little couple, it warms a heart."

Her words sank in with Marcie, and she would cite them to me in times troubled and serene. They were innocuous enough, but heartfelt and sweet, and though they are fond in my memory, they were always so soothing to hear Marcie recall in her impression of the anonymous elder.

The bus driver was less interested in it all. "Y'all are rascals," he said in a southern drawl. "Are you getting off here or do you want to have to walk a little?"

Marcie pulled me by the hand to the exit, but I managed to whip my head back and wish the old lady a happy Valentine's Day. We went in and had a seat.

The decor was simple and yet warm, with lots of family restaurant touches and pictures on the walls. We ordered the house Chianti , which was actually very good. Marcie was at first put off but she sipped it and decided she agreed.

"To our first Valentine's Day," she toasted.

"To my redheaded Valentine bombshell," I said, clinking my glass against hers.

The staff were friendly and pretty attentive. The waitress was apparently charmed by us, and commented on how I stood when Marcie left, pushed her chair in and was "such a gentleman."

I witnessed the jealous Marcie for the first time when she returned from the bathroom. "What was that girl saying to you?" she asked.

"She said it was nice that I help you sit and stand up when you leave," I said. "She told me I was a gentleman, nothing much else."

"Uh huh," she said. "She'd better watch it. Do you think she's cute?"

I shook my head "No" as I sipped my wine. "Not my type," I said. "She's way too blonde, way too young and seems pretty naive."

"Yeah, well, she can keep her fluttering eyes and her blond hair to her naive self," Marcie said. "And you better not be looking at her."

I slid out of my seat and into Marcie's bench, moving her over. I kissed her and leaned into her a little and whispered, "I'm all yours, so just either enjoy the wine or you're cut off."

"Oh, ho ho, I am going to be cut off now, huh? You think so? Really?" she said, rather indignantly.

I had already met Argument Marcie, so I just kissed her and whispered, "Of course not, but I am with you, and I have something for you."

I changed the subject by reaching into my jacket and pulling out a little set of earrings I had bought her, made from moonstones. She looked at the vintage jewelry and smiled, and then shooed me to my side of the table before handing me a card. I still own that card, and cherish it.

The salad arrived and was delicious and fresh-tossed, the house dressing simple and light, but flavorful. The pizza won a very enthusiastic approval from Marcie, who found it to have plenty of tasty sauce and, "not too much cheese."

The only miss was the brownie, which my unrefined baking palate adjudged acceptable but Marcie's more exacting tastes panned wholly.

"Honey, it is totally dry like they just cut up industrial brownies and iced 'I love you' on it," she said.

I conceded, but had them pack it, as well, to avoid hurting their feelings. I eventually tossed it when she kept referring to it as "that nasty thing." She made brownies that weekend to "show me" what a "real brownie" was like.

As we waited for a taxi, which the DiMille's hostess called for us, she kissed me on the cheek and said, "Let's come back next year. It will be our little getaway."

I agreed to, and we came back every year except for the two we lived in Humboldt County. Last year, we ordered it in, just the pizza. It was our tradition, and we did what we could to honor it, though neither of us ate much that night.

Tonight, I will go enjoy one last heart-shaped pizza at DiMille's, half cheese and half pepperoni, with a table for two and a couple of glasses of Chianti. Perhaps I will dream of her tonight, and perhaps I won't. But I will never have that heart-shaped pizza again.