(They're the Australian marsupial version of groundhogs - fat, squishy, burrowing, and slightly more easy-going. Suprisingly for an Australian creature, they're not poisonous or extremely bad-tempered, just a little bit cranky.)
This is what I get for watching Animal Planet while on unscheduled leave because my car is iced in (well, it was at 5am this morning). Animal Planet has all these cute shows that I normally avoid because they're liable to send me into sugar shock, but I relented upon seeing the baby wombats, and now I feel like I've just eaten an entire Valentine's Day box of chocolates.
Speaking of elegant and subtle segues, I've been hearing a lot this year about how much everyone hates all the sugary commercialism associated with Valentine's Day. I have to agree (see: "Jared, The Galleria of Evil"). It's a gift-giving extravaganza designed to make it utterly impossible to live up to your SO's vision of the day, and worst of all, among all the millions of ads for various suitable and unsuitable gifts for V-Day, there isn't a single wombat for sale.
I was cleaning my studio out yesterday in another smooth and well thought-out segue, and discovered a couple of February magazines from the 40's, including a "Better Homes and Gardens" from February 1942. By marvelous diary entry serendipity, I still subscribe to BH&G, even though I'm no longer entirely sure why, since "Budget Living" is more my kind of thing, but there you are. Fortunately for all of you, we can now play compare and contrast.
Let me say up front that BH&G has completely changed, and not just about V-Day. Gone are the endless ads for new seeds and plants, and in their place, a large number of articles designed to get you to buy things has moved in. I originally thought I'd be laughing about the huge number of ads in the modern issue compared to the 1942 issue, but the 2006 issue only has one ad for Valentine's - a Dove chocolate ad. The 1942 issue has four - Spry vegetable shortening, Victor Records, Diamond Walnuts, and Karo corn syrup.
Leaving aside the question of who would wish to get a bottle of Karo syrup for Valentine's (apart from Elvis, who liked it on biscuits), and the clear relationship in both issues between cooking and the way to a man's heart, I was surprised that the 2006 issue had only one ad.
Until I started reading the articles.
Easily a third of the articles are thinly disguised advertising pitches for various things that one can buy for Valentine's day - all of them things that women would want (listed in the "resource pages" in the back).
I am unsure why things that women want bought for them would be advertised in a magazine that is so clearly designed to be read only by women ("Valentine issue! Homemade from the HEART"), but I am too lazy to go out and pick up a men's mag to find out what they advertise (and I'm sure someone will tell me in my guestbook, hint, hint). Anyway, the upshot of the whole exercise was that Valentine's day is a much bigger deal advertising-wise than it was 60 years ago (there's more emphasis on President's Day in the 1942 issue), but they've gotten sneakier. In 1942, they advertised the product and gave you a recipe in the ad. In 2006, they write an article about the recipe/craft, then tell you what products to buy to make it.
I must sadly note that the ads have also gotten a lot more boring - none of the ads I've seen this year in magazines or on TV have made me laugh as completely helplessly as the ads in the February 1948 "Colliers".
(10 Valentine ads, fairly evenly divided between ads aimed at men and ads aimed at women, if you count the Ballantine's Beer ad as aimed at men to buy for women, even though I'm not sure how many women would consider getting drunk for Valentine's Day much of a present. The numbers could go up if dinner was involved, but that might just be the crowd I used to hang with.)
My favourite is the one for Corby's Reserve Blended Whiskey, which gives you a choice of years and scenarios for your favourite Valentine moment, including a hired horse and carriage (1890), a borrowed raccoon coat (1921), and perhaps the drabbest trenchcoat and hat ensemble ever combined with the "menacing rumble of war" (1942).
(I bet that scenario got him laid - "Honey, the menacing rumble of war is coming ever closer, and this may be our last Valentine's Day ever. How about it?".)
It ends with "1948: So you married the girl [probably because of that 1942 Valentine's Day maneuver]! Every year you can relive those happy memories of Valentine's Day. A corsage for her - a dinner, too. And for any special occasion, it's an inspiration to remember Corby's - the light sociable whisky. Its bouquet will quickly tell you Corby's is truly worthy of its grand old Canadian name."
A light sociable whiskey? I bet his wife just sighs every time he brings the bottle out, and tells the kids "go to bed now, dears - daddy's going to tell that story about being on the beach and seeing everyone being blown to bits around him again". I bet she mutters "Happy Damned Valentine's Day, Edith", as she gets the gin out of the liquor cabinet and throws the wilted "corsage" down the garbage disposal.
...Anyway. That's not the only ad that involves booze, but it's definitely the least understandable - is the booze for her? Or for him?
It might be better if it was for him, if the little wife got him the Valentine's Day gifts suggested in February 9, 1954 issue of "Look" - in fact, maybe two bottles. It will enable him to receive his "Gay Guatemala" vest, "Mosque" shirt, and "Visa Versa" jacket with the lining that matches the "Sparkle" shirt and "Drizzler Mate" slacks she bought him last year with at least the semblance of delighted surprise.
(...Or perhaps they don't have any kids, and this is why. They might have lasted longer if she'd just stuck with buying him the "Sweaters of Orlon" - at least they didn't look quite so completely... gay. Or it could be simply that the artifical leg the VA fitted him with after the war just looks like hell in close-fitting pants, and she can't bring herself to get into bed with him until she's had at least three slugs of the Corby's, and they're both sterile from alcohol poisoning.)
Interestingly enough, I only found two ads for engagement rings. Considering the absolute and complete headlock the diamond companies have on Valentine's Day as THE day to propose these days, it's incredible that there was barely a whisper in 1954 of the trauma-inducing Februarys to come, where dazed and broken men wandered from mall to mall trying to find something that was simultaneously large enough to satisfy their advertising brainwashed sweeties and small enough that they wouldn't be maxing out an entire credit card on one purchase.
(Or worse, trying to find the diamond that's big enough to make her friends jealous, but not more expensive than a down-payment on a house. Why does she want to make her friends jealous, anyway? Aren't they friends? I'm so confused.)
Not bad work for 50 years of the diamond conspiracy, considering it's going to take us years to break the mind-lock they now have on women who think that heart-shaped rubies are cool.
Me, I really wish the Regal Ties company was still in business - who wouldn't want a tie with giant scroll-work arabesques on a red ground, with a series of unicorn, ship, lady Godiva (I think), and weird Italianate castle silhouettes superimposed and almost 2" high each? It's a tie that tells a story, and is only one of a series of Renaissance designs for $2.50.
Man, I wish I had that catalogue.
Failing that, I could go with wrinkle-proof ties from Botany in a number of insanity-inducing patterns and colours. Or a Sherman bow tie - as worn by Turhan Bey (now that's a name for imdb.com) who was then appearing in "Adventures of Casanova", available in Ready-Tied Clipper [c. 1948], or "tie-it-yourself" styles in Spring's freshest patterns (the ties, not Turhan, who is probably not quite so fresh these days).
Or pajamas - who doesn't want "Pleetway"[tm] pajamas that banish chest and arm binding and come in stripes and... stripes? Side tabs and balloon seat included, $5 for coat styles or slipover models, slightly more for the man over six feet tall.
("Coat style" refers to the kind that buttons up the front, "slipover" is the kind that look like hospital scrubs, but striped.)
(Just a little Valentine's Day trivia.)
For the women, we've got watches, engagement rings, and... booze. If one were to use my pitifully small sample of magazines for a model of the 1940s and 1950s, one would be convinced that Valentine's Day was thought up by men to get gifts from the women in their life - there were far more ads for stuff for men and recipes for V-Day food designed to make him smile than there were for anything women might want specifically for that most romantic shopping day of the year.
In reality, I think the magazine advertisers were just smarter then, and knew that if you want someone to buy a gift for someone else, you'd better advertise it where they will see the suggestion, and also, V-Day just wasn't the shopping HELL it is today.
(Lynn Peril, in her book "Pink Think", details the girl's magazines that were infused with ads for hope chests, diamond rings, and silverware, but they were aimed at wedding ideas, not Valentine's day ideas. Still, they were in women's magazines - she says that hope chests were definitely not advertised in guy's magazines, even though the ads suggested your (male) sweetheart buy one for you.)
In fact, I think this confusion over where to advertise may be why Valentine's Day gets so fraught - advertisers shouldn't be advertising diamonds and jewelry on the Lifetime channel, they should be advertising them on Spike TV. This is stupid on so many levels - raise women's expectations on what they might get for V-Day, then fail to let the guys know what the girls expect? That's just evil.
In fact, it may all be a radical left-wing PETA plot to make us all break up with each other and reduce the human population so that the animals can take over.
...Or maybe I just need a slug of that Corby's, too.
Sadly, I haven't even seen an ad for ties for men on any of the channels, let alone anything as remotely expensive as the things they push for women (if you don't feel like buying jewelry, there's always $200 chocolates, $100 dollar rose bouquets, or $80 teddy bears). Whatever things used to be like, Valentine's Day now is all about what you're going to buy for the girls.
Make mine a Boddingtons, thanks.
Romance of the Living Dead2/12/04
So, I've finally heard an ad that suggests you get something for your man for Valentine's day.
Unfortunately, it's for Alase, the laser hair removal place. So I think the subtext of that gift would be "Happy Valentine's Day! I love you! Now go do something about that horrible back hair problem".
When I told him about this ad, Bob wondered out loud whether any guy would think about getting his beard permanently lasered off so that he wouldn't have to shave ever again, but agreed that the idea of a hair-removal gift was just weird and tacky.
In fact, any gift that suggests your significant other needs to alter their appearance in any way is fraught with pitfalls; it would be like a man getting a certificate for breast implants for his sweetie. And you all know how well that would go over.
I'm telling you, buy the power tools instead. You can't go wrong with power tools.
If you really want your relationship to work, it's a good idea to learn to accept your sweetheart's little idiosyncracies and physical uniquenesses; the odds of someone fundamentally changing their personality or appearance just because someone else is nagging at them constantly are pretty low. Most people don't really want to hear day in and day out that they aren't good enough, and endless browbeating tends to have the opposite effect to the one intended. So if you don't want to end up married to a slob who runs away from you every chance they get, learn to live with the small stuff. In fact, if he/she is not just fine the way they are, what the hell are you doing dating/married to them?
Yes, yes, I know; sometimes there just aren't very many dating choices out there, and you simply want a body to fill the empty space in the bed. Marking time with "Mr/Ms. Right Now" until something better comes along is a time-honoured way to really screw over someone who thought it was true love right up until the day you walked in with a swimsuit model and told them "It's been fun. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out".
Really, with all the gift-giving frenzy surrounding Valentine's day, who can blame you for picking up a special gullible someone who's going to buy you that emerald ring you've had your eye on for a while that you can then dump without shame or remorse?
But you know, the choices can be pretty slim this close to the day-that-is-symbolized-by-ever-more-expensive-gifts-of-luuuurrrrve, as more savvy singles have already snapped up all the really eligible options in a cynical bid for Valentine goodies. Sometimes all that's left are the living dead.
Don't despair! The living dead/zombies/John Kerry can be delightful temporary partners, perfect for the few days leading up to and after Valentine's day. Consider the advantages of dating the "dynamically challenged upwardly mobile":
* Doesn't eat much - Valentine's day dinner cheaper than usual.
* Quiet, and listens well. You can go on and on about your past failed relationships, and instead of your date running away the first chance they get or worse, lecturing you about what you need to do to change, all you'll get is a sympathetic "Braaaiinnsss..." in response.
* Doesn't object when you use their credit card, and:
* Doesn't object when you max out their credit card on jewelry purchases.
* Will do anything you want to do - just lead them gently.
* Won't object when you dump them for someone living, but make sure they don't come back and eat your brains; remember to shoot them in the head after you tell them "It's not you; it's me".
Of course, there are a couple of small disadvantages, but these can be easily overcome:
* Tendency to shed body parts in public places good excuse for use of handicapped parking spaces.
* Attempts to eat other people's brains easily explained by statement: "She/he's from England" (American Anglophilia being what it is, the revelation that your date is from England will make everything he/she does seem utterly charming rather than obnoxious and/or life-threatening). (Trust me, I've used this excuse before, as have my friends when I do something embarrassing; it always works.)
So, what's not to like? You can use them, abuse them, and dump them, and they can't even talk to tell you what a jerk you're being. You can't lose!
Valentine's and the Truly Pathetic Single Girl (a cautionary tale).2/13/04
WARNING: This essay, in a feeble attempt at dark humour, is in extremely poor taste. If you're easily offended, you probably shouldn't read this. If you read it anyway, please don't e-mail me about what a horrible person I am, because I already know.
As we all know, Madison Avenue has a vested interest in keeping you dissatisfied with just about everything in your life, and relationships are no exception. We are bombarded daily with exhortations to buy things to improve our prospects for happiness, and explanations of how we are simply not good enough just the way we are. Most people manage to deal with this in one way or another (sarcastic humour would be a good example), but truth be told, it gets under all our skins every now and then.
Most of us also watch way too much TV - I have the TV on as I'm writing this, and though it's tuned to the History Channel, it's still on - some of us to the tune of 6-10 hours a day.
Now, put together too much TV watching, endless brainwashing advertising that says you're a loser if you don't have a man, and a single girl who's easily influenced by outside forces (say she was a teenager in the 80's, like me - there was a whole backlash against women's independence going on, where we were supposed to be beautiful trophy wives, and sweetly compliant to our man's wishes so that he would buy us expensive things [ref. Dynasty]). For that poor sweet girl, Valentine's day is not a day of tender affection, but a nightmare of epic proportions:
7am: Wake up, roll over, realize it's Valentine's day, but more important, it's 7am on a Saturday. Go back to sleep.
7:05am: Open eyes, stare at big empty space on other half of bed. Note absence of any heart-shaped packages. Wonder whether ache in center of chest is actually mild heart attack.
7:20am: Shower, but not before standing in front of bathroom mirror for twenty minutes, cataloguing each and every physical flaw that is responsible for manless state. Lather, rinse, don't repeat, because what's the point? It's not like you've got a date tonight.
7:50am: Stare in mirror some more. Make resolutions to whiten teeth, change hair colour, go to gym, get Brazilian bikini wax and breast implants, because Annie got them, and she's engaged to a guy who's taking her to the CARIBBEAN for Valentine's day, fer chrissakes.
8:20am: Breakfast. Black coffee, half grapefruit, 1 slice dry toast. Got to diet. Got to be thin - guys like thin women, all the ads, books, and Joan Rivers say so.
8:30-9am: Watch "Today Show". Cry over heartwarming stories of true love, Valentine puppies, giant diamond engagement rings. Feel like throwing up after tenth couple says "We knew we were soul-mates the instant we laid eyes on each other".
9:05am: Second breakfast - sausages, French toast, waffles with syrup, butter, Reddi-Whip and maraschino cheries. Who cares what you eat, you're going to be alone and lonely for the rest of your life. Eat entire jar of maraschino cherries.
10:05am: Go to gym. Get to door of gym, see endless vases of red roses, hearts pinned up everywhere, and sign that says "VALENTINE'S DAY SPECIAL!! SIGN UP AS A COUPLE AND YOU'RE FIRST SIX MONTHS ARE FREE!!" Turn around. Sit in car for twenty minutes, trying to work up the courage to go back in and face the roses. Give up. Go shopping instead.
11am: Hit mall. Try on ten outfits in the size you "should be". Fail to do up buttons or zippers on any of them. Catch sight of huge blimp in mirror; look around to see who it is. Realize you're alone in dressing room. Leave clothes in pile on floor, figure it will give the saleslady something to bitch about to her loving boyfriend over dinner tonight. Feel guilty; pick up clothes, put them on hangers, place on rack by door marked "rejects". Consider hanging yourself on rack.
12pm: Linger by men's fragrance counter, hoping to meet up a guy that likes cologne. Realize you're surrounded by women buying cologne for their men. Also realize smell of perfume is making your face break out in attractive red blotches. Leave perfume counter before your eyes squeeze shut entirely.
12:10pm: Buy 5lb box of Godiva chocolates. When saleslady says "He'll love these!", go into long description of how your "boyfriend" loves Godiva, loves feeding them to you while you're both in bed, and how he's taking you to the Caribbean tomorrow. Picture Brad Pitt when you describe him to the saleslady. Revel in her obvious jealousy.
12:15pm: Feel miserable that you had to make up an entire fantasy life to impress a saleslady in a chocolate shop. Eat entire 5lb box of Godiva while hidden by the mall's service entrance.
12:30pm: Food Court! Buy one of everything. Eat one of everything, because you're a fat pig anyway, and no-one's going to date you, so you may as well take comfort in food.
1pm: Throw up in Ladies room. When someone knocks on the stall door and asks if you're okay in that Bulimia is BAD for you and I'm going to lecture you about it voice, say "Don't eat the burritos".
1:15pm: Buy movies to watch this evening all alone in your pit of an apartment where no man would want to set foot anyway. Movie choices: "What Dreams May Come", "Shakespeare in Love", "Pride and Prejudice", "The Princess Bride", and "Moulin Rouge", because at least the girl dies at the end, so the guy is miserable and unhappy.
3pm: Realize you have no money left, because most of your money goes on rent and car payments to live in a ridiculously expensive city where there are seemingly NO SINGLE MEN. Go home.
3:30pm: Throw open apartment door, yell "Honey, I'm home!", be greeted by total, deafening silence. Realize even cat has left you to go live with the people next door, because they at least feed him at regular intervals.
4pm: Read "Cosmo" magazine. Decide to take Helen Gurley-Brown's advice, and take yourself out to dinner.
4:10-6pm: Try on every single outfit in your closet. Twice. Hate everything. Hear your mother's voice saying "If you lost weight, your clothes would look nice, and men would want to date you. Instead, you're going out to dinner alone on Valentine's Day. You are pathetic." Decide to wear sweats.
6:05pm: Put on makeup.
6:15pm: Take makeup off.
6:30pm: Go out, try to find restaurant that isn't booked solid for Valentine's day.
8pm: Buy dinner-to-go from Boston Market, go home.
8:20pm: Eat dinner from Boston Market (serves 4, but you can eat it, no problem). Smell of chicken skin brings out cat, who hadn't deserted you after all, but was on a three day sleeping binge. Enjoy loving attention of cat, until you realize the little bastard just wants chicken skin. Wonder whether festooning yourself with chicken skin will attract men, too. Feel depressed.
9pm: Watch first ten minutes of each movie you bought, switch off, and curl up on the sofa in a fetal position, trying to drown out the voices of all your past boyfriends telling you why you weren't good enough for them. Decide to take "Cosmo"'s advice and have long hot bubble bath.
9:20pm: Sink into hot bubble bath. Shave legs with razor last boyfriend left behind when he dumped you for a girl so thin that if she turned sideways, she disappeared. Stare at blood from razor-nicked legs.
9:30pm. Eat full bottle of Demerol, washed down with liter of wine. Sink slowly into bubble bath. Realize you feel better than you have in months.
Okay, I'm not mean. It could end there, but for those of you (like me) that switch off the DVD of "Moulin Rouge" as the curtain falls and everyone is cheering and happy, and say "And they lived happily ever after", here is the alternative ending (available on the extended Director's Cut special edition DVD):
10pm: Cat dials 911 accidentally while licking chicken skin off phone.
10:10pm: Ambulance, police, and firetruck arrive. Fireman breaks down door, searches apartment, finds you in bathtub, unconscious.
8am the next morning: Wake up, don't know where you are. Look around, figure it's a hospital. Realize soreness must be from having stomach pumped.
8:10am: Nurse sticks head in room, says "Oh good, you're awake. You have a visitor."
8:11am: Fireman from last night comes in, with giant bunch of roses. Tells you he rescued you last night, was struck by your exquisite, lush beauty. Wants to know if you want a date when you get out from the psychiatric care facility your mother has committed you to. Says he'll wait for you as long as it takes.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.