by Jas Faulkner
For those of you playing at home, I got to go to this rilly nifty sooper sekrit cabal of booksellers in Memphis a little while ago. The main topic on the dias was the untold history of those who are charged with the care and feeding of visiting authors. Chatter on the floor was all about the next big push: Valentines Day. Some booksellers love it, especially those who either have a coffee shop or sell candy. Others? Not so much.
“Are you single?” asked one store owner from Kentucky. I told him I was.
“How do I market so that people will come in on and around the 14th? The month of February seems to be about people making a rare visit to get a gift and everyone else avoiding anything remotely heart-shaped.”
He was asking the wrong singleton. I know there are many people who hate the day and are avoiding everything but what they feed into their DVD players and Netflix queues. I am not one of those people. I love Valentine’s Day. Heart shapes are a favourite of mine (just after skulls, skeletons, stars, and moons) and the color scheme is eclipsed only by Halloween and Hanukkah for sheer fabulousness in my book.
So I shrugged. I felt bad about it, because I like being able to help people, but the well was dry on this one.
Tab came to his (and my) rescue.
“We’re not doing it this year because we’re hosting a “Random Acts of Reading” event, but for the past three years, the store has been a Valentine’s Day free zone. No hearts. No cutesy couple stuff. The day of, we even tape a plastic tarp over the romance and self-help sections and then criss-cross them with crime scene tape and hazardous waste bags.”
The store owner looked shocked.
“Does that actually work?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” Samantha chimed in. “Compared to the years before when we did more traditional Valentine’s Day promotions and sales, it was almost thirty percent more in profit. I have a theory about that. There are a lot of people who really, really, really look forward to Valentine’s Day, but there are just as many, maybe even more people who want an escape from a day that is designed to marginalise anyone who is not in a relationship right now. Don’t get me wrong. Like Jas here, I love the day, but even I need a break from all the hearts and cupids.”
The book seller murmured, “Wow. Thanks.” and wandered off.
After that, Sam outed me to everyone else at our table as a storyteller and asked me to tell her favorite (“The Day My Boyfriend Got Lost”) . It’s long and not really that Valentine-y and since everyone was talking about V-Day, I picked one that was relevant to the topic at hand. I’ll tell it to you now as a Valentine’s present:
Say It With Flowers
Many years ago, I was desperate to stop being a pediatric psych social worker and crisis counselor. I should have known this day was coming because when I started, I noticed that there were very few people over 35 and almost no people over 40 working in my field. So while I was figuring out the next step, I took a job working as a substitute teacher. My preferred age group was middle school, but I expanded it to high school because I enjoyed that population as well and frankly wanted and needed to work.
I know some of you think that sounds crazy. Maybe it is. To my view, middle school drama is manageable. High school, on the other hand is simply fraught. There are no words. No. Let me correct that. There are plenty of words. There are also wordless gestures that cut to the bone in a way that would make every Jackie Collins villain weep with envy at her impotence in the face of teen girl scorn.
Having said that, you can imagine my reaction when I found out I would spend Valentine’s Day, not in the sweet goofiness of TweenLand, but in the histrionic Fort Apache that is high school. As luck would have it, various clubs were doing flower-grams, card grams, cookie-grams, balloon-grams, etc.
When I found out the extent of this, I understood why the teacher whose classes I would be conducting took a mental health day. Nothing, nada, zip, jack, bupkis, zero, gets accomplished when stuff like this is going on. There is no way to get a flow of ideas going when an overly chipper Future Homemaker of America or Beta Club Wunderkind tippytaps on door frame and carols, “I’ve got a Valentine for someone here!”
I’m going to be a wet blanket for a sec here. Those fundraisers are very cute and I love that they give some people a boost. But there’s always that one kid who has to sit there and congratulate his or her classmates as class after class goes by and they walk through their day empty-handed while everyone else gets cookies delivered from the ‘rents and a balloon from their best friends and flowers from their sweetie and so on. I really feel for those kids.
So on this particular day, I had two girls, former “besties”, who were scheduled in three of my five classes. The back story was easy enough to figure out by the end of First Period. Girl A’s boyfriend decided he wanted to date Girl B. Hilarity ensued, well, not really.
All of this took place the week before Valentine’s Day. So when the big day happened, Girl B was getting a new gift from her new squeeze every class. First period, she got fudge, which she opened, read the card out loud and spent the rest of the class scooting it around her desk, taking bites, and then moaning ecstatically. Fourth period, she got a teddy bear, which she promptly forgot after making a big production of reading the gift card.
Sixth period. The end to the Bataan Death March that is Valentine’s Day in high school. Girl B showed up, laden with gifts. She kept staring at the door as if she was waiting for someone. At first I thought it might be her boyfriend. The conspicuously empty desk told me it was most likely Girl A. The bell rang, and there was still no girl A. Five minutes into class she slipped in and walked around behind the class to get to her seat.
Girl B simpered and waved a gift card at her. Ouch.
Sure enough, no sooner than I’d started on the Periodic Table, there was a knock and perky Spanish Club member with flashing heart deely-boppers bounced in and squealed, “Hola! I come bearing una flor for one lucky senorita!” She hopped over to Girl B and handed her a carnation.
Then she stood and waited.
“Aren’t you going to open the card?”
Of course she opened it. And the Spanish Club girl squealed and Girl B squealed and then I tried to teach.
Tried. To. Teach.
While I was pointing out the layout of the table, Girl B waved the flower around, sometimes, -oh oopsie- waving it in Girl A’s face and hitting her on the nose with it.
We all knew what was going on and it occurred to me that the day was almost over and maybe I really shouldn’t Feed The Energy Creature.
And then Girl B waved it way over to her right one time too many. Girl A grabbed the flower with her teeth and proceded to bite off and eat the bloom. As she chewed and eyed Girl B, the majority of the class applauded.
Surprisingly, it took just a minute to get the class to quiet down.
Girl B raised her hand. “I think Girl A should replace my flower.”
I stared at her and said nothing.
“It’s my flower, she had no right to eat it!”
“You know?” I said, “Maybe you need to take this up with Mister Rangle. He will be back tomorrow.”
“I WANT MY FLOWER!”
I sat down, pulled open a drawer and got out her teddy bear.
“One more word,” I said in my best scary juvenile justice advocate voice, “and the bear gets it.”
What was left of the class went great!
And with that, I wish all of you who join us here to talk books and Bruce, Diane, John, Myles, and Carrie a happy Valentine’s Day!