“That’ll be two hundred and thirty- five dollars, please,” the clerk said to the man ahead of me.  

“You take Amex?” he asked. 

“Yes, sir.” Then, after computers ascertained the man’s credit worthiness, the clerk handed him a bag filled with enough candy to put a Cape Buffalo into a diabetic coma. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day, sir,” the clerk chirped merrily. “Who’s next?” 

“That would be me,” I said. 

“What can I get you?” 

“Just a small box of candy.” 

“What would you like?” 

I was in a large candy store in the center of town and, judging from the throngs of people queued up to buy chocolates for their sweethearts, I figured the eve of the annual Cupidinal bacchanal was the confectioner’s version of Mother’s Day – making me wonder if some of the staff was hitting the sauce like I used to on that Yom Kippur for guilty children. I figured twenty brandy cordials would probably do the trick.  

“One milk chocolate raspberry truffle, please,” I said, pointing to the treats behind the display case. “A milk chocolate Irish crème, a milk chocolate caramel, a milk chocolate salted caramel and a milk chocolate banana crème.” 

“Just five, sir?” 

“That’ll be enough,” I said. “My wife doesn’t eat a lot of candy. Just make sure none of its dark chocolate. She can’t stand the stuff.”

“No problem, sir.” 

You might be thinking I’m a considerate husband by making sure my wife got candy she liked, but you would be wrong. I couldn’t remember if she preferred milk chocolate or dark and had to text her sister to find out. And I’ve been married to Annie for almost ten years. 

“Milk chocolate!”  her sister texted back. “I like dark chocolate.” I only hope my sister-in-law’s boyfriend in more on the ball than I am. 

“Mommy,” a little boy screeched. “I want some candy!” 

“You’ll ruin your dinner,” his harried mother replied.

“But it’s my candy!” 

“Not until tomorrow.” 

The mother was young, attractive and, judging from her tight fitting athletic attire, a devotee of physical fitness. I mentally wagered she’d probably go home and cook a kale and quinoa casserole with vegan cheese for her family. If I was that kid, I’d probably demand candy as an amuse-bouche too. Yeah, I’m probably being a tad judgmental, but you should see all the Girl Scout cookies mothers donate to my food pantry after the annual Thin Mint workplace shakedown. “I’ll buy them,” one told me. “But I sure as hell won’t eat them.” 

“Will that be all, sir?” the clerk said, handing me a small box tied with a bow. 

“And this,” I said, putting two heart shaped boxes on the counter. The big one was for my daughter, and the small one was for Natalie to give to my wife. 

“That’ll be $39.95.” Ouch. Love can be expensive. 

After the computer terminal declared me momentarily solvent, I took my bag of goodies and headed out the door, valiantly resisting the urge to sneak a peek at the fit mom’s spandex covered derriere. That would be gauche at my age. Or would it be louche? Probably both. Crossing the street, I headed into the sundry shop to buy two Valentine’s Day cards and a lottery scratch off for my wife. Another twenty bucks consumed by that cherub from Madison Avenue hell. Then I went to pick up my daughter at her after school program. 

“Will I get a heart shaped balloon tomorrow?” Natalie asked as soon as she got in the car. 

“Is that a thing?” 

“You get me one every year.”

“Maybe you’ll get something else instead.” 

“Like what?” 

“I dunno. Wait until tomorrow.” 

“Will you buy me candy?” 

“When have you ever not gotten candy on Valentine’s Day?” 

“Just checking.” I hope my daughter’s future boyfriend knows what he’s in for. 

After Natalie belted herself in, I drove to a drugstore so she could pick out a card for her mom. Since we’re babysitting my other sisters-in-law’s twelve year old pug, she picked out a card featuring such a dog saying, “Pugs and Kisses!” as well as playing a canine barking out a song when you pushed a button. Eight bucks. And the balloon my daughter grabbed? Another five. 

Arriving home, I dispatched Natalie to do her homework, cracked open a beer, and started making dinner – Brodo di Pollo con Pastina. Chicken soup. After putting two chicken breasts into a pot to boil, I chopped up celery, carrots, onions and garlic, dumped them in after the chicken had cooked for ten minutes and then added salt, pepper, garlic powder and olive oil. Thirty minutes later I took out the chicken, shredded it, added pastina to the broth, adjusted the seasonings, put the chicken back in with half a cup of parsley and let everything to simmer a bit more. Then I made a salad and waited for my wife to come home. 

“Smells good, honey,” she said as I sprinkled Parmesan on top of her soup.

“And it cost like nothing to make,” I said. “We had all the ingredients in the house.” After dropping two hundred bucks on our bar side Pre-Valentine’s dinner Saturday night, I figured economizing was in order – or those computers might turn on me. Besides, nothing says love like a home cooked meal, other than candy, balloons, overpriced cards and lotto tickets that is. 

Most people don’t know Valentine’s Day is meant to honor a saint who chose to be beheaded rather than renounce his Christian faith. But advertisers have done a bang up job making men fear the same fate – or worse – will befall them if they don’t pony up during this commercially mandated celebration of the heart. Blue balling it on the couch isn’t any guy’s idea of a good time. But days like this remind me how grateful I am to no longer be in the restaurant business – foisting overpriced special menus on high strung couples in an overbooked bistro while pasting on a fake smile as I hoovered up their money. For me, Valentine’s Day was a strictly mercenary affair. 

Luckily for me, my wife feels the same way and has always been content with small tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day. But when I had a little girl, my attitude toward the holiday softened a bit. It is important for little girls to get candy and sweet nothings from their fathers when Cupid arrives – and vital they see their mothers honored as well. It teaches daughters that they deserved to be treated right by the men in their lives -whether by their dad or some bonehead pipsqueak named Brandon, Tyler, Caleb, or whatever names parents have given my daughter’s future suitors. But whoever they are, they’d better be nice to Natalie. 

Or else I’ll make them wonder if her crazy old man really does have several hitchhikers buried in his backyard and isn’t afraid to go back to prison.

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