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THE GUY CHRONICLES

Saying 'I Love You' With a Well-Timed Joke

February 14, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

I am considered "a catch" only in certain Third World countries, where my limited ability to read and write and my fondness for simple things like the squeeze bunt and a good crisp apple are not viewed as a lack of sophistication, as they often are here in America, in our First World home.

So Valentine's Day takes on added significance for me. Each year, I must woo my wife again, start from scratch really. In marriage, there's no such thing as tenure.

"Too bad there isn't tenure," I told her once.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"In marriage," I said. "After 10 years, you should get tenure."

It was then that she explained to me there never would be tenure. Not in our marriage.

I was to treat her as if sometime in the night, a spell washed over her and she forgot who I was. In the morning, we would wake up and begin our courtship from scratch. Roses. Edible underwear. The whole thing. For about two days, I found this hugely arousing.

"Can't do it," I told my wife on the third day.

"What's that?"

"Woo you every day," I told her.

Wooing is a lot of work. Especially at my age. To woo a woman all over again takes a certain creative flair that I don't possess. Or a strong chin, which I don't have either. A wallet the size of a Buick surely doesn't hurt. I don't even have a Buick the size of a Buick. Mostly, I stick with sensible foreign cars.

*

"What are you doing for Valentine's Day?" I ask my friend Paul.

"What'd you have in mind?" he answers.

See what a funny guy he is? He gets most of his jokes from his retiree father, who e-mails them to him from Texas. If it wasn't for his father, Paul wouldn't be funny at all.

"For Sara," I ask. "What are you getting her?"

Paul is in the same boat I am. We've both been married since the Polk administration. Our wives are both lovely and smart and wise to our ways. In short, they're on to us.

"Valentine's Day? Beats me," Paul says, then tells me a joke about a guy who wandered into a bar with an alligator.

So I am on my own this Valentine's. I head for the drugstore, looking for love. I find it in aisle 8, near the umbrellas and bottled bleach.

"Even after all this time and all we've been through, I still have trouble finding ways to show my love for you," the greeting card says.

Like you, I am constantly amazed at how expensive love can be. Loneliness, in the long run, costs more. But love is no bargain. These greeting cards run $4.95 a pop; $6.49 in Canada.

"But the plain and simple truth is, I'm an ordinary guy who's happy you still love me--though I sometimes wonder why," the card says.

*

What mush. So I call my friend Jeff, a ticket broker who can get me in almost anywhere. According to him, a good date will do wonders for a relationship. He should know. The guy has a beautiful wife and four lovely daughters. And he's not even as good-looking as me.

"What about Romeo and Juliet?" I ask him.

"Dead," he says. "Both of them."

"Actually, I was asking about tickets," I say.

It could be a perfect Valentine's gift. A night out to see the stage production of "Romeo and Juliet." Romantic. Elegant. Timeless.

I can see us in the Ahmanson Theatre. My wife would sit there admiring the language and the beautiful set while I would snore softly in the seat next to her, yelling at Kobe Bryant from time to time in my sleep.

"PASS THE BALL!" I would scream aloud, like I often do in my sleep. "PASS THE STINKIN' BALL!"

Properly timed, it would add a dimension to Shakespeare that even he couldn't have imagined.

"A hundred," my friend Jeff says.

"Apiece?" I ask.

"Yep," he says. "Valentine's night is a little more expensive."

Can't do it. Paid 200 bucks last weekend for new tires, tapping into our emergency fund and our main budget. This was a real emergency. The steel belts were showing through.

*

"What are you doing for Valentine's?" I ask the boy.

I'm so desperate now, I am asking a kid who once sprinkled Sweet Tarts on his salad.

The boy considers the question seriously for a moment, then sneezes and falls down, blown over by his own sneeze.

"Valentine's Day?" he asks from the living room floor. "I thought that was in April."

I move on.

"What are you doing for Valentines?" I ask the little girl, who knows a thing or two about love.

Twice now, she has been invited to boy-girl birthday parties.

"We're only having a party for 20 minutes," she complains, explaining her school's plans for Valentines.

"Last year, we got an hour," she says. "And we got to watch 'Winnie-the-Pooh.' "

"Romance is dead," I tell her.

"Huh?"

"Never mind," I say.

Which brings us to this morning, Valentine's morning, with everything awash in red, the color of love and war, and me with no plans for dinner and still no gift.

So I will feed my wife chocolates and rub her tummy, like I used to when she was pregnant and full of dreams for us.

I will feed her chocolates and woo her and make her laugh, the way I used to when we had no money and it was all I could give her. Which is pretty much the way things are now, what with the new tires and all.

"Did you hear the one about the guy who wandered into a bar with an alligator?" I'll ask her.

"No," she'll say, hoping that somewhere amid all the jokes, there'll be some little hint of how much I love her.

There is. Happy Valentine's, honey.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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