One of the things I miss most about first grade is the exchange of valentines. First-graders know how to handle love, and that is to give your heart to everyone. It's like boxing the trifecta at Santa Anita. You allow for almost every possibility.
So the little guy has been working vigorously on his 20 valentines, licking the envelopes till they are wet as an engagement kiss. By the time he is done, the envelopes are so soggy that they start to wrinkle, like little cotton handkerchiefs just out of the wash. We set them on a sunny sill to dry.
As he goes, he proudly adds check marks on the class list, next to the names he's Valentined.
Yes, Valentined. In our house, the holiday is a verb -- a call to action. When his mom is out, the little guy and I race to do our Valentine's Day shopping at one of those mega-pharmacies. Cupid's bear trap, this place. More chocolate than Switzerland.
Back home, we stash our stuff in the closet where we keep the old tax returns. We want someplace his mother wouldn't normally look. It was either there or next to the vacuum.
"What are you getting Mom for Valentine's?" the lovely and patient older daughter asks later.
"The usual," I say.
"Liquor and lottery tickets?" she asks.
"Just the liquor."
"How about some earrings?" my daughter says brightly.
Yeah, earrings would be nice. My wife, Posh, has had a tough year -- living with my children is never easy. Besides, she is down to her last 40 pairs.
The lovely and patient older daughter says she's spotted some nice earrings in Beverly Hills. Evidently, Beverly Hills is a good place for a deal. I know that's where I always buy my Bentleys.
I warn the lovely and patient older daughter that the earrings can't be those big hoopy things, because I've noticed lately that any woman wearing big hoopy earrings is "loopy as a loon." As I'm halfway through telling this to my daughter I realize that she herself is wearing some very big hoopy earrings. Oops.
"Dad!" she complains.
"Nothing personal," I say.
And she twirls on her heel, the spin move that angry daughters make. Reminds me a lot of NBA great Nate Archibald.
Anyway, if she thought I was going to hand her a credit card, she's sadly mistaken. As my buddy Paul always says: I was born, but it wasn't yesterday.
In fact, it was a long, long time ago, and over the course of the centuries I haven't learned much, except that you never give a credit card to a daughter. A cashier's check maybe. A McDonald's gift card, sure. But never a credit card.
See, it wouldn't just be for the earrings. First, she'd ding me for the parking in Beverly Hills ($20). Then she'd hit me up for lunch with a friend ($45).
Then she'd spot some boots she's been wanting ($120, each boot).
There'd be the earrings themselves, of course, which wouldn't cost $110, because she'd notice an even nicer pair ($165). With taxes and the extended warranty, it's probably $200 by the time she's out the door.
By now, she'd be running late for her manicure, so on the way back from buying the earrings, she'd get a speeding ticket, which she'd blame on me.
Long as she's out, she'd stop for tires. You can't buy one tire, the guy at the tire store always says, you really should buy two. So she'd buy four, and get the oil changed and the transmission fluid replaced just in case ($400). She'd also get her car washed ($20 with the primo wax package and the air freshener that smells like puppies).
"There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved," the British playwright Charles Morgan once said. "It is God's finger on man's shoulder."
The older daughter knows this. She'd tip the carwash attendant accordingly.
Then a friend would text her.
"Wanna get coffee?"
"Gee, OK," my daughter would answer, and it'd be getting late so they'd split a muffin and still get out for under 15 bucks, not bad these days for coffee.
So by the time she is done, the $110 earrings my daughter spotted in Beverly Hills would cost me a cool grand, easy. When she handed me back my card, it would look like a tiny grilled cheese sandwich, a little melty on the corners.
"You're welcome," she'd say, as she handed me back the card.
"For what?" I'd ask.
"For me helping you with Valentine's," she'd say proudly.
Which is why, in our house, Valentine is a verb. And all our love notes are soggy.
Look for Erskine's reports from the Winter Olympics in Sports.