So for Valentine’s Day this year, I had a bunch of calla lilies (her favorite flowers), a heart-shaped box of Whitman’s Sampler, a gift certificate for ballroom dancing lessons for the two of us…and a 6’ giant panda. I made sure to dress in a way Joyce likes to see me: blue stripe shirt, jeans, my nice cowboy boots, the necklace, vanilla & anise cologne…and, oh yeah, a pair of boxers with bananas on them, bought special for the occasion lol.
Like last year, I figured we should go the restaurant in the shitbox, since this was definitely my party, but once I got near to her house I started to worry that maybe she wouldn’t like the dim sum idea and think I was only doing it because it was cheap. That’s really not what I was thinking: I thought it was like a Valentine’s Day tradition I was starting. We never go to San Gabriel…and we had a good time last year.
Oh yeah…I forgot about the panda. Getting him into the shitbox was a big production. Lucky he’s squishy, and I was finally able to wedge him into the front seat. I thought it would be funny if I drove up with the panda next to me, although we’d obviously have to get him out of the car before Joyce could get in.
So I pulled up, opened the panda’s window and stuck his arm outside so Joyce would be sure to notice him, picked up my candy and flowers, and rang the bell. Joyce opened the door – dressed in a red dress just for the occasion (she looked hot in it…it was a lot shorter than most dresses she wears) – and…
I should have expected that Joyce would do something amazing with the decorations. Especially since I knew she never did Valentine’s Day before. The house was an explosion of pink, red and white balloons, with bouquets of them lining the way to the living room. In there, there were mobiles of hearts of different sizes dangling from the ceiling, along with a big cupid on the coffee table that doubled as a vase for those little roses (I don’t know what they’re called), also in red, pink and white.
“Too girly?,” she asked.
“It’s pretty dang girly,” I said with a laugh, “but it’s awesome. Keaton’s worst nightmares probably look like this.” We both laughed. Then I got all prince-y and dropped to one knee to offer her the chocolates and flowers.
“Your calla lilies, my lady.”
She took the flowers and the chocolates.
“Where’d you find a box with Snoopy on it?,” she asked.
“If I tell you, I’m gonna come off seeming cheap.”
“What are you talking about? You know I like Whitman’s Sampler better than most…what’s your word?…”
“Yes. That. Than those kind of chocolates.”
I always think of Monica’s bitchass reaction when I gave her her box of Whitman’s that one Valentine’s Day we were together.
“Let me go put these in water. Do you want to go right away, or stay here a while?”
“I’m kinda hungry,” I said. I also couldn’t have a beer if I was going to have a beer with dinner and drive. Between Dad and Keaton I’ve gotten even stricter about how much I drink when I’m driving.
So we didn’t hang out and went to the shitbox. Then I realized:
I forgot the panda.
“Hunter…there’s some kind of animal in your car!,” Joyce said. “Did a raccoon break into it or something? They usually only come out at night…” She’d gotten herself scared about the raccoon, so she didn’t go close enough to the car to see it was a panda.
“It’s not an animal,” I said. “Well…I reckon it is an animal. Go closer and see. It won’t bite you, I promise.”
So she went closer to the car, and broke out laughing.
“Is that for me??,” she asked.
“Of course. Who else would I buy a giant panda for? I knew you liked pandas and I wanted to get you a stuffed animal since I didn’t last year, and…”
“…and so you got me the biggest panda you could find.”
“That way you won’t lose him,” I said.
“But…he looks bigger than you!”
“He’s 6’. So he’s got an inch on me. But I’ve got some weight on him.”
“Thank Heaven for that,” Joyce said, “or I wouldn’t be able to lift him. Seriously…where’s he going to go?”
“We’ll find room for him,” I said, opening the car door and pulling the panda free. “Here you go…happy Valentine’s Day, honey.” The ‘honey’ just slipped out. I’m not sure how or why. Maybe because I was holding a giant panda.
That’s about when Joyce saw the heart with the message. I was afraid she was going to cry again and mess up her makeup, which I could tell she’d been super careful about (remember I notice her makeup because I’m in charge of taking it off before we go to bed…so it’s not gay.) She read the message aloud, then tried to hug me…only she had to get her arms around the panda too, and her arms aren’t long enough for that. I had to get the panda into a kind of headlock, and then she was able to kiss me.
“Does he have a name?,” she asked.
“I thought you’d name him. Or maybe someone at the restaurant can make a suggestion.”
I guess I let that cat out of the bag.
“Does that mean we’re going someplace Chinese?”
“Yeah…remember the dim sum place from last Valentine’s Day?”
“I was hoping that was where you were taking me. It’s just weird that we never went back sooner after we liked it so much.”
“I was thinking it could be a Valentine’s Day tradition. Dim sum in a Chinese neighborhood…where the restaurants aren’t full of dudes having a shitty time. You have no idea how stressful Valentine’s Day can get.”
“You clearly have had some experiences,” Joyce said, smiling. “You should tell me about them sometime.”
“Riiight. Not happening.”
“Was this year so stressful? I hope I’m not being an ungrateful bitch.”
“You’re being pretty dang awesome,” I said, taking her hand and escorting her to the shitbox.
“Um…darling…do you expect to take the panda with us?”
I’d forgotten about the panda again, which is weird since I was still holding him.
“We’d better put him in the house.”
So I carried the panda and sat him down on the white couch in the living room. He looked bigger in Joyce’s house than he had in my apartment. There wasn’t a whole lot of room left for anyone else on the couch if he was going to sit on it…but I reckoned we’d find a home for him when we got back from dinner.
Dinner was awesome, although I may have eaten too many dumplings by the time we were done. I guess I was super hungry – and at a dim sum place you can keep getting food. It’s not like a restaurant where they bring you a plate of food and that’s your dinner. They just kept coming around with carts and we picked out whatever we thought looked good by pointing. There was one awesome bun with a spicy filling, although, of course, we had no idea what it was…and no way to ask. Joyce said she thinks it was pork. I’m gonna go with that lol.
We both had a great time (and a great meal), there were no sulky dudes who wanted to kill their girlfriends (and who probably weren’t going to get laid lol), and, even with everything I ate, it all still came out under 70 dollars. That’s still gotta be some kind of Valentine’s Day record.
I still had the dancing lessons surprise up my sleeve, but Joyce wanted to go back home and enjoy the decorations, so I was going to have to wait for the right moment to pull out the Valentine’s card I bought and stuffed out with the gift certificate.
“I didn’t want you to think that I thought that Valentine’s Day was only your department,” Joyce said, once we were sitting on the couch and I had a beer. (Joyce asked me to move the panda to one of the side chairs first. He took that up entirely.) “So I got you something. Two things, actually. And a valentine card, of course.”
She brought out the card first. It wasn’t one she bought: she actually made it just for me. If I say she made it out of pink and red paper and lace doilies it’s going to sound like something you made for your mom in preschool, and, trust me, this wasn’t no preschool valentine. It was more like a work of art. There’s a reason I made her a whole special crafting room for Christmas.
“Wow…thanks. This is definitely the most incredible valentine I’ve ever gotten,” I said, telling the absolute truth. Even the poem she wrote for the inside was just right.
Then she produced another of her spectacularly wrapped packages. It was the kind where there were two boxes wrapped separately tied with a ribbon, although that doesn’t do it justice. It was pretty heavy when I took it. I had no idea what it could be…and got a big laugh when I opened the top box.
It was a Thrifty’s ice cream scoop.
I guess I need to explain that, when you get Thrifty’s ice cream at the Rite Aid in a cone, they use a special scoop that squares off the top so you kinda have a short cylinder of ice cream. The scoop I was holding then was designed to make that kind of shape. Joyce knows I like how the scoops at the Rite Aid look, so it was a pretty thoughtful gift.
“Don’t get mad at me for it not being romantic enough,” she said. “When I got it I could imagine you going to Keaton and complaining that you went out and got your girlfriend a 6’ panda and flowers and chocolates…and she got you an ice cream scoop.”
“I don’t think Keaton is the person to go to when you want to complain about something not being romantic enough,” I said, laughing. “Complaining about the ice cream scoop would be totally gayass. First of all, in Keaton’s book, complaining by itself is gayass.”
“Exactly what isn’t gayass in Keaton’s book?,” asked Joyce with a laugh.
“Clint Eastwood,” I answered, also with a laugh. Then I turned to the other box. It had a box within a box, which contained…a pair of bottles of Jo Malone cologne, another of the vanilla & anise Joyce likes on me so much, along with a new one, amber & lavender.
“I tried them out together,” Joyce said. “They make a great combination.”
I tried a spritz of each on my wrist. She was right, they did. But the important part is that she liked them together, since she was the person who smelled them on me more than anyone else. (She warned me once about wearing too much fragrance. “You shouldn’t be able to smell a man’s cologne unless you’re kissing him” is a good rule she gave me.)
“Did you pick out a romantic movie for us to watch?,” I asked. “And how much ice cream do you have? I’m starving again.”
“Yeah, so am I,” Joyce said. “I’d better make popcorn. Of course I have a movie. Now Voyager. You haven’t seen it yet. If you’re not crying at the end, you don’t have a human heart.” She laughed at that and went off to make popcorn. She does it with a stovetop corn popper, and, like I’ve told you before, parmesan cheese and rosemary. She even got a rosemary plant for the backyard so she’d always have it on hand. “Unless you don’t want popcorn and want to watch the movie in bed.”
Joyce had a rule: no popcorn in bed. Ice cram was ok, but not popcorn. I see her point, actually.
“Let’s watch it in the den,” I said. “You know I fall asleep watching movies in bed.”
“That’s true,” she said. “And you have to be awake for the last scene.”
“That when I’m gonna cry?”
“You’ll find out,” she said.
So she went to make the popcorn and I got comfortable on the couch in the den with my beer. I found the DVD and cued it up so we could start right away. But I still had the envelope with the dance lessons gift certificate. I figured it was now or never, so I put it on the coffee table, right in front of where Joyce was going to sit.
“I forgot to give you your card,” I said. “I guess I got all wrapped up in the panda.”
I could tell that Joyce hadn’t forgotten about the card. Maybe I should have given it to her sooner, but I wanted her to get used to the idea of the panda taking up part of the living room first lol.
She opened the envelope – it was one of those bigass cards with hearts and flowers, but what I liked best about it was that it didn’t have some long gayass poem inside. It said just what I wanted it to say, and took me forever to find. I went through every card at the Rite Aid and the closest CVS until I finally had to go to Target to find something I liked.
In any event, the gift certificate fluttered down to the floor when she opened the envelope and she picked it up and looked at it first.
I know how Joyce feels about me, and I know that she was very happy with everything I’d given her for Valentine’s Day so far. (I think she even liked the panda even if she might have preferred a smaller one.) But I could tell I hit it out of the park when she saw what the paper was.
“Just don’t go ordering me white tie and tails and a gown with feathers for you. At least not yet.”
She had her arms around me by then.
“You’re sure?,” she asked me after she let me go. “I mean…I know how you feel about your sense of rhythm.”
“The people who run the studio told me I shouldn’t worry. If nothing else, I can rely on your sense of rhythm, they said.” She looked like she liked that idea. “I’m committing to the 12 lessons. We’ll see after that. You might not want to dance with me after we’re done, too.”
“Maybe I should have programmed another Astaire and Rogers movie,” she said. “I would have if I’d known this is what you were going to do.”
“No…let’s go for this Voyager thing…”
“Yes. Now Voyager. Although you know I’m determined not to cry.”
“Then you’re a man without a soul. A gorgeous man without a soul, but a man without a soul just the same.”
We settled down on the couch, I got my arm around her and she started the movie.
Ok, so y’all are probably wondering what happened and if I cried at the end. I liked the movie, although it’s not the best thing Joyce has chosen for us to watch, and the stuff with Claude Rains as the psychiatrist made me think of Travis a little and how he might get something out of a place like Bette Davis goes to in the movie. As it got towards the end I was torn: on the one side, I had my macho pride about crying at movies (ok, I’ve cried at movies before, everyone has…even Keaton, I bet), and on the other was the fact that I knew Joyce would be happy if I did start to cry.
I just let myself go for the flow…and the movie won out over my macho pride. I was in tears – big tears – when they got to the final line. So much so that Joyce had to replay the final scene, not so she could make me cry again, but so I could hear the final line, which apparently is super famous. (It’s: “oh ‘Jerry, let’s not ask for the moon, we have the stars!”. I reckon it sounds pretty lameass when you quote it like that, but it’s this super romantic movie and, well…y’all watch it and see if you don’t end up crying at the end lol.)
Joyce was real glad that I cried…and, if I was crying, she was a total mess, and she’s probably seen the movie millions of times. She says it happens every time she sees it.
Then I hit my second home run of Valentine’s Day. I faced her and said, “let’s not cry at the movie…we have the stars too.”
Then she totally lost it. It was kinda funny, kinda embarrassing…and really pretty dang sweet.
So, guys, I’ve proven that Valentine’s Day doesn’t’ have to make you miserable. Or totally poorass so you have to spend the rest of February eating ramen noodles. All you need is a giant panda, dancing lessons, dim sum…
…and the right girlfriend.