by John Stiles

Now you know damn well that Valentine's Day was invented by some woman. Either that or by a commodities trader long on melting candy and wilting flowers and short on cash flow. But I'm convinced it's a plot to designed by the female portion of our population to subvert the independence and manliness of the already subordinate male segment of our society.

No self-respecting man under a properly cocked baseball cap would have had anything to do with such a conspiratorial exercise. What man would have set aside a day of the year completely devoted to silly tales of arrow bearing, winged midgets and heart-shaped Hallmark® cards? It's simply another reason for us men to shell out perfectly good money for flowers that perish within hours of leaving the store and chocolate-covered candies that either melt in our hands instead of our mouths or just make our waistlines expand no matter where they turn to liquid. I have come to this rather hard-hearted view of romance by way of more than 40 years as a man trying to please God knows how many women, only three of which have any legal grounds to regret the experience.

You men in my reading audience will remember Valentine's Day. That's the date on the calendar when we ''insensitive'' lovers, husbands and/or significant others do our best to corner the market in $75 to $100-a-dozen roses only to get the usual; ''Well, if you really loved me you'd give me flowers more than just once a year.'' To which you can always reply; ''If you really loved me you wouldn't need me to blow this much money for dead plants and we'd put the cash aside for a couple of extra rounds of golf next season.'' You could use that comeback. But for the sake of marital harmony and in an effort to avoid collecting ex-wives like some journeyman major league ballplayers collect addresses, I'd really advise against it. And, that brethren could well be the best piece of advice available to our gender you'll ever find in the pages of this newspaper or any other.

Unfortunately, we men have to stick together. We don't have a ''Dear Andy'' or ''John Landers'' we can go running to every time our wives stash the TV remote in an effort to get us to take out the trash. And in the spirit of brotherhood, I'd like to devote a few words to those of us who, in the mistaken belief that purchasing such flowers has any real residual effects, actually go out and buy these little brightly colored bits of vegetation and then allow the wife to openly display the trophy in full view of friends and neighbors. Please think before you do these things. There's nothing worse than being invited to a friend's house only to have to listen to your own wife run on about ''Weren't those just the most beautiful flowers Schmo bought for Flo? And why don't you ever buy me flowers anymore?''

Now, two things to remember here. Firstly, your so-called friendship with the man of such a house needs to be seriously evaluated. And, no matter how sincere the question coming out of your wife's mouth may sound, she is not, I repeat, IS NOT looking for an honest answer to that last question. It will do you no good to say, ''Well dear, I just never think about buying you flowers any more.'' This may indeed be the truth, but there is nothing, to include copping a plea for honesty, that will extricate you from the storms ahead.

It's really getting so's I hate this particular celebration more and more each year. You stand in line for an hour at your local florist's to send a few dead flowers to the object of your affections. When the bouquet arrives, the card says ''Dear Melanie, I love you. Robert.'' Unfortunately, it should have said ''Dear Melissa.'' Try explaining that one at 25 cents a minute on a well-known long-distance service. There should be a Valentine's Day card for those out-of-the-way romantic sentiments of we real men. How about:

''Roses are red and violets are blue and if I had nothing better to do, I'd run right out now and buy you some flowers. But when I consider all of the hours I'd have to work to pay for the things, and all of their thorns and all of their stings, I'll tell you just what I've decided instead, to save me the money and cuts that I dread. I'll send you the petals of last year's dead roses, some scent in a bottle to rub up our noses. We'll take us the money the florist won't get, go to the racetrack and place us a bet. I'm well aware of the fact, honey, that in the long run we'll still blow the money. But certainly the one I love much stronger, we'll hold on to the cash just a little bit longer!''

OK, maybe I need a little work in both the poetic and compassionate sides of my nature. A couple of years back, when I ventured upon this very topic, the piece appeared the week before Valentine's Day. Several florists and probably more than a couple of candy stores in one of the towns where I was published decided to lodge their protests with our advertising department. ''That Stiles is making fun of florists on this the biggest business day of the year for our line of work,'' more than a couple complainants explained. And there was even some talk about a minor advertising boycott. Talk about your ''Flower Power.''

Well, it just so happened that I had gone out, as I annually do, in my own preparations for the alleged big event, and charged something more than $100 worth of roses for my daughters and wife. When the bill came, from one of the very florists causing all the fuss, I thought about returning it sans payment with a little note informing them that with all things considered, I figured we were about even. I considered doing that, but thought better of it. Must be all that Valentine's Day crud that's making me into a wimp in my old age.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 13, 2001

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