Friday, March 13, 2009

COLUMN: Valentine's Day

Once upon a time, there was a boy. An optimistic boy with plans in his head and dreams in his heart. Nothing ever went wrong for this boy. Everything he did went according to plan. Then the boy woke up and realized in a flash that (a) everyone sucks, and (b) the world conspires against him on an almost daily basis.

Let's just leap straight into it: I'm dating someone. I'd use the word "girlfriend," but that's a scary word that brings to mind couple-dom, commitment, and the dreaded public Changing of the Facebook Relationship Status. I don't wanna scare her off quite yet, so I'll refrain from dropping terminology like that willy-nilly. Suffice to say, though, she is a girl, she is my friend, and she makes my insides go gooey. Make of that what you will.

Which brings us to Valentine's Day. This is a scary 24 hours for a fledgling relationship, and it needs to be approached with some care. You want the day to be special, but not in an I'm-picking-out-china-patterns-and-have-already-named-our-firstborn kinda way. Romantic but not obsessive, smitten but not smothering, right?

One of the things that makes us compatible is that we're both horribly busy. She works all the time, I work all the time, and we try to squeeze in the occasional rendezvous when schedules allow. It was five days before-hand when we realized we both had Valentine's evening free. Huzzah!

Or maybe non-huzzah. Ever tried booking Valentine's reservations on 5 days notice? Not happening. One place even laughed at me when I called. Reality check - I had no choice. Unless I wanted us to have a romantic liaison over a pair of Big Macs, I was going to have to (gulp) MAKE dinner.

Just one problem: my culinary skills pretty much start and stop with adding Helper to hamburger. Worse yet, I was dealing with a vegetarian. The only thing I'm good at doing with vegetables is covering them with enough ranch dip to mask the taste.

So I turned to one of Rock Island's greatest gems: D'allesandro Pasta To Go. With one visit, they hooked me right up. Creamed asparagus lasagne, a loaf of garlic bread, and a brick of the most decadent tiramisu imaginable. Just pop it in the oven and you're good to go.

On Saturday, I woke up a lean, mean Valentine machine. Except for the nasty head cold that arrived unannounced. Phlegm or no phlegm, though, I was unstoppable. I got my hair cut, bought some nice flowers, tidied up the apartment, and picked out some mood music. As I slid the lasagne into the oven, I congratulated myself on a job well done and went to the fridge to open a cold-- nothing. Crud! I forgot to buy ANYTHING to drink!

Since the lush grey hues of Rock Island tap water don't exactly spell romance, I threw on my coat and drove down to a gas station for beverages. All was good until I got back to the car -- to find it completely dead. My starter was completely fried and I was 30 minutes away from a roaring lasagne fire in my oven. I grabbed my phone to call anyone nearby for a lift... or I WOULD have, had I not left my phone on the charger at home.

"My car just broke down in your lot," I raced in to tell the clerk. "I need to use your phone."

"Is it local?" she shot back with an eyeroll of hatred. Curses! She saw through my plan. Yes, my car just died, I'm trapped in your gas station, my apartment's minutes away from becoming cat flambe, and clearly I was going to use your phone to call 1-900-HOT-DATE at $2.99 a minute.

Begrudgingly she handed me the phone. I dialed a couple of friends and got their machines. I had no other choice. I took a deep breath, readied myself -- and took off running. Bounding through one of the worst neighborhoods in Rock Island like a tubby Forrest Gump, and in dress shoes no less. Twenty minutes later, I was an aching, sweaty, snotty mess, but I was home - and with ten minutes to spare.

I had just managed to clean myself up and stop wheezing when she showed up. "Voila!" I said, opening the open door and pulling out lasagne goodness. Oh, well, yes, and also raking my arm across the top of the oven and screaming like a banshee. Now, my nose was plugged solid, but even I could smell my own charred flesh. Smooooth, Shane. Nothing says masculine romantic hero quite like shrieking and running into the bathroom for the Bactine.

Spontaneous jogging and third-degree burns aside, though, dinner went well. While I was too sniffly and cold-ridden to actually taste any of the food, I'm pretty sure it was exceptional. And afterwards, I treated her to the most romantic of all evening activities: sitting around a gas station for three hours waiting for a delinquent tow truck to arrive.

Oh, and then leaving her at the gas station to wait on my behalf because I had to get to my weekend DJ gig. And then begging her to run to my apartment and get me some cold medicine I'd left behind. Oh, and then getting to the DJ gig and promptly breaking my incredibly expensive headphones, which led her to run out and get me some superglue. And yes, as you'd expect, the headphones remain broken but I somehow managed to superglue my fingers together in no time at all. And yes, she ran and got nail polish remover to help me get it off.

So Don Juan I am not. Amazingly, though, she's still hanging around. I may have very well mucked up the storyline good and plenty, but happily the ending's still up for grabs. Cross your fingers for me.

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