I’ve had years when I had a Valentine. I’ve had years where my love life was as barren as Bush's brain. Up until a few years ago, those love- or merely crush-less Valentine’s Days were miserable.
But sometime just before The Big Dog gave way to The Big Dummy I decided I’d had enough of playing the cranky cynic on Valentine’s Day and came up with one of the only honest-to-goodness brilliant ideas I’ve ever had. It was so simple, (the best ideas always are) that I had to wonder why I hadn’t thought of – or been open to -- it before?
I bought myself a box of old-school Conversation Hearts. You remember Conversation Hearts. Their official name is Sweetheart® Conversation Hearts and they’re made by the New England Confectionary Company (a/k/a “Necco”). They’re pretty pastel heart-shaped candies with silly-but-sweet and slightly anachronistic messages like “LUV YOU” and “COOL GUY” and “BE GOOD” stamped into them. They taste sort of awful (they're sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, after all), but they're cute and the nostalgia factor is high. Anyway, I'd tuck the box in my purse when I left the house in the morning and as soon as I hit the pavement – and for the rest of the day – I'd look at men. When I saw one that looked interesting, I’d fish a Conversation Heart out of the box, approach him, smile, and extend my hand, fingers closed, palm down, as though I wanted to give him something.
Nine times out of ten, the guy would look at me and automatically extend his hand. I don’t know why. I probably wouldn’t extend my hand to a total stranger unless he looked like this, but these guys did. And so I’d drop a Conversation Heart into their open palms, look up, and smile.
I gave Conversation Hearts to construction workers exuding machismo and law school professors exuding bombast, to cops walking a beat and to Wall Street guys pounding quart-size styrofoam cups of beer at Jeremy’s Ale House. I gave Conversation Hearts to high school boys young enough to be my son and senior citizens old enough to be my great-grandfather. I gave Conversation Hearts to guys who were so dorky that just looking at them made me want to deliver them unto Carson Kressley for an intervention and to guys who were so good-looking that just approaching them reduced me to my stammering eighth-grade self. I always made a point to give Conversation Hearts to short guys, bald guys, and fat guys. I gave them to a couple of Orthodox Jews in the Diamond District (relax, they're Kosher) and to a Sikh cabdriver as a tribute to another Sikh cabdriver who was extremely kind to me after what seemed like The World’s Most Disastrous Date many moons ago. I gave them to guys working in my office, guys hanging on my corner, and all the guys working in my local hardware store. I gave one to a doctor in his scrubs waiting for coffee at one of the carts on the street and another to the guy fixing the coffee. Last year, I gave one to a cute little college hipster in line behind me at Trader Joe's. I gave them to countless guys on the subway and to at least one famous writer who I saw at the local bagel joint.
So what was the reaction? A couple of guys looked confused. One or two shrugged. But from the rest? A few seconds of pure pleasure. Once they realized what I'd given them, a smile would spread slowly across their face. Sometimes that was it (and believe me, that was enough). Sometimes they’d say, “Thanks!” Sometimes they’d say, “Cool!” Sometimes they’d call me “sweetheart," "darling," or “honey." One bartender to whom I gave a single Conversation Heart gave me a free drink every time I went to his bar until he quit the place. A Mexican guy working at a bodega to whom I gave another followed me down the street and gave me a single Gerbera daisy in return. At least one recipient (one of the hardware store guys) kissed me.
Now I do this every Valentine’s Day – whether I have a Valentine or not.
You don’t have a Valentine? Well, if you want one, I’m sorry. But you have choices: you can adopt a "Bah, humbug!" posture tomorrow – or you can adopt my strategy and have a pretty fun (and memorable) day.
I know what I’m gonna do.
Happy Valentine’s Day.